7 -- San Francisco
Although this pier is relatively new (it was dedicated in October 1990), a Pier 7 has existed at this spot since 1901. The original pier was the oldest structure on the waterfront and was initially used as a terminal for passenger vessels. Later, it was used for cargo storage, and even later (after a 1973 fire), it was used for parking -- and fishing. The pier was damaged in the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and its usefulness was at an end.
Pier 7 and the adjacent pier 5 were demolished and removed. Next, the decision was made to fund a public access pier. The San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks, the Port of San Francisco, the State Wildlife Conservation Board (California Department of Fish & Game), the Land and Water Conservation Fund (National Park Service), the California State Coastal Conservancy and a State Block Grant together funded the $6,568,581 to build the pier. Striving for both utility and beauty, the pier includes timber decking, ornamental iron handrails, antique-style iron and wooden benches, and Embarcadero light fixtures. The result is a beautiful fishing pier, the first of what I used to hope would be many such projects.
The human element at this pier is also fascinating, a kaleidoscope of races, cultures and classes which few piers can match. Fishermen are a mixed group, primarily Chinese, but also Filipino, Latino, African-American, Caucasian, and just about any other group you may want to see. The language, the foods they bring to the pier, the fishing techniques and the cultures intermix in a manner that seems to work since it's a friendly, help-each-other kind of a place. Most of the anglers are locals and most, I guess, are retired. But the pier sits next to the City's financial district. Most lunch hours will see a few young executives, and executive wannabes (or soontobes) out on the pier. Perhaps there is only time for a short walk out to the end, time to discuss the latest business campaign or office gossip, perhaps there is a more leisurely visit, time to relax from the pressures of the job. Often these visitors seem somewhat perplexed when a fish is caught. What is it? Is it safe to eat? Others show by their words and looks that they wished they were fishing, instead of working the old nine to five.
One visit to the pier saw me arrive just as workers were removing cameras, lighting equipment, dressing trailers, and a large table of fruit. Turned out they had been shooting a commercial (and I've seen this pier in more commercials than any other northern California pier). Looked like it might be an interesting day and it was! Turns out the jacksmelt had also decided to visit the pier. Not the teeny weeny, Lilliputian-sized jacksmelt like you sometimes see in the south. NO, these were monster jacksmelt that thought they were trout. The 16" and 17" fish would grab a hook, fight all the way to the pier, and occasionally even jump out of the water. I was using a light tackle outfit rigged with two hooks and soon approached a state of nirvana.
After one particularly large fish, I noticed a young Chinese man and woman standing nearby. They were nicely dressed, he in a casual suit, she in a pretty dress. I mistook them for business people taking a break -- until they approached me. In a strong British accent they asked, "what are you catching?" Turns out they were tourists from London and on their first visit to San Francisco. What a lovely town and oh, what beautiful weather. So unlike London's overcast sky (and I must admit that the shirt-sleeve weather was pretty nice, even if I knew it was a very untypical mid-July day). By the way, could they catch a fish? They had never been fishing and thought it would be so much fun. No problem! Soon I hooked two jacksmelt, handed the pole to the lady, and she reeled in the fish. A proud picture was taken of her with her two fish. Next, a single, but larger, fish was hooked. Now the man reeled in the fish He bragged that his was larger, she bragged that she caught two at a time, and it was picture time once again. Instant, successful fisherpeople. But, I cautioned them, it isn't always so easy. We quickly had become friends and they assured me that upon return to Britain they intended to give fishing another whirl. Such is life at this pier in the city that Herb Cahn liked to call Baghdad-by-the-Bay. A never-ending panorama of people and stories.
Summer and fall are good for sharks, kingfish and crabs. Large leopard sharks, brown smoothhound sharks, bat rays (stingray) and skates hit best out at the end in deeper water. Most of the biggest sharks I've seen were taken from the right corner of the end but the tidal conditions help determine where the fish are, and some big fish are caught at almost every part of the end section. Use strong line and size 2/0 to 4/0 hooks. For bait, use squid, anchovy or live bait (shinerperch, staghorn sculpin or midshipmen); fish these on the bottom. White croaker (kingfish) prefer small pieces of anchovy; tomcod like small pieces of anchovy or pile worm. Sole and sanddabs on the bottom will hit either of these.
Much of the year will also see schools of jacksmelt swing by the pier. When they do, a multi-hook leader rigged with small pieces of pile worm, shrimp or even anchovy will attract these large smelt. Remember to keep the leader just under the surface of the water by use of a large bobber, piece of Styrofoam or similar float.
Summer and fall can see halibut (mostly keeper-size for some reason); while August through September will sometimes yield lots of striped bass. Most of these will be caught on frozen anchovies fished on the bottom or on live baits such as shinerperch and small smelt. However, during the summer months it is often easy to snag live (northern) anchovies at the pier and these are the TOP bait to use for the halibut. A Lucky Lura-type bait rig with small hooks (size 10-14) can sometimes yield 3-6 anchovies on every drop and these can be kept alive with a bucket and aerator. Although the schools of anchovies (and sometimes sardines) will move around depending upon the tide, the best spots for jigging baitfish seems to be along the sides of the pier just before you get to the end (before the pier widens). Why I'm not sure, but I've seen anglers snagging anchovies in this section several times. Fall months will also at times see some salmon landed, typically on an anchovy fished under a float.
Often during the summer nearly as many anglers are crabbing as fishing (although many people do both). This is an excellent area for rock crabs but remember that they are far tastier in the winter months.
This program also takes these kids out salmon fishing on the party boats, but wherever and whatever the type of fishing, I think it is a great program and one that should be duplicated by more communities. Teach the kids the beauty of nature and establish the rapport which is too often lacking in today's world.
Pier 7 Facts