Out on the Waves

San Pablo Bay

If you could create the perfect place to position yourself to intercept migrating sturgeon as well as striped bass, San Pablo Bay would be it.

Set between the freshwater delta and the saltwater San Francisco Bay, this bay lies in the center of the migration path for thousands of fish that come and go every year. Sturgeon and striped bass provide the best fishing.

Boat ramps: Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael, Benicia Marina, Crockett Marina and Glen Cove Marina in Vallejo.

Piers: Several piers and shoreline jettys are available.

Party boats: Several party boats are available.

During years of heavy rainfall, the magic point where salt water mixes with fresh shifts down into western San Pablo Bay. Some 90 percent of the marine food production in the bay/delta takes place in this mixing zone, and with enough rain, it will position itself in an area I call the Sturgeon Triangle. The Triangle is bordered by the"Pumphouse" (it looks like an outhouse on stilts, three miles east of Hamilton Field), China Camp to the southwest, and Buoy 5 to the southeast.

The Pumphouse and China Camp attract sturgeon during outgoing tides, while Buoy 5 is a good spot at incoming tides. You have several other excellent spots to choose from. These include the Richmond Bridge area, both above and below the bridge during out-going tides, particularly in the fall, and just off the Point Pinole Pier, especially in March. On the east side of San Pablo Bay, prospects are good just south of the Mare Island Rock Wall, along with offshore Rodeo on the edge of the channel, but usually only after periods of significant rain runoff.

During years of high rainfall, large numbers of sturgeon will abandon the ocean and enter the bay/delta system to spawn. Sturgeon, which are capable of living 70 and 80 years, live primarily in the ocean and spawn only once every seven or eight years. They'll often wait for ideal conditions before heading upstream, hence the apparent dramatic fluctuations in population levels from year to year. These fish need a reason to leave the ocean, and high streamflows moving through the bay system provide the incentive.

Striped bass, though reduced in overall population, are more predictable in their annual cycles. They arrive in the spring months at San Pablo Bay and again (often in better numbers) from September through November. If the water isn't too muddy from storm runoff, these fish provide good opportunities for trollers. The best times are during the top of high tides and the first two hours of a moderate outgoing tide. You'll find the best spots along the Marin shoreline from San Quentin Prison on north, including along the Marin Islands, the Brickyard, the Pumphouse, and on the southeast side of San Pablo Bay at Point Pinolte and the Rodeo flats.

Water clarity is key when it comes to striper rolling. If it's muddy, you might as well be searching for a polar bear in the desert. If it's clear and you time things right, you'll have decent prospects for four- to eight-pound fish using white or yellow one-ounce Worm-Tail jigs.

In the early summer when larger striped bass move down from the delta, another option is available. The reefs adjacent to the Brothers Islands (on the east side) and the Sisters Islands (on the west side) provide a habitat where the stripers can pin baitfish against the rocks. Anglers who allow their boats to drift and dangle live shiner perch, mudsuckers, or bullheads near the bottom can get some beauties. These spots are real tackle grabbers, however, so come prepared.

Shoreline fishing can be quite good, too. McNear's Pier in San Rafael and Point Pinole Pier provide the rare chance to fish for sturgeon in the winter, and striped bass in the spring. During the spring, the Loch Lomond Jetty is a fair spot to try for big bat rays, some weighing as much as 60 pounds.

At times the fishing in San Pablo Bay is among the best in the country. One March day after very heavy rains, 14 sturgeon in the 100-pound class were caught in a two-hour span at the Richmond Bridge. It was the best short period of sturgeon fishing ever documented in Bay waters. In fall, San Pablo Bay also provides an opportunity to fish for perch and shark.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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