Pregnant Perch and Breaching Whales


by Jerry Back

Wow, it has been almost 11 months since my last article.  It’s time for me to get back on the sand and in the surf!  I just haven’t been able to fish much lately--choosing to spend any free time I may get on my musical projects.  However, with striper season getting started on our Norcal beaches, I need to get out of the recording studio and get my fishing chops back!

I decided I would hit one of my regular haunts, Marshall Beach (just outside of the Golden Gate Bridge).  It’s a place I REALLY like for crab snaring during the November and December months.  I even considered crab-snaring today given it was the last day of the recreational Dungeness crab season (on 6/30/17).  However, most crab in the water right now are under the legal size requirement.  That’s because almost all the legal ones have been caught already!  I’ve crab snared before on a June 30th and I recall having to catch 10 crab for every legal-sized one.  That’s a lot of work for three legal-sized crab!

Well, I brought to the beach my perching pole and my plugging pole (I know, I know, I’m supposed to write “rods,” not poles, but that’s just not the way alliteration works!).  Peak high tide was around 4:30 AM and peak low tide would be at 10:45 AM, so I figured being on the beach by 6:30 AM would line me up nicely for that sweet spot, in between period. And while I get more success fishing between a low tide and a high tide, that wasn’t in the cards today.  Fishing from a peak high tide down to a low tide would have to do.  Plus, the early morning is nice because the wind has died down to about 2-4 knots (it has regularly gusted 15-25 knots on San Francisco beaches lately during the late afternoon!) and there’s something about first light and catching fish that often works for me.

Well, geared up using a Carolina rig with 6” Gulp! Camouflage Sandworm on a #2 baitholder hook, I caught a nice Barred Surfperch (of the unbarred variety)--no monster, but nice to reel something in on my second cast.  On my third or fourth cast, my rod bent pretty hard and I was half-hoping it was a shaker striped bass given it felt like something in the 2-3 pound range.  Well, it was 13-inch Barred Surfperch (this time of the barred variety--did you know there are both barred and unbarred varieties of Barred Surfperch?). This fish felt unusually heavy. 

I soon knew it was a “she” because little babies started spilling onto the sand near my fish bag.  I immediately scooped the fish fry up and threw about five back into the water.  I probably would have thrown Momma back in, as well, but I unfortunately hooked her right in the eye and she didn’t look like she’d have much of a chance at reviving in the water. 

So, I placed pregnant Momma-perch onto the sand and started helping her birth all of the rest of her babies (and did you know that surfperch give birth to live baby surfperch?). These babies just kept popping out of her and when all was said and done, I got a total of 25 fry out of Momma perch and I dropped them all back into the ocean.  I think she was relieved about that and soon wearily gave up the ghost.  I’m not sure what 25 fry weigh in total, but Momma perch ended up being about 1.5 pounds on my digital scale.

The next hour was spent reeling in two more Barred Surfperch (one barred and one unbarred). Nearing peak low tide, I started throwing out my 2 ⅜ ounce Little Neck popper in hopes of getting a striper bite.  I knew though it wasn’t the ideal time being peak low tide and nearing the mid-part of the day.  Still, with so much rock structure around and the fact that I caught a striper at Marshall Beach last year, I had to take 30 minutes or so to get my arm tired.  And fortunately while I was doing all that casting and retrieving, I was treated to a pod of Humpback whales breaching and splashing about a quarter of a mile away from me.  That was the icing on the cake to see so much whale activity nearby.  Too far away, though, to take a good photo.

Well, now I can go home and turn over the four fish to my grateful mother-in-law.  I’m pretty sure I’m her favorite son-in-law for always turning over 90% of my catches to her! And let’s hope the stripers increase their presence at all the various Norcal beaches.  I’d love to catch at least a few this summer and, if I do, you’ll read about it here. Tight lines to everyone in the meantime!

Jerry Back is a television research executive residing in San Francisco, California. Other outdoor interests include fishing for Striped Bass (a.k.a., “stripers”) and anything else he can catch on the beaches of San Francisco. Jerry can be contacted at

Jerry also wrote an article for MyOutdoor Buddy titled "How to Catch Dungeness Crab with Rod and Reel," which can be found here.  An archive of his recent articles published on can be found here.