Pop used to take Ron and me, and Puddles, and sometimes Mom would come along in our old International Harvester pickup, to the beach at Alder Creek to catch surf fish with a dip net. Back then, in the early 1950’s, Alder Creek formed a lagoon that lapped against the low cliff on the south side.
We didn’t know it then, but the reason for the cliffs on either side of Alder Creek was that this was where the San Andreas fault entered the Pacific. The concrete abutments of the old bridge destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake provided a good visual to locate the fault line.
The water lapping against the cliff meant that Mom, Ron, and I had to take a trail from the parking lot over the hill and then down to the beach.
Pop and Puddles went through Alder Creek, in typical Pop fashion. When they reached the shore of the lagoon, Pop put his gear – six pack of Bürgermeister beer, gunny sack for the fish, dip net, and Puddles – into a galvanized steel washtub (which was also our bathtub), and waded across the lagoon pushing the washtub with Puddles proudly standing lookout.
When they reached the opposite shore, Puddles jumped out to run in the sand, and Ron and I carried the washtub to a large drift log on the beach, where we gathered driftwood and started a fire while Pop checked out whether any day fish (smelt) were running.
There are two types of smelt that spawn on the Alder Creek beach. The day fish are about six inches long, and come in to spawn at high tide. There are several ways to find if they are “running” (coming in to spawn). None of the ways are guaranteed or fool proof, but one of the best is to watch for sea birds “working” (diving to feed on fish near the shore). Another way is to watch for fish in the waves. Unlike grunion, the surf fish stay in the wave instead of lying on the sand waiting for another wave to come in and take them back out. That makes seeing them in the waves difficult, but when you do see them, you know you’ll get some fish.
The way Pop would usually find fish was just start dipping his net into the waves. Often he would catch fish when there was no indication that they were running.