By Mike Peeters/Veteran Hunt Coordinator
Dawn’s early light came faster than expected as we loaded the boat, cast our lines and set sail for the fish-laden waters of the San Francisco Bay.
The deck was full of America’s Fighting Spirit as 25 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corp veterans sailed forth on the California Dawn with California Waterfowl Association’s Veteran Hunt Program. We were fortunate to have Vietnam veterans, Operation Enduring Freedom veterans, Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans and even Desert Storm experience. Based on the past months of excellent fishing, we suspected we would need all of that experience as the boat lines were cast.
The Cal Dawn no more than swung the bow, put the motor in neutral, leveled into the current when, as the lines were dropped, the first report from the bow of the boat was “FISH ON!” The striper bite was red hot and as the captain made multiple drifts, it quickly became apparent we were on the fish.
The striper is a fun and exciting game fish and readily attacked our bait so that before too long nearly everyone on board had their first fish in the cooler.
As we continued the run up to drift back into the shadows of Alcatraz, with so many other boats on the bite it began to look a little like the D-Day invasion of France. Fortunately, we weren’t under fire and the only smoke we observed came from the rods as they bent and shed line from the stripers that continued to fight.
After what seemed like a very short period of time, the cooler was full, the count showed a limit, so we turned our attention to halibut and what we hoped would be another healthy catch.
What awaited us was more than we had bargained for on this trip.
First things first, though. After that hard fishing our breakfast, snacks, brunch and lunch were served as we had skipped them during the all-out striper fight. This was not your MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) or K-ration style presentation, this was excellence at its best without a napkin. The California Dawn chef prepared a galley full of food that was every bit as good as any five-star restaurant. The veterans attacked each plate as if it was their last meal, some even forgoing fishing to get in on “the bite!”
Back to fishing, after a quick run up to another spot in the bay, rods were quickly placed in the “rod holders” to now await the bite vs each angler holding the rod. From the front of the boat came the first shout of “fish on” and it appeared we were off to a good start.
Suddenly, the boat began to lurch, the bow pulled towards the water, and we could hear the Captain frantically shouting “get an ax to cut that line before it pulls us under” … as the first mate mumbled, “holy crap, we are going to need a bigger boat.”
YES, we had a shark on and he was attempting to terrorize all on board. Fortunately, it fit into the net and I had only imagined all those terrible things. After removing the hook from the 18-inch whopper, the soup shark was quickly released back to the sea and a great sigh of relief was felt by all – well mostly me – but it could have been worse. Anyway, back to halibut fishing. Some great halibut were caught and as the wind came up and the chop filled the bay, it was time to head back towards the dock with a cooler full of fish.
Finally, as we entered out boat slip, CPT (R) Bart Bates, Vietnam Veteran extraordinaire, unfurled the Stars and Stripes as the CWA-California Dawn veterans contemplated victory and honor after a day at sea.
It wasn’t quite Mount Suribachi, but we faced down the soup shark, limited out on striper, loaded up on halibut and enjoyed the camaraderie of our great veterans with a day on the bay.
Fire up the grills and smokers, these fish are going to taste great.