Nestled just inland from the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point, the Civil War fort that sits under the south end of the bridge, this pier offers one of the most beautiful views of the bridge itself as well as the hills that form the entrance to the Left Coast’s most famous bay. In addition, a veritable armada of boats and ships is usually on display, everything from small Boston Whalers, ferries, and sightseeing boats, to huge ocean liners and football-field-length cargo ships. Controversial, but almost a daily sighting, are the even longer oil ships that traverse the watery highway to their moorings at Richmond or the more inland Carquinez Strait. Equally impressive is the view toward the City, one of the world’s favorite tourist destinations. Luckily for the anglers, the pier offers generally decent fishing and crabbing. The only problem is the camera-touting tourists who sometimes outnumber the fishermen and tend to fill up the limited parking spaces near the pier, especially on the weekends. In addition, as the amateur photographers vie for the most photogenic spot on the pier to capture their once-in-a-lifetime photos, they may be in the very spot a fisherman wants to fish. But it’s a truly minor and good-natured inconvenience.
This old wharf sits on its mostly wooden pilings over a sandy bottom. However, because of its location near the bay entrance, and because of debris which has built up over the years under the pier, offerings include more than just sandy-shore species of fish. Here you might catch almost any type of fish that enters the bay. Most common are white croaker, several varieties of perch, jacksmelt and topsmelt, flatfish such as sand sole, sand dabs and starry flounder, smaller rockfish, sharks, rays and skates. This pier also offers excellent crabbing for both red crabs and rock crabs. You will also often bring up Dungeness crabs, but remember that it is illegal to keep these crabs in San Francisco Bay and San Pablo Bay.
Strong winds are common most days and often they are accompanied by strong currents. For the wind, the best advice is to bring a warm jacket. For the currents, you simply have to plan out how you are going to fish. As example, it may be almost impossible at times to keep your line down under the pier, the prime habitat if you’re after perch. Or, if you cast out away from the pier for bottom fish such as flounder, it may be almost impossible to hold on the bottom without a fairly heavy sinker. So, make sure you have the tackle to offset any problems from the wind or current.
The best time to fish this pier is in the winter and spring. Mid-to-late winter can produce decent catches of flounder (although there seem to be less and less each year); similar times will also see blackperch, striped seaperch (usually called rainbow perch), rainbow seaperch, pileperch and rubberlip seaperch. For flounder, fish on the bottom using a sliding sinker rigging baited with pile worms, grass shrimp, ghost shrimp, or anchovies. For perch, attach a couple of size 6 hooks directly to your line or use a high/low leader baited with pile worms, grass shrimp or ghost shrimp. If bait doesn’t work, try plastic grubs (although expect to lose a few to the debris on the bottom). Small Kastmasters, 1/12 or 1/8 oz. jigged next to the pilings have also proven deadly to the larger perch. Best colors on the Kastmasters are chrome, chrome with blue, or chrome with green. For perch, I’ve had best success fishing the inner side of the L-shaped pier—just where the pier branches to the right. At that point there are three series of old pilings. The water between those pilings and the pier is often very productive. Fish straight down or let the current carry your line under the pier. Some years, especially those that see a lot of rain during the winter months, will also see huge schools of Pacific sanddab enter these waters. When they do, two fish at a time on the high/low leaders will be the norm.
Summer produces mainly white croaker, jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, silver surfperch, Pacific sardines (some years), sand sole, English sole, brown smoothhound sharks, leopard sharks, bat rays and big skates. For the kingfish (white croaker), fish on the bottom with pile worms or cut anchovy and be prepared to hook them as the cast is settling to the bottom. For jacksmelt, fish on the top with pile worms, small hooks and a bobber or float. For walleye, silvers, and tomcod, fish mid-depth with worms or strips of anchovy. For sand sole and English sole try on the bottom with a high/low leader or a sliding bait leader and use size 4 hooks baited with pile worms, shrimp, or strips of anchovy. For sharks and rays use heavier tackle and anchovies, mackerel, squid, or ghost shrimp for bait. A lot of immature rockfish and cabezon are also caught while fishing under the pier using pile worms or shrimp but almost all are too small to keep. A common problem throughout the summer can be keeping the bullheads (staghorn sculpin) off your hook.
Some years will also see good runs of Pacific herring (winter time) and/or Pacific sardines (summer time). The best bet for these are the multi-hook bait rigs—Lucky Lura, Lucky Joe, Pescador Rigs, or Sabiki Rigs. At the end of the rigging use a torpedo sinker or a heavy spoon (and Crocodile spoons from 2-3 ounces in weight work well).
Most years will also see some striped bass and halibut caught at the pier, usually in July or August. The best bait for either of these is a live shiner or live smelt fished near the bottom. If live bait is unavailable, try frozen anchovies, sardines, or an artificial lure like a Hair Raiser. Salmon also enter the catch and typically you’ll see people fishing for them from June until the fall months. Most seem to be caught as they pass through the Bay in September and October. Best bait and rigging are frozen anchovies fished a few feet under a bobber.
This is also one of the best piers in the bay to catch rock crabs; in fact, there seem to be as many people crabbing as fishing on many days. A final creature that seems fairly common is octopus. Most of the creatures are caught down around the pilings and whenever they’re brought up they’re sure to elicit comments from interested onlookers. Of course they are also pretty tasty!
Always bring warm clothes with you to this area since the winds can be very strong.
Date: January 17, 1998 To: Ken Jones From: Matt S Subject: Fort Baker Hey Ken, Well, I just got back from Fort Point. It was pretty neat there. We caught a lot of sanddabs and rock crabs. There were a few perch hitting. I was amazed at the view of things. I caught a small fish that looked like a midshipman and it bit my finger. I then booted it back to sea. My friend also caught a 15-inch lingcod that had a blue belly. About an hour before we left, I had a huge lingcod on. It had to be about 30 inches long because I got it out of the water and it was clearly bigger than my tackle box which is almost two feet long. Right before I got it up, it gave one flap of hope and splash. I lost a big one! I am still not over it. Oh well, I guess I go back and catch him again some time. Someone else also caught a kingfish that could’ve been mistaken for a salmon. A guy next to me also caught a octopus that he almost had to beat to death to unhook. That’s about it.
Sunrise to sunset; the gate to the entrance road is locked during the night.
Restrooms are adjacent to the pier as is limited free parking. There are no lights, fish cleaning stations, bait and tackle, or snack shops.
There are some handicapped parking spaces near the park offices. The surface of the pier is primarily wood surface although part is also asphalt. There is a short wooden berm around the pier but no railings.
From Highway 101 the easiest way is to turn into the parking lot near the toll plaza at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, from there Battery E. Road winds down the hill to Lincoln Boulevard, turn left and proceed a short way until you see markers indicating the way to Fort Point, turn left on Long Avenue and it will take you down to the pier.
National Park Service.