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Comprehensive Guide on How to Pier Fishing Without Permit in the San Francisco Bay Area

Updated: Jun 1

Fishing from a public pier in the San Francisco Bay Area is a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors and catch a variety of fish species. The region's piers offer stunning views and a relaxing atmosphere, making them popular spots for both seasoned anglers and beginners. If you're new to pier fishing, here's a comprehensive guide to help you get started.

Permit Required for Pier Fishing in San Francisco Bay Area

One of the most common questions we receive is:

"Do I Need a License to Fish on the Pier?"

The answer is no, you do not need a fishing license to fish from a public pier in ocean or bay waters. However, it's important to note that while a license is not required, you still need to comply with all other fishing regulations. Read on to learn more about these regulations and how to ensure a successful and enjoyable fishing experience.

1. Understanding Public Piers

When fishing recreationally from a "public pier" in ocean or bay waters, you do not need a fishing license. According to Section 1.88 of Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR), a public pier must be connected to the shoreline, allow free, unrestricted public access, and be primarily built or functioning for fishing purposes.

Publicly owned jetties and breakwaters can also be considered public piers if they form the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor. Structures that do not meet this criterion are not classified as public piers.

2. Regulations and Limits

While you don't need a fishing license on a public pier, you must still follow all other fishing regulations. These include:

Measure your catch with a fish fillet mat kit with a fish ruler decal

  • Minimum Size Limits: You can use a Fish Fillet Mat Kit with a Fish Ruler Decal to measure your catch and ensure it meets the minimum size requirements set for certain fish species, promoting sustainable fishing practices.

  • Bag Limits: There are restrictions on the number of fish you can keep per day.

  • Report Cards: For specific species like sturgeon, you may need to fill out report cards.

  • Seasonal Restrictions: Some fish species can only be caught during certain times of the year.

Additionally, you are allowed to use no more than two rods and lines, handlines, or nets, traps, or other devices for taking crabs per person (CCR Title 14, Section 28.65(b)). You may possess more than two rods on a public pier, but you can actively use only two at any given time. Note that hook and line is not a legal method for taking crustaceans; any lobster or crab caught this way must be released immediately.

3. Gear and Equipment

When fishing from a pier, it's important to have the right gear. Here’s what you’ll need:

Rods and Reels: Medium to heavy action rods and reels are ideal. Make sure you have a sturdy reel with a good drag system.

Tackle: Use appropriate tackle for the species you are targeting. This includes hooks, sinkers, swivels, and leaders.

Bait: Common baits include shrimp, squid, anchovies, and sardines. Live bait can be particularly effective.

Other Essentials: A tackle box, a fishing net, a pair of pliers, and a bucket for your catch.

4. Species to Target

The San Francisco Bay hosts a variety of fish species. Here are some popular ones you can catch:

  • Steelhead trout

  • Chinook salmon

  • Lingcod

  • California halibut

  • Pacific halibut

  • Albacore tuna

  • Great white sturgeon

  • Rockfish

  • Striped bass

  • White sea bass

  • Leopard sharks

  • Soupfin sharks

Steelhead Trout
Steelhead Trout

Always check with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the latest information on in-season catches, species-specific guidelines, and other critical updates.

5. Best Pier Fishing Spots in the Bay Area

Here’s a comprehensive list of the piers in the Bay Area where you can enjoy fishing:

Here are five of the most interesting fishing piers you should explore:

Berkeley Pier
Berkeley Pier by Benefactor123, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Berkeley Pier

Location: Berkeley, CA

Why It's Interesting: The Berkeley Pier is steeped in history, originally built in 1926 and extending nearly 3.5 miles into the San Francisco Bay. Although much of the original pier is now closed, the accessible portion still provides excellent fishing opportunities. The waters here are rich with species like striped bass, sturgeon, and even the occasional halibut. The panoramic views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge make this a visually stunning spot to fish.

Pier 7
Pier 7 by raduranga, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Pier 7

Location: San Francisco, CA

Why It's Interesting: Pier 7 is a popular destination not just for its fishing, but for its prime location along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Anglers can catch a variety of fish, including perch, halibut, and rays. The pier’s proximity to iconic San Francisco landmarks, including the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge, offers a unique urban fishing experience. It's a perfect spot for those looking to combine a day of fishing with sightseeing.

Pacifica Municipal Pier
Pacifica Municipal Pier by By Christopher Michel -, CC BY 2.0,

Pacifica Municipal Pier

Location: Pacifica, CA

Why It's Interesting: Extending 1,140 feet into the Pacific Ocean, the Pacifica Municipal Pier is renowned for its productive fishing waters. Anglers here often catch salmon, striped bass, and Dungeness crab. The pier is particularly famous during the salmon season when it becomes a hotspot for local fishermen. The surrounding scenic views of the Pacific coastline add to the allure of this fishing pier.

Fort Baker Pier
Fort Baker Pier by National Park Services

Fort Baker Pier

Location: Sausalito, CA

Why It's Interesting: Fort Baker Pier offers a unique fishing experience with its location beneath the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. This pier provides excellent fishing for species like rockfish, lingcod, and perch. The stunning backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands makes fishing here a picturesque adventure. It's also a great spot for catching a glimpse of marine wildlife, such as seals and dolphins.

Point Pinole Pier
Point Pinole Pier by Boortz47, CC-BY-NC-SA

Point Pinole Pier

Location: Richmond, CA

Why It's Interesting: Located within Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, this pier is a gem for anglers seeking a more serene fishing experience. The surrounding park offers miles of trails and picnic areas, making it a great location for a family outing. The pier itself juts out into San Pablo Bay and is known for its catches of striped bass, sturgeon, and flounder. The peaceful setting, combined with the abundant wildlife and scenic views, makes Point Pinole Pier a favorite among local fishermen.

6. Tips for a Successful Fishing Trip

  • Check the Tides: Fish are more likely to bite during changing tides.

  • Be Patient: Fishing requires patience and persistence. Enjoy the process.

  • Stay Safe: Wear appropriate clothing, use sunscreen, and be mindful of your surroundings.

By following these guidelines, you can have a productive and enjoyable fishing experience on the public piers of the San Francisco Bay Area. Happy fishing!


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