Out on the Waves
Your trip starts with a cruise past national treasures such as Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, surrounded by Bay Area skylines. It ends with a treasure chest of striped bass, halibut, and rockfish. In between, you get the excitement of dangling a live anchovy or shiner perch while trying to catch a variety of fish. This is called potluck fishing, and it kicks off in June when the striped bass begin arriving at San Francisco Bay after wintering upstream in the delta. First come the scout fish, the five- to 10-pound stripers. By the third week of June, the best fishing of the year in the Bay Area is under way. That is when the halibut show up and rockfish can be found at the reefs just west of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Piers: Many piers are available in the area.
Party boats: Party boats depart at 7 A.M. daily from San Francisco, Emeryville, Berkeley, San Rafael, Point San Pablo, and Crockett. Skippers ask that those who will be fishing arrive at 6:30 A.M. for an orientation. Bait is provided, and tackle and rod rentals are available on each boat.
With moderate outgoing tides during the evenings in late June and mid-July, anchovies become trapped along the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, luring big schools of striped bass that move right in along the pillar to attack the baitfish. Earlier in the day during incoming tides, stripers congregate along the rocky reefs west of Alcatraz: the rock pile, Harding Rock, Shag Rock, and Arch Rock.
This is some of the fastest fishing of the year, and greatness is possible. On one trip, I caught and released 13 striped bass ranging from eight to 22 pounds in two hours. Captain Chuck Louie, owner of Chucky's Pride, often has a fantastic limit streak in late June and early July.
All saltwater species are tidal-dependent, and that is especially the case with halibut and striped bass. During slow-moving tides, halibut provide the best fishing; during stronger tides, striped bass come to the front. Since tide cycles phase in and out from fast to slow, skippers have quality stripers or halibut to shoot for on most summer days. The only tides to be wary of are minus low tides, which muddy the water and put a damper on all fishing in the bay. Dredge dumping, which was a serious problem in the late 1980s, had similar results but has since been greatly reduced.
Those minus low tides cause outgoing water to move swiftly, apparently pushing a big school of stripers out the Golden Gate and along the inshore coasts by early July. That is when surf fishing gets good at Thornton Beach and Pacifica and when the Happy Hooker, Huck Finn, and other boats specializing in beach fishing have tremendous results along Pacifica.
By August things slow down, because most of the fish have migrated to the Pacific Ocean. They start returning in September, however, and another good spree for striped bass takes place from mid-September to mid-October. During this time, the fish typically show up during outgoing tides at the reef off Yellow Bluff, located upstream of the Golden Gate Bridge on the Marin shore.
The striped bass fishery has been hammered by water being pumped out of the spawning grounds of the San Joaquin Delta, where giant pumps remove some 80 million gallons of water per second to send to points south. After a spawn, striped-bass eggs must remain suspended in the water for 48 hours before hatching, but the strong pull of the pumps will suck the spawn and baby stripers right down the hole. As such, the species has suffered serious declines since the California Aqueduct pumps began running full blast in 1968.
The result is a troubled population that provides windows of opportunity for wise anglers. The surviving fish are as strong as bulldogs and when hooked give a mercurial sensation at the rod.
Another fish to try for is the shark. Leopard sharks in the 40- to 45-inch class are most common in these waters. The best spots are near the Bay Bridge, west of Angel Island, and just north of Belvedere Point on the east side.
Striped bass may be one of the best indicators of the health of San Francisco Bay. I have prayed many times that we will never look at the bay and say,"Striped bass used to live here." Getting the delta pumps turned off during the spring striper spawn would do much to prevent that from ever happening.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication