The Fish Sniffer - A Late Hour Jackpot Win For Jim Garvey On The Morning Star
A Late Hour Jackpot Win For Jim Garvey On The Morning Star

Written By: Dan Bacher, January 25, 2014
Species: Sturgeon Saltwater Salmon Stripers Saltwater Sturgeon
Location: San Pablo Bay,

A Late Hour Jackpot Win For Jim Garvey On The Morning Star
A Late Hour Jackpot Win For Jim Garvey On The Morning Star A Late Hour Jackpot Win For Jim Garvey On The Morning Star
A Late Hour Jackpot Win For Jim Garvey On The Morning Star

Normally during late December and early January the waters of San Pablo are muddy and fresh, the result of storm water inflows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries, as well as from the Napa and Petaluma rivers and Sonoma creeks. These are prime fishing conditions for white sturgeon, one of the most prized gamefish in California.

This season has been much different, due to a record drought. The first snow survey of the winter by the California Department of Water Resources on January 3 found little snow as California’s dry weather continued its push into the New Year. Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack’s statewide water content at about 20 percent of normal for this time of year.

In addition to the sparse snow pack, many areas of California ended year 2013 with the lowest rainfall amounts on record. This situation will change quickly if weather patterns shift and bring stormy conditions that are typical for January and February.

What this means on San Pablo Bay is that the water is much clearer and saltier and normal, accounting for good striped bass fishing into the New Year at a time when bass fishing has generally slowed down, due to the fresh muddy flows. The clear and salty water conditions also make it imperative that if you want to catch a sturgeon, you fish the big, moving tides.

With catching both bass and sturgeon in mind, I headed west from the Crockett Marina with Captain Gordon Hough and "Deck Dog" Mike Shimel and 15 other anglers on Saturday, December 28. The weather was flat calm and beautiful, unlike the cold and stormy weather that is often the case this time of year.

Though not a minus tide, Hough pointed out that there was 6.2 feet of outgoing current occurring during our fishing day, “and that’s about as good as it gets!”

When we arrived at the Buoy #7 area, there were still a couple hours of incoming to deal with. There were lots of bass marking on the graph in 45 feet of water, as Hough showed me.

“So why not start the day with a dozen or so bullhead bass? Best reason? They weren’t biting,” quipped Hough.

I was the only one to hook up on the bullheads. I was in the cabin microwaving a burrito when Shimel yelled that I had a fish biting on my rod.

He adjusted everybody’s line, including mine, so that the drag was very loose and line was able to easily to come off the reel when a striper ran with the bait. The line was quickly pulling off the reel by the time I grabbed my rod and I set the hook hard.

This was definitely not a little “thermos bottle,” as Hough jokingly refers to small keeper bass, and made a number of good runs before Shimel was able to net it. The fish, the first keeper of the day, measured 30 inches long and weighed about 12 pounds. I was also the only angler to catch bass on the bullheads.

After not catching any more fish there, the anchor was pulled up and Hough drove the boat to the shallow waters west of the Pumphouse. The tide was already ebbing when we arrived. No sooner did the shrimp offerings hit the water than anglers were hooked up with one bass afer another.

“Though these bass were obvious keepers, they’re not as big as the bullhead bass,” noted Hough. “Still, they really put up a fight when hooked on the shrimp baits.”

The water began to muddy up, and Jim Garvey, who had one tag left on his 2013 Sturgeon Report Card. was staring down an obvious sturgeon pumper. What unfolded next could best be described as “INCONCEIVABLE!," according to Hough.

“He whiffed it,” quipped Hough. “Jim shrunk back to his spot on the port bow in silent despair.”

Another bass or two and our first of two flounder came aboard before an angler, Forrest, hooked up the first sturgeon of the day. As is almost always the case when shallow water (5 feet deep) fishing, this sturgeon jumped straight out of the water. By the looks of it, it was about a 50 pound obvious keeper!

"Sadly, keeper' was a poor choice of nouns," noted Hough. "After a brief though intense battle, this one got away."

I breathed an uneasy sigh of relief; I still had the jackpot contender in the fish box. Anglers caught a couple more bass, and had more than one sturgeon bite. However, Hough said we were going to get stuck in the mud if we stayed much longer.

The succcesful anglers included 13-year-old Ethien Zambrana of Peach Tree, Georgia, who caught his first-ever striper, and Rodrigo Regalado of Managua, Nicaragua, who caught his two fish ever, two keeper striped bass.

Fred Walker of Sacramento and Barbara Wilkins each nailed keeper bass, as did Wayne Feagley of Castor Valley and Ron Cortese of Fairfield. The fish ranged from 18-1/2 to 22 inches long.

Around 2:30 pm, Hough announced over the radio that whoever took the jackpot from me would win a free trip aboard the Morning Star. That offer apparently gave everybody extra incentive to watch their rods more closely to take the jackpot from me when we arrived at the “hot spot” at Buoy 11 to fish the bottom of the tide.

When we arrived, the water was very muddy, due to the big tides, and again, the first fish to hit the deck was a keeper bass.

The next bite could best be described as a “Reprieve From The Governor,” noted Hough.

“The now near suicidal Jim Garvey was getting another obvious sturgeon pumper,” said Hough. “This fish wasn’t so lucky. After a brief battle, the Deck Dog hoisted Jim’s 52″ (measured to the fork) final sturgeon of the year aboard in our gigantic sturgeon net.”

My dreams of a jackpot win were destroyed. Though there were several sturgeon bites in the last hour of our trip, none of the bites converted into another fish.

“Jim Garvey, still caught up in Christmas fervor, gave Dan Bacher’s jackpot winnings to the Deck Dog, and his sturgeon to the crew, so all aboard had a sturgeon dinner to go with the 9 bass and 2 floundering flounder we caught, and Deck Dog Mike was a bit closer to his dream of funding his own Chinchilla Farm,” joked Hough.

Hopefully, the dry weather pattern will end soon and California will be blessed with a series of storms to freshen up and muddy up the water and put the sturgeon on a more consistent bite. When this happens, fishing the big moving tides becomes less important to success.

But while the water remains relatively clear and fresh, you can enjoy the solid striper fishing, along with hooking a few sturgeon and flounder, on San Pablo Bay. The next trip by Hough, on December 31, produced nine bass to 11 pounds, five flounder and two shaker sturgeon.

For more information about sturgeon, bass and live bait trips aboard the Morning Star, call 1-707-745-1431.

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