-A Trip To The North Coast and Its Piers, Oct. 1, 2015 (Day 1)

Whenever I take a trip to the piers in California’s most northern coastal counties—Marin, Sonoma, Humboldt and Del Norte, I’m reminded of the diversity and beauty of the entire region. I’m also reminded of why it’s called the “Redwood Empire.” In Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the scene is mostly urban but with redwood covered hills off in the distance. Sonoma County is up next. The towns become more spread out, there’s an amazing juxtaposition with California’s golden hills contrasting with its vineyards and, off in the distance, the coastal hills and mountains capped with redwoods. Mendocino County, my old stomping ground, is next up in the journey and is much the same, but the towns are now few and far between while farms, orchards, and acre after acre of grapes dominate the scene. But again, looking west, one sees the hills covered in redwoods (notice a certain theme?). Humboldt and Del Norte counties are the apogee points when it comes to the redwoods with state and federal redwood parks dominating the drive. Humboldt Bay is huge, and Eureka may be the big city in Humboldt County, but people make the trip north to see the world’s tallest trees. Del Norte, the most northern county, is all about wild. A beautiful wild coast, wild rivers, and wild elk, a sportsman’s paradise! Every drive north reminds one how different and varied are California’s landscapes.

[Warning, this particular blog may be more of a travel log than a simple fishing blog.]

Day 1 saw a drive north to Eureka. From my Fresno home it’s basically a little over a nine-hour drive, give or take, depending upon traffic and road construction. Given my propensity to stop and take a few pictures, the drive became more of a ten-hour trip.

The sky was beautiful during the drive. This is an old barn near Geyserville.

A vineyard near Asti

Grapes everywhere

More grapes

A beautiful, cloud-filled sky and the Mendocino countryside

What a beautiful day!

Beautiful scenes behind every curve in the road

The Greeks might have thought the gods were having a little tiff

Some interesting-shaped clouds


Simply beautiful, what more can you say?

The Founders Grove

One of the many redwood groves just off the highway

Who doesn’t like the redwoods?

The Dyerville Giant

Wherever you find redwoods you will normally find ferns

It was time to head back to the car and continue north

The road out of the grove

On a side road, outside the park, I found these redwoods seemingly covered with vines of poison oak showing their fall colors

Pretty to look at but don’t touch!

Time to continue the drive to Eureka

After arriving in Eureka, I quickly moved my bag into the motel room and then headed over to the Del Norte St. Pier to do some fishing. However, it was getting dark, there was a strong wind, and it appeared to be low tide.

Most interesting was a Coast Guard helicopter practicing rescue operations near the pier

Unfortunately the helicopter would prove to be the highlight of the visit. The current was strong and the water was filled with eelgrass making the fishing very difficult. An hour of fishing produced only three small sculpins along with probably fifty pounds of salad.  I decided to call it a day and headed back to the motel.


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Trinidad Pier — 2015 Kids Fishing Derby

The Trinidad Pier aka Seascape Pier

On Saturday, October 3, 2016, the wind at Trinidad was blowing at a 30-40 mile per hour clip with gusts hitting 50-60 mph. On the beach, visitors were greeted with gusts of sand and “watch your hat” conditions. The main question was would the wind continue AND would we be able to have the scheduled kids fishing derby Sunday morning? There really wasn’t much of a “Plan B” so fingers were crossed and perhaps a few prayers were said along the way. The question was answered early the next morning when arrival at the pier saw little if any wind and a beautiful sky. As it turned out it would be mostly shirtsleeve weather and just about perfect conditions for the 56 kids and the crowd of roughly 125 people who attended the derby.

The pier before the derby

The event was the 2nd Annual Trinidad Pier Youth Fishing Derby sponsored by United Pier and Shore Anglers of California (UPSAC), the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), and Ed Roberts from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Eureka.

The front of the pier is sided by a cliff and rocky shoreline on one side and two large rocks on the other side.

Free loaner rods and reels, free terminal tackle, free bait, free hot dog lunches, raffle prizes, and a winner in each age group helped generate excitement, as did the opportunity to catch a fish (although the fishing was a little slow).  As at the inaugural tournament in 2014, a large group of parents and friends also attended making the event a true family event.

Ready for registration

Each age group had a winner with each winner receiving a trophy from United Pier and Shore Anglers of California (UPSAC), a beautiful certificate from the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), and an autographed copy of Pier Fishing in California by Ken Jones.

Age group winners: 3-5-year-old winner—(tie) Sunny Hopper (McKinleyville) and Thomas White (Trinidad); 6-year-old winner—Bryce Gruetzmacher (McKinleyville); 7-year-old winner—(tie) Nolan Sefcik (McKinleyville) and Dean Savieo (Trinidad); 8-year-old winner—Jocelyn Sundberg (McKinleyville); 9-year-old winner—Ryenne Kile (Eureka); 10-year-old winner—Caden Vance (Eureka); 11-year-old winner—Julian Sundberg (McKinleyville); 12-year-old winner—Nate Ferguson (Trinidad); 13-year-old winner—Alaura Romo (Eureka); 14-year-old winner—Cory Soll (Trinidad); 16-year-old winner—Callie Roberts (Loleta).

The Pier

The pier was quickly crowded

United Pier and Shore Anglers of California was one of the main sponsors

Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers donated money to buy many of the raffle prizes

Mary Patyten from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Fort Bragg distributed information to the kids while Ed Roberts from the Eureka office was one of the main sponsors

There were a lot of smiles on the pier

This youngster was happy with his small greenling

Personnel from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife provided information and “Junior Warden” stickers to the youngsters

“Big Rich” from the Pier Fishing In California Message Board drove all the way up from Vallejo to help out at the derby (with Mary Patyten)

Fishing lasted from 10:30 until 12:30 at which time the kids were presented a hot dog lunch. Following lunch, the raffle was held with each participant receiving a gift. Raffle prizes were donated by a number of different groups and businesses—Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community, Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers (HASA), Pacific Outfitters, Mad River Tackle, Costco of Eureka, and Pier Fishing in California (pierfishing.com)

Ed Roberts — “How many are ready for the raffle?”

The number is…

The perfect prize!

This youngster won a “First Edition” of Pier Fishing In California but might be too young to read it

You can never have too many tackle boxes — right?

Each youngster also received a “Goody Bag” of gifts. Items were donated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, the San Diego Sportfishing Council, and United Pier and Shore Anglers of California (UPSAC).

 Ed Roberts, Ken Jones and Mary Patyten

Organizers were Ed Roberts of the California Fish and Wildlife Department, Ken Jones, President of United Pier and Shore Anglers of California, and Grant Roden of the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria.

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Shortfin Corvina

 Shortfin Corvina — Tony Troncale, Crystal Pier, San Diego

Species: Cynoscion parvipinnis (Ayres, 1861); from the Greek words kyon (dog) and skion (from sciaena, an old name for a European croaker) and the Latin words parvi (small) and pinnis (fins).  

Alternate Names: Bigtooth corvina, shortfin seabass, sea trout, weakfish, caravina and my personal favorite—vampire corvina. Called corvina aleta corta or corvina azul in Mexico.

Identification: Elongated body with a large mouth; lower jaw extends beyond upper jaw; 1 or 2 large canine teeth on each side of upper jaw; there are no chin barbels. Their coloring is bright blue-gray above, silvery below; inside of mouth yellow-orange; fins pale to yellowish. Caudal fin slightly indented. Sometimes mistaken for small white seabass.

Shortfin corvina — Caught by Arvin (Pescadora) at the mini piers adjacent to the Ferry Landing Pier in Coronado

Size: To 32 inches in length; those caught from piers are usually 14-18 inches. For many years the record fish, as listed by the International Game Fish Association, was 6 pounds, 15 ounces. However, several fish exceeding 7-pounds had been reported from SD Bay. Then, on June 20, 2008, Carmen C. Rose caught a 10 lbs. 6 oz. corvina fishing a dead grunion (without a sinker) from a boat just 40 feet off the beach in the South Bay near the US Navy housing on the Silver Strand.

Range: Mazatlan, Mexico and Gulf of California to Huntington Beach.

Habitat: Shallow, inshore sandy or soft mud bottom areas including bays.

Shortfin corvina and halibut — Ocean Beach Pier, San Diego

Piers: Until recently only reported from piers in San Diego Bay. The last few years have seen increasing numbers showing up at the Imperial Beach Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, and Crystal Pier (especially during grunion runs). A few have also been reported from the Oceanside Pier. Best bets: Coronado Ferry Landing Pier, Embarcadero Marina Pier, Shelter Island Pier, Imperial Beach Pier and Crystal Pier.

Shoreline: Occasionally taken by shore anglers in San Diego Bay.

Boats: boaters in south San Diego Bay take quite a few.

Shortfin corvina — Kara, Crystal Pier, San Diego, July 2015

Bait and Tackle: Light to medium size tackle will work with small, size 4-2 hooks typically used if bait fishing. Best baits are live bait—anchovy, smelt, small queenfish or sardine but ghost shrimp (especially when fished under a bobber) can also be excellent. Although in Baja they are primarily considered a bottom feeder, most reports from SD Bay have them feeding mid-level to the top. They are also considered to be an excellent fish for artificials with many different lures providing action including crank baits, spoons, spinner baits, swim baits and plastic grubs,

Food Value: Excellent, mild-flavored meat that can be prepared in many ways.

Shortfin corvina — Angel  Hernandez, Crystal Pier, San Diego

Comments: These fish, although reported to be common as far north as San Pedro during California’s warm water years of the late-1800s, were considered absent in the state by the 1930s. That changed when fish began to be increasingly seen in the southern parts of San Diego Bay in the 1990s. Whether lured north by warm El Niño waters (’87-’88, ’91-‘92, ’97-’98), or brought in mistakenly by returning long-range Sportfishing boats, the result has been the introduction of a new fish and fishery to San Diego anglers. Although more commonly taken by anglers fishing from boats in south San Diego Bay, increasing numbers have been reported from both bay and oceanfront piers in San Diego County. Nevertheless, any pier catch should be considered fortuitous. Although considered primarily a diurnal feeder (daytime feeder), many of the reports on the PFIC Message Board have concerned nighttime catches. Shrimp is considered their favorite food although an increasing number are reported hitting on live bait—everything from queenfish to small jack mackerel. Most commonly caught April through September.

A collage of fish (including a shortfin corvina) taken by Arvin from the Ferry Landing Pier in San Diego Bay

A variety of fish (spotted bay bass, mackerel, and shortfin corvina) taken by Don and Arvin from the Ferry Landing Pier in San Diego Bay

Fly used to take the shortfin corvina

Shortfin corvina from the mini piers adjacent to the Ferry Landing Pier in Coronado

28-Inch Shortfin corvina taken by Thomas Shinsato from the mouth of the San Diego River

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Pacific (Chub) Mackerel

Species: Scomber japonicus (Houttuyn, 1782); from the Greek word scombros (an ancient name for the common mackerel of Europe) and japoniocus (of Japan). Given the name Pneumatophorus japonicus diego in the early Fish Bulletin #28.

Alternate Names: Greenback, green mackerel, green racer, greenies (or candy bar greenies—small mackerel), blue mackerel, striped mackerel, zebra mackerel, right mackerel, chub mackerel, cornfed, frog, tiny tuna, mac, big mac, or mac trash. 19th century fishermen called these tinker mackerel, little mackerel or Easter mackerel. My goodness, what a plethora of diverse names. Called macarela del Pacífico in Mexico.

Pacific mackerel — Thomas Orozco, Pepper Park Pier, San Diego

Identification: Typical mackerel shape with am elongated body tapering at both ends; identified by the long space between the dorsal fins, 25 to 30 black to dark green bars and spots across the back, and irregular spots on the sides.

Size: To 25 inches and 6 pounds. Most caught off piers are less than 18 inches. The California record fish weighed 2 lb 8 oz and was taken at Los Angeles in 1995.

You don’t need heavy equipment for most macs — Shelter Island Pier in San Diego

Range: Gulf of California (some sources say Bahia Banderas) to southeastern Kamchatka, western Gulf of Alaska. Also Panama to Chile and Islas Galápagos.

Pacific mackerel — Hermosa Beach Pier

Habitat: Pelagic, feeding mainly on euphausids (small, shrimp-like crustaceans, i.e., krill, usually 1/8 inch to less than an inch), squid, and young fish. Found from the surface down to about 100 feet.

Piers: Common at most piers in California north to and including those in Monterey Bay (at more northern piers in late summer or fall). Best bets: Imperial Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Malibu Pier, Stearns Wharf, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier and Monterey Wharf #2. Generally uncommon at piers north of Monterey Bay although recent years have seen them enter San Francisco Bay. In 2009 they were taken at many Bay Area piers including most along the San Francisco waterfront and several in the East Bay. In 2014 we had one taken at a “Kids Fishing Derby” at the Trinidad Pier north of Eureka (roughly 75 miles from the Oregon border).

Pacific mackerel — Hashem Nahid (Mahageer), Redondo Beach Pier

Shoreline: Sometimes taken by shore anglers fishing from jetties in southern California.

Boats: One of the mainstay fish for southern California boats although some years also caught north at least to Monterey Bay.

Pacific mackerel — Robert Gardner (Redfish), Cabrillo Mole, Avalon, Catalina Island

Bait and Tackle: Caught on a wide range of baits and artificial lures. A very simple method is also the most common; it is especially useful when fishing from a pier that sits down near the water. Simply attach a size 4-2 hook to the end of the line, put a small split-shot sinker a couple of feet above the hook, and use a small strip of squid, 2-3 inches long, or a bloody strip of mackerel, as the bait. The rigging can be used as is, or used in conjunction with a small float so that the bait stays a few feet under the surface of the water. If available, live anchovies are also excellent bait. When a school of mackerel is in one of their ravenous moods, a Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait rig can be deadly and will often produce a fish on every hook (which can lead to tangles and loss of the rig). The most fun can be had with a light outfit and a small artificial lure—a light bonito-type jig or even a cast-a-bubble with a bucktail fly. Generally the bait, whether live bait or cut bait, should be kept moving. A technique that often works is to cast out a high/low leader baited with cut anchovy or piece of mackerel, let it sink toward the bottom, then immediately begin a medium speed retrieve; mackerel will often hit it on the way up, usually just before it gets to the surface. At times, when a school is really hungry, the mackerel will hit on anything and everything (although I think pieces of mackerel are the best bait) and this leads to the common term: “mac attack.” It’s an appropriate title.

Pacific mackerel — Trinidad Pier (north of Eureka)

Food Value: Mackerel are a fairly strong flavored fish, a fact that stops some people from eating them. Too often they wind up being used as bait, as fertilizer, or being thrown away. At the same time many people find them delicious. Typically the difference is due to the way they are handled and cooked. Being a fairly oily fish, the flesh can quickly deteriorate and soften. Put them on ice after capture, keep them cold, and use within a couple of days, and you will be starting with a much more palatable type of flesh. In addition, you can remove the darker (muscle) flesh from the side of the fish (the lighter the flesh the more mild). Lastly, if you want to reduce the strong flavor, cook utilizing methods that remove oil from the flesh—broiling and barbecuing being the best.  If you have a smoker they can also be made into tasty jerky. It’s recorded that in England there has been a special dispensation in existence since the seventeenth century that allows mackerel to be sold on Sunday. Thus the quickly spoiling fish are not wasted. It simply affirms the necessity of keeping them cold and eating them while fresh.

The flip side is that some groups prefer the strong flavors. They know that using spices that complement the flesh produces a tasty and favorable piece of fish. Still, mackerel may not be the fish for those raised on the mild tasting, white-fleshed fish used for fish and chips (cod, halibut, rock cod, etc.).

A mess of macs from Wharf #2 in Monterey

Comments: Mackerel numbers seem to go in cycles; for years they will be fairly uncommon and then there will be years when they will be at nearly every southern California pier. Recent years have seen huge catches. Unfortunately many of these mackerel go to waste. I have seen people who loaded buckets (or gunnysacks) with mackerel day after day at their favorite piers. I sincerely hoped they used them. Pacific mackerel are pretty little fish and terrific fighters for their size. Seafood, A Connoiseur’s Guide and Cookbook by Alan Davidson, comments on the “attractive and flashy appearance of mackerel,” noting that the “French name maquereau also means ‘pimp’” and that “in the past mackerel was a term for dandy in England.”

Pacific mackerel and Pacific sardine — Goleta Pier. Both fish will sometimes school in the same areas and when they do anglers are assured a good catch of fish.


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  Salema from the Ocean Beach Pier in San Diego

Species: Xenistius californiensis (Steindachner, 1876); from xenitius (strange sail, in allusion to the dorsal fin) and californiensis (in reference to California as a geographic area).

Alternate Names: Bass, big eye, big eye bass, striped bass and lima perch. In Mexico called salema, pajarillo or ojotón.

Identification: This pretty little fish resembles a striped bass in shape and is even striped, but both color and range is different. Salema have a bass-like body, very large eyes, and 6-8 orange-brown horizontal stripes on the side. Their coloring is iridescent blue-green above, and silvery below; tail fins orange-brown. They will often also make a grunting noise when removed from the water. They are sometimes mistaken for small striped bass.

Size: Up to 12 inches but most caught off piers are only 6-8 inches long.

Range: Found from Peru to Monterey Bay but reportedly most common south of Dana Point. My records however show they are most commonly caught from piers between Oceanside and Santa Monica. They are uncommon north of Point Dume and rare north of Santa Barbara.

Habitat: Shallow-water rocky areas and in kelp beds. Salema are usually found in schools and though primarily nocturnal feeders they also forage (and bite) during the day. The young often school with juvenile sargo and black croaker.

Piers: Best bets: Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, and Manhattan Beach Pier. I have also taken quite a few from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon but only during nighttime hours. In addition, I have seen a number taken from the Port Hueneme Pier and Ventura Pier—both supposedly in areas where salema are considered uncommon.

Shoreline: Rarely taken by shore anglers.

Boats: Rarely taken from boats.

Bait and Tackle: These fish will take most small baits on a size 6 or 8 hook, including small pinhead anchovies. Most, however, are caught on mussels, bloodworms, or a small strip of anchovy or mackerel. Fish around the pilings and fish from just off the bottom to mid-depth.

Food Value: Salema are a mild-flavored fish, best suited for pan-frying.

Comments: Although this is a small fish, its relative scarcity and attractive appearance make it a worthwhile catch (and they give a good, rugged little battle when caught on ultra-light tackle). I’ve always thought they would make a beautiful saltwater aquarium fish.

I’m not sure where the name derives but there is a small fishing village on the coast of Portugal named Salema. Although once considered part of the “last undiscovered tourist frontier,” those days apparently are over (at least according to the esteemed travel expert Rick Steves). It’s been discovered.

In 2006 Practical Fishkeeping Magazine reported:  “Men hallucinate after eating fish. Two men have suffered terrifying visual and auditory hallucinations after eating a popular local seafish in Mediterranean restaurants… the men started seeing and hearing things after contracting a rare form of hallucinogenic poisoning from the Salema fish they were dining on… The effects of eating ichthyoallyeinotoxic fishes, such as certain mullet, goatfish, tangs, damsels and rabbitfish, are believed to be similar to LSD, and may include vivid and terrifying auditory and visual hallucinations. This has given rise to the collective common name for ichthyoallyeinotoxic fishes of ‘dream fish’. The poisoning can start to cause vivid hallucinations within minutes of eating a poisonous fish and may last for days, often with no other effects. There is no antidote… Indoles, with similar chemical effects to LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) are believed to be responsible and may be consumed when the fish eat algae or phytoplankton containing the chemicals. All of the species affected by ichthyoallyeinotoxism are algal grazers. Others have claimed that different species of ichthyoallyeinotoxic fishes, such as Kyphosus fuseus, contain much more potent hallucinogens, such as dimethyltryptamine or DMT, which is considered to be one of the world’s most mind-bending hallucinogenic chemicals… Sarpa salpa, the fish consumed by the men was a member of the Sparidae family and is commonly known as the Salema porgy… According to the paper, Sarpa salpa was consumed as a recreational drug in the Med during the Roman Empire.” So there you have it, the salema in California were not the culprit in this strange episode of hallucinogenic poisoning even though California, especially the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco would seem a natural place for such an occurrence.

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