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Top Fishing Charters in Bay Area

Fishing in Bay Area

Anglers will find too many possibilities to count in the San Francisco Bay Area. As cliché as it sounds, there may just be something for everyone in these waters, whether you’re one for freshwater fly fishing, deep sea fishing, or anything in between. You can spend your time in the Bay Area fishing for some of the most iconic game fish on the west coast, including Salmon, Halibut, Sturgeon, and Albacore Tuna. The best part is, you don’t have to be a pro to catch them.

Bay Area Fishing Spots

With the vast waterways of the California Delta, the vibrant waters of San Francisco Bay, and the endless Pacific Ocean beyond the Golden Gate, rest assured there’s no shortage of productive fishing spots around here. You’ll find charter boats for hire in cities all over the region, including San Francisco, Sausalito, Martinez, Pittsburg, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Richmond, to name a few. If you’re in the mood to cast a few lines on your own, the Bay Area boasts plenty of fishing piers, lakes, and reservoirs with access from shore.

With so many options, you could spend a whole year fishing around here and you would still only scratch the surface! With that in mind, here’s our guide to a year of fishing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The California Delta

This is where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers converge and empty into Suisun Bay and the Carquinez Strait. The water from these rivers eventually makes its way to San Francisco Bay. In the Delta, game fish thrive in a blend of freshwater, saltwater, and brackish water.

At the start of the year, some of the most productive fishing in the Bay Area happens in the California Delta—and it’s all about White Sturgeon. This ancient species of fish is known for its excellent food value (caviar, anyone?) as well as its ability to put up a tremendous fight. They may be bottom feeders, but Sturgeon make shocking leaps into the air and many compare their fighting power to that of a Tarpon or even a Marlin.

Sturgeon fishing in Suisun Bay and the surrounding shallow waters stays strong from January through April. The season actually begins before the start of the year, in November. Many Bay Area charter fleets move a boat or two to the Delta at the onset of winter to take advantage of the local Sturgeon fishing. This works out perfectly for local anglers, since the season for many species in SF Bay closes during the same period.

San Francisco Bay

Come spring, all eyes are on San Francisco Bay. This is when the seasons for Salmon, Lingcod, and Rockfish open in most years. Flounder, Halibut, and Striped Bass also reach their peak at this time, and most species will continue biting through fall. Put it all together and you’ve got one fantastic fishery in the Bay! During this time of year, many locals enjoy “potluck” fishing (or “potlucking”), a method designed to catch whatever fish happen to be swimming by.

If you’re not in it for the fresh seafood, you can have a blast fishing for 11 different Shark species, including rare finds such as the Sevengill Shark. Even when you’re not in the market for a one of these brutes, chances are you’ll end up with a Leopard Shark on the end of your line. These “pests” often invite themselves to the party while anglers are busy trying to catch other fish!

Beyond the Golden Gate

Just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge are the big leagues, where you can dabble in some of that famous San Francisco deep sea fishing. The Farallon Islands and Duxbury Reef are some of the most productive spots out here when it comes to Salmon and Lingcod fishing. King Salmon fishing starts off here in spring, then shifts to the Bay around June as these fish follow hordes of Anchovies inshore. In fall, you’ll find the biggest Salmon of the season (25-40 lbs) 10 miles west of the Golden Gate.

Autumn also marks the Bay Area’s brief but thrilling Albacore Tuna season. You’ll spot these bad boys offshore in September and October, usually past the Farallon Islands. The offshore fishing season goes out with a bang, and local charter boats start turning their attention toward the Delta once more.

The Greater Bay Area

This corner of California’s coast is the gift that keeps on giving. Even beyond the shores of San Francisco and the immediate Bay Area, it’s easy to get a taste of the local sport fishing. Fishing charters in Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, and Bodega Bay head to many of the same offshore fishing grounds, in addition to presenting anglers with unique possibilities closer to shore.

For those who wish to spend their time fly fishing in the Bay Area, there’s ample opportunity in local rivers and more than 40 different lakes. The Sacramento River produces some of the best Salmon fishing in California between August and December. On the other hand, Lake Chabot, Lake Merced, and many others provide year-round angling for Bass, Catfish, and Rainbow Trout. The San Pablo Reservoir offers many of the same species, and some consider it to be one of the best fisheries in the East Bay.

Bay Area Fishing Styles

Trolling

Anglers in the Bay Area use this technique to catch Albacore Tuna, Salmon, Striped Bass, and Halibut on occasion. It’s common to troll for Salmon using downriggers and flashers, typically with Anchovies for bait. Albies bite a variety of lures including Zukers, cedar plugs, and swimbaits.

Mooching

When Salmon move into SF Bay, many anglers switch to a technique known as “mooching.” Similar to drift fishing, this hands-on technique is more up close and personal than trolling. The boat moves much slower and anglers hold the rods the entire time, allowing them to feel every strike when Salmon bite. Anchovies, Shrimp, Sardines, and Squid are all effective baits.

Bottom Fishing

Anglers rely on bottom fishing to target Lingcod, Halibut, and various Rockfish species. You might use baitcasters if relying on live bait such as Mackerel or Anchovies, whereas spinning gear works better for casting swimbaits. Locals use heavy tackle when bottom fishing offshore.

“Potluck” Fishing

Potlucking is the best way to embrace the endless variety of San Francisco Bay and the waters just outside the Golden Gate. Simple but effective, this method involves drift fishing Anchovies for Halibut, Striped Bass, and pretty much anything else that’s hungry when it swims by. Anglers love potluck fishing because every catch is a surprise.

Need to Know

Bay Area fishing charters typically include tackle, bait, and catch cleaning at the end of your trip. Anglers age 16 and older must bring their own California fishing license ($15 for a single day license, price subject to change). You do not need a license when fishing from a public pier.

Anglers fishing from a boat should pay close attention to local regulations regarding seasons and size limits for various species. Some species are not always open to harvest in the ocean even when it’s legal to fish for them in the bay, and seasons do not open in the same month every year. Many fish are legal to keep while fishing from shore year-round, but size and bag limits still apply. Some species, such as freshwater Bass, are strictly catch and release.

If you plan on fishing alone, always keep an eye out for health advisories from the California Department of Public Health and other organizations. Black Bass, Rainbow Trout, and Channel Catfish in the north lake of Lake Merced are known to contain Mercury. Anglers are advised not to eat the internal organs of any Crabs caught in the region north of Bodega Bay, since these may contain domoic acid.

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Bay Area Fishing Seasons

In January, it’s all about Sturgeon fishing in the California Delta. Fly anglers can enjoy great success in the lakes and reservoirs, fishing for Bass, Catfish, and more.  

There are possibilities everywhere you look at this time of year, including Sturgeon in the Delta, Leopard Sharks in the Bay, Bass in the local lakes, and winter Steelhead in the Sacramento River. 

Winter fishing continues in the Bay Area, with many charter boats making good use of the Delta as they scour the bottom for Sturgeon. The prime season for deep sea fishing just around the corner.

The season for Lingcod and Rockfish typically opens in April. Salmon may be available, as well. You won’t find many of these fish in SF Bay just yet, however, since most of them are still feeding offshore. 

With average temperatures hovering between 50-70°F, May is wonderful time to get out on the water! The waters offshore are bustling with Salmon, Lingcod, and Rockfish.

This is potluck season, when you never know what you might reel in! Salmon and Rockfish are appearing more in the Bay and close to the coast, while Halis, Stripers, and White Seabass are plentiful.

You can expect some of the hottest weather of the year in July, with average highs reaching 85°F. Anglers are catching some of the biggest Salmon of the year, and the rest of the fish aren’t bad either!

In some years, Albacore Tuna are drawing many anglers to the offshore fishing grounds. There’s no better time to experience the variety of the Bay than August, when all the fish are biting vigorously.

Stellar fishing continues here in the Bay Area, along with mild weather and smooth sailing. Head offshore and land a Tuna, or explore the Bay and see what a little potlucking brings you.

If you’ve had your fill of the Bay, try your luck in the local lakes and rivers instead. Salmon fishing is in full swing in the Sacramento River, with some of the biggest fish of the year making their entrance. 

Salmon are closed to harvest on the coast, but you can still catch them in Sac River through the end of the year. Some anglers will continue fishing the Bay while others will head back to the Delta.

December is a great time for fishing if you don’t mind a little chill in the air! The Delta offers plenty of hard-fighting Sturgeon while the ocean holds Halibut, Lingcod, Rockfish, and Crab.

Bay Area Fishing Calendar

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What People Are Saying About Bay Area

"Full Day Striped Bass with Captain Brad"

Janet M. fished with Salmon Striper - Sacramento River on November 11, 2018

It'll get chilly especially on the boat. Definitely bring a jacket with a hood...!

"Best Day Ever!"

Michael F. fished with Nautilus Excursions on October 21, 2018

The Fall is the summer in San Francisco and the Bay is teeming with fish!!! You can't go wrong.

"Half Day Trip - Morning Salmon"

Timoth V. fished with Pacific Tradition on September 30, 2018

Use a charter and follow the Captain's suggestions. We originally planned to fish halibut, but the crew thought we'd have more luck for salmon. We caught salmon, who knows if we'd have caught any halibut.

"Fishing with Eric"

William R. fished with North Bay Charters on September 14, 2018

Bring warm clothes for the morning, Bring sun screen, and don't forget to tip the captain.

Top Targeted Species in Bay Area

Bass (Striped)

Halibut

Sturgeon

Rockfish

Top Bay Area Destinations