Oct 20

Reunited and it feels so good

Lockdown and COVID are tough. One thing that it has really impacted for me is how often I see my daughter. She’s down an hour south with her mom and she’s not in our “pod.” Add that she’s 13 and hanging out with dad is generally low on the list of ideal 13-year-old activities and, yeah… I haven’t seen her much and when I do it has mostly been me driving down there to hang out for an hour or two. It feels like I sent her off to college.

Fast forward to last weekend and the girl needed some dad time and I figured we’d go fishing. She was game. The spot we were going to head to was actually closed, so I went to Plan B, which was to bring her back to Alameda. She hadn’t been to Alameda since February. Great having her back on the Island.

We went fishing right by the house. Odd it took us so long (~5 years) to figure out we could fish the 2 minute walk to San Leandro Bay.

What I’ve discovered is the bay is a nursery for Leopard Sharks. There are a lot of them. They aren’t big and they aren’t there all the time, but when when you find one, there can be a LOT there.

It was just a joy to have my girl and my boy fishing together. They both had a great time and we got a little bonding time all together. There just hasn’t been a lot of that over the last few years and I cherish it. They won’t have other siblings. She has 1 cousin, he has 0. There are no other kids. This is it. They are half-siblings, but I tell them to round up.

The girl was always a lover of sharks and the boy’s interest has shot up 100x since we started regularly catching them (looking at them and then letting them go). There’s a 7 year spread here, but they both love sharks and a little mutual interest is great.

This is bait fishing and I’m grateful for ditching the “only fly fishing” mentality I had at one point as I would have missed a lot of great time on the water had I stuck to that mindset.

Thank you Bay. You’ve been great.

Nov 12

Purity and Fly Fishing

I’m a fly fisherman. I have been self-identified as a fly fisherman basically since I picked up a fly rod back in 1996. It is how I choose to pursue fish, it is how I choose to spend time in the wilderness and wild places. Somehow, it became a foundational part of who I am.

Fly anglers, especially trout anglers, tend to be purists. Once you start casting #22 tricos, you are less likely to thread the worm on the hook. It just… happens. You tend to start looking for other fish to catch on a fly, maybe even revisiting species from your bait soaked childhood with an eye toward enticing them with a fly. There is a mindset that seems to emerge. You fish with a fly rod. You release your catch. You change in these and maybe other, deeper, ways.

I went through this change myself. I started out throwing single salmon eggs to steelhead, and worms for bluegill, a panther martin here or there for the odd trout, a jig for shad at the opening days of summer. That was my childhood. Then I went fly fishing for the first time and it was a bit of a revelation and I was voracious in my appetite for the “quiet sport.”

So, it is with this growing fly fishing pedigree that I find myself slicing up strips of squid and threading them on big circle hooks on a rig that also includes an 8 oz. pyramid sinker and then hucking the whole thing out into water that is the color of chocolate milk, or maybe a mudslide.  There is even the much maligned bell atop the stout rod to indicate when a fish has found the stinking squid in the fast moving and opaque tidal flats of the San Francisco Bay.

There is one primary reason for my sudden interest in this type of fishing…

The girl and her shark.

My girl pretty much loves in out there. She loves sharks, almost, if not more than she loves snakes. She has little use for ponies or unicorns or the color pink, for that matter. What she loves are what she calls her “dangerous creatures.” These include sharks, snakes, crocodilians, and, to a lesser extent, tigers, bears, leopards and the like. When I understood that we could actually catch sharks, and just a few minutes from the house, well… it was on. I got the gear. I got some advice. I learned to snell a squid hook. I got a cart to haul all this stuff the 1/2 mile to the end of the pier and we got to embracing the stinky, smelly goodness that is bait fishing.

I baitfish.

Taken by the little girl

That would have been rather unexpected a year ago and I might have even scoffed at the notion. However, I find myself out at the pier rather often these days and, surprisingly, I’m enjoying it.

If I had a choice between baiting a line and throwing a fly, I would choose the fly pretty much every time, if it were just me to consider. However, if the options were to catch fish with my daughter or to not go fishing, I would take the stinky squid every time.


Purity would have kept me from this experience and I think both my daughter and I would be poorer for that.

Still, I’m not likely to put a shrimp on when pursuing bonefish or to thread that worm on a hook for trout, but I will be less judgmental of those who do.

Oct 12

I’m doing it right

There may be no greater feeling than hooking and landing a fish while your 5 year old jumps around in excitement. It is bliss. It brings out the kid in me to see her so excited about the natural world.

After admitting that I had some learning to do about pier fishing and the SF Bay, I sought out someone who could help. I went to Walton’s Pond  in San Lorenzo and talked to Jon. Jon knew exactly what I needed to do. He gave me some sound advice (turns out I wasn’t far off the mark) and sold me exactly what I needed and nothing more. I tried to look for things I might need, but it turns out I didn’t really need that much. The total bill came to $9-something. I can’t think of the last time I made it out of a fly shop for under $25. That was not lost on Jon. We talked a little bit about the economics of bait shops and fly shops while two locals sat at the counter and discussed how stupid liberals were and how the earth was made in 6 days. Jon was solid. I’ll be back. I just won’t talk politics with the regulars.

I picked up the girl from school a little bit early and we rushed home to get the gear and head back to the pier. We were the only ones there. It felt like our own private paradise.

All to ourselves

The current was ripping but the Bay was glassy flat. We could see a seal about 300 yards away.  There were all manner of birds flying around and the steady hum of traffic from the Dumbarton bridge, whose shadow we were fishing under.

10 minutes.  It took all of about ten minutes for the rod to start bouncing around and I was fast to the first fish of the evening. It was a leopard shark, about 3 feet long, but it got off before I could haul it up on the pier, but not before my daughter saw it. She was impressed.

A dry spell ended after I checked the bait and found nothing there. Once I recast with fresh squid we quickly had our first shark to hand. Not big, but very cool. My girl was beside herself.

Then, a slightly bigger shark, a leopard we got up on the pier. Leopard sharks are just profoundly beautiful animals. No way around it.

Somehow my weights fell off and it was time to go after the leopard, but we left on a high note.

The Leopard

The way back to the car my little girl talked about how much fun she had had, asking me to make sure we came back every day I had her, every weekend, every day after school.

She wants to tag the sharks. She wants to read about sharks. She wants to see as many as possible and she wants to do it with me, her dad.

This is pretty much as good as it gets.

Sure, I’d like to be fly fishing instead of flinging bait, but I wouldn’t trade this evening for anything. I had my girl outside, handling sharks, releasing them back into the Bay. She wasn’t plugged into the TV and she wasn’t in Time Out and I wasn’t surfing the web or watching the MLB Playoffs. I was outside with my girl on an amazingly beautiful October day, catching sharks.

I’m doing it right.