The Fishwives sea shanty trio serenading the Bay Parade
Coastal Update Early Summer 2016
Lots of things coming up to share, but of primary significance is my official book release par-tay at the Exploratorium on August 25th. Book release? you ask. Well, in fact, yes. I went and wrote a book: The Sea Forager’s Guide To The Northern California Coast. This mammoth tome (see image below), took me a year and half, working all night, while running my sustainable seafood business, doing weekend tours and performing parental duties for two little kids. So I’m patting myself on the back and on August 25th and you all are cordially invited to come out and pat it along with me!
Lombard's Magnum Opus
Then in September we are packing up the family in an RV and hitting the road on our book tour to Portland and back, stopping in various bookstores and beaches along the way. Check out the dates on our events page and if you happen to be in any of these areas please come down and say hi! More details about that as we get closer....
I just booked new tour dates in June, July and August, so bring a friend and enjoy some summer fishing with me (bring a sweater).
Here fishy fishy...
Also, we have some new pickup locations for Sea Forager Seafood CSF (I'm looking at you Oakland, Berkeley, and Pacifica!), so if you're waiting for ridiculously fresh sustainable seafood and the story behind it, we may well be in your neighborhood now, have a look. I'm looking for someone special to help with seafood processing and delivery part time. No experience necessary, just an interest in seafood, willingness to learn and a sense of humor. Growth potential and tasty perks. Email me for details and compensation info.
Now let’s get down to business:
I’ve noticed lots of early tufts of nori on the rocks in all the areas I like to throw a line in the water, so nori season is beginning. Next month will be better. And remember for nori you don’t need a huge minus tide and you don’t need to worry about snipping it. Just pluck it, (and rinse the base thoroughly to remove those tiny snails and sand grains) it’ll grow back later in the summer, no problem.
Kombu, Wakame, Bullwhip Kelp
As far as the kelps are concerned, you’ve got some mega low tides coming up in June (including the lowest tides of the year June 4th to June 7th), so start planning now. Some of the best seaweeds are best gathered on big minus tides. Any of those days (6/4-6/7) will be excellent for harvesting seaweeds (the Mendocino coast is the best area for this). I’ve been eating the fresh “leaves” of bullwhip kelp of late and really appreciating what a delicious thing that one is—without drying or steaming or anything. There’s still a ton of the invasive wakame (Undaria) under Pier 1.5 near the Ferry Bldg in SF… a virtual forest of it in fact. For anyone who’s feeling a bit adventurous. And I'll be doing a Mega Low Tide Tour in Half Moon Bay on July 7th if you'd like to join me for that! I also added a few more SF Coastal Foraging Tour dates too.
Dungeness Crab Season
A strange crab season, this one. Starting 4 months late meant that all the big market days for crab were long over by the time it opened. So demand has been a bit off and the price has stayed comparatively low—despite a paucity of crabs. Lots of guys pulled their pots when the season opened up north and none of them seemed particularly happy. I guess the question really is: was 2016 a portent of things to come? Or was it all just one big crazy anomaly? Time will tell.
As far as coastal foraging goes, everyone is telling me they’re getting lots of females with their snares, though the kayakers are still kickin ass on the local beaches with hoop nets and promars.
As of three days ago rock crab was still closed for risk of demoic acid poisoning. So avoid the rocks. Though it’s evidently now open in Monterey Bay.
Man, I need to go get my clam buzz on. Seriously. I haven’t dug or raked a clam (other than the polluted ones on my tours) in like 2 years or something. Yes that is deeply lame. But the time is nigh approaching when this guy is going to begin his apprenticeship!
Future clam digger: Django Lombard
I mean, seriously, at three years old its time he starts paying his way in clams. What does he think all these hours in the sand box were for anyway?
In any case, a trip to my secret littleneck spot is now in order. I should point out that clams caught inside bays and estuaries (with the exception of Washington clams) tend to be lower PSP risks than clams on the outer coast. And, like nori (the intertidal seaweed par excellence), littleneck clams can be reached on any tide lower than + 0.3. (at least you can get them on tides that high in my spot. Ha!)
Always hard to find true cockles in our neck of the woods, which is strange when you consider how abundant they are in Oregon
As a side note, after years of searching, I found a wholesaler in SF that has access to native littleneck clams! These are the only commercially harvested Pacific littlenecks on earth. Thing is, he only gets 50 pounds a week, from Washington. The harvester evidently gets very small quantities of them while plucking his farmed Manilla clams. It’s always seemed strange to me that native littleneck clams are not farmed but Manillas are. Local littlenecks are, to my mind, much better than Manillas (or maybe it’s just that there’s more meat in ‘em). In any case, I’m going to start selling those littlenecks as a store item to my CSF members. Maybe this month! (California does not permit wild commercial harvest of bivalves so I have to get them shipped from Washington… L).
Pacific Littleneck Clam
Sing in me oh muse… what can I really say other than the truth? I am madly fond of catching surfperch… and madly unfond of eating them. Champion de la Banana, (aka: the great one), insists that I know nothing about cooking and nothing about fishing. For only a piscatorial imbecile could fail to acknowledge the total awesomeness that is surfperch meat.
The other day I was at the dock in HMB and this other old timer Julio tells me that the reason I have such a low opinion of surfperch meat is that I’ve (obviously) never eaten rubberlip seaperch--the veritable Chinook salmon of the surfperches. A fish whose meat is so sublime as to defy any attempt to describe it. But despite my skepticism I have to admit… I have never eaten a rubberlip perch. I have eaten virtually every mooshy, mealy member of the surfperch family from the barred to the calico to the pile to the pogey, even to the shiner and the dwarf… in fact here’s my latest haiku.
I have eaten so many!
Still, they disappoint.
So keeping this in mind I headed out to the shore last week on my allotted day off and managed to bag this brute (see headshot above)—totally by accident mind you, I was targeting calicoes.
Steamed rubber lip with ginger and green onions
Newsflash: the meat of the rubberlip is just as mealy and gross as the meat of all the other surfperches. In fact, it sort of owned an off-putting effervescence of iodine. Though I’m not sure why that would be.
Try Try Again
While we’re on the subject of surfperch… it would be remiss of me not to point out that I caught what may be the state record calico surfperch (!) last month. This hawg weighed in at a staggering 1.93 pounds (and this after I had successfully midwifed her brood of perfectly formed babies into the surf). In any case, I took her home and filleted her and half a dozen of her smaller relatives into a credible if not outright delicious surfperch ceviche. And this my dear readers is the take away: when eating perch meat, ceviche is the way to go.
A new state record! This Calico perch weighed in at a robust 1.93 pounds (even after all her babies were squeezed out into the surf). Just received final confirmation from DFW. Almost 14 inches!
The salmon bite has been decent to very good off of Bolinas for sporties and party boats. If you are looking to book a party boat trip go with The Outer Limits or The New Rayanne out of Sausalito. These boats are the best in the fleet for salmon and for nice deckhands and a generally great atmosphere.
As far as the commercial fleet goes, all the crab gear still in the water has made some very difficult fishing for the trollers. As a result everyone is trolling the shipping lanes—which has its own perils. A lot of the big salmon bangers aren’t even going to bother fishing till the crab season ends and the pots are all out of the water. If you were wondering why the price for salmon is so high. small numbers due to limited effort and perilous conditions (it’s really a crab pot obstacle course out there) are the reasons.
Speaking to my neighbor on the subject of striped bass recently, we agreed that it takes approximately 1,000 casts to produce a single keeper sized striper. And I think that’s a liberal estimate. I know I’ve had stretches where it was more like 3,000 casts. Yesterday I started the day at about 987 so I knew I was due. I want you all to know that the fish pictured above, though nice, was not really worth my reputation. In short, I was fishing for perch when this 11.2 pounder slammed my Gulp worm. Though my leader material was good, my hooks were crappy discount jobs that I knew were gonna bend out in the backwash. And that's exactly what happened. After getting that fish all the way up the beach the hook bent out, he swished his tail and was swimming to freedom when I behaved like a total novice. A rookie. A chump. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the self titled Sea Forager, author of the forthcoming Sea Forager's Guide To The Northern California Coast, (including a chapter called "How To Avoid Killing Yourself Out There") dove in.
As I left the beach three local bass pluggers in succession took it upon themselves to tell me what an idiot I was (one said: "dude, what the fuck were you thinking?"). I had to agree. Though I must admit, I'd probably do it again. 987 casts can bring out the desperation in a guy. Or can bring it out in me in any case. The fish was all the way up the beach, due east of me, and was coming back down in the swash, and there was one moment to either do something rash or let him get away, and I went for the rash. Got pummeled, nearly lost my rod (actually I did lose it, then recovered it 50 yards down the beach--the ultimate disgrace). I haven't done anything that stupid in the ocean in about ten years (the last time I dove in after a fish). And frankly I'm a bit horrified (and embarrassed) by my behavior. Though, again… this dinner (note BBQ bass collar, and shish-kabob veggies) sort of took the edge off that feeling, and as Champion de la Banana said, "it is only pathetic if you lost the fish, and you did not lose it!!" No, we did not starve that night:
I'm sure the HMB rumor mill will circulate the story of my suicidal rookie move out there. And frankly, I deserve anything they may say. But now, thank Poseidon, I'm back at cast #1, I'll check in when I'm nearing a thousand again…
Oh right… everyone is talking about all the striped bass in the ocean right now and the large numbers of pluggers at Ocean Beach (actually the OB contingent is more about soaking sand crabs than plugging) Linda Mar, Sharp Park, The Apts, Mussel Rock et al… would seem to indicate that someone is catching these fish, and, presumably, they aren't diving into the surf to get them!
Actually, I am more excited about the re-unification of the greatest rock band currently inhabiting the planet, than I am about striped bass. Pictured here is Mickey Malchiondo, aka: Deen Ween, lead guitarist of Ween. Deener runs a charter fishing business when he isn't rocking-out. See you at the Saturday night show!
Word on the beach is that the stripers this year are of the 12-inch-to-just-legal variety. And that the preferred lure is a very small Hair-raiser with rubber grub, or a small swimbait. Lots of guys throwing bombers and poppers and SP Minnows to little effect.
As far as the bay goes, I don’t really care. I’m in this striper hobbie for the meat and I have no interest in catching and eating bass out of the bay. That’s just me. I’m sure they’re getting them in the usual places (ie: everywhere). Someone told me the Burlingame area has been good. Berkeley Flats too.
As many folks predicted, this warmest of warm water years, is shaping up to be a great hali year. When party boats are out there targeting halibut in May instead of salmon, you know there’s a lot of flatties around. The commercial guys have been racking up quite a few fish so try to get out ASAP before they catch them all!
As far as bait goes, if you are not inspired to spend your time jigging up shiner perch or cast-netting topsmelt in Lake Merritt, you’re in luck. The live bait receiver behind Scomas in SF is now open. In fact it’s been open since salmon season started.
One thing about those ‘chovies, though… they ain’t cheap. Clean shimmering, gorgeous, wriggling, wonderful… but not cheap. So if you are not into the idea of laying out 40 dollars for a 4 pound scoop of live anchovies, grab a Sabiki rig, bait it with little cut pieces of store bought shrimp and drop it down with a 1-ounce weight parallel to any pier piling in the state of California and you stand a very good chance of catching a shiner perch, (or a top/jack smelt)—and all of these make for deeply excellent halibut baits. But honestly, live anchovies are probably twice as effective at catching hali as shiners. Not sure but I’m guessing the oil content in an anchovy just makes it a whole lot sexier to a halibut than a shiner perch.
Of course halibut are most effectively targeted with live bait, but herring popsicles (that you caught, cured and vacuum sealed this past winter, right?) or swimbaits or even hair-raisers will work too.
Hard To Cook
Halibut meat is really easy to dry out. Be aware of this. Be very aware. Attend to that fillet like it’s the last piece of fish on the planet. Don’t walk away. Don’t change the diaper. Don’t get all sentimental and listen to Prince and start dancing around the house (like I did). 10 seconds overcooking will ruin a piece of halibut as effectively as if you stood on it for 10 seconds. Capisce? Feel me? Am I being clear?
A lot of Bay Area chefs, both professional and non, prefer to serve/eat their halibut raw. I’ve eaten my fair share of raw halibut and I’m sort of on the fence about it. Good as it might be, a nice piece of broiled halibut, done properly, is what floats my tule canoe.
How lucky we are in our little corner of the world that we share our coastline with the ever voracious and hard fighting lingcod. Oh man. I love lingcod fishing. There’s no better way to spend the day than live-drifting kingfish off a rock pile in 60 feet of water. And then, as it turns out, the flesh of the lingcod… is so… so… underrated… so… misunderstood. Damn I love lingcod.
It’s such a big crazy macho sort of fish. And yet it’s meat is actually kind of dainty, and flaky and light. And then there’s the whole blue smurf thing. Star Wars milk-colored fillets. I’ll never forget when I served blue lingcod slabs to one of my Sea Forager subscribers and she e-mailed me the following:
“Kirk, I was alarmed to see that the blue detergent soap that you
must be using to clean your coolers has leached through the brown
freezer paper and turned my fish fillets bright blue. See photo attached.”
Here’s an interesting article about what makes a blue lingcod blue
Once again my smelt (days and nights) have disappeared. How shall I convey my sorrow… how shall I impress upon you oh faithful reader how dark and full of despair the absence of osmerids makes me… here's a pic from happier times:
No more cucumber
No more shadows in the surf
Alas, why go on?
How many desperate and lonely nights must I trudge the beaches scouring the swash for a fish species that appears to have vanished entirely?
It’s now a day later. Got a tip from Howe at E-Z Mart: someone gave him a bag of surf smelt last week. The fish were supposedly caught at Pacifica. Arrghh! I went down to talk to the striper pluggers at Linda Mar and it appears there was some surf smelt activity late in the day last week around Mori Point. That’s all I got on the beloved day fish. Two hours of plugging Mori around high tide revealed nothing. No fish in the swash. No seals or birds. Guess I missed it. Bummer.
As far as other small forage fish go, here’s the basic details:
Sardines: in the bay (Pier 32 recently).
Anchovies: in the bay. (Pier 7)
Surf smelt (?)
Night smelt (?)
Jacksmelt (Everywhere! But especially on the downtown piers)
Jack mackerel and Pacific mackerel: at Capitola.
Various approaches to cleaning a Pacific (chub) mackerel: filleted, butterflied, and gutted/whole
Well… That’s gonna do it for May 2016, early Summer. I just added a few more tours if you'd like to come out. Check back in July or August for the next update. And remember our big book launch partay at the Exploritorium is on Aug. 25th, more details to follow.
So until your next update, see you at, on, or in the water!