Wander along the water’s edge in Fisherman’s Wharf, and you’ll still find ties to its history as home to San Francisco’s fishing fleet. Dating back to before the California Gold Rush, generations of fishermen have made their livelihoods on the bay and ocean off San Francisco. In the fleet’s earlier years, there was zero chance you’d find a female captain. It’s a good thing times have changed.
One of these rare women to captain a boat located on the iconic front row, Captain Virginia Salvador, works and embraces the rich fishing history of Fisherman’s Wharf.
Salvador, who grew up in Dixon, California, co-captains a 28-foot Farallon for Gatecrasher Fishing Adventures. During the winter season, they operate in an intricate network of waterways in the California Delta—but come summer, they’re back at Fisherman’s Wharf, within site of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“We started Gatecrasher Fishing to offer a different experience,” Salvador says. “We want to show that there’s another way to fish.” While they offer sportfishing charters for sustainable fish such as king salmon, rockfish, ling cod, halibut, and striped bass, they also offer catch-and-release excursions that celebrate the White Sturgeon of the Delta. The largest anadromous fish in North America, White Sturgeon have been on earth for more than 245 million years. Their populations have been hit hard by pollution, water diversion and over harvest. Salvador believes witnessing these magnificent prehistoric creatures in their natural habitat is one worth preserving.
The first female sportfishing captain on the front row of Fisherman’s Wharf was Jacqueline Douglas, who got her captain’s license in 1972 and ran charters aboard her namesake vessel Wacky Jacky, until she retired in 2020 at the age of 91. When she started out, she was met with plenty of resistance before becoming the matriarch of the Bay Area sportfishing fleet. Capt. Salvador joined the front row a short time after Jacky retired. “I truly believe that Jacky paved the way for women like me,” Salvador says. “My generation has probably been more welcomed, but as a woman in a male-dominated industry, there’s no safety net. I do have to work a lot harder, but It’s so worth it.”
Salvador grew up fishing with her brothers and cousins from the shore of Lake Berryessa in Napa County, but her first real fishing inspiration was her mother’s best friend, Bonnie, who was into bass fishing. “When we were kids, she used to roll us all down to the river, put is in a bunch of tubes, and have us float around and fish for bass,” she says. “She gave me my first rod and reel, tackle box, and tackle. She was the one who put the gear in my hand from the get go.”
It seems fitting that a legacy of Bay Area fishing was handed down in this manner, with women paving the way for other women in an industry that wasn’t always inviting towards their gender. For Salvador, fishing always made sense.