The cold, nutrient-rich waters of the north coast are a haven for hundreds of species of fish. The rugged coastline testifies to the rocky habitats that extend well below the surface.
In the sunlit shallows grow several thousand varieties of algae and sea weeds creating protective cover for young fish and hunting grounds for larger fish. Fish living in such abundance do not have to travel far for their living and tend to be more territorial, venturing only briefly from a particular cranny. At the greater depths where light is dim, sea weeds are sparse, food is more difficult to find, and fish tend to range greater distances.
Most of our north coast fish species are resident year round, while others such as salmon are migratory and pass by seasonally. Lingcod are resident, but during their November-to-March breeding season, some truly giant females (to nearly 40 pounds) move into the shallows from water as deep as 2000 feet.
Several hundred sea lions haul out each year on the island of Fish Rocks. Even with their hearty appetites, some of the largest lingcod and rockfishes are caught by boat fishers a few yards from its shore.
There are only a few access points along the north coast for the sport fisher due to the ruggedness of the coast's high, crumbly cliffs, and limitations imposed by private property. Shore fishers are restricted to heavily-visited public accessways and only a few little-known rocky coves. Accesses for boaters are even fewer. But Anchor Bay's ocean-level access makes fishing relatively easy. Shore fishers have a choice of rocks or sand from which to cast their lines, while boaters have a protected launching and landing area at "Chicken Cove" once the problem of getting the gear to that end of the beach is solved. The use of launch wheels and carts have proven to be the answer, and the rewards of fishing Anchor Bay waters make it all worth the effort. There are more miles of coast, both north and south, than are possible to fish. This is why fish stocks remain so healthy.
Shore Fishing Top
Shore fishing is simple. There's casting from the sand for one or two species of surfperches; or casting from the rocks for striped perch, a few rockfish species, greenlings, and cabazon. Nearshore fish are generally found in the rocky, kelp-choked areas because this is where most of the food is. Sand bottoms, on the other hand, are deserts when it comes to food and only a few specialized species earn a living from them. Since rocks and kelp mean snags, the wise fisher will find the sandy areas immediately beside the kelp mat or next to the rock outcropping a suitable target for their casts.
While surfperches range widely looking for food, other species are more territorial, staying close to the nook or kelp frond they staked out as home. You need to decide whether to leave your bait in one place and wait for a fish to come by, or cast around to present your bait to fishes waiting for something to pass by them. Of course, much of this depends upon the kind of fish you want to catch.
A spinning reel filled with 20 pound test monofilament line will cover about every situation. As for the pole, a longer length pole is important when casting from the sand for two reasons: you can cast it farther, and it will hold your line up out of the waves and help keep it from being washed ashore before you're ready to reel it in. The long pole becomes a disadvantage, however, when fishing from the rocks; a smaller pole allows for more accuracy when casting in tight places. Pyramid weights (6 to 8 ounces) are good for holding in sand. For the rocky areas, old spark plugs or tobacco sacks filled with sand are the traditional weights, but almost any other small lead weight will do.
Use the smaller hooks, from size 4 to 6, to take in the whole range. Cabazon and rockfishes have huge mouths and can take the biggest hooks, but surfperches and greenlings have small trout-sized mouths.
The typical setup is for the weight to be on the end of the line, with one or more snelled hooks about 18" apart above that.
When the tide is out, tidal creatures are exposed to attack from the sun, beachgoers, and terrestrial predators. As the tide beats its way back in, the weakened creatures break free and are washed around in the surge. Nearshore fish eagerly search out these morsels during the rising tide, making this the best time to fish. Start early at the turn of the low tide. You'll be able to cast into areas too far to reach during the high tide period, and it will also give you a chance to see depressions and surge channels you may want to cast into later.
Boat Fishing Top
Boat fishing is the ultimate get-away therapy. Without question, though, it is the most expensive way to fish because it is so equipment intensive. Also, it requires hours of cleanup and maintenance outside of your fishing time. Launching areas are limited, and like at Anchor Bay, often require enormous energy to get your boat in the water. But the pay off comes from landing huge fish. Besides the fishing, you get out to places unseen by landlubbers. Boaters have reported fishing alongside dolphin and whales. Now and then a sea lion will nab a salmon off someone's line. The vistas looking back on shore are breathtaking. Then a big fish slams into your line and almost turns the boat around! Yesss!
Folks have been fishing from small boats here since Anchor Bay Campground was first begun in 1925, and the knowledge of how to do it has been passed down from the old timers to the new comers. There are two kinds of boat fishing common to our coast: bottom fishing for rockfish and lingcod, and salmon fishing.
BOTTOM FISHING: You can anchor in shallow areas and cast into the kelp beds and reefs, which is like shore fishing only from a moveable platform. But by far the most effective method to catch rockfish and lingcod is to drift along over rocky bottom in water about 60 to 120 feet deep, jigging or bouncing the bait on the bottom as you go. When a hot spot is found, motor back around for another pass. Favorite spots are found by triangulating landmarks.
The reel should be something like the "Penn 60" at minimum, loaded with heavy test (60+ pounds) monofilament or braided line. The pole should be short (more manageable in a small boat) and stout (to crane up the big ones). Braided line's chief advantage is less stretch. In combination with the stout pole, you can set a hook faster and more firmly, and you can feel the bottom better. The disadvantage is there is more drag on your line while drifting, requiring more weight in order to stay on the bottom (a one pound ball instead of an eight ounce ball). I figure if you're reeling in 15 or 20 pounds of fish, one more pound won't make a difference.
A lead ball weight is important. It not only keeps the bait down where the fish are, it also is your sensing device telling you the kind of bottom below. You lift it up and drop it with a clunk, sending the vibrations up the line to your pole. When over rock, you'll feel a crisp "knock." Rocky bottoms also vary in height, and you can feel the ball sliding down into holes and catching on ledges as you jig it up and down. If you're over sand the ball has a dull thud, or a "nothin'" feel to it, and you won't get any bites.
A typical setup is to have the weight on the end of the line and a 3-hook jig above that. There are commercially made "rockcod" jigs that work great, such as the "shrimp fly jig" and the plastic, iridescent "hoochy skirts." Heavy metal bars with big treble hooks on the end were designed with lingcod rather than bottom fishing in mind; bouncing it on the bottom is inviting a snag and loss of a $4 jig.
Snagging happens. Sometimes the hook will imbed itself into California and you'll never get it back. Sometimes a snag is a fish that grabbed your hook and dove under a ledge or boulder. Most of the time the ball has lodged between two rocks. Start your motor and head in the opposite direction of the drift. Your line will begin to slack but don't reel in yet. Others in the boat should reel in to keep from getting tangled or snagged while you maneuver around. Go until your line tightens, then put the motor in neutral. Actively jig and jerk the line up and down. Try to feel what's happening below. Is there a tiny bit of play? The hook may be imbedded and you can feel the ball moving only the length of the play in the jig. No play at all? The ball is stuck. It tugs back a little? Maybe it's a fish in a cavity.
Some of the equipment you'll need in the boat includes a Coast Guard approved personal floatation device for each passenger (by law), a net with at least an 18-inch opening and a device for accurately measuring the length of fish with size limits (Fish and Game regulations), a gunny sack or fish box for your catch, a pair of pliers to hold the lower lip of your fish so you can remove swallowed hooks, a club to conk your fish, extra ball weights and jigs (I figure to lose 3 or 4 setups before I get discouraged enough to go home), and oars.
Safety considerations: Don't launch directly in front of the campground; carry your gear to "Chicken Cove." If it's too rough to launch, it's too rough to fish. If there are white caps, don't go; the drift will be too fast to fish. When out fishing and you see the white caps coming, go in. Fish to the north; if something goes wrong with your motor, you can drift home.
SALMON FISHING: There are two methods of salmon fishing depending upon how dense the school of migrating salmon are as they pass by. Trolling is effective when the fish are far apart or when trying to locate the main body. It usually requires motoring slowly over a several mile area using a flasher to attract the fish. The flasher simulates a feeding salmon. Mooching is for fishing in a densely populated area where the boat drifts along while the fishers lower baited hooks with light weights below the boat, similar to bottom fishing.
|While trolling, it is important to have the flasher and bait at just the right depth. Salmon travel in particular temperature gradients and will oven remain at a strict depth. The problem with using a fixed weight comes when a salmon shakes out the hook or tears free with its help. The problem is solved with two types of devices. One is a sinker release. This allows a weight (usually a one-pound ball) to carry the rig down. When a fish strikes, the weight is released, and all you have is a fish on the line. The other is a diving plane device such as the "Pink Lady" or "Deep Six" which planes down to the proper depth. When a fish strikes, the angel of the plane is snapped out of position, neutralizing its resistance in the water, and you feel only the fighting fish. A "Herring Dodger," a type of flasher, has good action and comes with details on how to rig it up. Behind that comes the hook with either bait, such as herring or anchovy, or artificial lure. A "Rotary Salmon Killer" is a little plastic clip made to hold a baitfish. It has a fin on its side that gives a lot of action to the bait, and comes with a hook attached. By the way, by regulations the hooks must be single and barbless. You can file the barb off or bend it completely closed with pliers.|
With the barbless hooks, a little know-how may mean the difference between keeping or losing a beauty as you get it close to the boat. A flexible pole with about 40 pound monofilament line and the drag set not too tight give you the spring you'll need to help keep out the slack at all times. When the fish is tired out, bring it to the side of the boat and then net it from behind (if it sees the net coming at it, it may bolt and be lost).
The main salmon run seems to occur from mid-June through the end of July, though the first salmon of the season has been caught as early as the Memorial Day weekend and the last ones have been caught just before Labor Day. Anchor Bay has developed its own "salmon fleet" of a dozen or more boats. During the season they fish early mornings before the wind comes up, CB radios crackling with reports of who's doing what. To add to the fun, Anchor Bay Campground organizes a salmon derby that runs the entire month of July with first, second and third prizes.
Fishing Weather Top
Beginning in the spring, a huge high pressure zone forms just off the coast of California and where it sits to dominate the weather. For us, the prevailing winds are from the northwest, and all through the spring and summer they will blow as long as the sun shines. The winds abate during the evening and will begin blowing again by late morning. This usually allows boat fishers to get a few hours out on the water before fleeing home ahead of the whitecaps. When the temperatures inland get over 100 degrees, that mass of warm air will rise. The air over the ocean, cooler and heavier, is drawn in to fill the vacuum. It moves slowly, gently, as a light breeze from the southwest. The overcast and sometimes foggy weather that results is a welcome site to boat fishers; the water flattens out and the fishing is great all day. The high pressure zone begins to weaken during the fall and an Indian summer condition begins to prevail. Ideal weather and long, lazy fishing days are the rule.
Fish Parasites Top
Sportsters often find parasites in their catch. Some are large and visible while others are hidden or in tiny larval stages. Luckily most parasites are completely incompatible with other animal's systems and could not, for instance, survive in our digestive system let alone find suitable habitat in our bodies. However, one in particular can and does cause problems in humans. It is a roundworm of the Anisakis genus, and I see them often in the fillets of locally caught fish being cleaned in our fish house. The largest ones, about 1 to 2 inches, can be pulled out of the meat. They can be spotted sometimes by holding the filet up to the light. This might get rid of your guest's case of the heebee geebees about the appearance of your gourmet dish, but to really be certain, Anisakis can be completely killed by freezing at -4 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 60 hours, and by cooking at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for at least five minutes.