Gearing up for the annual Sand Crab Classic Perch Derby

Monterey Bay

Gearing up for the annual Sand Crab Classic Perch Derby

by Allen Bushnell

Now I remember Februaries. One of the best qualities for anglers and one that is consistently displayed by the “Top Guns” is optimism. Really good fishermen “expect” to catch fish. I have very little problem maintaining that outlook for most of the year. When rockfish season opens in spring followed closely by the salmon opener, the amount of expectation and stoke within the fishing community skyrockets. Summer and fall seasons come along and we are sailing with the wind behind us.

Halibut flood the shallows, salmon are on the outside and we’re almost guaranteed enough rockfish or lingcod for a good dinner or two with even a short go-out. Fall fades into winter and cod remain a consistent target. A few halibut meet a late-season fate as the bulk of that species heads towards deeper winter water. Weather starts kicking up, keeping the boats at the dock more and more often. But the fish are out there, the season’s open and we know we can get out in a few days for some action and freezer supplies.

Besides the “boating” species, surfcasting usually remains strong from early spring through early winter. Surf perch move around, but if we track them well enough we can move with them and almost always enjoy the thrill of hookups. “The tug is the drug,” they say. In good years the surfcasting can include legal-sized halibut and striped bass from certain Monterey Bay beaches. Hook one of these bigger fish and you are in for a fight, especially if you’re using your perch rod. All is good, until it’s not.

One recent morning I realized I’ve caught very few fish since the beginning of February. Conditions have not always been “perfect,” with some big swells coming through and a noticeable lack of structure on our beaches after another dry winter. Still, I’ve fished these exact conditions many times and have been able to dial things in, find the fish and share the info with my fishing friends. What is going on and when is it gonna go off?

Then I remembered. It is February. Once again we are gearing up for the annual Sand Crab Classic Perch Derby, which has been postponed for two years due to COVID. Reviewing the years past as the Sand Crab Classic approached, I remember always being concerned in the leading weeks how “poor” surfcasting seemed at that time. Are there going to be fish for the Derby? Seems mighty slow. It’s winter, the perch should be swarming. Shouldn’t they? Wait, it is ALWAYS slow surfcasting during these last weeks of February, and often the first couple weeks of March as well. Then on Derby Day, the second Saturday every March, all these anglers show up with humungous perch they have caught from at their favorite spots stretching from Carmel to Half Moon Bay. Barred perch, walleyes and calicos. Sea perch like chunky rubberlips or the iridescent striped perch. Black perch and rainbows, we see them all on Derby Day. All of a sudden, it’s easy to be optimistic once again. If there are that many big fish spread out over that great an area, I fully expect to catch a great many of them myself, and soon.

And so, I’ll approach our next few weeks with the optimistic attitude. The bite will turn on. It always does. And, I will be there to take full advantage of it when it does. Lucky for us February is the shortest month of the year.

Bushnell also operates Santa Cruz Kayak Fishing and Surfcasting Guide Service. Please send any reports, pictures or questions to

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