First off, my only HMB Clamming Tour this month is on Friday July 6th (four days from now). Sign up here:
July 2012: In The Thick Of It
Striper fishing back in the day: Golden Gate Bridge in the making.
July is unquestionably a huge month for fishing in local waters. It's the month where the salmon tend to move close to the bay and stripers hit all the local beaches. It's the month when halibut fishermen have to stop making excuses (or get off the water). It's the month where forage fishes are either here or not here, and it's the month when you're most likely to get out on the water and get your rockfish limits.
The good news: July has plenty of big minus tides. The bad news: they're all insanely early in the morning. Looking in my Tidelog right now. Hmmm... best stretch is July 4th to July 7th. Then July 19th to July 22nd. And that's basically it. So if this is the month where you were finally going to break out the clam tube, or the rake, or the drain spade (for razor clams), plan now. You've got a limited window of opportunity.
Bait Fish Update
Well well. The entire fishing public of California is raving and ranting about salmon (I'll get to it in a minute) but I want to write about smelt and sardines. What can I say? It's an addiction. Anyway, if you just want to read about the mainstream fishes of the bay and the lovely people who pursue them, go here: Fishsniffer. Otherwise...
Frankly, I don't know what to say. They've vanished. I stopped fishing after my 6th trip (sometime in May) and have been going on 2nd hand info ever since. It just became ludicrous. When one considers the amount of effort that goes into night smelt, (not to mention the gas expense) there simply has to be the promise of a reasonable reward to make it worthwhile. Last time out on the beach I walked about 4 miles on what had to be the coldest, windiest most uncomfortable night in the history of the month of May. I'm still seeing huge piles of nightsmelt at the Sunset Super (the Asian market on Irving street), so someone's getting them. I presume this is one of the A-framers fishing way up north near the Oregon border, because there aren't any fish to speak of down here.
Remember the sport limit is 25 pounds!
One would think that surf and night smelt abundance might mirror one another. Being that they eat the same stuff and spawn on the same beaches (it just occured to me that maybe they compete). But evidently this is not the case. We are right now in the midst of another epic surf smelt (dayfish) season, and I will say this: don't take it for granted! All the regulars I speak to on the subject, remind me that surf smelt virtually disappeared from the San Mateo county coastline for many years. And that even smelt Meccas like Martin's Beach have experienced whole decades where no smelt appeared at all. Whether or not this abundance and decline cycle has anything to do with fishing pressure is anybody's guess.
Speaking of which the last manually-hauled lampara net in North America was used to great effect last week as I stood on the dock and watched the Hercules of modern fishermen haul 2,000 pounds of surf smelt out of Princeton Harbor--by hand! I mean Princeton Harbor? Who even knew they were in there?
Marilyn Monroe working at a sardine cannery in the Fritz Lang, Noir classic: Clash by Night. A great flick for retro footage of Cannery Row. Shot in 1952, the sardine fishery was in full-scale collapse.
I've been reading up on sardines of late and I'm now wondering if we are due for our next period of decline. This is a bummer for me personally because, well... I love sardines. Seriously. A sardine lightly spritzed with olive oil, dusted with salt and pepper, and thrown on a grill is one of summer's great pleasures. Starting today (July 1st) the commercial sardine season begins. Normally, it takes the commercial boats about two weeks to fill the three month quota, but this year they can't seem to find the fish. Several marine biologists tell me the sardine recruitment in Monterey Bay was adversely affected by last year's cold ocean conditions. But the water is slowly heating up right now and hopefully the next few weeks will see some sardines coming in. If you're looking to catch them yourself the best place for this is Capitola Pier.
It's unfortunate that most Americans associate sardines with those oily, greasy, stinky things in cans that tend to be eaten in boxcars, by hobos with dirty fingers. I guarantee you that a fresh grilled sardine bears no more resemblance to the canned product than does a top quality prime rib to the contents of a can of Spam. So look for sardines in the fish markets over the next few weeks, this is your best chance of the year to buy them fresh (or at least reasonably fresh).
Unreal numbers. It just keeps getting better and better. Big fat lunkers. Meaning that everything I'm hearing about is over 12 pounds. But hold your sea horses, any day now the fish are going to head towards the Golden Gate. Suffice it to say, by the last week of July the salmon will be piled up from Muir Beach to Duxbury Reef (off Bolinas). That's the hope, anyway. The strange thing about it all is that I haven't heard a whole lot about shakers (small fish). Maybe no one is talking about this because of all the "hawgs" being landed. But usually the number of small fish is directly proportional to next year's ocean abundance. Like for instance, last year every fisherman on the water was predicting a huge year in 2012 because the number of small (two year old) fish seemed to be so high. So how's it looking for next year? I'm sure this info exists somewhere but I haven't found it.
This just in: Mikey called in from the water 3 minutes ago. He's out on our buddy Jake's new stick boat trolling hoochies 6 hours out of the Golden Gate (they left at 1AM). Says they are getting shakers (small fish) with every pull... so there's the answer I've been looking for!
Better than last month but still nothing like it was a few years ago. Again a lot of shaker halibut is a good thing for next year, even if it's frustrating for now. I know of at least one commercial halibut guy who's been drifting live bait all week (four rods on the boat). And has a total of 5 fish to show for it. Try making a living with those numbers! But still, a few fish are being caught (mostly in the Berkeley-Richmond area) and that's substantially better than it was a month ago. Try throwing a swimbait from anywhere near Crissy Field. Or throw some live bait (shiner perch or topsmelt) anywhere and see what happens.
More bad news. This is shaping up to be a truly dismal year for striper fishermen in the Bay Area. Yes, there have been a smattering of fish coming in from the beaches around Pacifica. Ocean Beach has yielded a few fish. There was a brief bump at the Fort Point area... but by and large a sub par summer for stripers. But it ain't over yet! Last night on my way to Half moon Bay i counted forty surf casters fishing the beach at Linda Mar. So something's going on over there. No confirmation yet, but 40 guys fishing Linda Mar on a Sunday night means something epic must've happened the day before.
This week is going to be your last shot for a while to go get yourself some razor clams (but we're talking about a major excursion to the northlands). I recently found a nice bed of these near SF, (see video above) but sadly they were too small to get excited about. I tried cleaning a few and eating them, but a four inch razor clam is hardly worth the effort... after you cut out all the dark stuff there's like a half inch of meat left in them. Nevertheless it got me dreaming about a trip to the hallowed razor grounds up near the Oregon Border and after all, it's okay to dream ain't it?
Mussel Season Closed
Mussel season is closed folks. I'm getting lots of e-mails about this. Don't pick mussels till November, okay? Not only is it unsafe, it's a punishable violation. Also: the only way the mussel beds at Pillar Point stand a chance to regenerate is if people adhere to the closed season restrictions. So put away the work gloves and the buckets and take up clamming or seaweed picking, or I dunno, fly-fishing, knitting, soap carving, tap dance... something other than picking mussels!
And that's going to do it till August. Hopefully halibut and striped bass will pick up in the interim. Anyway, until next month... see ya at, in, or near the water!