Great salmon fishing defies spring forecast

Great salmon fishing defies spring forecast By Tom Stienstra July 13, 2017

After a fight with a salmon with rod and reel, the fish here is finally brought to the side of the boat to hopefully be netted and brought aboard Photo: Tom Stienstra, Brian Murphy / Special To The Chronicle Photo: Tom Stienstra, Brian Murphy / Special To The Chronicle After a fight with a salmon with rod and reel, the fish here is finally brought to the side of the boat to hopefully be netted and brought aboard A new approach to fishing — lets call it “The Power of Negative Thinking” — has taken hold this summer.

Despite a doomsday spring forecast, salmon fishing has been great out of the Golden Gate for several weeks. This weekend and the 10 days after it may provide “best-of-year” type prospects.

“Maybe they’re onto something — predict the worst and then summer shows up and the salmon jump in the boat,” said Jacky Douglas, one of several skippers who met at Castagnola’s at Fisherman’s Wharf on Monday night for a dinner to honor Hall of Fame skipper Roger Thomas.

“There seems to be lots of salmon out there and the fishing is good,” Thomas said.

With social media and the age of instant fishing reports, boat scores and news about trips are instantly verifiable. When even the skippers are amazed at the success, you know you’re on to something big.

“We’ve had a great stretch of salmon fishing with limits-style action on a very nice grade of fish,” posted Capt. Allen Chin of the TigerFish out of Emeryville, on his Facebook page.

“The fishing is very good,” wrote Capt. Steve Talmadge of the Flash out of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. “Now is the time to go.”

This comes after state and federal scientists had predicted about 230,000 ocean salmon this summer (compared with 800,000 to more than 1 million in typical good years). In 2015, a year that turned out to be mediocre, the forecast was 652,000, almost three times what was expected for this summer.

The explanation for this summer’s success, Thomas, Douglas and many others believe, is a 2014 special trucking program for juvenile salmon.

A consortium of agencies and organizations — including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Golden Gate Salmon Association — transported 12 million juvenile salmon from Coleman National Fish Hatchery near Anderson (Shasta County) to the bay and poured them into submerged salmon cages. They were then released in pulses, to minimize predation, and swam a short distance to the ocean, where they could grow an inch and a pound per month and reach adult sizes three years later, this summer.

One federal study showed that only about 5 percent of juvenile salmon can make it to the ocean on their own from the Coleman hatchery. The remaining 95 percent wouldn’t survive the water pumps, diversions, reverse flows in delta channels, high water temperatures, low water quality and predation, according to the report.

“There was talk in the spring that we might not even have a season this year, with the forecast of low salmon abundance,” Thomas said. “Now look at it. If it wasn’t for the trucking, I don’t think we’d have a season this year.”

Here are some of the factors aligning for best-of-season prospects:

Full moon/minus tides: Sunday’s full moon is gone, and the last of the minus low tides end Thursday and won’t return for two weeks.

Wind/fog pattern: Just like the days when salmon was king, coastal weather is again in a classic cycle: fog in the morning, wind at 3 knots at 6 a.m. and 14 knots by noon, with a small-craft advisory by afternoon and 17 knots by 6 p.m.; then 10 knots by midnight and decreasing by dawn. Seems like a daily affair again, so different than the El Niño years.

Sea temperatures/baitfish: Near the Farallon Islands, the sea temperature has been roughly 52 to 53 degrees, perfect for salmon. In addition, upwelling in May and June has produced plankton to jump-start a rich marine food chain that has attracted large numbers of juvenile anchovies and — in the past two weeks — vast balls of krill. That has also brought in lots of whales and marine mammals to the Bay Area coast.

In the next two weeks outside the Golden Gate, the outlook is so bright for salmon that many believe schools will return to historic summer feeding grounds, located from the Channel Buoys to Middle Grounds to Duxbury, said Todd Magaline (and others) of the boat Blue Runner.

As the wind has come and gone in the past month, skippers have found salmon in two- to three-day periods at many locations across the Gulf of the Farallones. To find the fish, boats have trolled to cover the maximum amount of water in the minimum of time. When a bite starts, skippers will relay their position to the rest of the fleet.

That fishing world might turn upside down if the krill bite erupts at the Channel Buoys to Middle Grounds, like the old days. Many believe this is imminent.

That will allow boats to mooch — engines turned off and drifting with the tide — not troll. Anglers aboard then dangle their anchovy baits and feel every bite, every nibble. When the bite is on, this is some of the most exciting salmon fishing imaginable.

It’s been years since this phenomenon, but the anticipation feels like a pressure cooker about to blow the lid off.

Maybe the key is to go with an unspoken hope for the best, while speaking only of expecting the worst.

This is the new outlook I call “The Power of Negative Thinking.” It comes courtesy the government fishery experts and might be the best new fishing secret the Golden Gate Fleet has ever come upon.