Last modified: August 23, 2018

Fishing Piers San Francisco Bay Area

Fort Mason Pier — San Francisco

Public Pier — No Fishing License Required

I’m not exactly sure what they said but I think it was in questionable taste. There I was, fishing out near the end of Pier 3 at Fort Mason, listening to what my non-Oriental ears knew had to be some fairly sexist (and certainly politically incorrect) remarks being shouted across the water toward Pier 2, and a group of young Chinese women. In response, some of the ladies were shouting back what seemed to be a few choice words of their own. It all seemed just a little surreal. It certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned when I drove down to the pier for a little fishing and solitude.

Fort Mason and its three piers

I had come to Fort Mason as a refugee from the Muni Pier. There, I had been unable to find a parking space. Irritated, I blamed it on the tourists, ignoring the fact that I too was a visitor. No problemo, I would head around the corner to Fort Mason and its usually quiet piers.

But the piers weren’t quiet that day. A large red banner covered the front of Pier 2; it heralded the “Shanghai Trade Exposition.” Nearby sat several hundred dressed-to-the-hilt San Francisco capitalists and their quasi-capitalistic partners from Shanghai. Most listened politely as Mayor Jordan welcomed them to San Francisco (although a few seemed to be paying more attention to a horse from SFPD’s equestrian division). There was a plethora of people and not many parking spaces, but all I needed was one. I found a spot near Pier 3 and soon was walking out to the end of the pier—while trying to look inconspicuous with my poles, bait & tackle cart, and fishing attire (which certainly would not have passed any Wilkes Bashford inspection). But I shouldn’t have worried, there were other fishermen on both Pier 2 and Pier 3, and none were wearing suits and ties. Most were catching fish. Anchovies were being snagged by Lucky Lura bait rigs while white croakers (kingfish) and sharks were being caught on the bottom. A few optimistic souls were even fishing the upper waters for salmon, although unsuccessfully.

Everything was quiet until the festivities broke up. Soon after, people from the trade delegation began to check out the fishermen on the end of Pier 2. Included among the group were several very attractive and exuberant young ladies. My neighboring fishermen (some elderly Chinese gents from San Francisco) began to yell at the Chinese girls across the water. I’m not sure what was said but I waited to see if anyone was offended. Evidently not, since everyone, including the girls, finally began to laugh. It must have been fairly tame. Still, it was a little distracting.

Fort Mason and Alcatraz

Downshore from Fort Point, just the other side of Crissy Field and the Marina Green, is Fort Mason. Established in 1848, this fort was most prominent during World War II when it served as the main embarkationsite for troops heading out to the Pacific. Today, the fort is headquarters for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the site serves as a golden example of how private and government resources can be mixed. The buildings are home to museums, environmental organizations, classrooms for a wide variety of seminars and workshops—and a few trade shows.

Directly behind the buildings are three old piers, two of which are used by anglers. Pier 2 sees the most angling activity; it is 652 foot long (and 118 foot wide) and open to fisherman on both sides and at the end. Anglers can also fish from both sides of Pier 3 or out around the end. Generally, but obviously not always, the piers are pretty quiet.

Environment. Water here is fairly deep and currents can be fairly strong. You have a choice of fishing the area between the piers or at the outer ends. The calmer water between the piers is often better for perch and white croaker and provides some relief from the wind. The outer ends are usually better for other species of fish, but are also more exposed to the wind. The bay bottom here is mud mixed with some vegetation. Along the piers are numerous old pilings rich with growth. The main types of fish caught here are perch, white croaker, jacksmelt, tomcod, a few flatfish, sharks and rays.

Fishing Tips. Fish in late winter and spring (until the end of March) around the pilings for large pileperch, blackperch, rubberlip seaperch, striped seaperch, and a few rainbow seaperch. Many of the large perch like to congregate under the piers and sometimes are in fairly large schools. Unfortunately, because of the distance from the railings to the edge of the pier, it is impossible to swing your line back under the pier. Next best is to fish as close to the pilings as possible and use pile worms, small pieces of shrimp, mussels or ghost shrimp. For white croakers, and they are present most of the year, fish the waters between the piers using a high/low leader with a small strip of anchovy or pile worms as bait. The same rigging and bait will often take Pacific sanddab during the winter months. During the summer and fall, fish on the bottom with a high/low leader or sliding leader for sand sole, English sole and a few Pacific tomcod. For much of the year you can try for jacksmelt near the top of the water. Use three size 6 hooks under a Styrofoam float together with pile worms or small pieces of shrimp as bait.

Often during the summer (After August 1), bait rigs with small hooks, size 10 or 12, can be used in a yo-yo fashion to hook walleye or silver surfperch, and occasionally Pacific sardines or anchovies (for live bait). Usually these fish will be at a mid-depth level or just under the surface of the water and most often the safest place to try is between pilings that don’t have any algae growing on them. You may also be surprised if you let the bait rig drop to the bottom. Quite often small rockfish and equally small cabezon like to hang around the pilings. However, sometimes a larger fish will grab your leader and unless you quickly get it headed to the surface, you’re likely to lose your bait rig to the piling. Do remember the three hook rule.

In the summer and fall, fish for brown smoothhound sharks and leopard sharks from the end area using squid, anchovies, sardines or ghost shrimp. In the late summer and fall, try for stripers and halibut using a sliding sinker rigging baited with live bait; catch a small shinerperch, smelt, or even a small staghorn sculpin to use as bait. You will have no problem hooking staghorn sculpin here, they sometimes seem to cover the bottom during summer months. A few king salmon will also be hooked each summer; generally an anchovy fished under a bobber is the key for the salmon.

Pier 2 generally also offers good crabbing for rock crabs.

The Pier Rats Speak

Date: October 9, 2013; To: Pier Fishing In California Message Board; From: 415FISHINGFANATIC; Subject: Fort Mason

Did some afternoon fishing with a couple buddies yesterday at ft. mason. We fished from about 2 pm to 430 pm. Water was going out, and the wind was blowing pretty good. One great thing about this pier is it allows you to fish from 3 different sides and the building can really block the wind. Due to these factors the conditions were very manageable. I landed a kingfish on my first cast and my buddy was able to catch a decent brown rockfish. We used squid and anchovies. Also I had a monster strike off the end and had something large on for a bout 10 seconds then the hook came unbuttoned. It didn’t feel like a ray. It fought more like a fish. I’m thinking it was probably a shark but Ill never know.

Date: October 16, 2013; To: PFIC Message Board; From: 415FISHINGFANATIC; Subject: Fort Mason

I made it out to Fort Mason around 2:30 pm and the weather couldn’t have been better. You just gotta love the Indian summer weather (mid 70’s.) The tide was ripping in and I had to use 6-oz just to keep things fishable. Fishing was real slow until about 5 when I got a monster run. Picked the pole up and line is already streaming out. High pitched. I crave that sound. Anyways it was pretty obvious it was a ray and after about 10 minutes got it in. It was probably a 15 lb-ray. I used heavy surf casters and squid as bait. I fished until about 6 with no more action. The fishing is by no means hot there but I seem to get an opportunity for a good fight once per visit. It’s enough to keep me coming back.

<*}}}}}}}}}><  Special Bay Area Regulations:

  • A perch closure exits in San Francisco and San Pablo Bay from April 1 to July 31. No perch may be kept other than shinerperch (20).
  • In San Francisco and San Pablo Bay a fishing line may not contain more than three hooks.

Sturgeon Regulations:

  • A sturgeon report card and tags are required for anyone fishing for or taking sturgeon. (a) The card must be in the angler’s possession; (b) a tag must be used for any sturgeon retained by the angler; (c) the angler must record information on the Sturgeon Report Card immediately after catching and   keeping or releasing the sturgeon.
  • White sturgeon can only be kept from 40-60 inches; larger and smaller sturgeon must be released.
  • Green sturgeon may not be taken or possessed.

History Note. The three piers (originally dubbed the transport docks) were built between 1909 and 1912. In 1934, with the help of the Public Works Administration, Pier 3 was extended and sheds were built on the piers.

Although Fort Mason has been located here for over a century, the area has had a number of different names. It was known as the Fort Bateria de San Jose under the Spanish, and as Punta Medanos de Arena (Sand Dune Point) under the Mexicans. Maps from the 1860s show the area as Point San Jose or Black Point; a map from 1871 shows the “Post of Point San Jose.” That 1871 map also shows a wharf, the same wharf (or at least its predecessor) that veers off to the left of the Municipal Pier, just downshore and around the point from these piers. Evidently Fort Mason got its present name around the time of the Spanish American War, being named for Richard B. Mason who had served as Military Governor of California from 1847 to 1849. Fort Mason was expanded during World War II and then abandoned by the Army in 1962.

 Fort Mason Pier Facts

 Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

 Facilities: There is considerable free parking all around the piers and buildings (although it can fill up fairly early on weekends and holidays). Portable toilets are found on the piers; more permanent restrooms are found in nearby buildings. There are no fish cleaning facilities, lights, or bait and tackle shops. Food is available at the somewhat expensive Greens Restaurant in Building A or at Cooks and Co. in Building B, a takeout with sandwiches, salads and baked goods. There are also benches and picnic areas close by.

Handicapped Facilities: There are some handicapped parking spaces near the piers but the distance from the 42″ pier railings to the edge of the pier make it a hard place to fish for the handicapped. Not posted for handicapped. Most of the surface is blacktop although some of it is a little rough and uneven.

How To Get There: The entrance to the parking lot is at the intersection of Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street. From the north, Highway 101 and the Golden Gate Bridge, head east on Doyle Drive till you come to Marina Boulevard, follow it to the entrance of the park. From the south, Highway 101, take Van Ness Avenue north all the way to Bay Street, turn left and follow it to the park entrance.

Management: National Park Service.


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