Public Pier — Freshwater — Fishing License Required
The old man slowly ambled down to where I was standing, looked out toward my line, and began to speak. “Keep your bait in that warm water right where you’re at, that’s just about where I caught the 37-pound striper that won the derby. Of course that was a long time ago, but there’s still some big ones around, I see them every so often.” The old-timer was small, coriaceous and wiry, and I could imagine him wrestling with that big striped bass. But his story wasn’t over! “Funny thing was that I won a brand new rod and reel for that fish and I lost it two weeks later. I took my young sons fishing over at Rio Vista and I let them borrow it while I had a couple of beers. You know how young boys are, they were messing around and not casting too good, so I said, give it here, let me show you how to cast. I took it with both hands, cast it as far as I could, and watched the rod and reel sail out into the water. I’ll never forget that day, I guess maybe I had a few too many beers.” I guess the old codger was right!
This small pier is located in kid-friendly Riverview Park, just downstream from the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Because of this, the species of fish caught here more nearly approximate those caught in the freshwater parts of the Delta, and a lot of fish are caught here. Yet the fishing is only one attraction. Near the parking lot is a small playground for children, and near the foot of the pier are several concrete tables and benches together with picnic facilities. When added to attractive landscaping (palm trees, oleanders, and shade trees) and an impressive tiled walkway, it presents an ideal place to bring a family for a combination fishing/picnic outing (although the fishing is much less successful since the city removed the floating dock once attached to the pier). That is, if they can find it. First timers need to survive a maze of streets that would seem to discourage visitors. However, those who find the pier usually return.
The area in the middle where the pilings are parallel to the shoreline shows where the warm water exits through the pipes. It once was easy to cast to that spot, it’s much harder now.
Environment. The pier sits in a cove-like setting adjacent to the warm water discharge of a PG&E power plant; an area where fish are known to concentrate. Just across the cove from the pier is a rocky peninsula that is a favorite of fishermen; it juts out and protects the entrance to the Pittsburg Marina and its two harbors—the Central Harbor and the Riverview Harbor. The peninsula itself is a noted place for both sturgeon and, in the fall, salmon. Riverview Harbor adjoins the park and the parking lot by the pier. In the distance, across the Sacramento River channel is Chipps Island and Van Sickle Island; close by, to the east, is the Browns Island Regional Shoreline. Upriver, the waters of the San Joaquin River flow west and north around Browns Island and Winter Island. The water that flows west forms the New York Slough and then reemerges into the main stream of the Sacramento just east of the peninsula and the pier. Water that has taken the northern route empties directly into the main channel of the Sacramento.
The power plant
The pier, an all-wooden affair, is six feet wide and 135-feet-long and was completed as a WCB project back in 1974. Pilings have little growth but the warm water outlet, extensive PG&E docks that sit to the west, a vegetative shoreline, and a mud/sand bottom seem to attract the fish. Anglers generally cast toward the area of the warm water bubble but it’s not as easy to reach as when the pier once had a floating dock (which was a great place to fish).
The warm-water outlet
Fishing Tips. Light or heavy tackle will work here. Heavier tackle should be used if sturgeon or large striped bass are the goal; lines testing 30-40 pound test, and strong leaders with size 2 to 2/0 hooks. The majority of sturgeon will arrive down river from inland areas around March and will be caught up until late fall when they will once again head upriver. Best baits for the sturgeon are ghost shrimp and blue mud shrimp with grass shrimp a close third and pile worms and fish (such as shad) bringing up the rear. All of these should be fished on the bottom with a sliding sinker leader.
Fishing for adult (legal size) stripers will be at a peak during spring down river migrations (March-April) and fall upriver runs (September-October), but small fish are in this area throughout the year. Most adult stripers winter in the Delta and spend the summer down near the ocean but this area is somewhat of a transition zone and will produce some fish almost any month of the year. Best bait for the larger stripers is a live bullhead (staghorn sculpin) or fresh shad although many will be caught on cut anchovy, sardine, grass shrimp and pile worms. For those who prefer artificials, emulate (when possible) what is used out on the boats. Try Cordell Spots, Hair Raisers, Fish Traps and Rat-L-Traps.
King salmon are another possibility and a few may be caught from the pier every year. Most anglers use spinners (Mepps. No. 5) but whole anchovies fished under a bobber will also attract a few fish. Be sure to have a net with you if you’re seeking out the bigger stripers, sturgeon or salmon.
The cove, the pier, the power plant, and the warm-water outlet.
If you’re satisfied with smaller fish, use a light rod and light line, say 6 to 8 pound test, and be prepared to catch a lot of small to medium-sized stripers, catfish and an occasional freshwater bass. Less frequent, but still a possibility, are a couple of saltwater species — jacksmelt and flounder — and a few additional freshwater species such as carp and Sacramento pikeminnow (aka Sacramento squawfish). In fact, I’ve caught pikeminnow on nearly half of my trips to this pier. (Since one of the foods the pikeminnow prefers is small, juvenile striped bass, it stands to reason that the pikeminnow would be abundant themselves due to the often huge number of juvenile striped bass in these warm waters.) For most of these incidental species, cut anchovy will work well as will shad, grass shrimp, or pile worms. Ghost shrimp are also great bait but are expensive to use if you’re after the smaller species. If you pump your own ghost shrimp, go for it.
Catfish anglers are, by the way, regulars at this pier, especially at night. Mr. and Mrs. Whisker Face are the freshwater equivalent of sharks, feeding primarily by their supreme ability to distinguish smells (even from a great distance). As such, oily baits like anchovies, mackerel, and sardines are excellent baits. Many of the local anglers also like to use the little black Delta clams but I think they’ll hit, (the catfish that is), almost anything that is strong flavored and scented. Catfish species I’ve encountered at the pier include channel catfish, white catfish, brown bullhead (catfish) and yellow bullhead (catfish). Do, by the way, be weary of the strong spines on the catfish. I got a little careless one day with a white catfish and received a painful stab in my hand from a spine. Intense pain and a nearly numb hand for several hours was the result. You would think I would know better by now.
Special Recommendations. (1) This is a very windy area so always bring along warm clothing. (2) Remember to bring a freshwater fishing license. (3) Throw back most of your catch. The state recommends that you eat no more than four meals per month of any striped bass from this region because of elevated mercury levels in their flesh. And, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and children under 6 shouldn’t eat any fish from the Delta.
Boats in the marina
<*}}}}}}}}}>< —Whales in Pittsburg? Mark, You might want to take some heavy line!
Email Message—Date: December 8, 1997; To: Ken Jones; From: Mark Grim; Subject: Orcas in Pittsburg?
Hi Ken, I read in the Dec. 5, 1997 Antioch Ledger Post Dispatch newspaper that two killer whales were sited at the Pittsburg fishing pier by two pairs of fishermen on Thursday morning. A bunch of reporters hurried down to the waterfront but no one else saw anything. The fishermen were “adamant” and said that they saw “the big dorsal fin, the blowholes, the white belly.” I don’t know what was happening down there, but maybe I’ll stop by that pier soon and try my luck. Mark
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Maybe a sturgeon?
A salmon was caught by one of the fishermen at Bay Point last Monday that weighed 187 pounds! It was taken to Concord by Mr. Black, and was the object of general wonder and admiration. If a salmon of larger proportions has been caught any where on the coast this season we would like to hear from it.—Contra Costa Gazette
—The Sporting News, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1882
Anglers fish from the rocky peninsula for sturgeon and salmon
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — For almost a century this town has been an important fishing center. For many years it was the chief receiving point of this region for drift gill netted salmon, shad and striped bass. Not only did fishing boats deliver here but pickup buyer boats ran both down and up river for delivery at this port. One large cannery was built here soon after the turn of the century and some 30 years later a second cannery was erected. For years there have been five large buyer houses equipped for dressing and mild curing. There is rail, water and truck shipment of fish products from here. Because this was a famous salmon mild curing port and later a cannery center, the landings here have been heavy for the past 40 years. The annual average has been about 30,000,000 pounds. The peak year was 1934 with 94,000,000 pounds. There followed a series of curtailments. Striped bass were taken off the commercial list, salmon catches were not so great, the sardine supply failed and finally the river area was closed to gill netting. The canneries closed and buyer sheds operated at far below capacity. The total landings at this port have been steadily dropping since 1944. Some salmon and shad still go to Pittsburg but the amounts are a dribble compared with the past. This port became the chief delivery point for catfish caught in fyke traps, but this fishery was halted by a legislative act of 1953. The 1951 landings of all fish at Pittsburg were 1,000,000 pounds.
—California Fish Bulletin #86, California Department of Fish and Game, 1953
There is a nice park area for the kids
History Note. In 1849 this area began to be developed by Dr. William Parker and his partner, Col. J.D. Stevenson. The land had been part of the Mexican land grant Rancho Los Medanos but soon was renamed New York of the Pacific by the settlers in the Pittsburg area. Two early landings began the parade of wharves in the area. One was called the New York Landing (the former New York of the Pacific). It had a spacious wharf and was a regular stop for ships plying the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. The second was Pittsburg Landing which was primarily used as the departure point for coal from the Black Diamond coal mine at Somersville via the Pittsburg Railroad. Both wharves evidently were built in the mid-1800s.
Although the wooden pier was built in 1974, an aluminum floating dock, 20 feet by 48 feet, was added to the end in 1982. A fairly short and steep ramp led down from the pier to the dock, a dock that would rise and fall as the tide and currents changed. Almost all of the anglers fished from the float, in part because it was good sized, in part because it offered comfortable seating around the entire float, and in part because it offered a short cast out into the warm water bubble area that harbored most of the fish. The loss of the float changed the pier from one that was exceptional to one that is only fair.
The pier and aluminum float. When the city removed the float it seemed to drastically reduce the quality of the fishing.
Pittsburg Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day but there are no lights on the pier.