Picture courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Anchovies: Family Engraulididae
Species: Engraulis mordax (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word engraulis (European anchovy) and the Latin word mordax (biting).
Alternate Names: Anchovy, California anchovy, pinheads (small anchovies). Called anchoveta or anchoveta norteña in Mexico.
Identification: The body of an anchovy is round and elongated, and much thinner than herring and sardines. The snout forms a blunt point with a very large, subterminal mouth. The backs are opalescent blue to green with silver below. The scales flake off easily.
Size: To 9.7 inches but rarely over 7 inches.
Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California, to the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia (one record from Yakutat, eastern Gulf of Alaska). Common from Bahia Magdalena, Baja California, to British Columbia; found throughout California.
Habitat: Found intertidally to a recorded depth of 1,732 feet; most typically found offshore during the winter months and more inshore (including bays) during the spring and summer. At times, anchovies move into very shallow water where they can cause problems. Santa Cruz has been visited several times by vast schools of anchovy (literally millions of fish) that moved into the harbor waters, died from lack of oxygen, and to put it indelicately, stunk up the place (and fouled the bottoms of boats).
Piers: Anchovies are found around many, if not most, piers in the summertime, but it’s mainly the experienced people who fish for them. Instead frozen anchovies are the bait for most people (even though fresh is better than frozen as bait). However, the Santa Cruz Wharf seems to see huge bait balls of anchovies almost every summer and it’s common to see almost everyone jigging up the anchovies while a second rod is resting against the railing awaiting a larger fish. Similar scenes are often seen along the waterfront areas in Eureka July-August but far fewer anglers seem to target the baitfish.
Shoreline: Rarely taken from shore.
Boats: Used as bait on boats, rarely a goal of anglers.
Bait and Tackle: When schools of large anchovies are around, use a Sabiki-type bait leader or simply a snag line leader baited with small size 10 or 12 hooks. Drop the leader to the mid-depth level and jig up and down for the fish.
Food Value: Not too many people eat anchovies (unless they put them on pizzas) but they are supposed to taste very similar to fresh herring with a soft texture, moderate flavor and moderate fat content. Some books suggest frying them in olive oil.
Comments: Since fewer and fewer piers seem to have live anchovies for bait, it makes sense to catch your own. Get a live bait bucket, an aerator, and go jig up some ‘chovies.