And the King of the Surf is…

…the redtail surfperch, Amphistichus rhodoterus.

Redtail Surfperch

Redtails rule theoutershores beaches. See Let’s Check Out Another Surfperch for an introduction to the redtail surfperch. They’re bigger and badder than the other common fishes they share the surf zone with and they may be more abundant too. I’m interested in the makeup of the community of fishes that reside in the surf, so to find out what I could about this I sampled the surf zone with standard hook and line methods from fall, 2008 to early 2013. Over a four-year period I examined hundreds of fish. The figures below show the results from two different, but similar, protocols.

Slide4 This graph shows the results from work I just finished in February, 2013. It illustrates the proportional abundance in a sample of almost 300 fish. About 2/3 of all fish were redtails. The second most abundant species in my catch, by far, was the silver surfperch, Hyperprosopon ellipticum. See Meet the Silver Surfperch and The color of the Caudal for more on silvers.

Silver Surfperch

Silvers are considerably smaller than redtails. According to Milt Love in Probably More than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast, female redtails mature at 9 – 10 inches while female silvers mature at 7 – 8 inches. We usually think the smaller of two similar species will be more abundant and I can’t rule that out; maybe silvers just don’t like my bait.

Staghorn sculpin
Staghorn Sculpin
Sand Sole
Sand Sole

Pacific staghorn sculpin, Leptocottus armatus, and sand sole, Psettichtyes melanostictus round out the list of common surf-dwelling species.


The pattern in the 2008 – 2012 sample (a slightly different protocol and just over 400 fish) was similar but you’ll notice the proportion of sculpins and walleye surfperch, Hyperprosopon argenteum, is a higher. Maybe my method in 2008 – 2012 favored those species in some way.  Anyway, it’s pretty clear redtails rule theoutershores surf.

These results are applicable in the surf zone along the exposed sandy beaches of Washington, Oregon and northern California, USA. The composition of the community of surf-dwelling fishes starts to change around San Francisco and samples from California south of San Francisco Bay would be of a different composition than I’ve shown here.

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