13 Best Fishing Spots near San Rafael and Marin County

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Editor’s Note: Officials closed salmon fishing in 2023 due to extremely low returns. Check before fishing in area waters in coming seasons.

Marin County sits in a unique position that binds together the Bay Area’s signature cities with the wilder environments of the Northern California coastline.

The world-famous Golden Gate Bridge literally ties those two worlds together, and the north side of that bridge literally lands near the first of many good fishing spots in Marin County.

The county has a wealth of saltwater fisheries where you can catch salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, halibut, and more, as well as a bunch of clean freshwater lakes with largemouth bass, trout, catfish, and more to catch inland.

Besides San Rafael, residents of Marin County live in Novato, Mill Valley, San Anselmo, Larkspur, Tamalpais-Homestead Valley, Corte Madera, and other communities.

Some of the other sights here include Muir Woods National Monument, China Camp State Park, Marin Headlands, Vista Point, and Battery Spencer.

After we tell you about the best fishing spots Marin County has to offer, stick around another minute to check out the “Fishing in Neighboring Counties” section. There we’ll link you up to nearby counties that also offer excellent fishing just a little farther down the road.

Alpine Lake

This pretty lake near Mount Tamalpais may be better for hiking around its wooded shorelines than actually catching fish, but bring that rod just in case.

Unlike other nearby lakes, Alpine Lake isn’t stocked, but there are some fish here. Anglers report catching a few bass and the occasional rainbow trout, but call the experience the main goal, and any fish you hook a nice bonus.

This is a fairly decent-sized lake, but it tends to be quieter than highly stocked or easy-to-reach spots. It’s located just west of the more popular Bon Tempe Lake.

The Fairfax-Bolina Road will get you to the dam and along the west side of the reservoir in roughly 25 minutes from either of those communities the road connects. The Helen Markt and Kent trails are within a wider trail system and at times loop right up to the east side and north end. Side.

Bon Tempe Lake

As with Alpine Lake described above, Bon Tempe Lake is located in the vicinity of Mt. Tamalpais.

But good times indeed, because this location has much better trout fishing than most Marin County waters since it tends to be stocked more regularly with hatchery rainbow trout than anywhere around.

At last check, stocking of the lake typically kicks off in late winter and continues periodically well into spring. Some fall stocking has occurred in years past, so keep an eye out.

Trout fishing definitely will be best during those weeks after the stocking trucks visit, and slower the remainder of the year.

The lake also has some bass to catch, which might save the day during warmer months.

Sky Oaks Road will take you to a short section of Bon Tempe Lake with good bank access for easy fishing, even from wheelchairs. But to get to the rest, you’ll have to hike the trails that ring the lake.

Trails around the lake are good for more remote fishing access and also are used for hiking, biking, and horse riding. Expect to pay a parking fee to the water district.

Kent Lake

This is a surprisingly large lake at over 450 acres, but it’s not necessarily easy to find fish in all that water.

Kent Lake is a hike-in lake, at least for the general public, and the water district isn’t really trying to make this location a busy recreational destination.

What anglers will find are modest populations of bass and trout that take care of their own modest populations without any hatchery supplements.

There also is a seasonal fishery with modest harvests allowed on the reservoir’s tributary streams.

Check the regulations for the latest rules.

You’ll get somewhat near the lake on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. You can come in from the Fairfax side and drive a little over 8 miles to the Shafter Bridge Trailhead. Alternatively, you can come from Highway 1 near Olema and drive about 7 miles on Sir Francis Drake to the same trailhead.

From there you’ll need to hoof it in at least a half hour, if not more, depending on where on the big lake you’re trying to reach.

Check the maps closely as there are other roads and trails in the area, but not all roads allow public access to this protected drinking water area.

Lagunitas Lake

Another somewhat remote lake in the Mount site in mountains around Mt. Tamalpais, this smaller lake (22 acres) is somewhat tightly regulated but can produce some nice trout..

At last check, the limit was two two trout and only artificial lures could be used.

It’s not altogether clear how often (or whether) the lake is stocked these years, compared to regular plantings in the past.

From Fairfield, take Bolinas Road and then south on Fair Oaks Road, passing Bon Tempe Lake on the way and quickly arriving at the small reservoir, also known as Lake Lagunitas.

By the way, Lagunitas Creek is closed to fishing, and we strongly suggest that you check regulations for the latest information on this creek as well as other streams that may harbor protected wild trout, salmon, and steelhead.

Nicasio Reservoir

This is a fairly large reservoir for this area at over 800 acres when full, but it doesn’t get a lot of press.

The bass fishing here is often fair and sometimes will keep you reeling in fish after fish. Senkos are a popular choice.

The majority of bass fall into the small to medium-sized class, but there are definitely some 5-plus pounders to be caught.

Also known as Nicasio Lake, this spot also can be quite good for catfish, but you may need to wait until after sunset on a summer night to really light them up. There are some big ones in the mix of typical cats.

Other fish you might catch here include common carp and panfish.

California health authorities have issued an advisory that some species, especially bass, tend to have higher mercury buildup and have guidelines for limited consumption.

As a water storage reservoir, no water contact or boats are allowed, and water levels can get pretty low due to usage and drought.

The reservoir is just past the small community of Nicasio, about 20 minutes northwest of Fairfax. Nicasio Valley Road will get you there, and that road and Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road will get you to the shoreline.

Pacific Ocean

Note: See separate listings for San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, and for Tomales Bay.

The western coastline off Marin County offers a variety of fishing opportunities.

Shoreline anglers can catch perch, rockfish, and other species, at times including halibut off the beaches (usually best in summer). There are sandy and rocky beach areas worth exploring with a rod and reel.

The southern end of Bodega Bay is just inside Marin County and has some good fishing spots, while the northern side in Sonoma County has the harbor where charter boats set out on offshore trips for salmon, tuna and other deeper-water fish. Into San Francisco Bay, charters in Sausalito and nearby areas also offer a variety of fishing trips.

Phoenix Lake

This lake just west of the community Ross is mostly fished for bass.

The 23-acre reservoir is east of Bon Tempe and Lagunitas lakes, in an area of mixed forest and grassy hills.

Trails will take you around the lake to find shore-fishing spots, including two major arms and small coves. You can’t launch a boat or get in the water.

San Francisco and San Pablo Bays

Marin County has quite an abundant share of shoreline along the north side of San Francisco and San Pablo Bays.

The county’s portion stretches from Point Bonita under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Sausalito, Richardson Bay, Tiburon, and up to San Quentin. The San Pablo Bay area reaches up above the Richmond Bridge.

Boats leave a variety of ports including Sausilito and head out into the vast bay, seeking out salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, halibut, and more, depending on the season.

Anglers who want something solid under them find rocks and beaches as well as fishing piers to cast out and try their luck.

Some popular fishing piers within Marin County, as suggested by the CDFW, include the following:

  • Fort Baker Pier, right at the northern base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Anglers occasionally land salmon that round the corner close to shore on the way up into the Sacramento River system. The best salmon fishing begins in the latter part of summer and may continue for a couple of months. Jacksmelt, sanddab, bat rays, and several species of shark can also be caught here. Crabbing also can be good.
  • Elephant Rock Pier is in Tiburon, along Paradise Drive at the Mar W Street intersection. Park at Shoreline Park. This unique spot is a short pier literally built around a rock just offshore, but it provides fishing and crabbing access to deep water. Fishing close to the rock can be good for assorted rockfish, perch, greenling, and other rock-loving species. Longer casts may produce striped bass, leopard sharks, bat rays, or even sturgeon.
  • Paradise Beach County Park Pier is on the north side of the Tiburon Peninsula along Paradise Drive. Catches here include sturgeon in the winter and striped bass both in spring and fall. California halibut are more common in the warmer months. Other fish you might catch here include starry flounder, rays, sharks, jacksmelt, white croaker (kingfish), and multiple species of seaperch.
  • McNears Beach County Park Pier, several miles out on Point San Pedro Road from San Rafael. This is the place to come for landing some big fish, namely white sturgeon and striped bass. Other fish you might catch here include bat rays, kingfish, flounders, and maybe striped bass and sharks. (China Camp Pier is nearby.)

Scottsdale Pond

This is a 5-acre pond in Novato right alongside Highway 101, at the Rowland Boulevard exit.

The pond can be good for catfish fishing.

Soulajule Reservoir

This 63-acre somewhat out-of-the-way reservoir is not stocked with fish, but it can be quite good for crappie fishing and at times can hold its own for largemouth bass.

You’ll have to work a bit for it as the lakeshore requires a bit of hiking to reach from nearby roads.

It’s also known as Arroyo Sausal Reservoir after the creek that was impounded, and it’s Arroyo Sausal Road that provides the closest access once you get into the area.

Overall, the reservoir is about 45 minutes west of Novato or an hour northwest of San Rafael, or about 45 minutes coming southwest from Petaluma in Sonoma County.

Stafford Lake

This medium-sized lake in a county park of the same name offers a pretty good warm-water fishery overall.

You can get into some pretty good bass fishing here, and bluegill and catfish are likely to be willing biters even if those bigger bass won’t cooperate.

Don’t bring your boat, but this is a bank fishing spot in a nicely developed park popular for picnicking and other family activities. Water levels can be low at times.

The park is easy to reach about five miles west of Novato on Novato Boulevard. It’s neighbors with Indian Valley Golf Club.

Check the park website for details.

Tomales Bay

If you want to see what the San Andreas Fault looks like, check out Tomales Bay. The country’s most famous fault line has practically cleaved off a section of the California coastline, leaving this narrow, 12-mile bay in its path.

It’s also an interesting place for anglers because, despite being created by havoc, the bay actually provides a very safe harbor from the much rougher Pacific Ocean just outside.

Fishing success can be all over the map here.

You can usually find some perch to catch if you look long enough to locate schools.

Halibut come into the northern end in the summer and are a popular catch.

Leopard sharks, rays, and sometimes striped bass are caught here, along with a mishmash of rockfish and other species.

When the Chinook salmon are running along the coast just outside the bay, it can be tempting to run out onto the Pacific Ocean on the calmest of days and nail some big kings.

Yes, it can be done. But don’t unless you are quite a competent skipper with a worthy vessel and great ocean conditions.

Crabbing can be really good here in season. Bring a boat or rent one along with traps and fresh bait for best success.

There is good clamming in several shoreline areas depending on the species of clam you are chasing. Dillons Beach at the north and Tomales Bay State Park farther south are good options. You’ll need a good minus tide, with -0.5 or lower the best.

Lawson’s Landing at the north end of the bay has rental boats, a marina, and lots of other services important to anglers, including a campground. Inverness on the southwestern bay also has lots of amenities.

Walker Creek

River fishing is extremely limited in Marin County, but there is a very short section of this stream that is open to fishing below the Highway 1 bridge, only about a mile up from where the creek enters Tomales Bay.

This tiny fishery isn’t as well-known as California’s more famous steelhead rivers but hit it right and you have a chance at coming home with a big one of these sea-run rainbow trout or two.

The Keys Creek Fishing Access at the mouth is your best bet.

The stream gets runs of both winter steelhead and fall salmon, but only hatchery-marked steelhead and trout can be harvested in season. Check the rules for keeping fish, closures, plus barbless hook and seasonal artificial lure requirements.

Fishing in Neighboring Counties

Sonoma County: To the north, the area around Santa Rosa has easy access to excellent fishing, whether you want to fish on a charter offshore from Bodega Bay, wade and cast into the Russian River, or hook into big bass at Lake Sonoma.

Solano County: To the northeast across the bay, the Vallejo area offers access to good striped bass, sturgeon and salmon fishing in San Pablo and Suisun bays and more options up into the California Delta and lower Sacramento River.

Contra Costa County: To the east across the bay, this East Bay area is loaded not only with access to San Francisco game fish but also superb freshwater reservoirs including Los Vaqueros and San Pablo reservoirs.

Alameda County: To the southeast across the bay, you don’t have to get far from Oakland to find great fishing at places like Lake Chabot and Lake Del Valle.

San Francisco County: To the south, the cultural heart of the Bay Area also is close to some great salmon, striped bass and other fishing in the waters around the peninsula.