Oregon Magazine   Traveling the West?  Stay at  Shilo Inns

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 Seaside Signal )

   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