Surf Perch, Think Crappie on Steroids

nickBy Nick Curcione, TFO Advisory Staff

 

Churning waves and rip currents with undertows that suck the bottom from your feet like a giant vacuum give new meaning to the word turbulence.

It’s no wonder then that confronting these conditions with fly gear can seem downright foolish. However, as with most challenging endeavors, with proper technique and equipment, fly anglers can successfully fish any surf zone.

The following discussion will concentrate on Southern Calif., and its vast and virtually unrestricted beachfront.  The primary species is the barred surf perch. Think of it as a crappie on steroids. By saltwater standards it is relatively small but its abundance and readiness to strike a variety of artificials serves as an ideal adversary for the light tackle fly aficionado.

Surf perch can be taken on various fly patterns in sizes from 1 to 4.   Photo Nick Curcione.

Surf perch can be taken on various fly patterns in sizes from 1 to 4.
Photo Nick Curcione.

 

Geographically they range along a considerable stretch of the Pacific coastline from Bodega Bay, (approximately 70-miles north of San Francisco) all the way south into the area around San Quintin.

 

Productive perch fishing can be had from beaches at both the northern and southern limits of this range, but, for this article the area from Oxnard south to San Diego will be the focus.

 

Most of these fish are in the ½ to 2-pound range, but are hard striking and strong fish. They are designed that way to survive their daunting habitat. Unlike the tranquil environment of their freshwater cousins, they live and feed in a very dynamic, turbulent water system. So, while they are not line burners, they’ll put a good bend in the rod and resist you for every inch of line you strip back.

 

Catching barred perch can be a year- long proposition, (one of my largest close to the 3-pond mark was taken in mid September) but the best months typically run from Dec. to April. Jan. is usually the month when you can expect larger specimens in the form of females that come into the surf from deeper water in preparation for spawning. They also come to feed, primarily in the form of sand crabs, which make up approximately 90 percent of their diet.

 

Study the tides and surf

As in all forms of surf fishing, feeding habits of the perch are closely tied to tidal phases.

Strong tidal currents like those associated with full and new moon phases act like a giant mixer churning up the bottom stirring up food sources, ( like sand crabs). Perch key into this so, time fishing o coincide with periods of optimum water movement. Generally this means you should try and fish during incoming or outgoing tides. However, not all beaches fish the same. Some will yield the best action on an incoming tide while others are best fished on an outgoing.

In most cases the bottom may not be visible, so reading the waves is imperative.  Photo by Nick Curcione.

In most cases the bottom may not be visible, so reading the waves is imperative.
Photo by Nick Curcione.

Just as trout anglers know that all sections of a stream are not equally productive, so it is with the beachfront.

To the uninitiated all beaches may look relatively similar, but as experienced surfers and veteran surf anglers there is an important variation. Surfperch like other predators are programmed to feed in habitat that will yield a maximum payoff of food with a minimum expenditure of effort. Fish will congregate in places where there the food source is abundant and readily accessible. In the case of their principal food source, sand crabs, anglers need to quickly identify areas in the surf line where the crabs are most likely hold. These areas are a function of bottom confirmation. Holes and troughs in the surf are places where sand crabs are relatively abundant. Whether they frequent these places by design or are simply washed there by the current, no one can say for sure. It’s enough to know that these are areas where you want to present your flies.

In most cases the bottom may not be visible, reading the waves is imperative.

Waves tend to break over shallow areas; they tend to roll over deeper areas such as cuts and troughs along the bottom.

For example, if you observe a relatively flat area of water washing toward shore with waves breaking on either side of it, that’s a sign that there is a bottom depression directly beneath the flat section of water. This deeper water will tend to hold fish like perch because that is where bait sources are likely to be concentrated. Sand crabs and small baitfish that are swept into these calmer pockets where they become easy prey for likes of perch.

Bottom depressions are prime areas to direct your casts but you also have to exercise an extra measure of caution when wading particularly if water visibility is compromised. In the event you are having difficulty identifying these spots (repeated trips to the beach front will sharpen your skills) do not despair. The truth is perch can be taken in all kinds of surf conditions so the best practice is to walk the beach and try to cover as much shore front as possible.

Tackle Choices

 

I opt for the 6/8-weight TFO Mini Mag rod.

It is a hybrid combination of S-Glass and carbon fiber. It’s only 8-feet, but it will throw all the line you need to reach perch, (most casts don’t need to be longer than 60-feet). This rod weight could be considered the heavy end of the scale for this type of fishing and it’s a good choice if the surf is especially violent and you have to throw heavily weighted flies.

Two good choices for two-handed anglers are the Pandion 6-weight and the 7/8-weight TiCr X conversion kit. With both of these sticks I use a Skagit line with a fast sinking tip.

Shooting heads are the way to go.

The leader set up is very simple and consists of a single section, (5 to 8-feet) of 8-lb test mono. Fasten an end loop in the mono (make it about 8 to 10-inches long) by means of a six-turn surgeon’s knot, (this is an overhand knot where you go through the overhand knot six times). Take this loop fold it over itself and tie a surgeon’s knot, (a double overhand knot). This gives you a double line loop in the leader that you interlock with the loop in in the tag end of the shooting head.

 

Fly Patterns

Fly patterns for surfperch can also be simple affairs but they should incorporate three basic features. They should be durable, they must not have any tendency to foul and should be tied in such a manner that the hook point rides up.

On practically all my surf flies I incorporate some type of weight either in the form of bead chain or dumbbell eyes. Any fly that bears a resemblance to their principal diet source, (sand crabs) will draw strikes. Color varies from grey to tan. Anglers should incorporate a clump of orange chenille to simulate the roe sack on female crabs.

Practically any bonefish pattern tied on size 1 to 4 hooks will be productive.

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TFO Introduces BlackFly Spinning Rod to Mangrove Series

Temple Fork Outfitters is excited to announce the addition of the BlackFly spinning rod to the Mangrove Family of conventional rods.

Designed by Vaughn Cochran, world-renowned artist, lodge owner and founder of the Blackfly Brand. The 9-foot, four-piece rod was created to deliver the lightest baits, to the leeriest of saltwater species. But, don’t think just salt! This is a rod that should be packed for any salmon or steelhead trip.

Vaughn’s experience comes from several decades spent as a fishing guide and lodge operator in the Florida Keys, Caribbean, Costa Rica, Mexico and Belize.

Angler Nelson Money with a gorgeous Trinity River steelhead, on the Mangrove series spinning rod.  Photo By Nelson Money.

Angler Nelson Money
with a gorgeous Trinity River steelhead, on the Mangrove series spinning rod.
Photo By Nelson Money.

The medium power rod utilizes TFO’s proprietary TiCr blank coating, which protects the blank from the occasional collision with a lure or boat gunnel. It has a 3/8-ounce to 3/4-ounce lure rating, a unique non-glare chestnut colored blank and a premium cork grip.

The BlackFly rod retails for $249.95 and features TFO’s Limited Lifetime Warranty. If your rod fails for any reason, it will be replaced for a flat handling fee. Full warranty details can be found at, tforods.com.

For more information on the Mangrove Series BlackFly rod and all TFO rods, please visit, tforods.com.

BlackFly Outfitter

Blackfly Outfitter is a full service fly shop in Jacksonville Fla., specializing in custom flies, selling all major fly fishing brands and providing extraordinary customer service. The brand also incorporates the Blackfly restaurant in, St. Augustine Fla., and the Blackfly Lodge in Abaco Bahamas. For more information on Vaughn and the Blackfly family, please visit, blackflyoutfitter.com.

The BlackFly logo, the brainchild of Vaughn Cochran. Blackfly Outfitter is a full service fly shop in Jacksonville Fla., specializing in custom flies, selling all major fly fishing brands and providing extraordinary customer service. The brand also incorporates the Blackfly restaurant in, St. Augustine Fla., and the Blackfly Lodge in Abaco Bahamas.

Blackfly Outfitter is a full service fly shop in Jacksonville Fla., specializing in custom flies, selling all major fly fishing brands and providing extraordinary customer service. The brand also incorporates the Blackfly restaurant in, St. Augustine Fla., and the Blackfly Lodge in Abaco Bahamas.

 

How to Punch Matted Grass

TFOLogo-NoTextBy Geoff Evans, TFO Pro Staff

 

 

Many anglers have different theories on how to punch through matted grass with heavy weights.

I have punched matted grass from Canada to Fla., and everywhere in between. Most people relate punching to strictly a summertime technique.

In truth, I have actually landed more fish and in higher concentrations by punching matts in the wintertime.

Photo by G. Wayne Byrd.

Photo by G. Wayne Byrd.

Just like the canopies that are formed by grass matts provide shade in the summer, they act as insulated, heated clumps of grass in the winter. The bass sit under these clumps where the water is a few degrees warmer. This provides good staging or holding areas for opportunistic bass.

Gear

I prefer a stiff, extra-fast action rod like the Temple Fork Outfitters 7’9” XH Pitching Rod.

It has a very sensitive tip, but also the necessary backbone to pull a 7-pound bass out of the cabbage with 10-pounds of grass on top of it.

Line selection is equally important. A majority of anglers prefer braid, but, I will line a rod with fluorocarbon. Braided line is coarse and it will grab grass instead of sliding through it. This will require a heavier weight, than what could have done with fluorocarbon and a light weight.

For weight, I prefer a ¾-ounce Reins Tungsten sinker.  In order not to impede the natural of the bait, I always try to use the lightest weight possible. Tungsten is dense and heavy, again, smaller and less obtrusive.

I have always preferred throwing creature type baits because of how well they mimic crawfish.

One of the best baits I have found to mimic crawfish is the Reins Punchin’ Predator. I rig this on a Trokar TK130 hook. The last part of my rigging equation is Smelly Jelly. I like to rub the scent all over the bait, hook, weight and first 2 feet of line. This not only adds scent to the bait but it also lubricates the bait and line so it slides thru the grass a little easier.

Location/Technique

I like to gently pitch, or flip my lure to dark spots which usually represents an easier entrance point.

I do not like to pitch my bait high into the air and allow it to smash into a matt. I believe this scares away fish. Instead I prefer a stealth approach; not only in casting but also by eliminating any unnecessary noise in the boat.

Most bites will actually come on the initial fall of the bait. You really have to get tuned into what your bait is doing.

Anglers must focus on the line with this technique. If the line stops moving before it gets to the bottom, but, passes through the densest portion of the matt or starts moving again after it has reached the bottom, it’s time to lay into that hook set.

For more information on punching matted grass, or angler Geoff Evans, please visit, geoffevansfishing.com.

For more information on the TFO GTS 7’9, check out this video by Dakota Jones, GTS 7’9 XH Pitching Rod.

 

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