Abalone is in high demand, but rules are tough

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Abalone is, without question, one of the most prized shellfish anybody could hope to obtain.

They’re a slow-growing shellfish and don’t reach maturity, the age they can be retained by the fishing public, until they’re 10 years old.

They don’t reproduce a large swarm of baby abalone. Surveys have shown few juvenile abalone off the north coast. There is no known reason for the seeming lack of reproduction. Over the long term, that can have disastrous effects on those hoping to limit on abalone.

If you find abalone on a restaurant menu, you almost have to take out a loan to order it. Those who pursue abalone in the ocean will attest they’re far from the easiest critter to obtain.

Ocean water is cold, which necessitates a diver having a wet suit. Goggles or a face mask and, generally, a set of fins are necessary. No air-providing device, such as SCUBA, is allowed in Northern California water.

Some people who pursue abalone simply wait for a big minus tide, wade into the shallows and pry them from exposed rocks. This method is called rock picking.

The only other necessary equipment would be a bar to pry the suction foot from the rocks and a measuring device.

Abalone is in high demand, by humans and other sea critters, such as otter and even the lowly starfish. At one time, they were heavily sought commercially, which put their numbers in jeopardy.

There are numerous subspecies of abalone: the black abalone, pink, red. The only abalone that may be retained by authority of a sportfishing license is the red abalone. All others are at such low numbers, none may be retained, so shell identification is mandatory.

During the fishing year, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, you’re allowed 24 abalone. During any one trip, you’re allowed no more than three of these shellfish at one time.

The minimum size for a keeper ab is seven inches, measured at its widest point. Any abalone measuring fewer than seven inches is required to be reattached to the rocks. Flipping it into the water, as you might release a fin fish, won’t cut it.

One requirement is being in possession of abalone tags. If you’re diving from a boat or tube, each person must have a separate bag to hold their catch, and each shellfish must be tagged by the time you step foot on shore.

Some divers have found that to be a problem. Abalone shells have “eyes.” Some are open and some closed. What do you do if there is no opening in the shell in which to hang the tag?

You can do one of two things: Punch a hole in the shell at one of the eyes and
attach the tag, or punch a hole in the foot of the abalone.

Another lesser-known requirement is that you aren’t to remove the abalone from its shell until you prepare it for eating.

Wardens watch the popular abalone diving regions closely. If they see something questionable, they’ll approach you. If your abalone isn’t properly tagged or is out of its shell, they’ll write you a ticket.

Current fishing

As a reminder, this Saturday, Sept. 8, is the second of two free fishing days in the state, beginning at midnight Friday and ending at midnight Saturday.

One primary restriction is the use of rods. You’re allowed one rod without having a fishing license in possession. If you want to use two rods, you must have a two-rod stamp, and that will mean purchasing a license. You must have the license and stamp in possession.

Lake Almanor: The Chips fire is contained, though smoke still rises from unburned fuels inside the containment perimeter. That smoke is expected to continue until snow smothers it. On a recent trip to the lake, the air was considerably cleaner than it was before the fire was contained.

And the fishing has turned to very good. Trollers are nailing rainbows, many running 3-3½ pounds. Areas around the mouth of Big Springs and the big cove around A Frame are producing. Five colors of lead core will reach them early in the morning, but you’ll need to drop with downriggers as the sun rises. Hauling a crawler — even a rubber worm — behind blades works well. Lures such as a Speedy Shiner or Rainbow Runner also attract.

Local salmon: More salmon are showing up, and those working the American River are finding more success. While it’s not great, it’s improving. As fish move in and through, various points along the Sacramento River have seen decent rod-bending action. The mouth of the Feather River has been popular to catch the school. Just below Discovery Park also is a good area to catch the school before they turn into the American River or continue up the Sacramento River.

Ice House: The hot summer temperatures meant warm water and lousy fishing. But now that the nights are cooling down, so is the water temperature, and the fishing slowly is picking up. You can get down to 40 feet with downriggers and find a bite, but you’re still going to have to put in a considerable amount of time to limit. It’s just getting better.

Saltwater: More big salmon are caught than any other this time of year. The good thing is San Francisco Bay Fleet boats don’t have to range far outside the Golden Gate Bridge, as schools of fish move closer, readying for their run up the rivers. When the boats get into a school, there’s a flurry of action. Bodega has been tough with clear water, but the water is turning and the bite is improving again. If it’s salmon you want, go now, as the season won’t last much longer.

The rock cod bite has been phenomenal up and down the coast, and big numbers of the preferred ling cod have been the rule. Any of the many varieties of bottom fish, properly prepared, is some of the finest table fare you can get.

Go get a limit of rock cod and cook them. They’re wonderful. If you want my recipe, e-mail me.

Contact George deVilbiss at