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Written By: Dan Bacher, April 8, 2014
Location: Monterey Bay,
Monterey Bay features one of the most diverse arrays of surfperch species found anywhere on the West Coast, so it is fitting that the city of Santa Cruz has played host every year since 2005 to the Sand Crab Classic Surfperch Tournament.
I have made it a point to attend the event every year, with the exception of one year when I was ill. Anglers fishing the event have seen good fishing, bad fishing, storms and tsunamis and everything in between. They have caught a rainbow assortment of perch species, including barred, striped, rainbow, pile, walleye, silver, black, rubberlip and shiner perch.
I enjoy going to the event because I have a chance to visit with old fishing buddies such as event co-organizer Captain Mike Baxter. I fished many times with Baxter for rockfish, lingcod, salmon and halibut when he skippered the Wild Wave and Sea Dancer when they were running out of the Santa Cruz harbor.
I also love the event because it features people of all ages, ethnic groups and levels fishing experience competing in a shore fishing event where everybody has the chance to win.
Finally, I love the event because it is a benefit for one of my favorite conservation groups, the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project, an organization founded in 1976. The project is responsible for keeping the southernmost run of coho salmon and the Carmel River steelhead from becoming extinct, as well as providing a quality urban fishery on the San Lorenzo River.
Three hundred anglers entered the Tenth Annual Sand Crab Classic, bolstered by another 50 to 80 volunteers, all who participated in the big BBQ at the end of the day featuring tri-trip, chicken, homemade black beans, and Spanish rice.
The event’s organizers, Baxter and Allen Bushnell of Santa Cruz Kayak Fishing, host the weekly Let’s Go Fishing Radio Show from AM KCSO in Santa Cruz on Thursday nights from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.
As barred surf perch are generally the most desired species, there is a separate category for this variety in addition to non-barred surf perch, most exotic catch, the biggest surf perch on a fly, and the biggest perch to miss the 1:00 p.m. weigh in, according to Baxter.
The event is limited to the first 300 entrants, and the registration was closed two weeks prior to the event on February 20. Participants can fish any location up and down the coast as long as they arrive at the Portuguese Hall on time for the weigh in. In the past, winning entrants have come from as far north as Ocean Beach in San Francisco or south near Monterey.
Grace Volz took first place in the Master’s Barred Surfperch Division with a 3 lb., 16-1/2 inch barred surfperch caught on a Berkley Sand Crab in “the ocean” at an undisclosed location. Her husband, Brian Volz came in second with a surfperch weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces while also fishing a Berkley Sand Crab. Asimakis Skarmoutoutsos came in third with fish weighing 1 pound, 15 ounces.
Helen Rodarte took first in the Women’s Barred Surfperch Division with a 1 lb. 15 oz. fish measuring 14-1/8 inches, taken on a bloodworm off Rio Del Mar. Karen Hunt placed second with a 1 lb. 13 oz fish measuring 11-5/8 inches caught while tossing out a grub at Pajaro.
Finally, Bodie Rimmer won first place in the Junior Barred Surperch Division with a 15 oz. barred perch caught on a sand crab at Seabright Beach. Mandison Jauregi finished second with an 8 oz perch.
In the Master’s Division, Todd Schallenberger placed first with a 2 lb. 4 oz., 15 inch rubberlip perch caught on a bloodworm at Monterey. Paul Jimenez took second with a 2 lb. 4 oz., 13-3/8 inch striped perch taken while fishing shrimp off Monterey. Justin Morris finished third with a 2 lb. 1oz, 16-1/2 inch rubberlip perch enticed with a pileworm off Monterey.
Kira Eccleston, who graced two previous covers of the Fish Sniffer magazine, won first in the women’s master division with a 1 lb. 14 oz, 14-1/8" rubberlip perch. Trish Mcgrath cinched second place with a 1 lb. 12 oz, 13-1/8" rubberlip perch caught off Monterey on shrimp. Jennifer Valentine captured third place with a 1 lb. 10oz, 12-3/4” rubberlip perch caught on a bloodworm.
The top three anglers in the kids master division (non barred surfperch) all landed rubberlip surfperch along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. Samara Cortazzo placed first with a 1 lb. 13 oz, 14-3/8” fish caught on a pile worm, Keanna Miller finished second with a 1 lb. 9 oz., 13-1/4” perch taken on a shrimp/grub combination and Jake Sporleder placed third with his 1 lb. 6 oz., 12-1/2 “ fish caught on a lure.
“We are hoping to raise $5000 for the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project, and the event continues to become faster, funnier, smoother, and more streamlined every year,” said Baxter.
Larry Wolf of the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project explained that the donations will go to fund the project’s operations, including planting an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 steelhead smolts in the San Lorenzo River and 5,000 into Scott Creek. They also plan to stock 20,000 juvenile coho salmon in the San Lorenzo and 4,000 in Scott Creek.
In adition, they will be raising 240,000 king salmon in pens in Monterey Bay Harbor, as they have done in previous years. Whereas the fish previously came from the Feather River Fish Hatchery, this year they will come from the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery in Clements. This program has created a unique fishery in the bay and Santa Cruz Harbor.
“It is a great family event where more and more children are participating, and many prior fishermen are returning to serve as volunteers,” Allen Bushnell said. “One of the highlights was the number of kids in the derby in addition to the largest barred surf perch I have ever seen at 16.5 inches.”
The derby drew a number of prominent charter boat skippers this year. Captain Jay Yokomizo of the New Huck Finn out of Emeryville fished north of Santa Cruz at Scott’s Creek. Captain Jimmy Rubin of the Becky Ann, and Captain Tom Zizzo of the Wild Wave out of Pier 45 in San Francisco, all tossed bait or lures from the shoreline. Zizzo assisted Baxter in distributing the array of raffle prizes at the end of the event.
The Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the restoration, conservation, and enhancement of native wild silver (Coho) salmon and steelhead populations and their coastal and marine habitats from San Mateo to the south Monterey Bay area.
The Project is also dedicated to the enhancement of the Chinook salmon population in the Monterey Bay waters. The Project is involved with public education and is concerned with the development of habitat restoration projects.
The derby takes place annually during the first or second Saturday in March. If you didn’t participate this year, you might want to mark your calendar for 2015. For more information, go to: theletsgofishingradioshow.com.
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