Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Local steelheads are getting a little tougher to catch, but the surfperch season is just getting started.

Well-known fishing expert Wes Wesson said contrary to many guides, the time to catch surfperch in the ocean starts in February.

"This time of year, you can catch them all over the place, because they are all over the place," Wesson said. "It's the best time to get them, because they're coming in to pick out partners for spawning."

Wesson said the best bait is fresh, uncooked shrimp, which perch

mistake for the grass shrimp they like to snack on. Cut the shrimp in

half before baiting the hook, he said.

Wesson recommended six- to 10-pound test line, (preferring the cheap

Zebco line, because of its extra thickness), a one-ounce sinker and a

number six hook.

"Always go number six size hook - if you go any smaller you'll catch too many little ones," Wesson said.

The best spots are off of Pebble Beach Drive in between Pacific Avenue and Washington Boulevard.

"Cast it 10 feet off the beach," Wesson said. "Any farther and you'll go right over them and miss them."

For the most productive perch fishing, buy a can of jack mackerel and

chum the area before fishing (toss out a handful of the fish, with the

juice, to attract fish to the area), Wesson said.

Ten of each surfperch species are allowed for take per day. Redtail surfperch must be at least 10.5 inches to take.

"We're the last great place to catch surfperch in the world," Wesson said.

On the rivers

Local guides were still posting good numbers of steelhead trout on

the Chetco and Smith rivers, although the bite has calmed down a bit.

"The fish are there, it's just whether you get them to bite that day or not," said guide Mike Coopman.

Coopman's groups were landing two to five fish per day last weekend.

His group landed five of seven steelies hooked Monday, but Tuesday "went

downhill for me," he said. However, Ron Cox caught an estimated

14-pounder Tuesday, side-drifting with roe, "glo bug yarn" and a pink

fish pill, Coopman said.

A slide upriver on the Chetco is keeping the water muddy with low

visibility - good for fishing - despite low water levels, said guide

Jerry Hogan.

Guide Kevin Brock gave the Chetco a shot on Tuesday, but after an

unproductive morning took his group to the Smith, where it hooked up

with three wild steelheads.

Brock noticed an uptick in hatchery fish caught on the Smith last

weekend with five hatchery fish caught from Friday through Sunday. Only

hatchery fish can be kept on the Smith.

Hogan said two fishermen renting his Gasquet vacation place were

having great luck bank fishing on the South Fork of the Smith all last

week, hooking 30-40 steelies.

In the low, clear conditions that will continue on the Smith through the weekend, precision casting is crucial, Brock said.

"People have to be able to cast half way decent and you got to hit

the spot," Brock said, adding that if you cast right on top of where the

fish are sitting, you'll "spook them" in low, clear water.

Steelhead heading upriver to spawn aren't necessarily on the hunt, so

the trick to getting fish to bite is getting the bait in their travel


"You want to get something in their face," Coopman said.

In low, clear water, the best fishing is right above, below and in

the middle of fast-moving, choppy water versus to the side of fast water

when it's high, Coopman said.

If you're not getting them to bite, try small changes.

"Don't change anything major," Coopman said. "A subtle change can do a lot of good."

Try lighter line, smaller hooks and less bait if you're not getting

bites when the water is low and clear. Shrimp-pink colored yarn seems to

still be the ticket, Coopman said.

Sport crabbing still strong

Sport crabbing is still looking great, said Bob Ginocchio of the Tally Ho II charter boat.

"We got our limits so quick it was unreal," Ginocchio said. "Commercial fishing hasn't hurt 'em a bit."

Hang some fish carcasses in the trap and fill the bait jar with

squid, Ginocchio said, and you'll catch nice, commercial-sized crabs.

Counting the fish

From Jan. 29 to Feb. 5, at least 1,030 adult fish swam upstream,

according to the DIDSON sonar fish counter at Fred Haight boat launch,

funded by the Department of Fish and Game's Fisheries Restoration Grants


The DIDSON has recorded 29,115 adult fish migrating upstream this season.

Tip of the week

Practice casting. "When it gets low, there is less time for errors and mistakes if you want to be successful," Brock said.

Fishing guide contacts: Fish Kevin Brock, 800-995-5543; Mike

Coopman's Guide Service, 707-465-1367; Jerry Hogan of Smith River Guide

Service, 707-464-6052. Bob Ginocchio, Tally Ho II charter boat,


Reach Adam Spencer at