An Historical Review of the
Fish and Wildlife Resources of the
San Francisco Bay Area
by John E. Skinner
WATER PROJECTS BRANCH REPORT No. 1
Page 2 of 6
Striped Bass Pages 71 - 83
Page 2 of 6
Smith (op. cit.) points out that few anglers were
fortunate enough to catch striped bass before 1895.
Shortly thereafter, however, the anglers began to take
them with increasing success. A number of striped bass
clubs were formed and the sport fishery expanded
from year to year.
Since 1935 the fishery has been reserved exclusively
for sportsmen. Calhoun (see references) has done extensive
work on this species including migrations,
spawning, population dynamics, and their relationship
to major water projects. Skinner (1955 unpublished
data) analyzed the sport catch records dating from
1936, and other available data and came to the conclusion
that a decline had occurred in the fishery between
1944 and 1954.
The striped bass fishery is one of the most valuable
in the state, both in terms of the recreation and sport it
provides and the economic wealth it generates. Only
trout rank higher in the number of days spent by
anglers (Skinner 1955). The trout fishery, however,
is statewide, whereas the bass fishery is concentrated
in San Francisco Bay and the Delta.
The number of anglers participating in the fishery
now exceeds 200,000 a year. They expend on the order
of 2 million days and 18 million dollars a year on this
activity (Pelgen, 1955). The catch is estimated at a
million or more fish per year with an aggregate weight
close to four million pounds.
There is a year-round season which provides ample
opportunity to fish and assures an open season within
all parts of its range.
The fish are taken by a variety of angling methods
in an area extending from the beaches outside the
Golden Gate up the Sacramento River to Red Bluff
and up the San Joaquin River to Mendota. The upstream
limits of its range were formerly more important
fishing areas than they now are. Most of the
fishery recently has been confined to the area below
Sacramento on the Sacramento River and below Stockton
on the San Joaquin River.
Fishing from an anchored boat has been the most
popular method. Bait used includes fresh or frozen sardines,
anchovies, clam, squid and live or dead sculpins.
Usually these baits are fished on or near the bottom.
Trolling has been practiced on a limited scale in
selected areas, the most renowned being Carquinez
Strait. This type of fishing is most rewarding in the
summer, when in Carquinez Strait upwards of a hundred
of boats may be seen plying the water. A number
of party boats operate all summer for the purpose of
taking anglers trolling.
Since the summer of 1957 fishing in the Bay near
Alcatraz and vicinity has been extremely rewarding
and appears to involve a new development in the
fishery. The boats use heavy tackle and weights up to
3 pounds to fish deep. Salmon party boats were the
first to locate and fish the area, and word of the excellent
catches of striped bass soon brought the regular
striped bass party boats on the scene. In 1957, during
the two months of July and August, 8,726 striped bass
weighing 98,245 pounds were taken in 5,301 angler
days. The party boat records from which these data
are derived are not a full measure of the effort or
catch, however, since a great many private boats which
are not required to report also fished the area.
Scofield (1926) pointed out the favored "old fishing
grounds" for striped bass. These included San Antonio
Slough near Petaluma, Oakland Estuary, San Leandro
Bay and Petaluma Creek at Schultze's Slough. Other
noted areas were Cache Slough and its tributaries.
Sausalito, Petaluma, Napa, Rodeo, Crockett, and Cuttings
Wharf on the Napa River were favorite striped
bass resort sites. Baker's Beach, San Francisco, provided
excellent surf casting.
Most of these are still good "bass grounds" but virtually
the entire South Bay including the aforementioned
Oakland Estuary and San Leandro Bay have
been abandoned as bass fishing areas. The principal
explanation for the absence of bass in the South Bay
appears to be the polluted conditions which prevail
Similarly, the Napa River has lost much of its once
famous reputation because of pollution. Scofield (op.
cit.) emphasizes the conditions there by quoting an
ardent Napa River angler, Mr. W. P. West, " . . . pollution
from garages [oil] and tanneries has ruined fishing
of all kinds in the vicinity of Napa except when
the rains have purified the river; then it is possible to
catch fish in town for a few weeks out of the year,
whereas formerly they could be taken nearly the year
"During the fall of 1924 fish died in the Napa River
within a radius of six miles from the city of Napa.
The stench from the thousands of dead fish floating
on the water became so bad that it was necessary to
chemicalize the carcasses.
"Years ago bass were so numerous in the lower
reaches of Napa's sloughs that a man rowing a boat
would strike a fish every few minutes with his oars.
In recent years bass fishing in these sloughs has been
largely abandoned because almost every slough that
formerly afforded good fishing has been leveed off."
Angling Statistics. The Department of Fish and
Game has given particular attention to this species
because of the intense interest expressed by sportsmen
regarding it, the recreation it provides and its economic
Through periodic postal card surveys it has been
possible to observe the trends in the fishery. Catch
figures thus obtained are exaggerated but the long
term trends are considered fair indices of the status
of the fishery. Calhoun (1950) discussed the methods,
Validity and reliability of them.
The catch figures obtained from these surveys are
shown in Table 18 along with the number of successful
anglers and the proportion of the state's total which
Since 1943 there has been a general reduction in
the total catch in spite of a doubling in the number
of successful anglers. The mean annual catch per
angler is now about one-third its former level.
Party Boat Fishery. Another method of observing
angling conditions in this fishery has been by an analysis
of daily logs maintained by operators of striped bass
party boats. These men are required by law to complete
a form, supplied by the Department, consisting
of the number of anglers carried, number and aggregate
weight of the catch and location and time fished.
These records are subject to some error but they
provide the most reliable data available on the trends
in the fishery. Calhoun (1949) discussed their usefulness,
reliability and the party boat fishery in some detail.
The data provided in Appendix C-4 are taken
from his report for the years prior to 1949. Data on
subsequent years were provided by personnel engaged
in the "Study of Sturgeon and Striped Bass", another
of the State's Federal Aid to Fish Restoration programs.
For statistical purposes and record keeping the Bay
and Delta area is divided into so-called "Block Areas"
each with a designated code number. The specific
location of each block is shown in Figure 30. Without
describing them in detail the blocks are as follows:
||San Pablo Bay
||Suisun Bay Area
||North San Francisco Bay
||South San Francisco Bay
Block 308, Carquinez Strait: This area normally
accounts for from one-quarter to one-half of all party
boat trips recorded each year. Angler success has been
much better here than any other block. Block 301 (San
Pablo Bay) on occasion has supported a greater number
of boat trips but Block 308 must be considered
the most important party boat area year in and year
out. Fishing in Block 308 is negligible from December
through April, becomes increasingly good as the summer
and fall progresses and peaks during the months
of October and November. Fishing effort and success
coincides with the upstream migration of adult fish
in the fall.
Block 301, San Pablo Bay: Party boat angling in
San Pablo Bay has fluctuated widely, at times exceeding
Block 308, but at other times only accounting for
a small percentage of the boat days reported (only 10
percent in 1947 as compared to 40 percent in 1943.)
The seasonal activity here parallels that of Block 308,
and in addition supports a fair spring and light summer
fishery for the smaller non-migratory bass.
Block 303, Delta: The Delta ranks about third in
terms of boat trips recorded. In recent years it has
exceeded Block 301. The party boat fleet moves up
into this area during the fall and winter to follow the
run of adult fish. Fishing is usually excellent in November,
moderate from December to April or May,
(presumably because of the feeding habits of the fish
and not abundance), picks up for a short period in
late spring, and then drops off as the fish move back
down toward the Bay. Fish taken in this area are
generally large, weighing between 5 and 15 pounds
with fish up to 40 pounds being not uncommon.
Block 488, North San Francisco Bay: The North
Bay has been good on occasion but is highly variable.
In 1944 this block accounted for 23 percent of all
party boat days, in 1948 a mere one percent. The
best fishing location is in the vicinity of Alcatraz and
farther north. Fishing is best during the summer
months and almost at a standstill from September to
April. Success in this block was very poor from
World War II until 1957, when the deep water troll
fishery previously described began to operate.
Block 302, Suisun Bay: Suisun Bay and the area upstream
to approximately Antioch forms Block 302. It
is less important than the previous four but on occasion
has yielded excellent catches of striped bass. Prior
to 1945 about 10 percent of the boat days were spent
in this area, since then less than five percent. The
best fishing coincides with the fall run. Small fish are
characteristic of Suisun Bay, and it is frequently
referred to as the "kindergarten" by people familiar
with fishing here. Record analysis depends upon a
sample of at least 30 reports per month, and for many
months and even for a few complete years this block
did not provide sufficient party boat records. It is
possible, therefore, that angling quality in this block
could have been good but because of small fish the
operators preferred to take their clientele to other
Block 489, South San Francisco Bay: This area is
now relatively unimportant to the party boat fleet.
Two locations, Hunters Point and Mission Rock, are
responsible for most of the records in this block. Fishing
in this block has been fair in only three years since
1938. Between 1943 and 1946 less than one percent of
all party boat days were spent here. The area was
somewhat restricted during -World War II, which
partially explains the lowered use during this period.
However, even several years after the war it continued
to be devoid of party boats. The fish which
are taken are large, giving the area some appeal. The
fishery is a summer one when it does exist.
In addition to these areas operators may take their
clientele directly to the ocean on the rare occasions
striped bass are hitting there. In 1956, for instance,
1,257 anglers caught 442 fish in the ocean from party
Part 2 of 6 |
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Calhoun, A. J.
1949 California Striped Bass Catch Records From the Party
Boat Fishery; 1938-1948. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 211-253.
1950 California Angling Catch Records from Postal Card
Surveys: 1936-1948 With an Evaluation of Postal Card
Non-response. California Fish and Game, Vol. 36, No.
3, pp. 177-233.
1951 California State-Wide Angling Catch Estimates for
1949. California Fish and Game, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp.
1952 Annual Migrations of California Striped Bass. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 391-403.
1953a. State-Wide California Angling Estimates for 1951. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 103-113.
1953b. Distribution of Striped Bass Fry in Relation to Major
Water Diversions. California Fish and Game, Vol. 39,
No. 3, pp. 279-299.
1957 Striped Bass Fishing Map (Revised by John E. Skinner).
California Department of Fish and Game.
Calhoun, A. J., and John E. Skinner
1954 Field Tests of Stainless Steel and Tentalum Wire with
Disk Tags on Striped Bass. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 323-328.
Calhoun, A. J., and C. A. Woodhull
1948 Progress Report on Studies of Striped Bass Reproduction
in Relation to the Central Valley Project. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 171-187.
1950 Striped Bass Reproduction in the Sacramento River
System in 1948. California Fish and Game, Vol. 36, No.
2, pp. 135-145.
Clark, G. H.
1929 Sacramento-San Joaquin Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Fishery of California. California Fish and
Game, Fish Bulletin No. 17.
1932 The Striped Bass Supply of California, Past and Present
California Fish and Game, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp.
1933 Fluctuations in the Abundance of Striped Bass (Roccus
lineatus) in California. California Department of Fish
and Game, Fish Bulletin No. 39.
1934 Tagging of Striped Bass. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 14-19.
1936 A Second Report on Striped Bass Tagging. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 272-283.
1938 Weight and Age Determination of Striped Bass. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 176-177.
Cole, Charles E.
1930 Angling for Striped Bass. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 286-290.
Craig, J. A.
1928 The Striped Bass Supply of California. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 265-272.
1930 An Analysis of the Catch Statistics of the Striped Bass
(Roccus lineatus) Fishery of California. California
Department of Fish and Game, Fish Bulletin No. 24.
Hatton, S. Ross
1940. Progress Report on the Central Valley Fisheries Investigations,
1939. California Fish and Game, Vol.
26, No. 4, pp. 334-373.
Jackson, H. W. and R. E. Tiller
1952 Preliminary observations on spawning potential in
striped bass (Roccus saxatilis). Maryland Dept. Res.
and Ed., Pub. 93, pp. 1-6.
Johnson, W. C, and A. J. Calhoun
1952 Food Habits of California Striped Bass. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 38, No. 4, pp. 531-533.
Morgan, Alfred R. and Arthur R. Gerlach
1950 Striped Bass Studies on Coos Bay, Oregon in 1949 and
1950. Oregon Fish Commission, Contribution No. 14.
Pearson, John C.
1938 The Life History of the Striped Bass or Rockfish,
(Roccus saxatilis) (Walbaum). U. S. Department of
Commerce Bureau of Fisheries, Vol. XLIX, Bulletin
Raney, Edward C, Ernest F. Tresselt, Edgar H. Hollis, V. D.
Vladykov and D. H. Wallace
1952 The Striped Bass (Roccus saxatilis). Bulletin of the
Bingham Oceanographic Collection, Vol. 14, Article 1.
Scofield, N. B.
1910 Notes on striped bass in California. Biennial Report,
Calif. Board of Fish and Game Commissioners for
1909-1910, pp. 104-109.
1936 Food of the Striped Bass. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 261-270.
Skinner, John E.
1955a. California State-Wide Angling Estimates for 1953.
California Fish and Game, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 19-32.
1955b. Observations on the Shad Gill Net Fishery in 1954.
California Department of Fish and Game, Inland Fisheries
Branch, Administrative Report 55-3.
1957a. Incidental losses of Striped Bass in the Sacramento
River Gill Net Fisheries for Shad and Salmon. California
Department of Fish and Game, Inland Fisheries
Branch, Administrative Report 57-2.
1957b. Status of the Striped Bass—Sturgeon Study and Suggestions
for its Future. California Department of Fish
Fish and Game, Inland Fisheries Branch, Administrative
Report No. 57-11.
Smith, Hugh M.
1895 The Striped Bass History and Results of Introduction.
U. S. Fish Commission Bulletin, Vol. 15, pp. 449-458.
1947 Spawning Habits of the Striped Bass (Roccus saxatilis)
in California Waters. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 97-101
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