Homeward Bound

By John Platt Hurwitz and Irene Marie Hurwitz

Irene and I had been hanging out in San Diego while fishing Albacore in Mexico. It had been a fun winter with family who lived in SD and put us up when not on the boat. Now, it was coming to an end because it was April, and it was time for the Salmon Season opener in Northern California.

Although the fishing had been fairly good, it barely covered the boat payment and all our expenses. Irene decided to stay with family and get a job while I took the boat up for the salmon opener. I phoned my part time deckhand, Mike, in San Jose and told him I would pick him up in Moss Landing on Friday, a week later. Once in Moss Landing I planned to fuel up, blow ice, and hit Leonard’s gear store.

Irene loved Leonard’s. The store was one large warehouse space with about 2500 square feet with large tables loaded with gear. You could find anything from an alternator to bait pins, VHF radios lying next to bags of asbestos patch material, spoons resting next to buoy paint. It was a gold mine of all things fishing.

Traveling north, I ran offshore to avoid coastal traffic on the way. When I got too tired, I would just shut her down for a couple hours and drift. I pulled into Moss Landing in Monterey Bay early on the thirteenth of April. Mike showed up at noon and before long we were well into getting the boat ready for salmon season. We bought a lot of 50/50 hammered brass with number 5 tin hooks for Chinook salmon and a slew of pink teardrop spoons for the coho, and of course trays of Tom Brown Herring Bait. We took 1,000 gallons of fuel, 4,000 pounds of flake ice, fresh water and groceries.

We left Moss Landing on April 14, one day before the traditional opener of April 15. We passed Santa Cruz Point and going past Davenport we turned north.

I had been listening to the radio chatter during my run up from SD and it seemed that the fishermen were mostly heading for the area off San Francisco and Bodega. We decided to split the difference and head for the Farallon Islands to start. We had fished the Islands plenty in the past so we were pretty comfortable with the area and the anchorage at the southeast island. This anchorage was not known to be flat calm or anything close to that. Sleep was sparse as you could plan on bouncing around a little.

We arrived in the vicinity of the southeast Island in the dark on the morning of April 15. We motored around searching for signs of salmon or bait on the meter. There was some, but not much. At one spot about 200 yards south of the anchorage there was a fair sign around an underground reef in 35 fathoms of water.

This underground reef ran east and west. When it got light in the east, we set the gear and tacked by the reef east to west. Right away, springs started bouncing. Happy days! The first fish we brought up was a nice medium sized ten pound Chinook. After that, there were perhaps twenty plus lingcod of various shapes and sizes. When the smoke cleared, we had a slew of Lings and six salmon, five Chinook and one rag coho. Well, it was a start for the first hour.

We put in opening day just west of the southeast Island and ended up with a respectable 40 salmon and a lot of lings and miscellaneous rockfish. In those days there wasn’t a market for bottom fish and if the buyer took them, your fish ticket would read 85 pounds miscellaneous rockfish @ 15 cents a pound. My, how things have changed!

That evening, we went into the anchorage and took care of the fish and stayed up as long as we could sticking bait. I decided that we would stand on an anchor watch; there was a fresh Nor’wester setting up and I thought it was prudent. I took the first watch, four hours, and I remember how hard it was trying to keep my eyes open. When I woke up Mike, I told him two hours; wake me in two hours. Even two hours was tough.

The next morning we set the gear on the east side of the southeast island tacking north past the pimple toward the Cordell Banks Area.

We caught one here and one there and then later in the afternoon that fresh northwest wind I mentioned blew hard and we were forced to slide with it back down to the anchorage of the previous night. We had 15 fish for the day, all nice kings. Into the ice they went. When the northwest blow let up a little, we left the anchorage and fished north angling toward Point Reyes. That night we went into the Point Reyes anchorage and crashed, no anchor watch.

For those of you who don’t know, Point Reyes is a first class anchorage and it’s close to good fishing grounds. The following day, we fished the fifty fathom curve west of Point Reyes for a couple handfuls of both Coho and Chinook, not much grade. The wind came up later in the afternoon so we bailed back into the anchorage and pitched the hook. We fished that area for another 3 days before stacking ‘em and taking off for Bodega Bay. Time to offload and regroup. A good start!

We spent a few days in Bodega, using the time to resupply and to reconnect with local fishermen. Every port has its own unique characteristics, some with accompanying nicknames. For those caught in one of those spring northwest blows, fishermen would refer (not so fondly) to Bodega as “Blowdega”, being stuck in port for weeks at a time. Back in the day, the old timers would say, “you need to be above Arena by June first.” Not wasting anymore time, we fished up to Arena and worked out of Fish Rocks for another week. After that we made our way past Arena and finished our trip in Fort Bragg.

Fort Bragg had been our home port since we had started fishing in ‘73. Now after spanning nearly the entire length of California, we were happy to be back in friendly home waters. We worked out of there for the remainder of the season, which turned out to be a decent season for us and the first one Irene missed. To all of you, as you contemplate what this year will bring, we wish you good fishing and good luck.