ANGLERS SNAGGING SURFPERCH ALONG LOCAL BEACHES

March 07, 2008 11:00 pm
Soon Ae Phillips of Brookings is holding a copper rockfish (left) and a vermilion rockfish (right) she caught last week out of the Port of Brookings Harbor. (The Pilot/Larry Ellis).
Soon Ae Phillips of Brookings is holding a copper rockfish (left) and a vermilion rockfish (right) she caught last week out of the Port of Brookings Harbor. (The Pilot/Larry Ellis).

By Larry Ellis

Pilot staff writer

Surfperch are schooling up again in droves off beaches in Brookings and Harbor and they are being fetched fresh out of the fizz faster than fishers can fillet their flatted frames.

The two main varieties seen at the cleaning tables are striped perch, also known as pogies or blue perch, and redtail surfperch, which also go by the nom de plume of pinkfin.

Striped perch are the easiest of the silvery slabs to identify. They have horizontal stripes running along their sides. They are so gorgeous, that at the height of their spawning season, they display colors that rival any tropical fish.

The characteristics of redtails are also easy to pin down. Their fins, especially their tail fins, are tinged with a distinctive pinkish-red hue, and they have brilliant vertical gold bars running from top to bottom.

In addition to these top two species of surfperch, other breeds are being bagged from the brine as well, such as calico surfperch. Because of their similarities, calicos are often mistaken for redtails.

Most of a calico's fins are also reddish with the exception of their tail fin, and their bullion bars are not as well defined, being more mottled in appearance. The calicos don't grow as large as the redtails, although I have seen them the size of dinner plates being cleaned at the fillet tables.

Another variety being caught are pile perch, so named because the habitat they prefer is often pier pilings or old submerged telephone poles. But they can be found floundering freely in schools in the surf like other surfperch.

One of the best things about surfperch is that they can be caught on days when the bar is closed, or when it's blowing hard onshore.

I often witness the remains of surfperch carcasses in the cleaning station on days when nobody else would venture out to sea. On days when it is windy or the swells too high for boaters to safely fish the local reefs, surfperch thrive on the pounding breakers to unearth natural food such as sand crabs, sand worms and sand shrimp. There is no need to make Herculean casts. Surfperch are found right in the whitewater.

The two most important items a surfperch angler should carry (besides a rod and reel) are a tidebook and a watch. They most often will bite on the incoming tide, usually about two hours before high tide, through high slack and up to one hour after the tide recedes.

Any beach where the sand shifts around on a regular basis creates pockets, or holes in which the slabs swim about searching for food.

Since they are a schooling fish, you have to look for these pockets and always be prepared to pick up and move if you don't get a bite within 10 minutes or so. Sometimes the honey-hole will only be 20 feet uphill or downhill from where you were standing. The key is to keep moving.

Often pre-tide scouting on the same day can bring home the silver. Driving around at low tide enables you to find these depressions in the sand. As the tide comes in, the surfperch take up residency in these holes. You will often see the tips of their tail fins sticking up out of the water as their eyes and noses are pointed downward, poking around the sand as they sniff out prey.

What is really exciting is following a school of surfperch and watching their tail fins move closer to shore as the tide comes in, then doing an about-face, moving out to sea as the tide goes out.

You can use lightweight gear if the ocean is flat and the tides are mild. On those days, a surfperch will bite on sight more often, so you can get away with using artificial plastics like grubs or those realistic looking Yabbies that look exactly like a crawfish or a sand shrimp.

I found out about Yabbies at the recent sportsman's show in Central Point a few weeks ago. I kid you not, these things are so realistic looking, when they are immersed in water they fool everybody. I haven't tried them out yet, but at the first available opportunity I'm going to fling a few out on light tackle.

Since surfperch are guided by scent their entire lives, adding some kind of attractant will be extremely important when using any of these plastics. Smelly Jelly in crawdad, sand shrimp, or Pautzke's Liquid Krill will put the odds in your favor.

If the swells are a foot or higher, as they usually are around here, I like to use heavy machinery. Longer meat-sticks with reels spooled up with 20-pound Sufix Siege or a similar monofilament, and 6- to 8-ounces of lead is very important. You want your rig to stay where you cast it. You don't want to be constantly chasing your gear up and down the beach.

About 20 inches up from your sinker, tie a dropper loop using at least eight twists. If you don't know how to tie a dropper loop, the Internet is full of step-by-step photos showing you how to do it quickly and easily.

About 18 inches above the first dropper loop, tie a second one. Insert No. 4 or No. 6 snelled leaders in your loops and you're good-to-go.

The best bait I have ever found is fresh mussels. The softest part of the mussels are the best to use. Be sure to throw a few quick wraps of Magic Thread around them, or some light orange cotton thread, to keep them from flying off the hook when you cast.

My second choice of bait is fresh or frozen raw shrimp, cut into one-half-inch pieces. Live sand shrimp is excellent bait but they are hard to find around here unless you pump your own.

Great spots are one-half mile uphill from the Winchuck Wayside, McVay Beach, Sporthaven Beach near the south jetty, Kissing Rock at Hunter Creek, the Gold Beach south jetty spit, and in front of Nesika Beach.

There have also been some large striped bass picked up incidentally by surfperch fishermen in the past week. I will detail more about how to fish for those guys in the next column.

Tight lines!