Striper Fishing on San Mateo County Beaches

Written by: Jimmy Kokesh on April 20, 2004

Striper fishing on the beaches of San Mateo County is probably the most challenging fishing we have here in the immediate Bay Area. Not only can it be physically challenging, but the numbers of bass are dwindling. Beach striper fishing will generally start in late March or a little later around the beaches of Half Moon Bay. I use the rugged bluffs of the San Mateo coastline as vantage points for searching the surf for signs of bait or fish. A good set of binoculars is invaluable when the search begins.

What we look for first is a user friendly surf not only because it is easier to fish but because it is safer. A wild surf, as a rule, doesn’t give up many fish anyway and the steep angle on some of these beaches produces the real possibility of a disaster. One good rule of thumb is: don’t go in the water over your ankles. As a rule you don’t have to cast very far because most of your strikes will come very close to the suds. The choice of gear I like to start the season with is a light rod, a steelhead series works perfectly and the smaller Shimano, and Abu Garcia level wind reels are perfect with 12 pound test mono. The most used casting baits are the ageless hair raisers. With a long hook tail they seem to work most consistently, all white being my favorite, but don’t be afraid to throw color. Try using green/white, chartreuse, red/white or blue/white as they are all good producers. I know some guys who threw nothing but hair raisers, and by season’s end they have a lot of fish. Fish traps are also a good bet. My personal favorite color for those are the “Catalina Island anchovy” a black top with a silver side, or a dark green top with a light green side. There are as many lures and plugs on the market that all work well, and I don’t want to get into them as it could take a life time to cover. Try to start with a few basics and play it by ear from there.

The first thing when you arrive at a user friendly beach is to find bird life. Are the birds pounding the water anywhere in sight? If not, you can sometimes see schools of bait from the higher bluffs at many locations. Probably the highest vantage point is Mussel Rock parking lot, where you can see as far south as Pedro Point and as far north as Ocean Beach. If bait is there it will appear in the water like shadows of clouds rolling overhead and are easily mistaken for the clouds. Schools of bass can also be spotted in this manner. If you are not sure, see if the clouds are moving in the same direction as the bait. The bait will also be changing shape as you watch it.

So once you have found your spot and bait (you hope!). Now all the gear goes on. Waders, safety belts, sunglasses, hat, etc. and don’t forget the sun protection, especially for your lips, just a short time in direct sunlight and reflection off of the water can cause weeks of discomfort. Now you hike down to the beach to find the bait and find it is a quarter mile of in the distance. You try to pick up the pace, you are huffing and puffing and finally you arrive at the spot. You start making casts and moving with the bait, you see one guy hook up and maybe another guy hooked up and you keep moving and the bait starts to thin out and so do the anglers. Then you sense it is over, a few guys have scored and many have not.

You look at how far you have gone and you must decide if it is time to start working your way back or if you keep going further down the beach? You look for bird life, even a couple of birds close to shore can be the ultimate tip off. You see no birds, so you try walking the beach and you start reading the water looking for the deeper spots as you go. The surf will break a lot further out in some spots showing where it is shallow, and then you will see the calmer water next to it where it doesn’t break until it hits the beach. These are the “holes”, as they are called, and as a rule where you will get bit most often. Once you spot a hole you may well work it if it looks good. I’ll give each hole 15 to 30 minutes of work then move on and just blind cast as I go until I get to the next hole.

So after making what seems to be the millionth cast and after you have covered a couple miles of beach and you are starting to feel fatigued, you notice the birds are starting to pound just an eighth of a mile or so up the beach. Off you go!! You make a couple of casts and then you feel that subtle tap and a surge. You instinctively set the hook wind down tight to load up the rod and then you feel that hard tail beat and he starts to peel line and all of a sudden it is ecstasy! Your hard work has finally paid off with the king of surf fish.

Well, this is how it plays out sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. The truth is you’ll come off the beach many more times with nothing than you will dragging ole “line sides” thru the sand on your tote rope. I myself do this more for my personal exercise program, as you will get plenty of exercise trudging through the sand in waders and constantly casting and retrieving lures. Being on the beach just before daybreak or just during a sunset is a very rewarding experience in itself and if you should be fortunate enough to drag one through the breakers you can be self assured you earned that fish because you really worked for him. I will probably start beach bass fishing in the very near future. So for those who will be joining me striper fishing out there someplace on the San Mateo County coastline beaches, good luck to all.