Zen Fly Fishing: Winter 2002/2003 Surf Gallery

The reports are in reverse chronological order with the last report on top. Click on the pictures to view a larger version.

What a difference a storm makes! We had up to 2x overhead swells for 4 days over last weekend in the Northern California area. On March 20, 2003, I fished two beaches and found big changes with slow fishing. Today's swells had long wavelength. I found 2 small barred perch on flies and 1 larger one on grubs at the first beach. The large perch were holding out of reach of flies. The nice walleye shown that was caught at the second beach is typical of those that are populating some of the Monterey Bay beaches now. They seem to be abundant and to be gorging themselves with food (many of them have lumpy stomachs). I ended up with a total of 15 surfperch for the day. It is interesting that the walleyes are eluding me so far. I did catch two. Jim T ended with 19 walleyes and 5 barred perch using similar terminal gear and grubs. His largest walleye was 9 1/2 inches. Is it his 10-lb test leader vs. my 14-lb test? Presentation? Something else???
On March 13, 2003, this was my 27th barred perch caught - a 2 1/4 lb, 15 - inch beauty - caught on a new fly the Surf Miki 3. It has been a hot fly so far.

A front was coming and the wind at first light almost discouraged me from fishing but that would have been a big mistake. My first stop put me into a non-stop bite on perch to 10-inches for 1 1\2 hours. I was getting good hits every cast but dropping most of them after a few seconds of play. I finally trimmed the flash on my new flies and that cured the problem (short hits). I continued north and worked a few more nice similar areas and continued to pick up fish getting the count to 26.
Later around 9:30 am, I hooked the 27th in the shallows shown in the picture and it moved out to the next breakers and started going south. I noticed that she was hooked well into her mouth as I got her into the last breaker and beached her. Finally!!! my first large perch of 2003! It wasn't the last because I found a school of large ones in another nice holding area just to the north and caught 5 more larger perch. The next largest was 13 1/2 inches and all were over 1 1/2 lbs.
High tide (4.9 feet) was at 5:36 am and low tide (0.1 feet) was at 1:15 pm. I started fishing at 6:45 am and much of the water was shallow. The beach has shallow slope but with ebb tide there are areas that wash out into mogul-like bottoms in shallow areas. These areas are just slightly deeper then other areas but they are close in and are excellent holding water. Click to see two such areas in the photo. Look in the area of the last breaker. One is on the left side and one on the right side.

As the storm front moved the winds picked up and as the tide dropped the beach features got larger. The cuts were larger and the throughs wider so I switched to grubs and spincast the rest of the day. Overall, I got 45 barred surfperch (33 on fly rod and 12 on grubs).
On March 10, 2003, I got this double on flies on my 5th cast at one of my favorite Monterey Bay beaches. I was anticipating a hot bite but I only got 5 from that school. I found them in a small, shallow near shore hole . I had to work for my fish but over the next 4 hours I had a slow but steady bite (fishing similar water) of 5 perch per hour. I ended up with 21 surfperch on flies all barred except for one walleye. The perch were to 9 1/2 inches - a little bigger then last time. I was using a 3 fly leader today evaluating new patterns. A variation of the FC Sand Shrimp using motor-oil flash was the hot fly. It was the point fly.

Overall, I caught 31 surfperch (all barred except for one walleyed). The perch caught with grubs were smaller today (only to 1 pound). Grub fishing was slow. It was bright and sunny today. Fishing in general slowed down at low tide (0.9 feet at 10:06 am) and the incoming tide. High tide was 4.7 feet at 2:29 am). I started fishing at 6:30 am. This is my best day this year using flies.
I got into a non-stop bite on flies that lasted an hour almost from the beginning on my March 6, 2003 trip. The perch were only to 8-inches - the picture shows an average one but they were large enough to brighten my morning. I found them in a small, shallow near-shore trough. I caught one cute walleye surfperch. I got a total of 17 surfperch on flies today - my best day of the year so far.

I switched to grubs and started to pick up occasional barred surfperch as I worked south. This nice 12 1/2-inch, 1 1/2 -lb female was the biggest one today caught on grubs. The larger females are still wearing mating coloration.

Overall, I caught 42 surfperch (all barred except for one walleyed). Several were 1st year baby perch today. Several were above 1/2 pounds. Most were 2 to 3 year old. The surf started very calm at low tide (6:35 am, 1.3 feet) and grew to be moderate as the tide came in (12:28 pm, 4.2 feet). I ran into schools three times today. The larger perch got active as ebb tide got going.
Swells were up on March 3, 2003 but I started out fly fishing after getting a small perch in an area that maintained some depth in spite of the surging surf. I found a school of small perch and caught 4 within 30 minutes but continued fly fishing for another hour.

I switched to grubs and started to pick up occasional barred surfperch as I worked south. This nice 13-inch, 1 3/4-lb female was one - caught on the inside edge. I had to work for my fish but had 15 by 12:00 noon. 1.9-foot tide was at 4:41 am and 5.3-foot tide was at 10:24 am. It wasn't until about 12:00 noon (when ebb tide was well on its way) that I found a school of actively feeding larger perch in a wide nearshore trough.

Overall, I caught 22 surfperch (all barred except for one walleyed). Half were over 1/2-lbs. On my last retrieve for the day, I had a break off upon setting the hook. My leader broke at just below the egg-sinker - strange. I enjoyed the day a lot. The surf was challenging. I got 4 on flies. I fished actively all day - it was invigorating!
February 24, 2003 was a slow day, but was SPARKED by hooking, playing and losing my largest fish on light tackle in the surf ever. The picture shows the near shore trough that it was feeding in. It was near low tide. After hooking it ran out beyond the 2nd breaker. It had a tail like a striper but I didn't notice any stripes. I saw it roll a few times - it fought a lot on the surface but didn't jump. I'd say it was 7 to 8 pounds. It might have been a steelhead but I would expect it to jump if it were. It was almost beached and it rolled as a breaker hit and my 14# test leader broke - it looked like abrasions from teeth. What a thrill!

Overall, I caught 16 barred perch mostly on grubs. I caught 1 on a fly (FC Sand Shrimp Jr.) on the inside edge. I fly fished for an hour near low tide. The rest of the day was tough even for grubbing - active surf with lots of foam being pushed. The perch are still mating but the fish are smaller. Here's the largest female (12-inch & 1 1/4 lbs) and male that I caught.
On February 18, 2003, I had intended to scout the full length of Palm Beach to Pajaro River but was surprised that by the second hole to the south with mid-level tides that the waves were already hitting the rock wall. A fisherman was actually rock fishing Palm Beach at mid-tide. I did get enough mid-sized barred perch over an hour to confirm that Palm has a decent population of barred perch too. Perch are mating at Sunset as well, see mid-size male dripping milt.

I headed north back to more familiar water. I finally got one near 2-lbs (13 1/2 inches) - I forgot how nice they feel! I dropped another big one too - a school of big ones must of come by - the one I lost felt bigger (of course). I got about 6 larger ones above 1 pound and ended up with 35 total for the day. The surf was much calmer today but fly fishing was still hard. I fly fished for about 1 hour but no takes. Most of the day my fly gear was waiting patiently. I reflected on the great value of a grub and switch strategy. This might have been a skunk day if I had been fly fishing exclusively but had a great day instead to continued my learning about moving water and high probability conditions.
It was harder to find larger perch today but found several at a favorite larger perch hole. They were working the inside edge. We would catch a few then have to find them again. Fish were up to 1 1/2 lbs. I took photos of two large males that I caught today. The one to the left was larger and caught in the water shown in the background. A cut produced by water dumping off of the flats on the right and returning to deeper water at an angle to the left (see foam line). (Click to see other nice male). These are around 11 inches and 1 1/4 lbs. and about the largest you will see.
On February 13 2003, see the compelling beauty around us at the beach and the lone fisherman in the distance (Jim T.), fishing a good hole. We fished an hour after high tide (+5.5 ft) to low tide (-0.3 ft). Grub fishing in the morning and switched to fly fishing after lunch with lower tide and smaller surf. I was just enjoying the beauty of the day, scouting the beach and structure that has been developing and not fishing like a machine today. I caught 15 on grubs and 6 on flies for a total of 21 perch. Jim was focused and got 30 on grubs and 15 on flies. The structure is developing well at a few beaches, surf is calming and perch are starting to be concentrated within reachable holes, rips and troughs.
On February 10, 2003, I'm back in the same area as the last report but worked even further north. This is a nice 12-in 1-1/2 lb mating female was caught on grubs. I caught at least 3 mid-sized females with the mating belly color and several smaller males with milt. I think most of the larger (2 lb+) females are done mating now and the smaller ones are cycling through.

I got a total of 33 perch (plus 1 sand dab). The biggest was 1 3/4 pounds but most were less then 3/4 pound with several small perch. I would pick up 2 or 3 then they would shift away and I had to find them again. After I caught 20 on grubs, I switched to fly rod for a couple hours - landed 3 mid-sized perch (right away). I found the ones on flies at the inside edge of a nice hole. It is usually lower probability water but at times schools work up and down this edge.

I also scouted another beach 5 miles south around low tide. Most of the structure was too shallow but with a little more water I found 4 nice perch on grubs in 1/2 hour. I expected them to be bigger but they were the same size. They had mating belly color too. With more water, fly fishing could be good. The surf seems to be quieting down well now and the structure at many beaches is developing well. Fly fishing should start to pick-up well and there seems to be good populations of barred perch at most Monterey Bay sandy beaches.
On February 6, 2003 I fished further north then I usually do at on of my favorite beaches. This picture shows a mid-size female barred perch with the darker shading along the underside that indicates that it is a mating female. It is egg-bearing and is in ritual with males in the surf. I caught mostly males again and even the small 7-inch males were dripping milt. Fishing was really slow during the incoming tide in the morning (approx. 2 to 4 feet). I grubbed up 12 mostly over a flat foamy area. I worked up further north around high-tide and the bite really turned on with the outgoing tide. I was using 2-inch motor-oil grubs. I landed 21 surfperch from about 1:30 to 3:00 pm and had to leave at the peak bite. I did get 1 on flies today and another hit which dropped - the count for the day was 33 - it is getting interesting! Fly fishing should start to improve now with good structure starting to appear.
On January 23, 2003, I started at first beach at around 7:00 am. Seaweed was a problem again. I got hit on my first cast but that was it. It looked like I should be catching fish but no signs of life after the first cast.

I left for another beach at 8:30 am (around low tide). Most of it was really flat and shallow at low tide. Met a fisherman who walked the entire beach so I drove there to fish and found some nice water. I caught 5 fish on grubs right away but they were all small. Lot of hits there - all small fish.

With more water around 11:00 I returned to flat and shallow areas and picked up 3 more (on grubs). I finally picked up the nice male close to shore (show to the left). It was dripping milt. I flycast for an hour but couldn't find any females. At 1:00, the wind started blowing heavily so I quit with 8 perch for the day.
On January 20, 2003, I had 9 perch by 9:00 am (6 on spinning gear and 3 on fly gear) then things got really slow because of flat and foamy water towards and over high tide. I got 13 overall (almost all males). I switched to fly rod after I caught a few in close and noticed a follow. A perch tried to eat as I lifted the grub from the water. The first follow I've noticed in the surf. These are my first fly gear perch this year.

My regular flies didn't do anything. After 1/2 hour of flycasting, I switched to a grub fly using the same grub that was working earlier. I picked up 3 perch right away. Interesting! I get the feeling that perch are keyed in on different forage in the winter so my usually good flies are not effective. I still have not seen any sand crabs.
This photo shows the largest today (another male) caught on spinning gear.

There was some good looking water today 2 to 3 hours after high tide. Click to see movies if you have broadband Internet and a QuickTime plugin.
Towards low tide, most of the beach is too shallow to hold fish. Also at high tide, the beach looks flat and foamy almost NO signs of edges. For most of the day, fish were NOT concetrated. It looks like a lot of sand has been moved off of the beaches to distant sand bars. You can see the waves breaking over sand bars about 100 yards out then a large trough (too far out to fish).
New WNW swells are predicted to hit Northern California beaches tomorrow followed by more from W-to-WNW so we may have to wait for more fly fishing.
January 13, 2003 at Manresa was really weedy. Almost every cast resulted in a load of grass. Manresa also had big surf and it was hard to reach fish holding water consistently. I still managed to catch a nice male there. The larger male shown to the left was caught at Sunset which had much more manageable surf today but most holes towards low tide were very shallow. This was the first male I've seen that is dripping milt suggesting that there are mating females around too ( click on it to see larger version). I did have a large fish on that felt like a perch - well, next time. It was a slow day primarily because of weeds and I ended up with only 5 perch mostly males. Weeds were manageable at Sunset today but by the time I got there the tide was too low and water in the holes was thin. I had NO opportunity to fly fish today because of weeds and surf.
January 6, 2003 was the first day that I noticed lower swell reports. See a view to the north too. I made a scouting trip to Manresa - arrived at 4:15 PM. The tide should have been nearer to low but there was so much energy in the waves that the water occasionally pushed up almost to the high tide levels. The swells were not high but waves started way out with long period between waves. The swash area (the most landward section of surf that advances and recedes over the beach) was really long. It took a long cast even with my spinning rod to get to fish holding water.

I did manage to land two barred perch on grubs in about 1-hour of casting in the water in the center of the view south. One was 4-inch baby and the other was a scrappy 3/4-pounder. So the fish are still there, but hard to reach. There was some nice water below that I didn't get to. I think I will work north to beaches that are more sheltered on my next trip.
December 12, 2002 was another day for grub and switch. I fished mostly with grubs today and this 1-1/4 lb male was the highlight of the day. Note the rounded shape of the anal fin and the bump in front of it. I caught larger females up to 1 1/2 lbs with grubs. I also took a small halibut on grubs. It was caught on December 5, 2002. I fished with fly rod after feeling a few hits in close. I caught two on flies today in about 1-hour. Click here to see a whopper .

I fished the tide down from 4.8 feet to 2.1 feet. There was one large hole that I didn't find fish in today. The other structures along the beach were almost flat with edges defined by depth variations of a foot or two. Most of the time, perch were just too far out for fly fishing. Fish seemed abundant but just not concentrated because of the ill-defined structure. I lost the biggest fish after feeling its heavy throbs. I caught a total of 10 today. Five perch were over 1-lb again.

Structure should improve with the coming storm system and make it easier to find concentrations of fish.

Today was an ideal day for a grub and switch strategy. This is my first perch on fly rod for the winter season. I didn't know it at the time but it is a Calico Surfperch (Amphistichus koelzi). It was caught on December 5, 2002. Another photo of the calico shows more of the water that I was fishing. I fished with fly rod after catching the first 4 on grubs and got 3 takes and hooked only one. I fished with fly rod for about 1-hour but the fish had moved out of reach.

Productivity of spin fishing with grubs was 13 to 1 over fly fishing today. Most of the time, the perch were just too far out. I caught a total of 14 today. The beaches were all almost flat with heavily foamed surf. There were a few areas with deeper water that cyclically became clear. I fished within these areas and the foamy edges of them. I caught a small 13" steelhead on grubs. What energy! It jumped after hooking a few times. The largest Barred Perch was 13 1/2 inches and 1 3/4 lbs. I found this one in turbulent water. Five perch were over 1-lb.

Questions or Comments Contact:
Glenn Yoshimoto
Los Gatos, California

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Last Revised: April 13, 2003

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