Thanks to a couple of people I met through some of my salmon reporting on KQED, I got to go out fishing today on a boat that put out from Moss Landing, on Monterey Bay about 100 miles south of Berkeley. I’ve considered it a little odd that I’ve developed a passionate interest in California salmon without once having fished for one. But on balance, only a little odd.

Today, I only kind of fished. I went out with Marc Gorelnik, a board member of the Coastside Fishing Club, whose boat is currently berthed at Moss Landing. His crew were a couple of guys named Chris from Marin County. All three knew their way around the boat and all the gear. They rigged the gear and set the lines while I mostly spectated (though I guess I worked in my own fashion: I had my recorder and camera with me, so I came back with sound and pictures).

Since I was a salmon rookie, the first time a fish hit one of the lines, the rod was handed to me and I reeled in whatever was on the end of the line. It turned out to be a salmon, though not a huge one. The minimum size anglers are allowed to keep this year is 24 inches; under that length, and you have to release them. The fish on I was pulling in was borderline. One of the Chrises landed the fish and then measured it against a guide on the stern. Twenty-two inches. Using a device that looked a little like a screwdriver with a blunt end–the idea is to minimize handling of fish that will be released, because the whole point is that they’ll survive to grow into mature adults–Marc “shook” the fish off the line, and back into the water it went. (The term for undersize fish, which I never heard before last week: “shakers”).

And that was the big fishing excitement of the day. Marc had his radio on, and we heard lots of boats saying they had zero luck and a handful reporting they were catching fish, some up to 22 pounds. To an inquiry from a friend’s boat, one voice on the radio said he was about to make his limit but added something to the effect that “the last fish is always the hardest to catch.” Marc responded, “I hate that guy.” (He was also out last Saturday, the season opener, and had just four shakers and several hours of weathering rough water to show for it.)

Two other fish would up on our lines, though–both shakers. The last one hit one of the rigs on our way in, immediately after one of the Chrises said, “One fish. One fish can easily be divided four ways. The fish in question is pictured (click on the images for larger versions). It was a little thing, maybe a foot long. It would have been hatched out the fall before last (2009), and then either made its way to the ocean (if it was naturally spawned) or was released on the upper reaches of San Francisco Bay (the recent practice for most hatchery-generated fish) about a year ago. Given its size, it’s got nearly a year and a half more to survive at the mininum before it will begin its run back to fresh water somewhere in the Sacramento River system.

So there it is–a shaker. I caught only a brief, brief glimpse of it. It was small, but it was a beauty.

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