Dateline – February 27, 2011. San Francisco, California.
It started as a fishing trip in San Francisco, but by the end of the day it felt more like Tupelo, Mississippi or perhaps even Las Vegas. This could be confusing on its own, but when I got the urge to turn in my Helly Hansen bibs for a sequined jumpsuit, I knew we had reached a truly weird place. I promise this will all make sense if you suffer through to the bottom, but I also understand if you don’t. Except you, Mom.
Gabriele Elli has been a fan of 1000Fish almost from the first installment, and always has something positive or interesting to say. He is Italian (I should have guessed from all the vowels) and has had some great advice on places to go and species to hunt in his native land. He currently lives in the US and is a very keen angler. Over the months, we have tried to coordinate a trip together out of San Francisco. This February, his schedule finally let him come out west for a weekend, and we set up a trip to chase sturgeon and perch in San Francisco Bay on Don Franklin’s “Sole Man” Charters. (http://www.solemanfishing.com/)
He arrived on the 26th, and I took him around the city and for dinner on the wharf. During that dinner, I discovered that there is much more to this man than initially meets the eye. For example, on a trip here a few years back, he fell in love with an American woman – they are now married and live in New Mexico. He talks about Linda like a teenager talks about a first girlfriend – he’s a total romantic. Oh, and he’s an Elvis impersonator. That’s right, you heard me. A serious Elvis impersonator. He has performed all over the place, and he’s pretty darn good at it:
To fill out the charter, I invited a few friends. So the roster for the day ended up as me and Gabriele plus:
Thor Grossen – The fearless captain of my Oakland ice hockey team, Thor has been a good friend for 12 years. He never seems to get tired of saying “Hey ref, Wozniak didn’t mean it personally when he called you a myopic idiot. Honest.”
That’s Thor on the left. He has suspiciously nice teeth for a hockey player.
Cole Grossen – Thor’s fearless 11 year-old son, Cole loves to fish, is already a dangerous ladies man, and is almost as cute as he thinks he is. He calls me “Uncle Woz” which bothers Thor a great deal. Interestingly, Thor is not that big on fishing. But his son is, and Thor gets Cole out on the water every time he can, even though Thor would probably rather be skiing or taking bets on when I will punch the defenseman. Cole takes his father’s fishing efforts for granted now, but by the time he’s my age, he’ll probably realize what a great Dad he has.
Cole is a big San Jose Sharks fan, and loves to call me and leave snotty voicemails on the rare occasions when the Sharks defeat my beloved Red Wings. This photo is a couple of years old, but when you have a chance to publish a shot of someone with no front teeth, you take it.
Garreth Bowman – If Eminem and Britney Spears had a kid, it would be Garreth. Garreth is a high-school junior and family friend who I take fishing now and then. He’s super-passionate about fishing, and is a nice kid, despite his sullen teenagerness. OK, fine, he reminds me of a smarter, better-looking me at that age. But that’s not the point. Oh, and he hasn’t seemed to learn that he shouldn’t fall asleep when there are digital cameras around.
Garreth Bowman, today’s generation ZZZZZZ representative
We slid out of port at 6am, into the early morning rain. San Francisco was still asleep, but soon the liberals would be stirring, so it was best we get on the water before any anti-fishing protesters could gather. The Sole Man rumbled north out of Fisherman’s Wharf, then past Alcatraz. Gabriele gave us a few bars of “Jailhouse Rock.”
The Bay Bridge and North Beach at dawn.
The morning tide was perfect to chase perch, so Don took us to his secret spot off of Richmond. (GPS coordinates available for $5.) We started casting grass shrimp and pile worms on light rigs into the rocks; I quickly got that familiar strike – a shake, rattle and roll – and I was on. And then I was on again. And again. But no one else was. It was a bit awkward, but it’s every man for himself out there. Then Thor finally got one. Then Gabriele. Then Cole. Interestingly, the fish were all very solid, but none reached that magic 1 pound mark – a school of 15 ounce fish had invaded – no world records here. Not that I’m competitive, but the final score was Steve 5, Gabriele 2, Thor 2, Cole 1, Garreth 0, Jaime Hamamoto 0. I AM NOT COMPETITIVE – these are just mathematical facts which need to be reported accurately. And sure, you bleeding hearts might point out that Jaime wasn’t even there, but my point is that was the score so deal with it. (If you want to know more about Jaime, see https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/the-countdown-to-1000-an-inconvenient-youth/)
It’s impossible … to not enjoy catching big perch like these.
Cole is a great kid, but like any 11 year-old, he is attention-span challenged and thinks he knows more than adults about almost everything. So it came as no surprise when, after a few minutes with no bites, he announced “We need to leave this spot. It’s no good.” This is when the fun started. The skipper, Don Franklin, was born and raised in the city and calls things exactly as he sees them. He was not about to miss the chance to have some fun with Cole.
Don’s voice booms like a blend of Chris Rock and James Earl Jones. (I almost said Darth Vader and James Earl Jones, but a sharp-eyed editor mentioned that these were the same guy. I’ll be darned. It’s probably genetic – my father never knew that Flip Wilson and Geraldine were the same person either.) He responded to Cole – “Is that so, little man? Well, let me tell you how we do things downtown. You are three foot six and don’t get a vote. Next question?” Cole was floored. “But … but … ” he responded. Don was all over him, with great affection and with tongue firmly in cheek. “A butt is that thing behind you. Now get fishing, little man.” The day was filled with similar abuse, and I dare say that I have never seen Cole that silent for that long. You could see the wheels turning in his clever little mind, but he was clearly in over his head.
Cole and Don Franklin, skipper of the Sole Man.
While we were busy catching the perch, I noticed some small fish splashing on the surface. The idea of a new species is always on my mind. Hmmm, I thought. “Are those herring?” I asked Don. “Yep, those are herring.” he said. “Well, I’ve never caught a herring,” I responded. Don said “Well, get a darn sabiki out and you might just get one.” And so I did and then I did. And just like that, I had added a new and unexpected species, the Pacific Herring. I got high-fives from Gabriele and Cole, and bewildered looks from the crew. It was like they had never seen a fool such as I get worked up over an 8 inch fish.
Fools rush in … to congratulate Steve on species #1036
We then moved away from all this excitement and up into the trackless open of San Pablo Bay, a wide, shallow portion of northern SF Bay, with hopes of catching some sturgeon. Sturgeon fishing is a hit and miss affair, with a lot more missing than hitting, but when you get one, it’s a spectacular experience. These things grow to prodigious sizes – the record is nearly 500 pounds – but they apparently get much larger than that. When hooked, they tend to make spectacular leaps. For such a big fish, though, their bite it very light – more of a pumping action than a run or a hit. So a 5 pound juvenile hits pretty much the same as a 200 pound beast. The result is that any time the rod twitches, hearts stop.
Just for gratuitous showing off a photo purposes, this is a decent sturgeon, caught November 2006. Not a huge sturgeon, but a decent one. That’s Dave Sharp on the right, well-known Delta fisherman and retired guide. THIS FISH WAS NOT CAUGHT ON THIS TRIP.
Cole didn’t like that we weren’t getting any fish; neither did I, frankly, but I knew this was par for the course. Sturgeon can test anyone’s patience. But Cole just had to say something. “We should move someplace else.” Don’s ears pricked up and he emerged from the cabin. Cole’s expression changed. “Is that so, little man? Well, we’ve had this talk before. So let’s move on to something else. So tell me about your game, my man.” Cole was utterly adrift. “My … game?” he ventured. “Yes, little man. Your game with the ladies. What’s your line? What’s your view on committment?” We all abandoned Cole to his fate. Garreth, who in his younger years had been every bit the same smartass as Cole, just shook his head sadly. “The kid just needs to learn to keep his mouth shut around you guys. He doesn’t have a chance.” Gabriele just smiled quietly, and in sympathy for Cole, broke into a chorus of “Make the World Go Away.” Gabriele was a really convincing Elvis, so much so that we breathed a collective sigh of relief every time he came out of the bathroom alive.
East Brother Light Station, San Pablo Bay. There’s a B&B on the island, but it’s always booked eons in advance.
It was a bit breezier than we had hoped, so we kept moving to try to find a sheltered area. We had only caught a couple of small stripers, but toward the end of the day, Gabriele’s rod pumped down a single time. Our suspicious minds wondered if this could be a bite. Then the rod pumped twice more. This caused me and Don to scream in unison “SET THE HOOK SET THE HOOK” at Gabriele. “IT’S NOW OR NEVER!!” The result was chaos. Gabriele is very experienced in freshwater but had not handled conventional saltwater gear. With two large adults screaming in his ear, he just reared back on the rod and started reeling as fast as he could, showing amazing grace while we all screamed “REEL REEL REEL!!!” Just when I thought he had nothing, the rod bounced down and started pulling. A fish! It was a quick fight, and soon Don reached down and snatched up … a sturgeon. It wasn’t huge, but it was a sturgeon, caught fair and square, and it was more sturgeon than the rest of us had caught. I asked him how he was doing. Smiling, he said “I’m all shook up.” I had him stand by me for a few fish photos, then we released the little guy (the sturgeon, not Cole) to fight another day.
Gabriele’s sturgeon. Cole looks stunned because the sturgeon’s tail had just accidentally slapped him in the forehead. I say “accidentally” only because I was aiming for his nose. The evil grin in the back in not Eminem, it’s Garreth – all the excitement woke him up. The eye contact between Gabriele and the sturgeon made me a little uncomfortable – it’s not just you.
It wouldn’t have mattered if that sturgeon was 18 inches long or 18 inches between the eyes, Gabriele was ecstatic. Watching him fight the fish and the gear, feeling the adrenaline rush, seeing the look in his eyes when the fish came up – all reminded me why I come out here and do this so often. It was just pure joy – and Gabriele is simply grateful for everything. Another lesson we could all learn, doubly so for me. So the day has to be counted as a success – I got to fish with a new friend, I got to watch Cole get abused, and Jaime Hamamoto didn’t show up. Hey … what if we fix up Jaime and Cole?
Elvis has left the building,
PS – How many Elvis song titles did you pick up in the first reading? If you got more than 10, go make yourself a peanut butter and banana sandwich. If you got fewer than 10, feel free to send questions, but … don’t be cruel. If you found all 14, get help. And for those of you who have given up or just don’t care, here is the list, in pun format and in no particular order: