The waves calm down and the winds diminish. Fall is the best time to take kids fishing along the Pacific Coast shoreline, from Half Moon Bay to San Francisco.
I will never forget the day my daughter, Jennifer, caught her first fish. She was only 3 years old and our small family was hanging out at Natural Bridges State Beach, a mile above Santa Cruz. She wore a bright red life jacket and caught her own tiny sand fleas at the edge of the sea.
I put one on a hook, cast out my rig into the white foam, and handed Jenny the rod. She held it for 30 seconds, began to get bored, when suddenly the tip of the rod bent over. She screamed, yelped like a puppy, and tried to hand me the rod. "No. No. Hold on," I said, as the line peeled off her reel. Eventually, she reeled in a scrappy, silver perch, with dusky stripes, an orange tail, weighing almost a pound.
From that memorable day on, Jennifer has endured hooked fingers, parched lips, cold wet feet, tangled lines, sandy hair, even "what's-that-awful-smell" searches in the trunk of the car.
The coast is a wild, awesome, sometimes dangerous setting for children and adults. But with proper guidance and caution, parents can take kids fishing safely along the shoreline, south of San Francisco, north and south of Santa Cruz as well. Two ways to fish: I recommend two kinds of open-ocean shoreline fishing for kids, always supervised by adults: surf perch fishing along the beaches and tide-pool fishing at low tides along the low shelves and rocks. There are more than 20 kinds of surf perch in California waters. Barred, calico, red-tail walleye and silver perch are the best known. Barred surf perch are plentiful and feed in the waves and depressions right off the beach. Use a spinning reel and cast a jig into the surf. My family fishes at Capitola and Baker Beach (north of San Francisco). Tide pool fishing: At low tides, you can see rock shelves, eddies and tide pools all along the coastline. The intertidal shoreline holds a mysterious attraction for all of us. The jetties are filled with birds, the rocks are coated with algae, and the purple tide pools, with their endless chambers and portals, through which the tides ebb and flow, glisten with anemone and undulating kelp.
Go down two hours before the low tide. The outgoing tide is passive compared to the pressure of incoming tidal waves. Fishing the tide pools -- poke-poling, as old-timers call it -- is a thrilling experience for children. You need a long pole, a 12- to 16-foot cane pole that breaks down into parts. The pole should have a wire tip, with a foot or two of tough line. No casting involved. Just hold the pole over the pool, let down the bait, and it won't be long before some monkey-face eel, rock fish, lingcod or some predator attacks.
The Pacific Coast is still an untamed wilderness. When our family goes fishing along the coast, we never forget our place, the larger fabric on which our lives depend. That's what Jenny's first fish was really all about.
Paul Rockwell, a Montclair resident, is the former children's librarian with the Albany Library.