Posted by: 1000fish | March 11, 2011

An Embarrassment of Perches

Dateline: March 11, 2011 – Tiburon, California

I am thrilled to report that the good surfperch fishing did not end with the January 22nd epic – in fact, it didn’t even begin with it. It was a great season (except for the thing with the ashes) and a new species with 2 records so close to home was a huge win.  I grew so fond of Elephant Rock that I started going there repeatedly, just to enjoy the place -there’s nothing like having a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay while catching good fish.  Little did I know that continuing to fish there would lead to a devastating internal moral conflict, one which threatened the very fibre of my being, but ended up with the more benign consequence of making my car smell bad for a week.

So this article will cover four trips to Tiburon. Interestingly, Tiburon is Spanish for “shark.”  The place got named that in the 1800s when a colony of lawyers lived here. (They were wiped out by aggrieved locals in 1904.)

This is what you see all day when you fish in Tiburon. I’d rather be looking at fish, but it is a nice view.

I first take you back to the day it all started – December 11, 2010. In the excitement of learning that rubberlips were not mythical creatures invented to annoy me, I missed an important detail.  I had caught a smallish perch, photographed it, and then completely forgotten about it. I had assumed it was a shiner surfperch, a smallish denizen of the area that travels in great swarms and makes excellent halibut bait.  I am normally pretty good about digging through ID books and pinning stuff down.  But with all the other excitement going on, especially my becoming far more involved in someone’s memorial service than I would have hoped, ( this one got left on the back burner. Then, on a sleepless night in Sao Paolo, I started flipping through the photo album and thought to myself – I gotta figure this one out.

When I get stumped on anything in California saltwater, my go-to scientist is Dr. Milton Love of UC Santa Barbara, marine biologist extraordinaire and author of the funniest fish ID book EVER. (See  I am faintly uncomfortable writing to a “Dr. Love” for advice, but this man is a wellspring of information about Pacific coast critters and has pinned down a couple of dozen species for me, including some truly esoteric oddities like the stripefin ronquil. Five minutes after receiving my query, he shot back an email – “Dwarf Surperch.” I was hurt. Why would such a well-known scientist make fun of my fish?  But then I looked in the ID book and saw there was a species called that, Dwarf Surfperch, Micrometrus minimus, as if that Latin name isn’t really rubbing it in. Good thing I hadn’t written anything snotty before my brain worked this one out. Species 1037.


The aptly-named Dwarf Surfperch. This is likely the only time this species has been or will ever be mentioned in the fishing media.

On the weekend of March 5, Elephant Rock was calling to me. (“Steeeeeeve. Steeeeeve.” it called.)  I got up early that Saturday, raced to Castro Valley bait to get grass shrimp, and headed down to the pier. The fishing started out slow, but the weather was beautiful, and to my relief, no one was performing anything even remotely funerary. At about 10, while soaking a bait right under the pier  – a bite. The fish ran a bit, and boom, perch on! He gave a hard, side-to-side fight, and when I swung him up onto the dock I saw he was not one of the normal visitors. This was a pile surfperch – overall silver color,  black stripe on side, dot near mouth, soft dorsal higher than spiny dorsal. (My name is Steve and I am a fish geek. And yes, I read fish ID books in the bathroom, but I hide them inside of old Playboys in case anyone looks.)  Most importantly, the perch weighed a pound. I checked the IGFA record book I carry with me for just such an occasion, and noted that there was no existing record for this creature. Bingo, application #27 was born.  I also caught a nice black perch and a solid rubberlip to close out the day. It was so pleasant to be there, especially because Jaime Hamamoto was far, far away.

                         The pending world record pile surfperch.

Some of you might notice the blue sky and bay view, but all I can see is those beautiful pilings. That’s where the perch live.

A storm moved in overnight and Sunday the 6th dawned rainy and vile, but primal urges pulled me back toward the pier. I called Abdul over at Castro Valley Sportsmen’s center, and he told me he could scrape up just enough grass shrimp for me. So draped in full gore-tex, off I went to Tiburon. The weather was awful – cold, steady rain, and a swirling wind that evil forces adjusted to blow rain right in my face no matter which direction I stood. The wind made bites very hard to detect. Even though the fishing was every bit as difficult as I expected, there were nibbles here and there, and I was NOT leaving until I got something decent. Around 1pm, the bait got slammed so hard even I couldn’t miss it. After a spirited battle, I pulled up a very solid pile sufperch. Nervously, I weighed it. One and a quarter pounds – breaking my pile surfperch record from yesterday. This created a confused feelings of joy for the new record and mourning for the retired one, which raised a huge moral conundrum. If I was as competitive as Jaime Hamamoto, which I am not, I would not want to have my record broken by anyone, even me. Oh, what to do? After checking with close friends and a religious advisor*, I decided the correct thing to do would be to send in the application, but engage in some self-loathing. So I submitted the app (#28) but exacted revenge on myself by putting a dead crab in my tackle box. And it was a bigger dead crab than Jaime put in my tackle box last year, so there. (If you want to learn more about Jaime and the dead crab, see

             A not so glorious day, but an even bigger pile perch.

 A less splendid view of the Golden Gate, obscured by rain and fog. If you look really carefully in the lower right corner, you still won’t see anything.

And then came March 11th, three months to the day from when this surperch saga began. I was able to get out to the pier for the afternoon, and although there was a bit of breeze, it was absolutely stunning outside. I was sharing the pier with a Mr. Eric Andrews, a Marin local who is now a student at Tulane in New Orleans, home on spring break. He had grown up fishing on the pier and had some great insights – he got some solid cabezones while I was hunting the perch. That’s another great thing about fishing – the random people I get to meet. Of course, I’m not sure what the random people might have to say about me.

Eric Andrews and one of his several cabezones. A cabezone is a large sculpin, not an Italian pastry. Don’t learn this the hard way like I did.

Well into the afternoon, I was just about to pull in a bait to check it when the line shot into the pilings and I was hooked up. It felt big, and I struggled to keep it out of the rocks and other assorted obstructions. Fishermen are fickle beings – we curse these impediments that cause us to lose fish, and yet it is this very structure that attracts the fish there in the first place. We call that a Catch 22, although I was happy catching just this one. This was a mighty rubberlip, and when I weighed it, it was over a pound and a half, tying my record from January 22. (#29 if you’re playing along at home.) So yes, another application, but yes, more self-loathing. You see, this would tie my existing world record application. This meant sharing the record with myself, and I was never any good at sharing. That’s why I like hockey – 12 guys, one puck, very little adult supervision – a sport in which being bad at sharing is not only ignored, it is rewarded. (See  for evidence. I’m the guy in the white jersey.)  I wept bitterly as I sent in the application, and the crab in my tackle box continued to ripen. 


 I was already engaged in self-loathing by the time this photo was taken. Unfortunately, Bass Pro Shops doesn’t carry hair shirts. Thanks for taking the photo, Eric!

I caught one more rubberlip that afternoon – I had been thinking about bringing one home for dinner. When I pulled this one up onto the dock, I saw that he had a huge, healed gouge on his back, at the end of his dorsal fin.  I figured he’d had a hard enough life, so I let him go and had a burger instead.

                         And you think you’re having a hard day?

And so the season ended up exceeding my wildest dreams – 2 new species, 5 world record applications, and regrets that I didn’t call this whole thing “Three Perch and a Funeral,” but I really, really don’t like Hugh Grant.

This would be the last California  fishing I would do for almost a month.


Looking toward the port of Tiburon and Belvedere from Elephant Rock. That’s Mt. Tamalpias in the background.

* Actually, a hockey teammate who has been to church twice.


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