What Kind Of Fish Are In San Pablo Bay?

Closeup view of Striped bass

The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its hundreds of miles of coastlines and abundance of sea life. There are many activities to enjoy in, on, and around the water, including boating, swimming, and fishing. For experienced and novice fishermen alike, there is no end to the fishing opportunities in the area. One of the most favorite places to go fishing is San Pablo Bay. So, what kind of fish are in San Pablo Bay?

San Pablo Bay is an estuary with both fresh and saltwater areas, making it the perfect environment for a wide range of fish species. Some of the most popular sport fish include salmon, sturgeon, striped bass, leopard sharks, flounder, and sculpin.

There are lots of different places to go fishing around the Bay Area, and you might be trying to decide if San Pablo Bay is right for you. Before you plan your trip, here is some additional information about San Pablo Bay, what time of year to visit, and what rules and regulations apply to fishing.

San Pablo Bay – What Fish Can You Find There

San Pablo Bay is a large tidal estuary that connects to the northern end of the San Francisco Bay. Two peninsulas mark the dividing line between San Francisco and San Pablo bays — Point San Pablo on the eastern shore and Point San Pedro to the west.

San Pablo Bay is one of the largest individual bodies of water in the San Francisco Bay Area. The bay measures 10 miles across and covers an area of approximately 90 square miles. Yet, despite its massive size, San Pablo Bay is relatively shallow. Most of the bay is only 12 to 15 feet deep except for a deep channel that runs through the middle of the bay, making it a perfect shipping lane for larger ships.

Coastline at San Pablo Bay

The bay is a popular place for both sport and recreational fishing. Some of the most popular types of fish that can be found in San Pablo Bay include:

White Sturgeon

Sturgeons are large fish that have incredibly long lifespans. While the average sturgeon can measure between 5 to 7 feet in length, they can grow up to 20 feet (the largest ever recorded weighed in at nearly 1,800 pounds and was estimated to be 104 years old). In addition, sturgeon are anadromous, which means they can be found in both saltwater and freshwater.

San Pablo Bay is home to both white and green sturgeon. Both are edible, but most people feel that green sturgeon have a more fishy flavor.

Sturgeon are bottom feeders that respond best to smelly baits like squid, crawfish, and freshwater clams. Shrimp or sardine oil can be added to the lure to enhance the smell.

Striped Bass

Striped bass, which is also called striper or rockfish, is a popular fish for its flavor. It’s a white and flaky fish with a fat content that makes it buttery. In addition, striped bass can survive in both fresh and saltwater and migrate between the two in San Pablo Bay.

Striped bass responds best to live bait like eels and sardines. You can also use metal jibs that are reflective and simulate live bait. Fishing for striped bass requires a “drop and drift” technique making it a great fish to target from a boat.

Bay Area Answers Fun Fact: San Pablo Bay was named after the Spanish land grant given to settlers in 1815 — Rancho San Pablo.

Leopard Sharks

Leopard sharks are one of the most abundant types of sharks found in the San Francisco and San Pablo bays. They are easy to identify with their spotted pattern that runs along their back and sides. While you can eat leopard sharks, they have been known to contain high levels of mercury, so they shouldn’t be consumed regularly.

Bait for leopard sharks includes small chunks of squid, herring, salmon, or tuna. Leopard sharks tend to put up a big fight, so you want to make sure you have plenty of sturdy fishing line.


Flounder is a lean fish with a low fat content. However, they are primarily bottom feeders, so they can also contain high levels of pollution or mercury (depending on the area). These odd-looking fish are a type of flatfish which allows them to lay flat along the bottom of the bay in order to ambush smaller fish or crustaceans.

The best bait to use for catching flounder is worms or shrimp. These fish used to be very easy to catch from the piers surrounding the bay, but due to overfishing, they are less common near the shore.


One of the most popular species of fish is salmon. Because they are anadromous, they spend most of their life in the Pacific Ocean and return to freshwater streams and rivers to spawn. Salmon up and down the Pacific coast use the San Francisco and San Pablo bays to access these tributaries.

While there are five types of salmon found on the West Coast, Chinook (King) salmon are the most common in the Bay Area. Coho (Silver) salmon can be found occasionally.

Man holding large Chinook salmon

One of the most effective baits is actually salmon roe (eggs), but you can also use shrimp or strips of other fish like herring. Drift fishing is a good technique, so fishing from a boat is preferred.


Sculpins are smaller fish that generally grow to 10 to 12 inches long. Despite their small size, they usually put up a good fight which makes them fun to catch. They are also good to eat. One thing to be cautious of is their sharp spines. When pulling them out of the water, you might want to have a glove to protect your hands.

Sculpins are popular fish to catch from San Pablo Bay piers since they prefer more shallow water. In addition, they typically respond well to worms, shrimp, and squid as bait.

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Can You Fish in San Pablo Bay?

As I have already mentioned, you can fish in San Pablo Bay, and the great thing about San Pablo Bay is that you can fish just about anywhere as long as you know the rules for that specific area. Shore fishing is a great option as long as you have the proper fishing license from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Numerous piers around the bay give people direct access to the water.

For the best fishing experience, you might consider joining a full or half-day fishing charter. The great thing about this is that you will have an experienced guide to take you to the best fishing spots around San Pablo Bay. They can also help you target specific types of fish, such as salmon. Depending on the charter, you can expect to spend $250 to $400 per person.

Do You Need a Fishing License to Fish in San Pablo Bay?

To fish, everyone over the age of 16 is required to have a fishing license to fish in San Pablo Bay. The only exception is public piers. When fishing on public piers, you are exempt from having a fishing license as long as you follow all the rules and regulations. Publicly owned jetties and breakwaters also qualify as piers. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife does occasionally have free fishing days where no license is required.

Pier at San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

What is the Best Time of Year to Fish in San Pablo Bay?

The great thing about fishing in San Pablo Bay is that you can pretty much have success year-round. You can catch most of the popular fish any time of the year. However, some are seasonal. For example, leopard sharks are easier to catch from May through October. However, because of migratory patterns, the salmon season runs from April through October.

In San Pablo Bay Freshwater or Saltwater?

San Pablo Bay has a mixture of saltwater from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, as well as freshwater that feeds from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers (and other smaller tributaries). This feature makes it the perfect place for a great diversity of fish and wildlife. It’s also the reason why many of the popular fish species thrive in both environments.

What’s the Difference Between San Pablo Bay and San Pablo Reservoir?

Visitors should be careful not to confuse San Pablo Bay with San Pablo Reservoir. The reservoir, located just to the southwest of San Pablo Bay, is fed by San Pablo Creek, which runs into the bay. A dam was built in 1919 to create a water source for people living in the surrounding area.

Today, the reservoir is part of the San Pablo Reservoir Recreation Area. Visitors can fish, boat, or canoe the reservoir, but swimming and wading are prohibited. Additionally, visitors can enjoy the hiking and biking trails in the surrounding hills.

Fishing Adventures in San Pablo Bay

If you reside in or are visiting the Bay Area, an exciting day of fishing might be the perfect addition to your itinerary. Not only are fishing activities easily accessible, but San Pablo Bay gives you the ideal opportunity to dabble in both fresh and saltwater fishing experiences. So whether you are fishing from shore or a chartered fishing boat, a day on the bay will be a high point of your trip.

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Ever since I was little I have been a traveler at heart. It all started when I was six years old and my family took a road trip to Alaska. I enjoy visiting new places and revisiting some of the great locations that I have been to already.