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Written By: Dan Bacher, June 21, 2014
Location: Golden Gate,
The Marin County coast north of the Golden Gate Bridge is notable for its scenic attractions ranging from the tall, ancient redwoods of Muir Woods to the farms and rangeland surrounding Tomales Bay.
For the fisherman, the Marin Coast is an angling wonderland that produces huge lingcod, dozens of varieties of rockfish, cabezon, greenling, king salmon and an occasional white seabass. The region also produces some big halibut, as was evidenced by a trip I made on the Morning Star, now berthed out of Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael, on Monday, June 10.
A lucky angler was drifting a live anchovy off the coast below Point Bonita when he hooked a huge fish. After fighting it for several minutes, Deckhand Mike Shimel netted the 14 lb. halibut, the day’s biggest fish.
Meanwhile, the 17 anglers aboard the boat pulled in brown, blue and black rockfish, along with a few lingcod, for a couple of hours amidst some of the most scenic coastline in California.
It was 34 years since I made my first live bait potluck trip. As the story goes, I had arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco too late for the salmon boat that I was scheduled to go on.
I was bummed out that I had driven all of the way from my apartment in San Jose for nothing when I noticed that one boat, the Bass Tub, was still tied up to the dock. There was a line of anglers with their fishing rods, ice chests and tackle boxes piled on the ground next to the boat as they waited to board.
I asked one of the fisherman what they were going to fish for. “We’re going live bait potluck fishing – for stripers, halibut, rockfish, lingcod or whatever bites,” he replied.
The anglers began boarding the boat and I waited to talk to the captain. Just before 7 am, a jovial red haired man, Cliff Anfinson, arrived at the wharf and I asked him if he had any space. He checked with the deckhand to make sure that they weren’t full and then said, “Sure, get aboard.”
On that trip, I caught my first-ever legal halibut, a 7 pounder, along with landing a bunch of brown and blue rockfish and a cabezon in the Point Bonita area. I was impressed by the variety of fish caught aboard the boat. Since that time, I’ve been hooked on live bait fishing, since you never know what species is going to hit your bait next.
Since that first trip, I’ve been potluck fishing hundreds of times with an array of skippers, including Erik, Cliff’s son, James Smith on the California Dawn, Jim Smith on the Happy Hooker, Art Roby and Jay Yokomizo on the New Huck Finn, James Mitchell of Hook’d Up Sportfishing, Joey Gallia on the New Easy Rider, Captain Jack Chapmn on the Lovely Linda, Chris Smith on the Captain Hook, and of course, Gordon Hough and Mike Shimel on the Morning Star, and many others.
On my most recent live bait trip, we started the day fishing at F Buoy near the Berkeley Flat on the incoming tide where Eddie G. caught the day’s first fish, a striper. That fish was quickly followed by the day’s first halibut, a 10 pounder taken by Victor Cordova. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing hard, as it has many days this year.
Hough drove then went north to Treasure Island, where the wind was even worse; “hurricane force winds,” Hough quipped. We picked up 3 halibut there including one taken by Ryan Horner and another by Chuck Johnson.
We also landed three stripers there, including a 10 pounder caught by Ron Welch. I bagged a scrappy 8 lb. striper on light gear. The fish put up a superb fight on my light Shimano Revo reel/Lamiglas steelhead rod set-up.
Hough then drove the boat to Bonita Cove, Point Diablo and Kirby Cove. In contrast to the angry waters of the bay, the ocean was flat calm.
While fishing on the coastal reefs, we picked up a bunch of rockfish and three keeper lingcod, including one that I battled to the boat. I couldn’t seem to keep the shaker lingcod off my bait – I hooked at least four of them before bringing a keeper.
“We’re going to go back into the bay to try for some more halibut and bass, now that the tides are right,” said Hough.
The wind continued to howl, so Hough headed for the protected waters of Angel Island.
We caught one more bass and then Hough called it a day. The fish count for the day was 60 rockfish, 3 keeper lingcod, 5 halibut and 5 bass for the 17 passengers – a true live bait cornucopia of tasty gamefish. We also caught three California lizardfish, a fascinating fish with a long, brown body that offers it camouflage in its habitat, the sandy bottom of the ocean and bay.
“The live bait season for halibut and stripers has been definitely better this year than last season, but we’ve been hampered by wind,” said Hough. “It’s been windy just about every day that we’ve gone out. As you saw, we caught halibut everywhere we fished and we also picked up bass at most of the spots”
Hough noted, “We are fishing first and foremost for halibut, which is best when the tidal movement is 3 feet or less. When the tides are bigger, you catch halibut in the Flats. However, if you want to catch big fish, you go to the deeper water spots, such as Alcatraz and Angel Island.”
The next trip on the Morning Star the following day produced a similar potluck catch: “three halibut, two bass, two lingcod, a smattering (smattering; more than 50 but less than 100) rock cod and one gigantic soupfin shark,” Hough noted.
“Where to fish was an easy decision, the only place calm enough to stop was Raccoon Straits, and it was no picnic,” quipped Hough. “There was so much westerly wind, besides our desired drift of east to west, we had a side order drift of south to north.”
“Still, first drift Chuck, Walt, Mike and Norene were all hooked up at the same time!” he noted. “Chuck’s apparent psychotic bass ran from the bow into the Mother Of All Tangles astern and easily got away. Norene’s hyper-bass did the same but wasn’t so lucky.”
“Mike managed to avoid the tangle carnage and quietly boated a nice halibut and Walt waited patiently for the weary, aged Deck Dog to sort out the metamorphosis of monofilament mayhem,” recalled Hough.
“Finally it was Walt versus fish, and this one was not coming up! After a 15-20 minute battle, a conference of the greatest minds of the Morning Star was assembled, led by resident rayologist Chuck,” said Hough.
“We were certain Walt had a gigantic bat ray. ‘What else could it be?’ queried the panel of experts. It was sharkzilla,” he concluded.
The soupfin is one of the tastiest fish in the ocean and one of the few fishes in local waters that I’ve never caught.
For more information about live bait fishing adventures, call Gordon Hough, Morning Star Fishing, 707-745-1431, http://www.morningstarfishing.info/
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