The Marin County Coast north of the Golden Gate Bridge is a much different world than the crowded urban region of San Francisco south of the bridge. The coast’s many attractions range from the tall, ancient redwoods of Muir Woods, to the marine wilderness of Point Reyes National Seashore, to the farms and rangeland surrounding Tomales Bay.
The Marin Coast is also an angling paradise, just minutes away from Bay Area cities, that hosts huge lingcod, dozens of varieties of rockfish, cabezon, greenling, halibut, king salmon and an occasional white seabass.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy this iconic coastal region is fishing with some of the most dedicated enthusiasts and defenders of the striped bass and other Northern California fisheries, the folks from the West Delta Chapter of the California Striped Bass Association (CSPA).
That was the case on August 4 when Cal Kellogg, Fish Sniffer Editor, and I joined Roger Mammon, president of the CSBA West Delta Chapter, and other CSBA members anglers for a live bait adventure along the coast.
During last year’s trip, we had found great rockfish and lingcod action while fishing along the coast. We then returned to San Francisco Bay, where we found wide-open action on stripers.
This year Kellogg and I were prepared. I was completely impressed when George Wight caught over a dozen lingcod on the mackerel he brought during last year’s CSBA charter. So Kellogg brought a couple of packs of mackerel with us.
When all of the 24 anglers for the charter had boarded the boat and were signed in Captain James Smith drove the boat up the Marin County coast after stopping to pick live bait at the bait receivers in San Francisco.
“We’re first going to try to catch some kingfish for lingcod bait,” said Smith. We stopped at an area of mixed sand and rocks along the Marin County coast.
We put our baits down and began catching a few kingfish, mixed in with some small rockfish, and put them in the bait tank to accompany the live anchovies.
After we had caught enough of those to hook a good number of lingcod, Smith drove the boat up to Double Point and began fishing a number of small rocks.
Most anglers (incuding me) put out shrimp flies, baited with anchovies, down to about 50 feet deep. Kellogg, who only wanted to catch lingcod, started fishing right away with a kingfish on his trap rig.
As I worked the bottom with my gear, I quickly caught some quality rockfish –three vermilions and a big brown, that I put in my sack. However, the bite died there as we moved to another area to drift.
“There’s a school of rockfish suspended above the bottom,” said Smith. “You guys should switch from shrimp flies to live bait rigs.”
Anglers began putting in more rockfish, mostly blacks, blues and browns, along with a few lingcod. Lacy Fithian hooked up the first lingcod of the trip, a fish in the mid teens, while using a live anchovy on a shrimp fly rig.
Kellogg was next with a quality lingcod that he patiently caught while drifting a live bait. He soon finished with yet another keeper lingcod to add to his bag after switching back to the live kingfish on a trap rig.
Meanwhile, Roger Mammon, the President of the CSBA West Delta Chapter, caught three lingcod in a row while drifting live anchovies.
Wanting to get into the lingcod action, I switched over to drifting kingfish on a trap rig. After a couple of minutes drifting with the larger bait, I felt sudden weight on my bait as a lingcod grabbed it. I set the hook and slowly worked the fish up to the surface where deckhand Greg gaffed. My first lingcod of the day!
I put a brand new kingfish on the line and put it down. It was only a few seconds before I hooked another ling. This fish fought doggedly all of the way to boat, where the deckhand netted it.
Meanwhile, George Wight, last year’s lingcod king, also landed a couple of good-sized lingcod. Before the lingcod bite slowed down, Joe McMurtrey caught the day’s jackpot winner– and his fifth lingcod of the trip.
I didn’t have any more lingcod bites, so I switched over to fishing with live anchovies to complete my lingcod limit.
The trip ended up with a total of 28 lingcod and limits of rockfish for 24 anglers. Before we headed back to the harbor, Smith stopped at a few mostly sandy areas off the coast to target halibut. We hooked some more rockfish in the scattered rocks, but no halibut.
Commenting about the day, Captain James Smith, observed, “We pulled the rabbit out of the hat today, with the fish not biting aggressively because there was not much current. We landed many fish off of small rocks the size of the boat in 20 to 50 feet of water.”
“One of the problems you have when there isn’t much current is that the fish are able to see the gear as it goes by and they are not as apt to hit dead baits and lures. That’s why I asked people to put the live baits on their hooks because they look more attractive to the fish. That’s how we caught most of the rockfish and lingcod.”
“Last year, the dead mackerel worked really well on the lingcod because we had a faster drift, but not today because of the lack of current,” he noted.
Smith noted that 2015 has been a “decent” lingcod and rockfish season, though the fishing hasn’t been as hot as last’s year’s.
“We’re been seeing scores of 1 to 3 lingcod per rod this season and we’ve working for our rockfish,” he noted. “This season the water is colder along the coast than it was last year and the fish have been less aggressive. The water temperature was up to 62 degrees this season, but it has been as low as 59 degrees.”
He also observed that while striped bass action has been hot at times this season, the overall counts have been about 50 percent of those of last year.
“Last year the bass were chasing anchovies and other bait in from 50 to 60 feet deep to the surface in the bay,” he noted. “There was a hot striper bite in May and mid to late July this year, but it appears now that those fish are moving upriver.”
The halibut fishing has been spotty this year, with a decent shot at halibut in April and March. However, he forecasted that 2017 will be a banner halibut year because of the thousands of undersize halibut showing around the bay from the San Mateo Bridge to Carquinez Strait.
For more information about the West Delta Chapter of CSBA, call Roger Mammon, 925-354-1125, or go to: http://www.csbawestdeltachapter.org. For more information about live bait trips on San Francisco Bay and outside the Golden Gate aboard the California Dawn, contact James Smith at (510) 417-5557, californiadawn.com.
Marin County Coast Facts
Location: The Marin County Coast offers a variety of fishing opportunities from the Golden Gate Bridge to Tomales Bay. This pristine coastline includes the Golden Gate Recreation Area and the Point Reyes National Seashore. Rockfish, lingcod, king salmon, halibut and striped bass are the main species that anglers pursue.
Seasons: There are seasonal closures for lingcod, rockfish, sturgeon, salmon and soupfin sharks. Fishing for striped bass, halibut and leopard sharks is open year round.
Rockfish: The recreational fishery for rockfish (Sebastes sp.) is open to divers and shore-based anglers year-round. This fishery is open to boat-based anglers from April 15, 2016 through December 31, 2016. These species may only be taken or possessed in waters less than 180 feet (30 fathoms) deep. The daily bag and possession limit is 10 fish in combination of all species within the RCG Complex (includes all species of Rockfish, Cabezon and Greenlings) per person, with a sub-limit on black rockfish (5 per person) and bocaccio (3 per person), also included in the 10 fish RCG Complex aggregate limit. Yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish, bronzespotted rockfish, and cowcod may not be retained (bag limit: zero).
Lingcod: The recreational fishery for lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) is open to divers and shore-based anglers year-round. This fishery is open to boat-based anglers from April 15, 2015 through December 31, 2015. Lingcod may only be taken or possessed in waters less than 180 ft (30 fm) deep. The daily bag and possession limit is 3 fish, with a minimum size limit of 22 inches total length.
Charter boats: Sportfishing boats from throughout the Bay Area target rockfish, lingcod, halibut, stripers and king salmon along the Marin County coast during their respective seasons. Boats booking trips out of the Berkeley Marina include the California Dawn, (510) 417–5557; New Easy Rider, (707) 422-2050; Captain Hook, (510) 322-0493; Happy Hooker, (510) 773-4158, Hook’d Up Sportfishing, (707) 655-6736; Goldeneye 2000, (510) 610-0888; and Right Hook Sportfishing, (916) 417-5670. For more information, call the Berkeley Marina Sportfishing Center, (510) 849-3333. The New Huck Finn, Sundance, Superfish, C-Gull II, New Seeker, New Salmon Queen, Sea Wolf and Wet Spot depart from the Emeryville Sportfishing Center, (510) 654-6040. The Bass Tub, (415) 456-9055, and Silver Fox Sportfishing, (415) 367-5600, depart from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, while the Morning Star, (800) 464-1431, is berthed at the Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael.