Public Pier — No Fishing License Required
A quote from a Golden Gate National Recreation Area brochure perhaps best sums up the diversity offered by this magnificent area: “Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a park that begins where the Pacific Ocean meets San Francisco Bay. Here at the Golden Gate, the park surrounds the narrow entrance to the city’s harbor offering a spectacular blend of natural beauty, historic features, and urban development. To the north and south of the Golden Gate, GGNRA follows the Pacific shoreline creating a vast coastal preserve.” If anything, the quote understates the beauty and feeling of the area. For those looking for more than just a fishing pier, it would be hard to overlook this area.
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.
Environment. This old wharf (called the Torpedo Wharf by some) sits on its mostly wooden pilings over a sandy bottom. However, because of its location near the bay entrance, and because of debris that 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.
However, most commonly caught are the normal species for this area—several varieties of perch, jacksmelt and topsmelt, flatfish such as sand sole, sanddab and starry flounder, smaller rockfish, kingfish (white croaker), and the sharays—sharks, rays and skates. The prize fish are the big three of the Bay Area—striped bass, California halibut, and king salmon.
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.
Occasionally you may also encounter fish that are unusual for the area as seen in the catch of American shad in both 2006 and 2007, good runs of Pacific mackerel in 2009, and the catch of a Pacific bonito in 2016.
Strong winds are common most days and often, strong currents accompany them. 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.
Fishing Tips. 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). Pier rats report that 2” pumpkinseed Power Bait grubs dipped in shrimp/salt Smelly Jelly will sometimes get the perch when all else fails (and this combination was also reported to attract a few halibut when the flatfish were present). 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 the 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. Another good spot is near shore on both sides of the pier. The shallow waters will often produce some nice-sized perch including white seaperch and pileperch. Be sure to remember that the recreational fishery for surfperch (excepting shinerperch) is closed inside San Francisco and San Pablo bays from April 1 to July 31.
Summer produces mainly kingfish, jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, silver surfperch, Pacific sardines (some years), sand 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. But remember—no summertime perch can be caught until August 1.
For sand 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) and/or Pacific sardines (summer). The best bet for these are the multi-hook bait rigs—Sabiki, Lucky Lura, etc. At the end of the rigging use a torpedo sinker or a heavy spoon (and Krocodile spoons from 2-3 ounces in weight work well). However, because of the restricted 3-hook rule in the bay, to legally use a bait rig you need to cut off some of the hooks. Some winters (especially those that have a lot of rainfall) will also see good runs of Pacific sanddabs. These can be caught, usually two at a time on high/low rigs baited with pile worms, small pieces of anchovies or shrimp.
Most years will also see some striped bass and halibut caught at the pier, usually from June till August. The best bait for either of these is a live shiner or smelt fished near the bottom. If live bait is unavailable, try frozen anchovies, sardines, or pile worms. You can also try artificials. Jonah, at Hi’s Tackle in South San Francisco, was one of the reporters for the PFIC Message Board (as well as an expert). He recommended using1/2-3/4 oz. white, green and white, or chartreuse colored Hair Raisers. He also recommended chartreuse or shad colored Storm Swim Baits. Since stripers and halibut exceeding 40 inches in length have been reported, make sure you have a good net to bring them up onto the pier.
Salmon also occasionally 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 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. However, remember to release any Dungeness crabs you may pull up. As mentioned, it is verboten (forbidden) to keep any Dungeness taken in San Francisco Bay. A tip on crabbing from Hippo Lau, another expert reporter from Hi’s Tackle, showed up in the September 2002 PFIC Monthly Report: “there are lots of BIG rock crabs showing up at the pier and Hippo recommends using albacore guts if you have a friend who’s fishing for the longfins. He says to take the guts and put them in a one-pound coffee can and then pour them into a Ziploc plastic bag and freeze the guts. When you’re ready to go fishing the amount in the bag will be just right for one of the bait cages in the crab traps. Hippo says the albacore guts are GREAT BAIT.”
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. They’re a little gnarly but are also pretty tasty!!
Special Recommendation. Always bring warm clothes with you to this area since the winds can be very strong.
The Pier Rats Speak
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.
Date: June 19, 2003; To: PFIC Message Board; From: mel; Subject: Fort Point Pier
Went to Fort Point this evening after work. Caught one nice 28” and fat striper. Probably about 8 lbs. I caught it on a green Hair Raiser. I started fishing off the rocks but the shoes I was wearing made it impossible. I fell on my butt on the rocks and boy did that hurt. I looked up at the pier and saw seagulls, cormorants, pelicans and seals in the water at the end of the pier on the left side of the L
I practically started running over there. After about 15 casts, it hit. I set my hook and cranked twice and turned around and looked for someone with a net. No such luck. Without cranking any more I picked up my stuff and held my rod and began to walk the 50 yards or so back to the rocks. The fish was actually very cooperative. He just kept running straight out. I jumped down to the rocks and began to reel.
He was pretty tired by then and I had no problems bringing him up to the rocks. I was worried the whole time because I only had 10-lb test on and I’m not into feeding sea lions. I stayed out there a short time but had no other hits. There is a lot of bait in that area. A guy fishing at the pier with Sabiki’s was catching a lot of smelt and small sardines. Fish was caught about 7:00 PM. All in all, a great evening.
Date: June 25, 2003; To: PFIC Message Board; From: thecrw; Subject: Ft. Point Pier Report
Kaw! Kaw! On Ft. Point pier around 5pm today and heard that someone had just pulled a nice size striper w/ a Hair Raiser. There were about 8 anglers working the east side at the beginning of the pier. Around 5:45pm, huge halibut around 35” landed in the same area – someone using a Hair Raiser. Around 6pm, Huge Striper – 33” w/ a great fight, caught on a 3-way w/ sardine. I changed from plugging to a Sabiki and proceed to land some pretty big sardines, maybe too big for bait by the elbow in the shade. Around 6:15pm, guy w/ Huge Striper now lands huge Halibut, just as big as the first one, if not bigger! Lots of sardines in the area and lots of big fish. I was very surprised.
Date: June 5, 2009; To: PFIC Message Board; From: oceanbeachmatt; Subject: Fort Point pier, crabs, stripers, bummer
Had the day off yesterday so I decided to hit Fort point Pier with my 5 year old son for some crabbing on the late afternoon, incoming tide. The crabbing was very good but tons of Dungies and a pesky sea lion that would try to eat our bait every now and then. I saw a nice striper caught at the base of the pier on a white Hair Raiser. Around 4:30 I turned to the west to look out the [Golden] Gate and saw a person falling through the sky. The impact was horrific. I could not believe what I’d just seen; others on the pier didn’t see this but heard the impact. In a state of shock I called 911 and reported what I had just seen and where, between the Fort and South Tower, and soon saw a flare followed by a Coast Guard cutter that circled around the flare and quickly speed north to port. Then I got a call from the Coast Guard asking for my personal info/account of what I saw. They told me they recovered a man’s body and that he did not survive. I am still really tripped out about the whole experience. Thank God my son didn’t see this as he was playing with the rock crabs we’d caught. Anyway the crabbing was good but I don’t think I’ll fish there again for quite a while.
Date: June 22, 2009; To: PFIC Message Board; From: tsang151; Subject: Fort Point Pier
Fished Sat Morning from about 8:30-10:30 at Ft Point. Lots of casters fishing the inside of the L near shore. During the 2 hours that I was there I saw about 5 stripers come up with at least 2 more lost to wraps around pilings or fisherman error. The largest was a 12 pound, 31” fish. This was all on the incoming, too bad nothing for me. There was also lots of salad in the water. Most fish were caught on chartreuse or green bucktails in the 1/2-3/4 oz size.
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — 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.
- 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. In 1776 Juan Bautista de Anza raised the Spanish flag and chose the Fort Point site as the area for a Presido. Eighteen years later, in 1794, an adobe brick fort, the Castillo de San Joaquin was built on the site, while the Presideo was located further inland. Between 1853-1861 the old fort was torn down and U.S. Army Engineers constructed a new “Fort Point”. It was abandoned in 1886 but later was used as both the base of operations during the building of the Golden Gate Bridge and as part of the protection for a submarine net that stretched across the entrance to San Francisco Bay during the war years of WW II.
The L-shaped pier located just up the road from the fort (our Fort Point Pier) was constructed in 1908 and repaired in 1941. The Army originally used it as a base for soldiers (mine planters) who laid out submarine mines (torpedoes) in minefields near the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Today it’s strictly used for fishing; its current length is 437 feet with a width of about 60 feet at the end.
Fort Point Pier Facts
Hours: Sunrise to sunset; the gate to the entrance road is locked during the night.
Facilities: Restrooms are adjacent to the pier as is limited free parking (about six spots). Additional parking can be found near Fort Point itself. There are no lights or fish cleaning stations. A small snack bar is located near the front of the pier.
Handicapped Facilities: 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.
How To Get There: 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.
Management: National Park Service.