OFF THE HOOK: Marin County coast jumping
My first-ever live bait trip in the San Francisco Bay area was by accident, not by design, in the summer of 1980. I arrived at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco for a salmon trip 10 minutes too late. The boat I was scheduled to board, along with the others, had left the harbor already.
I saw several anglers standing next to the ladder where one of the boats, the Bass Tub, was still tied up to the dock. I asked one gentleman what they planned to fish for. He replied "We're potluck fishing with live bait for whatever fish that wants to bite. He said the boat would be leaving at 7 a.m.
The captain, the late Cliff Anfinson, a big, burly redheaded man, arrived several minutes after the scheduled departure, complaining about the traffic.
"Do you have any space?," I asked. He replied, "Yes, we can make space for you — come on aboard."
He said we'd be fishing for "halibut, stripers, reds, blues, lings and things."
At 3:30 pm. that day, I came to the dock with a bag full of rockfish and my first-ever halibut. I had a great day drifting live anchovies in the Golden Gate and just outside at Point Bonita — and ever since have been a diehard live-bait potluck angler.
I have made many trips with the Bay skippers, including Anfinson and his son, Erik, James and Chris Smith of the Californian Dawn, Jim Smith of the Happy Hooker, Gordon Hough of the Morning Star, James Cox of Touch of Grey Sportfishing, Kwan Vo of the Golden Eye, the late Mike O'Connell, captain of the New Keesa, and Jay Yokomizo and Art Roby, captains of the Huck Finn out of Emeryville.
Since that time, the halibut, striped bass, shark, rockfish and lingcod populations have bounced up and down. This year the halibut action has been spotty and the striped bass have been largely absent from the Bay waters. However, rockfish and lingcod action has been great off the Marin Coast, and at times, inside the Bay and the Golden Gate.
James Smith and his brother, Chris, have been reporting steady limits of rockfish, along with one to two lingcod per rod, while taking turns skippering the boat. Taking advantage of a window of calm weather, I fished inside the Bay and outside the gate with James and Chris Smith and 13 anglers on Sept. 7.
After we picked up live anchovies at the receiver in San Francisco Bay, Captain Smith made his first few drifts off Fort Point starting on the Bay side of the Golden Gate Bridge. We picked up a mixture of brown, blue and black rockfish, one keeper lingcod and several shaker lings. Matt Martin of Alameda landed the first big lingcod of the day.
We then went to the Point Bonita area, where we bagged some more rockfish and lingcod. However, the bite wasn't great there, so Smith headed up the coast to start fishing the reefs between Double Point and Bolinas.
On the first drift, I caught the second lingcod of the day that provided a great battle on my light Lamiglas steelhead rod.
After that, other anglers and I began catching one 3- to 4-pound brown rockfish after another, along with some beautiful gopher, China, black, blue and vermilion rockfish. In only 30 feet of water, these browns were ripping lots of line off my reel and fighting just as hard as a lingcod.
I was up to nine rockfish when I caught my second just-legal lingcod that was released. An hour later, I bagged another hefty lingcod that I kept, along with releasing three shaker lings and losing another lingcod.
Lance R. Hines caught the heftiest lingcod of the day, an 18-pounder, while drifting a live anchovy. Roger Smith landed a fish close to that size while using a small rockfish on a trap rig.
The 14 anglers ended up catching limits of rockfish and 25 lingcod. We tried a couple of drifts for halibut inside and outside of the Bay, but didn't land any.
James Smith recounted the season to date. "The rockfish and lingcod season have been good to excellent since opening day on June 1. We've pretty much caught limits of rockfish and one to two lingcod per rod over the past two months."
Why has this season produced such good fishing? "My guess is the population is so healthy because of the large amount of feed, krill," said Smith. "When you have this much krill because of the cold water conditions, the small ones are getting bigger quickly and the big ones are getting bigger."
To date, the largest lingcod put in the boat was a 24 pounder, although one angler lost a fish that Smith estimated to be 30 pounds right at the net. The biggest black rockfish to date was a 6-pound, 7-ounce beauty caught by Mark Stewart of Fairfield.