Out on the Waves

Half Moon Bay

One of the greatest success stories of the California coast has unfolded here at Half Moon Bay. The place was just about a lost cause in the mid-1980s. Gillnetters were wiping out inshore fisheries, commercial fishermen were shooting sea lions, lines for the old launch ramp extended out to the highway, the marina was old and dilapidated, the party boats were slow and needed a new paint job, and there wasn't sufficient parking. Other than that, it was wonderful.

But one by one, all of these problems have been fixed. Gillnetting was banned in water shallower than 240 feet, commercial fishermen stopped shooting anything that moved (after two of them were arrested for this crime), a new launch ramp and boat slips were constructed, a breakwater was built inside the harbor, new skippers brought in fast boats and have maintained them well, and a parking lot was added.

Suddenly, Half Moon Bay was a quality act—and so was the fishing.

Boat ramps: A boat ramp is available at Pillar Point Harbor at Princeton in Half Moon Bay.

Party boats: Several party boats operate in the area.

The most consistent results are gained from rockfishing at the Deep Reef, 12 miles southwest of the harbor, and off of Pescadero and Pigeon Point to the south and Devil's Slide and Pedro Point to the north. After the gill net devastation of the '80s, rockfish are coming back in decent numbers and have increased in size as well in the '90s. Deep-sea fishing for rockfish is also good off Montara, San Gregorio, and Bean Hollow. In the fall, shallow-water rockfishing can be exceptional, often just 30 to 50 feet deep. I suggest casting three-ounce Wilson Darts, then retrieving over the top of the reefs.

Not as predictable are the salmon. Because there's no salmon stream to be found near Half Moon Bay, boaters must try to intercept passing fish. There are, however, usually two periods during which success can be great. The first is in late June and early July, when salmon are often found at the Southeast Reef (which is marked by three buoys, adjacent to the Miramar Restaurant) and Martin's Beach to the south. After a lull, another large batch of small salmon, 20- to 24-inchers, shows up in early August off the far buoy northwest of Pillar Point. At other times ranging from March through September, there is usually at least a sprinkling of salmon in the area.

For the owner of a small boat, it can be ideal when the fish are schooling. During the week, when it's not nearly as crowded, you can launch at 5:30 PM., cruise over to the fishing grounds, limit out between 6 PM and 8 PM, and be back at the ramp by nightfall.

Perch fishing along the beach just south of the Princeton Jetty is excellent during the first two hours of an incoming tide, just after a good low tide has bottomed out. People here employ a unique system using plastic grubs, available at Hilltop Grocery, Bait, and Tackle on Highway 92. Shoreliners can try the Princeton Jetty, where they'll get lots of snags but a decent number of fish. For the best results, fish the incoming tide with bait just after low water. Another possibility is a beach run of striped bass during the summer. Although now rare, this event does occur, usually during the second week of June then on and off in July-and most commonly at Venice Beach.

Harbormasters at ports along the California coast who are considering revamping their harbors should take a look at Half Moon Bay, where everything was done right.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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