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Easy fish to catch and eat in Bay Area for a newbie fisher?

I hope my message doesn't get deleted. My last one on fishing did so I'm trying to keep this very specific and food-related.

I want to catch a fish for the first time ever and then eat it. I got a book on catching different fish in Northern Cal. but I can't tell from that what would be the easiest fish to try to catch and best place to go to try to catch it. I'm in the East Bay and prefer to go somewhere in Marin or East Bay. I feel like Marin might be a nicer experience, but open to any ideas where the fishing wouldn't be too hard.

I seem to like less fishy tasting fish like halibut (my current favorite) and sole. I haven't tried a ton of fish though so I'm not sure which others I'd like, open to suggestions. I feel like if I catch it I'll like eating it, regardless of the type. Hopefully!

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  1. Do you have a fishing license? If not, you're limited to legally fishing on public piers only.

    Some friends and I have recently gotten into pier fishing. The easiest, most foolproof intro to fishing is actually crabbing. The bay is crawling with them and (at least off the SF piers) you are virtually guaranteed to haul in some crabs, especially if you have a net. There's really nothing to it - you load up the bait cage, toss it out to the bottom, wait 5 minutes without bothering much about feeling whether you have a bite, and reel in. Note that you can't keep any Dungeness that are taken from anywhere in the Bay - Bodega Bay and Pacifica are OK, SF and Berkeley piers are not - but you can take rock crabs.

    With fish in the Bay, there are some to definitely be aware of in terms of mercury and PCB content in the meat. One of the perch varieties is a total no-no, IIRC. It sounds like you're new to fishing, so you may want to consider a guide to take you out in a boat for your first experience- it's costlier, but may save you plenty of headache for catching and cleaning that first fish.

    2 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Raw chicken (sometimes doused in fish sauce) is a popular crab bait but in addition to the ones mentioned, we've had good luck with squid. It's about $2 per pound in the markets and 2 pounds will usually last you the whole day, if the sea lions don't raid your bait cages.

    1. For your first time out, you may want a very controlled environment, like a trout farm, where they'll help you with everything, e.g., cleaning your catch.

      Here's a link for Hagemann Ranch Trout Farm near Bodega Bay.

      1. i remember catching smelt in lake merritt decades ago. don't know if this is still possible.

        1. I love the trout farm idea. Especially if there's some guidance there. And I love the Bodega Bay Area so that sounds really good. Is there anything like a bit closer in to the immediate Bay Area as well?

          The crabbing sounds good, but I'm really set on getting a fish first. I don't have a license so I have to look into what's required to get one. Once I have a set place I plan to go for sure then that will be the next step.

          Also, what about fishing in Tomales Bay? Would PCBs be an issue there too?

          Thanks everyone.

          2 Replies
          1. re: bythebay

            Tomalas Bay is a gorgeous place to fish and typically protected when the winds pick up elsewhere. Unfortunately the success rate is pretty spotty. I go there for halibut a few times a year but fail to land anything more often than not.

            In the East Bay, San Pablo Reservoir is the closest thing to a sure thing this time of year. You can fish for trout from the bank with night-crawlers or power bait. The concessionaire will set you up, but you are on your own after that. Try to go after it has not rained for awhile so that the water will be clear.

            Here is a link to a great website on NorCal fishing. Right now getting on a charter boat for salmon out of Half Moon Bay is hot - weather permitting.


            1. re: bythebay

              San Francisco Bay is far more polluted than the ocean.

            2. There's a trout farm in La Honda called Troutmere. It's a fish farm that pretty much guarantees you'll catch something. The best fishing in the immediate area is ocean fishing. River and stream fishing is best a few hours' drive north in Guernville, a few hours south near Big Sur, or out towards Tahoe.

              There's a good party boat that leaves out of HMB called Queen of Hearts. Word to the wise: if you're not catching anything on your side of the boat and others are, move to that side of the boat and try your luck there. You're not guaranteed to go home with anything if you don't catch anything yourself.

              Any fishing not on a pier will need a fishing license (one day, three day or yearly). You can get one at nearly any tackle shop or Sports Authority. Please also pick up an Ocean Fishing Guide. Most fish have size and bag limits you need to be aware of, as well as no-keepers. Failing to follow these laws results in very hefty fines from DFG.

              If you're interested in fishing the Northern California area, I advise you to pick up the Moon Guide to Northern California Fishing.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Amandica

                California fishing licenses are easily purchased over the internet. You apply and and pay online, and the hard copy comes in the mail a few days later. If you're itching to fish in the interim, you may print a temporary copy proving your new status as a bonefide fish harvester.


                1. re: FoodTrippin

                  Yeah, the DFG put a lot of work into transitioning to an online system.

              2. The charter boats in the East Bay will take you a mile or so beyond the Golden Gate, and get into big ling cod. During salmon season (which I think just ended, at least it did in So Cal) you can get some great fish in this area too. I've caught two 40 lb salmon not a mile from the Golden Gate, and have limited numerous times in that area on monster ling cod.

                Use the ling cod for fish tacos, and the salmon, well, for salmon! Better yet, if you get a number of different types of fish, make a cioppino, which is actually an Italian-American dish invented in San Francisco, not from the old country. Don't forget some good wine and bread.

                2 Replies
                1. re: EarlyBird

                  Cioppino is a variation (or, really, many variations) on ciuppin, a Ligurian family of fish soups. It was less an invention than an adaptation and evolution of a dish Ligurian immigrants had made at home.

                2. There is a fishing pier in Oakland at the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. No license required there. You might visit it and ask people there what can be caught from it.

                  1. Lol, do what my dad did when he went fishing at the Farallon Islands...catch a 110lb thrasher shark by the tail! He was actually fishing for like bass or something.

                    1. Thank you everyone. I couldn't find this thread on my profile and thought it was gone. I'm so glad to see it still here.

                      I looked into the trout farm in Bodega Bay and will look into the La Honda one too. My husband says he's fished before though it's been many many years but he thinks with a book on how to clean the fish and a guide on what kind of bait to use we should probably be able to make a first effort without necessarily having to go to a trout farm, but I'm not ruling out that option either.

                      The web sites and books seem like a great resource, I'll check those out. I'm hesitant about going on a boat because of cost and just the high-maintenance-ness of it for me.

                      I looked up the Oakland Park and found a site saying some of what can be found there includes "Dungeness crab, flatfish, anchovy, herring and perch. " It also sounds like there are some fishing spots not on the pier there, for which you do need a license. Maybe that would be a good place to start, since I'm in Oakland anyway.

                      Civil Bear, when you say they'll set you up at San Pablo Bay reservoir, what exactly do you mean they'll do?

                      Another place I thought of, Lake Chabot? Any thoughts on that?

                      I didn't realize people fished at Lake Merritt, it doesn't seem very clean!

                      Thanks everyone.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: bythebay

                        I don't know about Lake Merritt, but there's a fishing pier at the outlet of Lake Merritt to the estuary. I was looking for info and came up with this handy guide to fishing in the Bay Area: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/fishinginthecit...

                        1. re: bythebay

                          Regarding San Pablo Reservoir (Note: not part of the bay), the concessionaire will typically let you know the best current bait and rig to use, and where most of the fish are being caught that week. Compared to Chabot and the other East Bay reservoirs, San Pablo is the most accessible on foot and it gets usually gets stocked the most during spring & summer.

                        2. Great info. Thank you everyone. I think we decided to start with a trout farm as the first step. After that I will put the other tips to use. I'm really excited!

                          1. Trout farm would be good.

                            I think the idea to get a guide is also good one. They can take you bass fishing on the Delta or get you on fish outside the golden gate. If you are up for a drive you can go to quite a few lakes in the area (and beyond)

                            Check out the DFG page for fishing here:

                            Not sure if you live near a bait shop or store that sells fishing gear as most bait shops have an chalkboard to recommend bait buys. Sportsman Supply or Mel Cottons in San Jose update their boards regularly to let folks know what's running, where and what bait to use.

                            If you want to rent a boat then paddle or putt around, go to:

                            Haven't been there in awhile but it's regularly stocked.

                            Good luck!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: slowshooter

                              Thank you so much for all those tips. I've been wanting to go to Del Valle even before I wanted to fish so that's a great suggestion. Thank you!

                            2. I'm planning to try the trout farm. They will clean the fish, supply poles, and all of that stuff that will be helpful to a beginner. My only question since they seem to do most everything for you is how to bring the fish home. Will having a cooler and ice suffice? How long can the fish be in the cooler before I get it in the fridge?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: bythebay

                                The fish will be fine as long as you have ice in the cooler. How long the ice will last depends on the size and quality of the cooler. Try not to let the fish get wet by placing the ice in a bag on the bottom of the cooler and laying the fish on top.

                              2. We went to the trout farm near Bodega Bay and caught lots of fish very quickly. I don't know if I'll fish again or not but this was an easy way to ease into learning to fish. Great suggestion.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: bythebay

                                  I'm a little late to your post, but I did want to mention that don't use the trout at the farm near Bodega Bay (Hagemann's, right?) as a barometer for how fish should taste. We went there with the kids a few years ago - as an operation, it's a great set up for kids or people who don't know how to fish. However, the fish is definitely not as "sweet" as trout caught in a lake, and the meat is mushier as well.

                                  Keep trying to fish! Perch is another fish that is easy to catch (stick a fish egg or marshmallow on a hook then put a bobber in the water) and is quite tasty pan fried (need to watch for bones). Good luck!

                                  1. re: Cindy

                                    Thank you. I may try it again. I enjoyed it a lot but at the same time was uncomfortable about the fish being hooked and kept alive in the water till we were ready to go have them cleaned. Maybe with "real" fishing, it's not like that though and they fish die right away and you clean them right away?

                                    1. re: bythebay

                                      It's best to gut the trout and get it on ice as soon as possible. But if you don't have ice then keeping it alive in aerated water is the next best option.

                                      1. re: Civil Bear

                                        I guess learning to gut it ourselves is the next step if I do it again. I did watch while they did it for us to try to get an idea of what to do.

                                        1. re: bythebay

                                          The learning is not that big of a deal. My father taught me to do it when I was 4. Handling the knife was the big deal, and crossing the swinging bridge.

                                          1. re: wally

                                            Yeah, I used to get a nickle a fish from the Ol' Man back in the day. I could make up to $1 on a good day!

                                2. My vote is for crabbing off piers. Used to do it in San Francisco and at Fort Baker. Once in a while we caught a Dungeness, but mostly we caught crabs with black-tipped claws that were smaller ... still heftier than an East Coast blue crab. They were abundant and delicious. There were always old guys on the piers who would sell you crab nets for not much money. Bait them, let them settle on the bottom, drink a beer or eat a sandwich (or both), pull them up. Repeat until you have all the crabs you want. If you like crabs, and aren't a millionaire, this is the only way there is to gorge on crab until you fall off your chair.

                                  The going-out-on-a-boat option: I have no idea what it costs these days, but when I used to do it several decades ago, the haul made it worth the cost. This was before bottomfish/rock cod/rock bass/whatever you call them were considered endangered and subject to limits, etc. The haul wasn't always bottomfish (delicious as they are). Once in a while there was a big mackerel or a halibut or a lingcod. My recollection is that we generally paid around $25 to $35 for a day at the Farallones and came home with a couple burlap potato sacks full of fish per fisher person. Some of the more upscale party boats had crews who would fillet your catch on the long (hour or two) cruise home. There also were boats strictly for salmon fishing. Don't know if that's still happening. Same kind of fishing was available out of Monterey.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: emu48

                                    That's a good price, I thought it would be much more!

                                    1. re: emu48

                                      It's still happening, but closer to $100pp nowdays.