Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dog Days of Summer...?

So much for that!
If the bites we have going this month are the dog days, then I want a dog house and a big bone to chew on because I have never seen so many crazy bites happening all at once.

July tides have kicked off an epic halibut bite at Point Bonita with anglers reporting fast limits of jumbo flatties up to 45 lbs on live bait, frozen jumbo herring, and jigs. Even with heavy fishing pressure these fish just won't give up.

I have heard reports of guys throwing live jack smelt from 8 to 10 inches long ( the smelt can be caught on a sz 14 Sabiki rig) and live sardines (which also can be caught using the same Sabiki rig) 6 to 8 inches long with a slip sinker and a 50lb mono leader (about 3-4 ft long) as close to the back of the surf as safely possible and sticking flatties up to 30lbs (and stripers up to 25lbs!) The smaller boat folks who have stayed in the bay are also clobbering the flatties in places like Crissy Field, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. Inside the bay, catch reports are running up to 35lbs with good numbers of fish in the 20lb class. Top technique is drifting live bait, the bigger the better.

Last week local striper guru Tommy Glasser fished with one of our tackle guys here at the San Rafael Shop, Sean Daugherty. They reported fast afternoon action at Bonita and on the North Bar, but found a honey hole at Angel Island when they made a quick stop on their way home with a big concentration of "cookie cutter" 20lb flatties.

Several former commercial fishermen in Bolinas report that they have been able to catch a three fish limit of flatties in less than an hour at dozens of spots from Stinson Beach to Point Reyes and just beyond. These guys use use big frozen herring and live bait when they can catch it but they're doing just as well on jigs and plastics coated with either Pro-cure "'but juice" or Pro-cure sardine oil. They are enjoying a whole lot of water to themselves so if you find yourself starting to get crowded in at point bonita or at the beaches, head north.

Also while Tomales Bay can only handle so many boats before it gets hammered down, the flatties are kicking butt there as well. WSS G.M. Tom Nelson's son Wes Nelson is an expert on Tomales and he and his dad along with "Frank the Tomales Guru" have been catching limits of halibut in the 15-20lb class on almost every trip.

As great as the live bait/frozen bait drift fishing is. The striped bass surf bite is the best I have ever seen. Six or seven big schools of BIG stripers are haunting the coast line from Monterey to Pt. Reyes with Ocean Beach and Half Moon Bay being the epicenter of an incredible natural event.

Picture this - massive schools of sardines in the 5-8 inch size are being pushed up against the beaches and surf by huge stripers, huge halibut that are acting like stripers and chasing bait, a sprinkling of giant white sea bass (up to 52lbs), body surfing sea lions, and get this, DOLPHINS! Well...actually they are porpises, but none the less they are less than 30' from shore!

Even if you don't fish you have to see this, it's like watching a live performance of "Planet Earth"!

The good news is that they are all eating sardines and not stripers and halibut, but the bad news is that the white sea bass are not biting and appear to be just kind of hanging around (maybe preparing to spawn?)

The best bets for gear are Pencil Poppers in chrome with a blue back or white with a red head, silver or silver/blue kastmasters in the 2-4 oz range, hevier Hopkins spoons (~3 oz) in hammered chrome, SPRO hair jigs (2-3 oz sizes) in all white or white with either a black, blue, or green back. My absolute favorite would have to be an 8" Cheasapeake Bay Pencil Popper in pink/white, black scale, and yellow bunker unless it's really windy, in which case I like the River2Sea Dumbbell POP200 in deep blue.

If that is still not enough for you, Albacore in the 25-30lb class are on the bite with reports of fish anywhere from 38 miles out of Sausalito to 15 miles off Fort Bragg and Monterey. Best tactics have been to find albacore with surface trolled unpainted Cedar Plugs (various sizes) and and Tuna Clones in "Mexican Flag." Once you locate the schools, you can then bring them up with live bait, and it's on.

Most boats report that once they bring the fish up it's not just fast action, but the fish are blasting jigs, swimbaits, plastics, and even flies like 6" deceivers or clousers in white/chartreuse, white/green, or white/blue.

But what I think is the coolest thing going on right now, is the appearance of thresher sharks. The same water that brought in the tuna and larger schools of sardines, has also brought us hundreds of threshers. I have heard several reports of large thresher sharks just kind of cruising under the surfcace with their long sickle like tail jutting up into the air, whipping from side to side as they swim by.

These sharks are so prolific at the moment (and again I have lived here my whole life and have only seen two) that some guys have begun to target them. The usual man to thresher shark encounter in this area involves a salmon fisherman trolling big sardine baits and hooking into a juvenile that quickly breaks the line, not by strengh, but by slicing up the line with their big long tail. They use this tail to rip through schools of bait, doing damage to whatever is in front of them with a similar posture to a scorpion, then returning and eating whichever bait fish were stunned or injunred by the whipping tail - not unlike king salmon who use the same basic attck, but use their open toothy mouths.

Some thresher sharks have been landed but this is rare and they are typicaly quite small. Anglers who are targeting them now have found that the best way to get one of these critters is by trolling a big marlin or wahoo type plug or Magnum Rapala on a 5'-8' wire leader made of 90lb sevenstrand on the same kind of high capacity trolling outfit you would use when searching for albacore.

So far, the biggest landed in the bay was 35lbs and it took a jumbo trolled herring just off Alcatraz. The same boat reported losing one that they believed to be over 100lbs just off Yellow Bluff that same day. In the ocean, I know of one fish over 80lbs taken on a Magnum Rapala near Duxbury Reef and another that was released after being measured against the boat. That fish is the largest reported so far, having a body of about 8ft for a total of 14 ft with its tail. These amazing sharks are often described as the best eating of all sharks.

(ed note - fishing for sharks has obvious inherent dangers, both in the catch and handling of these fish. We recommend you fish with an experienced angler or research the topic thoroughly before attempting this.)

If all of this stuff is to intense and you want to take it easy, try fishing with Berkely Gulp Sand Sorms, 2-3 inch Curly Tail Grubs in smoke, rootbeer, motor oil, white, or chartreuse, or simply soak live sand crabs at Stinson Beach for big redtail perch and barred surf perch. Some of these have run so big that they have been caught on 8" striper plugs.

Freshwater fishing is not quite as hot as salt but there are fish to be caught.

Bon Tempe will kick out trout on Power Bait and Power Nuggets or pink Berkley Gulp Worms. The effective tactics have changed since spring, of course - you need to tie leaders that are 3-4 ft long and use a 3/4oz eggsinker so as to get the bait out as far and deep as possible. Try to fish the steepest banks you can find or near the outflow pump when it is activated and pumping water up from Alpine Lake.

Smallmouth Bass are also there but you have to work for them. For best results, target steep shorelines at dawn with topwater baits like the Ima Skimmer or jerk baits like the Lucky Craft Pointer 100 in Ghost Minnow. Once the sun is up you either drop shot 4.5" finesse worms, or you fish a 1/2-3/4 oz Jig Monster Chaos football head jig with a double tail grub trailer slowly on deep water points. Best colors are green pumpkin watermelon, P.B.J., bludgeon, hell hound, and cold water craw.

You can take the same approach to Alpine Lake for smallies and largemouth, but also try throwing 5-6 inch senkos rigged wacky in watermelon w/black flake, or green pumpkin w/black flake. Kent Lake can be fished in this same manor as well but the bite should be a whole lot better. At Kent, add swimbaits and crank baits to your arsenal. Look for wood cover that is still submerged especialy if it spans across shallow and deep water.

With all three lakes it pays to keep moving. The harder you have to work to get to the good spots the better those spots will be. While you will find that once the sun is on the water the reaction bite (i.e. - topwater, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and swimbaits) will mostly shut down, and the majority of bites will come on jigs and plastics, there is an exception: wind.

When the afternoon wind gets going and it lasts for more than a few minutes than no matter how much direct sunlight hits the water, the surface chop makes it impossible for birds to hunt fish and the bass go on the bite with confidence. best baits for afternoon wind are spinnerbaits, either 3/8 or 1/2 oz with tandem blades, or double willow blades like the Hildenbrandt blade series or Persuader. Whites or white chartreuse or good but the Hildenbrandt in bluegill, or alewife are even better. Nicasio is pretty tough (and low) right now but after the Marin Bass Club Derby there on Sunday there will be a full report.

Names of Note: I wanted to give some credit here to Jeff Russell who is fishing a junior pro tournament this week, we wish him good luck. Jigmonster pro Chris "Flipper" Franks garnered some serious ink with a big article in the Marin Independant Journal about himself and his pro bass career.

Marin IJ Photo

Finally, a huge thanks and vote of respect goes out to the park rangers who acted when I complained to them about poaching and other abuses reported and encountered at Lake Nicasio - they followed through by reporting to the Marin County Sheriff and vigorously enforcing the law and regulations, ensuring a fair and quality fishing experience for those who follow the rules. Thanks a lot guys! I am proud have such standup rangers out here, we are lucky we have you.

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