Fish to Target in Northern California

Originally posted October 27, 2018

Here's a list of fish to target in the NorCal Shores, Surf and Rock - from easiest to hardest:



Easiest fish of all to catch from shore.  Throw on a Hi-Lo Rig, size 4-2 hooks, some shrimp, sand crabs, Berkeley Sand Worms or pile worms and you will likely catch a perch. Striped Surf Perch are found mainly in rocky, kelpy areas. Barred, Red Tail, Calico and many others are found on sandy ocean floors near the surf.  Find a "Hole" cast in, let your line soak for 10 minutes and then pull in your perch. A Carolina rig works well for Perch too.  Use a 2oz pyramid weight with a 3ft leader and slowly troll the bottom. Emphasis on SLOWLY.



Most likely to catch from May-November in the ocean. Other times they are up in Sacramento. Bucktails/Hair Raisers, SP Minnows, occasional plugs and poppers will pull these game fish out. Stick with the first two for an overall higher chance to hook up. Besides lures, good ol' soft shell sand crabs from the wash zone in the surf make excellent bait paired with a 5oz weight and Fish Finder Rig. I've caught 90% of my Stripers this way. 


Swimbaits!! Best time to practice your swimbait skills are when going for rockfish, lings, and cabs. Find a remote rocky area on the coast. The water should be calm (low swell, low wind) and rocky. Careful not to let the jig drag bottom or you'll lose more tackle than you'd care to admit. If swim baits aren't working, use squid with a Hi Lo or 3 way swivel. Shrimp works too but squid weeds away the Perch. If you're going for RCG (Rocks, Cabs, Greenlings), use a lighter line to attach your weight so you don't lose your entire leader. A lost weight is better than a lost weight, two hooks and a leader.


Live bait (IE: anchovies or smelt) slowly trolled or left to soak should entice a Halibut from shore in SF Bay. Lures like bucktails will get 'em to strike too.  


Sabiki! Grab the sabiki, 1- 1.5 oz weight and let er rip into the school. When the line drops you will feel a constant pulsating. That's when you know your right over them.  Keep your line near the top column of water. Either slowly jig it or let it sink and pull swiftly to snag some bait (or dinner!).


Squid. 60-90lb steel leader shark rig. Fishfinder. Get 'em in Bays.


On a charter boat, you can troll for them with a 2-3 lb ball to keep your line down. The charters in the Bay Area use a Salmon Release Clip that will drop your weight once you hook into a fish. Bait is thawed anchovies on a Super Flex Baiter that will give the bait a nice "roll" in the water as trolled.

On rivers, you can back bounce a size 2-4 teardrop or cannon ball weight depending how fast the current is flowing. You want to feel bottom every second or two. Bait and set up is normally an eggloop knot tied to 1/0 to 3/0 barbless hook. 2-3 ft leader is below the weight.


Sand dabs, lizard fish, true smelt, sturgeon, sea bass, midshipmen, monkey faced prickle backs.  They're out there... somewhere.


  • Rodney Griffith Sr

    Thanks for the info…

  • Morelia Beffa

    Matt! I broke two inches off the tip of my 8ft no excuses pole! How do I fix it?
    Thank you and hope to meet you all in July!

  • Gregory

    Hey Matt,I look forward to meeting you on Saturday at your fair and learning more on how to be more successful when fishing san francisco bay from piers and surf. I heard about you at Gus’s from a loyal follower and nice comments from Stephanie the owner. I’ve only pier fished of of muni pier in my teen years. Now retired, I’m trying to relax and use gear that was gifted to me. I was thinking that cheat sheets or cliff notes for different types of fishing, would be so helpful.?sinkers oz weights , size hooks, lures, chunk bait, live bait, rod, reel, line and test line monoor braided, nets, buckets, sand spike, leaders, how to tie knots and swivels and clips and where to shop etc. Photos diagrams etc. When I would buy a package of pretied hooks, in the back, would be diagrams of knots, this was excellent information.
    Maybe, we can join forces and provide info literature to all levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced fisherman. Let’s keep learning, sharing knowledge to be successful. Have a excellent fair. Take care. Thank you for sharing. Sharing is caring.

  • Lisa

    this is such a good guide dude thank you

  • Barry

    I’ve been using Matts’ tackle and gear for a good couple years now, thanks for the guide bro I’m going to share this with my friends who love fishing but honestly don’t know jack S lol!

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