|Surfing for Perch
Both sharks and perch swim under the shoreline rollers. The evidence
cannot be challenged. I have caught the perch. As to the sharks,
there are photographs, and surfers have been attacked,
right here in Oregon. They say it has something to do with paddling
along on a surf board. From below, especially in a dark rubber wetsuit,
you look like a seal when you do that.
But, seals do not stand among sharks in the surf, wearing
old blue jeans and sneakers. Neither do seals smoke cigars.
Sharks do not like the flavor of old blue jeans, sneakers or cigars.
The proof of that is that in all my fifty years of fishing the surf I have
never been eaten by a shark. In fact, I've never even seen one, there.
(Photo by Jerry Ruecker, of the The
The water, even in August, is cold. In winter, it
is frigid. The winds ripple the Pacific like a flag, sending surge
after surge across this largest known ocean in the universe. Each
wave presses you toward the beach.
Perch surfing can be done pretty much anywhere along the
coast. We have included a link to a Long Beach locale, but anywhere
from Brookings to Astoria will work on a calm surf day. If there's
a beach, they're there. Redfins, they're called. Or, the Pacific
surf perch. It's probably due to that niche business you see on nature
shows. Life fills all available areas open to it. Life finds
a way to use a place, even if conditions there are extreme.
Most people don't think of a place where children play
as being extreme. They think of the bacteria living in boiling, sulphurous
volcanic vent ponds as residing in an extreme place. But, the August
surf a few feet off an Oregon beach?
Well, people who think that way are wrong.
Combine Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), where the wind
never ceases to buffet you, and Death Valley where the sun blasts you half
of each day, and the historic Olympic mountains rail mail stop of Pluvius,
Washington, where the days it doesn't rain are still "god damned cloudy."
Or picture a SW foothills dry wash. In the distance
charcoal clouds burst in the forested, snow-capped mountains. You
hear a clacking sound. If you have some desert lore, you know that
is the voice of rocks and gravel bouncing about at the front of a wall
of water. It is a good idea to get out of that dusty channel before
that wall of water takes you surfing across the high dry landscape.
(But, what an X-sport it would make!)
Summer or winter, a PacNW beach has two slow motion flash
floods and two desertifications per day. When the tide is out, the
wind blows across exposed areas, turning the sea bed into a Sahara.
When the tide is in, the expanse of sand is drowned, and tumbled about
by the rolling action of the waves.
Waves aren't bumps on liquid. Not on the beach,
anyway. They are circular flows of water, revolving drums of H20
that extend as deep below the surface as they extend above it. When
the sea bed rises to meet them, they dig at it the way flood waters dig
at the banks of a river.
Visualize that where you live and work became somewhere
else four times a day, and was tossed about and chewed up like a chili
pepper in a food processor while getting there.
Surf perch are predators in an eternally tormented land..
They are hunters who live at the edges of herds of critters who graze this
rocking and rolling reservation..
When you step into the surf, you enter a seaside Serengeti
subject to constant upheaval. The realm of the red-finned lions.
There are two ways to deal with natural disasters. Hide
in the root cellar or get the hell out of there. Each method is utilized
by the creatures of the oceanic edge. Clams dig a bunker when the
tide departs, as do smaller crustacea. The fish and floating
forms of life go with the flow. (Photo: clamdiggers)
The reasons why I fish the incoming tide only are twofold.
First, there is a sinister quality about an outgoing tide. The water
keeps trying to take the angler, often thigh deep in its flow, to
places where the surface is above his head. Second, the outgoing
tide is a factory whistle that tells all the food of the surf perch that
it is time to take a nap.
An incoming tide, on the other hand, pushes the angler
inshore, and is a dinner bell. It brings smells of drifting food
to the fasting clam and shrimp, and thus tolls the beginning of another
banquet. Are you hungry in the morning? Do you know why that
meal is called breakfast? Because it is where you break your nightly
fast. (For the young, "fast" also means "to not eat.")
So, how do you fish for surf perch?
A trout rod with a spinning reel will do. Four to
six pound test line is fine. A number 8 hook does the job.
Put a chunk of shrimp or clam on the hook. About two feet up clamp
on a big BB shot sinker, or two. Cast to areas between the waves
and let the BB bounce along the bottom while the bait tumbles loosely.
Some folks like to throw a heavy pyramid sinker a half a mile offshore
with a 12 foot rod and let the fish come to the bait. I like to use
lighter gear and simulate an injured or confused bait tumbling in the turbulence.
To each his own niche. Around rocks, you find rockfish.
They have their own ways. In the surf, you find surf fish.
They have their own ways, as well. A bait floating along near the
bottom, but at times seeming to oppose the flow a bit like a living thing
might, will turn the trick. Think of seagulls now hovering, now shearing
off the wind above the beach.
Beaches famous for clamming are good ones, but don't hesitate
to try other areas. If the fish you hook is bigger than you, I would
consider catch and release, with a light emphasis on the catch part and
a heavy emphasis on the release portion.
If it happens to be one of those surf sharks which must
have swum close by my legs, but in five decades I have never even glimpsed,
I should like to have the chance to see it, too.
At my age, thrills are not a dime a dozen.
© 2007 Oregon Magazine