It doesn’t take much in the way of talent to clobber a fish on the noggin or let it quietly expire in the bottom of a five-gallon pail. What does take talent is catching one in the first place. And nothing follows — no joy at hooking up and landing a mighty fish, no wonderfully tasty smoked salmon, no ceviche, no coup de grâce even — if you can’t catch a fish in the first place.
Me? I can’t catch a fish. No talent. And as I am a humble human being, and because I want to experience as much of what this area has to offer, I borrow what I do not own and that includes talent. Enter good neighbor and friend Larry who last week walked Meg and I through some of the basic steps needed to catch red tail perch on South Beach in Crescent City.
Admittedly, surf perch is a less sought-after fish than Chinook salmon or steelhead, but those species require a much higher level of commitment than perch. You need to get up early and be ready to fish regardless of the weather, including frigid cold and rain; you’re going to spend six or more hours on a boat cramping up and praying for the opportunity to pee; and you’re going to write a pretty big check at the end of the day. Sure, the payoff can be tremendous — maybe fifty pounds of salmon or fifteen pounds of trout. But just as often you get shut out on the Smith. Nada. Nothing. A nibble but no hook-ups. Or hook-ups but the fish gets away. It’s always a crap shoot.
Surf perch is a whole different experience, with a different set of odds. One doesn’t need as much of either talent or commitment. The gear required is minimal. And you can take a 10 minute break to do whatever…cat-nap, make a call on the cellie, nibble on cookies or sandies. Not every second counts for the surf fisherman.
My kind of fishing.
For perch, we fish the tides, aiming to be in a good spot and casting at high tide and for the next two hours. With proper planning, that can mean being on the beach at the gentlemanly hour of, say, 11am, or even mid-afternoon. Damn nicer on the sleep cycle than meeting up with your river guide at 6am. And while you might go zero for a hundred casts (I’d call it quits after about 60), when the fish are running you’ll hook a fish on every third cast or so. And those three and four pound perch add up. Even with filets that weigh in at about a fourth the fish’s total weight, with a catch of eight or ten perch for the afternoon, you might be talking five pounds of beautiful, white fish for the grill, broiler or ceviche bowl.
Here are the nine essential steps to catching perch.
1. Pick your spot. Look for a trough in the beach topography. This brings the perch closer to shore, allows them to more easily smell and see your bait, and presents less danger to the fisherman. How to tell deeper from the shallow water? Look for a surface area that has no or fewer breaking waves. In the picture above there’s a spot right behind Larry’s elbow…you can barely see a swath of water with less foam. That’s where you want to set up shop. That’s why we are up high at the overlook on Endert’s Beach Road figuring out just where to fish. Lucky for us, that spot is almost exactly where the trail from the road daylights on the beach. Sa-weet.
2. Next is to get some fresh bait. Best bait around is sand crabs, caught the same day you fish. In a pinch, frozen These little critters can be found just below the surface of the beach in the wet sand. You could dig for sand crabs by hand but we use a home made A-frame to siphon and trap the ones that get tossed around by wave action at the water’s edge.
3. Spear one or two on to a hook (what Larry and Meg are doing in the photo) and then cast out over the breakers.
4. Mend your line so you can more easily feel any bites.
5. And when you do feel a bite, set your hook and reel your meal in.
6. Check the regulations, but this season perch need to be at least 10.5 inches in length to keep. Limit is 10 per person.
In deference to those who fish for steelhead and salmon, sure, I get it. Those are the trophy fish and the Smith is where some of the biggest can be caught. It’s hard to beat the thrill of landing a forty pound salmon or ten pound steelhead. Four pound of surf perch pales in comparison. But not for me. I like the almost guarantee of catching my meal. I also feel less mean about the kill. It’s still a brutal thrill, but less brutal the way I fish.
So here’s to the red tail surf perch who gave their lives for another bowl of ceviche. Muchas gracias amigos.