Salmon catch

On the water - The author displays his prized catch of salmon aboard the New Sea Angler, a 65-foot charter fishing boat out of Bodega Bay. Now is the time to hit the water, with small loads of fishermen catching limits of salmon while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.  Photo by Rick Powers    

Even during a pandemic, few things can match a day of ocean fishing     

When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing. 

That’s been the mantra for thousands of Bay Area fishermen that have found refuge from the COVID-19 pandemic aboard the Bodega Bay Sportfishing charter boat New Sea Angler, experiencing an unforgettable day of salmon and rock fishing while still observing social distancing guidelines.

Owned and operated by Captain Rick Powers, the 65-foot vessel is equipped with about 50 rod holders, but strict county guidelines now dictate that fishermen maintain a social distance of at least six feet apart, with no sharing of equipment allowed. The result is a maximum number of about 20-25 anglers, making for a very comfortable day on the water. 

“It’s been really fun for our fishermen that were used to big loads in the past, but can now spread out to fight their fish,” Powers said. “There is no place better to social distance than being on a vessel in the middle of the ocean.”      

Delayed a month due to the coronavirus, this year’s salmon season started slowly in early May but has picked up steam, with recent catches reminiscent of days gone by. 

“The past week or so has been some of the best salmon fishing I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” Powers said from his wheelhouse on Wednesday. “A couple of days ago, our 20 fishermen hooked over 70 salmon and landed 40, with the average size between 15 and 18 pounds. It’s been phenomenal.”  

A 40-year fishing veteran, Powers also serves as the president of the Golden Gate Sportfishing Association, with a reputation as one of the best and most experienced captains on the Northern California coast.  

Through the years, he’s carved out his niche as both an expert angler and creative innovator. 

“We’re considered pioneers in the industry,” Powers often tells his passengers before leaving port. “We were the first to run crab-fishing trips 28 years ago and later started the salmon/rockfish combo trips. “While all other boats will fish for one or the other, we’re the only ones that combine the two.” 

The Chinook or “King” salmon are among the most prized species among ocean fishermen, known for their ferocious fight and great eating qualities.  

The minimum size for a “keeper” is 20 inches and fishermen are allowed two per day. The salmon sport-fishing season runs until early October. 

Rockfish continue to thrive along the north coast and fishermen are allowed to keep a combination of 10, from a mixed bag of species that include vermillion, blues, coppers, china cod, bronze backs, yellows and cabezons, to name a few. Fishermen are also allowed to keep two lingcod with a minimum size of 22 inches. Rock fishing season runs through December 31.  

Although reduced loads have driven the price of a salmon/rockfish combo trip aboard the New Sea Angler to $200, the cost remains a relative bargain, particularly when the salmon are biting. On a given day, the captain will decidewhich species to fish for at a given time based on water conditions, tide and other factors. A banner day on one of these trips will typically yield a couple of big salmon and a limit of rockfish, with a ling cod or two mixed in. 

Powers is unique among charter boat captains, using a PA system from the bridge to communicate with fishermen and crew. His running dialogue provides an insight into where and why he’s fishing a certain spot — a fascinating look into the mind of an ocean veteran. A master when it comes to finding schools of fish in secret hot spots from reefs to ship wrecks, Powers uses a technique that is proven to catch fish.   

“While other guys drift over the fish, I actually hold the boat on the spot, maximizing our time and ensuring better action,” he said. “If we can get limits of rockfish for everybody and then can catch some salmon, it’s a great trip.” 

The New Sea Angler is a rarity among charter boats with a crew that features two men with a captain’s license, including Powers’ nephew Dana Amundsen, a licensed captain that serves as both deck hand and occasional skipper.  

The pair have been together for years, with Amundsen handling duties that range from netting fish, untangling lines, cleaning and filleting the catch, and generally providing assistance for anyone that needs help.

Abundant wildlife   

Great fishing is just one of the many aspects of a day on the ocean. An abundance of wildlife that includes frequent whale and porpoise sightings add to a visceral experience that is one of life’s unique pleasures. 

If you go

The New Sea Angler is available for charter or open load and provides rod rentals for a nominal fee. Fisherman are encouraged to plan ahead, with availability extremely limited throughout the season.  

The Bodega Bay Sportfishing Center is located in Porto Bodega Marina at 1410 Bay Flat Road in Bodega Bay. Reservations are required and should be booked at least a week in advance. To reserve a trip or for more information regarding a salmon/rockfish combo trip, contact Captain Rick Powers at 707-875-3344. 

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