Pier Fishing in California

Resources :: California Fish




Damalichthys vacca; from the Greek root words racos (ragged) and cheilos (lips) and the Latin word vacca (like a cow).

Alternate Names

Splittail perch, forktail perch, dusky perch, white perch, silver perch and porgy.


Pileperch are distinguished by the black spot on the cheek, the very deeply forked tail, and the very tall first soft rays on the dorsal fin that are about twice the height of the last spines.


To 17 1/4 inches; most caught off piers are 10-14 inches.


San Martin Island , Baja California to Port Wrangell, Alaska.


Shallow-water, rocky-areas and around piers and docks, both oceanfront and in bays.


Pileperch are taken at virtually every pier in California but the largest number are taken at Bay Area piers. Best bets: Santa Monica Pier, Stearns Wharf, Seacliff Beach Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier, Point Pinole Pier and McNear Beach Pier.

Bait and Tackle

Pileperch are probably the hardest perch to tempt to bite except when in spawning schools. The most common setup is to use a high/low leader with number 6 or 4 hooks, light line, and a light sinker. Best bait in southern California seems to be fresh mussels, rock crabs or bloodworms. In the Bay Area, grass shrimp, rock crabs, pile worms or fresh mussels are best. In Humboldt Bay, frozen tube worms or crab backs are most commonly used. Usually pileperch are nestled up next to the pilings; fish accordingly. Check out the shoreline by the pier at low tide and grab some local live bait – small crabs, mussels, worms, snails or clams; these will usually make the best bait.

Food Value

Although large sized and yielding some usable meat, the flesh is only fair in taste.


Many years ago, at Newport Pier, I watched an old-timer show his tricks on these fish. Pileperch were casually swimming around several pilings at the pier, just under the top of the water and in view, but refusing to take any bait. The old-timer took out a mass of recently-pried-loose mussels, at least a dozen in the clump, and in and around these he wound a leader which had several number 8 hooks attached. Then he attached the leader to a handline and carefully dropped it down next to the pilings. This new piling soon attracted the fish and he was able to catch several of the large pileperch. Sporting? I’m not sure, but it sure was effective. Since then, I’ve seen variations of this technique at both the Santa Monica Pier and at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara.