Salmon season opener looks promising for big catches. Fishing starts Saturday – San Francisco Chronicle

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For more stories like this, check out The Chronicle’s weekly Travel newsletter! Sign up here.After being closed for eight months, the sport salmon season is upon us. For the Golden Gate fleet, the run-up to Saturday has been like a long, slow-burning fuse. And most anglers are counting on weekend ignition.

“Off of Pacifica, there’s birds, bait and whales — incredible and thick,” said Tom Mattusch, captain of Huli Cat out of Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. “If the wind is down, I think the fishing is going to be very good at a number of spots — a tremendous opportunity.”

Out of Berkeley Marina, Scott Sutherland of Berkeley Charter Boats said all seven of his boats are booked.

“It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” he said.

The wind forecast is light for the early weekend mornings, about 5 knots out of the northwest, building to 15 knots later in the day — great fishing conditions. At the weather buoy 17 miles west of San Francisco, the ocean measured 54.1 degrees this week, perfect for salmon.

This year’s limit is two salmon, 20 inches long, minimum. Commercial trollers, who have a 27-inch size limit and are already on the water in prescribed areas, have reported large schools of sport-size salmon, 20 to 26 inches, off Half Moon Bay, Pacifica and Point Reyes.

With commercial fishing already open, the fishing boat Doris unloads 250 lb. of salmon at H&H Fish in Santa Cruz on May 2.Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

On Saturday, boats in the Golden Gate fleet will fan out in the search at these likely spots. When one boat hooks up, the captain will alert the rest of the fleet so everybody can share in the catches.

Though this year’s forecast for salmon abundance caused a delay to the opener, early-season fishing in the Monterey zone, from Pigeon Point on south through Monterey Bay, was good this spring when the wind was down. But many days were literally blowouts, with white caps for miles.

The primary feed right now is anchovies, including many juveniles, which are setting humpback whales and marine birds on feeding frenzies. The hope among anglers is that schools of salmon are beneath the schools of baitfish, driving them to the surface. As the saying goes, “Birds never lie.”

But not everything is aligned in the favor of anglers.

Thursday’s full moon translates to significant lunar pull on the seas, and in turn, a low tide of minus 1.7 feet will bottom out at 7: 26 a.m. Saturday. Minus tides can sometimes put the kibosh on salmon, but Mattusch said his calls to commercial boats on the water have found a solution.

“The commercial guys are getting them at the end of the tide, right at the tide change,” Mattusch said. “I’m not too concerned. They say the sport-size school fish are starting to bite.”

Where and when to go

Trips for salmon will be available to the public out of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, Sausalito, San Rafael, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, Bodega Bay and Half Moon Bay. The season runs through Oct. 31.

The price of most trips this summer will run about $175 to $200 per person, said Andy Guiliano, owner of charter company Fish Emeryville with 13 sport boats available. Full charters are also available.

While rules put in place for COVID-19 last year have been relaxed — masks are no longer required while fishing — passenger numbers will still be restricted to about 60% of capacity, Sutherland said.

“We’ve learned a lot in the past year,” he said. “A lot of people would rather pay a little more and have fewer people aboard.”

For those who own their boats and are planning their own trips, always get the latest marine forecast before heading out.

Sunrise for Saturday’s opener is 5: 50 a.m., with first light expected to be about a half hour or so before that.

The fleet plans to troll to find the fish at the likely spots, the fastest way to cover the widest span of water. All the while, those aboard will be scanning across the sea for swarms of diving birds or repeated spouts from whales, a sign of baitfish activity and feeding.

At its spring meetings, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council forecast that 271,000 adult salmon would be available off the Bay Area and Monterey coasts, well below the general target of about 500,000. Based on fishing results out of Monterey this spring, the consensus is that there are enough salmon in the ocean for periods of excellent catches, Mattusch said.

When feed conditions are abundant, salmon can grow as much as an inch and a pound per month.

With Saturday’s opener, the feeling among many this week is, “Light the fuse and stand back.”

Tom Stienstra is The Chronicle’s outdoor writer emeritus. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @StienstraTom.
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