Captain Jim Smith – Simply “Mr. Bass”

When the talk turns to striped bass in San Francisco Bay or along the beaches, it invariably gravitates to Captain Jim Smith who has developed perhaps the most intimate knowledge of the habits of the striped bass within the bay and along the coast. He has the uncanny ability to predict where and when the fish will show up - during which part of the tide, and upon which rockpile or flat that will set up their ambush.

There are very few captains who have bridged the past half-century since the late 1960’s to the present making a living running a recreational fishing vessel, but Smith has not only operated his boat, he has established a cottage industry of fishing captains with sons Steve, Chris, and James all running party boats within San Francisco Bay. In addition, Jonathan Smith, Chris’s oldest son, is in the process of becoming the third-generation of Smiths to captain a fishing vessel.

Smith grew up in Cupertino and spent many hours fishing in Monterey Bay, eventually purchasing his first commercial boat, the ‘Margress’ at age 19 from Chris Arcoleo Sr. of Chris’s Fishing Trips. Smith has been Chris ‘Sonny’ Arcoleo’s deckhand for a few years before venturing out into the commercial salmon world on his own. Within a year, Smith moved to Point San Pablo in the bay after purchasing the ‘Sea Wolf’ and renaming the vessel the ‘Mr. Bass,’ and continuing with commercial salmon and party boat fishing. It was during the 12 years at Point San Pablo that Smith started to sharpen his focus on striped bass, eventually upgrading to his current vessel, the 56-foot ‘Happy Hooker.’ All the while, his young sons were weaned on fishing from the earliest age. When asked when his boys first started on the boat, Smith replied, “My wife and I used to put the boys in a playpen on the boat when we went out fishing in the bay, so they started basically in the crib.” The boys grew to be deckhands, practicing gaffing with aluminum cans, and by age 12, Steve was able to take the ‘Mr. Bass’ out on his own for fun trips with friends. Smith said, “I was always asked by others at the harbor, ‘You’re willing to let your boy take out that big boat on his own?’, but I never worried about him or his ability.”

By age 18, both Steve and Chris had earned their Coast Guard Captain’s License, and brother James followed soon after. Steve is currently the owner/operator of the successful Captain Steve’s Saltwater Lodge in Ninilchik, Alaska while James is the owner/operator of the popular California Dawn out of Berkeley. Chris has recently purchased the six-pack, ‘New Captain Hook,’ and he is running both the California Dawn and the ‘Mad Dog’ out of Bodega Bay. In addition to his sons, several other future captains came under the tutelage of Smith including Trent Slate of Shelter Cove Sport Fishing and brothers Mike and Sean Harbarth.

Smith is known for his forays down along the San Mateo coast to load up on striped bass along the beaches, backing the boat into the surf and tossing live bait to chum up the school. He is one of the few captains willing and able to work a large vessel in close enough to the beach, but unfortunately, beach trips of this nature have been extremely rare over the past several years as the stripers have been absent in large numbers along the shorelines. He has seen many changes since the wide open days of the 60’s, and popular striper drifts such as the South Tower of the Golden Gate being restricted. There isn’t a rock in the bay that Smith hasn’t dropped a line over, and to fish with him during a difficult bite is an adventure since he will try spot after spot in an attempt to put fish on the boat. No captain takes a slow bite more to the heart than Smith, and few are more ecstatic when the rods are loaded up over the rockpiles. Fishing on the Happy Hooker is always an adventure, and all fishermen who love the bay should have the chance to spend at least one day with Smith at the helm.