Recreational Surfperch Fishery


The Northern and Central California Finfish Research and Management Project identified the surfperch family, Embiotocidae, as a high priority species group for focused study. Historically, surfperch have not received the attention reserved for species such as salmon and rockfish. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) conducted an intensive multi-year study on barred surfperch in southern California in the late 1950s. In 1979, the CDFW documented fishing effort on the sandy beaches in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Since then the CDFW, in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA Fisheries, contracted the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to survey recreational anglers statewide in an effort now known as the California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS). CRFS survey priorities have focused on salmon and rockfish, while sandy beach anglers targeting surf species are surveyed less frequently.

Surfperch (family Embiotocidae) provide year-round angling opportunities for recreational anglers in California's coastal waters. Surfperch occupy a variety of habitats ranging from shallow water over sand or rock substrate, to kelp forests, bays, and deeper water (the pink seapearch has been recorded to 750 ft). In northern California, redtail and calico surfperch are the two species sought most frequently in shallow water along beaches composed of sand and small rocks, whereas in the central and southern parts of the state, the most commonly caught species along sandy beaches are barred, silver, and walleye surfperch. In rocky habitats, striped seaperch, rubberlip seaperch, black perch, and pile perch compose the bulk of the catch. Black perch, rubberlip seaperch, shiner perch, and pile perch are the primary species caught in bays along rip rap and piers.

Fishing for surfperch does not require specialized gear or techniques. Successful anglers use a variety of natural baits, artificial lures, as well as fly fishing gear to catch surfperch. Generally speaking, anglers find the most fishing success during low light periods such as early mornings, late afternoons and overcast conditions that coincide with incoming tides or tides changing from high to low, or vice versa. Fishing for surfperch improves prior to the mating season in late fall and winter, and during the spawning stage in the spring through early summer.

Beach Fishing

    Barred surfperch, CDFW photo by Sabrina Bell
  • Guides to Central and Southern California Beach Fishing
    These guides, prepared in collaboration with California Sea Grant, offer tips on when to go beach fishing, what to look for, and fishing gear to use for various species in the Central Coast region. The centerpieces of these brochures are illustrations of commonly caught surf fish species that can be used to identify fish caught.
  • SFMP Sandy Beach Survey Results (PDF)
    The results of the 2007-08 State Finfish Management Project sandy beach angler surveys in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are summarized in this brochure. Survey methodologies are described. Popular beaches and species targeted are identified, and the average size of fish and catch per person are presented.
  • The Importance of the Tides
    One of the keys to successful ocean fishing, particularly surf fishing, is learning how fish behavior and location relate to tide stage as well as time of day. Surf fish species are more accessible during low light periods, early morning and late afternoon, as they migrate shoreward to forage. Incoming high tides combined with surf action act to dislodge and make available food items such as mole crabs (sand crabs) and polychaete worms (sand worms) that hide in sand bars. Fishing trips planned around the tides will increase the chances of catching surf fish.

    If possible, plan to arrive at the end of a low tide, preferably on a minus tide, which will expose depressions and troughs that may hold fish. As the water rises, present lures, bait, or flies to the edges of sand bars and depressions that are scoured by moving water and attract feeding fish.

Angler shows off her silver surfperch, CDFW photo by Adrienne Vincent