Pier Fishing in California

Resources :: California Fishing Piers

Elephant Rock Pier

When opened in the early 1960s, this pier was “dedicated to all girls and boys under 16 years of age who love to fish.” In fact, no one was supposed to fish on the pier who was over the age of 16 (although many adults did and no one really seemed to object). Today it seems to be shared by anglers of all ages. The pier itself is both tiny and unique. The entire pier is only 75 feet long and most of this is a walkway which extends from the rocky shoreline to a circular fishing platform built around Elephant Rock. Hardly more than a dozen anglers will fit on the platform but fishing here can be quite good. In fact, fishing here is among the best to be found among Bay Area piers. If the pier was larger, and provided space for a greater number of anglers, I might rate it among the best in the state. Personally, it has been my number one pier for leopard sharks.

Environment

The pier juts out a short way into Raccoon Strait from Point Tiburon. Across the strait is Angel Island; adjacent to the pier is Belvedere Cove and the ferry launch to Angel Island. Fishing from the pier is for the most part like rock fishing. Excellent fishing exists for brown rockfish, blackperch and striped seaperch most of the year, rubberlip seaperch and rainbow seaperch mid-winter to spring. Casting away from the rocks, and fishing on the bottom, will often yield white croaker (kingfish), striped bass (in the fall), or sharks and bat rays. Fishing on the surface often yields nice strings of jacksmelt. Winter time, December through February, can see huge schools of Pacific herring massed around the inshore rocks. When the herring enter local waters and begin to spawn, sturgeon will be close behind and eager to vacuum up some of the tasty eggs.

Fishing Tips

Best bait here is fresh mussels or pile worms baited on a size 6 or 8 hook. You should fish directly under the pier, in and around crevices in the rock. Watch your line and bait, keep the line taunt and strike as soon as you feel a nibble. If a perch strikes and you miss it, simply continue to fish in the same spot, the perch will return. You will, using these small size hooks and this type of bait, catch a number of other small fish. Most of these unfortunately will be too small to keep or use but they can provide fun for young anglers. Commonly caught fish are small brown, blue, black, and grass rockfish, cabezon, kelp greenling, kelpfish, fringeheads and a few Irish lords. Another good spot for perch is the water in front of the Caprice Restaurant (which requires a short but very accurate cast since the picture windows would be pretty expensive to replace); pile worms sometimes produce good-sized rubberlip perch in that area. For jacksmelt, use a multi-hook leader loaded with three size 8 or 6 hooks baited with small pieces of pile worm or shrimp. Use a float to keep the line just under the surface of the water. Most of my best catches of these fish have been on an incoming tide when the current was sweeping the water past the rock.

Schools of jacksmelt often seem to hang twenty or thirty feet past the rock and will hit the baits if they are in the correct mid-depth location. Many of the jacksmelt that frequent these waters seem to be of the gargantuan variety, fish 15-17 inches long that somehow have the mistaken idea that they are trout (or maybe baby tarpon). They fight hard and occasionally even jump. Some of the locals try small spoons and spinners for the large smelt and have a blast on ultra-light tackle. The most common lures seem to be Mepps and Roostertail spinners as well as light, quarter ounce spoons.

Casting away from the pier can yield kingfish and brown rockfish by using small pieces of anchovy, shrimp or squid. There are also a lot of sharks and rays landed at this pier by using squid or small fish as bait (and fishing at night for leopard sharks is a tradition here). A long cast straight out from the end (or slightly to the left) seems to provide the best water for the larger sharks and bat rays (called stingrays by almost everyone). I have had my best luck on an incoming tide but have seen then landed on every tide. Be sure to bring a net or treble gaff with you since many of the sharks and rays are pretty good size; far too big to handline up onto the pier.

Also, remember to bring extra sinkers and leaders since there are a lot of rocks to grab hold of your riggings. However, this is also one of those areas where there is often an overabundance of bullheads and crabs, especially as you cast away from the pier. One caution here is that currents can be very swift, a good reason for fishing straight down around the rock.

In the fall, the nearby shoreline is a favorite place for striper fisherman to cast lures for stripers, some which reach very impressive size. I see no reason why anglers fishing from this pier shouldn’t have similar success. As mentioned, the area can see quite a few sturgeon when the herring are in the spawning mood. Sturgeon rigs can be cast out here and when baited with masses of the eggs should yield a few sturgeon. If you can’t procure any of the eggs (and they should be available at local shops) try a slab of herring itself or switch to the old standbys—ghost shrimp, mud shrimp or grass shrimp. You can also hook fairly large fish straight down by the rock.

One mid-June trip to this pier nearly resulted in the capture of a large monkey-face eel and the story of that fish can teach a lesson. By investigation, I had found a deep-water hole which curved under the rock. Several drops into the hole saw repeated taps on a bait but no hookups. Thinking it was a perch, I dropped a size 6 hook baited with pile worms into the hole. I had an immediate bite! A quick jerk hooked the fish and also prevented it from getting back into any crevice. With the bend of the pole I knew I had a good size fish but at first I had no idea as to what I had hooked. Nevertheless, after a short fight, I had the fish to the top and it was an ugly-looking monkey-face eel around 2 feet in length which twisted and turned the way eels normally do. Unfortunately, I was using my light pole rigged with 6 pound test line and I felt I might lose the fish if I tried to lift it up to the pier. Instead, I tried to gaff it with my treble-hook pier gaff (which really wasn’t too bright of an idea considering the shape of the fish). I held the pole with one hand and tried to gaff it with the other. Just about the time I was ready to gaff it, Mr. Ugly gave a jerk, the gaff hit the line, the line snapped, and the fish said adios. Although I had lost the fish, I made two subsequent trips to the pier in hopes of rehooking the eel. I knew that many fish will stay in a favorite hole for months or even years depending upon the type of fish, and eels such as monkey-face eels and wolf eels are prime examples of fish with this trait.

I returned in mid-July and caught only a few small perch. I returned again in mid-August, just three days shy of two exact months. Two drops into the hole quickly resulted in two fish, a medium-sized brown rockfish and a black seaperch. Action then centered on a school of large jacksmelt that were attacking pile worms just under the surface of the water. Finally, I dropped one more pile worm-threaded hook down into the hole. Just as two months before, I had a hard strike and soon saw the twisting and turning body of an eel thrashing at the surface. Nervous that I would once again lose the fish, I worked the fish completely around the pier and then up along the pier to the shoreline where a helpful angler netted the monkey-face eel for me (yes, I had brought a net this time). It was 24 1/2 inches long and I am convinced to this day that it was the very same fish I had hooked two months before (since these types of eel are rare off of piers, especially two of the same size, from the same hole). Remember, if you lose a good fish in a favorite hole, return and fish that hole. It may be several hours, days or even months later but unless the fish has been caught by someone else, or used as food by a fellow denizen of the deep, there is a good chance the fish will still be using the hole for its home base.

Special Recommendation

This pier is located in an extremely nice area, an area which receives considerable use from both locals and tourists. Weekend parking can be at a premium so if possible arrive early or late in the day, especially on summer weekends.

History Note

The name of the town comes from the Spanish Punta de Tiburon (Shark Point). It should not be a surprise therefore that this is an excellent spot to fish for leopard shark and brown smoothhound shark. As mentioned, the area is an extremely nice tourist area with manicured lawns adjacent to the bluffs, nice landscaping, good parking areas and an attractive shopping area on the nearby Main Street. It is hard to imagine that up until the 1960s this was basically a railroad town. The railroad controlled most of the area and tracks ended just across the street from the pier – where the parking lot sits today. In fact, a newspaper article in 1950 characterized Tiburon as “a bundle of tracks and a clump of smoky buildings and 42 Acres of land…a workshop of noise, oil, welding, and hammering.” The shoreline was dominated by commercial activity with ferry slips and cargo wharfs covering much of the beach area between Elephant Rock and the Main Street part of Tiburon. This activity had begun back in the 1880s. By 1883, the point contained a ferry slip, a long wharf and a railroad track, all built for the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad and its’ ferry. As business grew so did the number of wharfs and pilings. Passenger use of the area did decline in 1907 when the SF&NP merged with the North Shore Railroad to become the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. Although a smaller passenger ship continued to run to Belvadere and Tiburon, ferry service shifted to Sausalito and the Tiburon shoreline was primarily used for cargo shipping. The opening, in 1937, of the Golden Gate Bridge signaled that the end was near for the north bay ferries and just five years later, in 1942, the Sausalito to San Francisco ferry ended operation. Cargo operations continued until the 1960s but by 1958 most operations had ceased and Southern Pacific (the parent company since 1929), had shifted operations elsewhere. In 1967, the last train ran out of Tiburon and the change began. In 1984, 20,000 cubic yards of soil containing oil and lead from the railroad operations were removed and replaced by clean fill. Next, a 38-acre site was leveled for the expensive and beautiful condominium complex called Point Tiburon. The only reminder today of the railroad years are pictures and the old railroad depot. Just up the street from the pier sits the Donahue Building, the building which once was known as the Tiburon Depot. Although relatively new, being constructed in the ‘60s, wave damage led to the closure of the pier in 1996. Waves had uplifted and damaged the old wooden platform which surrounded the rock. In addition, the steep walkway out to the pier needed repair. Unfortunately, the city needed federal money to repair the pier and the resulting legal entanglements would lead to a long, three year ordeal before the pier was repaired and opened. In order to satisfy the requirements of the American Disabilities Act, the switch-back ramp to the pier which you see today was created. In addition, to prevent future damage from waves, a new steel grid was used instead of wood around the rock. It gives the pier a somewhat colder feeling, and allows an occasional bath from the waves, but it is designed to dissipate force from the waves and thus hopefully, prevent damage. Because of the legal requirements and paperwork, the less than 100-foot-long pier, and it’s fancy new ramp, was not opened until the summer of 1999.

Facts

Hours

Open 24 hours a day year round.

Facilities

There is some free parking just across the street from the pier—two hours only from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. There is additional parking down the street or on residential streets. There are no lights, fish cleaning stations or restrooms. The upscale Caprice Restaurant is located at the foot of the pier.

Handicapped Facilities

This is not the best of sites for handicapped anglers. There are some handicapped parking spaces in the lot across the street from the pier but the ramp leading down to the pier is fairly steep and narrow and the walkway around the pier itself is also narrow. The railing is approximately 40 inches high.

How To Get There

From Highway 101 take the Tiburon exit west and follow Tiburon Boulevard (State Highway 131) to Paradise Drive where you will see the pier. The pier is at the corner of Paradise Drive and Mar West Street.

Management

Tiburon Public Works Department.