Like it’s counterpart across the bay, the Fort Point Pier, this pier offers not only decent fishing but one of the worlds most beautiful views. Look up to your right and you are looking up into the Golden Gate Bridge. Look across the bay and you see The City. Look at the bay and you will see Angel Island, Alcatrez, and an unending number of boats, everything from the smallest sailboats to large luxury liners and even larger oil tankers. It is hard to fish this pier and not recognize that San Francisco Bay is one of the world’s greatest bays. Of course there are many days when you can see nothing but fog moving in through the Golden Gate, fog which seems to pierce even the heaviest coats but which also at times seems to lend a surreal feeling to the whole area.
This area is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a park of more than 38,000 acres. The pier itself is a former military wharf built at the south end of Horseshoe Bay (in fact its original name was the East Fort Baker Mine Wharf). At times it was dilapidated and in danger of being torn down. Today, it has been renovated and is better than ever, although a little smaller. Up until the mid ‘80s there was a L-shaped main section to the pier and a smaller concrete pier on the west side; together they created a U-shaped pier. The concrete pier is gone but the surface has been improved and railings added which makes it a safer pier for children. This is good news because the pier at times offers better than average angling.
Most of the bottom around the pier is sand and mud, although the inshore section offers a rocky shoreline on the west side and a pebble beach on the east side.
Casting out from the end, away from the pier, is generally the best spot for jacksmelt and the occasional wintertime school of Pacific sanddab. Strong currents sweep in and out through the gate, pass by the rocky Point Cavallo, and head down shore to Sausalito. Jacksmelt seem to follow the currents around the point and past the pier and on good days lucky anglers will fill buckets with the large and tasty smelt.
Under the pier however are hundreds of concrete pilings and most are covered with barnacles and other growth. Here, under the pier, and towards the old concrete pier, is the area to fish for a wide variety of perch and small rockfish. Regulars say the best spot for the larger perch is on the west side of the pier about one third of the way out on the pier.
For perch, fish straight down or underneath the pier. Use a light line, size 4 to 8 hooks, and most important, use small pieces of pile worms, shrimp or mussels for bait. If you want, overturn some inshore rocks and grab some of the small green rock crabs, they make good perch bait. During the winter and early spring you may catch pileperch, rubberlip seaperch, striped seaperch and rainbow seaperch. Almost any time of the year may yield blackperch, but late spring to early summer seems best. For all of these use a high-low leader and fish on the bottom—again, around the pilings. Later in the year, spring to fall, seems to be the best time for walleye surfperch and silver surfperch. For these, use a small piece of anchovy and fish mid depth, or let your line sink to the bottom then slowly retrieve the line all the way to the top. Almost any time of the year can also yield white seaperch but these seem to hit best with a short cast away from the pier on the left (east) side of the pier.
The same bait and riggings will also yield a lot of undersized bottomfish when fishing under the pier; this is hard to avoid but does yield some interesting variety. Included in my catch have been cabezon, kelp greenling, black, blue, and brown rockfish, smoothhead sculpin, scalyhead sculpin, onespot fringehead and blackeye goby.
Casting straight out from the pier or to the right is less productive but does yield some fish; most common are kingfish (white croaker), true tom cod (in the summer), starry flounder, Pacific and speckled sanddab, sand sole, sharks, rays and skate. For most of these a small strip of anchovy seems to work best; for the sharks and rays use squid and a heavier rigging. Some years will see huge schools of sanddabs invade the local waters during winter months (December-January); when they do, anglers may catch a fish on every hook, every cast.
For jacksmelt, use a fairly heavy rigging, attach three size 8 hooks to your line spaced about eight inches apart, use enough weight to cast away from the pier, and finish with a large bobber, balloon or float (most anglers use Styrofoam) which will keep your line at the top of the water. The jacksmelt swim in this water just under the surface. When fishing is good, fishermen will pull in a jacksmelt on every hook and some will reach nearly twenty inches in length. In addition, this is an area which can see very heavy jacksmelt concentrations during the winter herring spawning season. At such times the jacksmelt will hit artificials, primarily small spinners and spoons.
Although I personally have seen few large fish caught on the pier, this is an area which sees a lot of striped bass, salmon and sturgeon. Striped bass can be caught using live bait such as shinerperch or bullheads and the best spot seems to off the far right corner of the pier or along the right side. Artificial lures can also be used if there are not too many other fishermen present. Check local tackle shops to see what has been working for anglers casting from shore.
Sturgeon are also present, especially when the herring are spawning in nearby areas. One day in the mid-’70s I saw nine keeper sturgeon laying in a row near Point Cavallo, none was under thirty pounds, and all had been caught by a group of anglers fishing from the ROCKS at the point. Several mentioned how hard it was to fight the fish from the rocks and then climb down, gaff, and pull the large fish up to the top of the cliff. Needless to say, they felt it was the greatest day of fishing most had ever experienced. Today this area is closed for sturgeon fishing from January 1 to March 15; the fish were simply too easy to catch. In addition, there was a problem at one time with anglers snagging the fish. However there are still fish present after March 15 so it is an area an angler might want to try. If you do try for sturgeon remember to use heavy tackle and remember to have appropriate equipment to land the fish. Although ghost shrimp and mud shrimp are the best baits year round, the sturgeon gorge on herring eggs and herring during the restricted winter months. Some anglers go out at low tide during these times and collect the eggs (you are allowed 25 pounds a day) from exposed rocks and pilings and then save them for bait.
King salmon are caught fairly frequently during some summers. When present, the best bait seems to be a whole anchovy fished about two to three feet under a float. This pier and the Pacifica Pier probably see more king salmon landed than any other piers in the state.
Last but not least is the excellent crabbing which can be had at the pier. Just remember that you are inside the bay and can only keep the rock crabs, you’re not allowed to keep the Dungeness which will show up in your nets.
As mentioned, this can be a foggy area. Old records reported that the fog horn at nearby Point Bonito operated an average of 858 hours a year. So, bring some warm clothing just in case the fog does decide to settle in.
Fort Baker was established in 1897 and is the oldest of the forts on the Marin Headlands. The pier itself was built in 1937 and saw repairs and modifications in 1940, 1948 and 1985. Today the pier is 358 feet long and 116 feet wide at its widest point.
Gates entering the area are posted as opening at 7:00 A.M. and closing at 5:00 P.M.
Few! There is limited free parking at the foot of the pier but there is more parking just down the road. At the foot of the pier are portable toilets. There are no lights, benches or fish cleaning facilities. Just up the street, less than a block away, is the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a great place to take the kids if they tire of the fishing.
Handicapped parking, the surface of the pier is asphalt, and the railing is 48 inches high.
Take Alexander Avenue off of Highway 101. It is the last exit before driving onto the Golden Gate Bridge going south, and the first exit after the vista point going north. Take Alexander Drive down the hill till you see Danes Drive and then, just before the tunnel, turn right onto Bunker Road and follow it down to the pier.
United States Army—although part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area.