5 Of The Best Surf Perch Fishing Tips & Tricks Plus Everything You Need To Know About Surf Perch Fishing

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Surf perch are ultra-popular saltwater fish – for good reason! They are readily available all year round, easy to find, exciting to catch, and tasty to cook and eat. What more could you wish for?

Of course, to catch surfperch, you must have the right tools and best bait, as well as be in the right place at the right time. If you do not know where to start, just keep scrolling! I will teach you everything you need to know about surf perch fishing!

Let’s start!

Surfperch Family & Relatives

Underwater photo of a surfperch fish
Image credit: flickr.com

Surfperch fish are so-called perciform fish that are part of the Embiotocidae family. They are mostly found around the North Pacific coast (including the coast of California). Yet, even though surf perch are predominantly marine fish, some members, such as tule perch, live in freshwater habitats too. 

Surf perch are viviparous fish. It means that mothers give live birth and their embryos rely on being them until they are developed enough to begin a separate life. That is how this fish family has gotten its name in the first place – from two Greek words: “embios” which means persistent, and “tokos” which means birth.

The largest specimens of surf perch grow to about 45 to 47 centimeters in length. However, since there are so many types of surf perch fish, their size and length vary greatly. For example, redtail surfperch can grow much bigger than barred surfperch. Here is the short surfperch size reference list:

SpeciesWeight LengthHabitat
Barred Surfperch≈1 lb.4″ – 17″Onshore, Nearshore
Redtail Surfperch1 – 4 lbs.12″ – 16″Inshore
Walleye Surfperch1 – 2 lbs.10″ – 12″Inshore, Kelp Forests, Bays, Jetties
Calico Surfperch1 – 2 lbs.9″ – 11″Nearshore
Silver Surfperch≈1 lb.6″ – 11″Inshore, Flats
Surf Smelt≈1 lb.0″ – 12″Inshore
Striped Seaperch1 – 2 lbs.9″ – 15″Nearshore, Reefs
Pile Perch3 – 4 lbs.15″ – 17″Reefs, Inshore, Offshore
Rubberlip Seaperch2 – 5 lbs.8″ – 18″Onshore, Nearshore, Jetties, Piers
White Seaperch≈1 lb.8″ – 15″Nearshore, Piers, Jetties
Shiner Perch1 – 3 lbs.5″ – 8″Inshore

As far as the USA coast is concerned, the most often-caught members of the surf perch family are redtail surfperch, barred surfperch, and walleye surfperch. If you live in Southern California, you have the best chance to score walleye and barred surfperch. Northern California houses the majority of redtail surfperch.

Everything You Need To Know About Surf Perch Fishing

A fisherman casting his fishing rod by the seashore

As we have already established, it is not difficult to catch surf perch as long as you have the right tackle and equipment and know when and where to target these shining beauties. So, let’s learn more about all this!

What Do You Need For Surf Perch Fishing?

A young boy holds up a fish he caught while surf fishing in California

Fishing for surfperch does not call for any overly expensive or hard-to-get fishing equipment or some special fishing license. If you have already fished in the surf, you are more-less ready to catch a surf perch or two, as well. Still, if you hope to advance your fishing skills, you must make the best possible decisions.

Of course, the choice of equipment and tackle has to do with personal preference, too. Therefore, some experienced surfperch anglers might pick light tackle while others favor heavy tackle. It is up to you to choose your cup of tea.

The Best Surfperch Fishing Rod 

Even though surf perch usually don’t weigh more than two pounds, an overly light tackle is never a good choice for surf fishing. These beauties live in harsh surf zone conditions, and if you want to catch them, you must bring out heavy guns.

In my humble opinion, it would be best to use a 9- to 11-foot-long rod capable of holding 2 to 6  ounces of weight. A medium-heavy rod is the best choice for the Carolina Rig or Fish Finder Rig. It is powerful enough to cast the required weights and keep your bait out in the bite zone while maintaining adequate sensitivity at the rod tip.

The fishing rod used for the surf perch must not bend easily under pressure. If it flexes too much, it will not be sensitive enough for you to detect when a surf perch bites your bait. Hence, you should opt for a fast-action rod

A slow-action rod does not have a strong backbone and can thus feel quite wobbly and bend too much when under pressure. Even the slight gash of wind or subtle waves can move the tip of the slow-action fishing rod and fool surf pech anglers into believing they have a strike. 

If you do not own an appropriate fishing rod, or you think light tackle is better and brings more success when surf fishing, try renting your equipment first. Many tackle stores offer renting services. In this way, you won’t make a choice you might regret later on.The Best Surfperch Fishing Reel

All surf fishing reels need to meet high demands and be able to withstand exposure to saltwater, sand, and dirt. The best reel for surfperch fishing is not an exception. It must be durable enough to stand up to the worst conditions in the rough surf.

The second essential requirement is a high line capacity. When surf fishing, your reel must cast like a rocket to get your bait over the violent breaking waves. It needs to enable long and accurate casts.

The best choice is a spinning reel big enough to hold at least 200 yards of fishing line. As for the line, it would be best if you opted for a 15 to 30-pound monofilament line. A braided line is an excellent choice as well. It does not stretch and thus provides superior sensitivity crucial for catching surfperch.

The Best Terminal Tackle For Surfperch Fishing

As I have already mentioned, detecting a surfperch bite can be quite challenging. That is why I recommend using circle hooks. Since circle hooks set themself automatically, you do not have to worry about setting your hook at the right moment or failing to detect a surfperch bite in a timely manner. 

Moreover, circle hooks offer a few added benefits, such as lower fish mortality. This makes them the best choice you can make if you plan to practice catch and release. They are also renowned for holding the bait securely, so there is little chance of surfperch swimming away with your bait, leaving you empty-handed. 

As far as the size of the hook is concerned, you do not have to go big – hooks ranging from #4 to #1 will get the job done

The popular set-up for surfperch fishing calls for sinkers, too. Anglers usually choose a three-sided pyramid weight since it is easy to cast and does not roll too much when in the surf. You will have to match your weight with the size of the fishing rod you use and the current surf conditions you are fishing in. 

In general, a sinker size used for surfperch fishing ranges between 2 to 6 ounces, which is enough to keep your bait in the bite zone in most situations. 

You will need some swivels as well. I recommend the three-way swivel. The best way to connect this swivel is to tie it approximately 12 inches above your sinker. Use a piece of monofilament line to tie the hook to the first loop. It does not have to be longer than six inches since that is enough to keep your bait distant from your mainline. 

The second hook can be attached in the same manner, about 15 to 16 inches above the first one.

As far as the leader is concerned, the best choice for targeting surf perch is the 20-25 lb test fluoro up to four feet long. It is highly abrasion resistant which is a great plus considering that surfperch often reside in mixed terrains. Besides, it is not visible in the water and won’t scare the fish.

The Best Surfperch Fishing Bait & Lures

A person holding a sand crab to be used as bait for fishing

Here is the list of the best live bait for targeting surfperch:

  • Sand crabs (also known as mole crabs)
  • Sand shrimp
  • Marine worms
  • Mussel meat 
  • Bean clams 
  • Clam necks 

The good news is that you can get most of the bait from this list completely free of charge on most beaches. All you need to do is go out to the beach during low tide and gather it. Be careful not to get pinched by sand crabs!

If you prefer artificial lures, you can purchase hard plastic lures that imitate baitfish. Bigger perch, such as hefty barred surfperch, adore baitfish, so you might score yourself a trophy catch. I suggest using Lucky Craft FM 110 or Berkley Gulp sandworms, whichever is more convenient for you.

Other Equipment

Your usual surf fishing clothes will do just fine as long as you make sure that you wear high-quality, water-resistant hip boots. I have seen many surf anglers in sandals, but it is not a good idea when in the windyweather or when the water is chilly. 

On particularly cold or rainy days, I recommend wearing chest waders. They provide nearly twice as much coverage as hip waders and are thus guaranteed to keep your feet dry. 

I always wear a high–protection sunscreen cream and polarized glasses, too. Wearing quality sunglasses can save you a lot of trouble as they protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet B rays that can cause macular degeneration or cataract.

It is also wise to invest in a beach fishing cart. They can hold all your equipment as well as the surf fish you catch. 

As far as the fishing license is concerned, there should be no special requirements in any Southern California state on the west coast. Therefore, a general angling license should be sufficient for surf perch fishing. Nevertheless, it is best to check your local regulations before you start fishing.

Top 3 Surf Perch Rigs 

Surfperch fish caught on a fishing lure

Carolina Rig 

Surfperch reside near the sea bed. That is why using the Carolina can bring you a lot of success. It will enable you to keep your bait close to the bottom, where these fish love to forage.

To tie a Carolina rig, you need a piece of fluorocarbon leader line (about 16 to 18 inches long), a hook, a sliding bullet weight, and a swivel. Optionally, you can add a colorful bead as well. To tie this rig, you’ll have to master a Palomar fishing knot and either an Improved Double Clinch knot or a Uni knot. Once you are all set, watch the video below to learn how to put everything together:

Fish Finder Rig 

The fish finder rig is very popular for surf fishing (especially pier fishing). It is easy to tie yet highly effective for catching fish such as surfperch. Its greatest advantage is that it enables the angler to cast the bait far out into the surf and keep it close to the bottom

To tie a fish finder rig, you need a piece of leader line (about 16 to 18 inches long), a hook, a swivel, pyramid sinkers, and a bead. You also need to learn how to tie a Palomar knot.  Once you have everything ready, watch the video below to learn how to tie a fish finder rig:

Hi-Low Rig

The high-low rig allows you to have two hooks and double your chances of catching surf perch without having to bring, or set up two separate fishing rods. It enables you to cast your baits at different depths, maximizing your odds of success. You can also use two different baits and find out which works best.

To tie a hi-low rig, you need a piece of 30 lb mono leader, two hooks, and a bank sinker. This is the most complex rig on the list, so make sure you carefully watch the following video that shows you how to tie it:

Which rig should you choose?

It would be best to try all of these rigs and then decide which one you like the best. If you have three surf fishing rods, you can try them all at once and resolve the trilemma on the spot. In general, beginners should stick to either a Carolina rig, or a fish finder rig, as the high-low rig is quite difficult to set up.

When Is The Best Time For Surf Perch Fishing?

Surfperch are available throughout the year and can thus be caught year-round. Yet, if you want to catch fish in abundance, target them in spring and early summer. At this time of the year, schooling fish gather in coastal waters near the sandy shorelines for spawning. 

The best time to catch fish is during the incoming tide. Try to get to your fishing spot an hour or two before high tide. If you are at the beach during the lowest tide, use your time wisely, study the water, and scout the best surfperch spots to revisit just before the high tide.

Try to be an early bird and wake up about an hour before dawn. Surf fish tend to feed actively at this time, and you should be able to catch quite a few if you stay there until 9 or 10 am. Alternatively, you can wait for dusk or take advantage of the overcast weather.

Where To Look For Surf Perch?

Birds eye view of a rocky shoreline

Surfperch species live near the sandy beach surf zone, while perch and seaperch prefer the deeper water. Schools of surfperch typically gather up to 30 feet of the shoreline. They prefer to stay near the sea bottom in areas of high sand erosion. Try to find them in some of the following locations:

  • Between the 2nd and 4th row of breaking waves
  • Troughs
  • Offshore dips in the sand 
  • Deep holes and depressions
  • Sandy areas near jetties 
  • Steeply sloped sand beaches 
  • Rocky ocean shorelines
  • Places where the shore cuts inward
  • Areas where rivers and small streams meet the sea.

The 5 Best Surfperch Fishing Tips & Tricks You’ll Ever Get

  • Many anglers have an issue detecting surfperch bites since they are not very aggressive feeders and their tugs are rather subtle. For this reason, opt for the highly sensitive tackle that will enable you to distinguish the real bites from the wind or wave action.
  • Difficulty detecting bites brings about yet another issue of timing your hooksets properly. As a result, surfperch can swim off with your bait. Avoid this by using circle hooks or bending your hook up
  • Surfperch have small mouths, so make the right choice when determining the size of your hook. Keep within the #4 to #1 hook size range.
  • Since surfperch prefer mixed structures, ensure your tackle is highly abrasion resistant and has sufficient lifting strength to haul a larger fish out of a covered area.
  • Surfperch are often found in bays and estuaries, too. You can also find them around underwater structures. They love hanging around sunken ships!

Watch the following video for more useful tips:


What is the best time to fish for surf perch?

The best time to fish for surf perch is two to three hours before the high tide. As for the time of the day, it would be best to start fishing just before dawn and stay until 10 am. You can also have success if you target surfperch at dusk.

What bait do surf perch like?

Surf perch like bait that you can gather on the beach during the low tide. The best baits for surf perch are sand crabs and shrimp, sea worms, mussels, and clams. Many anglers also use hard plastic lures that imitate baitfish or Berkley gulp sandworms.

What is the limit for surf perch?

The limit for surf perch in California is set to 20 fish per day. You can combine all surfperch species except shiner perch, but you must not have more than 10 fish of any one species. In Oregon, the daily limit is set to 15 fish of any surfperch species.

How big does a surf perch have to be to keep it?

A surf perch has to be 10½ inches long to keep it. This is the size limit set by the California ocean recreational fishing regulations, and it applies to the Redtail surfperch (Amphistichus rhodoterus).

What tide is best for surf perch fishing?

The best tide for surf perch fishing is the incoming tide. It would be ideal to start fishing two to three hours before high tide. You can use the low tide to locate the perfect fishing spot.

A Final Note

Surf perch fish underwater photo

Targeting surfperch is one of the most popular activities on the West Coast. It comes as no surprise since the beaches of Southern California are hard to resist once you experience their beauty and allure. The excitement surf fishing brings is just the cherry on the cake. 

You now have sufficient knowledge to catch a surf perch, too. Go out and use it!
I am at your disposal to resolve any issues you might encounter – just leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you. If you have some surf fishing tips that could help hook more surfperch, please share them too.

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Louis McCarthy

With over 40 years of fishing experience, I am a true veteran of the sport with a passion for reeling in the big ones. From coast to coast, I have lived in some of the best fishing spots the US has to offer. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and love for the sport, one catch at a time. Join me as I explore the great outdoors and share my expertise in the art of fishing. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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