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Spiny mole crabs can be great bait for larger surf perch

A somewhat odd but very productive week for San Diego fishing

A nice chunky Bard surf perch caught while using pieces from a spiny mole crab.
A nice chunky Bard surf perch caught while using pieces from a spiny mole crab.

Dock Totals 6/9– 6/15: 3280 anglers aboard 139 half-day to 3-day trips out of San Diego landings over the past week caught 4 barracuda, 1539 bluefin tuna (up to 244 pounds), 85 bocaccio, 154 bonito, 1814 calico bass, 9 halibut, 2 lingcod, 2920 rockfish, 66 sand bass, 73 sculpin, 77 sheephead, 31 triggerfish, 143 whitefish, 6 white seabass, 1 yellowfin tuna, and 82 yellowtail.

Saltwater: The number of anglers topped 3000 for the first time in 2024 this past week, and the bluefin tuna did not disappoint. With the fish still mostly gathered from off the Corner to down outside of Ensenada and ranging from 40 to well over 200 pounds, anglers were either schooled, spooled, or they got a fish on the deck. On the boats that ran into schools mixed in size, there was about one fish landed out of every three fish hooked.

Thirty-one triggerfish were also caught this past week, which is an oddity considering the water temps have been cooler than they have been over the past eight or nine years at this time of year. Triggerfish are more commonly found in warmer marine climes like the Sea of Cortez, and usually show during El Nino years if they show at all. Even then, we might only get one or two in any given week. Conversely, there were six white seabass caught that were over their 28-inch minimum size limit, and thus kept. Though this is the time of year they do start showing, we typically see only one or two in the weekly counts from local sport boats, at least over the past few years. The one yellowfin tuna in the counts is also an anomaly for early June, though we did see one very early in the year when the bluefin were biting strong in March before they slacked off for a month or so.

The strong tenacious red tide that developed along Southern California beaches over the past couple of weeks has put a bit of a damper on surf fishing. Red tides typically occur when phytoplankton bloom as water warms in the spring. Usually, these conditions are very localized and will last only a week, but this year's event has been widespread from the Mexican border to the beaches near Los Angeles, and has been hanging around for more than two weeks. Some of these plankton can be bioluminescent and create quite a show for viewers at night: when waves crash or fish swim through the plankton, the stirred water will glow bright neon blue. This event has not been so dramatic, as the bloom in the San Diego area is not the type that creates bioluminescence. Sea foam has been appearing along the beach, which is an indication of the algae dying off. That should be a signal of the end of the red tides.

As these blooms tend to pull oxygen out of the water when they are thick enough, fish will evacuate the area for cleaner environments. Thankfully, there haven't been any mass die-offs of bait fish found on the beaches, which is a sign of a toxic bloom. Toxic plankton blooms can affect marine life in the food chain from tiny crustaceans all the way up to marine mammals and seabirds. That said, it is probably a good idea to stay away from eating mollusks or fish that feed primarily in the surf zone until the situation clears up. 

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Further south, along the beaches of Northern Baja, there have been fewer blooms and surf fishing has been very good. We did have a little bit of stained water here off of San Quintín, but that only lasted a few days, and the perch bite has been more consistent with the tide and conditions than anything else. Surf perch primarily feed on sand crabs and small clams that they can manage with the crushers located between the mouth and stomach that break down the hard shells of their prey. Sand worms are also on the perch's diet, though they are not as thick in population as sand crabs are along the beaches in the littoral zone out to the surf break where perch feed.

Ghost shrimp can also make good bait for perch, even though perch typically do not feed on them as they live in calmer water in bay mouths and into the back bays where perch typically do not venture. However, ghost shrimp are excellent bait for many inshore species found in the surf zone, the rub is that they are very delicate and hard to keep on the hook when casting. Some anglers use thread to tie them on, but I typically just run the hook through the middle of the head and body and out through the backside of the tail and then cast very gently. Another naturally found bait that I have found works very well on perch is the spiny mole crab. Spiny mole crabs are much larger than their sand crab cousins and feature spines along their forward legs and body that can be very pokey if you dig for sand crabs with your feet while fishing as I do. Unlike sand crabs, spiny mole crabs also have an impressive pair of claws that can pinch very hard.

I like to check the very highest point of the swash after the tide drops to see what bits and pieces might be there to indicate what the fish are feeding upon. And when I do, I find a lot of leg pieces and carapaces of spiny mole crabs. Since I was finding them while digging for sand crabs, I decided to give them a shot. I found they are actually loaded with meat from the legs to the body, and if broken down correctly can be strung on to the hook. By cutting the crab in half long ways then crossways between each pair of legs I can get six to eight baits out of each spiny mole crab. The trick is to crush the leg shells just enough to allow them to bend with the curvature of the hook. Then, beginning towards the end of the leg back to where the body would be, I then string the hook through, with the point poking through the chunk of meat where the leg joins the body.

I have found that bait selection tends to make a difference in the size of perch I catch. I get more smaller perch on clams and artificial baits like small grubs and gulp sandworms, while most of my larger fish are caught on big sand crabs with roe, larger artificial baits such as spoons and crankbaits, and spiny mole crabs. Though the latter are not as commonly found on San Diego beaches, I find them in good numbers every day I fish along San Quintin’s sandy shores during the lower tide phases. 

Whether fishing the beaches, bays or boats offshore, they’re out there, so go get ‘em!

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A nice chunky Bard surf perch caught while using pieces from a spiny mole crab.
A nice chunky Bard surf perch caught while using pieces from a spiny mole crab.

Dock Totals 6/9– 6/15: 3280 anglers aboard 139 half-day to 3-day trips out of San Diego landings over the past week caught 4 barracuda, 1539 bluefin tuna (up to 244 pounds), 85 bocaccio, 154 bonito, 1814 calico bass, 9 halibut, 2 lingcod, 2920 rockfish, 66 sand bass, 73 sculpin, 77 sheephead, 31 triggerfish, 143 whitefish, 6 white seabass, 1 yellowfin tuna, and 82 yellowtail.

Saltwater: The number of anglers topped 3000 for the first time in 2024 this past week, and the bluefin tuna did not disappoint. With the fish still mostly gathered from off the Corner to down outside of Ensenada and ranging from 40 to well over 200 pounds, anglers were either schooled, spooled, or they got a fish on the deck. On the boats that ran into schools mixed in size, there was about one fish landed out of every three fish hooked.

Thirty-one triggerfish were also caught this past week, which is an oddity considering the water temps have been cooler than they have been over the past eight or nine years at this time of year. Triggerfish are more commonly found in warmer marine climes like the Sea of Cortez, and usually show during El Nino years if they show at all. Even then, we might only get one or two in any given week. Conversely, there were six white seabass caught that were over their 28-inch minimum size limit, and thus kept. Though this is the time of year they do start showing, we typically see only one or two in the weekly counts from local sport boats, at least over the past few years. The one yellowfin tuna in the counts is also an anomaly for early June, though we did see one very early in the year when the bluefin were biting strong in March before they slacked off for a month or so.

The strong tenacious red tide that developed along Southern California beaches over the past couple of weeks has put a bit of a damper on surf fishing. Red tides typically occur when phytoplankton bloom as water warms in the spring. Usually, these conditions are very localized and will last only a week, but this year's event has been widespread from the Mexican border to the beaches near Los Angeles, and has been hanging around for more than two weeks. Some of these plankton can be bioluminescent and create quite a show for viewers at night: when waves crash or fish swim through the plankton, the stirred water will glow bright neon blue. This event has not been so dramatic, as the bloom in the San Diego area is not the type that creates bioluminescence. Sea foam has been appearing along the beach, which is an indication of the algae dying off. That should be a signal of the end of the red tides.

As these blooms tend to pull oxygen out of the water when they are thick enough, fish will evacuate the area for cleaner environments. Thankfully, there haven't been any mass die-offs of bait fish found on the beaches, which is a sign of a toxic bloom. Toxic plankton blooms can affect marine life in the food chain from tiny crustaceans all the way up to marine mammals and seabirds. That said, it is probably a good idea to stay away from eating mollusks or fish that feed primarily in the surf zone until the situation clears up. 

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Further south, along the beaches of Northern Baja, there have been fewer blooms and surf fishing has been very good. We did have a little bit of stained water here off of San Quintín, but that only lasted a few days, and the perch bite has been more consistent with the tide and conditions than anything else. Surf perch primarily feed on sand crabs and small clams that they can manage with the crushers located between the mouth and stomach that break down the hard shells of their prey. Sand worms are also on the perch's diet, though they are not as thick in population as sand crabs are along the beaches in the littoral zone out to the surf break where perch feed.

Ghost shrimp can also make good bait for perch, even though perch typically do not feed on them as they live in calmer water in bay mouths and into the back bays where perch typically do not venture. However, ghost shrimp are excellent bait for many inshore species found in the surf zone, the rub is that they are very delicate and hard to keep on the hook when casting. Some anglers use thread to tie them on, but I typically just run the hook through the middle of the head and body and out through the backside of the tail and then cast very gently. Another naturally found bait that I have found works very well on perch is the spiny mole crab. Spiny mole crabs are much larger than their sand crab cousins and feature spines along their forward legs and body that can be very pokey if you dig for sand crabs with your feet while fishing as I do. Unlike sand crabs, spiny mole crabs also have an impressive pair of claws that can pinch very hard.

I like to check the very highest point of the swash after the tide drops to see what bits and pieces might be there to indicate what the fish are feeding upon. And when I do, I find a lot of leg pieces and carapaces of spiny mole crabs. Since I was finding them while digging for sand crabs, I decided to give them a shot. I found they are actually loaded with meat from the legs to the body, and if broken down correctly can be strung on to the hook. By cutting the crab in half long ways then crossways between each pair of legs I can get six to eight baits out of each spiny mole crab. The trick is to crush the leg shells just enough to allow them to bend with the curvature of the hook. Then, beginning towards the end of the leg back to where the body would be, I then string the hook through, with the point poking through the chunk of meat where the leg joins the body.

I have found that bait selection tends to make a difference in the size of perch I catch. I get more smaller perch on clams and artificial baits like small grubs and gulp sandworms, while most of my larger fish are caught on big sand crabs with roe, larger artificial baits such as spoons and crankbaits, and spiny mole crabs. Though the latter are not as commonly found on San Diego beaches, I find them in good numbers every day I fish along San Quintin’s sandy shores during the lower tide phases. 

Whether fishing the beaches, bays or boats offshore, they’re out there, so go get ‘em!

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