MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Fishing for surfperch at Kalaloch Beach

THE BIGGEST DETERRENT to enjoying Kalaloch Beach might also be its greatest attribute.

One can’t have miles of remote, untouched coastline without it being far enough away from the masses that it requires a long journey.

No doubt, if enough people lived 10 or 20 minutes away, Kalaloch’s pristine sands would be overrun with anglers, beach combers, kite flyers and the like.

Of course, that isn’t the case.

Instead, the Olympic National Park beach sits in relative obscurity in the backwater surroundings of West Jefferson County.

Other than the once-lofty goals of Oil City — a failed petroleum boomtown founded in the 1900s at the mouth of the Hoh River — urban development never really touched this corner of the Olympic Peninsula.

The only “city” within 30 minutes is Forks.

Thus, a day at Kalaloch is often spent in solitude.

Much like Shi Shi and Cape Alava to the north, it’s not uncommon to have the beach to yourself for hours at a time.

Just you and a steady concert of crashing waves, rustling cedars and shameless seagulls.

For an inward sort like myself, it’s the perfect place to spend a sunny spring morning.

Especially when there’s schools of red-tail surfperch waiting to be hooked.

Not so smart

Surfperch might be one of Mother Nature’s most dogged creatures.

These fish spend most of their days hovering around the turbulent surf that crashes into the very edge of coastline.

Their flat, disc-like bodies have an extremely sleek design, with razor-sharp red fins and tails giving them a distinctive and aesthetic appeal.

I have little doubt in my mind surfperch could be used as deadly weapons under the right circumstances.

Just the sort of aquatic Chinese stars one could envision Aquaman utilizing against Black Manta.

Related note: I drew blood handling these fidgety little fish on two different occasions. (Yes, they can actually cut you.)

Yet while surfperch might be sharp in the literal definition of the word, that is certainly not the case in the figurative sense.

If steelhead were considered the Einsteins of the fish world, surfperch would fall somewhere between Mongo from “Blazing Saddles” and Lloyd Christmas from “Dumb and Dumber.”

They are voracious feeders who will hit just about any piece of bait thrown their way.

And even as their buddies are picked off one by one, they will stubbornly stick around the same spot, eventually falling for the same tricks themselves.

That’s why as soon as you run into one surfperch you must pound that same hole until its good and dry.

They travel in schools . . . despite what their under-developed intelligence might suggest.

It’s not hard to understand why the fishery is such a popular one to introduce to children.

It provides just the sort of instant gratification those little tykes crave.

Why do you think I was so excited about it?

Gear up

The basic setup for surfperch fishing is similar to that of plunking.

Just attach a piece of lead to the bottom and tie on two six-inch leaders a foot or two above.

Any piece of traditional bait will do, including clam necks, squid or sand shrimp.

I made the regrettable mistake of using sand shrimp during my first visit to Kalaloch.

The shrimp continually flew off my line every time I cast into the surf.

It was a frustratingly fishless experience; one in which I likely had my gear fishing five percent of the time it was in the water.

The lesson: Don’t use sand shrimp if you can’t tie an egg loop. Go with the stuff that’s tougher than jerky (i.e. squid).

So when you cast out your line — preferably, as far as possible into the surf — it will stay on the hook and sink to the bottom intact.

At that point, all you have to do is reel in the slack and wait for a perch to come along and hit it.

Needless to say, a lot of gear is lost in the process.

If you don’t come armed with at least 10 pieces of lead and dozens of swivels, it’s going to be a short day at the beach.

Day at the beach

That’s especially true of Kalaloch’s craggy environs.

Boulder gardens dot many of the best surfperch holes at Kalaloch, most notably Beach 4.

Perhaps that’s what makes it one of the most productive patches of sand in the state for surfperch.

The beach produced the state record (4.05 pounds) in 1996, and it’s considered one of the area’s top spots by West End fishing guru Bob Gooding.

It’s always best to hit the beach during calm surf conditions.

That was the case when I visited Kalaloch on Tuesday morning.

With meager swells hitting the beach on an outgoing tide, I ran into two surfperch in the matter of 30 minutes in the same spot.

I’d be lying if I said they fought like crazy.

The struggle was like one you would expect to run into with a cutthroat trout: Good, but by no means vein-popping.

At eight to 15 inches in length, these are not the sort of big, bruising fish one mounts on a wall.

No, they are but a simple pleasure.

Perfect for a simple man like me.


Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at

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