Buoyed by signs of an abundant fishery, hundreds of Bay Area fishermen set out from Pillar Point Harbor for the start of recreational salmon season. About 200 anglers began to arrive at the harbor as early as Friday evening to prepare for what many believe will be the best salmon season in years.
Taj Sharma, chairman of the Coastside Fishing Club, arrived early with his recreational vehicle and boat and said his membership was excited about signs pointing to a great salmon year.
“It’s going to be a banner season,” he said. “All indications are that it’s going to be very good, both for recreational and commercial fishermen.”
Observers describe a constellation of factors that could make for abundant salmon. Warm conditions have kept large amounts of krill in the local waters. Anglers also believe the salmon stock is due for a rebound this year after a series of underwhelming seasons. State Fish and Wildlife officials calculate that roughly 1.5 million chinook salmon inhabit California’s coastal waters this year.
Sharma spent opening day on what passed for dry land at Pillar Point Harbor on Saturday. As a heavy mist soaked everything in sight, he cooked a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, hash browns and bacon on a hot plate positioned strategically under the fishing club tent.
At least on Saturday, he said he was leaving it to others to haul in the two salmon allowed to California fishermen. The upper parking lots at the harbor were busy, but not full, throughout the weekend.
“There have been years when there was no parking here,” he said.
He guessed that about 2,000 of the club’s 12,000 members were on the water on Saturday. He said he heard the fishing was better to the south, near Monterey and Moss Landing.
He said fishermen will soon be sure of their luck.
“There are a lot of boats just running, looking for bait balls,” he said, referring to schools of small fish that attract the coveted salmon. “We’ll see in the next couple of weeks how it really is.”
Many sport fishermen on online bulletin boards have described fishing for bait in recent days and instead hooking a mature salmon, Sharma said. The excitement led to a frenzy among the fishing-club members to get their old vessels seaworthy.
“Huli Cat” Captain Tom Mattusch described the excitement at the harbor as being “pandemonium” in the days preceding the salmon opener. He was hopeful more good years would be coming as fishermen reap the benefits of a salmon release program. Last year the Coastside Fishing Club helped release about 180,000 juvenile salmon that should be fully grown to catch by 2015. The club plans to release 450,000 more salmon next month.
Only one of three launch ramps at Pillar Point Harbor is currently open, which could cause a backup of boats waiting to get in the water. In past years, Sharma said a trail of trucks waiting to launch boats has lined up all the way to Highway 1.
Two of the three boat ramps remain closed because they are clogged with sediment and too shallow for boats. Harbor officials have been working for more than a year to secure permits to clear out the excess sand, but they could not get the clearances in time for the start of salmon season.