April 10, 2014
This years drought has been a major concern for salmon anglers. The low and clear water in our valley rivers has the potential for predators to wipe out this year’s juvenile salmon. Normally the salmon would ride the high water from the spring snow melt down to San Francisco Bay. This does not preclude some major losses from predators like squaw fish and stripers. But the large volume of stained water does give them a chance to get to the salt water. This year the Golden Gate Salmon Association was instrumental in convincing the management of the Coleman Hatchery on the Sacramento River to truck this years 12,000,000 salmon to the bay rather than to dump them in the river. The argument against trucking was based on the “imprinting” of the route back to the river of origin. But imprinting loses its importance if this year class of salmon would be wiped out before reaching the salt water. This decision will assure a salmon season in 2016. A second benefit is the precedence set by this. When the next drought comes it will be much easier to get the salmon a ride to the ocean.
Throughout spring there is a progression of "Opening Days" in the various fisheries. Last Saturday was the opening of the ocean salmon season.
Salmon are the glamor fish for California sportsmen. They grow big, they pull hard and they are excellent table fare.
Prior to opening day, there is little info on where to find the salmon.
Once the season commences, there is a network of commercial and sport fishermen that attempt to follow the salmon movements.
On the opener, the primary concern is ocean conditions. Springtime is known for rough seas. Finding a harbor with manageable ocean conditions is the first order of business.
Kevin Gualtieri, an acquaintance of mine, is a dedicated saltwater salmon angler. Annually he is on the ocean at dawn for the salmon opener.
I had an interest in his trip because he agreed to fish some of my salmon trolling flies.
He lives in the Bay Area and has a driving range from Monterey to Bodega Bay when looking for a harbor to launch from.
This year, the best sea conditions were predicted off Moss Landing, which is at the center of Monterey Bay.
Conditions to the north from Santa Cruz to San Francisco Bay and on to Bodega Bay were predicted to be rough. If you are pulling a boat, you have your choice of ports.
The Monterey Bay has the reputation as a good early season salmon fishery. The unique feature of the bay is the Monterey Canyon below the surface.
The ocean goes from the shore to a depth of 300 feet and then drops to 1,000 feet. Oftentimes, it is this shelf and the adjoining cliff that concentrate the food chain that attracts the salmon. With the proper currents, there can be an upwelling of nutrients from the depths that feed the krill and bait fish.
On Saturday morning, the sea was smooth with a modest swell. As was expected, there were no shortage of boats on the water, Moss Landing was the port of choice for many of the private boaters.
The salmon were deep by trolling standards — 130 to 180 feet. There was some speculation that the number of boats drove the fish down.
The food source on which the salmon were feeding was anchovy.
Typically, the three primary menu items for salmon off our coast are bait fish, squid and krill. Krill is a small shrimp.
The anchovy schools were over the 300-foot shelf and occasionally were out over the canyon depths.
At the 130- to 180-foot depths, the visible light has diminished but ultra violet is still present to reflect off flies and hardware.
Glow-in-the-dark materials are also a plus at these depths. The first salmon hit 30 minutes into the morning on my "Purple Haze" tube fly. It was on one of four lines out. The other lines had herring bait or hard body lures.
There were quite a few "shakers," salmon below the minimum 24-inch legal length, being caught and released. My "Purple Haze" tube fly was the top producer on the boat until mid-morning.
A salmon was in the process of being landed when a sea lion arrived to contest the ownership of the fish. The sea lion took off with the salmon and my fly. The largest fish of the day was a 14-pound, 28-inch salmon and it hit the fly.
The day ended at noon with four limits of salmon on the boat. Results were similar for many of the angers fishing out of Moss Landing.
Farther up the coast, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay and San Francisco Bay produced very few fish on the opener. The other port that did produce fish was Bodega Bay north of the Golden Gate.
Bodega has continued to produce salmon as the seas have been calming down this week. Off Bodega, the krill are in great abundance. Anglers are reporting these shrimp getting hung up on their lines as they are trolling.
Last year, the springtime salmon fishery was very limited due to ocean conditions being too rough. This year the seas will again dictate when we can get out to fish on the ocean.
As a general statement, there will be more calm days as we approach summer. Early fall is the calmest season of the year.
We can salmon fish in our valley rivers in the summer and fall, but the finest eating salmon are those caught in the cold saltwater off the coast.
The Monterey Bay will be a good early season bet. Bodega Bay has the reputation as "salmon central" during July. The San Francisco Bay fleet is capable of going up or down the coast throughout the season.
There is no shortage of opportunities to fish salmon off Northern California. This year is predicted to be another good year for salmon numbers.
With our lack of snow in the Sierra, we may have trouble finding good fishing this summer. But speculation has it that there will be no shortage of water off the coast.
Denis Peirce is host of "The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report," which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at http://www.trollingflies.com.
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