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Many the Moochers : Specialized System of Fishing Catches On in Bay Area and Now It’s a Popular Item for Party and Commercial Boats

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State Senators Henry J. Mello and Dan McCorquodale, a couple of moochers, were aboard the Salty Lady when a bit of history was made.

Michelle Greco, herself a moocher of considerable repute, hooked into a large salmon bent on escaping, sending Greco, her rod bent double, scrambling across the deck of the 56-foot vessel, from stern to bow and back in a rod-kicking, foot-stamping bit of chaos that lasted the better part of an hour.

On deck after the fight were a 41-pound king salmon, the largest of the season for the Bay Area sportfishing fleet, and a worn-out, but elated, Greco.

“OK,” she said, beaming, after dropping her prize into the fish compartment. “Let’s get on with it.”

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And so they did. On the port bow stood Richard Lundquist, a moocher from Pebble Beach. Below Lundquist on the port rail was Marie Jolly of San Rafael, a twice-monthly moocher. On the starboard rail near the stern were Mello and McCorquodale, Democrats from Watsonville and San Jose, respectively, taking a break from their legislative chores to mooch for a day. And there were a dozen or so others, all moochers.

“I do quite a bit of mooching, but not as much as I’d like to,” McCorquodale said, adding that a timber-related issue currently demands much of his attention.

Mello, who on the job pays particular attention to fisheries issues, will hop aboard a boat to mooch whenever possible.

“It’s how I keep my sanity,” he said.

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As for Roger Thomas, owner-operator of the Salty Lady, he will gladly accommodate any moochers. Fact is, he makes a fair living off them.

In these parts, you see, mooching is not a term applied to freeloading but rather to a method of fishing employed in Bay Area waters July through October. And one increasing in popularity among the local fishermen.

Party boats from all around San Francisco Bay cater to moochers. Private boaters mooch, too, and commercial fishermen are some of the best moochers.

On a given weekday, an armada of boats in all sizes and shapes plies the waters just north of the harbor, drifting slowly over schools of anchovies and the salmon that feed on them, moving back out and drifting over them again.

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“On weekends, you could probably walk across the boats,” said Thomas, 56, who got his start as a deckhand in 1961 and who now finds time to take passengers almost daily from Caruso’s Sports Fishing Center, sit on various fisheries boards and act as president of the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Assn.

The mooching method of fishing got its start in Washington several years ago, Thomas said, when fishermen rigged their bait a certain way to entice the fish, with torpedo sinkers to keep the bait at desired depths and rod holders so that fishermen in rougher northern waters would have both hands free to hold onto something.

“They’d kick (the boat) ahead and go through riptides and so forth and they’d call it motor-mooching.”

The method spread south, picking up variations along the way, and became popular here and outside Monterey about four years ago.

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“People here have adopted the mooching style this time of the year,” according to Thomas. “They troll from the first Saturday in March through the end of June, then when fish move in closer and group together near balls of bait, they mooch with lighter tackle.”

Basically, mooching is presenting a dead anchovy the way salmon like it. But Greco, who has put in 12 years in the Bay Area and six working for Thomas, elaborates on the basics daily under a dawn sky often shrouded by clouds and fog, as the Salty Lady glides under the Golden Gate Bridge.

“I find it a lot easier to teach people how to mooch than to troll,” Greco says, taking a seven-inch needle-like instrument in one hand, a dead anchovy in the other. “You stick this through the eye of the anchovy and you just thread it right through the body all the way out through the tail, and just hang the leader like that and pull it through.”

What that results in is an anchovy with a hook protruding from the eye socket and the monofilament leader from the body near the tail. It is fished on an eight-foot light-tackle rod with a four-ounce weight attached to a sliding swivel. Clip the leader onto a swivel at the end of the 15-pound test line and you are ready to mooch.

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Thomas, as he has done for 30 years, makes his way toward the open sea, out and up the coast, where others are mooching in the distance.

An hour or so out of the docks, with the white sands of Stinson Beach visible to the north, Thomas’ meter shows a mass of anchovies.

“OK, let’s give it a try here,” Thomas says over the loudspeaker.

Anchovies with bends in their bodies are sent over the rail. Thomas instructs the passengers on either side to try different depths, then tells why moochers rig the bait as they do.

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“Salmon go through and whack at the school of bait,” he says. “Then they come back and pick up the crippled fish. The dead anchovy, hooked the way it is, looks like a crippled fish.”

A crippled-looking fish is picked up by a hungry salmon, a passenger picks up the rattling rod and follows the fair-sized fish up the starboard rail and down the port side, losing and regaining line along the way. At the stern, he brings the fish to the boat and Thomas is there with a net. First salmon of the day, 15 pounds of flaky pink steaks or fillets.

Thomas maneuvers the boat for another drift, telling of the dwindling species for which he fishes: the fall-run Chinook (also called king) of the Central Valley stock that, like other stocks of salmon, have had to deal with diversions, dams and drought, pumping stations and irrigation districts.

He mentions that the recreational salmon season has been shortened by two weeks at either end to protect a couple of dozen winter-run fish and how that costs the Bay Area fleet $500,000 a year.

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“Despite it all, salmon are survivors,” Thomas says, adding that his customers always seem to average about a fish a day.

Jolly, meanwhile, has hooked a 20-pounder, valiant in fight but not strong enough to elude such a veteran moocher. It hits the deck after 10 minutes or so.

Mello is on the first of his two-fish limit, which he brings to the boat with a smile. He later bags another.

Ever the politician, the senator explains that although this weekday may have been spent struggling with salmon instead of bureaucrats, it shouldn’t be considered a day off.

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“This way I get a chance to really look at the resource,” he says. “There’s a lot of bills up there and we need to talk to the fishermen to get our facts straight.”

Typical moocher.


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