Storm on Suisun Bay!

 Storm on Suisun Bay…
Too Much Adventure!

March 31 – April 1, 2004

These Delta Adventures of mine can sometimes get a bit out of hand. This week’s trip to Suisun Bay proved to be entirely too exciting, but also pretty productive. Even so, I wouldn’t want that much excitement again anytime soon…

This adventure played out aboard the best of all my boats, the first C-Dory I owned. Photos and specs of FishWisher I are here.

FishWisher I – the best boat I ever owned!

I had already postponed my trip one day due to windier conditions
than predicted on Tuesday. Then I left on Wednesday when predictions of winds through Thursday were to 20 MPH. I should know by now that such predictions often result in winds to 25 mph or worse. My new plan was to fish Wednesday and Thursday, hopefully someplace on Suisun Bay — if the winds would cooperate. I figured that I could always retreat to Montezuma Slough if conditions warranted.

As I cruised down the Sacramento River from Rio Vista, somewhat
slowed by the wind chop, I decided that, yes, it would be a good thing to head into Montezuma Slough. One can always tule tuck there to stay out of the wind.

Tule tucking is an old Delta technique whereby a skipper powers his little craft into a stand of tules — that he is familiar with — and drops anchor. Some skippers, including this one, have been known to wind up on the hard when the tide drops. That doesn’t happen often, but there is that chance. Tule tucking is best done on the protected side of a river or slough, out of the wind as much as possible. The idea is to find protection from the wind and to stabilize the boat. Properly done, the boat will be stable and secure, avoiding the usual twisting and rocking when at anchor in windy conditions.

I found a deep, large stand of tules there on Montezuma Slough and tucked up into them. The boat was stable, out of the wind and within casting range of some fairly deep water. I rigged up for sturgeon and cast out to the deep water. I dialed up some good ol’ country music on my new satellite radio, popped a few tops of my favorite brew and settled in for some proper sturgeon time. Life can be good even when the wind is whistling through the antennas overhead.

I was pretty comfortable tucked into the tules, but the fishing wasn’t so good. Even so, I spent the rest of the day there and fished faithfully ‘til bedtime. I had a couple of small hits, but missed them both. Surely, I told myself as I climbed into my berth, Thursday would be better. Although I didn’t know it then, it would also be much windier.

I was up and fishing again before dawn. I spent about an hour at
my tule anchorage, still trying to fool a sturgeon. As I sat there watching daylight spread across the eastern sky, wisps of fog formed and dissipated near the tules. It was a very lovely, calm morning on Montezuma Slough.

With the winds calm, it seemed a good idea to head out onto Suisun Bay for the day. My favorite honey hole near Ryer Island would certainly be more productive. As daylight chased the darkness away, I fired up the big motor, weighed anchor and headed on through Montezuma Slough to Suisun Bay.

As I entered the bay, the mothball fleet in the distance, the wind had kicked up and Suisun Bay was already choppy. Even so, I continued on toward Ryer Island. It was a choppy, slow ride across the shallows of the bay. From my tule anchorage in Montezuma Slough, it took nearly an hour to reach my honey hole. When I arrived and dropped anchor, the wind was blowing briskly and it was a rock & roll affair aboard FishWisher. I chose to sit in the cabin; rod in hand and the door open with the heater on. Conditions were tolerable.

Early on, I was sorely tempted to give up the effort. It was not much fun; the wind blew endlessly from the west and the rockin’ & rollin’ got old real quick. But having come this far over two days, I chose to stay put a while longer. Surely, I convinced myself, I would eventually be rewarded for my efforts.

I had been fishing with ghost shrimp both days. Having less than a
dozen left, I decided that I’d fish ‘til they were gone, and then head upriver to Rio Vista and the ramp. I probably should have surrendered to my wimpy self, but I stayed put and toughed it out.

Within a couple of hours, I was rewarded by a hard, stripper-like hit. I set the hook and… missed. After a second miss, I reeled in and freshened my bait. I cast out again, greatly encouraged by the two bites. Soon enough, another quick hit ripped off line and I set the hook into what seemed to be a small, ferocious striper. I was surprised by the little guy’s tenacity; he fought like no other little striper I ever caught. But soon he was to the boat and in the box. He weighed in at four pounds and measured 22 inches. Finally, the skunk was out of my boat. I was then greatly encouraged to continue fishing in the challenging conditions. I freshened my bait and tossed it out across the transom once again. My bait was running low, but my spirits were rising.

About half an hour later, I had another striper-like hit, perhaps a bit less enthusiastic, and I set the hook into something much more substantial than a four pound striper. As I reeled in against this bigger fish, it seemed that I might have a small sturgeon on, maybe big enough to be a keeper. Whatever was pulling on my line, I had a good fight on my hands, and by gosh, my resolve to keep fishing was paying off!

Our fight continued for several minutes before I got a brief look at my big fish. It was a striper, surprisingly, but during that brief look he didn’t appear nearly as big as he fought. After a few more minutes I had him to the boat again, briefly, and he took off once more. He was a tough customer! Finally, minutes later, he was to the boat and nearly in submission. After a couple halfhearted attempts to escape, he was ready for the net. I had planned to just grab him by hand as I do most stripers. But after seeing how big he actually was, I grabbed the net. He was a fine striper! He measured 31 inches and weighed in at 13 pounds! My largest striper ever was about 14 pounds, so this guy was nearly a record fish for me. Wow! My willingness to continue to fish really paid off! I had a very nice limit of stripers.

It was at about this time of great success that I tuned my VHF radio to a NOAA weather channel and learned that the wind was gusting to 35 mph at Travis AFB. Geez, I knew the wind seemed to get worse as I was busy catching stripers, but I hadn’t noticed how hard it actually was blowing.

I stowed the fishing gear, weighed anchor and began weaving my way across the bay via the course I have marked on my chartplotter. As I slowly motored my way through the area known as Suisun Cutoff, into more open water, the waves grew to three and four feet. Suisun Bay would be among the last places that I’d choose to be caught in a windstorm, yet there I was! The bay is a wide body of water and wind waves have a lot of room to build.

I dealt with a quartering sea for much of my journey across the
bay. I had to fight constantly to maintain my course as the larger waves could have caused my boat to broach which would have put me sideways to the rolling waves and subject to capsizing. I donned my lifejacket as I made way, realizing that I was in very risky conditions. Waves smashed against the port side, sending sheets of water over the cabin and down the starboard windows.

As I finally approached the Sacramento River, I was able to motor nearer shore, through smaller waves. As I approached Rio Vista, four-foot waves rolled downriver, directly at me. On a couple of occasions, my C-Dory’s high, flared bow was nearly covered by rolling waves. I was not having a good time.

Eventually, after nearly two hours at the helm, I tied up to Rio Vista’s muni dock. It was a wonderful relief to be at the ramp and out of the storm.

How bad was the windstorm that day? I monitored channel 16 during my grueling trip upriver, as usual, and heard Coast Guard Vallejo broadcast that a boat was capsized in their area. I also heard Coast Guard Rio Vista broadcast that a boat was capsized on Cache Slough near Liberty Island. It was not a good day to be on the Delta in a small boat.

Adding to the chaos of that day, as I was tying my boat down to the trailer, a sheriff’s cabin boat tied up to the dock. Five or six uniformed Fish and Wildlife Service employees emerged and walked to their two pickups, both of which had empty boat trailers attached. Something was very strange about all that, and I walked over to them and asked what was going on. After a bit of hemming and hawing, they told me that both of their open aluminum boats were swamped by following seas on Cache Slough and were beached on Liberty Island. They added that their two swamped boats were in addition to the boat mentioned in the Coast Guard Rio Vista’s broadcast! That was a total of four boats swamped or capsized in one day on the Delta that I heard about first hand. There may well have been more such problems that day. I wouldn’t be surprised.

I had way too much excitement for one Delta trip! But sometimes, in spite of planning and attention to weather forecasts, things turn worse than expected. Even so, I’m anxiously planning the next Delta Adventure. Surely, next week’s weather couldn’t be any worse!

About FishWisher

Over the years I have posted many exciting fishing and boating stories here, but now in my seventies, it was time to sell the boat and find less demanding pastimes. All the fishing stories are still here! I will now post my travels aboard the motorhome and other activities. I hope y'all will still enjoy the fishing and boating adventures and perhaps peek in on my post-boating activities on occasion. Thanks for dropping in and I hope you enjoy your visit.
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2 Responses to Storm on Suisun Bay!

  1. mark says:

    Wow, how draining that would have been. I am glad you made it back on your own. Having another brain aboard would have been nice huh. I like all your stories, good job. You capture the moment well. Keep up the good work.

  2. FishWisher says:

    Thanks for the visit, Mark, and the kind words. That stormy trip stands out in my memory like few others and I can tell you I learned from it!

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