Hammer-Hooking: New Ideas For Surfperch Fishing
David Fong


Surfperch fishing with soft plastic grubs like the 1¾ inch Big Hammer perch grub is some of the most accessible and fun fishing available along the Pacific Coast. Besides various species of surfperch, anglers can also catch croaker, corbina and halibut on these super-small baits year round. Here are some basics for surfperch fishing along with some updated ideas designed to make your outing more fun and productive.

New Outfit?:

For gear, you probably already have an outfit you can use. Both baitcasting and spinning setups can be used but most prefer spinning as it's easier to cast the terminal rig described below. A fast to extra-fast graphite rod that's 6-6 to 8 feet paired with a spinning reel that holds 120 yards of 6 to 8-pound mono is perfect. Speaking of outfits, I wear chest waders in the winter and shorts and Tevas spring through fall here in Southern California.

It's Terminal:

The standard terminal rig to use is the Carolina Rig. Personally, I use 6-pound mono main line but switch to 6 or 8 pound fluorocarbon for the leader. The reason for this is that fluorocarbon is stiffer than mono so it better resists getting those pesky loop knots from the rig being tossed in the surf. Its low visibility in cleaner water doesn't hurt either. First, slide a 1/4, 3/8, or 1/2 oz. sliding egg sinker onto the main line. Next add a small glass or plastic bead to keep the sinker from running over the swivel. Tie a #10 or #12 barrel swivel to the main line. For leaders, I use a 18 to 24 inch length for most surf conditions. I will shorten down to a 15 to 20 inch leader if the surf is a bit larger so the bait stays down in the strike zone better. Long leaders tend to ride too high when the surf is up. After tying the leader to the swivel, it's time for your hook. There are two choices below. We are having incredible success with the Hammer-Hooking method-try it and believe.

Carolina Rig

Old School:

Traditional hooking typically utilizes a #4 baitholder-style hook threaded through the grub body. While this works and has been the standard for many years, there are some problems with this method. One of these is line twist-usually the leader alone or sometimes both the leader and the main line. Many times it's so severe that a barrel swivel isn't enough to counter the effect. Another problem is having the grub slide down from wear or short bites to the bend of the hook, thus preventing a good hook set. Lastly, smaller than desired perch are caught on occasion and it is sometimes difficult for the angler to get to the hook with this threading method.

Traditional hooking using a #4 baitholder-style hook.

New School:

The new Hammer-Hooking or open nose-hooking method uses a technique adapted from freshwater bass fishing where drop-shot baits are commonly hooked the same way. For this method, use a size 8, 6 or 4 Octopus-style hook like an an Owner Mosquito or Hayabusa Octopus. Simply run the hook point up through the body about 1-2 ribs back from the nose. Be sure that the hook is in line with the tail, not across it. This method of hooking allows greater action as the grub is able to swing on the hook bend. Line twist is virtually eliminated because there is no curve to the bait as with the traditional method mentioned previously-the curved hook is what causes the bait to spin.

New Hammer-Hooking using a #4 Octopus-style hook.

Although short bites will still occur, we actually hook more of those fish as there is no hook to "bump into" and they just keep biting their way up the grub until they are hooked. For this reason, it is important to keep winding in the grub once you're bit. Many times you will actually reel the fish onto the hook. Deep hooking is virtually a thing of the past. As the grub slides up out of the way on a hook set (sometimes even up the line like a marlin lure), the hook tends to set just behind the upper lip or in the corner of the mouth. Perfect for easy releasing.

Even small perch get hooked with the new method. Note how the grub slid up out of the way for a perfect corner of the mouth hookset.

It's All Good:

There are many colors of Big Hammer perch grubs and all will get bit at one time or other. Have a range of darker colors for low light conditions or for when the water is cloudy. Switch to lighter colors for brighter conditions. Motor Oil Red (#28) is a good basic choice. I switch to Motor Oil Green (#92), Motor Oil Christmas (#94) when it gets a bit brighter and then go to Clear Red (#16) when it's high sun. Sometimes a specific color is required for when the fish are focused on particular forage.  Blue Pearl (#240), Great White (#102) or Glowbug (#69) can be good choices during the spring as they resemble both newly birthed perch fry and sand crabs. An unusual color that has had very good results in a wide array of conditions is Sea Wolf (#60). Experiment and find some colors that you have confidence in.

Something Smells:

I use scents because they work, especially in tougher bites when fish aren't aggressive. I prefer Pro-Cure's Sand Shrimp Super Gel.

Location, Location, Location:

Almost all sand beaches hold surfperch, croaker, corbina and halibut somewhere along them. Be sure to move around and cover the whole beach. Many times 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water. Sometimes they are only 15 feet off the dry sand. Look for deeper troughs or "holes"-darker water areas with less wave activity. Fish tend to congregate and feed in these areas. Sand clouds in the water mean stirred-up food-and feeding fish. Points where two receding waves wash into each other and back out are good. Cast into these areas and begin a slow to medium steady retrieve letting the sinker ride along the bottom. Try casting on an angle across the areas to cover more water. If you are bit-typically a tap or series of taps-keep reeling and then swing lightly to set the hook so you don't snap your line. Fish on!

Fish hold in the deeper, darker water and charge up to feed in the rip clouds marked by the red arrows. Notice how close to the beach this is occurring.

Beyond Grubs and Carolina-rigs:

In addition to grubs and Carolina-rigging an effective alternative is the 3 inch Big Hammer™ swimbait rigged on a 3/16 or 1/4 oz. Hammer head™.  In most cases I will start the day with the grub and switch over to the swimbait if it is a good bite, the average fish are on the larger side, the fish are close to shore, or if I am just tired of fishing the Carolina-rig.

Just tie it straight to your main line and cast and retrieve.  There are 4 basic retrieve styles.  Try each one in the order listed until you find the one that is working for the day.  The first retrieve is to just simply cast and reel.  Start off with a medium speed grind.  If there are no takers try slowing down, then try speeding up.  The second retrieve is exactly like the first retrieve except you will want to shake the rod tip during the retrieve.  The third retrieve is much like the first except for a quick pause every 3 or 4 cranks of the handle.  The fourth is to let the swimbait sink to the bottom after the cast, once it hits the bottom give the reel 2 or 3 quick cranks, pause and let it hit the bottom again.  Continue this pattern all the way in.

Most of the colors of swimbaits will catch surfperch but some of the favorites are Sea Wolf (#60), Bay Smelt (#63), Redrum (#100), Silver Phantom (#138), Blue Shad (#38), and Walleye Wacker (#2).

While Carolina-rigging Big Hammer Perch Grubs will nearly always outfish (especially in quantity) the swimbaits.  There have been occasions where the bite is wide open on the swimbaits but they will practically not even touch the grub.

3 lb. class Barred Surfperch caught by Jeff Barr at Goleta Beach on a Walleye Wacker colored 3 inch Big Hammer swimbait.

Double your chances:

One last method that should not be overlooked is the "Drop-Shot" or "Spider Hitch" rig.  This rig allows the angler to fish a traditional perch grub and at the same time fish a 3 inch Big Hammer swimbait for larger perch or other species such as halibut or white seabass. It also increases the chance of catching “follower” fish which are usually larger than the hooked fish.

Drop-Shot Surf Rig Spider Hitch Surf Rig

Do Unto Others:

Take these tips, combine them with what you learn from others and get out there. Please remember to practice catch and release to help preserve the fishery and your future fun. Good fishing!

Rigging Instructions - click here to view printable rigging instructions in .pdf format.

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