Bill Varney – SURF LINES

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Friday, January 05, 2018
I’ve Got a Plan

Two sure-fire spots for big winter surfperch
Along the Pacific coast, we have 23 different species of surfperch, with 19 of those in California alone! The most commonly targeted include barred, redtail, walleye, calico, buttermouth, pile and opaleye surfperch.

PILE PERCH SEARCH the edges of rock for food and a safe place to hide.

While many summer surf fish go on vacation during wintertime, surfperch are still hard at work looking for a safe place to feed and spawn. Most of the largest perch I’ve ever seen have come in winter, where cold water and big surf forces most surf fish off the beach. Unlike corbina and spotfin croaker, who move into bays and estuaries, perch hunker down near structure and fatten up in cold water just before the spawn.

There are a great many places to fish in Southern California for perch during winter. To be honest, almost every beach has something to offer. Here are a couple of beaches that have been traditionally great during the winter. To the north, Leo Carrillo State Beach offers some of the best calico surfperch fishing, while Bolsa Chica State Beach jettys have always offered some plump slabs for those anglers looking for big barred, walleye and pile surfperch.

Combining the right tackle and rigging is important if you want to have luck in the surf. I like to use a 9-foot spinning rod with a 4- to 12-pound-test line test rating and a lure or sinker rating of 5/8 ounce. Having a limber tip is important for hooking and fighting fish, and using an ultra-light rod allows me to move up and down the sand with ease. Match your rod with a 2000 or 3000 series spinning reel loaded with fresh mono, and you’re ready for the beach!

For presenting bait, I use the Carolina rig. This is a simple rig made up of a ¼- to ½-ounce sliding sinker, a 6mm red or orange bead, a black swivel, 8 to 20 inches of 6-pound fluorocarbon leader and a hook. For hooks, I like to use octopus style hooks for small baits and a sproat bait holder hook for longer baits like ghost shrimp or worms.

sidewindercrabsSIDEWINDER CRABS IN deep winter are the perfect perch bait when water is at it's coldest.

Although surfperch are everywhere along the coast, many of the biggest fish call rock structure like jetties and reefs their home. In the summer you can look just about everywhere along the open beach for perch but when winter comes, the biggest fish are almost always near structure. Look for areas where rock meets sand: jetties or groups of rocks just offshore. Fish your bait here near the rock/sand edge. Downsize your sinker and shorten your leader around heavy structure, as this will help reduce snags. If your bait moves away from the rocks, reel in and recast, being sure to fish right on the sand/rock edge.

When applying the technique above to perch fishing at Leo Carrillo State Beach, start by walking the sand and looking for rock clusters just off shore. Big perch congregate on the inside (shore side) of these rocks for both protection and a food source. There are many structure combinations here, so continue up the beach and fish the front edge of each one. This is where you’ll find the big calico and barred surfperch ready to pounce on your bait.

For fishing the Bolsa jetties, you’ll be casting from the rocks with a slightly different approach. After shortening your leader and using the lightest egg sinker possible, cast your bait where rock meets water — that is, not more than five feet out. Allow the surge and current to carry your bait in and out of the rocks, as this is where the biggest fish wait — sandwiched between rocks waiting for food. Always stay tight to your sinker and the second your rod begins to bend, pull up and set the hook. The biggest fish here will inhale your bait and slither back between the rocks if you’re too slow.

Perch are generally not picky eaters but they do like to forage on foods that occur seasonally along the beach. Sand crabs, worms, mussel, clams, ghost shrimp, Gulp! sandworms, grubs and hardbaits all work well to attract perch. But the true secret to catching the biggest perch is to use, when the time is right, sidewinder crabs.

CALICO PERCH HUNKER down on the beach-side of rocks and wait for food to come their way.

“Sidewinder,” or lined shore crabs, are found in any marine environment where you find rocks and moving water. The easiest place to find them is inside harbors, where you can turn over “shoe-box” sized rocks and find them hiding beneath. While searching here, always be sure to wear gloves to help prevent cuts from barnacles and glass.

To keep sidewinders alive and ready to fish, keep them in a lightly moistened plastic tub (don’t forget the lid or they’ll be in the living room before you know it). Keep the tub in a room or ice chest with a temperature between 60 to 70 degrees. Because sidewinders are hearty, they will live for up to two weeks provided they are rinsed with saltwater and fed a mussel, anchovy, etc. every few days. Don’t be surprised when you go out to check on them and one is missing — this means they are hungry!

Hooking sidewinders crabs is easy. Lined shore crabs have a distinct egg flap on their underside. The flap is found near their backside and may be a half round or triangle shape. Using a #2 octopus hook (Gamakatsu split shot/drop-shot or Owner Mosquito Light ), insert the hook into the egg flap and all the way though the body. Your hook and barb will now be exposed and provide for a great hookset.

Here’s a couple important tips about using sidewinders: Time of year is very important. Surfperch search for shore crabs in the winter months from November through April. So they work best during times where the water is at it’s coldest. Another important tip is to remember that most surf fish don’t nibble bait. They actually inhale their food, crush it in their throat and then spit it out and eat the pieces. So as soon as you feel a pull or nibble reel down, lift your rod and set the hook. If not, the hook that was just in their mouth is now floating away as they eat the pieces of crushed bait around it.

With the use of a few time-tested techniques, the right time, tide, bait and location, you’re sure to find perch this winter. Don’t wait until summer to hit the beach. Take a day or two and try Leo Carrillo and the Bolsa jetties to see if you have what it takes to catch the slabs of winter!

* * *

Western Outdoor News Surf Fishing Editor Bill Varney will be holding several informative seminars during the upcoming Fred Hall Shows in both Long Beach and Del Mar. Don’t miss his pre-show seminar (benefiting CCA California) in Long Beach, where he’ll be joined by Baja surf master Wesley Brough and inshore halibut expert Corey Sanden from MC Swimbaits.

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