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Surf Perch Fishing (Complete Beginner’s Guide)

Surf perch fishing is a thrill on light line.

This guide outlines a few of the commonly caught surfperches here in California. Use this guide to help you identify which you’ve caught.

Oceanside Surf Fishing for Perch With a Lucky Craft
 

Happy saltwater surfperch fishing!

Recommended Surf Perch Fishing Gear:

Listen to more fishing tips on the Cast & Spear Podcast

Overview

There are several different varieties of this fish many of which look quite like one another.

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Yet, by understanding the differences you can increase your chances of getting a big haul. Read on to find out more about this elusive fish and the types you can encounter while you are fishing.

What is a Surf Perch?

Surfperch, which is also called seaperch, is a family of Embiotocidae. They are in the North Pacific Ocean, and a few species are also in the Northwest Pacific. The Tule perch is in the freshwater habitats in California, USA. All species are unusual in giving birth to live young rather than laying eggs.

Surfperches are deep-bodied and have small mouths, large scales, and a single, long dorsal fin. The length ranges from 13 to 45 cm (5 to 18 inches). Its anal fin has three spines and between 15 to 35 soft rays.

Surfperch Setup

Surfperch- slim, saucer-sized fish is the most popular target for surf anglers. This type of fish can weigh up to 2 pounds. The most unusual feature is that the women carry their young. 

The size and age of the fish may vary depending on the location of the fish and the year. Some anglers recorded large catches of redtail surfperch from Oregon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Surfperch tackle setup
Surf Perch Tackle Setup

License Requirements

There are different legal requirements to fish for surfperch in every state. Below are some of the information for the following locations.

Oregon

  • General Oregon angling license is required.
  • Englund Marine in-store licensing
  • Astoria: 1 Day resident angling
  • Newport: 1 Day resident angling
  • Charleston: None
  • The daily limit is 15 fish total of all species per day. ODFW recommends that you keep what you need and practice catch and release after.

Washington

  • Saltwater fishing license required
  • Englund Marine in-store licensing
  • Westport: None
  • Ilwaco: None
  • In Marine areas 1-4, a bag limit of 12 except for shiner perch, which is 15 bag limit
  • In Marine area 5, Sekiu, and Pillar Point, a bag limit of 10 except for shiner perch, which is 15 bag limit.

California

  • Englund Marine in-store licensing
  • Crescent City requires a fresh and saltwater sport fishing license.e
  • Eureka with No in-store licensing
  • The daily limit is 20 fish in combination of all species except shiner perch. There should not be more than 10 fish of one species.
  • The daily limit of shiner surfperch is 20 fish.

Surfperch Fishing Gears

Like any other fishing activity, you will also need some surfperch fishing gear. You won’t need specialized equipment to get started fishing for surfperch.

Rod and Reel

Surfperch are smaller fish, but you will need a heavy tackle to fish in the heavy surf. A longer rod will handle up to 6 oz weight. And, a reel will be able to hold 200-300 yards of 15 to 30 pounds monofilament line. You can also use lighter-weight rods for calmer surf conditions.

Terminal Tackle

A usual and typical setup includes two #4 or #2 hooks, a double spreader with swivels, and a sinker. You should use a weight of about 2-6 ounces that will keep your rig in your target area in the surf.

Bait

Sandworms, and shrimp are great for surf fishing. You can secure these to your hooks and reuse them over and over again. Live bait is also not a bad idea that you have collected at a low tide or bought from the Englund store.

Other Equipment Needed

Although there is not much that you need to catch surfperch. More essentials will make your task more accessible and more comfortable.

Boots

The Ocean water is cold; that is why you need to wear boots, especially during your stay in the water. Your shoes should help keep most of the water out.

Backpack

You need to have your bag to keep your gears. It is better to keep your packs in that backpack to make it easier for you to move from one place to another. You can add dry bag protection to keep it from not getting too much water.

Polarized glasses

These will protect your eyes from the white foam breakers. You should always protect yourself from eye strain.

Where and When to Find Surfperch

Surfperch can be available all year round. But, the most productive time to fish these is during the spring and early summer. This season is when they school up along sandy shorelines for spawning. 

The incoming tide is the best fishing time; it can be an hour or two before high tide. You can take advantage of low tides to scout for good surfperch water. Deep hole or depression places could hold for surfperch, so make sure to keep an eye for that.

Surfperch Fishing Techniques

As an angler, you will know that surfperch fishing is about studying the water and the fish. Knowing both can work to your advantage. There are routine things to remember and do while you are at your fishing location. These familiar techniques can increase your chance of getting bites.

  • You may want to head for the shore 2 hours before high tide.
  • You can stay late and fish with the outgoing tide until the biting stops.
  • Study the water. You can know that during riptides, the fish eat the bait swept up by the raging sea. They also tend to gather in calm holes in the water.
  • You can look for sand crab beds and try to cast your line on the sand bar edges.
  • You can let the weight hit the bottom so that it can disguise as something natural.
  • You can pause and maintain line tension once your rig reaches the fish to put the bait in front of them.

Some anglers will move their rig between pockets to cover more water. But, you can stick to one location if the fish keeps biting. Smaller perch may play with your baits before taking them, so you may wait for any slow moments.

Best Rig Setup to Catch Surfperch

One of the most used rigs is the fish finder rig. The Fish Finder Rig works in challenging conditions. It attracts fish in areas with little cover and minimal structure. That is why Fish Finder Rig is excellent for surf fishing.

How does Fish Finder Rig Work?

  • The heavy pyramid sinker in the rig’s front holds your presentation near the bottom. This helps resist the current.
  • When the sinker moves, it kicks up poofs of sand, imitating a wounded baitfish.
  • The bait will bounce off the bottom like a wounded baitfish as it reacts against the current.
  • The Fish Finder Rig gets you fish. The pyramid sinker threads to the mainline by a sinker slide. So when a fish takes the bait, it connects to the rod through the line.

How to Catch the Different Types

Silver Surfperch

Also known asshiner, silver perch

Scientific nameHyperprosopon ellipticum

Location – This surf perch is native to the Eastern Pacific Ocean and occurs from Rio San Vicente, Baja California to Schooner Cover that is near Vancouver Island.

Identification – The body of this perch is oval and compressed. It has a small head and a large mouth while the body is silvery with brownish to gray coloration on the back.

Size – This species can grow to about 11 inches long.

Habitat – The silver surfperch frequents the sandy surf zone but they can also be found amidst shallow rocks around piers and bays.

Fishing TipsSilver perch usually remain mid-depth to the top of the water so the best way to catch them is by fishing at the bottom. For perch bait, use a worm as bait to lure them into biting. The fish is plentiful and easy to catch in large numbers near shorelines and piers.

Walleye Surfperch

walleye surfperch
Walleye surfperch near rocks. Source: FASTILY

Also known aswalleye surf fish, china pompano, white perch.

Scientific nameHyperprosopon argenteum

Location – Can be found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean from Vancouver Island to Mexico including Guadalupe Island.

Identification – Walleye surfperch is like the silver surf perch but it has black tips on the ventral fins and black borders on the tail and anal fins.

Size – This species can reach 12 inches in length.

Habitat – The walleye prefers to remain in the shallows near sand and rocks. It is common in bays and oceanfront areas throughout the year in dense schools.

Fishing TipsThis species of surfperch is rarely caught by boat since it remains near the shore. A light tackle surf perch rig will work such as a modified snag line, size 8 hooks and each baited with a cut-up anchovy as perch bait.

Shiner Perch

shiner perch near grass
A smaller shiner perch near grass. Source: NOAA

Also known asshiner surfperch, yellow shiner, seven-eleven perch.

Scientific nameCymatogaster aggregata

Location – Shiner perch occur from San Quintin Bay to Port Wrangell in Alaska.

Identification – The body of the shiner perch is oval and compressed with gray or greenish coloration at the top. It has vertical yellow crossbars that look like the shape of a 711 and it also has several gray lines along the side.

Size – The fish can reach about 6 inches in length.

Habitat – These are found in estuaries, lagoons and coastal streams along the coast from Alaska to Baja California. Most prefer to remain in eelgrass beds and congregate around piers.

Fishing TipsCatch shiner perch from docks, piers, rocks and any other area you are comfortable fishing from. They can be caught using almost any type of perch bait and fishing equipment as long as the hook is small enough to get in its smallmouth.

Redtail Surfperch

red tail surf perch fishing
Surfperch fishing Oregon is popular for redtail surfperch. Source: D Ross Robertson

Also known as – Redtail seaperch, Oregon porgie, porgie, rosy surfperch.

Scientific nameAmphistichus rhodoterus

Location – The redtail perch occurs from Avila Beach in California to Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Identification – The upper profile of the head of this perch is almost straight from the snout to the dorsal fin. It has a slight depression under the eye. The body is silvery with olive green mottling and it has bars on the side as well. The tail is pink or deep purple, thus the name. It also has spines on its dorsal fins.

Size – This surfperch species can grow up to 17 inches in length.

Habitat Redtails are surf dwellers and remain near sandy beaches. Yet, some have been known to venture into rocky areas right next to beaches. It can also be found in estuaries during the spawning season.

Fishing TipsMake sure you have the right surfperch fishing rigs on the ready. The best baits for this perch include small crabs, marine worms and shrimp but you can also score with tubeworms, sand crabs and clams. The numbers increase before spawning season and can be found in large schools in sheltered inshore waters during spring and early summer.

Rubberlip Seaperch

rubberlip seaperch fishing
Check out the lips n this rubberlip seaperch! Source: Chad King

Also known as – porgee, rubberlip seaperch, pile perch, buttermouth, sprat, liverlip.

Scientific nameRhacochilus toxotes

Location – This surfperch occurs from Thurloe Head in Baja California to the Russian Gulch State Beach in California.

Identification – The body of the rubberlip surfperch is oval and compressed. The mouth is large and it has thick lips thus the name. The lower jaw is shorter than the upper one and it is usually whitish in color with brown or brassy undertones on the back. The lips are white or pink in color.

Size – The rubberlip is the largest species of surfperch and can reach a whopping 18.5 inches in length.

HabitatRubberlips prefer to remain in shallow water in rocky areas, tide pools, around harbors, bays and in kelp beds. They come out to hunt at night and use their sensitive lips to detect prey.

Fishing TipsRubberlips can be caught from the shore, skiffs, and piers. Use mussels, sandworms, clams, cut up shrimp and another similar bait to attract it to your hook. Most are taken on a high/low leader with size 6 and 4 hooks that are baited with live bait. Some anglers use plastic grubs as perch lures to bag large ones.

Barred Surfperch

Also known assand perch, silver surf fish

Scientific nameAmphistichus argenteus

Fishing TipsBarred surfperch goes crazy for soft-shelled sand crabs. They aren’t picky eaters and will go after other baits like mussels, blood worms, cut fish, and artificial lures.

Calico Surfperch

calico surf perch fishing
Calico surfperch are fun to catch! Source: SFOfishing

Also known ashumpback perch, porgie, porgee, majarra angaripola

Scientific nameAmphistichus koelzi

Fishing TipsCalico surfperch love sand crabs and worms such as blood worms and pile worms. You can also catch them on shrimp, muscles, and clam necks.

Black Perch

black perch fishing
A small black perch. Source: Steven G. Johnson

Also known asblack surfperch, black seaperch, bay perch, buttermouth perch

Scientific nameEmbiotica jacksoni

Fishing TipsThe black perch like to inhabit shallow rocky subtidal areas and also like to hide in kelp forests. You can find them near piers, over sand, and in the eelgrass. Catch fish on blood worms, pile worms, small pieces of shrimp, small rock crabs, and mussels.

Pile Perch

Also known asforktail perch, dusky perch, white perch, piler perch, porgy, split tail perch

Scientific nameDamalichthys vacca

Fishing TipsThe pile perch loves to eat during the day and you can catch fish on a wide variety of baits. Try crabs, mussels, blood worms, and grass shrimp.

White Perch

Pole Spearing for White Perch (Catch and Cook)
 

Also known aswhite seaperch

Scientific namePhanerodon furcatus

Fishing TipsThe white perch isn’t picky and will go after pretty much anything the other perch types are eating. This includes mussels, blood worms, and shrimp.

Rainbow Surfperch

rainbow surf perch fishing
Rainbow surfperch are arguably the most beautiful of the bunch. Source: Chad King

Also known asstriped perch

Scientific nameHypsurus caryi

Fishing TipsYou can find the rainbow surfperch in shallow areas and around rocky-shorelines. Use a small hook baited with mussels, pile worms, or small rock crabs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do surfperch have teeth?

A: Yes but surfperch teeth are quite small and they have two sets. The fish uses the teeth in the front to grab prey and uses its back teeth to crush it.

Q: What are the best perch rigs that seasoned anglers use?

A: There are several. You can use a live bait rig, slip bobber, lindy rigs and inline spinners.

Q: What are popular baits for surfperch?

A: Mole crabs, marine worms, mussels, clam necks, and sand shrimp but your choice will depend on availability, preference, and convenience. Some anglers gather worms, crabs and sand shrimp when the tide is low from the same beaches that they fish from later.

Insider Advice

Surf perches come in a range of sizes. Even though each species is almost indistinguishable from the next, each has its own feeding and habitat preferences. That information can prove invaluable when you are angling for this fish and want to catch a trophy perch.

Do you have any tips and strategies that worked while you were angling for surfperch? Share them in the comments section and share this guide if you liked it.

Also, be sure to check your local regulations before fishing!


The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler

Johanes Godoy
Fishing Editor

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Articles » Fish Guides » Saltwater Fish » Surf Perch Fishing (Complete Beginner’s Guide)