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How to Catch Surf Perch

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Delicious fillets!  Red-tailed surf perch about to be turned Into some fish tacos

Delicious fillets! Red-tailed surf perch about to be turned Into some fish tacos

Why Surf Perch Fishing?

I used to work at a fishing store in Washington. All year long, and particularly in spring and summer, customers would come in asking to get set up to go surf perch fishing. I probably geared up and advised hundreds of customers, having never actually caught a surf perch in my life. It's not that it didn't sound like fun, but I was always distracted by some other fishing adventure. Throughout helping these customers, I learned dozens of tips, ideas, and locations to catch surf perch.

Of the variety of different species of surf perch, the one I will be concentrating on is the red-tailed surf perch. They get surprisingly large, fight hard, bite aggressively, and taste delicious. In Washington, there are generous catch limits and a year-round fishing season.

The first time I went surf perch fishing, I was just trying to kill some time before the clam tides. I ended up having so much fun, I fished right through the clam tide, and proceeded to drive two and a half hours to the coast to fish surf perch the next three consecutive weekends. If you live near a surf perch fishing opportunity get out there and try it.

Rods and Reels for Surf Perch

When it comes to rods and reels, it seems like surf perch setups fall into one of two categories. There are the fishermen that use a conventional surf casting setup with a long heavy rod, large arbor spinning reels, and very heavy weights. These set-ups boast very high casting range, but they are somewhat cumbersome and lack sensitivity.

The other route is a mid-length, fast action graphite rod, a medium-large arbor fishing reel, and lighter weight. These setups have shorter casting distance, but much higher sensitivity for detecting bites.

I have used both, and much prefer the lighter-weight setup, so that's what I'll be explaining and promoting here.


  • Length: 9'–10.5'
  • Type: Spinning Rod
  • Construction: Graphite
  • Action: Medium-fast to fast
  • Lure Weight: 3/4–1.5 oz
  • Eyelet Count: at least one eyelet per foot length of rod

Since casting is the primary function of this rod, ensure that the rod has at least 1 eyelet per foot length of rod. For example, a 9-foot road should have at least 9 eyelets. This keeps the line running true along the rod when casting, reducing line drag and increasing casting distance.


  • Size: A spinning reel containing at least 200 yards of 12 lb monofilament. For Shimano, this would be the 4000 series.
  • Salt Water Capable. While any spinning reel can be used in salt water, many will rust out quickly if not designed for saltwater use.

As with any spinning reel, a higher bearing count generally means a higher-quality reel.

Basic Surf Perch Bait Rig

Basic Surf Perch Bait Rig

Surf Perch Fishing Rig

I would argue that the rig is one of the least important parts of surf perch fishing. With the right casting setup, good bait, and a good location, you'll catch fish. Any bait holding rig will work well.

  • Line: 10 to 14 lb Monofilament
  • Swivels: Ball Bearing, preferable stainless steel because of the saltwater
  • Weight: 1 to 2 oz. Match this to your listed fishing rod lure weight. Pyramid Sinkers are common as these will keep your rig better anchored to the bottom. Sometimes I will use Cannon Ball style weights to allow my rig to drift with the current in order to locate a school of surf perch.
  • Hooks: Size 2 or 4 bait hooks. Circle hooks do a great job of keeping bait on the hook.

See the basic bait rig illustrated above. This type of rig gets your bait up off the bottom and visible to the fish.

If you like, multiple 3-way swivels, leaders, and hooks can be used to increase your chances. Check local regulations for limitations regarding hook count.

How to Catch Surf Perch

Surf perch live in the surf. To catch them, you've got to fish in the surf. Many people use fishing waders to walk partway into the breaking waves to reduce the necessary casting distance. This can absolutely be effective, however ocean surf can become very dangerous, so I just cast from the safety of dry land. Using waders is by no means necessary to land surf perch.

Basically, follow these steps:

  1. Check that your bait is securely affixed to the hook
  2. Cast as far as possible into the surf
  3. Reel up slack so you can feel the surf (or a perch) pulling on your rig
  4. Wait for a bite
  5. Set hook and reel in your dinner

Honestly, it really is that straight forward. I like to fish with a fairly taught line in order to better feel bites. At first, the pull of the surf on your rig might feel a little like a bite, but just wait—surf perch are aggressive feeders and there will be no question when one bites. When your rod tip starts pulsing, or doubles over, pull back, set the hook, and reel in.

If you aren't getting any bites, reel your rig slightly closer to shore and wait a bit longer. If you still don't get any bites, try moving up and down the beach a bit. I've fished for an hour in one area with no luck, moved 50 feet down the beach, and caught numerous fish right away. Surf perch school, so keep moving until you find them.


Surf perch will strike a large number of baits. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Squid
  • Clam necks (my favorite)
  • Sand shrimp
  • Pile worms
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Berkley Saltwater Gulp

Squid, clam necks, and Berkley Gulp bait stay on the hook best, so I tend to use them. The surf can be pretty brutal on baits, so keeping the bait on the hook is very important. Clearly, if your bait falls off the hook while casting, you won't be catching any fish.

Hands-Down Best Artificial Surf Perch Bait. Period.

Where to Find Them

Surf perch are common up and down the Pacific Coast. Look for a steeply sloping ocean beach with the waves breaking close to shore. The closer the waves are breaking, the deeper the water. Don't feel as though you need to cast beyond the breaking waves, because the perch are actually feeding under the breaking waves. I have caught many surf perch alarmingly close to shore. Sometimes I wonder how they don't end up beaching themselves.

A Last Word on Safety

There's an old quote that says, "Never turn your back on the ocean." This is absolutely true when fishing in the surf. If possible, fish with a friend. Waves can sneak up on you, especially if you are distracted unhooking a fish, baiting a hook, or otherwise. As you can see in the video above, you'll get thrown around pretty good. If you are fishing alone, and plan on standing in the surf, consider wearing a life jacket in case you get knocked down by the surf. Better yet, if you are fishing alone, just cast from the safety of dry ground.

Washington Coast Red Tailed Surf Perch

Questions & Answers

Question: What does the bite feel like? Is it light small taps or more like a snook hit where is just slams the bait?

Answer: Unfortunately, we won't be getting any snook style slams from surf perch, but that's just because they don't get nearly as big. Surf perch usually hit pretty hard for their size though, I usually feel it as a very quick succession of short, aggressive tugs. Once you've felt it, it becomes very easy to differentiate from the cyclic push-pull from the waves and current on your line. Don't worry about trying to detect slight nibbles, if they're hungry they'll take the bait.


calvin on July 09, 2020:

since there is a sand bar on long beach do you have to cast further than it or will the perch be behind the sand bar?

Eman on November 13, 2019:

Where can i find a rod like that in description?

huntnfish (author) from Washington on September 10, 2018:

Surf perch is open year round in MA 1 (Ilwaco, Long Beach) in Washington, but from the beach only. If you're fishing from a jetty or pier targeting surf perch you have to abide by the general bottom fishing season which is between March and October. Fortunately, the best surf perch fishing is from the beach anyway, so nothing lost there.

Spring and Summer are typically better times to fish, but I do most of my surf perch fishing in conjunction with razor clam trips to the coast, and I've caught plenty in the winter months. Surf perch fishing along Long Beach can be very productive. Since the fish move around a lot, you pretty much have to go out looking for a school each day, keep moving until you get bites.

If you have any more specific questions, feel free to shoot me an email with the contact the author link on the page.

tildraev on September 07, 2018:

Hi there! I'm moving to the Ilwaco are starting October through next February. What should I know about perch fishing during the fall/winter? Legal? Too cold? Will there be any out there? Any info you could give would be super helpful! thank you.

huntnfish (author) from Washington on August 14, 2018:

Hey Steven!

Red tailed surf perch are pretty much an ocean only species, they stick to the surf as the name suggests. However, two other related species, pile perch and striped perch are pretty plentiful in Puget Sound. While they don't get quite as large as surf perch, I've caught plenty pushing 12" and seen much larger ones while diving in the Sound. These typically are found around rock reefs and pilings. Any of the breakwaters or fishing piers in the area are a pretty sure bet. As for gear, trout tackle works pretty well, and you can use a similar rig as described above, but size down a little on the hooks and bait. I find real bait is better for the Sound perch than the artificial bait. Try shrimp or squid. Good luck!

Steven on August 13, 2018:

Great guide. Have you got any success in Puget Sound beaches?

huntnfish (author) from Washington on July 24, 2018:

Hey Dave,

Great question! This rig is legal when targeting surfperch (and lots of other species as well). The WDFW anti-snagging rule is not an umbrella rule for all fishing in the state, it only applies when specifically listed under certain bodies of water, species of fish, or during certain seasons. For instance, this rig would be illegal in most rivers, especially when targeting salmon or steelhead, but for surfperch is totally fine.

Dave on July 24, 2018:

Is that rig you pictured legal in WA? Anti-snag rule? This is the best rig for surfperch though, don't know if that rule applies.

huntnfish (author) from Washington on November 20, 2017:

Hey Austin, Ocean Shores has some great surf perch action, I've caught my fair share down there. You'll see a lot of people using specialty surf rods to really get their bait out there, but I've caught a handful just messing around with a long trout rod. You can't cast as far, and won't get as many bites, but you will get some. Just make sure you have good bait and try to find a trough or deep spot closer to shore. Good luck!!

Austin Hungerford on November 17, 2017:

I live in Ocean Shores WA and have seen people doing this. They all have nice Pearch in there buckets. Even the guy getting skunked. Cant wait to try it. Dont know if i have a rod. I will give it a shot either way. Nice looking fish on February 16, 2016:

Mackerel seems to spark up an appetite with the bigger perch!