San Mateo County stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the South San Francisco Bay, and its fishing opportunities are largely confined to those saltwater locations.
Anglers in these areas can catch some of the biggest and most prized game fish in all of California, including king salmon, striped bass, California halibut, and white sturgeon.
There are plenty of other fish in the sea, as the saying goes, from hand-sized perch to person-sized sharks.
San Mateo County’s residents live in San Mateo, Daly City, Redwood City, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Pacifica, Menlo Park, and other areas just south of San Francisco.
Some of the attractions here include Año Nuevo State Park, Butano State Park, Pescadero State Beach, and San Mateo Central Park. It’s also home to the San Francisco National Airport, San Francisco Bay Discovery Site, and Pigeon Point Lighthouse.
Despite it being among California’s smaller counties, San Mateo County has feet both on the San Peninsula and in Silicon Valley, with the Santa Cruz Mountains running through.
We’ll tell you about the best spots for saltwater fishing and talk a little bit about why freshwater fishing isn’t much of an option here.
Before we quite get there, though, we wanted to point out the “Fishing in Neighboring Counties” section that you’ll find at the end of this article. That feature will steer you to nearby areas that will increase the number of fish that you can catch without a long drive out of San Mateo County.
Saltwater Fishing in San Mateo County
The ocean off San Mateo has the same species of fish that the rest of the coastline features.
Chinook salmon gather and fatten up in the area before heading into the bay toward the Sacramento River. Summertime angling can be great in the ocean during June and July when the run is strong.
Striped bass and halibut also feed offshore, and if you’re a little lucky, at times right up to the breakers.
Rockfish, lingcod, cabezon and other types of fish tend to hold around rockier areas year-round, and there are some great reefs and rocky headlands off San Mateo County. The species and season will dictate how deep they are.
Surf perch feed along the open beaches while other types of perch, rockfish and other species favor rocky outcroppings and pier pilings.
Boats head out for the larger fish, leaving from Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay on the San Mateo County coast. Other charter operators are a bit farther away from the ocean fisheries here, including multiple ports in San Francisco Bay and the smaller port to the south in Santa Cruz.
Charter and private boats head out to the waters captains think will be most productive for the species at the top of their list in the season. Those waters will be off San Mateo County as well as neighboring areas.
South San Francisco Bay
The South Bay area can at times be great for striped bass and white sturgeon, and also good for many of the other fish species that call San Francisco Bay home for at least part of the year.
Boat launches and marinas can get you out on the water, where your odds of landing fish are better than for shore anglers.
Nevertheless, fishing from the shoreline, and particularly from public fishing piers, is a popular pursuit and at times can result in very good catches … sometimes of some very big fish. Sturgeon and sharks can be as long as a full-grown angler and put up quite a fight.
The Best South Bay Fishing Piers
Oyster Point Pier
There’s a fishing pier off the end of Oyster Point near the marina of the same name, located in South San Francisco, a few miles north of the airport.
The pier at times can be good for some of the bay’s favorite large fish, including striped bass and the occasional halibut in warmer months, white sturgeon in wetter months, and some small and occasionally big sharks.
Smaller fish such as jacksmelt, topsmelt, perch, white croaker, and various flatfish are among the other likely catches here.
See the Oyster Point Marina and Park website for visitor information.
Coyote Point Recreation Area is on the north side of the city of San Mateo, where you can fish from a breakwater on the north side of the small marina located here.
There you might be able to land the usual bay species, including perch and flatfish, and potentially bigger fish like striped bass or white sturgeon that come through the South Bay to feed.
Fishing can take a back seat to the playground, golf course, and other activities available at this site.
Port of Redwood City Pier
This recently rebuilt public pier offers a good shot at catching big sharks and rays and on occasion striped bass that venture back into the port area from the main bay.
Perch, flatfish, jacksmelt and other smaller gamefish should come in at times, although periods of heavier rains can drive these types of fish to saltier water farther north. Bullheads and shiner perch are usually around if you want to catch bait or just have a little action for smaller fish.
Sturgeon feed in the south bay and on occasion may be landed here as well. Unlike other species, sturgeon like the influx of muddy freshwater for feeding.
See the Port of Redwood City’s website for more information.
Sierra Point Fishing Pier
This pier in Brisbane sits just north of Oyster Point (see separate entry) and is south of Candlestick Point Pier, mentioned in our article covering San Francisco fishing spots.
This is one of the smaller piers around, and sits fairly shallow, leading to fair fishing much of the time.
However, striped bass pass through here in the warmer months and sturgeon like the rainier times in the South Bay.
Sharks, rays and a variety of perch and flatfish are among the potential catches, varying by season. Jacksmelt can be everywhere. California halibut also may be caught seasonally.
Ocean Beaches and Piers
Shore anglers along the open coastline can catch a variety of fish.
Surf perch, jack smelt, mackerel and other species are often caught on the open sand, while additional types of perch, rockfish, eels and other species are more common around rocks and the Pillar Point and Princeton jetties at Half Moon Bay. Some areas offer both types of habitat close together.
Occasionally shore anglers will be able to hook into halibut, striped bass, or other larger fish, but generally speaking those are a bit easier to reach from a pier and a lot easier to get to on a boat.
The Pacifica Municipal Pier at Sharp Park Beach in Pacifica is one of the better options around for anglers not heading out in boats.
Chinook salmon and striped bass are sometimes within casting range of this pier, if you get a bit lucky. Both salmon and striper fishing is likely going to be best in the summer, but there are lots of days when these things just won’t happen. If everything comes together, it can be magic here.
Pier anglers also can catch many types of perch, kingfish, mackerel, flatfish, and maybe a halibut now and then.
Winter crabbing also can be pretty good off this pier.
Other piers that you might want to try, often more for species that tend to hug the shoreline more often than salmon and stripers, include the Pillar Point Harbor Pier and Half Moon Bay Pier in Half Moon Bay.
As mentioned above, ocean fishing also can be productive right off sandy beaches and around rocks for surf perch and a variety of other species.
Some spots to consider casting into the surf include the state beaches at Bean Hollow, Gray Whale Cove, Half Moon Bay, Pacifica, Pescadero, Pomponio, and San Gregorio.
This small stream enters the Pacific Ocean at Pescadero State Beach, about 15 miles south of Half Moon Bay.
The stream has a modest run of winter steelhead that locals and savvy visitors can tap into if they time it just right, meaning there’s good stream flow and a nice tidal push to bring the fish in during the winter.
The stream is open to fishing up to the Stage Road bridge in the small community of Pescadero. That’s roughly two stream miles that can legally be fished.
It opens up in early December and remains open usually until early March, but mostly on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays, plus the opener and closer and legal holidays. Also, it can be closed on any of the above days under low-flow rules.
Long story short, be sure to check the rules for any recent updates before fishing. Also, take note of barbless hook rules.
Steelhead must be fin-clipped to keep. The same is true for rainbow trout (and clipped trout here are simply juvenile steelhead).
There’s a trail along the north bank of the lowest stream section and some road and trail access closer to the community of Pescadero.
San Gregorio Creek
Like Pescadero Creek, San Gregorio Creek about four miles north also has a modest run of winter steelhead that begin appearing with the winter rains in December or January and run until the stream closes again to fishing in early March.
As luck would have it, this stream also is open from the mouth to Stage Road bridge, but this is the bridge in San Gregorio, a community maybe a mile inland from San Gregorio State Beach.
San Gregorio Creek has similar fishing rules to Pescadero Creek, and be sure to check for official updates before fishing here.
Lakes and Reservoirs
Question: Can You Fish in San Mateo County Lakes?
The short answer is no. So is the long answer, but here it is.
If you look at the map you’ll see that San Mateo County has a handful of lakes that look tempting. And we’ll add that it’s more than rumor that at least some of those bodies of water are fairly flush with fish, including some big bass and trout.
These lakes sit cool and clear among the hills and forests that rise up in the middle of the county, but all of these water supply reservoirs in the county are entirely off-limits to fishing.
So, despite the impression you might get from some websites that mindlessly scrape information from the web, let’s be as clear as possible here: It is not legal to fish in Crystal Springs Reservoir, Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir, San Andreas Lake, or Pilarcitos Lake.
While news reports have revealed that at least some of the lakes’ fish have been tested to show unhealthy levels of mercury in their flesh (despite safe levels in the water itself), that’s a newer development and not the reason these watersheds have long been closed to anglers.
Here’s a statement from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission website: “Because of its 150-year history as a protected source of safe, high-quality municipal drinking water, much of the watershed is not open for recreational activity.”
There is a fair bit of controversy around the decision to prohibit fishing here when many other water supply reservoirs across California offer some of the state’s best angling, but this is the very longstanding status quo and we don’t foresee any quick changes.
Fishing in Neighboring Counties
San Francisco County: To the north, San Francisco is similarly limited in freshwater fishing but is at the epicenter of the Bay Area’s fantastic bay and ocean fisheries for salmon, striped bass, halibut and other saltwater game fish.
Santa Clara County: To the east, the area around San Jose and other Silicon Valleye communities offers a variety of smaller lakes and reservoirs with trout, bass, catfish, and other game fish.