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Bill Varney’s surf fishing articles. Catch halibut in the surf. Perch fishing tactics. Corbina baits and rigging, Spotfin croaker fishing and more.

Southern California Surf Fishing Report March 2024

Southern California

Surf Fishing Report

March 2024

     Surf fishing was nothing less than phenomenal in the month of February.  I think it’s because something I’ve never seen has happened…that even surprises me.  From last month until today the water temperture from Santa Barbara to San Diego actually went up.  That’s amazing!  With all the huge storms we’ve had and the strong winds that often turn water over, you’d expect that water temps would not only drop but be much cooler.  But no!

     Currently the ocean is about 6 to 8 degrees warmer than usual in the CA Bight, the water temps are up all along the coast and the temperture of the water near the bottom remains warm too.  Warm water in the entire water column!  All of this has added up to provide some amazing fishing.  Sand crabs, although sparse, are still on the beach along with tons of yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, barred surfperch and corbina.  Is this summer?

     It appears that because of swells from the South (which we will begin seeing mid month) will continue to send warm water north and mititgate water cooling.  Will Last summer extend to summer 2024, with no winter off?  Late April is often the beginning of the sand crab/corbina season and we are almost there already.  It looks to me like we’ll have a long season for yellowfin, spotfin and corbina because of the abundance of food so early in the season.

     My stategy for March doesn’t change due to warmer than expected water.  This is one of the best months of the year to target spotfin croaker and halibut.  Spotfin will be keying in on ghost shrimp and lug/blood worms.  Fish them using the carolina rig on sand points and near structure (offshore rocks, jetties, harbor entrances).  Cast your bait out and slowly retrieve toward shore.  Use a fan casting pattern to cover as much bottom/holes/troughs as possible.  They will be closet to shore at high tide so that may be the best time to fish them.

     This is halibut month…or should I say hello grunion!  March marks the beginning of the grunion’s annual series of spawning events at our local beaches.  Early season runs, like those in March, can be spotty with smaller numbers of spawners and often geographically spread out.  By using a bit of snooping, asking the lifeguard/warden, you may be able to find out exactly where they came to shore and fish there.

     I like to rig up for halibut with a 7-8′ medium stiff casting rod, matched with a baitcaster (Shimano Corrado) loaded with 10lb mono.  I tie the BattleStar/Lucky Craft/Rapalla directly to my line and cast using a fan pattern to be able to cover as much surface area as possible.  It’s best to fish around both peak high and peak low tide.  As halibut are exceptionally lazy they often feed during these “slack” periods, when there is very little current.  Do expect to make 100 casts before getting a bite…but when you do get that bite, it will be a big one!

     The corbina train still continues here in Orange County.  This week two big corbina were caught, one at the cliffs and another along Sunset Beach on Honey Badger Baits (2″ Super Slayer Motoroil).  This is the sixth corbina I’ve seen caught on these baits.  I think their inventor, Glen Saldivar, is really on to something.  Check out “honeybadgerbaits” on Facebook.


     Santa Barbara fishing has slowed over the last few weeks.  Massive water run off and the opening of several estuary entrances have contributed to lots of wood, kelp and trash in the water.  Areas south of SB, like Carpinteria have had much better conditions and are producing many 9-12″ barred surf perch.

     The halibut bite has cooled in Goleta (especially due to water quality) but has gotten better this last week near the Wharf (especially on it’s left/south side) and inside the harbor as these areas have had some protection from winter storms and water-bound debris.

     Anglers have been using hardbaits here but also drop shot rigs and swimbaits to attract halibut bites.  White, for both types of lures, has seem to work very well…possibly immatating spawning squid as they group-up off the coast.


     Pt. Mugu kicked out a couple big corbina this week.  Both on BattleStar baits.  Wow, some really good halibut fishing reported off the Dockwyler jetties, just north of El Segundo.  Hardbaits on calm days fished along the sides of the jetty have produced legals.  Remember to fish these areas for halibut at slack tide periods (1/2 hour before and after peak and low tide) and cast/retrieve your lure right where rocks/structure meets sand.  This is where the halibut will hide to feed.

     Redondo’s King Harbor has been kicking out some great bonito fishing over the last two weeks.  This is a great harbor to fish from the rocks using a bubble and feather…splashing your rig along the surface will always entice bonito to bite.  Another great bait inside King Harbor is a 1/8th ounce Tiny Tott, cast out on light test on a surf/trout rod and jigged back to shore.  Bonito can’t resist these!

     Hermosa, Manhattan, Redondo and Torrance have been kicking out some nice walleye and barred surfperch.  Gulp!, grub, mussel and lug/blood worms have been working well.  The entire South Bay, from Santa Monica to Palos Verdes has been pounded by huge surf….so look for an extended period of small surf and fish it on those days.


Surf fishing between the Huntington Harbor Jetty and the Wedge has been nothing less than amazing.  I’d say it’s been as good as any summer day.  Last week Phil Friedman (check out Phil’s podcast on Friedman Adventures) had a group along Sunset Beach who picked up perch, leopard sharks, yellowfin croaker, corbina and spotfin croaker.

      Anglers have been using a variety of live bait and lures.  Best lures have been Kastmasters for the yellowfin and hardbaits for the halibut.  Fish live bait on the carolina rig and remember to use a heavier sinker and shorter leader when the surf is big, it’s windy or there’s a strong current.  Lug/blood worms have been working great for perch, yellowfin and spotfin but launch a big juicy ghost shrimp out at places like Anderson St., Bolsa South Jetty, HB Cliffs or the Newport Jetties and you’ve got a fantastic chance of catching a monster spotfin croaker.

     Recent reports from South OC (San Clemente, Dana, Salt Creek, Sano) let us know that the halibut are biting down there too on hardbaits…especially near rock structure at low tide.

Check his video out CLICK HERE

Some of the best baits working in the surf now include both blood and lug worms, mussel, ghost shrimp and grubs/gulp!.  Using a bright bead below your sinker and above your swivel is working great to attract large perch.

     Plus, a number of corbina caught in the last several weeks have been on hard sand crabs…so if you see them in the sand, try them out!


San Diego has been pumping out some nice sized barred surfperch.  Reports from Coronado, Torrey Pines and Carlsbad have had 10-14″ perch in the count with a mix of yellowfin and an occasional corbina.

Saturday flat calm surf in Cabo…perfect for roosters!

Thank you Jeffrey, Cliff, Brian and to all the anglers for their great reports and photos…

PLEASE keep them coming!




You’ll find DuraScent Products in our Store


What To Look For This Month

A continuous line of storms spin off the Aleutian Islands and sends swells toward California.  We expect to see continued NW swells thoughout the month with the added influence of swells from the South Pacific.


     Warm water remains the big news this month as we actually saw water tempertures go up.  Big swells will continue to come in from the Northwest with two moderate impules of South swells coming up the coast in the middle of the month.

     Some fantastic tides this month which will begin to usher in the first run of grunion for 2024.  Considering the warm water I wouldn’t be surprised if the first runs are as big as mid-spring runs.  This is sure to turn the halibut and all inshore fish on.

     Over the next few days expect some heafty winds from the Northwest, followed by light offshore and then again strong winds which will accompany the next storm from the North.

Grunion Run Schedule for 2024 

Our first run of grunion is just around the corner.  With the fantastic halibut fishing we already are experiencing, gruion runs will only make it even better!

  • 3/10 Sun  10:30 pm – 12:30 am
  • 3/11 Mon  11:05 pm – 1:05 am
  • 3/12 Tue  11:40 pm – 1:40 am
  • 3/13 Wed  12:20 am – 2:20 am*
  • 3/25 Mon  10:20 pm – 12:20 am
  • 3/26 Tue  10:40 pm – 12:40 am
  • 3/27 Wed  11:00 pm – 1:00 am
  • 3/28 Thu  11:20 pm – 1:20 am

Observation Months 2024: March, April, May, June  Collection Months 2024: July and August (Limit 30)  Halibut often feed near shore before, during and after a run


Temp:  61 south, 59 north (warmer!) This is the first time I can remember the water temperture going up in the middle of the winter.  Because we’ve had a couple of south swells coming all the way from Antartica, the warm water mass continues to move north.  Look for small dips during storms but overall very stable water temps.

Tides:(Don’t forget your CCA Sportfishing Tide Calendar HERE)  Great tides again for the month of March.  March 10th is new moon and between 3/6 and 3/12 there are some days with 7’+ tide swings!  That’s lots of moving water and some great high tides and super low tides that will allow you to fish areas you can’t usually reach.  Harbor entrances, jetties, offshore rocks may all be within reach at these low tides.  Plus, daylight savings time begins on 3/10 and will give us another hour to fish!

     The full moon occurs on 3/26 and although it doesn’t have the astronomical tide swings of the new moon it does have some very good tides.  Looking at the chart for 3/20 (the last day of lobster season) through the end of the month there are some fine tides for surf fishing.  Every day in that period has near a 5′ tidal change which is perfect for surf fishing because it produces consistency of tide and a moderate current.

Originating in the Tasman Sea a strong South swell mill make it’s way to California near the middle of March. It’s push of warm water should continue to keep water temps up along the coast.

Winds:  Look for the winds to be excessive and erratic over the next 7-10 days.  Afternoon winds out of the west will reach 30+ mph and make fishing difficult for the next several days.  Between storms we’ll see light offshore winds in the morning followed by 10-15mph afternoon winds out of the west.

SwellWhat an amazing winter it has been for swells and swell direction.  Over the next two weeks two large stroms near Antartica will sends swells all the way from South America to California.  Along with those swells will be warm water. At nearly the same time we will also have large swells from the Northwest.  This may be one of the reasons for the warmer water and the quick recovery of water temp and surf fishing after a storm.  It does seem that there is a contest between the North and the South this winter.


The recent rain has increased the risk of high bacteria levels in the surf-zone from runoff. As a reminder, there is an increased risk of high bacteria levels for at least 72 hours following any measurable rain-event (usually 0.1″ or more) during which time water contact should be avoided.


A number of hazards are affecting the coastal region from the passing storms including flooding and flash flooding.  NOAA has issued warnings and advisories to stay out of the water and up onto the sand.

Southern California Surf Fishing Report January 2024

Southern California Surf Fishing Report

January 2024

Happy New Year Everyone!

     Wow, I don’t need to tell you about the latest swell or the destruction it brought but the good news is that this huge surf will reshape the beach and expose winter food that will drive surf fish crazy!

     Surf fishing last month provided one of the best Decembers on record.  Halibut and of course perch…but corbina were the star with many caught from Hermosa to Coronado.  No question warm water is what has kept the fish here and biting.  Now, after this massive swell, it’s anybody’s guess where the corbina, spotfin, yellowfin, striper and perch will be.

     I’d guess they will be found in their usual winter spots…near rocks, jetties, harbor entrances and inside bays and estuaries.  Here’s a look back at some of the beaches over the last couple of weeks (before the big swell):


Up until the last few days fishing in Santa Barbara and Ventura (and along the way) has been very good.  Great catches of large barred surfperch on Gulp, worms and hard baits.  Halibut fishing has been a bit slow but should pick up once the swell drops and fish can begin to search again for food.  The really big news is that corbina have been seen swimming around the harbor, near the sand spit and next to the boat launch, inside the harbor.  I’d try fishing there.  Last week a nice size corbina was taken on a Gulp worm at La Conchita.  It’s very late in the year for corbina this far north and really is a testament to how warm the water still is.


The Malibu coast has been a hot spot all December.  From Santa Monica to Malibu the perch fishing has been phenomenal for larger barred perch.  Bonito have been biting on the bobber and feather just south of Topanga Canyon Rd. in the evening on calm wind days.  Up the coast toward Leo Carrillo, halibut, calico bass and perch have been on the bite.  Areas like Leo where sand meets offshore rocks is a great place to target these fish.  Hard baits, Gulp and live bait (worms, ghost shrimp, mussel, clams and sidewinders) will all work.

     Farther south in Manhattan and Hermosa the corbina train continues with a few 20+inchers being caught.  Two Manhattan anglers reported in last week with 60 fish days on barred, walleye surfperch, yellowfin croaker and two corbina.


In Hungington Beach, the stretch from Anderson Street to the Huntington Cliffs has been producing!  Yellowfin, corbina, walleye and barred perch have been there in great numbers.  Some anglers have reported 30+ days of this combination.

     With corbina still biting almost all the way from Santa Barbara to San Diego I would suggest to continue to target them.  Several have been caught on lures (lucky craft and grubs) but I’d concentrate on fresh blood worms (or lug worms) and walk the beach during calm times to sight fish for them.  They will be searching the beach for the last time before retiring to the inner waters of the bays and estuaries and should be very hungry.


San Diego recently has produced some of the largest barred perch I’ve seen in years.  Way back in the day one of the very best places for catching large surfperch was the TJ slough along Imperial Beach.  This area stopped producing big fish once the pollution took over the estuary.  Yet, in the last few years we’ve seen some very large fish all around north county…which must be a result of the work on the estuaries all along the northern San Diego beaches.

     Corbina reports have been scarce (which makes sense as many corbina migrated north as the water warmed in late summer) but there have been numerous reports of legal halibut being caught near the Carlsbad power plant outlet, along Ponto Beach and near the Mission Bay Jetty.

     For perch La Jolla seems to be one of the better spots but again look for action near where rock meets sand…there are spots like this along the coast…just drive the beach and you’ll find them.

Thank you Brian, Glen, Tony and to all the anglers for their great reports and photos…

PLEASE keep them coming!

Check out my new article in

Fish Taco Chronicles:

Winter Perch Fishing For Slabs

Up-Coming Article for February:

Surf Fishing Baits: How to Prepare and Preserve Bait for Later Use




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What To Look For This Month

Spinning off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands the next set of large swells are poised to hit Southern California on January 2, 2024.  Look for this pattern to continue throughout the month.

Synopsis:  January is always a month with bad weather.  This year it’s bad and mean!  But big weather also provides glass-half-full opportunities when it reshapes the beach and also expose rock and forage that fish are attracted to.

     Throughout the month of January, February and March we will see a series of storms reshape the beach.  Rivers, like the Santa Ana will empty out and change the landscape along with every mile of the beach where sand is taken and redeposited.  Most fish don’t like this so they will find places to hide.

     Concentrate your efforts on fishing spots that are near/adjacent to structure: Jetties, harbor entrances, rock outcroppings, bays, harbors and estuaries.  Concentrate on placing your bait where sand or mud meets rock.  This is where fish will be searching for food.

  Your very best baits for January will be worms (both blood/Lug), sidewinder crabs and ghost shrimp.  For lures use motoroil 1 1/2″ to 3″ grubs and for halibut and big surf fish try kastmasters, krocociles, Lucky Craft 110 and BattleStar stick baits.

     There are some 7+’ tidal changes this month which will be great for collecting sidewinders and mussle from the rocks along with giving you the chance at minus tide to cast in front of your favorite jetty.  Slack tide periods will be ideal for halibut fishing.  Again, remember that most fish, and halibut in particular, will be hunkered down next to rock structure.  Fish the edges of this structure during slack low and high tide periods (right at the low or high’s peak) to find biting halibut.

     One last tip for January…South facing beaches (Malibu, El Pescador, El Matador, Piedres and Leo Carrillo) are much less effected by winter swells.  You’ll find some fantastic perch fishing (barred, walleye and calico) along these beaches when you fish where sand meets rock.

   Time your trips between storms, swells and at the right tide and your guaranteed in January to catch fish at the beach!

Check out these cools baits from Honey Badger Custom Baits

You’ll find more on these great surf baits HERE

Grunion Runs Are Over For 2023 

Observation Months 2024: March, April, May, June  Collection Months 2024: July and August (Limit 30)  Halibut often feed near shore before, during and after a run

Temp:  62 south, 61 north (a bit cooler).  Wow 62, still warm for this time of year.  Warm water, storms and big swells always signal El Nino.  Look for water temps to cool after each successive storm but remain well above last year’s 52 degrees.

Tides:   (Don’t forget your CCA Sportfishing Tide Calendar HERE)  January begins, thankfully, with very mild tide changes from 1/1 until 1/7.  Jan. 11th signals the new moon with tides from 1/8 until 1/27 being active.  Look for the biggest tide swings of the month (7+’) to occur on 1/8,9,10,11,12,13 and 1/22, 23,24,25.  You’ll have great perch fishing these days and get bait catching on jetty rocks.  Also, this is the time of year to fish the front edges of those jetties you could never reach before.

Thanks Turner’s San Marcos for hosting our Surf Fishing with Grubs Seminar!

Winds:  Winds should remain light in the mornings with a southwest fetch.  This will be especially true on rainy days.  Afternoon winds will be 10-15 knots from the northwest.  A few days this month may have very calm conditions, especially those days just before a storm. 

Swell:   Recent swells from the Northwest have battered the California coast with 10-15′ surf.  This is the first storm of this size since the 1968 El Nino event. Over the next few weeks we will experience  very large surf accompanied by wet and windy conditions.  Offshore bouys have reported swells to 35′ just 175 miles west of Southern California.  Although the size of the surf will decline the waves will still be very large for the next three weeks.  After that, it’s anyone’s guess as to when the next storms and wild surf will hit the coast.  In previous El Nino years there was a succession of large storms and swells that lasted until May.


The recent rain has increased the risk of high bacteria levels in the surf-zone from runoff. As a reminder, there is an increased risk of high bacteria levels for at least 72 hours following any measurable rain-event (usually 0.1″ or more) during which time water contact should be avoided.

Follow Pacific Hurricanes Here:

(hurricanes will begin again in June)

Good luck and good Fishng!


Surf fishing reports compiled by

 Bill Varney

December 2023 Surf Fishing Report

 Southern California Surf Fishing Report

December 2023

     November went out with a bang!  Just off the beach and water temps were still around 64 degrees.  I know this will change but it really helped November to be a fantastic surf fishing month as witnessed by the pictures attached.

     December always brings changes in weather, swell and current that slows fishing.  This is the month where the swells from Alaska set in and the current direction changes to down coast.

     As water temps cool this month look for fish to congregate near jetties, harbor walls and structure.  Concentrate your efforts on these areas.

     Begin by downsizing your rig.  Use as light as a 1/8th ounce sinker and a short 12″ leader.  Fish as close to the rocks as possible and always be tight to your sinker because many fish will take you back into the rocks.

      December’s best baits include worms, shrimp, mussel, clams and sidewinder crabs.  Most sand crabs will be gone from the beach and fish will be foraging for food that is washed from the rocks.  This is why fishing near where rock meets sand is so important…this is where the fish are.

     Spotfin, yellowfin, walleye surfperch, barred surf perch and calico surfperch will all be plentiful near structure areas over the next three months.  When catching big females laden with young place them gently back into the water so they can continue to reproduce.

     Remember, most swells will now be coming from the west/northwest so review your favorite south facing beaches and fish there.  The edges of such areas generally hold fish because of the eddy current created by westerly swells.

     December also offers some great chances to fish places you can not often reach.  Around both the new and full moon you’ll find some astronomical tides that will allow you to access around jetties, harbor walls, harbors, bays, etc. that you commonly can’t reach.  Land a ghost shrimp into one of these holes and hold on…that’s where the big one lives!

Bill Varney


Check out my new article in Fish Taco Chronicles:  Winter Perch Fishing For Slabs

Thank you Robert, Dan, Hills, Jaimie, Brian, and to all the anglers for their great reports and photos…

PLEASE keep them coming!




You’ll find DuraScent Products in our Store


What To Look For This Month

This week’s Alaska storm is just the beginning of swells and cooler water that will flood in along the coast over the next few months.  Look for water temps to cool and perch to grow larger.

Synopsis:  The south swells of summer are over and storms from Alaska are beginning to send impulses of swell energy this way.  This always signals the beginning of cooler winter water and current from the north and a change of the long-shore current from up the coast to down the coast.  This also signals the beginning of big barred perch fishing.

     Fish will now leave most of the open beach and find shelter near rocks, jetties, harbor entrances and inside harbors and bays.  Surf fish will also shy away from sand crabs and begin to look for mussel, clam, worms, shrimp and especially sidewinder crabs.

     Fish tight to rocks.  Cast from the beach along the edge of jetties and try to retreive your bait where rock meets sand…as this is where you’ll find the biggest fish.  When fishing from the rocks (like a jetty or harbor wall) downsize your egg sinker to 1/4th or even 1/8th ounce and shorten your 6-8lb flourocarbon leader to 12″.  Cast just beyond where rocks meet water.  Let your sinker to the bottom.  Reel up a bit, so you are just above the bottom.  You’re bait will swash in and out of the rock…and my friend, this is where the biggest fish live.  When your rod begins to load reel down and lift up because if you haven’t noticed you’re on!

Grunion Runs Are Over For 2023 

Observation Months 2024: March, April, May, June  Collection Months 2024: July and August (Limit 30)  Halibut often feed near shore before, during and after a run

Temp:  64 south, 61 north (a bit cooler).  Look for the water temperture to make a several degree drop this month as cool water floods in from the north.  That means it’s time to slow down your retrieve (both lures and bait) as fish, whose metabolism will slow too, are looking for a much slower presentation.

Tides:  (Don’t forget your CCA Sportfishing Tide Calendar HERE)  December has some amazing tides but it also often has amazing tides combined with very calm (both wind and surf) times that make fishing spots you normally can’t reach possible.  New moon occurs on December 12th and is preceded and followed by some amazing astronomical tides, with a tide movement of over 7 1/2′!  Not to be outdone the full moon on December 26th has 7.7′ tide swing!  Thats great at low tide for fishing around the end of jetties, harbor entrances and structure you normally can’t…and then again at high tide fishing areas along the beach where the tide is covering all the possible holes perch will hide in.

Winds:  December often has light or calm morning offshore winds followed by 10mph afternoon breezes.  We will experience several wet storms this month that are generally preceded by calms winds and followed by strong westerly breezes.  Santa Ana conditions are common from now until the first of the new year so take advantages of them to fish from jetties, rocks and near structure for the largest fish.

Swell:  You’re summer is over!  Most if not all swells and current will now, and for the next five months, come from the north.  Now is a good time to review your surf fishing spots that face south and plan dates for fishing those protected areas.  Move to the south side of jetties, breakwaters, structure now.  This is where fish (spotfin, yellowfin and perch) will congregate away from storm swells and in a perfect place for them to catch food washed from the rocks.

Follow Pacific Hurricanse Here:

     Good luck and good Fishing!

Gundy Gunderson and Bill Varney reporting…


Surf fishing reports compiled by

Gundy Gunderson and Bill Varney

I’ve Got a Plan…

     Each January I take time to look forward into the New Year, set a goal and make a plan to figure out how I’m going to make it happen.  One of my first tasks is to begin planning my year of surf fishing.  Time management not only helps us get important things done but it also helps us catch more fish.

Now I know that may seem a bit crazy but I always start the year by looking into the tides and moon phases so I know exactly what days or period of days will give me the best chance at catching fish.  This helps me plan in advance what days will be blocked out on my calendar and what days I’m open to visit Aunt Matilda.

Preparing before you go to the beach will make you so much more successful in the surf.  It will also leave you much more relaxed and so focused on the bite that not a single fish will outsmart you.  Careful preparation will allow you to be fully prepared before you go to the beach and give you twice as much time to fish.

Check the beach conditions

Beginning in January and every single time before I go fishing I begin with looking at the conditions, including wind, tide and moon phase.  I visit  You should too.  Once it loads up on your browser hover over “world” and click on “North America West Coast”, then “Southern California”.

You will now be on the page showing seven days of coastal weather.  Use the tabs at top to look at swell size and wind speed.  This information will let you know the size and direction of the upcoming surf.  What speed and direction the wind will blow.  Both very important for surf fishing.

If the surf is going to be huge or the wind strong—maybe it’s not time to go fishing.  If the swell is large but it coming from the north, then try fishing a beach facing south.  Always look at this site for swell and wind info.  Scroll down on swell watch and read the full swell, water temp, buoy weather info. and long range forecasts.

Look at surf fish forum sites to read reports and get advice on sites like:, www.bdoutdoors, www.facebook, 

On these sites you’ll find daily surf fish reports right from the sand.  With many anglers giving advice on equipment, bait and tactics.

Tune in to your favorite web cams

I always look at web cams located at the beaches I will be fishing several days before even loading my rod into the car.  I want to know how the beach looks (sand or no sand), crowd size associated with time of day, wind and surf in advance, so I may plan accordingly.

Start preparing the night before

Being well organized and properly prepared will ensure that your fishing will provide you with the best opportunity for success.  Check your reels for smooth operation (especially the drag, which is critical in maintaining control of fish on light-line).  Also, make certain your line is in good (preferably new) condition.

Get your bait ready

Don’t waste time fooling around with your bait at the beach.  If you’re using clams or mussel, shuck them and put them in small zip top bags before you go.  You don’t want to be fiddling with a knife in the dark when you could be catching fish.  If you have live ghost shrimp put them in a small container of cool salt water.  Place a frozen bottle in the water over night and you will have lively, crisp shrimp in the morning.  If you have collected sand or sidewinder crabs, flush them with cool salt water twice per day and keep them in a cool place until use.  When it comes to grubs and artificial lures know in advance what you want to use.

Pre-tie leaders 

Tie several lengths of leader with different sizes and types of hooks.  Use leader material appropriate for the areas you will fish and the target species. Organizing these on leader holders will keep them from getting tangled and make it easy to replace broken or knotted leaders.  Fewer knots to tie on the beach equals more time for fish on the line.  Most often, I use six-pound fluorocarbon leader material.

Get your camera and batteries ready  

I like to use a plastic zip bag to carry my camera in.  This helps keep the sand and salt off your equipment.  Always clean your lens the night before with an appropriate lens cleaning paper or cloth to be sure there are no spots on the lens to obscure your pictures.

Organize and put your tackle in a tackle bag

I like to use a small bag that straps around my waist or a tackle wallet that hangs from around my neck.  Inside the bag I’ll have:

10     #12 black swivels

10     6mm beads (5 clear/ 5 red)

Small     spool of 6lb fluorocarbon leader

6     Drop shot/mosquito hooks sz 1,2,4

6     Worm/Ghost shrimp hooks sz 1

6     Pre-tied leaders on 2 leader holders

1     Small zip bag with grubs and flies

1     Sm. zip bag with hot sauce for dippin’

6     Egg sinkers 1/4th – 3/4th oz

Know the swell conditions and decide where to fish based on them 

The size of surf is always important to surf fishermen.  You want the surf to be between one and five feet.  If the surf is too small little water will be moving and you’ll find few fish.  Waves over five feet will create a current that makes catching fish much more difficult.  You will also want to determine the direction of the swell.  If the swell is from the south you can assume it will be pushing warmer water up the coast (which is good) but may also make some areas unfishable.  Take time to go down to the sand for a few minutes and familiarize yourself with your favorite spots during different swell conditions.

Check the tides

Only the use of sharp hooks is more important than this one.  Knowing the best tide for your spot will be the difference between catching fish and getting “skunked.” I use a tide graph like the one on my site so I can see the tides over a seven-day period at a glance.  This makes it easier to know when the right tides are for the best fishing and will allow you to plan ahead with confidence.

I’ve found that if the beach has never been dredged and has natural structure (like kelp and rocks) it can be fished at both high and low tides.  But in areas that have been dredged I often fish between two hours before to two hours after the high tide.  This is when the greatest amount of structure is covered by water and provides inshore troughs that hold fish.

When fishing for corbina a low tide going to a high tide is a good time as the fish regularly come up and over the crab beds to feed.  When fishing for perch I like a high going to a low tide so as to drag my bait down the sand into their trough.  For halibut, the best tide may be at peak high and peak low tides when the water is most calm.  “Them’z lazy critters!”

One more note on tides

You need to pick up a tide graph calendar like CCA’s Sportfishing Tide Calendar (available at all tackle stores, Turner’s and most landings).  Look carefully at each month’s tide chart.  Expressed as a graph these charts make it very easy to plan out your entire week, month and even year of surf fishing.

Roughly, twice each month, during the new moon and full moon phases, tides make their largest swings.  These periods are almost always the best time to surf fish.  By looking at the graph you can “map” out the days where fishing will be it’s best and match those times with the tide and time of day you wish to fish.

JOHNATHAN HALIBUT 4 14I use this simple rule with tides and moon phases:  If I’m fishing for most surf fish I prefer two hours before to two hours after high tide.  If I’m fishing for halibut I prefer one hour before peak high or low tide to one hour after.

When it comes to the moon I go by the general rule that if there’s a full moon fish will be eating later in the day and if there’s a new moon them’thar critters will be eating first thing in the morning.

As your final measure check the weather

Find out if a storm is coming or if the wind is going to be up.  There’s no reason to go to the beach as waves of rain roll in–but there are times, just hours or days before a storm, when the change in barometric pressure, caused by the approaching low, triggers a signal for fish to eat and then go wide open!


Striped bass fishing in estuaries, bays and along the beach with Greg Silks

Striped Bass Fishing in Estuaries, Bays and Along the Beach

By Bill Varney Jr.

Over the last few decades there were so few stripers caught in the Southern California surf that catching one was almost considered a miracle.  Yet, over the past several years stripped bass catches have increased dramatically for anglers fishing estuaries, back bays and all along the beach.

S.W.A.T. team member Mikey of Santa Barbara takes a nice striper from the surf

S.W.A.T. team member Mikey of Santa Barbara takes a nice striper from the surf


Surprisingly, these fish have been caught up and down the coast rather than being relegated to one particular area.  The most notable catch in the past two years was a fish taken by Brad Baier in Newport beach just two summers ago.  Loaded with six pound test and a short strip of squid Brad landed a 40lb striper from the rocks in Newport Beach in the middle of the night.

Just last week another beautiful fish was taken along Dockweiler State Beach by Colin Rhodes who was also using a strip of squid that he had just launched into the surf.  It was about 3pm when Colin cast out into the surf.  As soon as his bait hit the bottom the fight was on.  After a couple great runs Colin brought the fish to the sand to the amazement of everyone around him.  These are just two of the dozens of reports I have received in just the last five years of striped bass catches.

I’ll admit that I’m jealous.  So to raise my chances of catching one from the beach (and striking it off my bucket list) I sat down with Cousins rod designer and professional guide Greg Silks to learn how to target this prized fish in the surf.

Striped bass are found in both fresh and salt water.  Besides being found inland, they can be caught along the West Coast in bays, estuaries and along the open beach.  Striper range from one to one-hundred pounds.  They often run up and down rivers and transit the coast looking for food.  Predatory by nature, they are always on the prowl for an opportunity to feed.

Transiting fish can travel as much as thirty miles per day in search of food and shelter.  From 1978 through 1980 Calfiornia Fish and Game stocked thousands of striped bass in Newport, Huntington and Long Beach harbors in hopes of introducing a new game fish to local anglers.

To take advantage of this great fighting game fish I sat down with Greg and asked him a few questions about how to get started.

What rod and reel combinations do you recommend for striper fishing?

“Always match the size of your rod and reel to the size of striper you are fishing for.  A good starting point is to use a seven to nine foot medium action rod matched to a four-thousand series spinning reel.  If you are fishing with live bait spool up with 6-12lb mono.

If you are fishing lures upsize your line to 20-30lb mono or a combination of braid with a mono top shot.  Lure fishing also allows you to use either a spinning outfit or a conventional outfit depending our what you like to use most.  You may want to downsize your equipment for fish under ten pounds and up size for those in the fifty plus range.”  Greg prefers monofilament to braided lines because of their stretch and their ability to be easily broken when snagged.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat rigging setup do you use for striper?

“Rigging depends on the size of fish and where you are fishing.  For live bait fishing I like to use the Carolina Rig.  In light current areas I may use a short as a six inch leader and as long as three feet in spots with ripping current.  My sliding sinker will range from ½ ounce to three ounces depending on current and area I am fishing.  When fishing light current I recommend a light sinker and employ a heavier sinker when the current is strong.  For hooks I like to use the Gamakatsu Octopus hook in sizes 1 to 2/0.

When fishing lures for striper I will tie a 110lb crosslock snap swivel to my main line and clip the lure to it.  This rig makes it easy and quick to change lures.  Both of these setups work well in both fresh and saltwater applications.

What kind of bait do you like to use for striper in the surf?

“Both artificial lures and live/fresh dead bait work well for striper.  Some of the traditional lures used over the years have been krocodiles, kastmasters, Rapalla minnows and recently Lucky Craft Flash Minnows.  I have developed a line of striper lures which you may view on my site:  These lures are from six inches to twelve inches long and offer both straight one piece and broken back models.

When it comes to live and fresh/dead baits you have a number of options.  Squid, mackerel, anchovy, sardine, chunk baits, blood and lug worms, crawdads, sidewinder rock crabs all work great for bait.  Look for the forage that occurs naturally in the place you are fishing and use that—it’s probably what the fish are eating!

Ok, now for my most important question:  Where do you find striper and have the best shot at catching one in the surf?

“As you know, stripers have been caught all along the coast, outside harbors and estuary entrances.  These fish are varacious eaters and spend all their time looking for food.  Striper can transit up to thirty miles per day looking for areas to forage.  Once they find a bait source they may stay there for hours or days.

STRIPER COLIN RHOADES 5 15One sure fire way to find them is to look for diving, feeding birds working areas of bait just offshore.  In cases like these I like to use a long rod and cast a lure into the frenzy.  Many times striper, in combination with other fish, will be pushing the bait up to the surface.  Because striper run in schools, if you find one you can be well assured others accompany them.

Another great area to find striper is near harbor and estuary entrances and near the end of jetties.  Fish these areas two hours before and after the high tide when large amounts of water are creating eddies where structure meets sand.

Without question the best time to fish for striper may be after dark.  Nighttime offers some cover for these fish and allows them to approach and forage on prey.  I like to fish them in any low light situation (sunrise, sunset and at night) and find that a high tide around 8pm is ideal for both low light and no light opportunities.

During the day areas that provide shade and a “light-break” over water are also good places to target.  Look for docks, bridges, overpasses and other structure which provides shade.  The right conditions here would include a combination of current and shade that set up a break or “wall”.  This is where fish will congregate.

Good stuff!  What tips would you have for anglers looking to catch a striped bass in the surf?

“ My first tip:  Be patient, look for the conditions we discussed above, learn the habits of these fish and pay attention to tide, light, bait and rigging once you begin to catch fish.

Once you hook a striper always keep you line tight to the fish.  Stripers have an uncanny ability to spit the hook–so any slack is your enemy–and will often allow the fish to disengage.  Accordingly, keep your line tight to the fish and fight it paying special attention to keeping the fish straight out in front of you.

Once you catch a striper remember to grip it by the tail and lift it from under the body.  Striper gill plates are very sharp and the larger fish will easily cut your fingers.

Last tip:  Striped bass are breeders and produce as many as 10,000 eggs per spawn.  They grow and reproduce quickly so go ahead and keep one—they make excellent table fare!

To learn more about striper fishing and Greg’s lures, rods and guide service visit his site: or give Greg a call at (951) 443-6130.

Shore Fishing in the Bay

Shore Fishing in the Bay

By Bill Varney Jr.

Wind and waves pound the coast and make surf fishing difficult in winter.  It’s no fun for the fish either.  Both food and a safe home along the open beach are scarce in winter so most surf fish move inside bays, harbors and estuaries during these cold-water months.

The warm calm water of the bay offers a great place to hide and feed while fish wait for spring.  Warmer water allows them to spawn and find various food sources in the bay.  Most inner water ways are chocked full of ghost shrimp, worms, clams and crabs which keep most fish inside the bay until spring when sand crabs and other forage become available along the beach.

TRACY DECKER CORBINA wonDuring fall, surf fish transition from the beach to the bay.  The first sign of cool winter water sends most of the sand crabs and other food along the beach into hibernation and signals it’s time for fish to find their way into warmer water.  In the spring, as the water warms in the inner waterways, fish sense a change and make their way out into the open water and along the beach to forage on beds of sand crabs.

Winter is a fantastic time to target both corbina and spotfin croaker in the bay.  Some of the biggest “surf fish” I’ve ever caught have been in the bay—where they thought they were safe from me!  So here are a few tricks and tips I employ to find, bait and catch croakers in the bay.

First let’s rod and reel up.  I have two rod and reel combos I like to use in the bay.  The first combo is for fishing bait.  Find the longest trout rod (7’-9’ is best) in your garage.  Look for one with a lot of bend that’s lightweight and easy to cast.  Match it up with a 2500-size spinning reel loaded with 6lb monofilament.  For your lure-casting rod I use an eight foot casting rod matched with a small bait casting reel loaded with 10lb monofilament.  Because you will be casting over and over straight out from shore this setup works great with Lucky Craft and Rapalla XRap lures, Krocodiles and Kastmasters.

For rigging lures on your casting rod, just tie lures directly to your main line.  For bait fishing you will need to employ the Carolina rig (sliding egg sinker, 6mm bead, swivel, fluorocarbon leader and hook).

Here’s where you will have a few variations from surf fishing.  In the bay when bait fishing, you’ll always want to use the lightest sliding egg sinker possible.  I deploy a 1/4th ounce sliding egg sinker followed by a bead, #12 black swivel and thirty inches of 6lb fluorocarbon leader material.  My hook is a # 2 Owner Mosquito Ultra Light hook.  This rig will give you a very stealth presentation, which is exceptionally important in a bay setting where there is very little current and remarkably clear water.

GHOST SHRIMP BAITLive bait choices vary in the bay but your best bet are lug/blood worms, clams and ghost shrimp.  All three work great on the Carolina rig and should be cast from shore and slowly retrieved along the bottom.  Although you can cast out and leave your bait in the “dead stick” position this method assumes the fish will find your bait.  Using a cast and slow retrieve motion allows you to cover more surface area where you are in charge of finding the fish rather than them finding you.

Finding fish in the bay involves location, location, location.  Fish tend to congregate near rocks and troughs in the bay.  Unlike the beach, bays tend to have very few changes in bottom structure.  In spring and fall, when fish are transiting into and out of the bay, fish near the opening/exit of the bay along areas where rock, piers, pilings and structure meet sand.  Look for swirling, foaming off-colored water as these current areas attract fish.

Fish also congregate near beds of eelgrass.  Finding these spots is a bit more difficult but pay special attention to areas where you become snagged and then unsnagged or even bring in a bit of eelgrass.  Make note of those areas and fish their edges.

Walk the bay at low tide and find the areas where a trough or ridge has formed.  Line that area up with something permanent and come back at high tide, line yourself up with the landmark and fish there.  Fish tend to feed in these areas as they make great ambush locations when edges are brushed by current and often expose crabs, clams and ghost shrimp—a bay food favorite.

DRE_HALIBUT_06_26_08The last piece of the puzzle is how tides effect fishing the bay.  Incoming and outgoing tides help move water and work by bringing forage to fish.  But some areas fish much better at a high tide or a low tide as determined by where the troughs, holes or structures are located.  Visit the bays you wish to fish at both tides and look for structure to see what tide works best in creating currents where water covers all the places fish call home.

When winter winds and waves move you off the beach try hitting the bay.  Down-size your rig and use baits like lures, worms, clams and ghost shrimp that big fish eat.  Find structure and moving water and make your cast there.  Then spread your feet and hold on cause big fish would like to see you wet too!

What is Light-Line Surf Fishing Anyway?


By Bill Varney Jr.

Every week my mailbox is flooded with questions about surf fishing.  Surprisingly, a good number of folks often ask me the difference between light-line and the old fashioned style of surf fishing we once practiced.  So I’ve put together a few of the questions anglers have asked to hopefully answer a few of everyone’s questions.

What is light-line surf fishing ?

Light-line surf fishing first hit the beach back in the early seventies when surfers turned fishermen tried lighter gear to catch surf fish.  Over the years, surf fishing has become much more refined as equipment manufacturers have put some great rods and reels on the market.  New lighter equipment along with a wide variety of baits has helped make light-line surf fishing popular.

What equipment do you use ?

When talking about light-line surf fishing there are two types of rods.  One rod is for the open beach and utilizes a spinning reel loaded with six-pound monofilament.  The other surf rod is used exclusively for throwing lures like kastmasters, korcodiles and hard baits.  This casting rod uses a conventional reel loaded with ten to twenty-pound monofilament.

For my beach spinning rod I prefer a seven to nine foot rod with parabolic to medium action.  Rods rated for four through sixteen-pound test line and a lure weight of one-half to one ounce all work well.  Many rods in the “steelhead” category fit these specs.

When it comes to a casting rod I prefer a seven to eight foot rod rated for ten to twenty-pound test monofilament.  Medium to heavy action is required of this rod for casting and retrieving lures.  The casting rod uses a small conventional reel and handles lure weights up to one ounce.

What is the best rig for the surf ?

Most of the time I just use one rig in the surf—the Carolina rig.  It’s very simple and effective way to present your bait.  The Carolina is made up of a sliding egg sinker, a bead, a swivel, eighteen-inches of leader and a hook.  You may vary the leader length and sinker size depending on the size of surf and the strength of the current.  For days with big surf and strong currents use a shorter leader and a heavier sinker, then you would on a calm day.  Always keep in mind how important it is for your bait to always be in contact with the bottom—as this is where the fish feed!

A second common rig for the surf is designed especially for fishing the elusive corbina.  This rig is a simple uni to uni knot that attaches thirty-inches of six-pound fluorocarbon leader to your main line.  With this rig just pin on a sand crab and fly line the bait into the surf.  If you need a bit of weight use a pinch on weight like a water gremlin.  Allow your bait to wash in and out with the surge of the waves and hold on—there’s a corbina on its way!

What baits work best in the surf ?

I break surf baits down into two general categories:  Live bait and lures.  With lures you have many choices.  For halibut hardbaits such as Lucky Craft Flash Minnows, Rapalla, Sebile, Yo-zuri and several other “sitck baits” work exceptionally well.  For other surf fish (like corbina, spotfin croaker and halibut) try three-fourths ounce Krocodiles and Kastmasters.  Both of these lures work well in the surf and attract a wide variety of surf fish.  When fishing for perch and the occasional corbina a Carolina rigged Gulp! sandworm or a one and one-half inch plastic grub seems to work great too.

For natural live bait the list is almost endless but the most common choices would be: Sand crabs, lug and blood worms, ghost shrimp, sidewinder crabs, mussels and clams.  Some of these baits can be purchased at your local tackle shop.  Others must be collected at the beach or in nearby marine areas near harbors, jetties and estuaries.  My suggestion is to call one of the many great tackle shops near the beach and ask them what bait they carry and where to use it.  You may also pick up a copy of my book, which gives details about how to find, catch and keep bait alive.

How do I find fish at the beach ?

There are a great many places to find fish at the beach but here are a few of my favorites:  When you first get to the beach find a high spot on the sand where you can see waves crashing on the beach.  Look up and down the beach for off-colored, foaming and swirling water.  This is where a rip current has formed.  If you find this you will find fish.  Approach the rip current from the side and fish it’s edges where clean water meets turbid water.

Another place for fish to hide at the beach is in the long shore trough.  When waves break, both an inside and outside troughs are formed.  The inside trough is just a few feet from shore.  You have seen it before (or even experienced it) when you see a surfer walk out and then drop into neck deep water.  Fishing is good here at high tide because forage is churned up in the trough and it is also a safe place for fish to hide.

Similar to the trough that forms near the beach, the outside trough forms beneath waves that break the farthest from shore and is a productive spot to fish at low tide.

My favorite place at the beach to fish during winter is around any rock structure.  Looks for jetties, harbor entrances and rock outcroppings.  This is where fish feed and hide during the winter months.  When first approaching a jetty or rock structure pay special attention to the direction of the swell.  Normally you will find that fishing on the opposite side of where the swell meets the rocks is most productive.  Fish use the eddy current, which is produced on the opposite side by the swell, to help them find food, air and a safe place to live.

Where can I learn more about surf fishing ?

There are countless places on the internet to find surf fishing information.  Start by looking at these sites:, , also check out surf fishing videos at  But without question, the very best place to find information about surf fishing is from your local beach tackle shop.  These shops speak with surf fishermen every day and know what bait, tackle and area have the best fishing.

Finding The Perfect Surf Rod

Finding The Perfect Surf Rod

By, Bill Varney


Over the years we’ve had some great on-the-beach surf fishing seminars and have seen thousands of different rod and reel combinations make they way to the sand.  Some have been right on the money and others, well let’s just say, were a bit lacking.

When it comes to surf fishing there are two basic surf fishing setups.   Long rods with heavy line used for casting and fishing outside the surf line.  You know the one’s you usually see in a sand spike along the beach.  And, light-line surf rods designed so surf fishermen can easily move along the beach and fish the inshore troughs, holes and rip currents.

Long rod surf fishing has been around for decades and many surf fishermen (including myself) started this way with twelve to fourteen foot Calcutta rods and Penn “Jigmaster” reels loaded with thirty-pound mono.  Although these rods were way too much overkill for fishing perch and corbina, they were essential equipment for fishing big sharks after dark.

In the 1970’s my buddies and I started fooling around with lighter equipment and fishing much closer to shore.  Although we still fished the sharks at night with heavy gear the lighter gear seemed to help us catch more fish and have a lot more fun during the day.  Since then, light-line surf fishing has become immensely popular, as folks have figured out how much fun it is to catch fish on light gear in the surf.

So let’s take a look at what characteristics make for a good rod and spinning reel for light-line surf fishing.  First, let’s start with picking the perfect rod for the surf.  There are four things I look for in a surf rod: weight, action, balance and sensitivity.

Rods come in three basic types or actions: fast action, medium action and parabolic or slow action.  A fast action rod has a very short taper near the tip (it’s very stiff) and is best suited for tuna or large game fishing.  A medium action rod bends from the middle up and is useful for heavier surf fishing and fishing from the rocks.  While a parabolic action rod has a tremendous amount of bend (all the way to the reel seat) and is very limber.  Parabolic rods work great for fishing the open beach, especially when a longer or more accurate cast is essential.  So for light-line fishing I prefer to use both a medium action seven to nine foot rod and a parabolic rod depending on the application. COUSINS SPINNING ROD PICTURE FOR STORE

The second item that is essential to a good surf rod is it’s weight—or lack of weight.  Unlike heavy rod fishing you will be walking the beach looking for fish and the best fishing conditions.  So a lightweight rod is essential.  Rod weight can vary based on the materials used to build the rod.  I prefer to use rods made with a graphite blank, cork grip and an ultra light plastic reel seat.  A nine-foot rod made with these components can weigh as little as six ounces which means less weight to carry and a lower amount of fisherman fatigue—especially after dozens of casts.

The third component of a great surf rod is finding one which is designed to have the rod balance over the reel.  That is, when holding the rod, the tip and the butt are at the same level when your hand is gripping where the reel meets the rod.  By having your rod balance over the reel seat it reduces the amount of stress and weight of the outfit and works in conjunction with a lightweight rod to reduce fisherman fatigue and improve castability.

The final and most important characteristic of the perfect surf rod would be its level of sensitivity.  When using graphite for building a rod blank you pick up a much greater amount of sensitivity not afforded to rods made exclusively of fiberglass.  Although graphite is in no way close to the strength of fiberglass, graphite is ultra lightweight and has a sensitivity that is unmatched by any other material.  Being able to feel every bite, every type of bottom and even the size of your catch during the fight gives you a clear advantage over fiberglass or other woven rod blank materials.

Now that we know how our rod should be built what about size and length as determined by the kind of surf fishing we do?  I generally break light-line surf fishing down into three categories: Open beach, sight fishing and fishing from the rocks.

When it comes to open beach fishing I’m generally walking the beach and casting off shore to find fish in the offshore trough on in near shore holes.  This would be about eighty percent of the time and in these cases I would employ a nine-foot rod with a very limber tip.  As rods are rated by line class and lure weight this nine-foot rod would have a line rating of four through twelve-pound test and a recommended lure weight of no more than 5/8 ounce.  Parabolic rods will allow you to cast long or short distances with extreme accuracy—which is essential when you are trying to drop your bait near a submerged rock on in a small offshore hole.

COUSINS ROD SHOT RON ALL RODSDuring the summer months when corbina swim in just inches of water I like to use a much shorter seven foot surf rod to sight fish.    When sight fishing, corbina swim very close to shore and a short accurate cast of ten feet or less is essential.  With a longer rod this is extremely difficult.  A shorter rod gives you the ability to aim and land your bait in a confined area at a short distance.

When it comes to fishing from the rocks I prefer to use a stiffer and longer rod.  Big fish come from between rocks and the certainty of landing one with a parabolic rod is extremely questionable.  In this case I prefer a nine-foot medium action rod.  Look for one that is rated eight though eighteen pound test with a lure weight capacity of about one ounce.  Longer, stiffer rods used from the rocks will allow you to direct fighting fish away from the rocks and help you with landing the fish once it makes it to the rock jetty’s edge.  One last benefit of the longer rod is the fact that it will be much easier for you to “un snag” your rig when it inevitably gets wedged between the rocks.

Unlike choosing a surf rod, spinning reel selection is quite a bit easier.  One rule seems to hold true when it comes to surf fishing: The sky is the limit when it comes to the price of a rod but when buying a reel don’t break the bank.  Modern surf rods are built to stand up to the harshest environments and when taken care of will last for decades.  Spinning reels on the other hand just need one splash of sandy salt water, one drop in the sand, one very windy day and they will seize up like your parents did when they saw your high school report card.

BRAD SPOTFIN 9 17Look for a spinning reel in the 2,000 to 3,000 size.  Shimano (Sedona/Sienna), Diawa, Okuma (Rox series) and Penn (Battle II series) make some excellent reels in the $35 – $100 range.  Shimano’s Senora and Sienna are great examples but I’d also take a look at Penn’s new Battle II 2500 spinning reel.  Penn has been working for years to perfect salt water reels used by fishermen in the Northeast who think nothing about wading out into ice cold sand filled water to fish.  The Battle II offers stainless steel and anti-reverse bearings that are shielded for improved corrosion resistance—essential to keeping sand out of your sensitive bearings.

When it comes to spinning rods for the surf Shimano, Phoenix, Lamiglas and Okuma offer several acceptable models.   Go out to your local tackle store and take a look at the rods yourself.  Use the guidelines that I’ve laid out and you’ll find a great rod for the surf.  And if you’re just starting out with surf fishing and it’s not quite time to drop a load of cash on a new rod take a look through your garage, dust off your longest trout rod and make your way down to the surf.  I guarantee you’ll catch fish and pray Santa brings you the perfect surf rod.

Fall Fishing Road Trips

Fall Surf Fishing Road Trips

By Bill Varney Jr.

The warm days of summer is a great time to get out for a surf fishing road trip but the truth is, I really enjoy hitting the road in fall with cool mornings, warm days, empty beaches and great fishing.

Two of my favorite spots to camp and fish in fall have to be Leo Carrillo State Park and northern Santa Barbara’s Jalama Beach.  Both offer great camping, wide open beaches and some of the best surf fishing for calico, barred, walleye and buttermouth surfperch along the Southern California coast.

leo carrillo beachLeo Carrillo State Park is located just north of Zuma Beach and provides both sandy beaches and offshore rock structure.  The park is located 28 miles northwest of Santa Monica on Pacific Coast Highway.  Fishing here is different than most Southern California spots because the beach is orientated toward the south.  Summer south swells can wash Leo Carrillo out at times but it’s almost always a go-to-spot throughout the year.

Leo Carrillo provides good fishing for a walleye, barred, orange mouth, and calico surfperch.  In warmer months, corbina cruzes close to shore while yellowfin croaker school in the fall and spring along the beach.  The best fishing here is near and around large rocks piles just off shore.

To find some great fishing drive into the park, under PCH, and up the coast to the farthest north parking lot.  Walk along the shore either way and look for rocks or rock groups just off shore.  These spots are best fished at medium to high tide.  If the tide is low wait for the water to fill in around the rocks.

CALICO PERCH 1 4 14     Downsize your tackle to a light 1/4th ounce egg sinker and an 18” leader on the Carolina Rig.  Use lug/blood worms, ghost shrimp, fresh mussel or sand crabs.  Cast right up against the large rocks and stay tight to your sinker.  As soon as you feel the fish pick up your bait reel down fast and pull up.  You’ll need to get the fish out of the rocks if you expect to get them to shore.

Day use and camping are both available here, with the day parking $15 for those who have not purchased an annual pass.  Although there is some construction now going on, Leo Carrillo State Park offers 1.5 miles of beach for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, surf fishing and beachcombing. The beach also has tidepools, coastal caves and reefs for exploring.  Park Information: (310) 457-8143


     Jalama Beach administered by Santa Barbara County is one of the most popular camping and fishing beaches on the West Coast.  Just one hour north of Santa Barbara, this beach is tucked in between Vandenburg Airforce Base and the Cojo Ranch.  The closest town is Lompoc home to the Air Force and civilians that work on ranches and the military base.

I’ve been camping here since 1975 and it has changed very little.  Because Jalama’s a very popular place to camp, if you find it full or you prefer to stay in a hotel the small town of Lompoc, just five miles from the turnoff (20 miles from the park), has everything you’ll need.JALAMA CAMP

Jalama offers a fully stocked store and restaurant, fire pits, hot freshwater pay showers, bathrooms, picnic tables, BBQ facilities, firewood, public phone (as cell phones don’t work here) self-contained and tent camping.  Jalama store offers the famous “Jalama Burger” the very best cheese burger on the coast.  There is no way you can come here without enjoying one—they are really that good!

We first came here to surf but quickly learned how good the perch fishing could be.  The beach offers both sand and rock areas that hold fish.  There are more than 4 miles of beach stacked to the gills with barred surfperch, bass and halibut.  Monster perch roam just in front of the campground—so come prepared for a fight!

Fish you’ll find here include barred surfperch, buttermouth perch, calico bass, rock bass, cabezon, halibut and smelt.

Both light to heavy tackle work here.  When fishing the beach I suggest 6lb mono on a light action 8’ rod.  If you’re fishing near or on the rocks move up to 12-15lb mono—and keep a lot of terminal tackle handy!

Fishing along the entire 4 miles of beach is spectacular—but here are a few of my favorite spots:  Just 1 mile south of the campground you’ll find Tarantula Point.  The point is a large mass of rocks that juts out into the pacific.  You may fish on both sides of it for perch, bass and halibut but be aware of the many snags.  I have had my best luck here during calm swells in the summer by using a partly water-filled bobber to keep my bait from snagging on the bottom.  Hard baits like Lucky Craft and Rapalla Xraps work great here for huge bull bass.

Farther South along the beach is Point Conception.  It’s a long 10-mile walk but along the way you will find many secluded beaches offering both open sand and rocky areas to fish.

North of the campground the beach stretches out for about a mile before you reach a large fence that secures the airbase.  Near where the fence begins, you’ll find good fishing right where rocks begin and sand ends.

Last, and probably most significant, is the beach right in front of the campground.  Fish both straight out and just to the North where the creek meets the ocean.  Some of our best fishing has been right in this area—and close to home!  For park information: (805) 736-3504

Both Leo Carrillo and Jalama offer great beach fishing and a fun camping experience.  Now that the weather is great and the beach uncrowded, it’s time to get back on the road!


Clams and the MLPA


Fishing with clams and clearing the water

This time of year always brings me a laugh.  A few years ago when my son was on the surfing team he came home one day with a story about a young surfer who was thrown from her board, hit the bottom, and came up with a face full of clams.  I hurriedly drove him to school and made my way to the beach where I caught a handful of spotfin croaker right at her clam spot.

October and November have always been great months for fishing with clams for corbina and spawning spotfin croaker.  By this time surf fish are stuffed with sand crabs and as fall comes around they tend to search for other bait to forage and prepare for winter.  Clams spawn at this time of year and become one of the favorite foods for surf BAIT 12 11fish.  But besides being used for fall surf baits clams may also be one of the answers to improving our fishery and eventually limiting MLPA closures.

Here’s the truth:  The MLPA closures were put in place with very little science to back the claim that decreasing fish stocks were created by fishermen.  In fact, nothing scientific or plausible was put forward to explain the decline at all.  What’s worse is that the program is so woefully under-funded that there is not nearly enough money for ongoing research to determine if the closures are working and making the resource more productive and sustainable.

The dirty little secret that politicians and activists don’t discuss is that the recreational angler has nothing to do with a decrease in fish stocks or habitat.  It’s not fisherman but unbridled growth that has lead to diminishing the clarity of local waters and therewith fish stocks along the coast.

Both Los Angles and Orange County have a long history of dumping.  From 1892 until the completion of full secondary treatment on November 23, 1998 the Hyperion Plant located in El Segundo dumped billions of gallons of untreated raw sewage each year directly into the Santa Monica Bay.

littleneck clams (2)In addition, every time it rains millions of gallons of oil, radiator fluid, gasoline, trash and other carcinogens are washed off the streets from every county in Southern California and sent untreated into the ocean.  Even without rain the Hyperion plant discharges enough treated sewage everyday to fill the Rose Bowl to the rafters!

South of the Hyperion, the Orange County Sanitation District works to complete their secondary facilities but still dumps enough primary treated sewage into the ocean off Huntington Beach to fill an area the size of Newport Beach’s back bay.  Most of the sewage there is treated with bleach, which is also discharged into the ocean.

These water quality issues and the removal of natural marine estuaries mean it’s not the fisherman’s fault. The fisherman didn’t create this problem. It’s the result of water pollution, urban sprawl, inept management, corruption and neglect that have put our ocean at risk.

So why is water quality so important?  In the 1930′s most of the Santa Monica Bay’s water was crystal clear but as effluents from sewage and urban runoff filled the bay the water became turbid.  Because of the lack of light that reaches the bottom, the basic building block of marine environments (simple marine algae) is unable to grow.  As a result, there is less food for the smallest of marine creatures so they move or die off.  In return, the larger bait fish and other marine creatures leave the area to find a new place to forage.  So once the essential building block of the ocean is gone most fish leave with it.

LITTLE NECK CLAMSBy allowing sewage (treated or not) and urban runoff to find its way to the ocean, turbid water rather than clear water, does not provide enough sunlight to sustain the fragile marine environment.  Over fishing has very little to do with a lower biomass of marine creatures as does the toxic nature of the runoff.  The biggest culprit by far has been the increased turbidity that does not allow light to penetrate the ocean in order to spawn basic algae–the essential building block of any marine environment.

Recently, scientists at both Stanford University and the University of Maryland have found that filtration from farm raised clams has contributed directly to a reduction in water turbidity, improvement in light penetration, increases in oxygen and the removal of nitrogen (a byproduct of gardening, agriculture and big cities).

The EPA has recognized the benefits of shellfish and the University of Rhode Island published a study last year in the Journal of Shellfish Research that shows the improvements to water quality also increase the diversity of marine life.

Bivalves like clams and oysters filter water at an average of about 15 gallons per day per.  So setting up fields of farm raised clams and oysters can have a dramatic effect on water clarity.  For example, a one acre parcel of ocean bottom lined with shell fish in polyester mesh bags would produce approximately 8,160,000 gallons of filtered water per day!

Besides their positive environmental effects bivalve farming would produce much needed food and jobs for California.  Aquaculture in Florida, just for bivalue farming alone, has produced more than $53,000,000 in revenue each year since 2012.

Placement of clam and oyster beds in river mouth areas like Ballona Creek and local harbor entrances will have an immediate effect by increasing water clarity and helping to mitigate urban runoff.  At some point sensible, well-funded marine life closures may help us better understand the nuances of the ocean.  But until we clean the water and provide a more sustainable environment marine life will not be able to achieve acceptable management levels.

LITTLENECK CLAMSSo, at least that gives us an excuse that until changes are made we’ll just have to use clams to catch surf fish.   Some of my favorite bivalves for fishing include little neck clams(Protothaca staminea), cockles(Clinocardium californiense) and Pacific razor clams(Siliqua patula).

Clams seem to work their best in the months of October through December.  As a clue to what fish are eating I look for beds of small orange and white bean clams (Donax gouldii) that form near the low tide mark in huge beds.  You can usually find these in October and although they are not the clams we use for bait, it lets us know this is what the fish are eating.

The best place to find these clams (with the exception of razor clams) is in inlet areas that are flushed by daily tides.  Harbors, inlets, estuaries and any marine environment where saltwater washes over rocks is a good place to look. Most clams occur near or under rocks.

I look for areas that have small rocks (about the size of a shoe box) and turn them over.  By using a small hand cultivator you can turn over the mud and sand near the rocks and find clams.  I use gloves and the cultivator because of the many barnacles on the rocks and sharp objects in the sand.

For razor clams stay away from the rocks and concentrate on sand and mud flats inside harbors and estuaries.  This is where you will find razor clams anywhere from one to three feet below the surface.  By using a shovel you can cover a larger area and sift through the muck to find razors for bait.

CLAM SPOTFIN wonThe best tide to find clams is always low tide. This allows you to harvest an area that is covered by water at high tide.  As with collecting most types of bait, go down to your local harbor or inlet to explore and dig around at low tide.  You will be amazed at what you find and you’ll know exactly where to go when you next need bait.

When you’re finished hunting the elusive clam replace the rocks and try to leave the spot as undisturbed as possible.  Just
take what you will need for a couple of days of fishing.

Clams will last in your refrigerator for about one week.  Be sure they are in a tight container.  I open clams at the beach by crushing their shell with my pliers.  You may also open them at home the night before. Be sure to keep them in their own juice so they don’t dry out.

When you open clams you will find two distinct meats.  One meat is very soft and should be put on the hook first.  The other meat is very rubbery and is sometimes characterized by a bright orange color.  When using clams I like to employ the Carolina Rig.

Now it’s time to hook the clam.  Once you’ve opened the clam carefully pull out all of the meat.  First hook the soft part of the bait.  Then hook the rubbery (normally yellow or orange) section.  This will help the clam stay on your hook for a good cast.  Check your bait periodically to make sure it’s securely hooked.  You’ll find that clams are durable and work great for surfperch, corbina, yellowfin and spotfin croaker.

Fall months have always been a great time for using clams in the surf.  If you are collecting them yourself take a few moments to become familiar with the DFW rules by going to: .   Please take just what you need for bait and catch, photo and release whenever possible.