San Francisco and the Bay Area are known for bustling street fairs, technology businesses, sweeping natural views and some of the West Coast’s most abundant fishing waters. Fish your way through salty ocean waves and clear, freshwater lakes to catch local favorites like salmon and halibut. Learn more about the best Bay Area fishing spots and the kind of fish you’re most likely to find there.
About San Francisco Bay Area Fishing
Many tourists and residents enjoy casting in local waters because of the variety in species and fishing methods. Whether you’re a competitive angler or casual fisher, the lakes, rivers and coastal waters of the Bay have you covered, with options including:
- Pier fishing: Head to the pier for an optimal vantage point and meet other anglers and beachgoers. Many Bay Area fishing piers also allow you to fish without a fishing license, making them a great place to ease your way into Bay Area fishing. While you’re there, enjoy a front-row seat to the colors of the early morning sun and evening sunset.
- Surf fishing: Surf fishing is a beginner-friendly fishing method beloved by even the most seasoned anglers. Instead of resting against a pier or boat railing, you can sit or stand on the shores or in the waves of your favorite coastal spot. Though the comfortable location makes it a great choice for first-timers, be sure to consult a guidebook or local expert who can teach you the best methods for casting during tides and how to keep yourself safe in currents.
- Fly fishing: Fly fishing is a fun, active way to approach both freshwater and saltwater bodies. Stripers — which are in season through late spring — are one of the most popular fly fishing catches. Always consult local fishing regulations before casting, as fly fishing may not be permitted at some locations in the Bay.
- Deep-sea fishing: Whether you’re on the hunt for a prized tuna or just want a relaxing way to spend the afternoon, deep-sea fishing is a sport for dedicated anglers and families interested in learning more about local waters.
- Charter fishing: If you’re new to the area or to fishing, consider chartering a fishing excursion. Bay Area fishing charters often include everything you need for a day of angling — except for a fishing license, which you are responsible for obtaining. The captain or their team can teach you how to cast and catch with their rental gear.
License and Report Card Requirements
Every fisher 16 years and older in California is required to have a valid fishing license when fishing from a boat or the surf. To get a residential license, you must have been a resident for six months before submitting your application. You can also apply for a non-resident license. Licenses are available for annual and short-term renewal, including one, two and 10-day options. A lifetime sport fishing license will save you the hassle of renewing.
Some types of fish require you to fill out and submit an online report card detailing your catch, including:
- Steelhead trout
- Spiny lobster
- Select salmon
It is your responsibility to return your report card by the deadline when necessary, otherwise, the fish listed above are considered an illegal catch. Check local regulations for additional rules.
When to Go
Though warm waters are ideal for most fish species in the Bay Area, you can usually find some activity during autumn and winter days, as well. Check a local online fishing report for up-to-date information regarding the water temperature, wind speed, humidity percentage and visibility — all critical factors for your safety and success on the water.
What Kind of Fish Are in the San Francisco Bay?
There are dozens of species waiting in the fresh and salt waters across the region, including these favorites:
- Steelhead trout
- Chinook salmon
- California halibut
- Pacific halibut
- Albacore tuna
- Great white sturgeon
- Striped bass
- White sea bass
- Leopard sharks
- Soupfin sharks
Check with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for information regarding in-season catches, species-specific guidelines and other critical updates.
Top Spots for Bay Area Fishing
Where to fish in the Bay Area depends on the species you’re hunting, your bait and equipment, and the time of year you’re venturing out. One way to explore all the region and state’s fishing waters is to participate in the California Fishing Passport Program, a scavenger hunt to find and record more than 100 different species that is designed to encourage travel across the state.
As you’re exploring the Bay and its surrounding waters, stay aware of locally protected areas where fishing is prohibited or closely regulated. If you’re moving to or visiting the San Francisco Bay, these are the best fishing spots you can’t miss:
1. Fisherman’s Wharf
When you think of Fisherman’s Wharf, you probably envision packed shops, tourist attractions and delicious food. It’s also a great place to go if you want a variety of sportfishing charter boats to choose from.
The crowds that gather here attract boats and companies from all over the region, eager to offer the best deals and on-board service for a day of deep-sea fishing around the Bay Area. Some charter boats charge per person, while others operate on a flat half-day and full-day rental fee. Add-ons, like poles, bait and gear, may cost extra, or they might be included in the rate. There are also several fishing piers and platforms near the Wharf for on-site fishing.
After you’ve had your fill, the Wharf has plenty of eateries and restaurants, so you’ll have no trouble freshening up and relaxing before you head back home.
2. Pier 7
With picture-perfect detailing and ample benches to sit on, the 840-foot Pier 7 offers a beautiful, easygoing place to cast your reel. Don’t let the calm appearance deceive you — the waters are often teeming with small and large fish of various species, like seaperch, sole, leopard sharks, flounder, halibut and striped bass. The water is fairly deep, with a muddy bottom dotted with debris. Don’t forget to bring your own bait and extra tackle, as you may lose some on the surface below.
While you fish, you can get to know the people around you or set your sights on a nearby restaurant or cafe for a quick bite before returning to the reel.
3. Horseshoe Lake
Horseshoe Lake in nearby San Mateo offers a peaceful, warm water lake surrounded by natural forests. It exists as a part of the Quarry Lakes Recreation Unit, which also encompasses a beach for swimming, a picnic area and recreational sites for volleyball and kayaking. East Bay Regional Park District keeps the lake stocked throughout the changing seasons. It is a hotspot for small and largemouth black bass, but it’s also a good place to go for occasional catfish or rainbow trout fishing near the Bay Area.
4. Bon Tempe Lake
Bon Tempe Lake, near Fairfax, is a reservoir and the widest of the lakes located in the Marin Municipal Water District. The 140 acres are a popular trout-catching destination from October through May. When you’re not busy reeling in your latest catch, bring a picnic and your best hiking boots to enjoy the nearby looped trails and scenic wildflowers.
5. Pillar Point Harbor
Pillar Point Harbor Beach is flanked by two jetties and includes two public piers — one large and one small. Since the jetties break any large waves, the waters here are calm and relatively shallow, providing the ideal practice space for new anglers. Common catches here include perch, rockfish, white croaker and some sharks. Some of the boats docked here sell their fish fresh, so you’ll never leave empty-handed.
Depending on when you go, you may be able to stock up on bait and snacks at the nearby shops and facilities.
6. Lake Chabot
As one of the most beloved Bay Area fishing lakes, Lake Chabot in Alameda County is a haven for stocked trout and catfish — especially early in the morning. Bass and crappie also frequent the waters. Many anglers hit the lake during the annual spring fishing derby or on any of the area’s numerous piers throughout the year. You can also fish from a canoe, kayak or trolling boat — just avoid the tour boats. For your convenience, there is an on-site cleaning station located near the parking lot.
You might enjoy additional park amenities like a historical walking tour, an outdoor fitness zone, recreation and picnic areas, and on-site boat and canoe rentals.
7. Pacifica Municipal Pier
The Pacifica Municipal Pier — also known as the Rev. Herschel Harkins Memorial Pier — is a public concrete fishing area where you don’t need a fishing license. Throughout the region, it’s known as one of the most profitable places to go for striped bass and salmon fishing in the Bay Area.
You can also go Dungeness crabbing during crab season, usually falling during late autumn. The 1,140-foot long, L-shaped pier is open daily, weather permitting, and is stocked with everything you need for a successful trip, like cleaning stations, benches, restrooms and a nearby snack bar. Keep your eyes open while you’re there, as the area is a good spot for whale watching.
8. San Pablo Reservoir
The San Pablo Reservoir is the place to go in the East Bay for catfish, trout, white sturgeon, smallmouth bass and bluegill. Bring your fishing license or purchase one on-site and participate in a monthly fishing derby. If you prefer to do your casting from the side of a boat or kayak, just make sure it falls within the dimensional and emissions requirements and has been inspected for quagga mussels. Because the reservoir is a source of drinking water, abide by all regulations and avoid contact with it.
In addition to fishing, the San Pablo Reservoir is a great place for bird and wildlife watching or going for a hike with your dog.
9. Candlestick Point State Park
Candlestick Point State Park is a one-of-a-kind, windy retreat with migrant plants and animals, picnic facilities and windsurfing galore. In this nature-meets-city setting, expect to catch striped bass, starry flounder and sturgeon from one of the two public fishing piers. Remember to dress for the wind, and check the forecast before you haul your gear to one of the piers — the park is located inside the Alemany wind gap.
Interested in expanding your fishing trip into a weekend getaway? You can also camp at one of the limited, semi-primitive camping sites.
Tips for Fishing in the San Francisco Bay Area
Follow these tips for a successful San Francisco fishing trip:
- Be mindful of your surroundings: If you’re visiting an unfamiliar area, stay vigilant of your surroundings. This includes other boaters, wildlife and fellow anglers.
- Follow local laws: Never fish in restricted areas — they are usually blocked from public access because they are private property or unsafe for you or the marine ecosystem.
- Follow fishing etiquette: Always follow polite fishing etiquette to ensure an enjoyable time for all. Don’t take up too much space on crowded piers and always check for nearby people before casting or drawing your line back.
- Preserve the environment: Wherever you go, try to leave the area you’re in as undisturbed as you found it by picking up all bait, tackle and line when you’re finished and discarding garbage. Only clean fish at assigned cleaning stations or your home.
- Get there early: Unless you’re fishing in an area where after-dark fishing is permitted, plan to arrive at your chosen lake, pier or sandy shore as early as you can to avoid potential crowds.
- Stay up to date: Consult local websites, news reports and weather apps to stay up to date on emerging weather conditions, fishing guidelines, species restrictions and public safety protocols.
- Practice your techniques: Experienced fishers love the Bay Area, but don’t let that overwhelm you if you’re new to the sport. Practice your casting and catch and release techniques in a quiet area and consider investing in professional fishing lessons or tours to learn more about it.
Start Planning Your Move to the San Francisco Bay Area Today
The San Francisco Bay Area is full of urban entertainment and the great outdoors, the perfect home for those who want the best of both worlds. Casual and competitive fishers will feel right at home fishing in coastal waters and scouting their next prize catch on the local lakes.
If the Bay is calling your name, contact Marcotte Properties today to request an apartment tour. We’ll help you find the perfect place for your budget, tastes and interests. No matter where you go, you’re never too far away from a pier, beach or lake.