Pier Fishing in California

Resources :: California Fishing Piers

Dumbarton Pier

“The Birds Made Us Do It,” that seemed to be the answer given by the pert and friendly young lady at the reception desk at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. The question was, “why is the road to the pier closed from April 1 to August 31?” Seems that the western snowy plover, an endangered species, nests and lays eggs near the road leading to the pier. Shortly thereafter, the newly-hatched youngsters begin to wander onto the road surface, where their gray and white feathers blend into the asphalt, making it difficult to spot them from a car. Since scrambled snowy plover eggs (as well as flattened chicks) are a definite no no, anglers are restricted in their ability to use the pier during those five months of the year. Unfortunately, several of the months are prime shark expedition times. But that’s life in the ‘90s—and the New Millennium.

This pier is a virtual copy of the Ravenswood Pier to the west, although it is open, unlike its sister pier. This is to be expected since the pier, for the most part, is the eastern end of the old Dumbarton Bridge. It does, however, offer additional resources: the Visitor’s Center and the headquarters of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge are located on the way to the pier. It is a good place to stop and get an understanding of the complex environmental factors that play a part in both the health of the bay and the fishery that depends on that health.


Because of the environment found here, this pier generally offers only fair fishing. The bottom is mud, the water is fairly shallow, and salinity levels of the water can be higher than in more northern reaches of the bay. The result is that at certain times of the year there are simply less fish than in some other areas of the bay. When there are less fish, less fish will be caught. Winter and spring see a more normal mix of water and usually more of a variety of fish.

It is during the winter and early spring months that you’ll have the best luck for perch, jacksmelt and starry flounder. Winter and spring are also the times when most of the white sturgeon are caught and several have been caught at the pier which exceeded 100 pounds in size. Action in the summer and fall (but remember it is difficult to fish from April-August due to the road closure) centers around striped bass, sharks and bat rays with an occasional school of kingfish or perch moving through and offering a diversion to the big-game hunters.

Several different varieties of shark are landed here but, as usual at South Bay piers, the vast majority of the sharks are small sand sharks (brown smoothhounds). Second in number will be the more highly esteemed leopard sharks, a fish which reaches good size, fights well, and is delicious on the dinner table. Some years will also see a few sevengill sharks caught. Although most of these sevengill sharks will be far less than their maximum nine-foot size, they often approach or exceed four feet in length, a good size for a pier-caught fish. The vast majority of sharks are caught in the late summer and fall but almost every month will see sharks landed. Quite a few bat rays will also be landed as will a few skates.

If an angler has luck on his or her side, a striped bass will be the prize. Best bet for these will be in September or October and live or dead bullheads (as long as they still have their slime) are usually the preferred bait.

Fishing Tips

Fish this pier in the winter and spring for a variety of perch: pileperch, black seaperch, redtail surfperch, and white seaperch. Use small hooks and either pile worms or small pieces of shrimp or clams for bait. Be sure to keep the bait near the bottom. During the fall try for silver or walleye surfperch using pieces of anchovy while fishing the mid-depth areas under the pier. During the summer to early fall try cut anchovies on the bottom using a high/low leader for kingfish (white croaker) and an occasional flatfish. Pray to the gods to keep the bullheads, a.k.a. the “little pests,” and “dumb #**@~!!s” away from your bait.

During winter and spring fish for sturgeon using ghost shrimp, mud shrimp or grass shrimp for bait. Be sure to keep the bait near the bottom using a flounder-sturgeon rigging. Fish in the summer to fall for sharks using squid, anchovy or mackerel as bait. For the largest sharks use a live bait like a midshipmen, mudsucker (longjaw goby) or bullhead (staghorn sculpin). Unfortunately, the pier is not open at night which is the best time to catch sharks.

During the peak months of September and October try on the bottom for striped bass using pile worms, ghost shrimp, anchovies, sardines and live baits—bullheads or mudsuckers. Also, don’t be afraid to try artificials for the bass although traditionally few have been caught on lures at the pier; it may be due more to the lack of effort on the part of anglers rather than artificials not working. Also, remember to bring a net for the sturgeon, stripers and small leopard sharks. Use a treblehook-gaff for the large sharks, bat rays and occasional big skate that decides to inhale a bait.

E-mail note:
Date: February 28, 1998
To: Ken Jones
From: Cary G
Subject: Dumbarton Pier

Hey Ken!

FILTH FLARN FILTH, I’ve been skunked at Dumbarton Pier!! On a brighter note, the reg. pier rats reported last week and the week before that sturgeon, and striped bass were biting like crazy. Well you and I both know how a pier rat can stretch a tale or two (no pun intended). Well, I was talking with the game warden, and he showed me pictures of these beasts that were caught out there a week ago and before that. WOW, the pier rats are not lying! Huge sturgeon, striped bass, and even a gigantic leopard shark. This place is hot!

History Note

This area has an interesting history. The name Dumbarton Point itself apparently dates to 1876 when it was named after the town of Dumbarton in Scotland. About the same time, Origin Mowry established a successful landing on the deep slough just south of Dumbarton Point. Railroads also played a part in the growth of the area when the narrow-gauge Santa Clara Valley Railroad was bought by James Fair, James Flood and Alfred “Hog” Davis. They renamed the line the South Pacific Coast Railroad, extended the railroad from Dumbarton Point to Santa Cruz, and eventually offered daily commute service north to the Alameda Pier. In addition, people could catch the railroad’s ferry “Newark,” which ran daily trips from Dumbarton Point to San Francisco. Eventually that railroad was bought by Southern Pacific and this area became one of the busiest freight junctions in California.

The original Dumbarton Bridge was the Dumbarton Cutoff railroad trestle bridge built by the Southern Pacific Railroad. However, the Dumbarton Bridge which served as the precursor to this pier was a highway bridge opened on January 15, 1927. It was the first highway bridge over San Francisco Bay and at 6 1/2 miles (34,416 feet) was the longest highway bridge in the world—at least for two years until the San Mateo Bridge was opened. By the ‘60s, it was obvious that the old two-lane bridge needing either an expansion or needed to be rebuilt as a larger bridge. The latter option proved more feasible and in 1985 a new and wider Dumbarton Bridge was opened. Luckily, the inshore sections at both ends of the old bridge were converted into fishing piers, the Dumbarton Pier at the eastern end, and the Ravenswood Pier at the western end.

Many wharves and piers dotted the South Bay during the second half of the 19th Century. One was near the mouth of Alameda Creek where, in 1850, John Horner bought land and built several piers and warehouses; eventually the area became Union City.



Open daily from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. The road to the pier is closed from April 1 to August 31 but a free shuttle runs from the Visitor Center to the pier at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The shuttle picks up returning anglers at 12:45 and 5:15. Reservations for the shuttle are advised (510-792-4275).


Free parking is located at the foot of the pier. Portable toilets will be found at several spots on the pier. Fish cleaning stations, benches and windbreaks are found on the pier. There are no facilities for bait and tackle or food.

Handicapped Facilities

None specifically although the pier’s surface is blacktop and easily used by wheelchair. The railing is approximately 42 inches high.

How To Get There

From I880 take Highway 84 west to the Paseo Padre Parkway exit; follow the exit and road south back under the highway, the road will turn into Thornton Avenue; follow it till you see the signs on your right indicating both the visitor center for the wildlife refuge and the pier; after entering the refuge, follow the road three miles to the pier.


U.S. Department of the Interior/Fish and Wildlife Service.