Christmas in California is always a strange time. Isn’t it supposed to be snowing on Dec. 25? The forecasted Christmas Eve high in L.A.? A Buffalo (wing)-ish 72. Take that, Duluth!
So what better way to wish you Happy Holidays, California Sportsman-style, with a story about fishing on the beach… in winter. Think anyone is planning on surf casting from the Jersey shore today? Merry Christmas, Secaucus 🙂
This story appears in the December issue of California Sportsman:
By Tim E. Hovey
You have to love California. A few weeks back, during a slight Southland October heat wave, I decided to head to the local beach to see if the surf perch were still biting. The current elevated water temperature was hovering around the high 60s, and shorts and a T-shirt were the attire for the day. I’m not sure what the air temperature was, but I know it wasn’t snowing.
As a lifelong Californian, I sometimes forget what winter is. I do have family on the East Coast, and whenever I see their winter weather featured on the evening news, I just shake my head.
For the last several years, California winters have been mild; at times it has just seemed like an extended fall. Some may miss the sometimes abrupt seasonal changes; I don’t.
As a sportsman, I look to hunt and fish here whenever the weather allows. And when the typical winter weather rolls in, I look for cooler temperatures to clear out the beaches of swimmers, surfers and overall crowds. I absolutely love surf fishing during the winter, when the beach is deserted and you feel like you have the place all to yourself.
UNFORTUNATELY, THIS FALL the mild weather did little to dissuade the beach crowds, and the warmer water temperatures filled the ocean with those looking to enjoy the unusually warm weather. In my opinion, there’s enough beach for everyone.
Earlier this fall, I took my daughter Alyssa to the beach to try our luck. The summer bite was amazing, and we both hoped that the larger fish we usually see in the winter were hungry. We rigged up, found an open spot on the beach and started fishing.
I watched Alyssa cast with the exuberance she always uses when casting at the beach. She engaged her reel and waited for a bite. Over the years, I’ve watched Alyssa become a fairly accomplished angler. She has the patience of a veteran and owns one of the fastest hook sets I’ve ever seen.
She slowly reeled in some slack and then dropped the rod tip slightly. She whipped the rod back quickly and started reeling. The bend in her rod indicated she had hooked something solid. The rod tip bounced, she took several steps towards the water and the fish started fighting.
I reeled in my rig and walked over for a closer look. Whatever she’d hooked, it was definitely putting up a fight on her light spinning gear.
A minute later, she pulled up the massive surf perch on dry land. A small family nearby clapped at her accomplishment. She grabbed the fish by the tail and smiled in triumph. It was by far her largest surf perch.
I took some photos, and if you had to guess which month we were fishing by what she was wearing in the picture, you’d likely guess wrong. The unseasonably warm weather had it feeling like summer, and we weren’t complaining.
We spent the afternoon catching and releasing several large-sized surf perch as the tide shifted. It was an enjoyable fishing session with my daughter. In winters past, the colder water usually chases me off the beach after an hour. I’ve always waded barefoot, and, during the colder months, I pay for being casual. This season, that hasn’t been the case.
Alyssa and I spent a few hours walking the beach, catching fish and enjoying the day. Off the coast, I spotted a couple of whale spouts in the flat channel, and dolphin pods cruised and surfaced just beyond the breakers. It indeed was an amazing day.
AS MY LIFE gets busier with work, family and a diverse number of hobbies, I tend to look for convenient opportunities to get outdoors; thus, I go whenever I can. Shore fishing in California is an excellent way to get a quick fishing session in with minimal effort. The areas we frequent are yards away from where we park; during times when I can get away, a pair of rigged rods and a bucket of tackle never leave my truck.
The rig of choice for these quick trips is a standard Carolina rig baited with a Berkeley Gulp! 2-inch camo sand worm. A few casts made in the right area with this rig will let you know if the fish are biting or if you need to move on down the beach. I use both baitcasting and spinning gear, and I love my little baitcasters and feel I fish better with them. But I keep spinning tackle with me as well, especially since my daughters are comfortable with the spinning gear.
The type of fish that most shore anglers target is the barred surf perch. This fish is a very robust species and lives in a seriously rough environment, where almost everything is looking to prey upon whatever’s swimming in the vicinity.
Almost without fail, I’ll catch a perch with an extensive wound that has healed up just about every time I fish the shore. Leopard sharks and large predatory fish like halibut readily feed on surf perch in this turbulent environment.
Years ago, I hooked a large halibut in the surf; just before I landed the fish, it coughed up a 10-inch surf perch.
Besides being tough, this species also has another strategy for surviving in the surf zone. Barred surf perch are live-bearers, meaning they give birth to live young. In a world where rough conditions are the norm and predators abound, entering the world being able to maneuver and evade the second you’re born is a huge advantage to survival. During the summer, it’s not unusual to catch a female that is just bursting with juvenile fish.
Within days of being born, these small fish are chasing the same lures the larger fish chase. During these periods the bite is literally wide open, but quality fish are tough to catch due to the high number of young in the water.
WINTER SURF FISHING is one of my favorite ways to spend a day. The Southern California weather conditions can vary from chilly to downright summer-like, and, if the fish are biting, it can be as wide open as the summer bite.
The convenience of this type of fishing is what really draws me to the beach. I’m never without a rod and tackle during the winter, and I make as many trips to the shore as I can during the season.
And being at a place where I essentially learned to fish when I was a boy connects me to that carefree time. Sharing that with my daughters, so many years later, brings me a peace that goes beyond words.
Through life’s ups and downs, if I need to get away and recharge, the beach is where I go.