Dateline: March 23, 2012 – Tiburon, California
Imagine almost 2 months where the Fish Gods aren’t vindictive. Imagine 7 weeks where Jaime Hamamoto does not work her evil juju, where fish bite reliably and no one throws poop on Spellman. Then you would have San Francisco Bay this spring, from February 4 through March 23, where everything just seemed to go right.
It was just last year I discovered Elephant Rock Pier in my hunt for the elusive Rubberlip Surfperch, and it has turned into a treasured destination. Not only did it produce 3 new species last year, it also kicked out 7, count ’em, 7 world records on surfperch. (See https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/sitting-on-the-dock-of-the-bay/) This has given me a great winter target that’s less than an hour away. (Steelhead are awesome, but that’s a full weekend committment.) I couldn’t wait to get back out there this season, and as soon as the South America silliness was concluded, I set up my perch equipment and headed to Marin. Let’s just say I gave in to pier pressure.
Spring fog rolls in over the Golden Gate Bridge – the afternoon view from Elephant Rock pier.
I just never get tired of this place. Not only is it a gorgeous location, it has also become something of a community for me. I have started to recognize some of the same folks out there week after week, some fishing for fun, some fishing to put food on the table. Almost all of them were nice folks, and as we will see, the group takes care of each other.
My first day out was February 4, and on literally my first cast, my shrimp bait was still settling to the bottom when I got a hard whack. I set the hook and knew right away I had a Black Surfperch – hard pulling, rapid tugs, heading for the pilings. I swung him up onto the deck and it was obvious this was a good one. At 1.25 pounds, it was a new world record, breaking my mark from last season. Now, that’s what I call a hot start, even if I have to go through the confused emotions of competing with myself.
A rather hefty Black Surfperch. Although not the largest of the Surfperch species, it is one of the most spirited. Perch record #1 of 2102.
On this same beautiful day, I also caught a new species – quite a rarity for me in San Francisco Bay. I was fishing with Pat Walsh and Steve Sande, local residents who come down here quite a bit. In chatting, we discovered a bizarre coincidence – Steve was an elementary school classmate of my sister’s in Michigan. Small world. In any case, Pat was tracking a bite on one of his rods when the other one started going. He told me to take it, and I reeled in a Buffalo Sculpin, a lovely little creature that frequents these waters in wintertime but had avoided me last year. What a day.
From left to right – Steve, the Buffalo Sculpin, and Pat Walsh.
The Buffalo Sculpin. Adorable.
Exactly a week later, I headed back to Elephant Rock. On another lovely, t-shirt warm Saturday in February, I had perhaps my most epic day ever at the pier. The most important catch of the day was a 1.5 pound Pile Surfperch, which tied Mark Spellman’s record from last year (See https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/a-glass-of-milk/)
I probably would have felt (briefly) bad if I broke Spellman’s record, but a tie was a tactful solution.
About an hour later, I had a big strike and hooked into what I presumed was a big perch. After a spirited battle in the pilings, I pulled up a stunning surprise – a Grass Rockfish. Although these are supposed to be a common inshore rockfish in this area, I had never caught one, so, they must not be all that common and people should stop saying that. Against all odds, I had added two species in my home waters in a week.
The Grass Rockfish. Yes, I was tired of people telling me that these things are easy to catch.
Shortly afterward, the perch rod slammed down again. The fish started taking line, and I could feel my line scraping the pilings a couple of times before I rescued it and landed a beast of a Rubberlip. At 1.75 pounds, this was another world record, breaking a nasty three way tie with me, Martini Arostegui, and, well, me again.
The 1.75 pound record fish from 2/11/12. Since the old record was a tie between me, Martini, and me, does this mean that I was twice as disappointed as Martini?
The Saturday trip was so good that I had to do some begging with Marta and arrange another quick venture out on Sunday. Although the cost was high and mortgaged some of my manly dignity for the week, it was worth it. I only had one good bite, but it was a Rubberlip that finally edged over the 2 pound barrier. The record from the 11th had lasted just over 24 hours, and I didn’t have to share it with anyone, which is good, because I was never good at sharing. Ask my sister.
The elusive 2 pound barrier, broken at last.
We take you then to March 3. On any given day, different surfperch species can be predominant in the area, and today, it was the Striped Surfperch. I had pretty much given up on submitting a record for this creature, as I had caught dozens that were 15 ounces plus, but never one at the required 1 pound mark. I still dutifully weighed each catch that looked like it had a chance, and to my great surprise, this one finally made it. I had a world record on the Striped Surfperch.
Finally, a 16 ounce Striped Surfperch. (Annoyed note – this record stood for less than a month before Martini Arostegui got a 1.5# fish in Monterey. Punk.)
These are one of the most attractive fish in San Francisco Bay.
The sun sets behind the Golden Gate. The unattractive creatures in the right foreground are me and a small Cabezone.
The intermediate weeks were fun fishing, but without any species or records to report. There was, however, a completely juvenile event of note. Martini Arostegui, 19 year-old fishing wunderkind, came out with me to the pier. Fishing was awful, as the barometer was going down faster than the Euro, but as we got going, he did something that alternately impressed and horrified me – he drank an entire Red Bull in less than 5 seconds. Click on the link below if you dare, but I suggest that you have any children leave the room.
We then move to the 21st of March, which I shall remember as another epic day in my annals of SF Bay perch fishing. This was a very short trip – just a couple of hours after work, and even though this required fighting my way through some brutal San Francisco traffic, it was well worth it. My second cast nailed a beast of a Rubberlip – 2.25 pounds. Another new record. I remember wondering if I would ever have a stretch of luck like this again.
A positively beastly Rubberlip. Just 14 months before, I had been overjoyed with a 1 pound fish. Who knew.
About an hour later, the fun continued. Something snuck away with one of my grass shrimp baits, and after a tough battle in the unforgiving shoreline rocks, I landed a Pile Perch so big I thought it had to be a Rubberlip, or a very lost juvenile Bluefin Tuna. It weighed out at a full two pounds, and shattered the record that Spellman and I were tied for. I had a fleeting moment of guilt that Mark’s son Connor might be upset by this, but then I remembered that Connor drank my lime soda the last time I was over there, so serves him right.
Take THAT, Spellman. The Pile Surfperch that ate Tiburon, weighing in at a full two pounds.
I spent one more day on the water – the 23rd, again just a couple of hours after work. I got one strike of note, a crushing hit right at the base of the pier that resulted in ANOTHER 2.25 pound Ruberlip. If we do the math, that’s 8, count ’em, 8 records for the season. If I ever get to the 100 records required for an IGFA lifetime achievement award, I would have to invite the Surfperch up on stage with me.
The record Rubberlip from the 23rd. These are unbelievably spunky fish and put up a powerful fight. Note that every one of the fish mentioned in this post was returned safely to the water.
Pier visitor Vincent Zepeda and his rather shy son. Vincent is the one who alerted me to the strike from the Rubberlip above, by saying something tactful like “Your rod is about to fly into the water.”
No more than 5 minutes after I had finished safely releasing the beastly Rubberlip, just as I was really getting my gloat on, my phone chirped. A text message had arrived – I looked at it and my heart fell. It was from Jaime. She was back on the job, and the bites shut off as surely as if there had been a chemical spill. I packed my gear and went home.
A sign from the Fish Gods that my good fortune had ended. And they didn’t even spell her name right, as far as I’m concerned.
Still, the award above could mean many things. Perhaps every kid got one. Maybe she was only kid in her class. But after a brief investigation, it became clear that she was doing this well while competing against a large group of other smart 14 year-olds. (Of course, I would have won this award too if I had gone to her high school … and my grades were better.) I shuddered to think that once her school year finished, she would have more time to torment me. Life seemed suddenly bleak.