An old Jewish neighbor
of mine had a favorite expression he'd pass on to
me after watching me struggle with yet another project. He'd watch me for
a while, he'd stroke his grizzled beard, and then he'd say, "Don't work
harder, my son, work smarter!"
And so it's been like that through my life; when confronted with a job
seems to be more work than it should be; I'd figure out a way to do it
more easily. Fishing is no different, if you can make it easier on yourself,
go for it! Nowadays, with most people finding it harder to fit in any free
time for the more important things in life (like fishing), it pays to maximize
the experience while minimizing the time spent. This is sometimes
referred to as "high percentage fishing" .
All the fish in San Francisco Bay respond one way or another to the ever
changing tides and currents that run through the bay. By learning the best
tides and currents to fish for your targeted species, you can plan the
optimal days to fish months ahead of time, thereby freeing up all those
non-productive days to get stuff done around the house (or the car, or the
boat, or the office, or whatever).
The first thing to get is a good tide and current book. I like mine to
printed in military time, with the tides and currents listed in chronological
order. I once had a tide book with all of the low tides on one side and all
of the high tides on the other side and you had to do a kind of mental
Texas Two-Step going back and forth to figure out what tide was
happening when. I got so dizzy that I had to take some Dramamine just to
read the darn thing. I finally threw the thing out when I couldn't afford the
pill bill any longer (lining the bottom of the bird cage with it would have
been too kind of a death) .
Tide is the vertical movement of water and is measured in feet. A one
foot difference between two consecutive tides is considered a weak tide.
A seven foot difference between two consecutive tides is considered a
strong tide. (Consider yourself lucky that you don't live near the Bay of
Fundy were there is a 30 foot difference in tides!) Current is a horizontal
movement of water and is measured in knots (a nautical measurement of
speed equal to about one and one-eighth mile an hour). One knot of
movement is considered slow; six knots is considered pretty fast. An "F"
after the knots is for "flood" (incoming), and an "E" after the knots is for
Now that we have or ups and downs and ins and outs all squared away,
next time we'll get into the actual predicting of when should be optimal
times for different fish and then you'll be able to fit in that visit with Aunt
Last time, by way of review,
we were looking into tides and currents, that
tides are vertical movements of water and are measured in feet, and that
currents are horizontal movements of water and are measured in knots. It
was also mentioned that by knowing the tide and current preferences of
different target species, you can optimize your fishing time and then find
time to visit your Aunt Bertha.
The following are some suggestions for the big four "S" fishes in the Bay
Salmon: I have noticed that my best fishing
for king salmon comes from
fishing a slow moving tide in the four, maybe four-and-a-half foot range,
the top of the tide reading about five feet above sea level. The fishing
should peak at the top of the tide. I like the top of the tide to occur
between 9:00AM and 11:00AM: that way you can limit out and be back at
the dock by lunch.
doubt about it, the best tides are big outgoers, even though
the best fishing occurs at the tail ends of them. I don't even try for them
until the current chart reads that the speed is down to about 2.5 knots or
less. For me, the easy way to figure that out is whether or not an eight
ounce sinker can hold down my fifteen pound test line. Any faster than
that and you're wasting bait.
even shark fishing has an optimum tide. For midbay
fishing, I like very slow tides of no more than three feet or so of moving
water. And although either tide can work, I generally like the outgoing tide.
The slow moving tide allows the smell of your bait to waft downstream
without diluting as much as with a fast tide, making it easier for sharks to
find your bait. If there is a slow tide that peaks out at over four-and-a-half
feet above sea level, you may find some super leopard shark and
stingray fishing in "the flats". Break out the light tackle and prepare for
Striped bass: Wow, here's a big subject! There
must be a dozen
different ways and a hundred different spots for stipers in the bay.
Generally speaking, live bait drifting is best during swift tidal movements,
with 4.5 to 6.5 feet differences in height. The problem is that some spots
are better during a specific tide. Spots like the Bay Bridge and the
Raccoon Straits are definitely incoming tide spots. The Golden Gate
Bridge is the ultimate outgoing tide spot. Some places like the Harding
Rock can be good both ways. To have the bite at the maximum and the
loss of tackle at the minimum, I like to fish when the speed of the current
is less than 2.5 knots after maximum current (roughly the tail ends of the
For shallow water trolling, plugging, and fly casting, I like moderate
of about three to three-and-a-half feet that peak out at five feet above sea
level or better. This is especially important in the spring when the first
"schoolies" appear in the flats in San Pablo Bay.
Next time, we'll get around to halibut, rockfish, perch, and that favorite
my buddy Nick Fedoroff, the mighty kingfish.
In part 2 of this series, we made some observations and I gave a few
opinions on the optimal tides and currents for the "S" fishes found in the
Bay Area; you know, the real glamour fish: salmon, striped bass,
sturgeon, and shark. In this last part, we'll talk about the fish that most of
us really catch: perch, rockfish, halibut, and that often maligned pier
fishing favorite, the mighty white croaker, locally referred to as the
Perch: The best
fishing in the bay comes when fishing a moderate tide of
between 2.5 and 3.5 feet of moving water. The water can be going either
way when fishing pilings and piers and offshore rocks, with the best
action at maximum current. On the beach, the best action occurs with the
incoming tide, especially when the tidal difference is no more than about
most of rock fishing is done from a drifting boat, the
slower the tide, the better the catch. With swift tides, these slow moving
fish sometimes have a tough time swimming, much less feeding, and will
often hold closer to structure. Factor in a fast drift, heavy weights to hold
your rig down, and fish holding close to structure and you get a day of
tough fishing, fewer fish caught, and lots of lost rigs. Once, while fishing a
day with less than 1.5 feet of tide, I was able to get a 2 oz. Dix jig down to
160 ft. using 12 lb. line and had a terrific time nailing yellowtail rockfish,
red rockfish, and yelloweye rockfish to 10 lbs. and a pair of lingcod that
went 15 and 19 lbs.
is a fish where the tide you pick depends on the bait you
are presenting. If you are using natural bait and are drifting in a boat, the
best time to fish is during a small 3 ft. or so incoming tide followed by an
even smaller outgoing tide. This is not so much because the flattie
prefers a slow tide, but it is because of the peculiar way you have to fish
them. Instead of wolfing down your bait, the halibut often grabs the bait
with its spiky teeth and holds on until the baitfish is dead before it
swallows it to the point where you can sink a hook. Sometimes, on a fast
drift, you can let out as much as 75 yds. of line before getting a solid
hookup. You let out less line on a slow drift and your hookup success
increases, simple as that.
The story is a little different when it comes to pulling a hoochy rig with
line. Then the best tide is a 4 to 5 ft. tide, either way, with the best fishing
tending to be towards the maximum current. This is because the current
actually helps in handling the boat. By matching boat speed with the
current speed, the boat can actually hover in place, with the hoochy skirts
hovering most tantalizingly over the halibut's head. Increase or decrease
the throttle, steer straight ahead, slide to the side, or slip back slowly, and
the boat pulling wire and hoochies can effectively cover every square foot
of prime halibut real estate. Now, that's presentation control!
Kingfish: This member of the croaker family
is sometimes referred to as
the "carp of salt water". It is often ill spoken of, if for no other reason than
it is plentiful and generally easy to catch. A common insult is, "He's so
lousy a fisherman that he couldn't catch a kingfish!" Nevertheless, it is a
ideal fish to start a beginning fisherman on, and for kids there is the
added bonus of having no teeth or spines to get hurt on. If you can get
one to actually make a croaking sound, your kids could be giggling all
Kingfish can be caught on all kinds of tides, as any sturgeon fisherman
can tell you with disdain. Even in the swiftest of outgoing tides you can
get one to suck up your expensive mud shrimp meant for Mr. Sturgie.
(How do they get a 7/0 hook into that little mouth, anyway?) My buddy,
Nick Fedoroff, three time world kingfish champ (1990, 91, and 93), will
tell you that the best tides are the slower tides of 2 to 3 ft. This is only
because he dearly loves to catch kingfish on light trout fishing type tackle.
Heavier tides would necessitate heavier tackle, lessening the kingfish's
fight. "Catch one of those disgusting DFG planted trout on a rig with an 8
oz. sinker and see how much of a fight you get!", says Nick, "And maybe
you'll rethink about these kingfish!"
So there you have it, pick a fish and pick the recommended tide and see
if your catch doesn't go up. Remember, it is no guarantee, but it will put
the odds in your favor.