Escape the heat, head to the surf

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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So, they’re calling for some ridiculously hot temperatures this weekend and that means it’s time to get the heck outta Dodge and find some more hospitable weather. I can think of no finer place to be than on the coast when the “Inland Inferno” kicks into high gear... foggy mornings, mild afternoons and, oh yea, plenty of good fishing, too! One of my favorite ways to spend a summer day is surfperch fishing. These “bluegill of the ocean” make great fish tacos and are scrappy little fighters. I know what you’re thinking… whoa… hang on a second… did he just mention “surf perch” and “scrappy fighters” in the same sentence? As a matter of fact I did… but you’ve got to throw conventional surf fishing methods out the window if you want to maximize your fun on the beach. Go Light When most folks think surf fishing, spinning reels the size of watermelons and 15-foot rods as thick around at the handle as a baseball bat come to mind. But it doesn’t have to be this way… I do most of my perch fishing with a light 7.5-foot spinning stick and 6-pound test. How do I throw those 4-ounce pyramid sinkers with that light of an outfit, you may ask. Well, I don’t! If you rig up correctly, all you need is a ½- to 1-ounce worm weight to get to the fish. Hit the Slopes There are a couple keys to light tackle perch fishing. First of all, you need to fish on days when the surf is down, which is good advice for surfperch fishing in general. It’s a lot easier to manage your gear, get your offerings into the right spot and feel the bite when you’re dealing with small waves. Additionally, you need to find a beach with some slope to it. Sloped beaches are important because the waves break closer to shore, meaning you don’t have to cast as far — thus you can use lighter weights. The perch key in on beaches with some “tilt” to them because more food like sand crabs and worms get washed into the water with the wave action. The worst perch beaches are the flat ones in which you have two or three sets of breakers that extend 100 yards or more away from the sand. Gearing Up Okay, so you’ve found the right beach and the surf is lapping on the shore like a lake… it’s time to fish! The basic light tackle surf rig I employ looks like this: I’ll run 8-pound Berkley FireLine Crystal braid on my reel (casts like a bomb and has great sensitivity) and then will thread a tungsten worm (bullet) weight up the line. Next, goes a plastic bead and then I tie off the main line with a black crane swivel. To the other end of the swivel, I’ll run a 3-foot section of 8- or 10-pound fluorocarbon and finish the business end off with a No. 2-4 baitholder hook. Bait Sand crabs are the number one item on a surfperch’s diet and if you can dig them up at the beach, they work great. But I’ve also spent more time digging some days… searching for bait… than I actually did fishing. So, you can also purchase some shrimp, clams or mussels as a backup. The easiest way, however, is to thread a section of a Berkley GULP! sandworm onto the hook (just as you would a nightcrawler for trout). Depending on the size of the perch you’re fishing for, you can go with anything from a one-quarter to one-half piece of worm. The beauty of these things is you don’t spend much time re-baiting — and, by the way, the perch love ‘em as good as the real thing. Technique While the guys with the monster rods and heavy sinkers that anchor their bait in one spot get bit, you’re going to catch more fish by covering the water. I’ll toss out, let the sinker hit the bottom and slowly retrieve it. When you get back in, take a step down the beach and toss out again. Perch are greedy little buggers and will gobble a GULP! sandworm whenever they see one. Living in the surf zone, they’re accustomed to having to attack a bait quickly before another wave comes in and washes it out of sight. So, when you do get bit, it’s pretty obvious — especially when you’re getting into the larger redtails, which can go 2 to 4 pounds. More Info If you’re thinking about escaping the heat this weekend and want to get more detailed tips on perch fishing, head to my online magazine: and look under the “Featured Techniques” section on the homepage. Stay cool!