California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Marine Sportfish Identification: Surfperch

Last Updated October 17, 2013

Note: Please consult current fishing regulations for species presented in this booklet. To view information on safe fishing eating guidelines, please visit the OEHHA website.

Barred Surfperch | Redtail | Rubberlip | Shiner | Silver | Walleye

Silver Surfperch


Silver Surfperch
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Silver Surfperch

 

Family: Embiotocidae (Surfperches)

Genus and Species: Hyperprosopon ellipticum

Description: The body of the silver surfperch is oval and strongly compressed. The head is small and the mouth is moderately large. The body is silvery with dusky (brownish to gray) coloration on the back and dusky bars on the sides. The tail is usually pink with an occasional orange spot on the anal fin. The specific name ellipticum refers to its elliptical body out- line. It looks similar to the walleye surfperch but lacks the silver coloration on its pelvic fins.

Range: Silver surfperch occur from Rio San Vicente, Baja California, to Schooner Cove, near Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. These small surfperch primarily frequent the sandy surf zone although they are also caught among shallow rocks from piers, and in bays.

Natural History: The diet of silver surfperch includes shrimp, crustaceans, amphipods and algae. As with all surfperch, the young are born alive and are relatively large. Mating occurs during the fall and early winter months. The male approaches the female from below; both swim with vents close for 2 or 3 seconds, then separate and repeat the process. Three to 17 young are born the following spring and summer.

Fishing Information: Silver surfperch rank among the top ten in numbers caught by recreational anglers in central and northern California, even though the average weight is 0.1 pound. They are plentiful, easy to catch and occur in large numbers in surf, shore and pier catches.

Other Common Names: silver perch, shiner.

Largest Recorded: 10.5 inches; no weight recorded.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment

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Walleye Surfperch


Walleye Surfperch
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Walleye Surfperch

 

Family: Embiotocidae (Surfperches)

Genus and Species: Hyperprosopon argenteum

Description: The body of the walleye surfperch is oval and strongly compressed. The head is small and the eyes are large. The mouth is small and slanted downward. The color is silver with faint dusky shading on the back. The tips of the ventral fins are black as are the borders of the anal fin and tail. The walleye surfperch can be distinguished from other surf- perch by the distinctive black tips on the ventral fins and black borders on the tail and anal fins.

Range: Walleye surfperch occur from Point San Rosarito, Baja California, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. This species is found in dense schools along sandy beaches, near rocks and around piers. They appear to move into embayments such as Humboldt Bay during summer.

Natural History: Walleye surfperch feed primarily on small crustaceans. Mating takes place in October, November and December when the usual dense schools break up and the males and females pair off. The encroachment of another male is immediately countered by a quick charge from the courting male toward the intruder's snout. Between 1 and 19 young, depending on the size of the mother, are born the following spring. They average a little over 1.5 inches in length at birth. They reach maturity the following fall and winter; in fact, the largest proportion of the breeding population appears to be young of the year. Walleyes are probably short-lived as are most other surfperches. A 10.5 inch walleye was only 6 years old.

Fishing Information: Walleyes can be caught in the surf, from rocks, and from piers anywhere along the open coast. They usually are the most abundant surfperch caught from piers. A small hook baited with mussels, pieces of fish, worms, squid or shrimp will catch walleyes any season of the year. Often occurring in dense schools 6 to 8 feet thick, comprised of several hundred fish, the walleye can provide very rewarding fishing.

Other Common Names: walleye surf fish, walleye seaperch, china pompano, white perch.

Largest Recorded: 12 inches

Habitat: Bay Environment

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Shiner Surfperch


Shiner Surfperch
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Shiner Surfperch

 

Family: Embiotocidae (Surfperches)

Genus and Species: Cymatogaster aggregata

Description: The body of the shiner surfperch is elongate oval and compressed. The head is short and the mouth is small. The body is gray to greenish above with vertical lemon yellow cross bars in the shape of a "711" and eight horizontal sooty lines along the sides. During courtship and breeding the males are dark gray, almost black, in color and have a black spot on each side of the snout.

Range: Shiner surfperch occur from San Quintin Bay, Baja California, to Port Wrangell, Alaska. They prefer calm water and are most abundant in bays around eelgrass beds and the pilings of wharfs and piers. They have been captured in trawl nets fishing in 350 to 480 feet of water and have been observed by divers at depths as great as 120 feet, but are more numerous in shallow inshore waters.

Natural History: The diet of shiner surfperch consists mostly of small crustaceans and other invertebrates. They are frequently observed around pier pilings nipping off the appendages of barnacles. Mating takes place during the summer months in most localities, and the young are born the following spring and summer. During courtship, the male closely follows the female, their movements remarkably well synchronized. He will leave her side frequently to chase off other fish, many of which are not the least bit attracted to his mate. They are apparently short-lived as a 6 inch female (large for shiner surfperch) was only 3 years old.

Fishing Information: Shiner surfperch are caught from shore, docks, piers, rocks, and almost any other fishing area. They are probably the number one fish caught by youngsters along the California coast. They can be taken on almost any type of bait and any type of fishing equipment from handline to spinning gear so long as the hook on the end of the line is small enough for the fish to get in their mouths.

Other Common Names: shiner perch, shiner, shiner seaperch, yellow shiner, bay perch, seven-eleven perch.

Largest Recorded: 7 inches, reported to 8 inches; no weight recorded; however, a pregnant female 6.75 inches long weighed just under 3 ounces.

Habitat: Bay Environment

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Redtail Surfperch


Redtail Surfperch
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Redtail Surfperch

 

Family: Embiotocidae (Surfperches)

Genus and Species: Amphistichus rhodoterus

Description: The body of the redtail surfperch is oval and compressed. The upper profile of the head is nearly straight from the snout to the dorsal fin except for a slight depression above the eye. The body color is silver with olive green mottling and bars on the side. The tail is pink to deep purple. This species can be separated from the other two species that live off sandy beaches and have similar color markings (barred and calico surfperch) by the red to deep purple tail and the spines in the dorsal fin, which are longer than the soft rays.

Range: The redtail surfperch occurs from Avila Beach, California, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and is the most often encountered surfperch from San Francisco northward. Redtail surfperch are predominantly surf dwellers off sandy beaches, but have been taken in rocky areas adjacent to beaches. They are common in estuaries and protected embayments during the spawning season.

Natural History: Small crustaceans are the major food items preferred by this species; however, small crabs, shrimp, mussels or marine worms are also attractive to redtail surfperch. Like all surfperch, the redtail gives birth to live young. The young are carried inside the mother until birth when they emerge as miniature replicas of the adults. Males mature at age 2 and females at age 4. They breed in fall and give birth in spring and summer, primarily from June to August. Females contain up to 51 young with the average of 27.

Fishing Information: Redtail surfperch concentrate just before spawning in sheltered inshore waters during the spring and early summer. They are frequently caught in large numbers at this time. The average size of redtail surfperch that an angler usually catches is 1.8 pounds, although 3 pound fish are not uncommon. Light tackle and crab backs for bait is the preferred method of take in Humboldt Bay. For surf fishing, sand crabs, tube worms or clams can be used for bait.

Other Common Names: rosy surf fish, redtail seaperch, porgie, Oregon porgie.

Largest Recorded: 16 inches; no weight recorded. Largest taken off California by a recreational angler: 3 pounds, 4 ounces.

Habitat: Surf Environment

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Rubberlip Surfperch


Rubberlip Surfperch
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Rubberlip Surfperch

 

Family: Embiotocidae (Surfperches)

Genus and Species: Rhacochilus toxotes

Description: The body of the rubberlip surfperch is oval and compressed. The mouth is comparatively large and the lips are extremely thick. The lower jaw is slightly shorter than the upper. The color is variable but it is generally whitish with brown to brassy overtones on the back fading to tan below. The lips are whitish or pink. Juveniles have one or two vertical dusky bars on the body, although these usually are not found on adults. Its large size and thick prominent lips distinguish it from all other surfperches.

Range: Rubberlip surfperch occur from Thurloe Head, Baja California, to Russian Gulch State Beach, California. They frequent rocky areas, tidepools and kelp beds on the outer coast as well as bays and harbors.

Natural History: Adults feed upon crabs, shrimps and octopus. Juveniles feed on typical surfperch food such as worms, small crabs, mussels, and tiny snails. Like all surfperch, the rubberlip surfperch bears its young live. A 16.5 inch female, that was 8 years old and weighed slightly less than 3 pounds contained 21 young that averaged a little over 3.5 inches in length.

Fishing Information: Recreational anglers catch rubberlip surfperch from skiffs, piers and the shore. The greatest number have been taken from piers in the Monterey Bay area, with the average size caught by sport anglers being 2 pounds. Most hook-and-line catches are made using mussels, clams, sand worms, cut shrimp or similar bait.

Other Common Names: pile perch, rubberlip seaperch, porgee, sprat, liverlip, buttermouth.

Largest Recorded: 19.6 inches; no weight recorded; however, a 16.5 inch rubberlip surfperch weighed nearly 3 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment

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Barred Surfperch


Barred Surfperch
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Barred Surfperch

 

Family: Embiotocidae (Surfperches)

Genus and Species: Amphistichus argenteus

Description: The body of the barred surfperch is oval and compressed. The head is blunt and the mouth is comparatively large. The color is olive green to yellow green on the back becoming silver below; with bronze, brassy or yellow vertical bars and spots on the side. This surfperch is one of three living off sandy beaches with similar color markings; however, it can be distinguished from the other two (calico and redtail) by its lower jaw being slightly shorter than the upper, and by the absence of red or reddish color on its fins.

Range: The barred surfperch occurs from Plaza Maria Bay, Baja California, to Bodega Bay, California. It is more abundant than the calico and redtail south of Cayucos, California. Barred surfperch are found in the surf zone along sandy beaches where they seem to congregate in depressions on the bottom. They have been taken from water as deep as 240 feet.

Natural History: The major portion of the barred surfperch diet is sand crabs, with other crustaceans, bean clams and small crabs comprising the remainder. Barred surfperch give birth to living young from March to July. As few as four and as many as 113 have been counted, but the average is 33 per female. They are about 2.5 inches long at birth, and mature when about 6.5 inches long and 1 or 2 years old. This species is relatively short lived with the oldest males being about 6 years old and 12 inches long. The oldest females are about 9 years old and up to 17 inches long. Tagging studies indicate barred surfperch move very little, usually less than 2 miles, although movements up to 31 miles have been recorded.

Fishing Information: The most popular bait for barred surfperch is soft shelled sand crabs, but blood worms, mussels, cut fish, and small artificial lures also work. Fishing is usually best on an incoming tide when the perch are feeding inside the breaker zone.

Other Common Names: barred perch, silver perch, surf perch, sand perch, silver surf fish.

Largest Recorded: 17 inches; 4.5 pounds.

Habitat: Surf Environment