I had awoken at 4:30 am, dug around for my Xtra tuff boots, the footwear of choice for fishing and made my way to the Salty Lady in Sausalito. In the cool, foggy mist, I remembered a familiar feeling from my old fishing days in Alaska. Tired. But as I neared Clipper Harbor, the smells of diesel fuel from boats firing up, the sounds of the engines starting and I hurried up, as the sports fishermen were already claiming spots at the back rail. In the novel, “The Old Man and the Sea” the veteran fisherman, Santiago swears at a giant fish towing him out to sea, “Fish," he said, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.” This phrase echoed in my blurry brain as I made my way through the foggy morning towards the lights of the Salty Lady.
In 2008-2009 the number of Chinook salmon returning to California waterways was so low that Fish & Game closed fishing to both commercial and sport fishing. In 2009, the number of salmon returning to the Sacramento River was only 39,500. The 2010 fish count improved slightly, and by 2011, there were 114,741 Chinook showing up to spawn in the Sacramento River. This year, they are expecting 820,000 Chinook returning to the Sacramento River, and even more bound for the Klamath River. The reasons for this vary. Many fishermen say the crash in numbers is due to too much water being taken from the Sacramento River by farmers, but Fish & Game claim it’s due to improved conditions in the ocean.
Regardless, commercial fishermen, fishmongers, chefs, and diners are delighted, but perhaps the most excited of the bunch are people who love to fish. And what’s not to love? You get a boat ride, see some wildlife, have an adrenaline spike when you hook the fish, and then delicious food for weeks. Of course, this is the ocean, and there’s always the possibility of stormy seas, fear and illness instead of delight, no fish, and well, worse can happen, as anyone who has read Seawolf, the San Francisco Bay classic shipwreck tale by Jack London, could tell you. Though it has been some time since shipwrecked people were rescued and then enslaved by seal hunters.
But we were an optimistic crew. For weeks people had been catching their limits—often before noon, as rumor has it, and the boats came back early. Gunard Mahl, of San Francisco had been out the week before. Not only did he catch his limit, but he also spotted over 15 whales, including a blue whale, among many gray and humpback whales. The only person not brimming with enthusiasm was the skipper, Tak Kuwatani, who warned us that the fish run had tapered off and they only caught four the day before. “Remember,” he said. “This is fishing.”