Last modified: October 20, 2021

Fishing Piers San Francisco Bay Area

Pier 7 – San Francisco

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

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.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< 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.

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.

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