In San Francisco
Bay, in its adjacent waters, and in the sprawling 480-square-mile inland delta
of the Sacramento-San Joaquin rivers, a multistriped, white-bellied fish known
as the striped bass furnishes more wholesome frustrations and clean fun than
the 200,000 anglers who yearly go after it can shake a jointed rod at. The most
dedicated of these fishermen is 49-year-old Leon David Adams. Almost every
Saturday since 1936, Adams exchanged his troubles as Secretary of San
Francisco's Wine Institute for those of striped-bass fishing. The most
pronounced of his fishing troubles has been?and still is?an unending search for
a monstrous bass which dominates his dreams and which he has named Gwendolyn.
If ever Adams and Gwendolyn do meet, an IBM tabulating machine will deserve
much credit for bringing them together.
ago, shortly after beginning his Wine Institute career, Adams was a typical
suburb-dwelling young husband and the father of two sons. His chief recreation
was thrice-a-week handball. One day he injured his foot at play and turned to
striper fishing. An incurably logical man who thought that if, as in handball,
you followed certain rules and acquired certain skills, the result would be a
score, he went to the books and the old-timers to learn about fishing and was
distressed to find that they contradicted themselves and each other. When, in
addition, he caught few or no fish, he determined to explore the subject
thoroughly and find the rules himself.
He began this
project with a routine that has altered little since. Every Saturday morning he
arises at 4 a.m. and at 5 joins his brother, Emil, and his guests at some
appointed rendezvous. By 6 all hands set out in his boat, the Fishfinder, and
fish until after sunset.
discovery was the common knowledge that stripers are migratory. In California
large numbers of them spend their summers in the salty waters of the San
Francisco Bay area. In winter they swarm into the fresh and brackish delta
where they have a thousand-mile watery labyrinth in which to roam and
complex, which Adams explored with a tyro's enthusiasm, is formed by several
rivers, chiefly the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. Within its network, the
California Department of Fish and Game guesses that 15,000 craft, from yachts
to skiffs, get in each other's way on a fine weekend, chiefly to fish for
stripers. Originally this delta was a swamp. Man has now tidily sorted it out
into 50 major islands, separated by channels and a maze of sloughs. The islands
are rich in asparagus and celery; the sloughs are rich in striped bass.
To record the
Fishfinder's findings, Adams kept a log. To supplement the log, he mimeographed
penny postal-card questionnaires asking fellow fishermen for details on catches
He handed out many. He got back few. He discarded the cards as a failure.
He next designed
a running tally sheet. Like the cards, this also asked for dates, places,
number of fish per man, tide conditions, bait, etc. He shamelessly pressed them
on any fishermen who showed the faintest interest. He also resorted to
strategies he is reluctant to discuss. For example, it is no coincidence that
Adams' data on the Point San Quentin bass runs is remarkably complete. If one
of your fishing cronies was a San Quentin prison official who could assign a
trusty to a full-time canvass of fishermen on the near-by rocks and piers, your
tally sheets, too, would be as full as a debutante's dance program.
But that was only
one source. Like a kid hunting bait, Adams grubbed for answers everywhere,
leaving no informative stone unturned. He studied and pared all scraps of
striper news from rod-and-gun columns in Bay area papers. He encouraged each
chance acquaintance in the striper fraternity to phone him reports. He checked
with resort operators, amassed tide tables, quizzed the bait shops, and drained
the state Fish and Game Department of its biological striper lore.
As the months
passed into years, Adams' fishing improved and his data grew into a mountainous
5,418 days of fishing fact and experience. This he tried to classify and give
meaning to in ways of his own devising. Sometimes his striper study added 50 or
60 hours to his week and often it was 4 a.m. when Adams went to bed.