Last modified: September 24, 2018

Fishing Piers San Francisco Bay Area

Elephant Rock Pier — Tiburon

Public Pier — No Fishing License Required

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 15 (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, it might rate among the best in the state, at least for several species.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Environment.  The pier sits at the eastern end of  Tiburon’s Shoreline Park, a narrow green belt that sits between Paradise Drive and the waters of San Francisco Bay. The park and its paths provides some absolutely great views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the yachts and sailing craft that call Tiburon and Belvedere Island their home. The park starts at the business district and ends at Tiburon Point.

On Tiburon Point sits this small pier, a pier that juts just a short way out into Raccoon Strait. Water depth around the pier averages only about fifteen to twenty feet (and changes with the tides) but the bottom drops rapidly away. The strait itself is a deep-water channel that reaches a depth of 160 feet. one of the deepest channels in San Francisco Bay. As such, its depth is only exceeded by that of the Golden Gate Channel that reaches 313 foot deep. One result is that strong currents are common, both incoming from the Gate and outgoing to the Gate; and the currents can require quite a bit of lead to hold bottom. The bottom itself is primarily sand and mud but there are considerable rocks that can grab tackle, especially if you make a cast far out from the pier. Be warned.

Across the strait is Angel Island; adjacent to the pier is Belvedere Cove, upshore is Tiburon’s business district and ferry launch to Angel Island.

Fishing Elephant Rock is, for the most part, like rock fishing. A drop straight down around the rock can provide excellent fishing  for brown rockfish, blackperch and striped seaperch most of the year, rubberlip seaperch and rainbow seaperch mid-winter to spring. Crabbing with nets almost always yields at least a few keeper-size rock crabs.

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.

Tiburon’s main business district sits just up the shore from the pier

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, also 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 lord.

Angel Island and its cove (along with a pier) sits just across the strait

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.

Black (or buttermouth) Seaperch caught by Gudawg

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.

Rubberlip Seaperch

Casting away from the pier can yield kingfish and brown rockfish by using small pieces of anchovy, shrimp or squid.

Tiburon in Spanish means shark and it’s an appropriate name for the town since a lot of sharks are in the local waters. The pier is noted for leopard sharks, often big leopard sharks, as well as bat rays, often big bat rays. However, given the depth of the strait even bigger sharks are in the vicinity.

On one visit to the pier I ran into Travis and Jason who were fishing for and hoping for a 7-gill shark.They were regulars who showed me picture after picture of good-sized sharks and rays including some nice 7-gill sharks. They said it was always best to fish an outgoing tide and their gear was always the same. A fish-finder-type rig with a long wire leader, strong, size 4/0 hooks, and a torpedo sinker of anywhere from 4-8 ounces depending upon the current. Bait was typically a whole wrapped squid (that was generally impervious to the crabs). When a fish bit a good strike was needed and then the goal was to get the fish coming toward the pier, and up and away from the rocks, as soon as possible.

Although they only stayed a few hours, and didn’t get their 7-gill, they did manage to hook and land several bat rays and in one case handed the rod off to a youngster who managed to catch his first bat ray.

A happy young angler with his first bat ray — with a lot of good coaching from Juan

As mentioned, this is an excellent pier for leopard sharks and if you bring a light you can usually fish into the night. 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 both sharks and rays landed on every tide. Be sure to bring a net  with you since many of the sharks and rays are pretty good size, far too big to hand line 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.

Leopard Shark caught by Red Fish (Robert Gardner)

Leopard shark

Bat Ray

You can 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 that curved under the rock. Several drops into the hole saw repeated taps on the 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 that 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.

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