Species: Shiner Perch (Cymatogaster aggregata) Location: Newport Public Docks, Newport, OR Date: June 10, 2017
Surfperch, seaperch, or perch. Whatever you call them, these marine delights are one of my favorite groups of fish to chase in and around the piers, jetties, and surf breaks of the Oregon Coast.
Though some species are relatively common and well-known, others are less pervasive. One such species is the Shiner Perch, a small, silver-and-yellow species that rarely tops six inches in length and has a mouth too small for hooks larger than No. 14 or so.
I’d long seen these fish flitting in and out of the shadows below the piers and docks in Yaquina Bay, but I’d never caught one before.
Then one day, the bite was just amazing. I caught tons of fish on sabikis and small jigs, including a few salmon smolts and my first Shiner Perch. The silver dollar-sized fish with the bright, yellow stripes made my day, as I landed a handful and added a new species.
Species: Striped Seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis) Location: Chetco River North Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR Date: September 14, 2011
I first saw Striped Seaperch as a kid. The beautiful, coppery iridescence paired with stunning cerulean lines made the cooler full of these beautiful fish stand out in stark contrast to the muted colors of the rockfish, salmon, lingcod carcasses strewn about the fillet station at the Brookings-Harbor Public Fish Cleaning Station.
They were big, bright, and beautiful, and the owner of the fish (which realistically were all two to three pounds) had said he caught them while trolling for salmon in the Chetco. I was skeptical about his methods, but I couldn’t deny his results.
These fish were probably the most beautiful fish I’d seen at that point, and I was smitten.
The year I graduated high school, I’d go on annual trips to the coast with my friends Ben Blanchard and Christopher Puckett. They both liked fishing, but I loved it, so they’d often fish with me for a few hours then take the car and do other things while I fueled my obsession.
In 2008, the same year after graduating high school, we struck out for Striped Seaperch.
In 2009, same story.
In 2010, I really put in some effort, did some research, and was only that much more frustrated when I struck out again.
This time, with the waning daylight, I threw out what I now know was a too-large hook with too-large bait. By some miracle, in between battling the horrendous weeds, I caught a fish.
It was a Striped Seaperch just over a pound, and I disparaged the fading daylight and my cheap, digital camera for not being able to accurately capture its beauty.
Since then, I’ve caught a lot more of these amazing fish, including a 1.72-pounder just 0.03 pounds off of the 1.75-pound record held by Species Fishing Legend Steve Wozniak (who I actually fished with in 2018).
I sincerely believe this will be the next All-Tackle World Record I set. I’ve seen a lot of fish over two pounds and though I’ve never caught one myself, I believe it’s only a matter of time. After all, that’s what I initially said about catching my first Striped Seaperch, and it came to fruition, so I’m optimistic.
Species: Calico Surfperch (Ampistichus koelzi) Location: Chetco River South Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR Date: September 12, 2011
Misidentification is to fishing what the New England Patriots are to football: an unfortunate everyday reality that can’t be ignored.
Fortunately, just like tonight’s Patriots’ Super Bowl loss, good can get a foothold in the fight against evil and make that unfortunate everyday reality just a little quieter.
Every year, Oregonians flock to the South Coast to fish for “pinkfins” near the mouths of the Rogue, Umpqua, and Winchuk Rivers. Ask almost any angler, and they’re fishing for Redtail Surfperch. While the majority of “pinkfins” are actually Redtails, a substantial minority are Calico Surfperch — an entirely different species.
This post won’t be long, but I hope it is helpful. Where their range overlaps (Southern Oregon and Northern California), these two species often get lumped into the same “pinkfin” category. Just use this comparison to be able to tell they’re not.
That is, don’t just avoid being a part of the problem; be a part of the solution.
I caught my first Calico off of the jetty in Brookings. After striking out for Striped Surfperch on the river side, we followed the Biblical example and threw to the other side. I landed a Redtail and a Calico in an hour, proving these two species not only overlap ranges but overlap the same feeding grounds at the same time.
Since I thought they were different-looking enough, I took a photo with my disposable camera. After processing and comparing them side-by-side and doing some online research, I was able to tell the two “pinkfins” apart.
Hopefully, now you can too.
If not, one other way to tell Calico Surfperch from Redtail Surfperch is that the Steve Wozniak has never caught a Calico, while I have.
Species: Speckled Sanddab (Citharichthys stigmaeus) Location: Myers Creek Mouth, Gold Beach, OR Date: September 9, 2009
After an eventful day, today paled in comparison.
My friend Ben Blanchard and I tried fishing the Rogue River Jetty in Gold Beach, but the sea lion sirens were deafening, so we didn’t stay there long.
On the drive back to Brookings, we noticed a small creek flowing over the beach between some large rock formations. It looked idyllic, so we parked and walked down.
It ended up being Myers Creek, and we fished in the surf where it flowed in. We managed a few small Redtail Surfperch, but the fish weren’t interested in our shrimp. The beach was littered with mussels, and on a whim, we decided to use them as bait.
Almost immediately, I caught a right-eyed flatfish. It took years for me to identify it as a Speckled Sanddab because these fish are usually left-eyed flatfish (meaning their eyes are on the left side of their bodies), but occasionally, they can be right-eyed.
It was barely five inches in length, but I’m always happy to add a new species.
Species: Redtail Surfperch (Amphistichus rhodoterus) Location: Winchuck River Mouth, Brookings-Harbor, OR Date: September 8, 2009
From a journal entry of a same date:
“With careful planning, and about $220 apiece, Ben (Blanchard) and I got to go on an incredible trip. The drive was full of conversation and excitement. The worst part of the drive was the last 20 miles to Brookings, where construction was underway.
When we got to Harbor, we ate lunch and planned the rest of the day. The seagulls here were even more voracious, eating every scrap that we did not want. Once I was done with my pear, I threw the core on the ground, thinking that the birds would pick it apart. One greedy seagull proceeded to eat the whole thing in one bite. Imagine how horrified it was when it realized the pear core was too big to swallow. For several minutes he entertained us with his gluttonous ways, hopping around, flapping this way and that, and making some sort of pained combination of wheezing and squawking noises before finally getting it down.
We spent some time finding the location of the charter boat we expected to take the next day, scouting bait shops, and getting some answers from the owner of Chetco Outdoor Store. He said we reminded him of himself at his age and gave us the tackle we needed free of charge.
Arriving at the Winchuck River Mouth at Crissey Field State Park just a few minutes’ walk from the California border, we were ready to fish. “Crappie rigs” baited with shrimp almost assured our success. Or so we thought.
It took a few hours, but eventually I did catch two small Redtail Surfperch (one just under six inches and the other eight) as daylight faded.
We crossed over to the north side of the river and prepared for an evening bite. Before we started that process, though, I decided to put on a blue-and-silver Nordic jigging iron. This lure, initially designed for Kokanee, had enticed my first surfperch (a Walleye Surfperch) on the pier in Southern California at the start of that summer, and I thought the combined shininess and castability might earn me a striper or other aggressive game fish.
At this time in my life, I had limited fishing experience and even more limited gear. Using the same light tackle trout rods in the surf wasn’t ideal, but it was my only option. As such, each cast required a lot of force. One of my casts sailed out through a small group of circling, feeding seagulls. When the lure hit the water, I felt a tension and resistance almost immediately.
Thinking I had a big fish, I worked the rod in a pump-reel motion. Before long, I noticed that a gull resting on the water was swimming toward me. Frantically, I began to worry that it was chasing my hooked fish. Then came the horrible realization: I had caught a seagull.
The hook wasn’t actually connected with bird — thankfully — but the bird was wrapped with the line. Working together, Ben and I unwrapped the line from around the poor bird and set it free.
Darkness fell, and we fished off the rocky part of the beach and managed to catch half a dozen small Lingcod (something I haven’t caught in the surf since).
Wet, cold, and hungry, we headed back to camp.
After the very full day, we got back to the car. A large van drove up and put its lights on us. We were terrified. Our first real trip out on our own after high school, and we were about to be kidnapped before we’d even survived alone for one night.
A man rolled down the window, and we braced for the tranquilizer darts.
They never came. A rather cross man informed us that the park closed at 9:00 p.m. every night. We played the ‘Dumb Kids Card’ and avoided a fine, while just missing being locked in for the night.
We hurriedly returned to Harris Beach State Park, where we were camping, and enjoyed a nice campfire meal of hot dogs and beans finished with a blackberry-peach cobbler cooked right in the coals. We relaxed, quietly reminiscing about all of the near-misses two wide-eyed teenage boys had managed in a single day.
Through it all, we still agreed: freedom sure was sweet.”
Species: Walleye Surfperch (Hyperprosopon argenteum) Location: Seal Beach Pier, Seal Beach, CA Date: June 13, 2008
Here’s another one straight from my journal:
“Although my last night (of my Senior Trip) happened to be Friday the Thirteenth, I had to try one last time. At eleven I headed out, eager to add one more species to my life list. I fished a long time … I gave up bait fishing and tried lures.
Every night, a swarm of smaller fish had gathered under the lights of the oil rig transport docking area. I had tried throwing everything in my tackle box, but nothing worked. Finally, I caught my first surfperch on a Nordic Kokanee jig half the size of the fish.
As soon as I cast again, I got snagged. Maybe Friday the Thirteenth…? Nah.
I gave up the fish as bait but only after I’d taken pictures to better remember the trip. Believe me, I will.”
My first surfperch was quite small, but I was stoked to have landed it. Just look at that grin.
That trip actually hooked me on surfperch fishing, and to this day, it’s one of my favorite types of fishing — albeit now I use gear just slightly more tailored to the species instead of over-sized Kokanee jigs.