How To Catch Surf Perch

Why Surf Perch Fishing?

I used to work at a fishing store in Washington. All year long, and particularly in Spring and Summer, customers would come in asking to get set up to go Surf Perch Fishing. I'll just come right out and say it, I probably geared up and advised hundreds of customers with Surf Perch tackle and advise, having never actually caught one in my life. It's not that it didn't sound like fun, but I was always distracted by some other fishing adventure. Throughout helping these customers, I learned dozens of tips, ideas, and location to catch Surf Perch.

There are a variety of different species of Surf Perch, however the one I will be concentrating on is the Red Tailed Surf Perch. They can get surprisingly large, fight hard, bite aggressively, and taste delicious. In Washington, the there are generous catch limits, and a year-round fishing season.

The first time I went Surf Perch Fishing I was just trying to kill some time before the clam tides. I ended up having so much fun, I fished right through the clam tide, and proceeded to drive 2 and a half hours to the coast to fish Surf Perch the next 3 consecutive weekends. If you live near a Surf Perch Fishing opportunity and haven't tried it yourself, get out there and try it.

Long Casing Surf Rods

Smooth Casting, Saltwater-Proof, Tough Drag

Surf Perch Rods and Reels

When it comes to rods and reels, it seems like Surf Perch set-ups fall into one of two categories. There are the fisherman that use a conventional surf casting set up with a long heavy road, large arbor spinning reels, and very heavy weights. These set ups boast very high casting range, however are somewhat cumbersome and lack sensitivity. The other route is a mid-length, fast action graphite rode, a medium-large arbor fishing reel, and lighter weight. These set ups have shorter casting distance, but much higher sensitivity for detecting bites. I have used both, and much prefer the lighter weight set up, so that's what I'll be explaining and promoting here.

The Rods:

  • Length: 9' - 10.5'
  • Type: Spinning Rod
  • Construction: Graphite
  • Action: Med-Fast - Fast
  • Lure Weight: 3/4 - 1.5 oz

Another thing to look for is eyelet count. Since casting is the primary function of this rod, ensure that the rod has at least 1 eyelet per foot length of rod. For example, a 9 foot road should have at least 9 eyelets. This keeps the line running true along the rod when casting, reducing line drag and increasing casting distance.

The Reels:

  • Size: A spinning reel containing at least 200 yards of 12 lb monofilament. For Shimano, this would be the 4000 series.
  • Salt Water Capable. While any spinning reel can be used in salt water, many will rust out quickly if not designed for salt water use.

Also, as with any spinning reel, a higher bearing count generally means a higher quality reel.

Surf Perch Fishing Rig

Basic Surf Perch Bait Rig
Basic Surf Perch Bait Rig

Surf Perch Fishing Rigs

I would argue this is one of the least important parts of Surf Perch Fishing. With the right casting set up, good bait, and a good location, you'll catch fish. Any bait holding rig will work well.

  • Line: 10 to 14 lb Monofilament
  • Swivels: Ball Bearing, preferable stainless steel because of the saltwater
  • Weight: 1 to 2 oz. Match this to your listed fishing rod lure weight. Pyramid Sinkers are common as these will keep your rig better anchored to the bottom. Sometimes I will use Cannon Ball style weights to allow my rig to drift with the current in order to locate a school of Surf Perch.
  • Hooks: Size 2 or 4 bait hooks. Circle hooks do a great job of keeping bait on the hook.

See the basic bait rig illustrated on the right. This type of rig gets your bait up off the bottom and visible to the Surf Perch. If you like, multiple 3-way swivels, leaders, and hooks can be used to increase your chances. Check local regulations for limitations regarding hook count.

Delicious Fillets!

Red Tailed Surf Perch About to Be Turned Into Some Fish Tacos
Red Tailed Surf Perch About to Be Turned Into Some Fish Tacos

How to Catch Surf Perch

They're called Surf Perch for a reason, they live in the surf. This means, in order to catch them, you've got to fish in the surf. Many people choose to use fishing waders to walk part way into the breaking waves to reduce the necessary casting distance. This can absolutely be effective, however ocean surf can become very dangerous, so I just cast from the safety of dry land. Using waders is by no means necessary to land Surf Perch.

Basically, follow these steps:

  1. Check that your bait is securely affixed to the hook
  2. Cast as far as possible into the surf
  3. Reel up slack so you can feel the surf (or a perch) pulling on your rig
  4. Wait for a bite
  5. Set hook and reel in your dinner

Honestly, its really that straight forward. I like to fish wish a fairly taught line in order to better feel bites. At first, the pull of the surf on your rig might feel a little like a bite, but just wait, Surf Perch are aggressive feeders and there will be no question when one bites. When your rod tip starts pulsing, or doubles over, pull back, set the hook, and reel in.

If you aren't getting any bites, reel your rig slightly closer to shore and wait a bit longer. If you still don't get any bites, try moving up and down the beach a bit. I've fished for an hour in one area with no luck, moved 50 feet down the beach, and caught numerous fish right away. Surf Perch school, so keep moving until you find them.

Hands Down Best Artificial Surf Perch Bait. Period.

Berkley Gulp! Saltwater 2" Sandworm, Bloody
Berkley Gulp! Saltwater 2" Sandworm, Bloody

"This is the best lure for surf fishing! The surf perch loves them, it is almost cheaper then the live worms these days. And it works just as good, if not better than the real thing. Fish simply "gulp" them down!"


Bait for Surf Perch

Surf Perch will strike a large number of baits, here are some of my favorites:

  • Squid
  • Clam Necks (My favorite)
  • Sand Shrimp
  • Pile Worms
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Berkley Saltwater Gulp

Squid, Clam Necks, and Berkley Gulp bait stay on the hook best, so I tend to use them. The surf can be pretty brutal on baits, so keeping the bait on the hook is very important. Clearly if your bait falls off the hook while casting you wont be catching any fish.

What's Your Favorite Surf Perch Bait?

If you've got a favorite that's not listed, please add it in the comments!

  • Squid
  • Clam Necks
  • Pile Worms
  • Octopus
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Sand Shrimp
  • Berkley Saltwater Gulp Sandworms
See results without voting

Where To Find Them

Surf Perch are common up and down the Pacific Coast. Look for steeply sloping ocean beach with the waves breaking close to shore. The closer the waves are breaking, the deeper the water. Don't feel as though you need to cast beyond the breaking waves, the Surf Perch are actually feeding under the breaking waves. I have caught many Surf Perch alarmingly close to shore. Sometimes I wonder how these never end up beaching themselves.

Washington Coast Red Tailed Surf Perch

A Last Word on Safety

There's an old quote that says, "Never turn your back on the Ocean." This is absolutely true when fishing in the surf. If possible, fish with a friend. Waves can sneak up on you, especially if you are distracted unhooking a fish, baiting a hook, or otherwise. As you can see in the video above, you'll get thrown around pretty good. If you are fishing alone, and plan on standing in the surf, consider wearing a life jacket in case you get knocked down by the surf. Better yet, if you are fishing alone, just cast for the safety of dry ground.

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1 comment 9 months ago

Mackerel seems to spark up an appetite with the bigger perch!

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