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Steve Merlo

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Steve Merlo shows off a 3-pound barred surf perch he caught yesterday off the beach at Oceano. He used live bloodworms to catch his limit.

With another heat wave in the San Joaquin Valley this week, scores of people will once again be trekking to the Central Coast to cool off. That's a given, but a lot of folks are also heading over there simply to wet their lines. The entire Central Coast, from Santa Barbara north to San Simeon, has recently erupted into one of the best all-species fisheries anglers have had in years.

Right now, private boaters are taking advantage of the millions of squid and anchovies that have moved into the Avila and Morro Bay areas and are catching some righteous white sea bass and Pacific halibut, not to mention having a ball with the excellent ling and rock cod complementing the overall catch.

Anglers who prefer to stay on the sand can also find some excellent fishing by hitting the surf and piers in the area. Using live sand crabs, artificial grubs and live blood or lug worms, fishermen can expect to do battle with a variety of great eating perch. While the barred surf perch are Numero Uno when casting into the crashing waves, some nice rubber-lipped perch, redtails and calicos are also showing with regularity off the rocks, jetties and other man-made structures.

The biggest mistake fishermen are making when venturing out to catch perch is their notion that the fish are located as far as they can cast out into the briny. Nothing is farther from the truth, and smart anglers keep their offerings only a few feet from the shore and right where the waves crash onto the sand. The wave action dislodges sand fleas and crabs, shellfish and other food they attack with abandon in only a foot or two of water.

This also holds true for pier anglers. Experienced perch fishermen know that the first two or three pilings from shore, in only two or three feet of water, hold the majority of hungry perch, while the other species live farther out on the wooden jetties.

Other fish are also showing for fishermen willing to dangle a set of jigging flies such as the Sabiki Rig, rather than bait, into the water from the piers. Jacksmelt, while not the best eating fish in the world, do put up a tremendous battle and move into shallow waters several times each day and are a lot of fun to catch. Pier fishermen are also catching mackerel, a few sardines, the occasional halibut and plenty of anchovies to spice the action.

While I prefer using Gulp-flavored, 2-inch grubs in camo color, live bait usually outfishes most other offerings from shore or pier. Far and away the best attractant is imported live blood worms, which are sold at Bob's Bait Bucket here in Bakersfield. While they are expensive, they continue to lure tons of fish to the hook. Anglers simply need to break off a tiny half-inch piece of live worm, impale it on a No. 6 hook and put it where the fish are. Most of the time, one worm will provide four or five baits, and since they're sold by the 10-pack, will provide plenty of all-day, fish-catching appeal.

The same holds true for lug worms, but they're sold by weight, rather than by the package. They're also a bit cheaper than blood worms. Both kinds need to be refrigerated, so a small ice chest is a necessity for keeping them alive and kicking.

By the way, a fishing license is not required to fish from a pier such as those found in Pismo, Avila, Cayucos or even Morro Bay.

Angler gets rare view of shark kill

The huge biomass of bait occurring around the Central Coast has also lured some interesting creatures into the nearby shallow waters. My friend, local fisherman Michael Knight, while returning from a successful day's white sea bass and Pacific halibut angling on his private boat, had a seagull's view of Mother Nature in action. Only one-eighth of a mile south of the Avila Pier near Shell Beach, a gigantic great white shark launched itself from the water to attack a hapless seal, and Knight watched the action unfold.

The shark, estimated to be at least 16 feet long, continued to splash and feed on the carcass for several minutes, causing the water around Mike's boat to turn blood red. The fisherman guessed the shark had at least 10 feet from the tip of its 18-inch-high dorsal fin to the tip of its 2-foot-tall notched tail protruding from the surface.

Those of us who know Mike understand he is not prone to exaggeration, and all I can say is for people not to take too many chances venturing out from shore. Personally, you couldn't catch me standing in salt water over 2 feet deep if I can help it, but then I'm a big chicken, one that's going to live to a ripe old age if I can help it.