Where Are the Best Fishing Spots in San Francisco?

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San Francisco may pack more people into a small space than anywhere in America west of New York City, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find room to go fishing here.

On the contrary, this iconic city is crammed onto a peninsula surrounded on three sides by San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. So as urban as this place is, San Francisco has quick access to some of the best fishing grounds you’ll find anywhere in the Continental U.S.

There are salmon, striped bass, halibut, and much more swimming out there. These popular game fish are within easy reach of boats and at times just a cast away from the many piers that point like a finger toward the best fishing spots.

This article will tell you about the best fishing spots, including the city’s one noteworthy freshwater fishing spot and its many saltwater options.

Among the fishing destinations that we’ll detail for you are some of the best fishing piers in San Francisco. Starting just a few steps out over the water, the number of species of fish you might catch from a pier is nearly as endless as the types of bait you can cast at them.

When you’ve finished checking out all of the best fishing spots in the city, stick around just a moment to scan through the “Fishing in Neighboring Counties” section below.

That section will link you to articles we have about fishing in nearby areas, which include many of the best freshwater and saltwater destinations the Bay Area has to offer.

Freshwater Fishing

Merced Lakes

The only decent freshwater fishing holes in San Francisco, Merced Lakes offer bursts of good fishing, particularly when the North Lake is stocked with hatchery rainbow trout a handful of times in the early season.

It’s safe to assume the lake will be planted with trout beginning in the late winter, probably February), and that it will be stocked several more times into spring.

It’s also safe to assume that trout fishing here will taper off significantly after those plantings. That’s the way it is with stocked trout … they are easy to catch and people tend to fish out smaller bodies of water fairly quickly.

However, with Merced Lakes being located just a few hundred yards inland from the chilly Pacific Ocean, they do tend to stay cool enough for those trout that somehow avoid all the hooks to survive into summer. So you might be able to scratch up a trout or two even after most folks have given up on fishing for trout in North Merced, which is just a smidge over 100 acres in size.

Largemouth bass, catfish, and panfish also live in the lakes and provide a fair fishery, especially for those looking for this kind of angling without leaving the city.

South Lake may be better for warm-water species, because it is roughly twice as large at nearly 200 acres and gets less fishing pressure due to not having the trout stocks. You can hand-launch a kayak or canoe and head out and fish the edge of the tules or other structure.

A good place to start your fishing trip is the Lake Merced Picnic Area, on the west side. It’s on Harding Road off Skyline Boulevard.

There is bank-fishing access including a couple of fishing piers on North Lake, plus a boat launch into North Lake. This is also where you would put a small boat onto South Lake.

Note in the link that fees are charged and parking is limited.

Additional shore access including a small pier, plus parking, is located near Sunset Circle, on the north side of North Lake Merced. It’s on Lake Merced Boulevard, near the bridge across North Lake.

The lakes are surrounded by San Francisco State University, San Francisco Zoo, several golf courses, and neighborhoods.

Saltwater Fishing

Fishing boats sail out of Fisherman's wharf with the Golden Gate Bridge catching rays of sunrise in the distance.
Photo by lucidwaters (Depositphotos)

This section will cover both San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.

Boaters, including numerous charter operations out of Fisherman’s Wharf and elsewhere, have a variety of choice fishing options in the waters surrounding San Francisco, both inside and outside the bay.

When the Chinook salmon numbers are good, fishing can be simply incredible around here, with salmon often going into the 20-plus-pound range and occasionally over 30 or even 40 pounds.

The salmon fishing often gets going sometime in the spring and when things are good it’s really rocking by summer. It can continue into fall, but by then a lot of the biggest salmon will be in the Sacramento River.

It’s always recommended to check for the latest recommendations. Charter operators will have that info if you’re hiring a trip out, which is always a wise move if you’re new to it.

Striped bass come roaring through the bay at times, and early summer can be a good bet.

Halibut also come into shallower water and into the bay in the early summer, making June and July prime months to catch most of the prized species.

Rockfish, perch, and lots of other game fish species are year-round residents, and big white sturgeon move in and out of the bay from the ocean and upriver areas of the California Delta and Sacramento River.

We’d caution you to study up on the most current posted regulations to make sure you are fishing legally and only keeping fish that are in season.

Best Fishing Piers in San Francisco

Fishermen at Torpedo Wharf in San Francisco try to catch fish very early in the morning, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Photo by ruramos (Depositphotos)

For anglers who aren’t going out on a boat, there are some very good public fishing piers as well as shoreline access in San Francisco.

What follows are some of the best piers to consider for your next fishing trip in the city, starting at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge and heading around to Candlestick Point.

Fort Point Pier

Also commonly called Torpedo Wharf, this pier is located at the Presidio and sits just east of the Golden Gate Bridge. (Great view of the bridge, by the way, so plan to take photos. But get there early for the best shot at limited parking spots.)

This is so near the bay entrance that you have a shot at striped bass, king salmon and halibut as they move in and out from the Pacific Ocean. Your best bets for catching those prizes from the pier are the same as for boaters, with a peak around June and July.

There are easier fish to catch at Torpedo Wharf as well, including a variety of perch and flatfish, including flounder. Winter and spring are good bets for these.

Summer fishing also will bring some types of perch and flatfish as well as jacksmelt, kingfish, sharks, rays and other species.

Again, be sure to read up on the seasonal rules governing your harvests from piers such as this.

For example, there are several species of crabs in the bay you can catch and keep at Fort Point, but Dungeness crabs must be released if caught inside the bay, even this close when the ocean just to the west is open.

Fort Mason Piers

These piers sit just west of the Municipal Pier and perhaps a mile or so west of Fisherman’s Wharf and a similar distance east of Fort Point Pier.

You’re probably less likely to catch salmon at Fort Mason Piers, farther in from the mouth of the bay, but maybe. More likely you’ll catch perch, tomcod, maybe a flatfish or kingfish (white croaker). Sharks and rays come through as well.

San Francisco Municipal Pier

The Muni, as it’s often known, looks out toward Alcatraz Island a mile offshore and isn’t far west of Fisherman’s Wharf.

The pier arcs in a near horseshoe (another of its nicknames) around and helps form the protected Aquatic Park Cove at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, but it also gives you fishing access to the typical game fish found along the shores of San Francisco Bay.

Of course, there’s perch, jacksmelt, and rockfish, and maybe you’ll get a flounder or other flatfish or even cabezon or lingcod here

As with most pier fisheries, there’s always an element of the unknown as to what you’ll catch at Muni Pier. But also, make sure what you catch is in season and legal to keep, if you’re looking for dinner.

Pier 7

This public pier is located off The Embarcadero roughly between the Bay Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. Look for the Broadway intersection and you’ll find it, and some called it the “Broadway Pier.”

If you don’t have a boat or want to pay for a charter at the wharf, Pier 7 may be among your best bets (with Fort Point also on that list) of hooking into striped bass or halibut, especially in the early summer season by casting off the end of this long pier.

Other fish you might catch include the usual suspects like jacksmelt, sharks, rays, flatfish, tomcod, croaker, and so on. Perch are around too, though are likely to be straight down around the pilings or shoreline rather than casting into deepwater.

Ferry Building Pier

Just blocks away from Pier 7, this pier next to the ferry terminal provides access to similar types of fishing.

It doesn’t stick out quite as far into the bay to reach stripers and halibut, but those are still options.

Otherwise, the typical lineup of different perch and flatfish species, sharks and rays, jacksmelt and kingfish, and so on, are all on the fishing menu at Ferry Building Pier.

South Harbor Marina Pier

This pier is ocated south of the Bay Bridge at Pier 40, right out from Oracle Park (watch for long home-run balls from the Giants game plopping into nearby McCovey Cove!).

You have a shot at catching striped bass and halibut that come in close to South Harbor Pier during the summer.

Of course, there’s also the usual collection of perch, flatfish, croaker, sharks, and rays swimming around these waters, fluctuating in numbers and species depending on the season.

Agua Vista Park Pier

Located just south of Oracle Center, this is quite a short public pier but at times it’s enough to put you in range of striped bass, halibut and the occasional sturgeon.

Sharks and rays swim through here a little more reliably, and other fish you’ll probably catch depending on the season are jacksmelt, kingfish, rockfish, various seaperch, bullheads, and some flatfish.

Jacksmelts, shiner perch, and the like can be caught pretty much straight under foot and then used for bait for the larger fish like halibut or stripers.

Warm Water Cove Park

This one came to our attention as recommended by acclaimed outdoor writer Tom Stienstra, who reports that this modest little cove with a tiny public park can be a great place to catch fish, thanks to the outflow of warm water from a power plant.

Locals know that the influx of warmer water attracts everything from perch to eating-sized striped bass, and it’s particularly attractive in the winter when the rest of the bay is significantly colder than this little dent in the coastline.

In fact, winter might be a quieter time to fish because the park is known for punk rock and graffiti. 

There used to be a fishing pier here, but it was removed after being damaged. But the park offers shoreline access.

It’s at the end of 24th Street, and you can even get there by light rail as it’s a short walk from the line on Third Street.

See the Warm Water Cove website for more information about the area.

Candlestick Point Piers

There are a couple of piers you can fish from at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, as well as shoreline access to this spot at the far southeastern corner of San Francisco.

This area is part-way down into South San Francisco Bay, which attracts striped bass, halibut, sturgeon and more game fish that feed on vast flats. Sturgeon fishing can be especially good when heavy rains swell tributary rivers and turn the bay water brown.

There are areas here you’ll want to fish only on high tides when the fish come in to feed. Flats in the Candlestick Point area can be fairly shallow and at times are just an expanse of mud on a low tide.

Other fish you might catch casting from the piers and point include perch, jacksmelt, sharks, rays, flounder, and more.

Fishing in Neighboring Counties

Marin County: To the north, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, anglers not only have access to the rich fishing grounds of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, there also are a surprising number of fishing lakes hidden away in the more remote interior.

Contra Costa County: To the northeast across the bay, this East Bay area shares the bay fisheries as well as has several great freshwater fisheries, including Los Vaqueros and San Pablo reservoirs.

Alameda County: To the east across the bay, you don’t have to venture far outside of Oakland to come to some excellent fishing spots, including Lake Chabot and Lake Del Valle.

San Mateo County: To the south, this peninsula neighbor has similar access to great Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay fishing.

More Information

We found valuable insights into San Francisco fishing from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Tom Stienstra’s “California Fishing” guidebook, and Ken Jones’ Pier Fishing in California website, among other sources.