American Fly Fishing

By Kevin Price

California’s coastline stretches for almost 850 miles north to south; trace every contour in the land—every bay and inlet—and that length swells to 3,427 miles. Spectacular landscape and breathtaking coastal scenery are no secret to travelers driving along the Pacific Ocean, but few people realize that the California coast offers great fly-fishing opportunities. For fly anglers who enjoy interesting settings, the surf presents unique challenges and intriguing game fish. 
   One prime location among many is San Simeon, a small community—popular with surfers—located along the central coast between Big Sur and Cambria. This stretch of coastline, which runs through San Simeon Bay, is home to prodigious numbers of barred, striped, and big-eye surfperch. Prime habitat in the bay combines rocks and sand, and the area is rich in bait, which attracts surfperch and the occasional striped bass. The bay is also more sheltered than the open beaches nearby and rarely presents the strong currents that run along the beaches. For about 3 miles, from San Simeon pier southward, anglers can gain access to the bay’s beach from numerous turnouts along US Highway 1.
   Incoming tides make the best fishing, but anglers must also consider wave height. Breaking waves ranging from 2 to 5 feet high seem to create an ideal balance of current and turbulence to stir up food for surfperch. Concentrate on areas where waves come rolling in and suddenly collapse. Waves form where water meets shallows, so areas where waves suddenly lose height and strength indicate depressions or troughs where the gradually sloping bottom is deeper than the immediate surroundings. Surfperch congregate in these spots. Rip currents that run into softer outlying water or alongside rocky cliffs also attract surfperch, and are worth at least a few casts. If you arrive during low tide, take the time to study the beach—knowing what the bottom looks like will pay off when the tide rolls back in.
   Seven- and 8-weight rods are ideal for surf fishing in the San Simeon region. Shooting heads or sinking lines (type 3–6) will quickly drag a fly into the strike zone. Leaders of 4 to 5 feet with 0X to 2X tippets are typical; the leader butt section should be made from 20-pound mono. Effective flies include Bulla’s Surf Rat, Bulla’s Gremmie, and Woolly Buggers in orange, purple, red, or a combination of those colors. A stripping basket helps with line management.
   The water is cold and currents are ever-present, even inside the bay, so wade cautiously, with a friend if possible, and avoid going too deep. I never wade deeper than my knees. Fish can be a lot closer than you think, so concentrating on water you can cover safely is a much better option than getting in over your head.
   For more information on fishing the central California coast, contact Kevin Price, (805) 904-8573, and Central Coast Fly Fishing, (831) 626-6586,, located in Carmel.


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