San Mateo Rocks

Fishing the San Mateo Rocks

Along the coast between Pacifica and Ano Nuevo State Park, a set of scattered rocky beaches provide beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as occasional chances for rocky-bottom species. Most of these areas lie within state parks along highway 1, providing easy access and some facilities.

About this Stretch of Coast

Always keep your eyes on the ocean! Like the Santa Cruz Cliffs, this section of coast can have some big waves, and people foraging and fishing the coast here have been swept into the water by rogue waves. Always check the wave forecast, and be safe. In addition, many of the rocks here can be quite slippery, so take your time when climbing these rocks to get to fishing spots.

In general, the rocky stretches of coastline here can be fished at both low tide or high tide. A simple high/low rig, baited with shrimp or squid, works quite well for rockfish, striped surfperch, and the occasional cabezon. Be prepared to bring a lot of extra tackle, as it can be very easy to snag and break off. In general, try and find the deeper holes and deeper water, as there can be a lot of variation in depth close to shore. Keep in mind spots that are excellent at high tide can be left high and dry when the tide gets low, so be prepared to move around if there is significant tidal variation.

At strong minus tides, these beaches can be great places to do some poke-poling - basically sticking your bait in the deep holes under boulders and rocks to catch trapped fish. With a small strip of squid and a good pair of boots or waders, you can catch some nice monkeyface eels and small rockfish. These fish seem to be experts at stealing bait, so make sure to bring a lot of extra.

A monkeyface prickleback caught along this section of coast

A monkeyface prickleback caught along this section of coast


Some of these spots have been hit quite hard in recent years, and as a result fish sizes as well as catch rates have gone down significantly. Do your part for future generations, and only take home the fish you’ll actually use and eat yourself.

Most of the rockfish I’ve caught here are black-and-yellow rockfish, similar to other rocky-shore fishing spots in the rest of the state. If you intend on keeping the fish you catch, keep in mind that this particular species of rockfish are classified as high in methylmercury and PCBs, and you should limit your consumption if possible.

Big Hammer Swimbait

If you don't want to use bait, this is a good all-around swimbait for rocky-shore species. I usually fish it on a jighead, or on a dropshot rig (basically a high-low rig). Try and fish the lure as close to the bottom as possible (unless you're fishing for black or blue rockfish). Brand doesn't matter a huge amount here, but some people swear by Keitechs, which I have not tried myself.
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When fishing the rocks, there is always a surprising amount of current, so you’ll need some heavy weights. I usually use anywhere from half an ounce to four ounces for my rigs. You’ll also snag and break off a lot, so make sure to bring a lot of spares. I’ve listed the weights I use below, in order of preference.

Cloth Bags

Every time I snag off and leave a hunk of metal at the bottom of the ocean, I always feel kinda bad. As a result, I recently switched to using cloth bags, which I fill with gravel and small rocks at the fishing spot and hopefully biodegrade in the ocean. I've found that these cloth bags work incredibly well. They snag much less frequently than the metal weights I used to use, and the fish don't seem to mind. In addition, they are much cheaper.
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Ultra Steel Bullet Weights, 3/4 ounce

I usually use steel weights whenever I can. While they tend to be somewhat more expensive than lead-based weights, they lack most of the toxicity and developmental impacts of lead. In regards to your own health, you should use steel weights whenever possible. However, steel weights can be hard to find in larger sizes.
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Lead Sinkers, 2 ounces

These lead weights are much cheaper than steel, and come in much larger sizes. However, keep in mind the toxicity and developmental impacts of lead. Use at your own risk.
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Disclaimer: the above purchase links are mostly Amazon Affiliate links that help me keep this website running. I use all of the above products every time I go fishing.
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