Recently my day-job brought me to Salinas, California to help move a warehouse. It was going to just be four fun-filled days of putting thousands of parts in crates, loading trucks, and taking down shelving. Since the deadline for this was on a Friday, I was supposed to fly back home to Boise after work that same day, but any time that I get to travel I can’t help but look into fly fishing possibilities where I’m going. I changed my return flight to Sunday and started planning. Unfortunately, Salinas is not exactly a fly fishing destination. It’s not far from Monterey Bay, so after googling around a bit I had my mind set on hiring a guide to fish the surf for striped bass and surf perch. Emails were sent, calls were made and lots of messages were left. Only two people got back to me about booking a trip, one whose boat was out of commission and the other was teaching a clinic where all the guides in the area would be that day. Not off to a good start. Finally I got pointed towards Captain Patrick Mackenzie of “Mackenzie on the Fly” who agreed to take me fishing for striped bass in the north bay area on Saturday. I had never caught a striper before and had no clue what I was in for.
We met at Cuttings Wharf just outside Napa, California on Saturday morning. The wind was calm and the water was glassy smooth as we motored into the San Francisco Bay. Patrick told me about the history of the places we were passing and was seriously knowledgeable about the area and the fishery. He’s a fishy guy, in the good way. We moved around to hit prime locations for different phases of the tide and it was clear Patrick knew what he was doing. In the deep water he had me casting an 8 weight with a type 7 full sinking line and he would say how many seconds to let it sink before retrieving it. He taught me some tricks to keep in contact with the fly and they paid off. The first fish I caught was my smallest (of course) and it still put a healthy bend in that 8 weight. Some of the takes were so aggressive that the fish pretty much hooked its self and some would barely take the slack out of the line after a strip, but after the hook set there was no question about it. These pissed off chrome fish can pull.
The biggest striper I caught that day was around 25 inches and it swam straight at some old pilings sticking out of the water. I had to seriously put the wood to him to turn that fish before it could get tangled. It’s great to be able to fight a fish that fights back just as hard after finesse-fishing with 4 to 6x for so long. Around high tide we moved to the Napa River estuary to target some fish feeding in the shallow water and channels between small islands. For this we changed to an intermediate sinking line on a 7 weight and a slightly different fly. Again, he put me on to fish right away. We caught striped bass that were cruising the shoreline, waiting to ambush bait in narrow channels of the estuary, and suspended at drop-offs. We would frequently have small stripers smash the fly right at the boat just as the fly got close enough to the surface to see. Most of the time I missed these eats but it was exciting to see.
It was crazy to me that a fishery like this exists in a place as densely populated as the San Francisco Bay. I missed a handful of eats before getting a feel for it but still landed 17 or 18 nice fish that day. The guided trip was worth every penny and it’s definitely something I want to do again. I know air travel isn’t on anyone’s wish-list right now in a world full of uncertainty and of course COVID, but a trip down to the bay area for some fall striper fishing should be. I would highly recommend “Mackenzie On The Fly” for anyone who has the opportunity to fish for a day in the bay area. It was much more fun than doing the tourist thing in San Francisco or Monterey could have been. There isn’t a bridge or aquarium built that could get me as excited as those fish did or be as memorable as that day of fly fishing was.