Happy New Year from California Sportsman! As you’re watching bowl games and pondering your New Year’s resolutions, how about some crab? Or lingcod? The following story ran in our December issue. Our correspondent Mark Fong also has a profile of the guides who took him out into the Pacific, Happy Hooker Sportfishing:
By Mark Fong
For anglers fishing off the coast of San Francisco, late fall is a special time of year. It marks the intersection of two very popular sport fisheries: the Dungeness crab opener and the conclusion of the rockfish and lingcod season.
With the opportunity to bring home tasty claws and filets for the holidays, this is a very popular time to be on the water. And over the years I have done my share of rockfishing, as I enjoy both the fishing and the fine table fare that it affords.
But I had never been on a crab and rockfish combo trip before. Based on my experience, I can see why these are some of the most in-demand trips of the entire year.
There are many great charter boats operating out of the bay and along the coast. High on the list is Happy Hooker Sportfishing (happyhookersportfishing.com; 510-223-5388). With skippers Chris and Jonathon Smith at the helm, I always know that I will be treated to a first-class day on the water.
The much anticipated recreational Dungeness season opened on Nov. 4. With this date entered on my
iPhone calendar, I made sure to book my trip well in advance. But even so, I had to settle for a date after the opening weekend. (Note to self: book earlier next year.)
LET’S DO THIS
After departing from the Berkeley Marina in the predawn dark, we made our way past Alcatraz Island and continued through the Golden Gate. Soon the morning sun began its ascent over the picturesque East Bay hills and we headed out to sea. A mix of scattered high clouds made for a brilliant sunrise and created amazing shades of pink, blue and orange set against the iconic San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge.
About an hour into the trip on the Pacific Ocean, Capt. Chris informed us that we would be stopping to pull and move a string of crab traps. A group of eager anglers assisted Capt. Jonathon and the deckhand Ryan with the task at hand.
It was quite a process to see, as Chris positioned the Happy Hooker next to a floating crab trap buoy, a team member secured it and quickly passed it along to Jonathon, who attached the rope to the automated crab block and pulled the trap aboard.
The catch was carefully measured and sorted, and any crabs that weren’t keepers were released. The traps were checked, baited again and set up on the rear deck. Once all the traps in the string were aboard, Chris made a quick run to a new location where the traps were quickly sent down to soak. In short order, we were on our way to the rockfishing grounds.
As we neared the Farallon Islands, the anticipation level grew. My fishing buddy Ian Rigler and I decided to target lingcod. Jonathon told the boat that the best option for lingcod was to fish a trap rig with natural bait. For those wanting to target rockfish, shrimp flies were the best choice. When the captain and the deckhand speak, it is wise to listen. They are on the water everyday and are dialed into exactly what the fish are biting.
I rigged up a large dead sardine on my trap rig. Knowing that I wanted to primarily target lings, I’d brought my Cousins Tackle CPX 809 matched with an Avet Reel – an SXG2 spooled with 45-pound FINS 40G Braid. This was the perfect set-up for handling the 24-ounce weight needed to effectively fish the deep water at the islands.
It did not take long for the fish to start coming over the rail. Ian was soon hooked up with a nice ling. As for me, I could not get bit. As I awaited my first, Ian was now fighting a second, even bigger fish.
Then it happened – my first bite. But rather than a ling, it turned out to be a big rockfish. I quickly put the fish in my bag, rigged up a new bait and then dropped down again. After a few minutes I was into a nice lingcod. I put steady pressure on the fish and slowly worked it to the surface, where Jonathon gaffed it and swung it aboard.
Over the next few hours my good fortune continued. Not only was I able to put my second ling in the boat but also caught a variety of quality rockfish. The action around me continued at a torrid pace, with other anglers on the boat catching fish too. Before I knew it Chris informed us to wind ’em for the final time of the day. The shellfish were waiting for us.
On the return trip to Berkeley, Chris and crew pulled several more strings of crab pots. When all was said and done, it was limits of crab for all, in addition to plenty of quality rockfish and lings.
After the fish were cleaned and filleted, the moment everyone was waiting for was at hand: crab time. Jonathon and Ryan the deckhand passed out orange mesh bags to each angler. As I quickly learned, there is a pecking order to this process. Any of the helpers who assisted the crew in pulling traps had their bags filled with the prized crabs first. On this day, every angler happily took home a limit of 10 delicious Dungeness.
Back at the marina, the tackle store was abuzz. Outside, a small crew was at the ready to cook and clean our crab for a small fee. Within short order I was on my way home with a cooler full of fresh fillets, cooked crab on ice and memories of a great day at the Farallon Islands. CS