Pileperch from Monterey Wharf $2

Species: Damalichthys vacca (Girard, 1855); from the Greek root words racos (ragged) and cheilos (lips) and the Latin word vacca  (like a cow). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae.

Alternate Names: Splittail perch, forktail perch, dusky perch, white perch, silver perch, piler perch, and porgy. In Mexico called mojarra muellera or perca.

Identification: Pile perch are distinguished by the black spot on the cheek, the very deeply forked tail, and the very tall, first soft rays on the dorsal fin that are about twice the height of the last spines. Color is dark brassy-brown, fading to silver on sides and belly; often has yellow pelvic fins. Pile perch have one dusky, vertical bar across the side at about the high point of the soft dorsal. The posterior position of the bar and the deeply forked caudal fin (tail) distinguish it from sargo.

Pileperch (and Hashem) from the Cabrillo Pier in San Pedro

Size: To 17 1/4 inches; most caught from piers are 10-14 inches. The California record fish weighed 1 lb 15 oz and was taken at Long Beach in 2007.

Range: Isla Guadalupe (and possibly Bahia Playa Maria), central Baja California to southern British Columbia. Unverified report to Port Wrangell, Alaska.

Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-areas, and around piers and docks, both oceanfront and in bays. Typically they are a bottom dwelling species, called “benthic grazing carnivores” by some. Others classify them as “commuter” fish that move between different habitats in search of prey. All agree they are primarily day feeders seeking out large, hard-shelled invertebrates that they are able to crush with their well developed, fused pharyngeal tooth plates. Since other perch do not share this ability, some scientists feel pile perch should be placed in a separate genus —Danalichthys. Foods include crabs, brittle stars, sand dollars, barnacles, bean clams, (whole) mussels, limpets, dove shells, California cones, Norris top shells, and chitons.

Pileperch from the Elephant Rock Pier

Piers: Pile perch are taken at virtually every pier in California but the largest numbers are taken at Bay Area piers. Best bets: Santa Monica Pier, Stearns Wharf, Goleta Pier, North T-Pier and South T-Pier in Morro Bay, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier, Point Pinole Pier and McNear Beach Pier.

Shoreline: A favored species for shore anglers fishing in bays throughout the state.

Boats: An inshore species sometimes taken by boaters fishing in bays, especially San Francisco Bay.

Pileperch from the Goleta Pier

Bait and Tackle: Pile perch can be exasperatingly difficult to catch. The large perch will often be seen placidly swimming in clear view around the mussel-covered pilings while refusing to partake of the offerings of the gods up above—anglers whose mojo is evidently on empty. Damalichthys vacca do seem a little easier to catch when in their dense schools are a’spawning. Perhaps their pea-sized brains are distracted and normal caution takes a back seat to other thoughts? The most common setup is to use a high/low leader with number 6 or 4 hooks, light line, and a light sinker. Best bait in southern California seems to be fresh mussels, rock crabs or bloodworms. In the Bay Area, grass shrimp, rock crabs, pile worms or fresh mussels are best. In Humboldt Bay, frozen tube worms or crab backs are most commonly used. Usually pile perch are nestled up next to the pilings; fish accordingly. Check out the shoreline by the pier at low tide and grab some local live bait—small crabs, mussels, worms, snails or clams; these will usually make the best bait.

Food Value: Although large sized and yielding some usable meat, the flesh is only fair in taste.

Pileperch from the North T-Pier in Morro Bay

Comments: Many years ago, at Newport Pier, I watched an old-timer show one way to catch the perch. Pile perch were doing their typical trick d’tease: big fish showing a leg but refusing to bite. The old-timer tried out a trick of his own. He took out a mass of recently pried loose mussels, at least a dozen in the clump, and in and around this mussel-mass he wound a leader that had several number 8 hooks attached. Then he attached the leader to a handline and carefully dropped it down next to the pilings. This new mini-piling soon attracted the fish and he was able to catch several of the large pile perch. Sporting? I’m not sure, but it sure was effective. Since then, I’ve seen variations of this technique at both the Santa Monica Pier and at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara and heard stories of its use at the Goleta Pier.

Pileperch (and CayucosJack) from the North T-Pier in Morro Bay

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Shinerperch from the Commercial Street Dock in Eureka

Species: Cymatogaster aggregata (Gibbons, 1854); from the Greek root words cymo (foetus or fetus) and gastro (belly) and the Latin word aggregatus (crowded together, referring to the schooling nature of the fish). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae.

Alternate Names: Commonly called shiner; also 7-11 perch, leven perch, yellow perch, bay perch, yellow shiner. Called minnow, shiner, or sparda by 19th century fishermen. In Mexico called majarra brillosa or perca.

Identification: Their coloring is gray to greenish above, and silvery below. Females have three yellow bars on the side; the males typically only have yellow bars during the winter, in the breeding season they are nearly black.

Silver shinerperch (male during spawning season) from the Citizen’s Dock in Crescent City

Size: To 8 inches; most caught off piers are 4-6 inches in length.

Range: Bahia San Quintin, Baja California to Sitka, southeastern Alaska.

Habitat: Shiner surfperch prefer eelgrass beds in bays but are found in almost all shallow-water bay and oceanfront areas. They’re especially common around piers.

Piers:  Shiners are one of the most numerous fish taken at California piers.

Shoreline: A frequent catch throughout California’s bays.

Boats: Rarely taken from boats.

Bait and Tackle: For most anglers, the problem with these fish is how to keep them off your hook, not how to get them on. If you are using small hooks (under a size 4) and small bait, especially pieces of worm, and if shiners are around, you will probably catch them. However, some may actually want to catch them—they are great fun for kids. They also make good live bait for larger species like striped bass and halibut. To catch them, simply use small hooks (size 8), a small piece of bait, and fish from the top to the mid-depth level of the water.

Food Value:  Too small—throw ‘em back since they attract the larger game fish to the pier. Actually some ethnic groups do eat them; they’re often pickled and some people like to dry them and use them in Oriental dishes.

Comments: Shiners can be a problem when you are using expensive pile worms or bloodworms and fishing for the larger perch.


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 Dwarfperch from the Ferry Point Pier in Point Richmond

Species: Micrometrus minimus (Gibbons, 1854); from the Greek words mikros (small) and metr (having a womb), and the Latin word minim  (smallest). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae.

Alternate Names: None that I have heard, although I have seen them mistakenly called shinerperch. In Mexico called mojarra enana or perca.

Identification: Typical perch shape. Dwarf perch have a compressed body; their longest dorsal fin spines are slightly longer than or same length as soft rays. They have a black triangle (crescent-shaped) at the base of the pectoral fin. Their coloring is silver with greenish blue reflections, and yellow on sides with dark stripes. The dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins usually have a black blotch.

Size: To 6 1/4-inches. Those caught from piers are normally 4-6 inches.

Dwarfperch from the Elephant Rock Pier

Range: Isla Cedros, central Baja California, to Bodega Bay.

Habitat: Rocky shallow-water areas, among seaweed, and beds of eelgrass and surfgrass. Primarily feed on small crustaceans.

Piers: Although dwarf perch can be caught at most southern and central California piers, they are most common at piers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Best bets: Fort Point Pier, Fort Mason Piers, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier, Port View Park Pier, Paradise Beach Pier and Fort Baker Pier.

Shoreline: Occasionally taken by shore anglers in central California.

Boats: A small, inshore species rarely taken from boats.

Bait and Tackle: These fish are sometimes taken on light tackle by anglers fishing for larger perch. Hook size number 8 and a small piece of bait, especially pile worm.

Food Value:  Too small so throw ‘em back.

Comments: They are fairly good striper bait.

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White Seaperch


White Seaperch from the Trinidad Pier

Species: Phanerodon furcatus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek root words phaneros (evident) and odons (tooth) and the Latin word furcatus  (forked tail). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae.

Alternate Names: Splittail perch, forktail perch and white perch. In Mexico called mojarra lomo rayado.

Identification: White seaperch are often confused with pile perch. The tail is deeply forked and the first and second sections of the dorsal fin are about equal height; there is a black line along the base of the soft dorsal. The coloring is light silver or olive on the back, white or dark silver on the belly; often dusky with a rosy-orange cast; yellow at base of pelvic and anal fins. The fins are yellow or dusky. Sometimes with dark spots near the mouth but lacks the dark bar below the dorsal fin seen in pile perch.

White Seaperch from the Fort Point Pier

Size: To 12 1/2 inches; most pier-caught fish are 8 to 10 inches.

Range: Bahia San Carlos (and possibly Punta Cabras), central Baja California, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Tends to form small schools.

Habitat: Shallow-water areas both oceanfront and in bays, especially around combinations of rocks and fine sand.

White Seaperch from the Elephant Rock Pier

Piers: White seaperch can be caught on almost every pier in the state but in southern California they’re most commonly caught on piers inside of bays or harbors. Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Point Harbor Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Santa Cruz Wharf, Pacifica Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Santa Cruz Wharf, Berkeley Pier, Fort Baker Pier and the Commercial Street Dock (Eureka).

Shoreline: A common catch for shore anglers throughout the state, especially in bays.

Boats: An inshore species sometimes taken by boaters fishing in bays, especially San Francisco Bay.

White seaperch from the Seacliff State Beach Pier

Bait and Tackle: Normal gear is a high/low leader equipped with size 6 or 4 hooks fished on or near the bottom. White seaperch are not as finicky as pileperch or other seaperch and will take a wider variety of baits. However, live seaworms, fresh mussels, and live shrimp are the best bait.

Food Value:  Mild flavored but sometimes a little soft and mushy.

Comments: White seaperch are often found together with pile perch and blackperch.

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Spotfin Surfperch

Spotfin Surfperch from the San Simeon Pier

Species: Hyperprosopon anale (Agassiz, 1854); from the Greek root words hyper  (above) and prosopon (face, from the upward direction of the face) and the Greek prefix ana  (back again or similar). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Amphistichinae.

Alternate Names: Silver perch. In Mexico called mojarra aletimanchada or perca.

Identification: Although similar to both the walleye surfperch and silver surfperch, the spotfin surfperch is identified by the large black spots in the dorsal and anal fins. Their coloring is a silver body with a dusky back.

Size: To 6 inches; most caught from piers are near this size.

Range: Bahia Blanca, central Baja California to Seal Rock, Oregon.

Habitat: Shallow-water, sandy-shore areas.

Piers: Although relatively rare at southern and northern California piers they do show up along the central coast. At the Pacifica Pier they will often be mixed in with schools of walleye and silver surfperch. A few are taken at piers located near the entrance to San Francisco Bay, especially the Fort Baker and Fort Point Piers. Best bet: Pacifica Pier.

Shoreline: An occasional catch by sandy shore anglers in central Californnia.

Boats: An inshore species rarely taken by boaters.

Bait and Tackle: Spotfin are often taken incidentally by anglers pursuing the larger walleye and silver surfperch. Although some anglers save the fish for pan-frying, most are really too small, in my opinion, to keep. Anglers wanting to catch the fish should try size 8 or 6 hooks baited with small pieces of pile worms or a very small strip of anchovy. However, most are probably taken by anglers using Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait riggings and light tackle.

Food Value: Really too small to eat so throw them back.

Comments: This is an attractive little fish that should be returned to the water unless the angler desires to use it as bait for larger fish.


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