Last modified: August 23, 2018

Fishing Piers San Francisco Bay Area

Marin Rod & Gun Club Pier aka Camiccia Family Memorial Pier — San Rafael

Private Pier — Fishing License Required

There was a time, and it seems more and more like an ancient time, when hunting and fishing was practiced by a majority of the population. Every family seemed to have a fishing rod sitting in the closet or garage, and rural families probably had a rifle somewhere in the house (or behind the seat of their pickup).

It was also a time when virtually every newspaper had an “outdoors” writer who supplied weekly if not daily updates on local results.

Many if not most cities, big and small, also had “Rod and Gun” clubs. Many of these dated back to the 1920s and the Bay Area alone had several dozen “Rod and Gun” and “Sportsmen’s” clubs (not counting the “Striped Bass” and “Surf Fishing clubs”). Most of these are now history.

One of the largest remaining “Rod and Gun” clubs in California, with over 1200 members, is the Marin Rod and Gun Club, which was founded in 1926 (and called the Marvelous Marin Rod and Gun Club from 1927 until the mid ‘30s).

The stated goal at inception was the conservation, preservation and propagation of fish and game. It has remained true to its original purpose and is as active today in conservation and environmental projects as it was over 90 years ago.

Luckily for anglers, the club has maintained and even improved at times what is now a real rarity—a private pier from which club members (and their guests) can fish. Good thing!

Environment. The pier is 2,300-foot long, sits on Point San Quentin, is close to the western end of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and pokes out into the water of San Francisco Bay. Heading west on the bridge toward San Rafael, the first exit right takes you directly to the club. If you turn left, you’ll be headed toward San Quentin Prison (but do not stop for a friendly visit).

Given that the bridge sees nearly 80,000 cars a day traversing its expensive lanes, the club’s pier is probably one of the most viewed piers in the Bay Area. Most of the people sitting in their cars probably have little knowledge of the pier’s usage or its interesting history. On the other hand, drivers who are “pier rats” may see the pier and simply think—“how can I fish that pier?” That’s certainly what I thought for years.

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge sits a short distance away from the pier

As for the pier’s waters, it is mostly shallow although the pier’s length allows those at the end to fish in somewhat deeper channels.

Inshore, a short distance north of the pier, sees eelgrass beds. At three points out from the pier, also on the north side, sit a series of submerged reefs containing oyster shells, part of a plan to reestablish native oysters to the area. Both projects are cooperative projects between the club and various agencies and are designed to help the health of the bay. If they also help the fishing in the area, that’s a plus for the project.

Being a private pier means members take a certain pride of ownership and they’re expected to keep the pier clean—and it shows since the pier is cleaner and better maintained  than most public piers.

Club members have also thought of several useful amenities. One is the hoop nets located every hundred feet or so along the pier. When you hook a big fish, especially a big bat ray, you need a net to bring it up onto the pier.

Near the pier’s entrance sit several old shopping carts. Given the length of the pier, they are a godsend for those who do not have their own personal pier carts to use for the rods, reels, tackle boxes, coolers, and assorted goodies that “pier rats” bring to a pier.

The end section

The Fish and Fishing Tips.

Striped Bass—Striped bass have been the most sought after fish at the pier since its inception. In fact, the pier was often referred to as the “striped bass pier” back before most of us were born.

The Marin Rod and Gun Club is the proud owner of the largest striped bass pier in the world. —Petaluma Argus-Courier. January 12, 1940

Those days saw a different world. Stripers were seen as the “common man’s fish” and HUGE striped bass derbies were held throughout the San Francisco Bay-San Joaquin Delta region.

Picture on the clubhouse wall

In fact, the club itself sponsored a “Striped Bass Carnival” that was held at McNear’s Beach in 1934 and 1935 (since the Pt. San Quentin property and pier was not acquired by the club until June 1936). It attracted thousands of anglers to the event and was wildly heralded throughout the region

Pretty Girls Will Assist Bass Carnival In Marin

Who wouldn’t be a striped bass and get acquainted with all the Marin county aquatic queens?

The most pulchritudinous maids of Marvelous Marin are to be participants in the first annual Striped Bass Carnival, to be held at McNear’s Beach, near San Rafael, Sunday, April 15, and even the “stripers,” generally chary of human companionship at the end of a fishing line, must be looking forward to the event.

And such an event as it will be! Devotees of the rod and reel from all parts of northern California are joining to make the carnival an outstanding success.

The event originally conceived by members of the Marin Rod and Gun Club, has the sponsorship of every sportsman’s club of the San Francisco bat area and will be replete with interesting features.

There will be casting and trolling contests, a spectacular motorboat and yacht parade, a bathing beauty contest featuring the most beautiful girls of the baty area, comedy features galore, marksmanship contests and scores of other features to make the day a memorable one.  — The Petaluma Argus-Courier. April 7, 1934

Over 10,000 people attended the event, members of the state fish and game commission were the guests of honor, and afterward it was declared a “Great Success.”

The striped bass was king and at the time there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of the fish.

Newspaper accounts regarding the pier talked of 40 bass in one day (August 1, 1949), 120 stripers in three days (May 1951), fishermen averaging 40 fish a day and catching over 600 fish in a few weeks (May 1951), nearly 1,000 stripers taken in 30 days and 40 fish in one hour (October 1957).

As for size, literally thousands of 10-20 pound striped bass have been taken over the years. Two of the largest stripers were a 34-pound, 48-inch fish taken in May of 1959 and another 34-pound fish taken in September of 1975.

Striped bass 

Fewer bass are caught today from the pier, especially the bigger 10+ pound fish that once were fairly common.   The overall numbers of striped bass in the bay and delta are down and they will probably stay that way given the lack of support from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The basic position of the department is that stripers are an invasive, non-native, immigrant species that are a threat to salmon and the sooner the stripers disappear the better. Money is no longer allocated for hatchery production or various other needs of the stripers. Unfortunately, the position is mainly derived from politics (the water issue) and ignores the reality that the stripers and salmon lived in harmony (in fact both were world class fisheries) for more than a century,

The stripers, ignoring the wishes of the DF&W, refuse to go away. However, the news is often contradictory: 2013 saw newspapers claiming that the stripers were headed for extinction, 2015 saw the same newspapers reporting record catches. And the beat goes on…

At Marin, the striped bass continue to be caught and the stripers remain a favored fish.

Striped bass are anadromous meaning they typically stay in fresh water to spawn and then move down the rivers into saltwater or brackish areas for much of the year.

Striped Bass — 2015

In California, striped bass traditionally wintered in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (today more winter up the Sacramento River), and then move down through the Carquinez Strait into San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay. Eventually some continue on their migratory path out through the Golden Gate into the ocean. Some stay in the bay.

In Marin that usually means the stripers usually start showing up around March and April when there’s sometimes a good “Eastertime Bite.”

Stripers will continue to be caught through the summer. Then, as the ocean fish move back into the bay and begin their migration upstream, the numbers swell and the late September through November fishing sees improvement (including the “World Series bite”).

Methods to take the fish vary! Most of the bass caught at the pier are caught on bait with anchovies and sardines being the typical bait. Other baits such as grass shrimp, ghost shrimp and pile worms and bloodworms catch their share but most are caught on the oily anchovies and sardines.

Striped Bass caught by Preston — 2013

If available, live bait such as shinerperch, mudsuckers (longjaw goby) and bullheads (staghorn sculpin) can be excellent with a Carolina-rig although some anglers say the bullheads will at times bury themselves in mud). When that happens the live bullheads are replaced with dead bullheads (hopefully still covered in bullhead slime).

The rigs used are mainly either a Carolina-type live bait rig or a high/low rig. Rods and reels need only be moderate in size and line doesn’t need to be over 20 pound test. Hook size can be anywhere from size 2 to 2/0 depending upon the bait being used. Most anglers simply use the old “cast and wait” approach when they are fishing.

The second main technique for stripers is the use of artificial lures. A variety of lures are used you don’t have to worry about acquiring bait. Instead of cast-and–wait it’s cast-and–retrieve and those who use lures feel there’s nothing like the hit on a lure that you are retrieving.

New lures seem to emerge each year and preferences change but some traditional favorites also stay in the mix. Among the most popular: bucktail jigs (usually white or yellow), Kastmasters, soft plastic swim baits such as Big Hammer and Fish Trap, and artificial minnows like Yo-Zuri. Best bet: ask the local bait and tackle guys what’s been working.

Striped Bass caught by Preston — 2013

A third technique, called “walking the pier” or “trolling the pier,” was developed by the “bass brigade” at the pier nearly 70 years ago and can be used with live bait or lures

The method has been used for halibut at SoCal piers for at least 25 years but I feel relatively safe in saying the

technique was first used at the Marin Rod & Gun Club Pier. Reference to the technique is first seen in an August 1952 Independent Journal article that said eight stripers had been taken on the pier on bait and trolling. The next reference was in July of 1957 when an article said “a few nice fish were taken Saturday, including an 8-1/2-pounder trolling by walking the pier, which, incidentally, is a uniquely Marin way of taking stripers.” Many references to the technique and its success show up over the years.

Although the trolling method can be used with dead anchovies it works best with live bait and here that usually means a small perch or small smelt.

Simply set up a Carolina-type live bait rig with the bait and then walk along the pier, rod in hand, making sure the bait is either bouncing off the bottom or two-three feet from the bottom. Prime areas are the depressions that can be found between the pilings, It’s a simple technique but beats cast-and-wait if the stripers are around.

Small striped bass caught by Makayla Modeiro — 2016

The exact same rig can be used with artificial lures. Set up a Carolina rig but attach the swim bait (or other lure) to the leader. Hook the swim bait through its nose and then walk it along the pier (typically 2-3 feet above the bottom). Typical lures include Big Hammer and Berkeley Gulp Minnows.

2 Responses

  1. Hey Ken, are non members allowed to fish on this pier with a fishing license?

  2. Tom, Non members can only fish at the pier if accompanied by a member and they need a license (as do the members).

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