Thursday, July 12, 2012

No Rest For the Wicked

Not really a topical title, but it's all I've got this morning with a "Tired" nod to it. After a long hot day on San Francisco Bay, I couldn't forestall sleep long enough to pen my daily screed before sleep took me in it's heavenly embrace.

Halibut fishing stunk Wednesday...we had one raked bait with the telltale halibut teethmarks...

Spending the day boating on San Francisco Bay was awesome! We launched the F/V SturgeUrge from Richmond into calm winds and warm temperatures. Surprisingly, the only fog to be seen was south along the Golden Gate Bridge/Bay Bridge/Berkeley Pier corridor.

The forecast was for increasing winds as the Big Valley was forecast to endure the "hottest day of the year" Aside from the record tout, this is the standard forecast from May to October for San Francisco Bay, and it's a good halibut forecast in that the afternoon winds facilitate the last drift of the day, back to Richmond from the central Bay.

This week features the "best halibut tides of the year" as long as we're speaking in superlatives...a long incoming tide in the morning, in line with the prevailing winds, and a barely there afternoon tide swing. Halibut are ambush hunters, so-called "sight feeders", so small tide swings favor halibut by not stirring up the silt and lowering underwater visibility.

All of the halibut "conventional wisdom" goes out the window when the wind don't blow, and that was our problem Wednesday...we even trolled in an attempt to put our baits in front of a willing flatty or such luck...and SturgeUrge is just "against trolling" in his DNA.

This has been a tough halibut season to figure out. There's been precious little in the way of halibut catch reports posted to my online fishing club. The scarce reports did begin on time, mid-March but these were all "skunk reports", that is all the details, but zero halibut taken. This too is par for the course for the early season.

Halibut season usually "turns on" mid-May, but the halibut reports didn't come. I attributed this dearth to the hot salmon bite since the salmon opener in mid-April. Since then, the salmon fishing has been limit-style fishing daily, with the size of the fish going up weekly. Conclusion? Halibut fishing is enjoying "lowered effort" in Fish and Game parlance...translated into plain English, nobody's halibut fishing because salmon fishing is as good as it's been in a decade!

The F/V SturgeUrge is a high-sided, deep-vee aluminum skiff of the bottom rung of Golden Gate Seaworthiness, discretion being the better part of honor, we've been unable to get out after the king salmon bonanza. SturgeUrge's boat is Pacific Ocean ready, but not through the Golden Gate. Bodega Bay, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay or Monterey launches all suit the boat, but these are long tows and the weather has been an issue for Bodega Bay.

We've been trying to get a Bodega Bay/Tomales Bay salmon/halibut/dungeness crab trip in since early June. It's been frustrating, the place didn't get the nickname "Blowdega" for nothing. Stiff NW winds and big swell have defined Bodega's waters for six weeks plus. Compounding our frustration, the only two day period when the winds laid down was the NASCAR weekend at Sears Point Raceway, which put a world-class traffic jam exactly in the middle of the Bodega tow that would catch us coming and going, adding an hour each way to our travel time.

SturgeUrge and I had plenty of time to muse about the halibut situation while said halibut weren't lighting up the festivities...we rehashed all the data, the fishing effort redirected to offshore pursuits, and how for three years running the tables were turned so halibut were hunted mercilessly when salmon seasons were closed to all angling. We averaged one halibut a trip one of those seasons ourselves!

There's one data point that sticks out for me...there have been reports of halibut catches outside of the Bay, usually a post salmon limit catch, by anglers trying to extend their day a little after "early limits". I wondered if this year's weak winter and snowpack have sent too little sweet water out of the Golden Gate to call in the halibut. I may have something there...or it could be that so far we've yet to have a perfect drift...where winds and tides combine to make a perfectly lifelike presentation to the wary halibut.

As SturgeUrge and I sped east across the Bay to set up for the last long drift over Southampton Shoal, we caught a glimpse of a harbor porpoise, only the second or third time we've seen the resurging  little marine mammal. The harbor porpoise's return to the Bay is further proof that the Bay cleanup is paying dividends.

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