On the fishing boats on San Francisco Bay, many anglers no longer resemble prisoners of hope. Some might even feel as if they have transformed into magicians.
One of those working magic has been field scout Tommy Glasser out of San Rafael, who has been fishing the bay’s Marin shore for weeks and has had 25, 30 striped bass a day, catch-and-release during three-hour peak-tides periods.
“Stripers are everywhere,” said Armand Castagna, the Hall of Fame angler who runs the boat Imagine out of San Rafael. In the past week, he has taken groups to catch not only stripers, but halibut and sturgeon.
Halibut fishing has been off to a good start, so good that an armada of boats often targets the two top spots, the Berkeley Flats and Paradise Cay (just south of the Richmond Bridge on the Marin side).
In addition, a big freshwater push from the delta on outgoing tides has kept sturgeon fishing outstanding. Though few anglers have been trying for them, catch rates are among the best of the year; when live shrimp is not available for bait, frozen lamprey has been the preferred entreaty.
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All this is in stark contrast with recent years. Some years, striped bass have not entered San Francisco Bay until the Fourth of July. This year, they arrived in the North Bay in spring and the procession of fish has continued through May and now into June.
“Down in the bay, they’ve had great striper fishing already, and it’s only the start of summer,” said Keith Fraser, owner of Loch Lomond Live Bait in San Rafael. “When the tides are right, stripers are showing up at all the old spots.”
Some of this week’s best reports:
Berkeley Marina: El Dorado had 24 striped bass, 9 halibut for 18 people; Goldeneye 2000 had 18 striped bass, 9 halibut for 18 people.
Emeryville: Happy Hooker had 30 striped bass (2-fish limits), 3 halibut for 15 people.
San Rafael: Imagine had 10 striped bass (limits) for five people; on other trips, four halibut to 24 pounds, plus lost three others, for five people; three sturgeon (limits), 50-inch range, for three people.
Castagna has targeted the tides of June 10 as the best day yet this year to try to catch the “Grand Slam of Bay Fishing,” that is, a salmon, striped bass, halibut and sturgeon on the same trip. To pull off that feat, you have to match tidal periods with fish locations, and then have plenty of luck, especially to catch your salmon and sturgeon.
In past years, the occasional cycles of minus-low tides and howling winds out of the northwest in May and June have muddied the water and put the kibosh on the fishing. In the past few weeks in the central bay, it seemed difficult to believe that the water often has been blue, not brown.
“The bay has been miraculously blue,” Castagna said. “A lot of days, it looks like a day in July or August (when water clarity is best). This is going to be a good year.”
Another problem in the past has been delayed migrations of fish into the bay, that is, striped bass from the delta, halibut from the ocean. Drought, high water diversions upstream and a low freshwater push to the bay seemed to create the issue.
This year, with plenty of freshwater sweeting the bay, striped bass roared down from the delta to North Bay in the spring. These were what we call “Scout Fish,” the smaller bass, many in the 16- to 18-inch class, which arrive ahead of the older and bigger cousins.
It has been a long time since the bay had a start to summer like this.
Tom Stienstra is The San Francisco Chronicle’s outdoors writer. He will appear at the Bay Area Book Festival, sponsored by The Chronicle, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Berkeley, www.BayBookFest.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter:StienstraTom
What you need to know
Striped bass: Use live anchovies or shiner perch with a three-way rig and then drift with the tide where you use your motor to control the speed of the drift, on incoming tides over rock piles and ledges. The better spots are well known to skippers and include Alcatraz, and in the North Bay, the ledge at the Brothers Islands. When the minus-low tides are gone and replaced by more moderate tides, trolling can be good at the beginning of outgoing tides in the North Bay with Worm-Tail jigs.
Halibut: Timing is also critical. Fish the top of the tide and outgoing tides for halibut, live bait, at the Berkeley Flats or Paradise Cay. As summer arrives, Crissy Field and Mile Rock can be good.
Sturgeon: If live shrimp is unavailable, use frozen lamprey eel. Anchor near the pumphouse in San Pablo Bay and fish the peak flows of outgoing tides during a minus low.
Saturday’s tides: A low tide of minus-1.4 feet at 5:33 a.m. is followed by a high tide of 4.9 feet at 12:35 p.m. and a low tide of 1.9 feet at 5:19 p.m. The minus tide might scare off some because it could muddy water clarity in the morning. Peak fishing projected to be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with best clarity late in the day.
Moon: A new moon arrives Sunday.
Wind: Winds out of the west at 10 knots for San Francisco Bay and delta, a welcome break from wind 15 to 25 knots early this week.
San Francisco: Bass-Tub, (415) 456-9055, www.bass-tub.net
Emeryville: Emeryville Sportfishing Center, (510) 654-6040, www.EmeryvillesSportfishing.com
Berkelely: Berkeley Charter Boats, (510) 849-3333, www.berkeleycharterboats.com
Sausalito: Hog Heaven, (415) 382-7891, www.hogheavenfishing.com
San Rafael: Executive Fishing Charters, San Rafael, (415) 460-9773, www.executivefishingcharters.com
Tackle: Hi’s Tackle Box, (650) 588-1200, South San Francisco, www.HisTackleBoxShop.com; Gus’ Discount Fishing Tackle, San Francisco, (415) 752-6197, www.GusDiscountTackle.com.