The first striped bass are moving onto the beaches and anglers from San Francisco to Capitola are beginning to pull stripers from the surf.
It isn’t a full blown run quite yet. But bass started appearing at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and Pacifica area beaches two weeks ago. Last weekend, the first stripers of the spring were caught at Manressa State Beach in Capitola.
Most of the fish caught are sub-legal to barely legal but bass to 10 pounds have been reported.
The fervent hope is this year’s fishing can match last year’s outstanding surf season.
“It was phenomenal last year,” said Mark Dingler, owner of The Angler’s Choice Tackle in Capitola. “Low light conditions always are going to produce better fishing but there were so many fish out there last year they were getting them on bright, sunny days. I had customers get 50 to 200 hookups last season. There were 20, 25 and 30 pounders. I had guys catching and releasing six-eight-10 and 12 fish per night.”
The same torrid fishing experienced in Monterey Bay was enjoyed from Half Moon Bay to Pacifica.
“That was the best season I have ever seen,” said Mark Glisson at Coastside No. 2 in Pacifica. “There were well over 800 fish landed. I took more than 150 pictures and a lot were in the 30s and 40s.”
Whether striped bass are becoming more abundant or there is a new focus on the fishery because of the lack of salmon fishing is a topic of debate.
Ken Oda, an associate Marine Fisheries Biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game said bass can be found as far south as Oceanside (San Diego County) but most of the surf fishing for stripers takes place between the Golden Gate and Monterey.
Oda, who grew up on Monterey Bay, said the striper fishing south of Santa Cruz is a rarely new phenomenon.
“I didn’t see this many fish until the early 90s,” Oda said. “Back then it wasn’t uncommon to run into 300 to 400 people looking for fish in Pacifica. Down here you might be able to find 20 guys targeting stripers. Lately there has been a major shift. The Monterey Bay striper fishery used to be dwarfed by Pacifica-Half Moon Bay. I think now they are comparable. Now you see 80 to 100 sticks in the water during peak runs. When the fishing is good people come out of the woodwork.”
Stripers hide in deep holes or near structure during the day and move into the shallows during the morning and evening hours to feed on sand crabs and bait fish.
The bass also like river mouths and can be found near the Pajaro and Carmel rivers. Sometimes they will forage near Elkhorn Slough.
Many anglers use the graveyard shift to fish for stripers. They venture out after sunset and stay until the early morning hours. A traditional shift of anglers usually hits the beaches by 5 a.m. to take advantage of the morning bite. Another group prefers late afternoon into dusk.
Tactics vary, too. Many will use sand crabs, pile worms, blood worms or cut bait and throw it out with a four- to six-ounce sinker and wait for a bite.
Spincasters walk the beach tossing Pencil Poppers, Kastmasters or slash baits while fly fishing also is gaining in popularity.
“You don’t need to be an Olympic-level caster,” Dingler said. “These fish come right on to the beach to feed. You just have to know a good spot where the fish are.”
The best fishing last year occurred during July but there was quality fishing into the fall. The bass become most active when the water temperatures are around 60 degrees. Right now ocean temperatures are in the low 50s.
Anglers can get surf stripers by boat, too. One party boat makes a practice of backing into the surf when the bass are in thick. The Happy Hooker out of Berkeley will chum the surf line at Pacifica and get into frantic action when the bass move in tight.
Zmudowski State Beach near Moss Landing
New Brighton Beach
Capitola State Beach
Manressa State Beach
Half Moon Bay
Coastside No. 2, Pacifica, (650) 359-9790
The Rusty Hook, Pacifica, (650) 355-8303
Happy Hooker, (510) 223-5388
The Angler’s Choice Tackle, Capitola, 831-464-1883
Keywords: striped bass, california sportfishing, Monterey Bay, Pacifica, features