We met behind my house on West Pier at 7am on Wednesday, May 3. East Pier neighbor Bill Finn climbed into my 13-foot Boston Whaler and we headed out on glassy water—past Strawberry, around Tiburon, under the Richmond Bridge, to Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael. Keith Fraser, AKA the Sturgeon General, was just opening up his “World’s Greatest Bait Shop,” and we asked for the bait sturgeon consider their fillet mignon—mud shrimp.
With two dozen of these four-inch delicacies in the cooler we were back on the water, heading eight miles further north to the center of San Pablo Bay. We dropped anchor near a broken down two-story wood platform, a forlorn sentinel of a bygone era. The aging Pump House is ground zero of sturgeon land, and we cast out our lines in brown water 10 feet deep.
Now, the rule of thumb is it takes 100 hours of fishing to catch your first sturgeon. These big fish are notoriously hard to find. They are picky eaters, and they require a laser focus by the angler to read the subtle signals of the rod and set the hook at just the right time. Both of us had caught them before and the main factors of tides and currents were in our favor. So we sat, rods-in-hand, for two hours as the wind stopped and the water smoothed out all around us.
Bill’s rod showed a gentle tap-tap, then went straight down! He reacted by pulling back and the monster started peeling out line. Bill just held his rod tight and reeled when the fish rested occasionally. After 15 minutes of back-and-forth, Bill had an exhausted sturgeon lying upside down next to the boat. We took a measurement. At 52 inches he had caught a slot fish, meaning the sturgeon was between 40 and 60 inches, and available to be taken. But sturgeon are long-lived prehistoric monsters, and we had agreed ahead of time that we would release any we caught. So I took out the barbless hook, patted the monster on the nose, and watched him slowly disappear.
We put some more filet mignon on the hooks and cast out again. 45 minutes later Bill’s rod tap-tapped, and the line went straight out toward San Rafael. In his typical low-key fashion, Bill remarked, “This one’s big.” We traded off reeling as the fish went out, then back, then under the boat, then back under the boat, then out, then around the anchor line, then around the motor, which I raised to keep from getting tangled.
The 20-minute fight left the sturgeon and both anglers tuckered out. But the fish was the one upside-down so I guess we won. With a quick video taken, the 62-inch wonder was let off to grow another five feet.
Within a few minutes the tide and currents reversed, so we decided it was time to depart the area before the wind whipped the bay to a froth. We arrived in Sausalito around 1pm, and it was still smooth water. So we started fishing for halibut off the Spinnaker with frozen anchovies, the baby-backed-ribs of halibut bait.
Within 15 minutes Bill’s rod headed downward and he carefully pried up a barely legal halibut—23 inches. Now, this was one to keep around. So we netted it, gave it an attitude adjustment, and put it in the bucket.
After another 1/2 hour of waiting I finally felt a hard punch on my rod, and leaned my pole gently toward the water. Then it went Down. And DOWN. After a short fight we netted my 36-inch halibut, which flipped and flopped all over the boat, covering us both with a greasy slime. (That’s a good thing…)
Still on glassy water, we headed home around 3pm and carved up the two halibut. Sunburned and tired, we searched for the perfect word to sum up the day of Bay fishing—Epic!