For me, it is much a shame that I spent my youth oblivious towards the fishing opportunities that surrounded me. I may be older and wiser these days, but I am also living far from my childhood home. The east coast is where I reside for now, but once a year I make the journey west to my place of birth, Santa Barbara, CA.
Each trip home uncovers new fishing ventures in old familiar places. Surfperch, the most recent of these discoveries, spurred from a casual conversation about fly-fishing. A family friend alerted me to the existence of these aggressive fish living amongst the waves. Eager to make up for lost time, I borrowed a 6wt rod with sinking line, a box of flies, and a stripping basket from my fishing informant and hit the beach.
Much to my surprise, I found myself fishing on the same beach I grew up on. A beach where I spent so many summers lounging and winters surfing over the years now had a whole new appeal. Now, with no knowledge and minimal information gathered on the characteristics of these fish, I did as I often do in these uncertain scenarios - start casting.
Right away, I was glad to have the stripping basket, which I had initially declined, thinking it would be a cumbersome bother. I now realize that the incessant crashing of waves and shifting tide would have been a nightmare line management scenario if not for the basket.
After casting in the beach break and trying to get some idea of where my fly was in the water, I started to doubt that anything could even see the fly amongst the frothy mess of kelp, sand, and whitewater churning around me. With every cast I threw, the waves instantly pushed my line back towards my body, making it near impossible to get any sort of controlled retrieval. Gradually accepting that I probably wouldn’t catch anything, I began to relax and let any frustration fade away, trying to think positive thoughts…beautiful day, beautiful beach, not too cold out… A sharp tug on the line abruptly interrupted these thoughts. Fish always seem to catch me off guard, or rather I catch them when I’m off guard… either way, I had a fish on the end of my line and began frantically stripping in slack. Sure enough, there was my first surfperch with fly squarely in its mouth.
It is wild how quickly fortunes can change. With confidence renewed, I kept casting, catching nine more fish until the sunset could no longer be ignored. Quite literally, the setting sun sucked me in like a moth to the flame. I became incapacitated with wonder.
There was not another person on the beach that day, only me, the sun, and its reflection off the wet sand. This was a December I will always remember.
Interesting fact: Surfperch give birth to live young