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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
June, 1962

ANADROMOUS FISHERIES
Page 2 of 6

Striped Bass  Pages 71 - 83

Page 2 of 6

Sport Fishery

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 Skinner (1955 unpublished data) analyzed the sport catch records dating from 1936, and other available data and came to the conclusion that a decline had occurred in the fishery between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 there.

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 around.

"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 importance.

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 they represent.

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:

Block
Number
 Location Block
Number
 Location
301 San Pablo Bay 308 Carquinez Strait
302 Suisun Bay Area 488 North San Francisco Bay
303 The Delta 489 South San Francisco Bay

Block 489 - South San Francisco Bay Block 488 - North San Francisco Bay Block 301 - 308 San Pablo Bay and Carquinez Strait Block 302 - Suisun Bay Block 303 - Delta Region

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 areas.

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 boats.

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Citations

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. 69-75.
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. 297-298.
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 No. 28.

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.

Shapovalov, Leo
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.

Woodhull, Chester
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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