How to fish the annual Herring spawn

How to fish the annual Herring spawn

Have you ever fished with a Sex Herring? If not, you’re missing out on one of the bay areas most closely kept secret. If you can’t catch fish…Seduce them with “SEX HERRING”
Sex Herring





(Picture is self explanatory)

The San Francisco herring spawn is one of the last great urban fishery in America. Every year masses of pacific herring spring from the depth of the ocean to partake in this ancient breeding ritual that last from late December in to March.

For me the winter herring spawn marks the end and start of the fishing season. The pacific herring is the staple diet of the marine ecosystem. The pacific herring and other small finfish are necessary to maintaining a healthy and vibrant ocean, so it is vital we fish responsibly to ensure the future sustainability of this fishery.


The Pacific Herring

Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii)

Biology: Pacific herring are a schooling species found throughout the coastal zone from California around the Pacific Rim to Korea. They are olive green-dark blue to silvery, with an average size of 6 inches (160mm) in San Francisco Bay. In California they can live up to 8 years and they feed primarily on euphausiids, copepods, amphipods, fish larvae, and mollusks. In California herring are found near shore during spring and summer and migrate to bays and estuaries to spawn from November through April.

CDFW Cite Source: [January, 6, 2016]

 San Francisco Bay Herring Spawn Potential

Based on the data collected from the CDFW as much as 80% of the herring spawn potential occur within the boundaries of Richardson’s bay. Herring spawn in rocks piles, wood pilings and vegetation. When spawning occur females deposit eggs on the structure while males release milt that often churn the water milky white.

Herring spawns typically occur 2-3 days, in one particular location, but will last up to week in a region. Pacific herring will typically not spawn in the same area within a year. Shoals can be located by looking for diving birds and feeding sea lions along the shoreline .

Herring Spawning Locations

 The following are areas where I have first hand experience with catching herring.I have been working hard to collect data and find a pattern to the herring spawn.Honestly, I don’t have enough data to provide an adequate prediction of their breeding behavior to share. It is known that herring will typically spawn in the same area year after year, So take this data as you may.

  • Bay Area Spawning Map

Spawning Locations
North Bay Paradise park, San Quentin, Peninsula Point, Fort Baker
South Bay: Coyote Point, Fisherman’s Point,
Central Bay: Aqua Vista Park, Pier 14, Ferry building, McCovy Cove
East Bay: Point Richardson, Alameda Rockwall

Terminal Tackle

Cast Netting

During the herring spawn the popular method for taking fish is cast netting. Purchase nets based on your skill level. Net radius range from 5 ft to 10 ft. There are many tutorials online on how to successfully cast net.

Cast NetIt is advisable to fish areas “away” from the rocks. Although it is tempting to throw the net right over the spawning fish there are many submerge rocks and pilings that will snag and entangle the net leading to break offs and lost gear.


Traditional line and hook

SabikiFishing with hook and line still remains a popular method. A traditional rod and reel with a 12 size Sabiki lure and 2 ounce weight should get fish. Sabiki lures can be bought locally at sporting good shops for from 1.75 up to 3.99 depending on size and line strength.

Packing and preserving Herring

Some Anglers preserve herring for food while other use them for bait. I’m personally a bait guy. I think nothing lands large fish like Sex herring. Seduce your way to large fish with some sex herring. You won’t go back!!

FACT: If you don’t like feral cats circling your house for a week this isn’t the fishery for you. Cats will miraculously appear from miles around and circle your house. Personal experience here folks.

Through trial and error this is the best method that I have found to preserve herring for the summer fishing season. This is the cheapest and most economical way to preserve your bait.


Purchase large sand which bags that zip.
Fit six pieces of herring into each bag
Place those smaller bags into larger gallon “ZIP LOCK” freezer bags
Store them away.


The conventional wisdom is to imitate the “Blue Label” Herring trays. I have found this doesn’t work well because the herring will become squashed by the vacuum seal making them prone to looking awkward. I prefer that my bait look the same way as the day I caught them.



The pacific herring spawn is an exciting time in the bay area. The winter months offer a plethora of opportunities to fish and forage through out the bay. The herring spawn offers a short window to see the wonders of what nature has perfected over thousands of years and is something we all must work hard to preserve for future generations. Best of luck, and tight lines – Lost_Anchovy

Updated 1.7.2016

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