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During a typical year I host a number of charter boat trips both inside and outside San Francisco Bay. Some of these trips are hardcore fishing adventures, while other trips are light hearted and focused on fun. My favorite fun focused trip is the annual Couples Challenge.
The idea of the Couples Challenge was born a decade ago as a collaborative project between The Fish Sniffer, The Cal Kellogg School Of Fishing and Captain James Smith of California Dawn Sportfishing.
Most of the time, charter boats are the domain of men. While you do see some ladies, I’d venture to guess that at least 80 percent of all charter boat patrons are men. The goal for the Couples Challenge was to provide a venue where guys could bring out their wives and girlfriends for a day of live bait potluck fishing on the bay.
To make things exciting we came up with a boys versus girls “tournament” structure, with bragging rights between the sexes being the grand prize.
Of course since every Cal Kellogg School of Fishing event is sponsored by Penn, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Shakespeare, Kershaw Knives, Pautzke, Pro-Cure and other notable manufacturers there is always plenty of fishing gear up for grabs too.
We keep the scoring involved in the event pretty simple. Every keeper size gamefish that hits the deck is worth one point. At the end of the day the total number of points racked up by the girls and the guys decide the winner.
Now you would think that the men would have a lock on this event because they have the most charter boat fishing experience. The fact is that the women have taken the event several times in the past. If there are halibut in the mix the women generally do very well.
They don’t seem to do as well when targeting lingcod and stripers. When going after lings and bass, having a good “feel” for the bottom is a distinct advantage and this is where the experience of the men comes into play.
Conversely when fishing for halibut, it’s generally best to put your rod in a holder and let the fish do the rest. Women have the edge in this scenario because they are more patient as a general rule.
On June 5, The Couple’s Challenge celebrated its 10th anniversary when 13 couples turned out in search of tasty fillets and the thrill of victory. Going into the event with great potluck fishing exploding in S.F. Bay, I don’t think the excitement level could have been much higher. When we hit the water the results we ultimately experienced definitely met our expectations.
When Gena and I walked aboard the California Dawn early on June 5 the first thing that struck us was how great the boat looked. Clearly James Smith and crew had done a great deal of work on the boat during the off season. The paint was fresh and crisp, there was new carpeting and even the bathroom was newly remodeled. Can you say LUXURY?
As we stowed our gear, Mary, the California Dawn galley chef arrived and started turning out a parade of breakfast burritos and other taste treats that didn’t stop all day long!
By 6 o’clock Captain James had arrived, along with deckhand Darrin Arnst and the decks of the boat were lined with Fish Sniffer supporters including a strong contingent from the California Striped Bass Association boasting the likes of Captain Jim Cox and Roger Mammon.
After leaving the Berkeley Marina and topping off the bait tank with live anchovies in San Francisco, we headed over to Tiburon in search of stripers. James had found them holding on a point the day before and thought they still might be around.
The fish must have moved, because we failed to connect. After the second drift, we were on the move. James headed over the western face of Angel Island where we spent 40 minutes or so working the rocks. Almost immediately a collection of quality rockfish and the occasional keeper lingcod started going into the fish box.
As we chipped away on the rockfish James was watching the tide. There was a high spot he wanted to work when the tide reached the correct velocity.
“Okay, folks reel them up we’re going to make a short run and see if we can’t put some bass into the boat,” James announced over the boat’s microphone.
The bass bite wasn’t red hot, but it was pretty darn good. We picked up from 1 to 3 bass per drift and the fish were pretty husky ranging from 6 to 10 pounds mostly.
When as conditions changed the bass bite slowly tapered off, we were on the move once again. This time we motored over to the south tower of the Golden Gate to work a couple rock piles for rockfish and lings. This was the spot where my rod went from ice cold to red-hot.
My goal was to nail a 10 fish limit of black rockfish. I started off fishing with live anchovies, which worked great, but then I switched over to a 4 inch Gulp! swimbait rigged on my live bait leader. The Gulp! actually worked better than the live anchovies.
Within a few minutes I had 6 rockfish in my sack and was looking for more when I got a savage strike. Something had pounced on that Gulp! bait big time. I worked the Abu Big Game reel deliberated and slowly drew the fish toward the surface.
When a big dusky colored lingcod faded into view off the port corner, I called for the gaff and Darrin came running. The next thing I knew I was admiring an awesome 10 pound lingcod. The biggest I’d ever caught INSIDE the bay. I was pretty happy.
While I was boating my limit of blacks and battling lingcod, the rest of the anglers aboard were working hard too. Before long we figured we had at least three quarter limits of rockfish aboard.
At this point the tide was starting to slow down and top out. It was the perfect time to try for halibut, so we headed over to the Alcatraz Flats.
We didn’t find a big number of halibut at Alcatraz, but we did manage a pair well over 10 pounds, a smaller keeper and one quality striper.
The most exciting action of the trip took place in the final 90 minutes while we drifted off a sandy beach on the north side of Angel Island. Stripers were patrolling the sand and they were hungry.
We steadily hooked bass in the 6 to 10 pound class and had as many as three hooked up at once. My wife Gena boated a nice 7 pound striper, while I managed a pair to 9 pounds. The CSBA guys lining the boat’s bow, set a great example catching and releasing several stripers, including a husky 11 pounder!
When the day came to an end we’d landed over 150 rockfish, 9 lings to 10 pounds, 3 halibut to 15 pounds and 24 stripers to 11 pounds. It had been an exciting and action packed day!
And what about bragging rights? I love it when the ladies win, but this wasn’t their year and the men enjoyed a pretty easy victory. Better luck next year ladies!
I’d like to thank Captain James Smith, Darrin Arnst, Mary and the rest of the California Dawn gang for another outstanding Cal Kellogg School of Fishing adventure.
I’d also like to thank the folks at Berkley, Penn and Abu Garcia for their support. We gave away several Penn and Abu Garcia reels during the trip and at least one Ugly Stik Tiger rod. None of this would be possible without our great sponsors.
Finally I’d like to thank the great group of Fish Sniffer supporters that turned out for the trip. Without folks like you, guys like James Smith and I would have to find real jobs and nobody wants that!
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