This morning on my early dog walk, I noticed a trio of men parked in the lot at the end of Avenue U, preparing their fishing gear. Having lately observed what appears to be an unusual number of people casting on the beach, I asked them if it was a special time of year for surf casting and they said, “Well, yes.” They said when the clamming is good, it’s also a good time to surf cast.
What are you catching? I asked.
“Surfperch,” they said.
According to a YouTube video I downloaded, the best time for surf fishing on the Oregon coast is during calm surf. Surfperch apparently can be caught on our beaches year ‘round. The technique is pretty straightforward. It seems most folks use a salmon rod, a 2-ounce weight, and then just plant their feet in the ocean. Waders are optional. Gulp sandworms are popular bait, as are mole crabs, marine worms, sandshrimp, mussels, and clam necks.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website advises the most abundant target for the surf angler is surfperch. These slim, saucer-shaped fish can reach up to 2 pounds. Nine different species of surfperch can found off the Oregon coast, but the fish most often caught are redtail surfperch. These fish are known to congregate within 30 feet of the shoreline, presenting an accessible target.
When I was a kid growing up in a beach town on the East Coast, my favorite sort-of stepfather was a big fan of surf fishing. He didn’t care to fish the beach as much as he liked getting out on a jetty. I remember an exciting day when he lost his footing and plunged into the Atlantic. He drove my mother crazy when he commandeered an entire wall of the dining room to store his rods and reels. We ate what he caught, and he gave the surplus away. Like many fishermen, he threw back pregnant female fish to help repopulate the waters.
I might have made the three men I spoke to a tad uncomfortable when I asked if there was a limit. They were vague on the subject. Oregon requires an angling license to fish for surfperch. The Department of Fish and Wildlife webpage hasn’t been updated on the subject, but the last posted bag limit is pretty generous, 15 fish per day. Although surfperch are available year round, spring and early summer are the most productive time of year for anglers as they are schooling up along sandy shorelines for spawning. The best time to fish is said to be an hour or two before high tide. Experts advise taking advantage of low tides to scout out good surfperch water; look for deep holes or depressions and steeply sloped beaches where the waves break hard. Rocky areas in the sand, or sandy areas near jetties, or where the shore cuts inward are also advised.
Surfperch fishing requires sturdy tackle, not because the fish are so big or heavy, but to handle the heavy surf. While every fisherman has their personal preferences when it comes to tackle, the basics are a 9- to 11-foot rod capable of handling a 2- to 6-ounce weight. You’ll also need a spinning reel large enough to hold 200-300 yards of 15- to 30-pound monofilament line. My personal advice if you’re new to this sport is to stop by Jim Brien’s Bait & Tackle Shop located at 766 Avenue S in Seaside. Go in and talk to him. Jim will fix you up.