They’re Hooked On Fishing

Capt. Jonathon Smith of Happy Hooker Sportfishing. (Photo by Mark Fong)


The following appears in the January issue of California Sportsman:

By Mark Fong

For over 35 years, the sportfishing charter boat operation Happy Hooker has provided San Francisco Bay Area fishermen with the finest saltwater fishing experiences.

The story of the Happy Hooker ( begins with its iconic Northern California captain. Jim Smith, who retired last year after nearly a half decade as a charter boat skipper, raised a fishing family. Today, his three sons Steve, Chris and James are all fixtures in the sportfishing industry. When Capt. Jim left the wheelhouse, he passed the responsibility of carrying on the family business to his middle son Chris, himself a veteran charter boat captain.

“I am really excited to have the opportunity to carry on the family legacy and to share this experience with my son Jonathon,” Chris Smith says. “We look at the Happy Hooker as a member of the family; this boat has so many fond memories. Look at how many people we have met and how many friendships we have made over the years – some of our customers have been fishing on this boat as long as I have.”

“We work hard to provide the high-
quality fishing experience and hospitality our customers can count on. We are always looking for new ways to make the experience just that much more enjoyable and memorable.”

Sharing the duties behind the wheel with Chris is his son Jonathon, who started his fishing career as a deckhand on the Happy Hooker with his grandfather during summer breaks at the age of 13. Since then he has spent extended periods of time working on a commercial crab boat and captaining six-pack charter boats in the Bay Area.



Happy Hooker Sportfishing is comprised of the namesake vessel, the Happy Hooker, and its six-pack boat, the Defiant. The Happy Hooker is 56 feet in length and carries a full load of 36 passengers. For a more personalized fishing experience with one-on-one instruction, the Defiant is a 34-foot catamaran that will accommodate up to
six anglers.

Both boats are available for private charter, corporate events, and open-load fishing. With Happy Hooker Sportfishing, the choice
is yours.

Author Mark Fong (left) with Capt. Chris Smith. (Photo by Mark Fong)


Fishing season kicks off at the beginning of the calendar year. January is a month of transition. After spending the previous eight months operating out of the Berkeley Marina, the Smiths move their boats to the Martinez Marina in preparation for sturgeon season.

Winter is prime time for targeting sturgeon, with Martinez’s Carquinez Strait location the ideal spot from which to base operations. The fish can be found throughout the San Francisco Bay system, but the Martinez area is truly sturgeon central, as San Pablo Bay lies just to the west and Suisun Bay is a short boat ride to the east.

“We have some great things planned this winter on the Happy Hooker,” says Jonathon Smith. “We are going to be running light loads – eight to 12 anglers. There will be plenty of room to spread out and fish. The big boat has a heated cabin, TV and we will have hot coffee and a pot of chili on the stove.”



By mid-April, the boats return to the Berkeley Marina and the focus shifts to potluck fishing with live bait for the highly prized California halibut and striped bass in San Francisco Bay. In addition, the Smith family plans to run midweek salmon trolling trips. And as summer progresses towards the fall, rockfish and lingcod will take center stage.

“Traditionally the sport crab season opens the first Saturday in November,” Capt. Jonathon says. “The crab/rockfish combo trips are very popular.”

It is not often that anglers get the opportunity to fish for rock cod and to pull a string of crab traps all in the same day. The reward more often than not is a cooler full of tasty crab and rockfish fillets just in time for the holidays.

If you would like to get in on some of the hottest fishing in the West with one of the best charter boats in the business, Happy Hooker Sportfishing has generations of family tradition behind it. CS


Editor’s note: Like Happy Hooker Sportfishing at