Species: Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
This is the fifth and final story in succession and ties in with the other species I caught on the same day, and you’re best reading them in order: First and Second and Third and Fourth.
The California Delta is famous for bass. Largemouths, Stripers, and Spots all call this area home. I’d love to fish it some day.
This story, however, takes place nearby in the San Pablo Bay, and it involves Stripers.
Years before, after personally striking out for Stripers in the San Pablo Bay but watching my friend, Christopher Puckett, land a double-digit fish, I saw the possibilities.
It was now almost four years later, but I’d booked the trip in hopes of catching sharks, stripers, and sturgeon. We’d already boated three species of shark and lost a fourth, massive one, but the sturgeon and Stripers remained quiet.
Then, Ben Blanchard got a respectable fish of around eight pounds.
Not long after, he caught a second, slightly smaller fish.
Both were keepers.
I’d boated four new species that day, so I couldn’t complain, but since this was a trip where we intended to target three large, edible fish, I’d hoped to take home some meat.
Eventually, a Striper of my own inhaled the shrimp on my hook, and after a fight in which the captain jumped up and down hooting and hollering in excitement, it came to net.
It was 13 pounds, 1 ounce and measured 33 1/2 inches long, making it the largest fish (other than the two Bat Rays I’d caught earlier in the day) I’d ever caught and the largest game fish.
The fish was delicious, making me promise never to release a legal Striper. Plus, the picture Ben took was one of the best fishing pictures I’ve ever had taken of me, and it remained one of my favorite profile pics for years. If only I’d removed the hook the captain put through its lip beforehand…
Species: Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
If you didn’t read the last entry, be sure to catch up here or you’ll be missing out. They tie together.
I’ve fished the salt a lot in the past 15 years. Not anywhere near as much as freshwater, but I’ve still spent an average of five days a year fishing saltwater which is a lot for someone five hours from the ocean.
In all that time, I’ve only landed two fish over 25 pounds.
Both happened to be on the same day, minutes apart, while chasing sharks, sturgeon, and stripers with Sole-Man Sportfishing.
The first was a massive Bat Ray. It’s body was maybe 30 inches long (not including the three-foot tail) and 40 inches wide. The captain estimated it at 60 pounds but wouldn’t bring it on board because it presented a safety hazard.
So all I have of the largest fish I’ve ever landed in saltwater is this picture.
While I would’ve liked a better picture, fighting this creature on 20-pound mono was a blast. Imagine pulling a piece of sheet metal with suction cups off the bottom. But the sheet metal pulls back. Hard.
After catching the 60-pounder, I got a smaller one the captain estimated at around 40 pounds. Though I’ve caught a lot of 10-20 pound saltwater fish, I haven’t broken 20 pounds in the salt since.
Fortunately, I did manage a few pics of Ben fighting a beast of his own, and that’s where this story ends.
Species: Brown Smoothhound (Mustelus henlei) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
Shark Week isn’t for a few months. I desperately wish I could’ve timed this to release then, but I didn’t want my readers to wait around for months and lose interest. I’ve already had enough women lose interest in me.
I kid. Kind of.
Still, the moment when I caught my first shark was something special. I was fishing with Sole-Man Sportfishing out of San Francisco, and it was my second attempt for Striped Bass, sturgeon, and sharks in the Bay.
On the first trip, I’d went with two friends, Christopher Puckett and Ben Blanchard. One caught a respectable striper and a Bat Ray while the other caught a Starry Flounder (a fish I’ve seen caught several times but have yet to boat myself). I got skunked.
It just so happened that for Round Two, Ben and I had returned. We were on a different charter and immediately liked the captain.
When I met him, he said something to the effect of, “You’re surprised I’m not white, huh?”
He was about the least stereotypical charter boat captain I’ve ever met. In 30 or more charter trips, he remains arguably my favorite.
Captain Don Franklin was raised in inner city Oakland and had a rough upbringing. He told us that many of his friends had gotten caught up in gangs, but he’d gotten caught up in fishing, and it changed his life.
Little did I know, he was about to change mine.
Captain Don had given Ben and I a special deal because he was training his son to be a deckhand. As the day progressed, his son caught on quickly. Despite being maybe 13 or 14 years old — the youngest deckhand I’ve ever seen — he was polite, professional, hardworking, and learned quickly.
The stripers remained elusive early, but the first fish I caught was a shark. It was small, but as I got it close to the boat, I was ecstatic. It was a shark!
Freaking out like a small child who’s just been granted his heart’s desire, the two-foot creature writing on my hook made my day.
The captain wasn’t too impressed with the Brown Smoothhound I’d just caught, but he appreciated my enthusiasm.
Ben caught one early, too, and after we’d posed for a few quick pictures, he tossed back the relatively harmless little sharks.
We motored to the next spot and happened to pass the captain with whom we’d went striper fishing years before, and Captain Don told us it was the other guy’s last trip. Apparently, we weren’t the only clients who’d been disappointed by the experience.
Captain Don cracked jokes, informed us, and made the day all-around pleasant. We actually caught several more species that day, but the last hookup I had ended tragically.
My rod sat in the rod holder, minding its own business, when something massive picked up my bait. It ran hard as I lifted the rod, and I feared it might spool me. With the lightest possible pressure, I gently put my thumb on the spool, and the 20-pound mono snapped like thread.
I was informed I’d likely just lost a massive Sevengill Shark of several hundred pounds. This is still the largest fish I’ve ever hooked. My own personal Shark Week wasn’t bad, but that fish would’ve made my life — especially considering that those sharks are both edible and delicious.
I pouted a bit, but Captain Don quickly lifted my spirits as his honorary deckhand, a cat in a life vest, pranced around the cabin.
That’s not a joke. He really had a cat in a life vest on board, and though it made my allergies flare up all day, it was still the most unique fishing experience I’ve had on a boat.
Apart from being one of my most unique days fishing, it remains one of my best, despite losing the fish of a lifetime.