Rockfishing Through The Golden Gate

Photos by Mark Fong
Photos by Mark Fong


The following appears in the November issue of California Sportsman:

By Mark Fong 

Growing up in the Bay Area, I fondly remember my days spent fishing in the bay and along the coast. These days I spend most of my time chasing bass on the lakes and reservoirs up and down the Sacramento Valley, so it is rarity that I get the opportunity to fish out on the salt.

But when my fishing buddy Ian Rigler suggested we head over to the coast for a day of rockfish fishing, I was all in. A quick call to Capt. Steve Talmadge at Flash Sportfishing Charters (510-851-2500; and we were all set. 

Owned and operated by Talmadge, Flash Sportfishing features a pair of vessels, the aptly named Flash and Flash 2. Talmadge specializes in running small party trips, limiting the load to just six anglers. 

“I wanted to run a boat the way I wanted to be treated,” Talmadge says. “Each boat has different character. The Flash has a commercial sportfishing flavor, while the Flash 2 is a Baja yacht-style experience.” 

Depending on the time of year and the open seasons, Talmadge targets a wide variety of species, including sturgeon, halibut, striped bass, sharks and rockfish.

Our day started early when Ian and I arrived at San Francisco’s historic Fisherman’s Wharf. Even in the early morning darkness the wharf was bustling with activity. Talmadge had us booked on the Flash 2 with Capt. Jonathon Smith and deckhand Lucas Maxwell for our half-day rockfish fishing adventure. 

Once aboard the boat, we met the rest of our fishing party for the day. It was a pleasure to share the boat with Doug Wohleking, his wife Jennifer and two of their friends. Doug and Jennifer were visiting from Texas and were excited to be out for a day on the water.

“One of the benefits of being on the boat with only six people is that it allows the captain and crew to pay individual attention to each fisherman,” Smith says. “We really try to stay in tune with the customers. No matter who you are or where you are from, we want you to come out and have a good experience fishing. It’s all about having a good time and catching fish. We take you out to the spots, we show you exactly how to do it and we are out here to help you every step of the way.”



Before heading outside the Golden Gate to the Pacific Ocean fishing grounds, Smith made a quick stop at the bait receiver to fill the bait tank with live anchovies, while Maxwell prepped our rods and tied up live bait leaders for our day’s fishing.

As we made the run up the Marin County coast, I had the opportunity to talk with Smith as he piloted Flash 2
towards our destination. He is a third-generation party boat skipper who started fishing with his father, Capt. Chris Smith, aboard the Captain Hook. When he was just 13, he became a deckhand on his grandfather’s boat, the Happy Hooker.

I watched intently as a series of GPS waypoints came into view on the electronics. Smith informed me that we would be fishing near Duxbury Buoy. Within a short time he slowed the boat and set up our first drift of the morning.




There are many ways to target rockfish. Shrimp flies, soft plastic swimbaits and jigs are all effective offerings. When live bait is available, it’s hard for rockfish to ignore. 

I was impressed with the tackle that was provided. High-end custom rods by Vic’s Custom Rods and Cousins Tackle were paired with Avet Reels. 

We used the standard San Francisco Bay three-way, live bait set-up: a three-way swivel with one end tied to the main line, the second fastened to a 36-inch leader finished with a 1/0 live bait hook, and the third tied to a 4-ounce cannonball-style weight using a 12-inch dropper line.

Lucas showed the group the correct way to nose-hook the anchovies to keep them lively and he soon had us all baited up. Next we received some last minute instruction and coaching from Smith on how to effectively bounce the bottom and then we were fishing.

It did not take long before the rockfish started coming aboard. While the action heated up all around me, other than a few small black rockfish, I was stuck in a bit of a lull. It was a lot of waiting, waiting and watching as the others enjoyed constant action.



After what seemed like an eternity, my rod loaded up and I knew this was not another little rockfish. Even though it had been a few years, from the power and weight of the fish I could tell that it was a lingcod. Lings make fine table fare and are coveted as such. After a spirited fight, Maxwell skillfully netted the toothy fish.

On our side of the boat, Rigler managed to land a nice keeper lingcod, as well as score a nice bag of rockfish. I was lucky to land another ling and a mess of rockfish. 

On the back of the boat, Doug Wohleking and his party were enjoying the fast-paced action as well. When the fish are biting, as they were on this day, time quickly disappears; before we knew it, it was time to return to the dock.

With a bunch of good-eating rockfish in the cooler, it was time to enjoy the scenic trip back down the coast and under the Golden Gate Bridge. These are spectacular views that you can only experience from the deck of a boat.

Once back at the dock, the captain and his deckhand quickly cleaned and filleted our catch. It was simply a great day all around – breathtaking scenery, action-packed fishing and a chance to make new friends. A day spent with the folks at Flash Sportfishing is one that I would highly recommend. CS

Editor’s note: Like Flash Sportfishing at