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Top Fishing Charters in San Francisco Bay

Fishing in San Francisco Bay

As the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas, San Francisco Bay comes with some big opportunities. The bay measures anywhere from 400-1,600 square miles, depending on which sub bays, wetlands, and estuaries you choose to include in your calculations. Even by modest estimates, this fishing hole offers anglers a whole lot of bang for their buck. 

The Bay offers access to some of the most popular game fish on the west coast, minus the long boat rides and choppy seas. From scrumptious delicacies like Crab, Salmon, Lingcod, and Halibut to ferocious Sharks, you can find it here. For every catch in these waters, there are a dozen San Francisco Bay fishing charters to help you reel it in. The hardest part is deciding what you want to catch this time around!

Where to Start

You’ll find charter fleets in every corner of the bay, including Sausalito, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, and San Francisco itself. Every crew has their own secrets when it comes to the best fishing spots, but there are also a few locations that everyone knows about, and these continue to be tried and true.

The Berkeley Flats, Angel Island, Paradise Beach, and Crissy Field are practically synonymous with San Francisco Bay fishing. These hot spots have churned out plenty of Halibut, Salmon, Striped Bass, and Lingcod over the years.

In the south Bay, anglers regularly hit up the Alameda Rock Wall, Candlestick Point, and the area offshore from Oyster Point Pier. In late summer and fall, some have great success fishing the lower portion of San Pablo Bay.

For those who chose to give it a go on their own, fishing piers can produce many of the same species. The Berkeley Pier is one of the longest in California (3,000 feet) and the top-visited pier in the Bay Area. Here you can catch anything from Sharks and Rays to Perch, Flounder, Halibut, and Stripers. On the western edge of the San Francisco Peninsula sits the Pacifica Pier, another great place to catch Halis, Flounder, Perch, and even Salmon.

Top Catches in San Francisco Bay

Chinook (King) Salmon

This fish is at the top of the list for many anglers who visit San Francisco, and with good reason. Ranging from 5-50 lbs in size, King Salmon provide incredible sport fishing action. Add to that their excellent food value, and it’s no wonder why many consider them to be king in these waters. Salmon season in SF Bay usually opens in April or May and runs through October. They are most abundant in summer, but anglers often catch the largest specimens after Labor Day.

Halibut

Halibut are a close second here in San Francisco Bay. These waters host not just one, but two Halibut species. Many anglers refer to them collectively as “butts,” but it’s worth noting the subtle differences between Pacific and California Halibut.

California Halis are smaller but far more numerous in the bay. They’re also open to harvest year-round, whereas the season for Pacific Halibut can stay closed for almost half a year in some cases (usually open by May). Rest assured both kinds are delicious, whether you bake them, broil them, or batter them in beer. For the best SF Bay Halibut fishing, plan on casting lines sometime between April and October.

Lingcod

Ugly? Perhaps. Tasty? You bet. Lingcod is yet another declicacy to be found here in the Bay. The season for Lingcod fishing in the Bay typically closes for a few months at the beginning of the year. Once it opens in spring, you can expect excellent fishing.
On occasion, you might reel in a striking blue specimen. No one knows for certain why some Lings take on a vibrant turquoise color, but some speculate that it comes from a steady squid diet. They’re still safe to eat and yes, the fillet is blue too (the color fades when cooked).

Striped Bass

Striped Bass can reach up to 40 lbs, but the average catch typically doesn’t top 10 lbs. San Francisco Bay offers consistently good Striper fishing from June through November, if you know where to look. Fishing near bridges tends to be key with these fish, with the south tower of the Golden Gate producing good numbers all season. Early in summer, the area around San Mateo Bridge is productive, while fishing near Dumbarton Bridge is best in fall. You’ll find Striped Bass in plenty of other places, too, including the Berkeley Flats and Alcatraz Island.

Sturgeon

Those who recognize this showstopper are always eager to catch one, and those who don’t will be hooked as soon as they see one. Sturgeon have been around for more than 200 million years, meaning this could be as close as you’ll ever get to a living dinosaur. These fish can easily live for 100 years, and the largest specimens reach up to 12 feet in length. Sturgeon in SF Bay typically don’t grow that large, but they still provide great sport fishing action and can catch anglers off-guard with unexpected leaps high into the air. As the only true source of caviar, these fish also make for superb table fare.

Sharks

To some anglers, Sharks are just pesky bait stealers. To others, these grinning, ever-hungry snackers are the catch of the day. San Francisco Bay hosts no less than 11 different Shark species, including familiar faces like Mako and Leopard Sharks as well as rare specimens such as Sevengill Sharks and the aptly named Shovelnose Guitarfish.

Leopard Sharks are the most common of the bunch, typically reaching only 4 feet in length. As far as Shark fishing goes, these bottom-feeding kittens are safe to catch and they’re legal to keep (3 per day). For those who are so inclined, these fish also make a great meal.

San Francisco Bay Fishing Techniques

You’ll see anglers in San Francisco Bay using a wide variety of methods, depending on the target species. Trolling is one of the most common techniques, since you can catch multiple species this way, including Salmon, Halibut, and Striped Bass.

A form of drift fishing known as “mooching” is one of the most effective Salmon fishing techniques in the Bay. The trick is to keep the bait in motion by reeling it in and letting it sink repeatedly. A simpler form of drift fishing known as “potluck fishing” will help you catch a wider variety of species. Locals use this method to catch Halibut, Stripers, and everything else that’s biting—hence the name.

Anchoring the boat and still fishing or bottom fishing will help you catch Leopard Sharks, Sturgeon, Lingcod, and more.

Need to Know

San Francisco Bay fishing charters usually include all the essentials like bait, tackle, and catch cleaning. However, anglers age 16 and older are responsible for buying their own California fishing license.

If you plan on fishing from a public pier, you do not need a license.

Always keep an eye on local regulations, since they are not the same every year and can change unexpectedly. Some species are not always legal to keep, and many fish the Bay have size and bag limits. If you’re new to fishing in the Bay Area, booking a trip aboard a licensed charter boat is the easiest way to follow regulations.

San Francisco Bay
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San Francisco Bay Fishing Seasons

With most of the local fish off limits or out of season, many anglers pass their time casting lines in other fishing holes around the Bay Area at this time of year.

The Bay may lack variety, but you can still bring home an unforgettable catch! Sturgeon, Leopard Sharks, Starry Flounder, and California Halibut are all open to harvest.

With any luck, the weather will be getting warmer. The fishing is about to heat up too! Striped Bass are biting a little more, and in some years the season for Lingcod is already open.

 April is a great time to test the waters in San Francisco Bay if you haven’t already. Stripers are hitting their peak and the season for Rockfish is open. As always, you can count on Leopard Sharks.

The season for Pacific Halibut is usually open by now, which makes bottom fishing all the more appealing. With Salmon open to harvest, the Bay is starting to grow crowded with visiting anglers.

June is all about variety here in SF Bay! Anglers from far and wide flock to these waters for Salmon, Halibut, Lingcod, Sturgeon, Sharks, Striped Bass, and more. 

You can expect more great fishing in July, with virtually every species at its peak. Clear blue skies and warm weather offer the perfect opportunity to head offshore for adventurous anglers.

It’s the hottest month of the year, so come cool off in the Bay and treat yourself to some fresh seafood. You can still catch anything from Salmon and Stripers to Lingcod, Sturgeon, and Sharks.

There’s plenty of time to catch whatever is left on your angling bucket list, whether it’s Salmon, Halibut, Sturgeon, or a rare Shark species.

Salmon fishing closes at the end of the month, so be sure to catch this fish while you can. All the other species will still be here for weeks to come.

The season for Striped Bass is finally winding down. You’ll find fewer Flounder and Halibut, too. Bottom fishing is still promising, however, with Lingcod, Rockfish, and Leopard Sharks on the menu.

December is your last chance to bring home Rockfish and Lingcod for the next few months. Sturgeon and Leopard Sharks will soon reclaim their positions at the top of the list as winter continues. 

San Francisco Bay Fishing Calendar

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What People Are Saying About San Francisco Bay

"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.

"Full day with Captain Dave"

Earl D. fished with Warrior Poet Sportfishing on September 6, 2018

Fish with captain Dave on the warrior poet.

"Day out with Captain Ron and Johnny on board Nautilus Excursions "

FishingBooker Member fished with Nautilus Excursions on September 4, 2018

If your unsure of your sea legs, take a motion sickness medication. Be prepared for Karl to take your sight of land. Have your camera ready for some sensational photos. Prepare for weather and a healthy appetite to consume your catch.

Top Targeted Species in San Francisco Bay

Halibut

Rockfish

Bass (Striped)

Sturgeon

Top San Francisco Bay Destinations