The first Giants home game isn't
the only opening day that inspires
teary eyes and trembling lips in
San Francisco. For many locals,
the beginning of the sport
salmon-fishing season -- usually
held the first Saturday of April
-- is equally hallowed.
That's because there's an
almost mystical connection between
Bay Area residents and wild
chinook salmon. They are a totemic
fish, as much an emblem of San
Francisco as the Gay Pride Parade,
cable cars, Dungeness crab and
sourdough bread. Plus, they're
tremendous fun to catch, and
almost impossibly delicious.
So the adrenaline level was
high Saturday morning as anglers
filed onto party boats docked at
Fishermen's Wharf for the first
day of the season, which runs
until fall in California.
On the Wacky Jacky -- skippered
by the eponymous Jacky Douglas, an
icon in the local fishing
community and the only female
party boat captain in the city --
a festive atmosphere prevailed.
This was a special trip, the
client list composed of Jacky's
regulars. They all had known the
ebullient -- and yes, slightly
wacky -- Jacky for years, and
esteemed her highly.
"Jacky rocks," said customer
Billy Kerns. "She's the best. The
first salmon of the season, the
last -- it doesn't matter, they
all excite the hell out of her.
Douglas returned the high
"I love these people, and I
love fishing," Douglas said. "I've
been doing this for 34 years, and
I just can't wait to get back out
on the water and start catching
fish. I feel a lot more normal, a
lot happier, on my boat than I do
Expectations were high as
Douglas piloted her boat past the
Golden Gate at dawn into big,
Sea lions lolled on their
backs, and murres scudded in
squadrons across the water; fog
lay heavy on the Headlands. It was
a vivid reminder that just west of
the bridge, a great wilderness
still exists, one burgeoning with
San Francisco resident Tom
Cayton sat on the stern of the
Wacky Jacky, and watched the
scores of boats that were exiting
the bay for the fishing grounds.
"There're hundreds of people
out on those boats, and I
guarantee not one of them had a
good night's sleep," he said.
"Salmon fishermen are like little
kids as the opener gets closer.
They can't think of anything
The anglers expressed hope that
this year will make up for the
dismal 2006 season. Last year,
commercial fishermen endured heavy
strictures because of low returns
of Klamath River salmon -- even
though Sacramento River runs, the
mainstay of the fleet, were
Because the Klamath runs were
fairly strong this year,
commercial fishermen will enjoy
more liberal quotas. The
commercial season is expected to
start in May.
While recreational fishermen
faced few restrictions in 2006,
the fishing was poor -- due at
least in part, say many
scientists, to unusually warm
water that depressed plankton
populations, the basis of the
marine food web.
Last year's scant catch led
some on the Wacky Jacky to worry
about the future of the Bay Area's
"I've been going out on these
boats for 20 years, and I have to
say I'm worried about the
fishery," said Lala Llacuna of
Llacuna said she's afraid that
global warming could be changing
currents or water temperatures,
and that salmon -- which need cold
water -- might be suffering.
But Tom Bernot, the Wacky
Jacky's co-skipper, said he thinks
California's salmon runs are in
"There've always been
fluctuations in the runs," Bernot
said, as he carefully threaded
frozen baitfish on hooks.
"Salmon run on two- to
five-year cycles," Bernot said.
"If there isn't enough food close
to shore when they're supposed to
fatten up and head up the rivers
to spawn, they'll stay at sea for
another year or two until
conditions are better. We've seen
it all before."
And the conditions were good
yesterday, with cold water teeming
with anchovies, a salmon staple.
"I just hope it keeps up,"
Nobody expected a boatful of
fish on Saturday. Few salmon
openers yield bumper catches.
The fish are scattered -- no
one knows where they're
"But in a few days or a week or
two, we'll know where they are,"
Douglas spent most of the
morning trolling slowly, hoping to
strike fish off Half Moon Bay. By
10:30, only two "shakers" --
immature salmon barely a foot long
-- had been hooked and released.
Then, around 11 a.m., the boat
resounded with the cry familiar to
salmon anglers from Cordova to
Morro Bay: "Fish on!"
Sunnyvale resident Yukio Manabe
had hooked a Chinook, a big one.
It jumped and rolled several
times, its iridescent flanks
flashing as Manabe wrestled it
into Bernot's net.
"Wow, that's great -- the first
keeper of the season," said Manabe,
catching his breath. "He tired me
out a little."
Douglas rushed from the cabin
to the stern, where anglers were
congratulating Manabe and watching
as Bernot removed the 22-pound
fish from the net.
"God, you made my day, Yukio,"
she said, giving Manabe a hug.
The Wacky Jacky only boated two
more fish before turning around at
1 p. m. and heading back to
Fishermen's Wharf. The story was
the same for most other boats. One
boat took 11 fish, but most caught
5 or fewer.
"Right now, most of the action
seems to concentrated in
Monterey," Bernot said. "But
they'll start moving north pretty
One of the Wacky Jacky's salmon
was caught by Dolores Klisiak of
Newark. Klisiak said she had
fished on party boats eight times,
and never had landed a salmon.
"This is my first one," she
said, quaffing some celebratory
red wine from a Styrofoam cup.
"You can't believe how good it
feels. I'm going to buy everybody
a drink when we get back to the
E-mail Glen Martin at