Redtail surfperch (Amphistichus rhodoterus) are the largest and most desirable members of the surfperch family (Embiotocidae). They are the dominate perch species along the Oregon Coastl Coast.
Perch are viviparous giving birth to fully developed young after an extended period of gestation lasting 8 months. Prior to 1987 thousands of redtail surfperch of redtail surfperch were caught annually as the perch entered Oregon's bays each spring. Since 1987 the catch rate has declined along with the average size and weight of the fish caught. Considering their relatively short breeding life and low fecundity anglers should make every effort to release pregnant females.
The body of the redtail surfperch is oval and compressed. The upper profile of the head is nearly straight from the snout to the dorsal fin except for a slight depression above the eye. The body color is silver with olive green mottling and bars on the side. The fins are pinkish and color of the tail varies from pink to deep purple. Redtail surfperch attain a maximum length of 16 inches.
Silver surfperch (Hyperprosopon ellipticum) are the second most common member of the surfperch family found along the Oregon coast even though the catch rates it sixth statistically. Because of their small size of 10½ inches max most anglers release all but the largest of the silver surfperch. The body of the silver surfperch is oval and strongly compressed. The head is small and the mouth is moderately large. The body is silvery with dusky (brownish to gray) coloration on the back and dusky bars on the sides. The tail is usually pink with an occasional orange spot on the anal fin. It looks similar to the walleye surfperch but lacks the silver coloration on its pelvic fins.
Walleye surfperch (Hyperprosopon argenteum) are not nearly as numerous as redtail or silver surfperch. The body of the walleye surfperch is oval and strongly compressed. The head is small and the eyes are large. The mouth is small and slanted downward. The color is silver with faint dusky shading on the back. The tips of the ventral fins are black as are the borders of the anal fin and tail. The walleye surfperch can be distinguished from other surfperch by the distinctive black tips on the ventral fins and black borders on the tail and anal fins. Walleye surfperch attain a maximum length of 12 inches.
Redtail surfperch and silver surfperch are the most abundant perch species found along the sandy beach but Redtail surfperch are the most desirable. Anglers usually release the smaller silver and walleye surfperch retaining only the largest specimens of these species.
The most productive fishing for redtail surfperch occurs in spring before the perch give birth to their young. Spring is the ideal time of the year for surf fishermen to plan combination trips to dig for razor clams and to fish for redtail surfperch. The surf conditions are usually ideal for doing both. Dig a limit of razor clams on an outgoing tide and fish for perch on the incoming tide. Clatsop Spit beaches and Heceta Beach are two areas where anglers can plan combination trips. The fishing for the rest of the year ranges from poor to excellent from late spring through the summer as the perch migrate along the coast. Do not hesitate to move to another area of the beach or to another beach if the fishing is poor. Redtail surfperch enter some but not all of Oregon's bays in April and May to give birth to their young. Most surf fishermen prefer to fish during the early morning hours to take advantage of the early morning bite and to avoid the chilling effects of the afternoon winds but the best fishing occurs during the incoming tide.
The best fishing occurs during low to moderate surf on an incoming tide with the two hours prior to high slack tide being the most productive followed by the first hour of the outgoing tide. The combination of the incoming tide and the wave action of the surf churn the sand exposing the sand crabs, sandworms and other intertidal animals on which the perch feed. Some perch are occasionally caught during periods of heavy surf, but more often than not, perch avoid the beach during periods of heavy surf and so should you.
Sand crabs are the most numerous intertidal animals found in the surf. They are the small crustaceans seen burrowing themselves in the wet sand as you walk along the surf. Their location under the dry sand is often disclosed by a small hole about the size of matchstick or a shallow dimple or small mound in the sand. Hardshell sand crabs are the most common ones used for bait, but the softshelled sand crabs are the most preferred. Bait the sand crab to the hook by inserting the point of the hook into the mouth exiting the rear portion of the crab resulting with the eye of the hook positioned at the mouth of the crab and the barb pointing toward the front of the crab. Inserting the hook into the rear of the sand crab and up and through the back is an alternative method for baiting them.
Sand crabs are the most productive bait used to catch surfperch, but because of convenience and availability, sand shrimp is the bait most often used. Fish sand crabs or sand shrimp beyond the largest set of breakers in an area with rip currents adjacent to the pockets of deeper water. Cast the bait as far as possible over the backside of the largest breaker as it crests. After the bait sinks to the bottom, wait a minute and slowly reel the bait toward the shore or until a strike is detected or a fish is hooked. Concentrate fishing in the area of the surf where the strike was detected. Redtail surfperch are aggressive feeders and are often caught in shallow water surprisingly close to shore. Fishing is productive near rocks, at the entrance to bays, the mouth of streams or on steep sided sandy beaches. Fish gather in areas of the beach affected by upwelling where the water is stained brown from the action of the waves churning up the bottom.
The hook leader for surfperch rig consists of a 6 foot length of 20 pound test monofilament line with 3 dropper loops tied into it. Tie a barrel swivel to one end of the surf fishing hook leader and a snap swivel on the other. Tie the end with the barrel swivel to the end of the main line. Attach a 2 to 6 ounce pyramid sinker to the snap swivel on the other end of the surf fishing leader. Tie three 8 inch hook leaders with loops on both ends using 10 pound test monofilament line. Loop one end of the hook leader over the dropper loop. Slip the other hook leader loop through the dropper loop and pull tight. Pinch the hook leader loop between your thumb and index finger. Attach the hook to the hook leader loop by pushing the end of the pinched hook leader loop through the eye of a size 4 or 2 bait holder hook. Slip the hook leader loop over the hook and pull tight. Bait the hooks with sand crabs and you are ready to fish.
Sand shrimp are the most common bait used to fish for surfperch but they are difficult to keep on the hook. The best way to bait shrimp onto the hook is to thread the shrimp on the hook leader using a bait needle but first remove the hook from the hook leader. Insert the bait needle into the mouth of the shrimp through the body cavity and into the tail. Attach the loop on the hook leader to the notch in the end of the bait needle. Pull the needle and the hook leader loop through the shrimp. Slide the shrimp up the leader line away from the leader loop. Pinch the hook leader loop between your thumb and index finger. Attach the hook to the hook leader loop by pushing the end of the pinched hook leader loop through the eye of the hook. Slip the hook leader loop over the hook and pull tight. Slide the sand shrimp down over the hook and you are ready to fish. If the hook eyes are too small to push the loop of the leader line the eye of the hook, thread a piece of monofilament through the hook loop, push the ends of the monofilament through the eye of the hook, pull the monofilament and loop of the leader line through the eye of the hook. Slip the hook leader loop over the hook and pull tight. Slide the sand shrimp down over the hook and you are ready to fish.
Small leadhead jigs, ½ to ¾ ounces fished in the shallow surf with light spinning equipped with 6 to 8 lb test line will fulfill the expectations of anglers addicted to the thrill of action and is a rewarding way to catch surf perch. Remember, conservation is the key that will assure good fishing in the future. Release pregnant perch and keep only enough perch to fulfill your immediate needs.
Striped seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis) and Pileperch (Rhacochilus vacca) are the predominant perch species caught along the rocky shore of the Oregon Coast. They also occur in large numbers in the bays. The striped seaperch pictured here are commonly referred to as rainbow perch and ranks second statistically in the catch rate behind redtail surfperch. Both the anal and dorsal fins of the striped seaperch have spines followed by soft rays. The dorsal fin has 10 to 12 spines followed by 23 to 26 soft rays, while the anal fin has 3 spines followed by 29 to 33 soft rays. The rays at the front portion of the soft dorsal fin are nearly twice as long as the dorsal spines. Striped seaperch attain a maximum length of 14.2 inches. The striped perch in the photograph measured 14.5 inches from the tip of the lips to the fork in the tail.
Pileperch are the largest member of the surfperch family (Embiotocidae) occurring along the Oregon Coast attaining a maximum length of 17.4 inches. The catch rate for pileperch ranks third overall statically behind the striped seaperch and the redtail surfperch. The color of pileperch varies from silver to dusky silver overlain with brown or sooty black tones that may appear as a vertical bar or bars extending from the dorsal fin to the anal fin. Both the anal and dorsal fins have spines followed by soft rays. The dorsal fin has 9 to 11 spines followed by 21 to 25 soft rays, while the anal fin has 3 spines followed by 25 to 31 soft rays. The rays at the front portion of the soft dorsal fin are nearly twice as long as the dorsal spines. The tail is deeply forked with a black sooty bar at the base of the tail fading to silver towards the end of the tail. There is some evidence that pileperch withdraw to deeper water during the winter months. Both pileperch and striped seaperch live from 7 to 10 years of age.
Fish for striped seaperch and pileperch in rocky areas where mussels abound. Striped seaperch have a larger mouth than pileperch and their diet consist of a wider variety of marine organisms. They feed at all depths of the water column but mostly on the bottom. Striped seaperch select prey visually and mussels and sand shrimp are at the top of their diet.
Pileperch, striped seaperch and white seaperch love mussels, pile worms (Neanthes succinea), barnacles, sails and small shore crabs. The best baits to use in rocky areas are mussels, pile worms and small shore crabs. These baits are especially effective when they are fished from the rocks over the mussel beds with a bobber or adjacent to the rocks on the bottom. Pileperch have well developed fused pharyngeal tooth plates that enable them to crush hardshelled invertebrates and feed on whole mussels up to 2.5 cm long. Mussels comprise over 90 percent of the diet of pileperch but they feed aggressively on small shore crabs and pile worms. Collect pile worms and small shore crabs while gathering mussels. Mussels will stay alive in the shell for two days but are cumbersome and messy to haul around. The best way to keep mussels is to shuck and refrigerate them. The mussels will keep up to four days. Fish the mussels, pile worms, and small shore crabs over the rocky beach, from the rocky shore, at the base of rocks jutting from the surf, from jetties, around the pilings and under docks.
When mussels are used as bait it is difficult to keep them on the hook. The problem is resolved by using the following method. Remove the mussels from their shells by using a dull knife, one that is so dull, it will not cut you. Retain the mussel’s beard with the mussel. Hold the mussel by the beard and insert the point of a size number 2 or 4 short shank hook into and through the mussel’s tongue (actually its foot) and into and through the body meat of the mussel. Twist the hook around and push only the point of the hook through the gristle at the base of the mussel’s beard. Trim the beard and the excess body meat from the mussel with a pair of scissors. Mussels hooked in this manner rarely come off of the hook.
Mussel beds are perch magnets attracting perch looking for an easy meal on the incoming tide and shore crabs are at the top of the menu of a pileperch. Bait the shore crab by inserting the hook into the bottom at the rear of the crab pushing the hook up through the back until the point of the hook is clearly exposed. Pop open 3 or 4 large mussels and toss them into the area in front of the mussel bed to attract the pileperch to the bait. It won’t be long before a pileperch takes the crab and bends your rod over.
Fishing on the bottom from the jetties or the rocky shore requires using tackle that is designed to breakaway when it hangs up on the rocks. Each component is tied using monofilament line that is 10 pounds lighter than the strength of the line used on the previous component. Breakaway tackle minimizes the loss of tackle when fishing from the rocky shore or jetties and maximizes the time the bait is in the water. Create a 6 foot long breakaway dropper leader using 30 pound test monofilament line. Tie three dropper loops into the dropper leader evenly spaced apart. Tie one end of the dropper leader to the size 3 barrel swivel on the end of the main line and a size 3 snap swivel to the other end. Tie three 6 inch breakaway hook leaders to three size 4 bait holder hooks using 20 pound test monofilament line. The short 6 inch hook leaders do not hang up in the rocks as often as longer ones. Attach the hook leaders to the 6 foot dropper leader by sliding the loop on the end of hook leader over the dropper leader loop. Slip the 4 bait holder hook through the dropper loop and pull tight. Attaching the hook leader to the dropper loops in this manner facilitates their removal when a hook is lost in the rocks. Tie the appropriate style sinker (round sinkers, teardrop sinkers or slinkys: slinks are preferred) to a short piece of 10 pound test monofilament line and attach the sinker leader to the snap swivel on the end of the 6 foot dropper leader. Bait the hooks with mussels, pile worms or shore crabs.
Vertical fishing with a telescoping fiberglass pole is one of the most productive methods to fish for the perch species common to the rocky structure along Oregon's jetties and rocky shore or in the kelp forest. Telescoping fiberglass poles extend up to 20 feet. To properly use a telescoping fiberglass pole, fish with a length of 40 pound test monofilament line no longer than the length of the pole. When a fish is hooked use the energy stored in the arching pole to tire and land the fish. Use the energy that is stored in the pole to lift the fish out of the water with one sweeping motion. Some telescoping fiberglass poles are manufactured with a small simple reel attached to the base of the pole. The purpose of the reel if to store the excess fishing line necessary to pull the line free when the baited end hangs up on the rocks. Use a free sliding bobber with an adjustable bobber to fish the bait at the desired depth. Snell a size 4 bait holder to the end of the line and attach a split shot a foot above the hook. Bait up and you are ready to fish. Fishing with a telescoping fiberglass pole is the ideal method to catch the perch and greenling that feed along submerged rocky structure along the jetties, the rocky shore and in the kelp forest.
Fishing utilizing a sliding bobber using a conventional rod and reel rather than fishing with a telescoping pole and bobber is the most common method of using a bobber to fish for perch along the Oregon Coast. Rig a bobber by setting the bobber stop on the main line at a location that allows the bait to drift at the desired depth usually 8 feet is sufficient. To rig a free sliding bobber, thread a bead and the sliding bobber onto the main line followed by another bead, a lightweight sliding sinker and a bead. Tie a size 3 barrel swivel to the end of the main line. Tie a size 4 bait holder hook baited with mussels, pile worms or shore crabs to one end of a 24 inch 20 to 30 pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader and tie other end to the barrel swivel on the end of the main line. Cast the bait and bobber to the desired location. Regardless of the angler’s choice for bait or tackle it is the successful angler that plans ahead by having the bait on hand and the tackle prepared at the time the bait and tackle are needed.
White seaperch (Phanerodon furcatus) occur with less frequency than more numerous members of the surfperch family ranking forth overall in catch statistically just ahead of the walleye surfperch. White seaperch are found in the rocky areas of the nearshore reefs and in most of Oregon's Bays. White seaperch are rarely caught along the sandy beach or rocky shore of the Oregon Coast, but they are occasionally caught in the jetty channel or in Oregon's bays as they feed on the marine organisms associated with rocky structure, pilings or other structure. The highest numbers of white seaperch caught in Oregon are caught in Coos Bay from March through October and in Oregon's other Bays from May through September. The color of white seaperch varies from whitish to silver usually with greenish hues dorsally. They display a dark line at the base of the soft dorsal fin. The anal, pelvic and pectoral fins commonly have a yellow coloration except for edging of dark on tail fin with a dark spot on edge near anterior end of anal fin. The caudal peduncle is slender and the caudal fin is deeply forked. The caudal peduncle is the area between the caudal fin (tail fin) and the body. Both the anal and dorsal fins have spines followed by soft rays. The dorsal fin has 9 to 11 spines followed by 20 to 26 soft rays, while the anal fin has 3 spines followed by 29 to 34 soft rays. White seaperch grow to a maximum length of 12½ inches and excel as a food fish.
Striped seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis), Redtail surfperch (Amphistichus rhodoterus), Pileperch (Rhacochilus vacca), Silver surfperch (Hyperprosopon ellipticus, Walleye surfperch (Hyperprosopon argenteum), and White seaperch (Phanerodon furcatus) of the family (Embiotocidae) are the predominant perch species in Oregon's bays and estuaries that are of value to the angler. Striped seaperch, redtail surfperch, pileperch and white seaperch are the most numerous perch that enter Oregon's bays followed by, walleye surfperch and sliver surfperch. Pileperch are the largest of the perch species. Pileperch that are pregnant can weigh as much as 3½ pounds but average 1½ to 2½ pounds. Redtail surfperch can weigh as much as 3 pounds but average upward from 1 pound. Striped seaperch can weigh nearly 3 pounds but average upward from ¾ or a pound to 1 pound. The white seaperch weighs upward from ¾’s of a pound, while the silver and walleye surfperch average ½ pound each.
Perch are viviparous and schools of pregnant perch enter the bays in the spring to give birth to fully developed perch. The gestation period for surfperch is long lasting 6½ months. The birth rate of perch is species specific. Pileperch give birth too more young perch than striped seaperch perch. Pileperch become sexually mature during their fourth year and give birth to approximately 11 young perch. Older mature pileperch may have as many as 60 young perch while older striped have as many as 32. Pileperch may be visibly pregnant when they enter Oregon's Bay in April or May but they may not give birth until July or August. Do not keep pregnant perch. Return pregnant perch to the bay so they can give birth to their young. The most productive fishing for perch occurs during the incoming tide of the major tidal exchange of spring tides or neap tides along the rocky structure of jetties, under docks next to pilings and in the area adjacent to the eelgrass beds next to the channels that drain the sloughs and tidal flats. At times during the incoming and outgoing tide, current lines appear between the tidal flats and the adjacent deeper water. Use the current lines as a guide to the channels that drain the tidal flats concentrating fishing in areas with unusual currents, whirl pools or rip tides. To assure success the angler should tour the bay during low tide to identify the locations where perch can be intercepted during the incoming tide.
Mud and sand shrimp are the most productive bait used to catch perch inside of Oregon's bays. Mud shrimp because of their large size should be separated into two parts the body-in-head and the tail. Thread a snelled size 4 long shank bait hook through either the tail or the body of the mud shrimp several times. Pull the leader line through the eye of the hook looping a half hitch around the mud shrimp securing it to the hook. Bait a sand shrimp to a snelled size 4 long shank bait holder hook by threading the hook through the sand shrimp tail first. Pull the leader line through the eye of the hook. Looping a half hitch over the shrimp and he hook will help to keep the shrimp on the hook. Some anglers prefer to secure the sand shrimp to the hook by wrapping elastic thread around the shrimp. The typical bay perch leader consists of an 8 to 10 pound test monofilament line 6 feet long with three evenly spaced 1 inch dropper loops tied in the line. Create three 12 inch hook leaders using 8 or 10 pound monofilament test line by tying a loop on one end of the hook leader line and a snell tied size 4 long shank bait holder hook to the other end. Loop the hook leader loop over the dropper loop. Slip the hook through the dropper loop and pull tight. Tie a barrel swivel onto one end of the dropper leader and a snap swivel tied to the other end. Attach the end of the leader with the barrel swivel to the snap swivel on the main line and the other end with the snap swivel to a ½ to 1 ounce sinker. Bait up and you are ready to fish. Release pregnant perch and keep only enough perch to fulfill your immediate needs. Remember, conservation is the key that will assure good fishing in the future.
Return to Oregon's Other Coastal Fish Species.