The beauty of fishing a pier is that you never know what you’ll get. Even when targeting a specific species you’re always in for an unexpected surprise! Leopard sharks and bat rays will be the focus of this article, but there are many other species that you’ll encounter, such as:
- Seven-gill sharks
- Smoothhound sharks
- Guitarfish/Skate Rays
- Striped Bass
- Perch (Black, Pile, Rubberlip, Redtail, Barred, etc.)
Leopard Shark and Bat Ray Limits & Regulations
Bat rays have no specific size limits or regulations stated. Daily limits for leopard sharks include 3 fish that are at least 36 inches each. I usually catch and release any shark or ray species, but with the proper culinary knowledge, both can be absolutely delicious!
Make sure you check the size limits and regulations for all species in your area. I have listed the regulations for the San Francisco Bay Area, so please double-check rules as they may change drastically from region to region. The Department of Fish and Game usually don’t play nice!
Shark & Ray Fishing Locations
Sharks and rays are easily targeted off of any jetty, slough, inlet, or pier. Anywhere with sand or mud flats offer prime fishing. When off of any of these locations it never hurts to cast into deeper water, especially during a lower tide.
Generally any pier, jetty, inlet, or slough along the coast will provide prime fishing for sharks and rays, but here are a few of my personal favorites over the last few years.
Pacific Coastal Shores
- Northern California
- Santa Cruz – Municipal Wharf, Seacliff State Beach Pier, and Capitola Pier
- San Francisco – Oyster Point Pier, Candlestick Point Park Pier, Coyote Point, Berkley Pier, Pacifica Pier, and Torpedo Wharf
- San Mateo – San Mateo Bridge
- Southern California
- Goleta Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Huntington Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Malibu Pier, Seal Beach Pier, and Oceanside Pier
- Newport Bay Pier
- Fox Island Pier, Point Defiance Marina, and Port Angeles City Pier
Rod & Reel
Leopard sharks are powerful fish, but it’s the bat ray that can truly peel some drag! I highly recommend a saltwater-resistant reel with a “baitrunner” feature, as it will allow the fish to swim off with your bait undetected, ultimately increasing your hookup ratio. The baitrunner feature will also work in conjunction with my sliding sinker rig, which I will show you after the setup. I like to spool my reels with 65-80# PowerPro braid, as it allows me to cast farther, hit a harder hookset, and also see my line better at night since they provide bright white/yellow colors. A 12’ rod is a bit too long for me personally, so I suggest a 10-11’ rod with solid backbone yet enough tip to be able to cast a 4-6oz. pyramid weight easily.
My Personal Setup
- Shimano Baitrunner 8000D (Spooled w/ 65-80# PowerPro Braid)
- Penn Prevail 11’ Medium Heavy (Model #: PRESF1530C11)
Leopard Shark and Bat Ray Terminal Tackle & Accessories
After spending a bit more dough on a solid rod/reel combo, the rest is fairly cheap. I highly recommend pyramid weights as opposed to other sinkers because they tend to plant better on the seafloor, helping your bait stay in place longer. You can always get away with cheap barrel/snap swivels such as the Danielson brand, but higher quality tackle will help reduce line twist and resist rusting out in your box. For leader line I have found great success with 60lb Trilene Big Game, as it allows me to horse in larger fish while still being able to break off on purpose if I absolutely need to. Wire leaders are great but cause problems (and money) when the fish gut-hook themselves.
Accessories are also fairly inexpensive, but you have the choice of upgrading to better gear if you have the funds (ex: brighter headlamps, more durable crab nets, etc.). I absolutely recommend a pair of stainless steel needle-nose pliers for tricky unhooking situations, a crab net to hoist bigger fish onto shore (pier gaff only if I’m keeping the fish), and a bright LED headlamp that is able to illuminate the water below, as this will help you tremendously in landing fish at nighttime. Other smaller recommendations include lawn chairs for a more comfortable wait, a cooler to keep your bait from turning into mush, and a bar of soap to rinse your hands/gear after the trip, helping to keep that nasty squid scent off of you before you enter your car. Here is a list of everything that I use personally:
- 80lb PowerPro Braid (Main Line)
- Sinker Slides
- 4-6oz. Pyramid Weights
- Heavy Duty Barrel Swivels
- Heavy Duty Snap Swivels
- Large Trout Beads
- Size 4/0 or 5/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Hooks
- 60lb Trilene Big Game (Leader Line)
- Clip Bell (If you don’t have a baitrunner reel)
- Stainless Steel Needlenose Pliers
- Bait Knife
- Bright headlamp (Nitecore, Streamlight, etc.)
- Lawn Chairs (If seating is not available)
- Cooler (For drinks & to keep bait from melting)
- Old rags (To wipe hands)
- Bar of Soap (If pier offers a sink)
- Waterproof Glove
- Crab Net/Pier Gaff
All you need is squid. I have a preference for the SeaWave brand, as I have tried other brands as well as raw squid by the pound from the supermarket and haven’t had as much success as SeaWave. I may be completely wrong but that’s just what I have confidence in. Don’t ever use the whole squid! Simply cut a piece about 2-3” long, trust me that’s all you need. Many times have I had rays over the 100lb class eat a tiny scrap of squid (plus it saves bait). If squid is not working for you, grab a few bags of anchovies and secure them on your hook with bait string such as Magic Thread. Mackerel, sardine, and shrimp will work too, but keep it simple and stick to good old ‘chovy and squid!
Leopard Shark and Bat Ray Fishing Tips
The general rule of thumb for any saltwater shore fishing is to head out two hours before the full high tide, which allows you to catch fish as they’re transitioning from deeper waters into the shallower region surrounding the pier, jetty, inlet, etc. I actually prefer to fish for shark and rays at nighttime, and I try to pick nights that offer full high tide around 12am so that I can enjoy prime fishing starting from 7-9pm. I’ve also had amazing days with bat rays on dead low tides but I’d still recommend fishing incoming tide for more consistent results. As mentioned before, simply cast your rig into the deepest water possible, as it allows you to effectively intercept fish transitioning between tides. After casting, reel up slack until you feel the weight and then engage the baitrunner feature. If your reel does not offer baitrunner capabilities you can do one of two things: Keep the drag tight and clip a bell onto your rod tip or loosen the drag just enough to let the fish run with your bait without detecting pressure. Now sit back, relax, and wait for that bell to ring or your line to start screaming!
What to Wear
- Thick Jacket – Emphasis on thick! Make sure to dress warm enough as the weather may drop considerably at night and the wind is always unpredictable.
- Waterproof Gloves – If you’re fearful of being impaled by a bat ray stinger or simply don’t want to get dirty, grab a pair of waterproof gardening gloves! It’s also a great way of keeping that squid smell off of your hands.
- UV Buff – Can’t go wrong with one of these for shark and ray fishing as they keep the sun and wind from striking your face for hours.
- I understand everyone feels safer holding a bat ray by the blowholes, but this actually increases the chances of you getting hit by the stinger. Holding a ray in this fashion aims the back of the ray towards your body, allowing it to have better chances of whipping its tail and striking you. I know it’s creepy but a safe way to hold them is to shove your middle and ring fingers inside the mouth, essentially gripping the ray like a bowling ball. This allows you to point the back end of the fish away from your body, reducing the chances of being impaled. If you’re scared of the mouth try using a gloves, and I can assure you this will be safer! For the larger bat rays simply grab them by the blowholes – they will be too heavy to hoist by the mouth without injuring yourself. Stay safe!
- If your line goes slack after getting bit, you may not have lost your fish! Chances are it’s a shark or big ray that has picked up your bait and started swimming towards you. Reel as fast as you can and set hook when you feel the fish or simply re-cast if nothing’s on the end. It never hurts to try! Chances are it will be a bigger fish running off with your bait.
- Bigger bat rays tend to make a final run under the pier when you get them closer to you. Try your best to steer clear of the pilings and seafloor as the rays will either wrap you around and break you off or plant themselves to the bottom, making them difficult to budge. It’s not always possible to steer the big ones but it’s worth a shot!
- Make sure to re-bait and recast every 15-20 min. This will help you cover more water and allow you to always fish with fresh bait, greatly increasing your chances of finding the right fish-producing area.