Surf Fishing for Striped Bass in San Francisco

A Beautiful Day at Ocean Beach
Photo Credit: Jerry Back

by Jerry Back

While driving back home after a full Saturday’s afternoon of errands, my wife looked out to the Pacific Ocean and remarked “looks like a nice day for fishing.”  Seizing upon that rare opportunity, I replied, “yes, I was thinking of heading down to the beach for a couple of hours.”  And within 30 minutes, I was on the beach with rod and reel in hand and an optimistic hope that I might catch a nice-sized striped bass (a.k.a., “striper”).

In actuality, I had already been at Ocean Beach the morning before.  I had taken a “summer Friday” and was planning on spending it all day at the beach while the wife was at work.  I started with my normal Carolina rig set up and began catching jacksmelt.  After the third fish, I started to feel weak and mildly-feverish.  Knowing that the water was chock full of bait fish, I had to make a decision.  Stay and start throwing my lures in attempt to catch a striper, or return home with not much to show for the 90 minutes spent already.  I went home because you don’t want to be in the water at Ocean Beach unless you’re feeling 100%--there’s just too much to risk.
So, now I’ve returned the next day to the beach on a late Saturday afternoon and there are hundreds of beachgoers.  Some are leaving; others are arriving as they will be staying to build bonfires and watch the sun go down.  I’m feeling great today--no more fever and I’m ready to start plugging my lure in hopes of enticing a striper hookup.
I locate the exact same spot I had been the day before.  It is a cut of deep water that may actually be a riptide.  It was very visible on Friday during the peak low tide, but now at near-peak high tide, it was barely visible.  There were five fishermen fishing about 50 yards to the north of it.  They may not have known it, but I knew they were fishing over perfectly flat, featureless sand because I had seen it the day before at low tide.  That kind of underwater terrain would not be favored by a striper, so I felt fortunate that my little honey hole was left unoccupied until I had shown up.
So I walked over to the nearest fisherman to see if I could glean any information.  I can tell English wasn’t his first language, but successfully guessing he was Chinese, his eyes lit up when I asked him in Cantonese if they had caught any fish yet.  He and his buddies hadn’t caught anything, yet.  They were fishing with bait (anchovies) and about ready to leave.  My new friend told me that he was just about to start throwing a bucktail jig for the first time.  I offered and he accepted a rubber chartreuse-colored grub trailer to add to his jig.  I put it on for him and we both exchanged “good lucks.”  Well, I was half-hoping that my kind overture would give me back some good fish karma, and it eventually turns out that it did!
So with free reign over this promising riptide/outflow, I start casting out as far as I could my 2 ⅜ ounce Super Strike “Little Neck” popper.  It’s pretty heavy, but with the modest onshore wind, I knew It would offer the best chance at getting some distance.  A lighter 1 oz. SP Minnow would probably only go half the distance with my still-developing casting skills.
About 45 minutes into the session, I finally feel a hard hit to the lure.  My rod is fully bent over.  I make sure the hook is set by quickly pulling back on the rod.  I don’t want the striper to shake himself off somehow.  At this point time stops.  Someone asked me how long did it take to reel in the fish.  I honestly don’t remember.  It could have been 30 seconds or 2 or 3 minutes.  Whatever it was, the bonfire-building people stopped work to give me a round of applause after the striper was finally landed.  Passerby walked over to take a picture of the fish.  I asked one gentleman to snap a few shots of me, as well.
The striper was what I think would be described as a medium-sized fish.  30 inches and 12 pounds.  No monster to be sure, but not a “shaker” to be thrown back, either.  And he almost got away!  Upon close inspection, this fish destroyed my snap swivel.  Another minute of reeling and that snap swivel--now bent at a 45 degree angle--could have failed and the fish freed.  I’m not going to be using those anymore and will switch to stronger Tactical Anglers or Breakaway clips, which I hear are both far superior to your run-of-the-mill snap swivel.
I could have continued fishing for a second striper, but I really just wanted to return home right away and get this fish over to my Chinese relatives for preparation.  It was too late for that night’s dinner, but my in-laws cleaned the fish that night and we were ready for a feast on Sunday night.  The fish head was made into a savory, full-bodied soup.  The body was steamed using the right combination of sliced ginger, scallions, and soy sauce.
The fish was delicious, of course, and was quickly devoured completely by 10+ relatives.  I received an overflowing shower of praise and thanks--a nice bonus after a productive hour of fishing the night before.  I’m grateful that I had returned to that spot a day after leaving it early, dejected.  I had a strong feeling it was holding fish and now I knew it had been.  Will I return soon to the same spot?  You betcha, but mostly to study better what made it productive in the first place and then take those learnings and go find new spots.

It’s a never ending quest to keep learning, I guess.  In the meantime, my fish pics on Facebook are getting record-level likes for me and I’m planning my next fishing adventure.  It’s probably going to be one last try for Dungeness crab before that season shuts down at the end of the month.  I have no idea if there are any keeper-sized crab out there to be still reeled in, but I’ll soon find out.

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.  An archive of his recent articles published on can be found here.