What does horseshoeing have to do with perch fishing? - Interview of a Master Grub Fisherman.
Ron Martin describes himself as a perch fanatic and fishes (catch and release) year-around. He works as a horseshoer in the Santa Cruz, California area and fishes whenever he can when he is not working. He lives above the cement ship (at Seacliff State Beach) so it is easy for him to fish before or after work. He fished 109 days last year for surfperch. He has fished for perch all his life and locally since he moved here in 1986.
During his best week in 2003 so far, he fished 7 days straight and caught 294 fish (all released) up to 3 lbs. About 1/3 were the larger fish. His best day was 116 fish with the next best 95 fish. One day, he got two fish that were in the 3-lb class. His personal best is 3-lbs 14-oz.
On a trip in February 2003, I saw this grub fisherman who was obviously very good land a very nice 1 1/2-lb barred perch in shallow water just beyond the shoreward drop off in a large hole. Watching him you would see that he fishes with a Zen focus. We met and I guessed that he was the year-around surfperch grub fisherman that I heard of from Ernie Kinzli of Ernie’s Casting Pond in Soquel . You don't see many really good fishermen and he was using the grub that Ernie said was his favorite. Ernie said that Ron is always into surfperch year-around on local beaches. Since then we have fished together regularly.
He is going to learn to fly fish some day. He has built a rod and just has to take the time to learning how to cast.
There is a lot that fly fishermen can learn from Ron!
Here is the interview:
- What does horseshoeing have to do with surfperch fishing? Is there anything about horses and horseshoeing that makes you a better surfpercher?
As a horseshoer, I don't have an 8 to 5 job and have the flexibility to put in the time necessary to learn about the beaches and how the fish use them to make a living. The key is understanding the beach and where fish are holding. I fish as often as I can and have all of my life. I have worked around horses and cattle along time and they have taught me patience. Patience is a good thing to have when you fish.
- How has local surfperch fishing changed over the years since 1986? Were there fantastic runs and much larger surfperch a long time ago? A period went the surfperch fishery declined? When did the recent run of large and lots of surfperch start?
In my experience the surfperch fishing has been fairly consistent since 1986. There were a few years when the numbers were down but if I worked at it I always found fish. This year has been the best in the last 3 or 4 years although I caught some big fish last year and the year before. Last year I found some big spawners in June that stayed on that beach for a couple of weeks, and that is late for perch to be spawning.
- How did you learn to fish so well? Was there a point where you got it suddenly? If so, how long ago was that?
Three guys taught me to fish way back when: Ted Oshinomi, Ron Rock, and Joe Geltz. It just so happened that they were perch nuts. Back in the 60's we fished derbies all winter out of Wylie's Bait Shop. It was on the coast highway in L.A. at Topanga Canyon. We also fished Santa Cruz Island for perch; they were thick there back then. We fished them with live anchovies out of a boat actually casting in to the beach and working the bait back out through the surf. Those big perch would eat a 6-inch anchovy with no hesitation. I don't think there was a time when I just "got it". It was just time and effort to learn about perch that helped me. This picture gives you an idea of fishing in the old days. They were caught in Jan. or Feb of 1967 (the meat fishing years) when the limit was 10 perch. They were caught in Oxnard California on the beaches in front of the naval base. We used fresh dead anchovies and big hard shell sand crabs. Back then we fished bait exclusively. This was a good day but not that unusual at that time.
- What are the keys to catching a lot of fish? What are the keys to catching big fish? What are the first steps to learning how to catch lots of perch and big perch?
There are only 2 rules for me in perch fishing you cannot fish to close, and the fish are where you find them. The first rule is self-explanatory, the second just means if you don't find fish in the spots where they should be fish the whole beach. I have caught a lot of perch in flat, slow, clean water. You have to keep moving until you find fish. Once you find them look hard at the kind of water they are holding in and concentrate on work similar areas. A lot of times you will be catching smaller fish and you suddenly start to catch bigger fish. My theory is the smaller more active fish turn the bigger fish on and the big fish run the small fish off. Although the bigger fish seem to come in very close especially in the holes that have deep drop offs in close.
- Is good fishing available year-around? Number? Size?
Perch are here all year. Usually smaller fish in the summer and fall and bigger fish during the spawning months (winter and spring). But again I have caught big fish all year long.
- Do you plan your day before fishing? What determines where you are going to fish and in what sequence?
No real planning except which beach I want to fish. I have a good feel for the local beaches and what time of the year they seem to produce best for me. I like to look at the beaches at low tide to see which ones have the best holes, especially after storms. Also I look for bait on the beaches (sand crabs if there is crabs there are perch). The crabs are there all the time. They are just out in the deeper water some of the time. The size of the surf and tidal movement seems to be what dictates where they are. I also like to explore and try new beaches.
- How do you decide where to cast? What is key to a good cast? How far do you have to cast?
I read the water, the color, how it is working, and how the holes lay out. I cast to the areas that look good and if I don't get bit I try a different angle sometimes just moving to the other side of a hole works. The fish may be laying a certain way in relation to the way the current is moving. The key to a good cast is putting it where you want it. Remember you cannot fish to close, I find long casts are rarely necessary for perch unless it is low tide and I am trying to reach an outer bar.
- You have mentioned watching the surf scoters before (a black or gray duck-like bird with white markings that feeds in the surf zone). Have you noticed a correlation between their locations and presence of surfperch? What about any other sea birds or mammals?
Over the years I have found that surf scoters, cormorants and even seals can be good indicators of perch. The surf scoters feed on the same feed as perch. The cormorants and seals eat the perch.
- What is important about the retrieve? What do you think about as you retrieve?
A good steady retrieve with the speed depending on what the fish want is what works for me. Once in awhile I will drop the grub back to a light biting fish but usually movement is what they want. I am usually thinking about the water and where I want to put my next cast.
- Are there conditions when you change your retrieve?
As I said above sometimes when the fish are not charging my grub but just banging it. I will stop my retrieve and let the grub move back to the fish this sometimes will get them to hit it hard.
- How do you achieve line control? Under different water conditions? Is there any trick to keeping line control when fishing the inside edge of a shoreline trough? What is key to learning proper line control?
By line control, I assume you mean keeping a tight line between you and your bait. I do this with weight. I fish from 1¼ to 2-oz of lead on 8 to 12-lbs test line. If the surf is big enough to require more weight then I don't fish. It is no fun to work that hard and really hard to feel a bite. This works for me no matter what part of the beach I am fishing. If the swell is pretty good size then I let the set pass and then cast. Also I like to cast behind incoming waves. I have found that perch seems to move in with the waves. I get bit alot using this technique. If the side drift is really strong, I go to a little more weight. If it still is causing me problems, I look for better water. If I get caught by a big wave, I reel faster until I catch up with my line.
- What is most important in detecting bites? What does a bite feel like?
Set the hook if you think you are bit! Smaller fish usually bang it a few times before they eat it. The big fish inhale it sometimes your bait just stops you might think it is the bottom or weed but set the hook anyway! You will be surprised how many times it turns out to be a fish.
- What is the best way to set the hook? When? How? Do you drop many fish?
When I get bit I keep winding until my rod really loads up then I swing. I miss one once in awhile or it comes off on the way in but overall this way gets me solidly hooked up on a consistent basis.
- What do you think about as you land a fish? What is important about playing fish in the surf?
How big he is and not to get too excited. If the surf is not to big I just want to keep the line tight and keep working him to the inside. In bigger surf or a lot of current you still want to keep a tight line but try to pull on the fish when the waves are washing in and hold him when they are going out. I will walk up and back to relieve pressure on the line, trying to keep his head turned towards the beach and coming in.
- Is there any end goal? Will you ever stop fishing in the surf?
I will always fish. I like the challenge of finding fish and getting them to bite. If barred perch weighed 15 pounds I would not fish for anything else.
- What limits your ability to catch a lot of fish? Big fish?
The only limits I can think of are time and desire. Of course the weather can keep you at home. If you fish enough you will get your share of big fish. Just remember to put them back so we can all catch fish in the future.
- What is the best way to get better and better at numbers and catching big fish?
The best way I can think of to catch more fish is to just keep going and learning. Try new things new baits and techniques. Don't take anyone person words as gospel. The more you fish the more you learn.
- What's more important to you: a lot of fish or big fish? What do you go after? Why?
I like to catch big perch but I am happy catching any perch. I put them all back now so I guess numbers matter the most. If I am bent then I am happy. If I know there are big fish in an area, I will concentrate on them because they pull harder. My biggest fish was 3-lbs 14-oz and I am always looking for a 4 lb. fish. I kept this fish, weighed it and ate it. I caught it at Rio Del Mar in March of 1998. I was using fresh mussel on the outgoing tide just before full low.
- What grubs are best? Have you tried any others?
I have fished all kinds of grubs and caught fish on all of them, but my go to bait is the 2-inch Berkeley pumpkinseed power grub. But as we all know half the battle with picking bait is having confidence in it. So go with what works for you.
- What rigging is your favorite and why? What hook do you use? Weight sinker? Leader? Kind of line? Rod and reel? Is there anything that is really important in the gear and rigging that you use?
I fish sliding egg sinkers 1 ¼ to 2-oz, a number 2 bait holder hook, a barrel swivel and a bead between the weight and swivel so the weight does not fray my knot. I fish mono line 8 to 12lb. and I change it often any good line works. I like an 8 to 8 1 /2 foot rod real mushy that bends from the handle. This rod picks up the line fast and loads up quickly that is also good when you have a lot of line out or the wind is blowing. I fish spinning reels mostly, but in bigger water I fish level wind reels. I feel they give better control. The most important part of my tackle is the line if you don't have good line you are wasting your time.
- How do you deal with winter storms and heavy surf? Are there many days that the surf lays down enough that the fish are within 70 feet? Are the beaches around Seacliff easier to fish in the winter?
It depends on the beach but if the surf is to big I don't fish or I fish something else. I fish a lot of trout in the late winter and early spring. I have some spots that are protected and can still be fished in big water.
- Can you characterize the seasonal changes that you see in surf, rips, troughs, holes and moving water at the beaches that you fish? Does your technique change over the seasons?
In the winter the storms carve out the big holes and creates the rips that are traditionally the perch hangouts. As spring comes on the storms back off and the holes disappear. As summer approaches the beaches flatten out with less rips and channels. A winter comes back and it starts all over again. I fish pretty much the same all yearlong looking for any contour or movement changes in the water that would indicate the possibility of fish being present. One thing I like to do if there is not too much current or surf is fish sideways parallel to the beach. This keeps the bait in the desired area longer and really works well for me.
- What are your favorite times of day and tide conditions? Seasons? Weather? Favorite water to fish?
And why? Do these relate to structure that exists?
Early and late and always at sunset no matter what the tide. I fish perch all year so I don't worry about the seasons. I like beaches with big holes close in because in my experience so do the larger perch and also the occasional stripper. Rocks or mussel beds just off the beach create permanent holes that pay off all yearlong. All the Santa Cruz beaches have clams and mussels along them so I never give up on a spot because it does not look fishy at first. The clams and mussel beds are beyond the surf line in most cases so you would not be getting snagged. When you see otters in the water they are feeding on these beds.
- Since you have a lot of experience in Southern California and the Monterey Bay area and we have readers in both: How do the beaches, structure and surf conditions here differ from Southern California waters? Do you the same techniques apply to all the waters?
The southern beaches seem to be flatter and less steep otherwise the contours and structure are pretty much the same. You are still looking for holes and rips and off color water. We used to fish around jetties when we could find them, they were always good fish producers.
What motivates you to fish for surfperch so often and with so much intensity?
I like the challenge and the solitude, and because I have so much history with them.
- Since you practice catch and release and catch a lot of perch, do you have any suggestions on their handling to minimize hurting them?
Just get them back in the water as fast as you can. They are pretty tuff so as long as you are careful when you are removing the hook they will be fine.
- Why do you rigorously count your fish and keep a log? Have you analyzed the log and has it helped you be a better fisherman?
I keep a log about each days fishing and refer back it to see how I did at that time the year before. What the conditions were and where I caught fish and on what baits. As I said I don't keep any perch so numbers are my trophies.
- Do you ever have bad days? Weeks? How do you deal with them?
Everyone has bad days it is just part of fishing if we did not have to work at it then it would become boring. There is always something new to learn.
- Do you have fishing dreams (goals)? Do you dream about fishing (when you sleep)? Big fish? Lots of fish?
Catching a 4 lb. perch is certainly a goal. I came close in 1998. The recent fishing has been fantastic so I have hope of getting one.
- Do you have any funny stories to tell about surfperch fishing?
One time back about 1967, I was fishing with Ron Rock and Joe Geltz, we were in RJ's skiff and looking for the bait boat (to buy anchovies). We were going to fish the navy base in Oxnard for perch. It has a steep beach and when the surf is flat you can get in real close. You cast a live anchovy into the surf and work it back out and hang on! Those big perch really suck the anchovies down. Anyway RJ said he saw the bait boat and headed towards it before we knew it we were in the surf line real close to the beach. It was pretty exciting for a few minutes until RJ got the skiff turned around and got us out of there. It turned out what he thought was the bait boat was a navy jeep on the beach. It all turned ok though we found the bait, hammered the perch and caught some nice halibut also.
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Last Revised: March 26, 2003
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