Denis Peirce: Head for the coast to fish


We’re heading for another triple-digit weekend. It’s hard to find the motivation to be outside in the afternoon these days. There are two choices to beat the heat: go up the hill in the highlands or go to the coast.

The place on the coast where I spent the most time is Tomales and Bodega Bays. I had family in Santa Rosa an hour away. What I liked about this place is that you don’t have to go through the Bay Area to get there and it’s a four hour drive from our home.

I recently came into contact with Adam Koons, a kayak fisherman, who had just returned from a few days of halibut fishing in Tomales Bay. Adam is an accomplished fisherman who won the “Fisherman of the Year” award with his kayaking club and he was ready to share his technique on how he pursues these fish.

Tomales Bay is protected from the North Pacific swells by Point Reyes. Indeed, it is a saltwater lake, a place where kayaks and small boats can safely exit on the water. This is where the San Andreas fault takes to the sea, north of San Francisco.

Halibut can be fished in the bay from March to September, but the best months are from mid-June to mid-August. Adam looks for low tide in the early morning with minimal tide change when choosing a day to go. Ideal conditions are clear, warm water with little tidal fluctuation.

His day of fishing begins before dawn to be on the water catching live bait in the first light of day. There are a number of baitfish in the bay. Adam’s favorite bait is the perch that produced his biggest halibut in Tomales Bay. Smelt and anchovies are also present, but perch has been the most productive. Adam wants smaller baits. The perch ranges from 0.75 to 3 inches. Its largest halibut was caught on a 0.75 inch perch. He is also on the lookout for smaller smelt for his live bait. Sabiki rigs are a good way to catch live bait in the ocean. You can learn how to use them with an Internet search.

Halibut live on sandy bottoms. Adam performed best near weed beds in 10 to 15 feet of water. He has been fishing in this bay for many years keeping track of where he caught fish on his GPS unit. Typically, it will hang within 50 feet of places where it has previously caught these fish. He doesn’t know why they feed in the same places. There are no discernible characteristics on the spots. But trip after trip, the same places produce.

The low tide was also better for Adam. It drags its live bait less than half a mile an hour a foot or two from the bottom. He hooks his bait with circular light weight wire hooks in sizes # 4 or # 6. Circle hooks will hook the fish to the lip, making it easy to release smaller halibut.

If live bait isn’t available, other options include two-ounce jig heads with swim bait in white or light green and Rattle Trap caps in shiner perch colors.

I asked about halibut in Tomales Bay versus San Francisco Bay. Adam prefers Tomales primarily for its sheltered water and because there are far fewer undersized fish as a percentage of the catch. A typical Tomales halibut will measure 25-30 inches with Adams being a 40-inch fish estimated at 20 pounds.

There are a number of kayaking launch opportunities in Tomales. There is a county boat launch at Miller Park on the east side of the bay. There are two lanes here, Adam recommends kayaks use the north lane which is shallow, leaving the deeper side for larger boats. There is overnight parking for boaters using the boat at campsites on the Point Reyes side of the bay.

The other recommendation from Adam is not to fish for halibut below the waist. Halibut are susceptible to being split by the twine of the net. They swim well but their tails become infected and they can perish within a few weeks from this condition.

The other fishing opportunity in this neighborhood is Bodega Bay. Salmon season in the ocean reopened in the last week of June with a huge concentration of salmon from southern Golden Gate to Bodega Bay. The anchovies were thick in this area and the salmon fed abundantly. The mid-morning “Hot Bite” limits lasted over a week. On the holiday weekend, the bite started to slow down. The limits were still taken but it took all day. The slowdown bite started at the Golden Gate and progressed along the coast. The whole mass of fish migrated north. This week, salmon fishing has declined in the Bodega area. With king salmon still caught. As often happens, there were schools of coho (silver) salmon mixed with kings. Silvers cannot be taken and they must not be brought on the boat. They must be released into the water. This is one of the reasons for the restrictions on barbless hooks for salmon fishing.

Historically, Bodega Bay has been “Salmon Central” during the month of July. As the bait comes and goes, the salmon will follow. This will continue to be a good bet for salmon anglers until the fall. There are many fishing charters based here. On the west side of Bodega Bay is a public boat launch for towed boats.

The downside to the Tomales / Bodega area is its proximity to the bay area. To get a campsite, you must reserve your place in winter. The salmon fishing boats are reserved for the month of July, we must act now to have a place in August.

While we are sweltering with triple-digit heat, it is cool and windy on the coast with some beautiful fish to catch.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is the host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs Fridays from 6 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 5 to 6 a.m. on the radio at 8:30 am Contact him via his website at

Adam Koons from Auburn with a pair of pretty halibut caught in Tomales Bay two weeks ago.
Photo by Thien Dang

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