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Salmon, from family Salmonidae

SalmonThere are five species of salmon found in the Pacific, yet only two of these are common in our area. The others are found in the Alaskan Pacific region. Of the two varieties found locally, one, Coho or silver salmon, is being considered for listing as an endangered species. The decline of silver salmon is largely the result of stream diversion and degradation. Some also blame predation by marine mammals.

The other, Chinook or king salmon, has enjoyed a stunning increase in California these last few years for two reasons. First is a dedicated stocking effort by the Department of Fish & Game along with volunteer groups such as the Salmon and Trout Project. The other key factor has been legislative protection of water levels in the Sacramento River delta region, which has allowed spawning success.

Fishing with live or dead anchovies brings the most luck for anglers. Chinooks can average 15 pounds, and silver about eight.


Steelhead are rainbow trout that have left the streams once or several times in their lives for the ocean. They get bigger than river rainbows simply because there is more to eat in the ocean. Like the salmon species, steelhead spawn anadramously, that is, in return to fresh water streams from the ocean. Unlike most salmon, steelhead can make the radical adaptation from salt water to fresh water and back several times in its lifetime. Most salmon die after they spawn in the headwaters of the streams where they were born.

Steelhead tend to bite on lures, spinners, and fly tackle like stream and lake trout.

Halibut, Bothidae (or left-eyed flounders) and Pacific halibut Pleuronectidae (or right-eyed flounders).

HalibutHalibut are flatfish like the soles and flounders that like to hide and lurk covered up by sand. Halibut, however, hunt throughout the water column as true predators. Like all flatfish, their eyes start out in life arranged on both sides of their heads, but grow up to have both eyes arranged on just one side. There are two species of halibut in our waters, California halibut (Paralichthys californicus) and Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis). 

Among the most delicious and durable of gamefish, halibut are highly valued for their meat. They can be frozen for up to a year and still be tasty. They are tricky to catch, with highly sensitive mouths that often just spit out a hook. They almost need to be coaxed to the surface in a sustained persistent reeling. Once gaffed and brought into the boat they commonly explode with anger flapping violently for many minutes. Halibut in Alaskan waters can grow to be over 100 pounds.

Our sandy bottom cove around the Wharf attracts a lot of halibut during summer when there are no swells and the baitfish enter the area. Also commonly caught in this sandy bottom habitat are starry flounder and sanddabs.

Squid, Phylum Mollusca, Class Cephalapoda

Squid support almost everything larger than they are in the ocean. They look like a cross between a torpedo and an octopus; having four arms and two tentacles. They change color, especially when mating, eject an inky cloud to confuse predators when threatened, and cannibalize each other. Agile swimmers, they can range in size from a few inches (opalescent squid) to several feet (giant squid).

Most recently, local fishermen have warned that they are not finding the typically robust populations of squid they used to, although the Fish and Game Department does not apparently share the same alarm.

Lingcod, Ophiodon elongatus from the family of Greenlings.

LingcodLingcods are actually related to kelp greenlings and not cods. They are the only member of the greenlings with huge mouths and canine teeth. Don't ever put your fingers into the mouth of a lingcod if you want to use them again.

In the ways of the sea, it seems that the ugliest fish are the often the tastiest. Lingcod have a a beautiful blue-green-yellow-brown mottling of coloration that grows ugly by the time it gets to its head. A third of a ling's body is its head, which is mostly jaws. The meat is a strange greenish blue color until it is cooked, when it turns white.

More than one linger has been snagged through its own greed. They will chomp on a rockfish that has been hooked and not let go all the way to the landing net of an angler's boat.

Black cod, or sablefish, Anoplopoma fimbria

Although looking like a cod, they have two dorsal fins not three. Sablefish are present in our area by virtue of the deep submarine canyon in the middle of Monterey Bay. The fish like deep water of 1000 feet and more as they mature. Commercially, they are caught by longline gear over the canyon ledges. They are generally too deep for sports anglers.

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© 1997 Michael Harris, Under the Wharf Magazine & Photography, 831-469-0443

Last updated: 8/3/2009 5:00:33 PM