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Bill Varney – SURF LINES

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Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Sand Crabs, Free Sand Crabs, Are Here!

Perch Fishing for Winter Slabs
Now that we are surrounded by winter and much of our offshore fishing equipment is put away, it’s a great time to get back down to the beach for some fishing. You know, when I tell folks that it’s a great time of year to surf fish, they always look a bit sideways at me. I can’t really blame them. Wind, rain, short days and a complete absence of fish reports tend to make one think that there is no good fishing to be had.

Many surfperch fishermen wait until early spring to fish the beach, as this has often been the time when large, spawning perch go wide open. But traditionally, some of the largest perch you will ever see have been caught throughout the entire winter.

BARRED SURFPERCH TUCK into the rocks in winter and wait for food to be washed out from the rocks.

Over the last few winters this has not been the case in Southern California. As the water from the El Nino effect has warmed, both fish and bait (surfperch and sand crabs) have moved north. This year the water temperatures have begun to settle back to their averages and the big perch have followed with them.

Their are many types of perch in the California surf but three of my favorites to target are barred, walleye and calico surfperch. All three use their throat to crush bait and spend most of their time in the inshore trough just a few yards from shore. During the late fall, perch gorge on forage during their mating period. They become voracious eaters during this period as they prepare to give birth to live offspring. The gestation period is around five months, so they generally bear their young in spring. Young perch flood the beaches during summer so the winter period always seems to be the best time to catch the largest fish.

To prepare for catching these 3-pound perch I like to use a nine-foot spinning rod matched with a 2500 series reel, loaded with six-pound pink or red monofilament. For rigging use the Carolina rig. It a simple rig made up of a sliding sinker, a bead, swivel, eighteen inches of leader and a very sharp hook.

If the surf is small and the current light I will use as little as a ¼-ounce sinker. If the surf is large, with a strong current or winds, I will use up to a 1-ounce slider. A bead is essential to keep your sinker from loading with sand and binding on your line. I prefer 6-pound fluorocarbon as my leader material because it’s “invisible” and abrasion resistant. As for a hook, it must be sharp. Yes, I mentioned that twice because it’s so important that your hook is sharp. Ok, that’s three times.

Surfperch love a variety of baits. Perch by nature are scavengers and feed on just about anything. My favorite baits are ghost shrimp, sidewinder crabs, clams and both lug and bloodworms. Although perch also love sand crabs, sand crabs are generally much harder to find during winter. For artificial baits, perch will chase Gulp! Sandworms, plastic grubs, minnow-style hardbaits and spoons.

FOR THE BEST results at the beach find the inshore trough at low tide, line it up with some type of marker on shore and come back and fish it at high tide.

Finding perch at the beach can be a daunting task if you hope just to stumble upon them. Here are a few tips that will help you find the fish.

If you plan to fish on an open beach you will need to find the troughs where surfperch hide. The easiest way to find them is to go to your favorite beach at low tide. Walk along the beach and take note as to where the inshore trough is and line it up with something permanent behind it so you may go back at high tide and fish it. There are generally two inshore troughs: one that is near shore which is carved out by waves breaking on shore (it is about 10 to 50 feet out) and another that is formed by waves breaking offshore at low tide.

Besides the open beach, you’ll always find perch around structure areas like rocks, jetties, reefs and pilings. Surfperch gather around rock areas for both protection and to feed. When the winter months arrive surf fish generally make their way to rock outcroppings because much of their winter food clings to and is washed from the rocks.

When fishing rock outcroppings, jetties and harbor entrances, it is important to find the area where an eddy has been created, as this is where the fish will hide to ambush food. When first approaching a rock area, identify the direction of the swell as it reaches the rocks. Look on the opposite side of where waves meet rock for swirling, foaming and off colored-water. This most likely is where you will find the fish.

WALLEY SURFPERCH ARE generally found on open beach areas snuggled into the nearshore trough.

A common mistake when fishing near and from the rocks for perch and other surf fish is that anglers cast away from the rocks. Remember, fish grew big by being smart and although it’s embarrassing to match your wits to that of a fish, they will surely out-fish you if you don’t keep this in mind: fish of all sizes use the rocks for protection. They head back into the rocks and only come out for a short while to feed. You’ll miss the big ones if you cast away from the rocks.

So when fishing from the rocks, cast your bait roughly 5 feet in front of where water meets rock and let the current wash your bait in and out — and because this many times results in snags, just downsize your sinker to 1/4-ounce and also shorten your leader to 12 inches or less. If your line does get snagged in the rocks, jiggle it gently and most times it will come free.

Allowing your bait to wash in and out of the rocks presents food in its most natural state. Fish will come out from the rocks, pick up your bait and move right back into their “garage.” So always keep your line tight to your sinker and as soon as your line begins to come tight (almost like you are snagging), reel quickly and raise your rod tip to set the hook and pull the fish from between the rocks.

Take some responsibility to insure the health of the perch population by quickly and carefully releasing pregnant female perch. That will insure the fish will be there the next time you go. With so many huge barred, calico and walleye perch out there, now is the time to get down to the beach. Don’t wait for summer to pull on you next fish when you can pull on a slab today!

CALICO SURFPERCH ARE most active in the winter and can be found up against offshore rocks, jetties and harbor entrances.

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Bill Varney has just finished publishing the 2019 CCA Sportfishing Tide Calendar. You’ll find it at tackle stores, landings and all Turner Outdoorsman’s stores. Join Bill next summer for a series of CCA on-the-beach surf fishing clinics. You’ll find more information about surf fishing and the upcoming clinics on his website:

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