Public Pier — No Fishing License Required
San Francisco seems to have both an image and persistent vitality that exit alongside, or perhaps in spite of, the changes that have taken place in the name of progress. Witness this pier. It is one of the most beautiful piers in the state and it was planned that way. It is designed to serve both fisherman and tourists and its architecture brings back images of a different Victorian Age. Its backdrop is a pyramid, the Transamerica Pyramid (which combines the best of Ancient Egypt and modern capitalism). The pier itself reflects an attempt to do two things: achieve open-space recreational land use and keep alive, or perhaps even embellish, the city’s history.
Although this pier was dedicated in October 1990, a Pier 7 has existed at this spot since 1901. The original pier was the oldest structure on the waterfront and was initially used as a terminal for passenger vessels. Later, it was used for cargo storage, and even later (after a 1973 fire), it was used for parking — and fishing. The pier was damaged in the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and its usefulness was at an end. Both Pier 7 and the adjacent Pier 5 were demolished and removed.
However, the fishing that had taken place on the old wharf was not forgotten. Public access was increasingly a topic for conversation and people began to discuss the idea for a recreational fishing pier, a public pier open to all. Luckily, in a town where it’s often almost impossible to get consensus on projects, enough people came to agreement to move the project forward.
As usual, funding for the project was a main question. How do we pay for it? But where there’s a will there’s a way. The San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks, the Port of San Francisco, the State Wildlife Conservation Board (California Department of Fish & Game), the Land and Water Conservation Fund (National Park Service), the California State Coastal Conservancy and a State Block Grant together funded the $6,568,581 to build the pier. Striving for both utility and beauty, the pier included timber decking, ornamental iron handrails, antique-style iron and wooden benches, and Embarcadero light fixtures. The result was a beautiful fishing pier, one of the finest in the Bay Area (even though time and misuse by many has now taken its toll on the pier).
Environment. The pier, also called by some the “Broadway Pier” since it juts out into the bay just down the Embarcadero from Broadway is, at 840 feet in length, the second longest fishing pier in San Francisco. It extends out into water that is 35 feet deep, fairly deep water for Bay Area piers. It is reputedly one of the best fishing spots along the waterfront and yields both quality and quantity rare to most of the bay piers.
The bottom is primarily mud but there is a lot of tackle-snagging debris on the bottom, especially on the sides of the pier. Even though this can result in a loss of tackle, it can also be good for the fishing since the debris attracts small fish like midshipman and other small bottom dwellers that, in turn, attract larger fish. This debris may in part be the pilings from the old Pier 7, which, although supposedly removed, undoubtedly were broken off in many cases.
The pier has concrete pilings that have some barnacle growth to attract the fish. Inshore, along the entrance to the pier, there is some older growth along the edge of the water. Inshore, and around the pilings themselves, are the best areas for several varieties of seaperch. Out toward the end, in deeper water is the best angling for sharks, bat rays, skates, tomcod, white croaker (kingfish), jacksmelt, flounder, sole, sanddabs, halibut and striped bass.
Striped Bass — 1998
The human element at this pier is also fascinating, a kaleidoscope of races, cultures and classes which few piers can match. Fishermen are a mixed group, primarily Chinese, but also Filipino, Latino, African-American, Caucasian, and just about any other group you may want to see (although I have not, as yet, spotted a non-tellurian). The language, the foods they bring to the pier, the fishing techniques and the cultures intermix in a manner that seems to work since it’s a friendly, help-each-other kind of a place. Most of the anglers are locals and most, I guess, are retired. But the pier sits next to the City’s financial district. Most lunch hours will see a few young executives, and executive wannabes (or soontobes) out on the pier. Perhaps there is only time for a short walk out to the end, time to discuss the latest business campaign or office gossip, perhaps there is a more leisurely visit, time to relax from the pressures of the job. Often these visitors seem somewhat perplexed when a fish is caught. What is it? Is it safe to eat? Others show by their words and looks that they wished they were fishing, instead of working the old nine to five.
One visit to the pier saw me arrive just as workers were removing cameras, lighting equipment, dressing trailers, and a large table of fruit. Turned out they had been shooting a commercial (and I’ve seen this pier in more commercials—and Nash Bridges T.V. episodes (when the show was playing)—than any other northern California pier). Looked like it might be an interesting day and it was! Turns out the jacksmelt had also decided to visit the pier. Not the teeny weenie, Lilliputian-sized jacksmelt like you sometimes see in the south. NO, these were monster jacksmelt that thought they were trout. The 16” and 17” fish would grab a hook, imitate the Kilkenny cats as they fought all the way to the pier, and occasionally they would do a steelhead-imitatin’ jump out of the water. I was using a light tackle outfit rigged with two hooks and soon approached a state of nirvana.
After one particularly large fish, I noticed what appeared to be a young Chinese man and woman standing nearby. They were nicely dressed, he in a casual suit, she in a pretty dress. I mistook them for business people taking a break—until they approached me. In a strong British accent they asked, “what are you catching?” It turned out they were tourists from London and on their first visit to San Francisco. What a lovely town and oh what beautiful weather. So unlike London’s overcast sky (and I must admit that the shirt-sleeve weather was pretty nice, even if I knew it was a very untypical mid-July day). By the way, could they catch a fish? They had never been fishing and thought it would be so much fun. No problem! Soon I hooked two jacksmelt, handed the pole to the lady, and she reeled in the fish. A proud picture was taken of her with her two fish. Next, a single, but larger, fish was hooked. Now the man reeled in the fish. He bragged that his was larger; she bragged that she caught two at a time, and it was picture time once again. Instant, successful, fisherpeople. But, I cautioned them, it isn’t always so easy. We quickly had become friends and they assured me that upon return to Britain they intended to give fishing another whirl. Such is life at this pier in the city that Herb Caen liked to call Baghdad-by-the-Bay. A never-ending panorama of people and stories.
Fishing Tips. During the winter and spring, try for starry flounder out in the deeper water, or fish inshore and around the pilings for black seaperch, striped seaperch, rubberlip seaperch and pileperch. The best baits for the perch will be pile worms, mussels, small pieces of market shrimp or live grass shrimp fished on a high/low leader with a size 6 hook. Use grass shrimp and a live bait leader for the starry flounder.
Striped Search — 1998
Summer and fall are good for sharks, kingfish and crabs. Large leopard sharks (I’ve seen as many as a dozen 40+inch leopards laying out at the end at one time), brown smoothhound sharks, bat rays (stingray) and skates hit best out at the end in deeper water. Most of the biggest sharks I’ve seen were taken from the right corner of the end but the tidal conditions help determine where the fish are, and some big fish are caught at almost every part of the end section. Use strong line and size 2/0 to 4/0 hooks. For bait, use squid, anchovy or live bait (shinerperch, staghorn sculpin or midshipmen); fish these on the bottom.
White croaker aka kingfish — 1991
White croaker (kingfish) prefer small pieces of anchovy; tomcod like small pieces of anchovy or pile worm. Sole and sanddabs on the bottom will hit either of these.
Leopard Sharks — 1998
Much of the year will also see schools of jacksmelt swing by the pier. When they do, a multi-hook leader rigged with small pieces of pile worm, shrimp or even anchovy will attract these large smelt. Remember to keep the leader just under the surface of the water by use of a large bobber, piece of Styrofoam or similar float.
Summer and fall can see halibut (mostly keeper-size for some reason); while August through September will sometimes see lots of striped bass. Most of these will be caught on frozen anchovies fished on the bottom or on live baits such as shinerperch and small smelt. However, during the summer months it is often easy to snag live (northern) anchovies at the pier and these are the TOP bait to use for the halibut. A Sabiki-type bait rig with small hooks (size 10-14) can sometimes yield three anchovies on every drop and these can be kept alive with a bucket and aerator. Although the schools of anchovies (and sometimes sardines) will move around depending upon the tide, the best spots for jigging baitfish seems to be along the sides of the pier just before you get to the end (before the pier widens). Fall months will also at times see some salmon landed, typically on an anchovy fished under a float. Although rare, it’s possible to hit a hat trick at the pier—striper, salmon and halibut all on the same day.
California Halibut — 2018
Often during the summer nearly as many anglers are crabbing as fishing (although many people do both). This is an excellent area for rock crabs but remember that they are far tastier in the winter months. Also remember that if you pull up a Dungeness crab, no matter the size or season, they are illegal in the bay.
Warning — Remember the perch closure in the bay: anglers cannot keep any perch excepting shiner perch from April 1 to July 31.
Warning — The currents here can at time be atrocious. I’ve had reports of people needing to use 12-ounce triangle sinkers to hold bottom. Such tidal action can happen at almost any of the Bay Area piers that front deeper water.
Warning — At times when baitfish such as anchovies or sardines (summer) or herring (winter) are hanging around the pier’s waters, you may also see a lot of birds. Pelicans dive bombing for fish or cormorants swimming in the water grabbing fish can be interesting, but can also lead to birds that are sometimes aggressive as well as birds that sometimes get caught in lines or even on hooks. If you do get one entangled in your line, reel it in, use a towel to cover its head, and remove the line and any hooks. A towel will provide a little safety both for you and the bird.
Fishing rods lined the railing in this picture from 1998
Potpourri — Perhaps More Than You Want To Know About Pier 7
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — This pier seems to be one of the favorite destinations for members of the San Francisco Police Fishing Program. One morning I witnessed a young man pull up to the pier in a van and soon he was unloading numerous rods and reels. By the time he finished, there were a couple of dozen outfits and my interest was piqued. A short conversation revealed that they would be used by a group of youngsters from the police fishing program. Shortly thereafter, additional officers arrived as did a number of kids who were soon happily fishing on the pier. Since some of these children had never fished before in their lives, it was a far bigger event in importance than that of the average angler out on the pier. They didn’t do great, but they did catch a few fish, and all seemed to have a great time.
This program also takes these kids out salmon fishing on the party boats, but wherever and whatever the type of fishing, I think it is a great program and one that should be duplicated by more communities. Teach the kids the beauty of nature and establish the rapport which is too often lacking in today’s world.
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — I’ve always considered Pier 7 one of the most attractive piers. Some might even say romantic with the architecture of the pier itself and the tremendous vistas offered up both toward the Bay and the City. Guess I’m not alone since it’s the setting for a Cialis commercial, a product guaranteed to make that romantic moment last even longer. O.K.!
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Date: Sun Sep 13, 2009; From: illcatchanything2: To: PFIC Message Board: Subject: Fishing in SF
Hooked up with Redfish & The Skipper for a little fishing time in the city. Started out at pier 7 around 7:00 or so. fished through some sporadic rain & thunderstorms. A sporadic bite of macks & dines came and went a couple time during the time we were there, sadly we always seemed to be a few minutes late and a mack short……. The big rods went untouched except by crabs. Moved over to Ft. Point Pier in the afternoon. Here I just put out 1 rod for perch. managed a decent sized walleye, good fight for its size. Skipper caught a few perch as well including (I think) a couple striped and a rainbow) All in all a great day. The weather cleared and the sun came out as we were getting ready to leave. All fish were released.
Posted: Sun Sep 13, 2009; Ken Jones; The Rest Of The Story —
A few weeks ago I was contacted by Mariko Izumi who does a “travel show with a fishing spin” on the WFN – World Fishing Network. She wondered if I would be willing to take her to a couple of piers and show her some pier fishing in San Francisco. It would provide the fishing segment for the San Francisco show. She would be visiting San Francisco and then be heading on to Portland and Seattle to do two additional shows. With some hesitation, I agreed.
I told her that September was often the best time to visit San Francisco since the weather is usually beautiful in the fall, but I also told her that I was a little concerned that it was a little between the seasons for the various fish. A little late for halibut, a little early for the “World Series” striper bite, a little early for sturgeon, and not the best time for perch. But, it is what it is. She said that it wouldn’t be a problem.
What piers should I take her to? I decided we would visit Pier 7 and the Fort Point Pier. Pier 7 usually has some sharks and rays available as well as jacksmelt, and would provide some great pictures as far as a downtown, urban-type pier. Fort Point always has some perch, usually a pelagic or two (jacksmelt, sardines, and lately mackerel) and perhaps might yield up a striper or halibut. Fort Point also presents great views of the Golden Gate, the Bay, and The City.
I then asked Red Fish (Robert Gardner) and illcatchanything (Brian Linebarger) if they wanted to be part of the show. Both are long time Bay Area regulars and I thought between the three of us we should be able to find Mariko some fish.
Me with my rods and pier cart while Brian brought a net
Unfortunately it was a really unusual, wild and wacky day. Saturday morning turned out to be a morning with thunder, lightning, and rain, and that’s what we saw when got to the pier. The three of us were at the pier early, around 7:30, while Mariko and her crew were to join us at 9 AM. Shortly after arrival a decent-sized bat ray was caught at the end along with a legal-size leopard shark. Regulars then began to catch some sardines and small mackerel on the sides of the pier. I joined them with a Sabiki but couldn’t catch a single sardine or mackerel even though fishing right next to them. Instead all I got was a small walleye and an anchovy. I’m not sure what Brian and Robert got during that flurry of action but at least it looked like there would be some fish to film.
Brian and Robert
However, the rain began to come down more heavily and when Mariko arrived at 9AM it was raining too hard to film. She and her crew went off to get some breakfast while the rest of us endured the rain. I’m not sure I had ever seen rain in San Francisco in early September, and certainly not the thunder and lightning that we experienced, but we were willing to put up with it for some fish.
By the time Mariko returned the rain had stopped. However, the fish had also apparently moved on. They certainly weren’t biting. No one on the pier was catching any fish—baitfish or big fish. Even though there were probably fifteen or so big poles lining the front of the pier not a single fish was caught. Nor did any of the Sabiki poles yield a fish. We stuck it out until around 12:30. We tried for different types of fish with different techniques, baits, and spots on the pier, all with no success. However, Mariko turned out to be a charming young lady and we had some nice conversations about Pier 7, pier rats, and pier fishing in general. The crew was also able to interview a number of regulars and tourists alike. In addition, a couple of regulars who had caught mackerel earlier that morning, and then went off to cook them, returned and offered up some cooked mackerel with a sweet and sour sauce—which was great!
The film crew got a little wet!
We all then headed over to the Fort Point Pier where the action was still slow but at least we were able to manage a few fish. We fished my favorite perch spot, at the inside corner where the pier widens, and managed to get Mariko a striped seaperch, a couple of smallish-sized blue rockfish and a shinerperch. I was able to get a striped seaperch and a rainbow seaperch. Brian got a nice walleye and again I’m not sure what Robert got. But, the film crew was able to film some fish, watch some crabs being taken, watch and film the sea lion hanging by the pier, and even see a jellyfish brought up to the pier. And they interviewed and filmed quite a few visitors to the pier. Although the weather was still a little overcast, they also managed some nice pictures of The City and the bridge (or at least what we could see of it).
We stopped around 4 PM and while the film crew returned to their hotel, and Robert and Brian returned to the East Bay, I began what turned out to be a 4-hour drive back to Fresno. By this morning I had a nice little cold.
I was bummed that the fishing wasn’t better at the piers but according to Mariko there was plenty of film and they would have a nice segment for the show. We’ll see—somewhere around January/February when the show’s segment on San Francisco is aired.
Till then, if you want to see what the show is about visit http://www.wfn.tv/hookinup/index.php
By the way, in reviewing my records I noticed that the day I had taken the pictures of Pier 7 used in Pier Fishing in California, 2nd Ed., was also September 12. However, the year was 1998 and I was primarily taking pictures not fishing. That day saw a number of large leopard sharks and striped bass taken at the pier. Although we didn’t see any stripers yesterday, perhaps the leopards and other larger fish returned as the tides changed. I want to give Robert and Brian a special thanks for their part in the show; their efforts were really appreciated.
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Perhaps the pier deserves the Rodney Dangerfield “No Respect” award? I noticed on perusing a Lonely Planet Guide on San Franciscothat the pier was mentioned. The comment — “this small pier at the foot of Broadway exists solely to encourage San Franciscans to get in touch with their body of water. It’s often crowded with people casting fishing lines into the murky waters below — the object being to see who can reel in the least edible fish.” Sort of a put down if you ask me. Yes, you do have to watch what you eat from the bay, but there many species that are both safe to eat and quite tasty to eat.
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — The following article opened with a picture of an angler on Pier 7 so I assume that’s the “wooden pier” mentioned in the first paragraph.
The Murky World of Subsistence Fishing in the San Francisco Bay
It’s 11 am on Sunday April 17 on a wooden pier near the ferry building in downtown San Francisco, and the sun is streaming down on an 80-degree weekend.
There aren’t many locals around. A teenage couple hold hands on a bench giggling over something on the young man’s iPhone, and a family of four bumps their suitcases back along the pier, towards the BART station at Embarcadero, having recently disembarked from a hulking cruise ship docked by pier 39, a half-mile away. They only came up the pier to admire the Bay Bridge one last time, and to pose for a photo before their vacation is officially over and they head to the airport. The mother is frustrated that they haven’t “just taken a cab already.”
The mood on the pier is light, with kids eating ice cream, and most people seem comfortable answering a stranger’s greeting or even, question. A baby boomer in a sun visor spots the cruise ship party and swings his big voice in their general direction:
“Hey buddy, did you just get off the cruise?”
The father, struggling manfully with his suitcase, shoots back: “Yeah, how did you guess?”
“Did’ja have a good time? We’re getting on at five…”
“Oh, yeah. It was a blast,” says the father, elongating the ‘a’ in ‘blast’ with his enthusiasm.
So the boomer, satisfied that his money hasn’t been wasted, moves on with a pleasantry. Then he stops on the side of the pier to ask a gentleman fishing if he ever sells his catch.
“Na I’m just like you,” says the fisherman in a quiet voice. “I just fish for…recreation.” It’s a notably clipped, tired-sounding and evasive answer on an otherwise breezy morning, and the boomer seems to check himself, realizing from the fisherman’s tone that he may have stumbled unawares into a type of conversation he wasn’t anticipating. Then he moves on without engaging further, presumably looking forward to embarking on his cruise, later, and not giving the interaction much further thought.
Meanwhile, the fisherman and his brother have been down here since the early morning.
“I haven’t had a cigarette since I got on the bus in Santa Rosa, and that was five hours ago,” he says.
This man and his brother fish to eat, once or twice a week, off the piers in and around the San Francisco Bay, although at first, he won’t admit to it, when I introduce myself as working for Clean Water Action. I’m actually wearing a T-shirt with the organization’s name on it, having come down here for a promotional event, and I couldn’t feel more conspicuous. I say we’re running a campaign to protect people who fish in the Bay. We’re looking to meet people who eat the fish from these waters, because the proposed pollution standards aren’t strict enough, yet, to ensure that people who subsistence fish won’t get sick from eating what they catch. The campaign is quite theoretical, involving numeric standards for toxicity, and I’m trying to give our members and general readers a sense of why it matters to protect people by doing the work. Most of this pitch I deliver generally into the middle distance, wondering aloud if he might know anybody like that, and feeling every ounce of my privilege weighing uncomfortably between us in the air. After all, I’m asking for his story to illustrate the importance of our campaign, and yet he doesn’t really owe it to me or to anybody.
“I just pick ‘em up, take a picture, and throw them back in,” says the man, dressed in frayed denim jeans and a hoodie that has also seen better days. On closer inspection a lot about this man is closed off, pinched, and would really rather avoid this kind of do-gooding scrutiny. Or any scrutiny at all. Eventually he tells me that he eats the fish, but only after I offer him a cigarette and assure him I’m not a policeman, a reporter, or looking to enquire into any fishing license he may or may not have. It feels a little shady, our conversation. And some of my speaking into the middle distance feels a little presumptuous. Like I’m asking him to give me insight into to a world a distance apart from society that I’ve no business really probing. And I’m fully aware that the cigarette we’re both smoking helps prolong the conversation. I wonder about the ethics of it. Whether I should have just offered him $20 to talk to me, even, whether that may have been more straightforward than the forced familiarity of mutual tobacco consumption.
“Sorry to lie to you. We get a lot of questions and most of the folks down here just know it’s best not to talk about it,” he says. “We just come down to take enough home with us and move along. This isn’t something many of us are proud of. I don’t need a hand-out. What’s that about ‘give a man a fish?’ Well, I know how to fish.”
He wants to get on. He won’t give his name and I feel bad for asking. His brother is looking increasingly wary of me and moves off down the pier to tend to another rod. I pepper him with questions, sensing a closing window of opportunity: The man tells me he eats fish from the Bay up to five times a week, taking a handful or two home with him at a time in a plastic bag filled with half-melted ice bags, and gutting them quickly in a plastic tub when he gets home. He’ll eat whatever he catches, from striped bass to shad or mackerel, and most of what he catches keeps long enough to last the week and save him and his brother a bunch of money on groceries.
An unemployed veteran who has served some jail time—he gets familiar reasonably quickly after the initial disclosure about the fish—he knows the heavy metals in the water aren’t particularly good for him, but at the same time, he has bigger fish to fry, health-wise, if I’ll excuse the expression. And financially, the need to eat trumps other priorities.
“I’m on disability, and I smoke cigarettes,” he says. “I’d be surprised if the fish is gonna kill me before they do.”
“Most people down here are tourists,” he says. “They don’t think they’re brushing shoulders with the likes of me and my brother, but we’re out here surviving. And we do our best. It’s not like we’re homeless or anything. We’re surviving. We’re doing okay. Tell them we’d appreciate it if the fish were cleaner, but that’s it. We’re golden. No reason we should be made to feel ashamed of what we do.”
—Matt Davis, Clean Water Blog, April 20, 2016
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — In 2005 when we were finishing up the 2nd Edition of Pier Fishing In California, one question was which picture and color to use for the cover and book. We narrowed it down to four with the one on the bottom left — a blue cover with a picture from Pier 7 — being the one we chose
Some pictures when the pier was new!
A newly opened pier in 1991 — note the double deck freeway that ran adjacent to the Embarcadero
History. An interesting ship docked just to the east of the pier is the ferryboat Santa Rosa. It proudly proclaims, in large letters on its side, Southern Pacific Golden Gate Ferries Ltd. It displays a charm and feeling much missing in many of today’s high tech ferries. The Santa Rosa was built in 1927 and began service as a member of the Northwestern Pacific Ferry fleet. In 1929 she was transferred to the Southern Pacific-Golden Gate Ferries. In 1937, after the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, the ferry was sold to the Black Ball Line which operated in Puget Sound in Washington. The ship, now renamed the Enetai operated in those cooler waters for many years. After retirement, she was returned to San Francisco. Today she serves as a home for offices, conferences and parties. She is open to the public Monday through Saturday.
Today in front of the ferry is the San Francisco Belle which provides a dinner on the bay for those so inclined.
Pier 7 Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Benches, lights, fish cleaning stations and water faucets (but the water doesn’t work). Food can be found at the Pier 1 Deli about half a block up the Embarcadero to the east. Bait and tackle is unavailable. Parking is available at a couple of all-day parking lots across the Embarcadero; one lot charges $10 a day and one $15. However, the more expensive lot, the one down by the light near Pier 3, is free on the weekends. Also, Pier 5 is now open to the public Monday through Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and provides some free parking out on the pier. A public telephone is located at the foot of the pier.
Handicapped Facilities: None; the surface is wood planks with a metal railing 42 inches high. Planks are very close together and seem very safe for wheelchairs.
How To Get There: From the Bay Bridge follow the First Street exit and follow to The Embarcadero, then left past the Ferry Building to the pier. From the Golden Gate, take Lombard to Van Ness, turn left and go to Bay, turn right and follow to The Embarcadero, turn right and follow to the pier. From the south and Highway 101 take Van Ness and follow as listed above.
Management: Port of San Francisco.