Smelt Fishing at Half Moon Bay


When family gathers, I am reminded of so many Ponce-clan get-togethers making up the decades of my youth (1944–1965). One such annual family event was the nighttime smelt fishing at Half Moon Bay.

Noni Ponce, aunts and uncles, cousins and our family would all gather at the beach around 5PM, build a roaring fire, cook dinner and try to stay warm until the moon and tide became "just right" for the small smelt to swim ashore with the waves.

My Dad and our uncles would man the 2-person seine nets, and they would stare out at the waves, lit up by the moon, looking for the start of the silver flash of schools of smelt jostling to get ashore.

The job for the rest of us was to have seawater buckets "at-the-ready". At just the right wave, the men would dash out into the surf, just as the wave made its way ashore. They would plant the two wooden legs of the nets into the sand and hang on with all their might as the receding seawater thrust hundreds of tiny smelt into the seine nets.

The nets were dragged ashore and tipped; Mom, our aunts, cousins, Charlotte and I would rush to collect all the sandy smelts. We'd toss them into the seawater buckets and get ready for the next round. At about midnight, we'd call it "a day" and head on home, back to Los Altos and Sunnyvale, about a 40 minute's ride. We were all tired and happy… smokey from the campfire and salty from the seawater drenching our jeans and soaking our shoes.

I'll always remember those family fishing nights: we all had to work together, but we'd invariably get silly and start throwing sandy fish at each other… a lot of singing and roasting of marshmallows as we waited for nightfall. There were a few close calls, when one or two of our dads would get knocked over by the deep, strong receding current or the nets would tear and break with the weight of too many smelt… but, we all survived, and we'd gather the next day at one house or another for the big fish-fry… nothing like the kinship of close family.

Back in the 1950s, Half Moon Bay was an agricultural area: pumpkins, flowers, vegetables and vineyards… a few wineries, cattle ranches and hordes fishing boats. It was a rather poor area; now, it's about as pricey as one could imagine! All those little bungalows and barns giving way to seaside villas and the like… but, in my memories, the beaches are still pristine, the smell of salty seawater is still in the air and Half Moon Bay is lit up by a the biggest moon a child could ever imagine!

—Sharon Sforzini Grant

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