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San Francisco Pier 7 Fishing

Article and photos by Jerry Back
02/25/16 -- I live and work in San Francisco. I live near Ocean Beach, on the west side of the city, but work under the shadows of iconic Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid building on the city’s northeastern side. And just a few blocks from my office is Pier 7, a public pier that is frequented everyday by locals and tourists alike.

Rods were bending everywhere on Pier 7, photo by Jerry Back
Rods were bending everywhere on Pier 7

Fishing varies on Pier 7 depending on the season. On my lunchtime jaunts to the pier, I’ve often seen anglers jig for anchovies using Sabiki rigs baited with chicken hearts or shrimp (or even nothing at all!). When the anchovies are there, it seems best to work the pier a couple of hours prior to peak high tide.

Panorama of downtown San Francisco, photo by Jerry Back
Panorama of downtown San Francisco

On most days, there is usually one or two fishermen casting lines out far from the end of the pier with grapnel weights (those weights that anchor into the bottom of the bay’s floor) with sliding baits of anchovy. When lucky, they often pull in Brown Smoothhound shark (commonly known on the pier as a “sand shark” or “sa-yu,” in the often heard on the pier Cantonese language). Leopard sharks or Bat rays are also not uncommon.

Man fishing on pier 7, photo by Jerry Back
Here fishy, fishy-- Come to mama

Today, however, it was Jacksmelt day with dozens of anglers throwing out lines equipped with a baseball-sized bobber and two or more hooks, usually baited with small pieces of shrimp. Just about every angler I saw fishing on Pier 7 today was catching--oftentimes within a minute or two after casting out his or her line (hey, the ladies are definitely represented on Pier 7, too, to be sure).

13 inch jacksmelt turned the heads of everybody on Pier 7
13 inch jacksmelt turned the heads of everybody on Pier 7

The trick with Jacksmelt, I’ve noticed, is that after the first fish strikes, you don’t want to automatically reel in the fish. If you wait a little longer, other Jacksmelt nearby will think there’s some good feeding going on and they’ll jump on the other hooks, as well. Why do people use the pejorative “bird brain?” “Jacksmelt brain,” would be more insulting, in my opinion. Good thing for the Jacksmelt, they seem to reproduce in large numbers and are in no danger of extinction anytime soon!

Jacksmelt party going on in yellow bag, photo by Jerry Back
Jacksmelt party going on in yellow bag

Many of the Jacksmelt I observed were on the small side, probably between 6 and 7 inches. However, I did see one angler reel in an estimated 13 inch specimen. He proudly posed for a snap.

This poor angler caught a bird's nest, photo by Jerry Back
This poor angler caught a bird's nest
Jacksmelt doing a backflip on the pier, photo by Jerry Back
Jacksmelt doing a backflip on the pier
Panorama of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, photo by Jerry Back
Panorama of the San Francisco Bay Bridge
Looking back to the Embacadero, photo by Jerry Back
Looking back to the Embacadero

So, enjoy the pictures and if you’re in the area, bring a lunch and drop a line into the water. Fishing on a public pier in California does not require a fishing license, so Pier 7 offers a place for great views and some productive fishing!

Jerry Back is a television research executive residing in San Francisco, California. Other outdoor interests include fishing for Striped Bass (a.k.a., “stripers”) and anything else he can catch on the beaches of San Francisco. Jerry can be contacted at

Jerry also wrote an article for MyOutdoor Buddy titled "How to Catch Dungeness Crab with Rod and Reel," which can be found here.

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german brown trout in Modoc creek.
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