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PostPosted: Sun Apr 05, 2009 11:51 am
Ken Jones


Posts: 9415
Location: California

San Francisco Municipal Pier

There are times when I don't particularly like people to know that I am “The Pier Fisherman.” That's generally true when I'm out on a pier and my fishing skills are stinking up the joint (in other words, I'm not catching fish). It's especially bad if others ARE catching fish. If you're the so-called expert, people expect you to catch fish! Luckily that scenario doesn't happen too often. I normally catch my fair share of fish and sometimes lead the hit parade. However, I've fished long enough, and experienced enough of the former situations, that I would never gloat when doing better than others.

Still, I'm proud when I'm able to catch fish because I know that I'm a good pier fisherman (and I paid my dues to reach this point). It's probably also good at times for the ego. Sometimes the good fishin' happens when others are having little “luck.” That happened one morning down at this old pier, a pier which is simply called the Muni or Horseshoe Pier by most locals. I had arrived shortly before 8 A.M. on the morning of my birthday in 1999 and walked down to the pier through a maze of movie trucks and technicians setting up for some type of filming, a fairly common experience on California piers. The sun was shining, there was no fog or wind, and it looked like it might be a pretty nice day.

Although the tide was out, I planned to begin fishing inshore by the rocks which line the shoreline area. About a half dozen anglers were fishing on the south side of the pier and they were having little luck. I decided to try the other side. I baited up my light pole and cast out near the pilings of Transport Wharf #4 that sits near this pier. I dropped a cast about two feet from the fourth piling and set my pole down. Before I could bait my second pole I had a fish on. It turned out to be a heavy striped seaperch.

Immediately, a wizened old Chinese lady, age unknown but definitely elderly, rushed over. She really couldn't speak English but we were somehow able to communicate. What had I caught, what bait was I using, where was I fishing? Since I didn't want the fish, I offered it to her and the offer was immediately accepted. Another cast and soon another fish, identical to the first. This time a second lady rushed over and an almost identical scene took place to the first. When a third cast yielded a third fish, I was beginning to become a center of attention. Anglers were coming over to check out the bait and several were now fishing from my side of the pier. For some reason, they weren't catching the fish.

Soon after, I hooked a good-sized rubberlip perch and now I really became the center of attention. Not only were the anglers anxious to inspect my bait but so too were several crewmen from the film company. Was it a movie or perhaps an episode of Nash Bridges? Nothing so exotic, they were filming a commercial for First National Bank. Still, it gave a little extra excitement to the environment. It also gave me a chance to discuss my book and web site with several interested people. I certainly wasn't nervous about being “The Pier Fisherman” that morning, I was catching most of the fish and seemingly proving myself the expert.

Since I needed some pictures for the web site, I asked one lady to hold up my fish. She was a natural model and full of enthusiasm. She quickly let me know that people called her “Miss Good Morning Vietnam” because she was from Vietnam, always wore her Vietnamese hat, and looked like a character in the film (although her real name was Kim Nga). Always smiling, she told me the story of how she came to America during the war and soon thereafter lost her husband. Since then she had survived some hard years but never missed coming down to the pier when she had the opportunity to go fishing. I continued to catch fish and give them to her, and she continued to tell me tale after tale of her years in Vietnam. After a couple of hours she had a full bag of perch and one lone cabezon, while I had experienced a truly beautiful birthday morning.

The San Francisco Municipal Pier was built in the early 1930s as a recreational pier. Today it continues to be heavily used by anglers but also is heavily trafficked by joggers and tourists visiting the area. Listening to the conversations of passing strangers is like being in Babylon, or wherever the Tower of Babel was located. A veritable United Nations of languages! The pier is a short walk down the hill from Fort Mason past picnic areas and gardens. A short distance up the street from the pier is the National Maritime Museum and Ghirardelli Square. Less than three blocks away is Fisherman's Wharf.

There is obviously plenty to see for everyone. Unfortunately, the pier itself is not in the best of shape. Not only is it filthy at times but it is also in severe need of maintenance. Nevertheless, it remains one of my favorite spots on the waterfront. (Perhaps due, at least in part, to the fact that it was the first pier I fished in San Francisco. Way back in 1966 I managed a short visit to the pier during a trip to The City. Three silver surfperch were the sum total of my catch that day.)

There is also the already mentioned smaller pier that sits near the foot of the Municipal Pier. That pier, formerly known as Transport Wharf No. 4, and informally known as the Black Point Pier, angles off to the left toward Black Point. The pier is currently closed; prior to closing it was primarily used by those crabbing or fishing the inshore area for seaperch.

Environment. The 1,850-foot-long pier curves around and helps give protection to the small cove at Aquatic Park. Although the cove itself is primarily clay, sand, and mud, considerable material has built up under the pier for years. As a result, a great number of different species of fish have been caught here. Department of Fish & Game studies showed more than 45 species of fish caught at the pier in a single year. The vast majority of the fish that are caught are the old standbys for this area: white croaker, walleye and silver surfperch, striped seaperch, black seaperch, white seaperch, pileperch, shinerperch, jacksmelt, Pacific tomcod, sand sole, Pacific sanddabs, starry flounder, English sole, California halibut, brown rockfish, black rockfish, striped bass, brown smoothhound sharks, leopard sharks, California skates, big skates and bat rays.

Fishing Tips. As is true at most Bay Area piers, the best time to fish for large perch (pileperch, blackperch, rubberlip perch and striped seaperch) is in the winter and spring. Fish inshore along the shoreline rocks or cast toward the Black Point Wharf (Transport Wharf #4). Use pile worms, fresh mussels, or small pieces of shrimp, and small hooks, size 6 or 8. A few redtail surfperch and rainbow seaperch will also enter the census as may a few eels—monkeyface eels and wolf-eels—although neither is a true eel. The same time of the year will also produce some starry flounder but fish further out on the left side of the pier; use pile worms or anchovies, and a sliding sinker rigging. Wintertime also seems to be the best time for Pacific sanddabs. Some years will see runs of the ‘dabs and when they show up, almost any bait and rigging will work for the tasty little flatfish. Although they will bite throughout the day, they seem to bite best right at daybreak. Ditto the Pacific herrings which sometimes swing close to the pier during their spawning runs; when they do, it can be easy pickins' for anglers with bait rigs

Although summer is generally the best time for kingfish (white croaker), I've heard of tremendous winter-time catches during some years, especially at night. February through March is considered the best time for Pacific tomcod, even though I've made some good catches during the summer months. Summer is definitely the best time for the smaller perch—primarily silver and walleye surfperch, although white seaperch are also common and shinerperch can be too abundant. All of these can be caught with small hooks, size 8 or 6, and pile worms, strips of anchovy or pieces of shrimp. Fish for the perch and tomcod at mid-depth and the kingfish on the bottom. Casting away from the pier during the summer months will almost always guarantee a bullhead (staghorn sculpin) if you're using small hooks and pile worms. The small fish are truly pests but they do make great striper bait.

Fishing around the pilings can provide several different rock-frequenting species such as black rockfish, blue rockfish, olive rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, cabezon, lingcod, kelp greenling, giant kelpfish and buffalo sculpin. For children, the summertime can provide non-stop fishing for small brown rockfish. They are really too small to keep, but a size 8 hook, with a small piece of pile worm, mackerel, or even squid, fished directly under the inner side of the pier, at almost any spot, will yield a fish on nearly every cast. Occasionally you may hook one of the aforementioned rockfish, perhaps one large enough to keep, but it will be the exception to the norm. Some years will also see schools of juvenile bocaccio enter the catch but their numbers have diminished greatly during the last decade and you can only keep two of the fish (with a ten inch minimum length).

Flatfish such as sand sole and small English sole are a frequent possibility most of the year and late spring to the early fall may also see a few halibut landed. Sole will often hit cut anchovy, grass shrimp or a strip of squid fished on the bottom, while the larger halibut prefer live bait (a small anchovy, smelt or shinerperch which you've snagged) used with a sliding sinker rigging.

Almost any time of the year can be a good time for large schools of jacksmelt and topsmelt. Three small size 8 hooks attached a few feet under a float, and baited with pile worms or (sometimes) pieces of shrimp or anchovy, will often yield buckets of the tasty smelt.

Summer and fall are the best times for sharks, skates and rays, although some big runs of bat rays have been recorded in the spring. For these, use squid (the best bait), mackerel, anchovies, or ghost shrimp and fish at night. Late summer and fall is the best time to catch striped bass; use a live bait such as a shiner or small smelt. If it isn't too crowded, try a lure. Ditto on the summer and fall times for salmon. Whole anchovies fished several feet under a large bobber or float offer the best chance for a salmon but the chances are still fairly slim. Surprisingly, I have never seen a sturgeon caught off this pier even though they are common throughout much of the bay.

This is another of the San Francisco piers that offers better than average crabbing for rock crabs, some red crabs, and Dungness crabs (which again, are illegal to keep in the bay). The abundance of crabs is one reason why so many anglers use squid as bait. Even though the squid isn't as good as some other baits, it will generally withstand the “attack of the crabs.” As for myself, I usually use the other baits unless specifically seeking sharks and rays. It sometimes means that I am almost constantly casting, getting a bite (from fish or crab), pulling in my line, rebaiting and casting out again—but I usually catch fish.

Special Recommendation. Bring a jacket as the wind comes up almost every afternoon and it can be very COLD.

E-mail Messages

Date: March 28, 1999
To: Ken Jones
From: James Pan
Subject: Fishing report

Hi Ken,
Went fishing yesterday at the SF Muni. Pier. The weather was beautiful, albeit somewhat cold and breezy. Caught one tiny bullhead (4") and one giant sea anemone attached to a piece of rock weighing over 3 LB! My bait must have just landed right above its mouth. Managed to catch one small kingfish in the afternoon, and an unknown fish. The fish is about 6" long, looks like an eel, has a very slimy body, and disproportionately large mouth with very sharp teeth. I will let you know the name of the fish once it's identified. There were some twenty anglers scattered over the entire pier. Neighbors caught a few kingfish, bullheads and perch. Many were also crabbing. I am no exception. Caught ten crabs while fishing. Take care and have fun fishing.

James,
Thanks for the very interesting report. Sounds like you might have caught a fringehead which are really mean little critters with mouths full of sharp teeth. But you never know what you'll catch on a visit to the Muni Pier. Best wishes, Ken

The following is undoubtedly the most negative report I have ever received regarding a pier and unfortunately some of the thoughts are right on the mark. The message engendered quite a bit of discussion on the Message Board after I listed it and led to (I believe) a considerable number of letters to the authorities. Improvements? Still waiting.

Date: October 29, 2000
To: Ken Jones
From: Harukan
Subject: Monthly Reports

Well, here's a report for Muni Pier that you can use this month, next month, and forever: MUNI PIER SUCKS. I've been reading fishing reports from various piers all over California for months now, and it sounds as though every pier in the state has better fishing than Muni Pier, whose fishing sucks because the sea-lions at Pier 39 gobble up every decent fish in the entire area.
Aside from the fishing being pathetic, Muni Pier sucks in every other respect. The pier receives no maintenance or repair and is crumbling away—there are lots of places where big chunks of concrete have broken away and never been repaired. The pier used to have lights all along it, but the lights were removed at some point, leaving only the useless lamp-posts sticking up like concrete stumps. The bait shop/snack bar at the foot of the pier has been closed for a good ten or fifteen years or more. There are no fish-cleaning facilities or water, although there used to be—you can see water pipes in places where the concrete curbing has broken (and, of course, not been repaired). Restroom facilities are completely inadequate, especially in view of the fact that hundreds of people come onto the pier each day—joggers, tourists, etc., in addition to crabbers and fishermen.
The pier is also filthy. Since the pier is open at night (but not lit or attended), it acts as a magnet for drunks and derelicts who go out there at night to drink and party and leave trash all over the place, including broken beer bottles. People also use the areas behind the concrete benches as urinals, and the areas around the benches generally reek so strongly of urine that they're stomach-turning and you can't go near the benches, much less sit on them. It also isn't unusual to find a pile of human crap lying about.
All things considered, there's NO reason to go to Muni Pier, at all, ever, and every reason NOT to. The only reason I've been going there now and then is that it's close to where I live and since I don't have a car, going anywhere else is very inconvenient and time-consuming (if not completely unfeasible), but I'm not going there any more. The decrepitude and dirt and lack of amenities might be bearable if the fishing were good, but it isn't. If there were a content for “worst pier in California,” Muni Pier would be the winner.

Posted by Scooterfish

Is there anything we can do? Just wondering if there is something we can do about the situation/conditions at this pier. Is there somewhere we can write? who manages (or -DOESN'T- manage) the piers in SF? Just curious, because it does seem like Muni is just fading away.
My opinion on Muni and SF pier fishing (from the POV of a current city dweller and former country boy who like his space) I tried Muni for while and ended up at least as frustrated as Harukan, for many reasons. I work days, like most folks, and fish weekdays in the afternoons. Muni is one of the most exposed and unpleasant piers I've ever spent an evening at. Extremely windy (3-4pm on), dark, dirty, smelly, cold and miserable. A disgrace. The fishing is not so hot either, although I agree with Ken that I have had a few oddball OK days there. I do own a car, but anyone who lives here in SF knows you can't move a car after everyone's off work because there is NO PARKING (I've spent up to two hours trying to park in my neighborhood before giving up and parking illegally on a sidewalk). Unless you are one of those rare and lucky souls in SF that has a garage, this situation limits most of us to Public Transportation, and that SEVERELY limits the piers that are within a reasonable distance. I regularly (1-2 times a week) get on a standing-room-only Muni bus with my 2-piece 11-ft surf pole, a 6-ft one piece casting rod, a bucket and a duffel with all my gear. People look at me like I'm some kind of freak or something. The only piers I can really get to and back from in a reasonable amount of time are Pier 2 and Pier 7. I guess I'm a bit frustrated too. Hey Harukan... lets hooks up at a pier and fish/gripe for a while! Maybe we'll get lucky and catch a few fish.. haha Scooterfish

Posted by stinkyfingers

Now let's see what happens... Ken, I was seriously put out by what I read here about this pier. I have copied and pasted the report into an Email that I have sent it to Willie Brown, asking him for comment and intentions. I have also copied Holly Bundock of the National Park Services with my transmittion. Now let's wait for a response...

Posted by harukan

Nothing—wrong target. Complaining to Silly Willy won't do any good, because the City of San Francisco, oddly enough, has nothing to do with Muni Pier. Muni Pier is under the aegis of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which, like all national parks, is suffering from shortages of both funding and staff, which no doubt accounts for the deplorable condition of the pier.
If you want to complain about the pier, complaints should be directed to:
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Fort Mason Center, Building 201
San Francisco, CA 94123
Attention: Brian O'Neill
The phone number is: (415) 561-4720
In complaining, do keep in mind that funds and staff are already stretched to the max, and that the REAL fault lies with the politicians who throw money at entitlement programs and the moronic “war on drugs” while letting everything else go to hell.

Posted by harukan

San Francisco Municipal Pier. I sent in that report because I wanted people to know how bad Muni Pier is so they wouldn't waste their time going there. I've heard lots of stories about how good the fishing USED to be at Muni Pier, but invariably, when I ask the person WHEN he/she experienced this great fishing, the answer is that it was years ago, before the sea-lions moved in and set up permanent camp at Pier 39. Yeah, maybe once in awhile somebody has a sort-of good day at Muni Pier, but in my experience, it's about as rare as the proverbial blue moon. About 99.999% of the time, the fishing sucks. That being the case, I haven't bothered to complain to Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) about the poor maintenance and other problems with the pier. Even if GGNRA could spare the funds and manpower to fix and clean up the pier, they still couldn't do anything about the rotten fishing.

Posted by Mike. C

Hey Ken! Harukan is right on the money in regards to this pier. It sucks. The only reason I go ever go there is to catch anchovies for bait during the summer. Among his legitimate gripes he left out the all the damn swimmers in the morning that scare off all the ‘chovies making it take longer to catch sufficient amounts of bait thus prolonging an already miserable experience. I won't even bring my dog out on the pier with me when I go (By the way Ken the dog's name is Raider) since he's so much closer to the ground I fear he'll pick up some kind of bacteria or viral infection from all the urine and fecal waste. It's truly a shame because I have fond memories of this pier when I was a kid. Getting hamburgers, fries and coke with my dad and grandfather while taking a lunch break from fishing and crabbing for huge Dungeness, it was legal to take them out of the bay back then. I caught my first striper when I was about 7 or 8 out there on Muni Pier. He was a beauty, or at least I think he was, when you’re that small fish look bigger. Between Muni and Berkeley Pier I learned all my fishing basics before I was ten. It's truly sad to see that pier in the condition that it's in now.

Posted by Ken Jones

Although I agree overall on the conditions, I really have had several excellent fishing days at the pier. Last year on my birthday I went fishing and caught one big perch after another (rubberlip perch, striped perch, rainbow perch and blackperch) as well as some small cabezon. There has also been some good action on kingfish, jacksmelt, small perch (primarily silvers), sharks and small rockfish. And although I imagine the fishing was better back then, whenever then was, my first trip to the pier, in 1966 I believe, was not really that great—just a few silver surfperch. So although there is a tremendous job to do for the right agencies on cleaning up and repairing the pier, I do believe you can still catch some good fish from the pier. Oh, and I do agree the wind in the afternoon can be murder while the parking is almost always terrible unless you get there really early in the morning).

The next spring, when word began to circulate on the Pier Fishing in California Message Board about good catches of fish at the Muni Pier, the pier rats began to flock to the pier and its esteem rose once again—at least in regards to fishing. It still remained (and remains) a fairly dirty place to fish as well as a pier in which the fetor can offer a full, frontal attack on the olfactory nerve (it stinks).

Date: January 13, 2001
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Scooterfish
Subject: Actual Muni Pier Report (really!)

Friend Richard and I started out at Pier 70 at 7:00am, fished till 11:15 there... nothing but nibbles from shiners, a pair of weird blennies and one striped perch that we released. Saw Readership there (how did you do at the Dumbarton?)
We ended up bailing to Muni Pier of all places... weather was nice, a little windy. I had picked up two dozen pileworms from Oyster Point and scavenged a bunch of baby crabs from under rocks at Pier 70. We picked up some frozen grass shrimp at the bait shop near Muni Pier and got to work... Fishing was generally slow, but we noticed that this one elderly Chinese man was nailing cabezon, blue rockfish and kelp greenlings. We moved over to his spot (inside of the horseshoe, halfway out) and started catching fish... I caught an 8” cabezon first, released. A bit later I caught two kelp greenling, 9.5 inches 270grams and another 10.75 inches 380grams. You may be wondering why I know this; it just so happens that we were actually SURVEYED by a DFG guy... YES, an ACTUAL DFG officer was walking the pier and checking out peoples catches, and surveying those who were willing to answer the set of questions. He measured, weighed and recorded our fish, asked about our average catch and release rates, etc. We also caught a couple of striped perch which we released, although they were certainly eating size. I did keep the two kelp greenling (fish of the month after all!!) and fried them up as soon as I got home...YUM!!!
Also saw someone with a nice big rubberlip perch that was at least 15” long and FAT. Fished until 3:30 and called it a fishing day. All fish caught on the frozen grass shrimp, although I had several solid hits on the whole baby crabs...ripped em right off the hook! Pileworms proved useless today for some reason.
I CAN'T BELIEVE I HAD A NICE DAY OF FISHING AT MUNI PIER !!! About time...(and I actually got to see a REAL, LIVE DFG officer, a rare sight indeed....) Scooterfish —Sorry for the long post...some of us have actually been FISHING lately instead of "chatting" incessantly on the message board heheheh Wink

Posted by harukan

Excuse me while I have a heart attack...I don't know which to be more shocked at--the fact that somebody actually caught something besides baitfish and trash-fish off Muni Pier, or the fact that a DFG officer actually showed up on the pier. But both in the same day? My God, where's the defibrillator?

Date: February 14, 2001
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Scooterfish
Subject: Muni Pier

Fished today for a little over two hours at Muni. Used fresh live pile worms on size 8 hooks on hi/lo setup. Caught a bunch of smallish striped perch, all released. Met Songslinger out there, he had a couple of decent perch in the bag already... Weather was pleasant, company was great... Great to finally meet you 'Slinger... Hope to see you out there again! Scooterfish

Posted by Songslinger

Modesty all aside for Scooterfish, the man put on a clinic on how to fish the bay rocks. If you see him at Muni, watch closely and learn. Few people know how to work the shore this well, when to wait and when to reel in.
As for me, well... first time there in at least a decade. Because it's important to pay dues and/or homage, I donated tackle and frightened fish for the first two unwholesome hours, working up and down the pier. I caught a white perch and didn't pursue any possible schools because I didn't have ultra light tackle; white perch aren't much on line over 8#, in my view. Then I found Scooterfish's spot and caught a nice pile perch which I mistakenly identified as a rubberlip. Foolish me, but it's been that long since I caught a pile perch in that range. Another normal sized pile perch followed and was placed in the wire basket—and somehow escaped within ten minutes. Then it was a bunch of small buffalo sclupins, bullheads and cabezons before Scooterfish showed up and showed me how it's done. I got two striped perch, which I kept to go along with the pile perch for tomorrow's dinner, and also some more small sculpin types. And Scooterfish just kept bagging striped perch after striped perch. If he wasn't such a nice guy I would hate his guts! But all in all a nice day on the SF side, something I haven't done for at least 6 months.

Posted by harukan

Hey, Scooterfish, care to share your secrets? If Songslinger's that impressed, you've surely got some good pointers to offer. Mind telling us some of them?

Posted by Scooterfish

I keep expecting to run into you one of these days at Muni... Maybe we should meet up there some afternoon and catch a couple of fish? I've found that Muni isn't that bad if you don't focus all of your time ON the pier... do you have a license? If so, there is some good fishing to be had for sure. Regardless, there are fish to be caught from the pier also. and where are these 600 sea lions you keep talkin’ about? I've only seen a few, and in my opinion, they only screw with the crab nets this time of year. There ARE fish in there...
Scooterfish

Posted by harukan

Yes, it seems that the fishing at Muni IS somewhat better now than it was this summer. As for the 600 sea-lions, that's how many there supposedly are in the colony at Pier 39, according to an article I read about the “World-Famous Sea-Lions at Pier 39!” (exclamation mark in original). Also, male sea-lions migrate in the winter, starting in September or so, so there are probably somewhat fewer lions in the area now.

Posted by harukan

Sometimes ya see 'em... sometimes ya don't. I was looking at Pier 39's web site and they have a live web cam, with a blurb that says something to the effect of, “Here's a stunning view of beautiful San Francisco Bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background and Pier 39's WORLD FAMOUS SEA LIONS in the foreground!” Well, on that particular day, the background, bridge and all, was entirely concealed by fog or rain, and there wasn't ONE single sea-lion to be seen. TOO funny.

Posted by Scooterfish

Awww.. I'm flattered. thanks for the kind words Slinger! To be honest, I really don't know if there's much to it except for just paying a lot of attention to detail (where rocks are, keeping a mental database of places I've snagged repeatedly, where the deeper holes and kelp strands are located). “Feeling” the bottom with your setup is important also (lighter tackle advantageous here). I've been fishing that particular area heavily for a couple of months, and you really start to get a feel for what the fish *might* be doing under there... kind of like the “think like a fish” mentality. I also think that it is incredible valuable to visit a spot like this a few times at an extreme minus tide to get the maximum read on what structure is lurking out there. I'll be out there this afternoon from 2pm until 7pm or so plunking pile worms... Same perch time, same perch place.... Scooterfish

Author's Note No. 1
. There are a lot of sea lions in these waters and it pays to keep an eye on them. The following story comes from Gyozadude (real name James Liu), one of the most reliable pier rats on the Pier Fishing in California Message (it's in GDude's autobiography on the site). Most Memorable Pier Fishing Trips (and Why): Muni Pier, early spring 1999. Tagged along with my mother-in-law and some co-workers to Muni Pier. Rumor had it that people were catching rock crabs using crab nets and a piece of chicken wire-tied to the center of the net. Weather was cold and bleak and I was freezing. I brought a couple of poles and caught some small perch off bits of shrimp. Lost a lot of bait to unseen thieves below. Back near the entrance to the pier, the rag tag crabbing crew were watching over their two nets... a bunch of ladies who'd be better off playing Mahjonghh than crabbing. Then screams. Both nets and the long ropes had been dragged into the water. In the distance, some sea lions surfaced with pieces of chicken still in their mouths."

Author’s Note. No. 2. As mentioned above, a wide variety of species have been caught at the pier. One day I had an interesting conversation with Kirk Lombard who, at the time of our talk, was doing fish surveys for the Fish and Game Department. He mentioned that one day (around 2004) he saw a strange fish in a bucket of an angler at the pier. Unable to identify the fish, Kirk asked if he could take it over to the Steinhart Aquarium for identification. Sure, no problem. There it was identified as a Stripefin Ronquil, Rathbunella hypoplecta. In a later conversation, Dr, Iwamota (the head of icthyology at the aquarium) informed Kirk that it was the first stripefin ronquil donated to the academy since 1963. And where was that one taken? At the Muni Pier! In 2007 he spotted a bucket at the pier containing more of the ronquils. Sounds to me like we’ve found their secret hiding place! Kirks response: “Strange to think there may a be a community of those odd little buggers living down there, or perhaps just migrating through. Either way it's kinda cool.” By the way, Mr. Lombard is the proud holder of the California record for monkeyface eels (aka monkeyface prickleback) and even publishes the Monkeyface Eel News made out of eel skins. Now that’s impressive!

History Note. Plans for a recreational pier and an adjacent Aquatic Park were in existence by 1920 (when a Bureau of Engineering picture shows the “Aquatic Park” which was designated for development in the cove at the end of Van Ness). Nevertheless, it would be more than a decade before the pier was constructed and nearly twenty years before Aquatic Park itself was finished.

The Municipal Pier was built between October of 1931 and May of 1933. It was a single pier even though the 1929 plans (developed by the firm of Bakewell and Brown) had called for two identical curving piers. The second pier was designed as an amusement pier but was never built. Initially most people seemed to have called it the Aquatic Pier or Aquatic Park Pier. This was true even though Aquatic Park itself wasn't finished until the late '30s (it was dedicated on January 22, 1939). However, by the early 1940s, most residents simply called the pier the Muni Pier.

The Ancient characters who sit every day, rain or fog, on the debris-littered “beach” at Aquatic Park—the “playground for the people” that turned out to be a cemetery for broken bottles and dreams to match...
—Herb Caen, Baghdad-by-the-Bay, 1949

In 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the pier was placed under the management of the federal government where it stayed throughout World War II. The government continued to allow fishing off the pier but it was restricted at night. During the war years the pier did suffer some damage, but it wasn't from the Japanese, it was from a local tugboat which backed into the pier.

After the war, the pier reverted to the city, but by then (1947) the pier itself was in need of repair. Portions of the pier's surface had apparently dropped by as much as a foot, there was considerable scouring between the pilings, and many of the pilings themselves were broken or damaged (by culprits like tugboats and wood eating Toredos). The immediate result was a prohibition on motorized vehicles (which had been allowed to drive onto the pier); the longer term result was repairs which took place in 1948. Repairs included the installation of rip rap along the pier to lessen future scouring around the pilings.

On February 3, 1953, the freighter Harry Luckenbach, inbound during a heavy fog, rammed the pier and cut a large pie-shaped wedge out of the pier. The pier itself was repaired but the electrical wiring for the lights, which had also been damaged, wasn't repaired. The pier still doesn't have lighting (and nearly 50 years seems like somewhat of a long time to wait for repairs).

To this day the pier remains a popular attraction but one which definitely shows its age. It is, in fact, threatened with closure. A survey in 1979 estimated a $2 million bill to repair the pier. Then, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit, damaged more than 30 pilings, and severely weakened the pier's ability to withstand horizontal stress. Today the estimated bill is more than $4 million and the Throttlebottoms entrusted with maintaining our park lands simply throw up their hands and say there isn't any money. Hopefully someone will figure out a plan before it is too late.

As mentioned, it's an interesting area even if you don't fish. Up the street, a short distance from the pier, are the railroad lines of the State Belt Line Railroad, lines that eventually disappear into a tunnel under Fort Mason (and proposals were once made to run an old-time excursion train from the Presido to the Ferry Building). A little further up the street, on the bay side, is an area favored by sun seekers, and as they gather in their bathing suits it almost doesn't feel like San Francisco. But just a short distance further up the street brings you to the bocce-ball courts which are almost always busy with practitioners of the sport (mostly elderly Italian gentlemen, at least when I've watched). Continue up the street and you'll see a building shaped like a ship, this is the National Maritime Museum, and worth a visit anytime. On the other side of Aquatic Park sits the Hyde Street Pier and a number of old-time ships and ferries.

Transport Wharf No. 4, the small pier that sits to the left of the Muni Pier also has an interesting history. At one time it was used as the wharf to transport prisoners to Alcatrez. Al Capone, the Birdman of Alcatrez, and other prisoners were whisked away to the island, that for many, would serve as their final home. Today it is closed but fishing around the pilings can be excellent for perch.

San Francisco Municipal Pier Facts

Hours: Open dawn to dusk.

Facilities: There is considerable free parking near the entrance to the pier although this is such a heavily visited area that you are never guaranteed a spot unless you arrive early in the morning. If you can't find a spot go over to Fort Mason, park, and walk back— although it is a considerable walk if you're carrying a lot of fishing equipment. Restrooms are located just up the street from the pier as is a snack bar and grassy areas with benches. Benches with wind breaks and portable toilets are found on the pier (and unfortunately most are usually in a filthy condition). There are no fish cleaning tables or lights.

Handicapped Facilities: Some handicapped parking near the entrance to the pier. No handicapped facilities on the pier. The surface is concrete and the railing is approximately 40 inches high.

How To Get There: From Highway 101 north, take Lombard Street to Van Ness Avenue, turn left and follow the street till it ends at the pier. From Highway 101 south, take Van Ness Avenue straight to the pier.

Management: National Park Service.

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