Salmon season having commenced around the lovely San Francisco Bay, I found myself reminiscing recently about my first (and only) offshore salmon adventure a couple years ago aboard a boat chartered out of the Berkeley Marina
. (Check out the nifty Google satellite view
!) I forget what the boat's name was, since at the time I was running too fast down the dock to notice. My friend Rob had invited me out on the charter a couple days before and had mentioned it would be leaving at 6:30 am, so I should get there around 6:00. I've never been much of a morning person, and found myself torn from slumber at 6:10 that morning by an urgent call from Rob and the question, Where the hell was I?
Astonished that I had actually awakened before the departure time, I somehow managed to stumble out the door and into my '67 Mercury Cougar (long since sold), a smelly, surly beast of a car which for some reason consented to start at that early and chilly hour. To its credit, the Cougar was very fast - albeit in a rattling, scary sort of way - and I gunned it down Ashby Ave and up highway I-80, covering the three or so miles to the Marina in time to buy a fishing license and jump on the boat just as it was throttling up to head for the Golden Gate.
The charter was a fairly steep $65 a person, and on the ride out I consoled myself thinking of all the salmon I was going to haul home to feast upon. We passed beneath the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge
and westwards towards the Farallon Islands
. Shortly after we'd left the bridge behind I began to have my doubts about the advisability of the whole trip. Specifically, its gastrological advisability; specifically, I was getting seasick as hell. It was quite rough out, to the point that the captain decided against his original plan of trolling for salmon and rigged everyone up for "mooching" instead, which involves fishing an anchovy bait 30 to 40 feet beneath the boat.
Soon everyone was standing along the gunwales, rods in hand, mooching their anchovies along beneath the boat, hoping for a salmon to take an interest. Except for me - by this time I'd given up on salmon, given up on my $65, given up on talking to Rob or anyone else, given up on just about everything except survival, and was lying flat on my back in the cabin, hoping to pass out.
But it was not to be, and after a half-hour or so I decided that perhaps going outside, getting some fresh air, and looking stoically out over the ocean might feel marginally better than staring morosely at the fiberglass ceiling of a pitching boat. So I lurched out onto the deck, where a smiling crew member, utterly unperturbed by the oceanic chaos that surrounded us, set me up with a rod and an anchovy. Joining the other fishfolk along the rail, I unspooled 30 or so feet of line and waited for a salmon. A helpful soul mentioned that looking off towards the horizon could often help calm a queasy stomach, so I gave that a try for a while until I retched over the side, after which I decided the horizon could go to hell. After another bout of quality retching someone else handed me a couple of Dramamine, which I downed eagerly, figuring that a belated drugging was better than no drugging at all.
The Dramamine worked well enough for me to focus a bit more on fishing rather than mere survival. This was a good thing, since a several fathoms down something grabbed my anchovy and took off with it. After a vigorous fight I reeled in a flashing silver salmon, which the same smiling crew guy netted and hauled over the side. It wasn't huge - about 20 inches and five pounds - but it was a beauty, and as I admired that gleaming chinook I realized I was feeling a whole lot better.
As it turned out that was the only fish I caught that day, and in fact was only one of three salmon caught by the entire boat, which had about two dozen anglers aboard - pricey fish, when you work out the price per pound. Not a great day for fishing, and the rough conditions were probably to blame. While I was happy to have been one of the lucky few, I was even happier to see the massive piers of the Golden Gate Bridge loom back into view, and to feel the solid timber of the Berkeley docks under my feet again. Broiled that very evening and seasoned with dill, pepper and lemon juice, the salmon was delicious - and since I hadn't been able to keep a thing down all day, I'd worked up quite an appetite.
And that was my first salmon charter. Was it worth it? Ummmm...sure. Will I be doing it again anytime soon? Ummmm...no.