Probably the most effective all-round bait for West Coast surf perch fishing, the Berkley Gulp! Saltwater Sandworm in its various forms catches everything that swims and is your go-to bait if sand crabs or fresh offerings aren't obtainable.
Here are the three ways we rig these amazing surf perch baits when tournament fishing or guiding - plus the two most common mistakes to avoid.
Three Best Ways to Rig Berkley Gulp! Sandworms for Surf Perch Page Index
Basic Setup Overview for Gulp! Sandworm Baits and Surf Perch Fishing
All of the following Gulp! Sandworm surf perch baits are ideally fished on light spinning or baitcasting tackle and a Carolina Rig-style setup.
For surf fishing tournaments last season, when I used these baits a lot, my setup consisted of an 8'6" Okuma Rockaway SP Medium Light rod, a 3500-size Ceymar HD high speed spinning reel loaded with 10lb braid main line, 3-4ft of 6-10lb mono or fluorocarbon top shot, egg sinker (usually 1/2, 3/4 or 1oz), a clear bead, a tiny stainless steel micro swivel, approximately 30 inches of mono or fluorocarbon leader and a size 6 Baitholder or Tanago J hook.
Two further things to note: the 2in / 5cm Nereis Camo shade of the Gulp! Sandworm range is the version I use the most and is used in the photos below. And a red faceted sighter bead fished above the hook is an absolute winner for surf perch fishing, so this is included as it's something I always use when chasing this species. They really seem to find the bait faster in any sort of conditions with the red attractor bead above the hook.
Bait 1 & 2- Whole Sandworm and Tail Section Bait
The first way to rig the sand worm is really straight-forward: just thread the worm up the hook as you would any soft plastic lure, and pop the hook out on the dark green side of the bait about two thirds the way down the body.
The whole worm presentation (top) is something I use in warmer months in Southern California, or when fishing in Central and Northern California when the surf perch tend to be larger and it's OK to be selective. Striped bass love sandworms, too. Smaller baits are surf smelt fodder in places like the Ventura, Bay Area, Marina and Monterey and nobody wants to be reeling in dozens of those in place of a fish taco-size perch limit.
The bottom presentation is similar to the top, but with a finger's-width of sandworm cut off the head end and rigged so the hook is still about two thirds down the body towards the tail. This is my favorite offering in summer months when you want to hook up on species that may be keyed into smaller baits - corbina, spotfin croaker etc.
This cut-down bait catches anything that swims, from the tiniest of perch to 20-inch-plus corbina, making it a reliable choice for all round surf fishing and especially a busy day with the perch. If I'm fishing for fun and a mix of species, this is how I set the bait up.
Bait 3 - Sandworm Head Section Surf Perch Bait
This is the tournament fishing surf perch special! Taking about half the bait, cut so it's roughly an inch long, the head end of the sandworm is threaded onto the hook so it just covers the shank and eye, leaving the bend exiting from the absolute bottom of the bait. No tail or overhang.
This works exceptionally well for catching large numbers of perch because even the small ones have to put their mouth around the bait in such way that it makes it hard for them to not get hooked, assuming you feel the bite and set the hook pretty quickly. They can't grab onto the tail and not have the hook in their mouth, which can happen frequently with other presentations.
With this setup, when the perch are hungry, it's a killer bait to rack up a quick limit or have some fun with beginners and kids. It's not selective size-wise but it'll catch the most fish.
Mistake 1 - Hook Size for Gulp! Sandworm baits
The number one mistake for rigging Gulp! Sandworms is to use the wrong size hook. Surf perch do not have big mouths and your hook size and gauge should be matched to the bait size, but too often I see insanely heavy hooks in use that are blunt and really hard to hook up with, costing my fellow surf anglers fish.
The photo above shows a hook that's far too large for the bait, with a gauge of wire that's unnecessarily heavy for catching surf perch. Compare to the hook beside it, and consider the mouth size an average surf perch. Clearly one will give you a far superior hook-up rate.
Mistake 2 - Hook Location and Positioning for Surf Perch Baits
The second most common mistake is to incorrectly rig the bait itself. Often, I've seen the worm pulled down the hook or not positioned over the eye of the hook. This positions the hook in such a way that it's much harder for it to find its way into perch's mouth, leading to fewer fish on the sand.
With a soft plastic bait like this, sliding it up over the eye of the hook and above the knot helps it stay securely on the hook in the optimal position. I leave a longer tag end to the knot than usual for this type of bait - when the bait is slid up over the knot, the longer tag end adds some resistance to the bait sliding back down. The small barbs on baitholder-style hooks also help with this.
Thanks for reading this short-but-concise guide to rigging these handy baits - the three presentations pictured are proven to work anywhere on the West Coast and have scored some nice tournament tallies for me, too. I hope you enjoy similar success!