The Many Moods of a Fisherman's City
Like all cities, San Francisco is many things to many people. To some The City—as it is known to all its residents and admirers—is sophistication: the elegance of luncheon in the Palace Hotel's Garden Court, the soft light of dinner at the Fleur de Lys. To others it is mystery: Russian and Telegraph hills after dark, when the fog rolls over them and makes the neon bleed in the night. To epicures, San Francisco is the city of exquisite fish and shellfish. Almost everyone, as a matter of fact, knows it is a good place to go to eat seafood. Thus far, only a favored few know that The City also is a wonderful place to go fishing.
A hundred-mile circle drawn around the city takes in the Russian and Gualala rivers, with their superb steelhead; the sprawling Delta, where in April the striped bass begin to move and spawn; perhaps 50 trout streams north and south of the city and in the Sierra foothills to-the east; a scattering of fine bass lakes; and, finally, a chunk of the Pacific Ocean, with its bounty of stripers and salmon and bottom fish.
The terrain in the Bay area was made for the many moods of the fisherman. North of the city the coastline is steep and rocky. Few towns encroach on this aloof and lonely shore, where sea lions bark in the surf and sea birds rest on the cliff.
South of San Francisco, the coastline is gentler. Suburbs are advancing down the shore line. It is beautiful, wind-cleansed country, with a flashing surf bounding against the rocks. The trees are twisted; the barns are gray from the salt wind. And the road south to Santa Cruz crosses a dozen streams that form shallow lagoons where they meet the sea.
There is no universal opening day for San Franciscans, partly because they have such a variety of fish that no one species dominates, but also because most California fish can be legally pursued the year round. There is, however, one exceptionally fine month to go fishing. That is April, a time of sharp, wind-washed days interspersed with days of buttery sunshine. At this time a brave army of trout-fishing traditionalists carries out a uniquely urban ceremony which, in San Francisco, passes for opening day.
Lake Merced, a shallow pond set well within the city limits, is full of planted rainbows. On April 29 a thousand anglers standing arm on arm will start flailing the water, hoping for a strike. It is a miracle, during this yearly ceremony, that the flying tackle misses so many fishermen; but then it misses most of the fish, too. In a way it is a pity the fishing is so frantic and fruitless, for the lake contains an abundant supply of fresh-water shrimp, and the rainbows feeding on them sometimes grow upwards of three pounds.
Farther out of town the fish are smaller, but the sport, if anything, is rougher. In the early mist and occasional wet snow of the Sierra's western slope, anglers pile out of their cars to throw worms, nymphs and spinners into the American River paralleling Highway 50 and the Yuba along Highway 40. For their pains, they get hatchery-raised trout about seven or eight inches long. Those who fish the larger streams, like the Trinity, have a fair chance of taking a steelhead, if their light tackle—and skill—can stand up to the thundering strike.
Most San Franciscans, however, leave the trout for other months and take their spring fishing in the gentler lowland lakes. April and May are fine for black bass (try it with a fly rod and popping bug: let the bug rest on the surface and pop it from time to time), crappie and bluegill at Lake Berryessa and other ponds and reservoirs in Napa County.
Berryessa is a new lake, held up by Monticello Dam. The fish are not very large as yet; a pound and a half is a good bass there. Still, the lake is considered a hot spot now. But if it follows the pattern of other warm-water reservoirs fishing is due to slack off before too many years. Clear Lake, in contrast, is a natural lake, and has been good, very good, for 50 years. Fishing on Clear Lake starts in March, and for some weeks now sportsmen have been out after catfish, white and black crappie, bluegill and black bass.