MERCED — This year's ocean salmon fishing season has been better than average and there are still plenty of chances to catch a big wild salmon before the season closes in November.
Like other types of deep sea fishing, you don't need to own a boat or even a rod and reel. Most people reserve a spot on a "party boat" charter and rent the rod and tackle from the charter company. "First timers" are welcome. The total cost is generally $100 or less and if you catch a limit, you're likely to take home 15-25 pounds of high quality salmon.
There's no guarantee you'll catch a fish, but I enjoy being out on the water no matter what. Some days everyone on the boat brings home a limit (2 fish), other days hardly anyone hooks even a single fish. I generally check the weekly fishing report on The Modesto Bee's website before I plan a trip, though conditions often change quickly. The best salmon fishing has tended to be out of Half Moon Bay and ports to the north this year.
On July 20 my fiancé and I went out on the New Captain Pete for a day of salmon fishing from Half Moon Bay all the way up to the Golden Gate. It was refreshing to be on the water. It topped 100 degrees in the Valley that day, but we were bundled up with jackets, wool caps, and multiple shirts.
All in all, there were only six salmon landed that day. The previous weekend everyone on the boat had caught limits.
That's just how salmon fishing tends to go. If catching fish is a priority for you, a rock cod charter is probably a better bet. The limit for cod is 10 fish and I've never been on a trip where each person didn't catch at least one fish. Rock cod season is generally open from May through mid-November. For detailed fishing regulations, go to www.dfg.ca.gov.
I've read some online reviews of deep sea fishing trips where the reviewers seem to have expected a yacht cruise with a crew of servants to see to their every wish. Deep sea fishing isn't like that. Captains and deckhands haven't necessarily walked straight out of Melville novels, but they tend to have been seasoned a bit by the ocean. It can be a very different world out on the rolling swells with the great continent of North America only a small line on the horizon. For most people, the character, the uniqueness, and the adventure are part of the fun. If that doesn't sound like fun to you, however, that's OK. There's nothing wrong with getting your fish at the supermarket.
That said, the captain and deckhand on the New Captain Pete were really nice guys on top of being experts at their jobs.
We enjoyed chatting with them throughout the day. People who are on the ocean nearly every day of their lives have seen a lot of interesting things and know the great rolling expanses in a way that most of us never will. We had a great trip and will probably sail with them again, even though Half Moon Bay isn't the closest port to home. The largest fish caught on our trip was in the range of 15 pounds and it was impressive to see it landed. Although the landing process may seem complicated at first, the boat's deckhand is there to make sure you are successful. Generally deckhands will clean and fillet your fish for a tip.
Charter boats generally leave by 6 a.m. for single day trips. On most boats, your spot along the rail is determined by what time you arrive. This means you either have to leave home very early in the morning or spend the night in a motel near the harbor. If you go, bring several layers of clothes including a warm cap, a hooded jacket, a scarf, and a thermal layer underneath. It can be very cold when the sky is grey, the wind is blowing, and the boat is moving fast. It's always easier to take off layers if you get hot than get warm without enough layers. With the right clothes, a cold day on the water is an exhilarating escape from the heat of the Valley. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm are essential. I also highly recommend Dramamine for sea sickness. It may make you drowsy, but it will keep you from having a miserable time.
Half Moon Bay charter boats:
Huli Cat Sportfishing: www.hulicat.com/" target="_blank"__gt__http:// (650) 726-2926
New Captain Pete: www.newcaptainpete.com/" target="_blank"__gt__http:// (650) 726-6224
Queen of Hearts: www.fishingboat.com/index.html" target="_blank"__gt__http:// (510) 581-2628
Riptide Sportfishing: www.riptide.net/indexf.html" target="_blank"__gt__http:// (650) 728-8433
Monterey Bay charter boats:
Chris' Fishing Trips: www.chrissfishing.com/" target="_blank"__gt__http:// (831) 375-5951
Randy's Fishing Trips: www.randysfishingtrips.com/index.html" target="_blank"__gt__http:// (800) 251-7440
Stagnaro Sport Fishing: www.stagnaros.com/fishtrips.html" target="_blank"__gt__http:// (800) 979-3370
Adam Blauert is a correspondent to the Sun-Star. He's an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking, and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.