Pier Fish of Catalina Island

Catalina Island and its main city Avalon are wonderful places to visit and offer up an environment and atmosphere markedly different from that of the mainland that sits just a short, hour-long ferry ride away. So too the piers on Catalina, which offer up a plethora of different species of fish many of which are rarely encountered on the mainland piers. Herein, a sampling of species from the Catalina piers, primarily from the Cabrillo Mole and Green Pleasure Pier, both in Avalon, and the Isthmus Pier at Two Harbors.


Species: Hypsypops rubicundus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word hypsypops  (high area below the eye) and the Latin word rubicunda (red). Alternate Names: Golden perch, ocean sunfish and ocean goldfish. In Mexico called jaqueta garibaldi. As for the name garibaldi, it apparently was a name bestowed upon the fish by California’s Italian commercial fishermen in the 1800s. Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of the main leaders in the unification movement to create an Italian nation and his followers were known as the “Redshirts” for the bright red shirts they wore. He was considered a hero to Italians throughout the world and apparently the fish, at least to some, were reminiscent of those red shirts. Identification: Garibaldi are easily distinguished by the brilliant golden-orange coloring on the whole body and are considered by many the prettiest fish in our coastal waters. They are perch-shaped but very deep-bodied with large fins. The young (up to about 6 inches in length) are reddish orange with bright blue spots.

Garibaldi — a young fish with blue spots

Size: To 14 inches (some books say 15 inches) but most pier-caught fish are under a foot in length. Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California to Monterey Bay. Uncommon north of Santa Barbara and rare north of Point Conception. Habitat: Generally found in shallow-water, rocky-shore areas although they have been encountered down to a depth of almost 100 feet. Fitch and Lavenberg, Tidepool and Nearshore Fishes of California, report that “A wide variety of food items has been found in garibaldi stomachs, including sponges, sea anemones, bryozoans, algae, worms, crustaceans, clams and mussels, snail eggs, and their own eggs.”  No wonder it is sometimes hard to keep them off a hook even though they’re illegal to keep.

Garibaldi — Kim and a small garibaldi from the Cabrillo Mole  

Piers: Often hooked at southern California piers located near kelp beds or rocky reefs. Best bets: Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, and the three main piers on Catalina island—the Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (where it’s hard not to hook them) at Avalon, and the Isthmus Pier at Two Harbors. Bait and Tackle: None—illegal to take. Food Value: None since you can’t keep them. Comments: Although pretty to look at, they are pugnacious, strong, and not the friendliest fish. They are extremely territorial and will defend fairly large areas. This is especially true during the spring-summer spawning season when males will build a nest and defend it against intruders, both fellow male garibaldi and other species (including humans). Apparently the cute little missy garibaldi are an exception and allowed to invade those spaces and deposit their eggs. It is illegal to keep these fish, but why? As related to me by a Fish and Game official, the campaign to make them illegal originated in Avalon. It seems that the glass bottom boats, a popular attraction at Avalon on Catalina Island, were worried that anglers (actually divers) were taking far too many of the beautifully colored fish and that it was bad for their business (since garibaldi are one of the most viewable fish from the boats). They got a law passed making it illegal to keep them in Avalon waters and soon after the question came up as to why not make it illegal throughout the state. Eventually the statewide law making them illegal was indeed passed by the legislature. Today most anglers return the fish to the water if they’re mistakenly hooked. However, a number are also speared illegally. It seems colorful fish are required at the wedding dinner tables of some Pacific Islanders and garibaldi are a favorite. Once again long-time cultural tradition clashes with today’s rules.Garibaldi are one of California’s two official “state fish.” Garibaldi are the “saltwater” or marine fish while golden trout are the “freshwater” fish. Garibaldi are illegal to keep in California.

Kelp Bass  — Small, average size kelp bass from Cabrillo Mole

 Species: Paralabrax clathratus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words para (near) and labrax (a European bass), and the Latin clathratus  (latticed, referring to the coloring on the back). Alternate Names: Commonly called calico bass; also rock bass, bull bass, checkerboard bass, kelp salmon, lockee cod, cabrilla, bucket mouth (a large bass) and dinner bass. Weird name—police car, a name probably invented by an angler who watched too many episodes of Cops. Called cabrilla sargacera in Mexico. Identification: Typical bass shape. Kelp bass have a single dorsal fin notched between the sections, and the third and fourth spines are of about equal length and taller than the soft-rayed section. Their coloring is brownish or olive on the back, brownish white blotches on the uppersides, tinged with yellow on the underside, and yellow fins.

Kelp Bass — DompfaPops and a kelp bass from the Cabrillo Mole

Size: Length is to 28.5 inches and weight to 14.5 pounds. Most caught from piers are less than 12 inches in length. The California record fish weighed 14 lb 7 oz and was taken near San Clemente Island in 1958. Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California to the Columbia River, Washington. Uncommonly seen north of Monterey Bay. Habitat: Rocky areas or around kelp, from surface down to 130 feet, but common from 8 to 70 feet. Milton Love, our favorite über-marine biologist, says “kelp bass actually should be called stuff bass, because what they really like is, well, stuff. And they don’t care what the stuff is. Sewer pipes, old tires, oil platforms, chunks of sunken streetcars, it doesn’t really matter. If a kelp bass can stare at it, sort of cuddle up to it and the stuff doesn’t turn around and eat it, that’s all that counts.” Piers: Oceanfront piers with artificial reefs or extensive summer kelp see the most kelp bass. Best bets: Embarcadero Marina Park Pier, Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Stearns Wharf (Santa Barbara), Goleta Pier and Gaviota Pier. Bait and Tackle: As with their brethren bass, they are opportunistic feeders grabbing just about anything that looks palatable. They’re also carnivores subsisting mainly on small fish—anchovies, smelt, sardines, perch, queenfish—as well as squid, octopus, crabs, shrimp and worms. Most kelp bass that are caught off piers are caught while anglers are fishing on the bottom for other species. Typical gear is a high/low leader with number 4-2 hooks. Best bait is live bait—anchovies or smelt—followed by strip bait, such as anchovy, mackerel or squid. Live bloodworms, fresh mussels and ghost shrimp will also attract the calicos, as will well-presented artificial lures.

KJ and a kelp bass from the Cabrillo Mole

Food Value:  If you are lucky enough to land a keeper-size fish you will have a good meal. Kelp bass have a mild-flavored meat suitable to almost any kind of cooking. They can be used as fillets, baked whole, or cut into smaller pieces for deep-frying. Comments: One of the favorite sport fish of southern California anglers but not really a leading species on piers. However, the number of small, immature, and illegal bass found at times around the Green Pleasure Pier at Avalon is almost unbelievable. An interesting discussion took place one week on the Pier Fishing in California Message Board. The question was asked as to which fish was a better fighter—kelp bass or largemouth bass? With one exception, those anglers who have caught both species gave the nod to the kelp bass. The lone dissenting vote did not rule in favor of largemouth bass. He simply said that calicos (kelp bass) fight differently in open water than they do around kelp. He felt around cover they fight incredibly strong, in the open water they fought somewhat less, likening it to the fight of a smallmouth bass which he still thought was superior to that of a largemouth.


 Species: Chromis punctipinnis (Cooper, 1863); from the Greek word chromis (a croaker) and the Latin words punctipinnis  (spot fin). Alternate Names: Blue perch, kelp perch, rock bass and black perch. In Mexico called castañeta herrera. Identification: Perch-shaped but not so deep—compressed and somewhat elongate. Their dorsal fin is long and undivided. Their coloring is dark blue or black on the back, grayish blue on sides, yellow tones in fins; they have black spots on the posterior half of the body. Size: Length to 12 inches; most caught off piers are 6-10 inches. Range: Punta San Pablo, central Baja California, to Monterey Bay. Common in southern California. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-shore areas and in kelp beds; young and adults aggregate according to size. Surface to 150 feet deep although may travel down to 300 feet. Piers: Generally found only at southern California piers, and then only those located close to extensive kelp or reefs (although I have seen a few blacksmith landed at Monterey Wharf #2). Best bets: Oceanside Harbor Pier, Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, and sometimes in late summer, Gaviota Pier. Bait and Tackle: Size 6 to 8 hooks fished on the bottom to mid-depth. Best bait are live bloodworms, lug worms, live crabs, fresh mussels or small pieces of shrimp. Food Value:  Too small to have much meat. Comments: Really only common at a few piers although I have seen them caught at many piers. It is reported that young blacksmith seek out cleaning fish, usually juvenile pileperch or senorita, and place themselves in positions where the cleaning fish are almost forced to remove external parasites from them. During these actions, the blacksmith may be head up, head down, on their side or even upside down. If the cleaner tries to leave, blacksmiths follow and prevent escape. Talk about bad manners.

California Sheephead

Species: Pimelometopon pulchrum (Ayres, 1854); from the Latin pulcher (for beautiful) and pimelometopon (meaning fat forehead). And, this may have been changed to Semicossphus pulcher. Alternate Names: Sheepie, goat, billygoats (large fish), red fish, snaggle tooth, humpy, and fathead. Early day names included California redfish. In Mexico called vieja californiana.

A female sheephead beginning to transform into a male

Identification: Easily identified by color. Adult females uniform brownish-red to rose; male with black head, red band in middle, and black in posterior portion of body; chin white on both sexes. Males have a large, fleshy lump on their forehead, which increases in size with age. Stout, protruding canine-like teeth in front of mouth; somewhat bucktoothed. Size: Length to 3 feet, and weight to 36.25 pounds although the majority of fish taken from piers are 9-14 inches in length. The California record fish weighed 30 lb 8 oz, and was taken at Newport Beach, Orange Co. in 2009. (A 29-pound sheepie was 32-inches long and 53 years old.) The largest sheephead I’ve seen reported from a pier was a 29.7-pound sheephead taken from the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in February 2008.

A young female sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole

Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of California to Monterey Bay. Common in southern California but considered uncommon north of Point Conception. An isolated population is found near the warm water discharge at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near Avila Beach and Port San Luis. Habitat: Surface to 180 feet deep, along rocky bottoms and in kelp beds.

Rita and a sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole

Piers: By far the two best piers are those located at Avalon—the Green Pleasure Pier and the Cabrillo Mole. Sheephead are an expected catch at those piers.  Coastal piers that are located near rocks or kelp beds will see a few sheephead most years but they are always an unexpected treat. Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Santa Monica Pier and Paradise Cove Pier. 

KJ and a sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole

Bait and Tackle: Medium sized tackle, hooks size 4-2/0, and a variety of baits—shrimp, ghost shrimp, bloodworms, fresh mussels, cut squid—will attract sheephead if they’re around the pier.

Corki and a small, baby sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole

Food Value: Good. Sometimes used as a lobster substitute in salads and other recipes.

KJ and a sheephead from the Isthmus Pier

Comments: Feeds on such delicacies as sea urchins, sand dollars, sea cucumbers, snails, squid, lobsters, shrimp and crabs. It uses its canine-like teeth to pry food from rocks, which it then crushes with tooth-plates in the rear of the mouth. Can live to over 50 years and is a protogynous hermaphrodite starting life as a female and then turning into a male when about one foot in length and 4 to 5 years in age (although some appear to stay females up to fifteen years of age and some even refuse to change). Why, dear reader, do most of these fish start life as females and then turn into males? The process, by the way, seems to take less than a year. Apparently it is much more effective than that practiced by the medical establishment in California and is, I am sure, much less expensive.

Rock Wrasse

Species: Halichoeres semicinctus (Ayres, 1859); from the Greek words hal (belonging to the sea) and choer (like a pig); and the Latin words semi  (half) and cinct  (banded, in reference to the color). Alternate Names: Wrasse, iodine fish and Parrot Fish. Called señorita piedrera in Mexico. Identification: Similar in shape and sometimes confused with senorita; rock wrasse have a long and slender body (but considerably deeper than a senorita) and a small mouth with protruding teeth. Their coloring is generally greenish brown with dusky vertical bars; males have a dark blue bar behind the pectoral fin. Lacks the large black spot at the base of the tail fin found in senorita. Size: Up to 15 inches although most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. A 12-inch male weighed 1 pound and was 7 years old. Range: Isla Guadalupe, central Baja California and the Gulf of California to Diablo Cove, San Luis Obispo County. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-shore areas, preferring areas with small patches of coarse sand. Main foods are amphipods, small crabs, dove shells, and slipper shells. Piers:  Common at only a few piers due to their rock-loving affinity. Best bets: Green Pleasure Pier at Avalon (where they are common), Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, and occasionally at inner bay piers such as the Shelter Island Pier and the Oceanside Harbor Pier. Bait and Tackle: By far, the best bait is fresh mussels or sea worms, although they will bite on shrimp or small crabs. Tackle should be a size 6 or 4 hook and a light leader. Rock wrasse like to grab bait and immediately head back to their hole under a rock so be ready with a quick response. Food Value: The verdict isn’t in. Some say they’re good, some say not so good. Comments: This little fish invokes an interesting vocabulary and a somewhat epicene and unconventional sex life. These wrasses are protogynous hermaphrodites, which means in simple terms that they start their lives as females and become males when they reach a length of about one foot. Some sources say all rock wrasses go through this BIG, BIG change, some sources say as little as 5%. Whatever the percent, it must be a traumatic experience. They are also diurnal (another interesting word) meaning they sleep at night. Most seem to bury themselves in sand with only their head sticking out. Reports say they go to bed at twenty minutes before sunset and reappear twenty minutes before sunrise. Since I’ve never witnessed any of these critters wearing a watch, or even a tiny clock, I’m not too sure how they manage this twenty-minute routine? Perhaps the moon acts as the zeitgeber, the environmental cue triggering their strange naptime behavior? By the way, they are not the only local fish that are hermaphrodites, California sheephead undergo a similar feat at about the same size.


 Species: Oxyjulis californica (Gunther, 1861); from the Greek words oxy  (sharp, for sharp nosed fish) and julis (an old world genus of wrasses), and californica (from California, the location of the first fish studied). Alternate Names: Kelp fish, kelp wrasse, butterfish and iodine fish. Called pescery by 19th century fishermen. Also called Señorita in Mexico. Identification: Señorita have a very long and slender body (one guide book says they’re cigar-shaped), a small mouth and protruding buckteeth. Their coloring is reddish orange above and yellow below with brown and bluish streaks on the side of the head; they have a large black or dark brown crescent-shaped spot at the base of the caudal fin (tail). Size: To 10 inches although most caught from piers are 6-8 inches. Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California, to Salt Point, Sonoma County. Considered uncommon north of Santa Cruz. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-shore areas, and near kelp beds; usually found in small to dense schools. Senorita are carnivores that feed on small animals and the animals can be located on plants, other animals, in the water or on the bottom. They will pick parasites from other fish and are apparently sought out by a diverse group that includes bat rays, giant (black) sea bass, kelp bass garibaldi, halfmoon, opaleye and mola. It’s reported many fish will maintain awkward positions while being “cleaned” and that garibaldi actually hold their gill slits open for removal of parasites in the gill chamber. Considering that the “ectoparasites” removed includes bacteria, copepods, and isopods, it’s easy to see why the larger fish would be willing to maintain a weird position or two. Piers: I have only seen these caught on a few piers but where present they are the proverbial “bait stealers” for the most part. However, they can be caught at almost any southern California pier located near rocks, reefs or kelp beds. Best bets: Oceanside Harbor Pier, Green Pleasure Pier at Avalon (where they are far too common), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, Gaviota Pier in the fall, and Monterey Wharf No. 2 (where they also are sometimes far too common). Bait and Tackle: Winner of the MNBS Award: Most Notorious Bait Stealer Award. Señorita will try to grab (steal) almost any bait that is in their immediate vicinity. If you want to catch them use a small hook, size 6 or 8, and a small piece of mussel, shrimp or worm. Drop your bait to the bottom and then move it up in short increments until you find the school, or perhaps more accurately, until they find your bait—and they will. Food Value: Really too small to eat since a 9-inch señorita only weighs about three ounces. Nevertheless, some people claim to find their “different” flavor delicious and they eat them, others say they have a slight iodine taste. One angler who likes to catch and eat señorita reported that the meat was soft and flakey and tasted a lot like sheephead. Comments: As discussed in Fishes, An Introduction to Ichthyology, by Peter Moyle and Joseph Cech, señorita apparently are sometimes involved, in a complex manner, in helping to restore kelp beds: “Occasionally a severe storm will destroy a kelp forest, and regeneration may be prevented by the grazing of fishes or sea urchins on new kelp plants. Regeneration can occur, however, if rapidly growing green algae colonize the area first, providing the new kelp plants with shelter from grazing fishes (Harris et al. 1984). One of these grazers is the señorita, which is actually after a small bryozoan that encrusts the blades of plants. In order to eat the bryozoans, the señorita has to take bites from the blades; this can seriously weaken the plant if it is small, but has little effect when the plant is large. There is, however, another invertebrate, a herbivorous isopod, than can become so abundant it can destroy mature kelp plants. The señorita is the main predator on this isopod and keeps its populations small, maintaining the kelp beds in the process (Bernstein and Jung 1979).“Señorita are attractive little fish that seem best suited for saltwater aquariums, or simply to be left alone since they seem to do quite a bit of good. Problem is they won’t leave bait alone. It is reported that they bury themselves at night in the sand with just their heads sticking out. Since they’re typically found in fairly large congregations, their nesting area must look a little strange. Perhaps like some sort of a weird colored, underwater asparagus patch. 

Giant Kelpfish (brown phase)

Species: Heterostichus rostratus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words heter  (different) and ost (extra bone), and the Latin word rostratus  (beaked or hooked). Alternate Names: Kelpfish, eel, iodine fish, butterfish, and kelp blenny. Called sargacero gigante in Mexico. Identification: The body is long and compressed. The dorsal fin is very long and continuous with many more spines than soft rays. The caudal fin is deeply forked (rounded in spotted kelpfish and striped kelpfish). Their coloring varies from light brown to green to purple depending on the habitat; typically those in kelp are usually kelp-colored, those in eelgrass bright green with brilliant silvery stripes.  Apparently these fish can change colors rapidly, at least juvenile fish, with browns and greens seeming to be the preferred colors. Adult females also have the ability to change from red to brown to green, however, it takes them a little longer than the kids. Alas, the adult males seem to have forgotten how to perform this party-pleasing trick. Size: To 24 inches long; most caught off piers are 10 to 14 inches. Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California to British Columbia.

Giant Kelpfish (yellow phase)

Habitat: Shallow-water areas near rocks or kelp. Piers: Found at piers that have a heavy growth of kelp or seaweed. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Cabrillo Pier, Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, and Gaviota Pier. Bait and Tackle: Light to medium tackle and small, size 8 to 6 hooks. The best bet is to tie the hooks directly onto the line. Preferred baits appear to be small crabs, pieces of shrimp, live bloodworms or pile worms, and fresh mussels (although I have caught some on small pieces of abalone). Food Value:  Reported to be fair eating although with an unusual flavor. I’ve never tried them myself but would expect them to be good fried. The flesh assumes the external color of the fish. 

Comments: Although generally considered uncommon north of Point Conception, I have caught a number of these pretty fish while fishing inshore at the Berkeley Pier. The fish were caught right in among the shoreline rocks and the usual bait was small pieces of pile worm. Two related species, striped kelpfish and crevice kelpfish are also common at Bay Area piers; both though have rounded tails and their coloring is different from giant kelpfish.

 Striped Kelpfish

 Species: Gibbonsai metzi (Hubbs, 1927); from Gibbonsai (William P. Gibbons, an early naturalist from Alameda), and metzi (Charles W. Metz, a student of ichthyology once interested in kelpfish). Alternate Names: Striped kelp-fish, seaweed kelpfish, weed klipfish. Called sargacero or sargacero rayado in Mexico. Identification: Reddish to light brown, usually with darker stripes or darker mottling on sides (color often matches nearby seaweed). Tail rounded (distinguishes them from a giant kelpfish); pectoral fin is short, not reaching the front of the anal fin.Size: To 9 1/2 inches long; most caught off piers are 5-8 inches. Range: Punta Rompiente, central Baja California to Maquinna Point, Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Habitat: Shallow-water areas near rocks or kelp. Piers: Found at piers that have a heavy growth of kelp or seaweed. Best bets: I’ve taken them at the Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), the Paradise Cove Pier (Malibu), Coast Guard Pier (Monterey) and the Princeton Harbor Pier. I’ve also taken them at several Bay Area piers including Agua Vista (in San Francisco), Berkeley Pier (East Bay), and Elephant Rock (North Bay). At the first two they were inshore by the rocks, at the latter the pier sits on a rock. Bait and Tackle: Light to medium tackle and small, size 8 to 6 hooks. Preferred baits appear to be pieces of worm, blood or pile, while small pieces of shrimp and mussels will also entice them. Food Value: Too small, let ‘em go.  Comments: A pretty little fish that likes to hang by the rocks, dart out to grab the bait, and then head back to the rocks.

Spotted Kelpfish

 Species:Gibbonsia elegans (Cooper, 1864);from Gibbonsai (William P. Gibbons, an early naturalist from Alameda), and the Latin word elegans (elegant or handsome).  Alternate Names: Called Sargacero or Sargacero manchado in Mexico.            Identification: Typical kelpfish shape—pointed snout, tiny mouth, rounded caudal fin, and long dorsal fin. Color varies widely; green to brown or tan or reddish—often blotched or streaked. 1-3 (often 2) ocelli on back. Soft rays more widely spaced toward rear of dorsal fin. Scales that extend well onto the caudal fin distinguish it from other kelpfish. Size: To 6.2-inches long; most caught from piers are around 4-5 inches. Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California, including Isla Guadalupe, to Piedras Blancas Point, central California. Habitat: Shallow-water areas near rocks or kelp. Typically feeds on benthic crustaceans, small mollusks and worms, but also eats fair quantities of algae. Found from subtidal rocky areas to 56 m depth, usually in seaweed. Female lays white eggs in seaweed; male guards egg mass. Piers: Embarcadero Marina Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, Cabrillo Mole in Catalina, Redondo Spotfishing Pier, Malibu Pier, and Monterey Coast Guard Pier. Bait and Tackle: Light tackle and small hooks. Preferred baits appear to be sea worms—pile worms and bloodworms, pieces of shrimp, and fresh mussels. Food Value: Too small to be used for food. Comments: A small fish that is rarely caught due to their small mouth. However, they are sometimes an incidental catch by perch anglers using small hooks.


Species:  Girella nigricans (Ayres, 1860); from the French word girelle (a derivative of julis, an old word used to denote a number of small wrasse in Europe), the Latin word nigr  (dark) and the Greek word ikanos  (becoming, in reference to its pleasing appearance). Alternate Names: Blue-eye perch, green perch, opaleye perch, bluefish, blue bass, greenfish, Jack Benny, Catalina perch, button-back, button-eye, and button bass. Called chopa verde in Mexico. Identification: Opaleye are perch-shaped but heavier bodied. Their coloring is usually dark olive green, usually with two light spots at the base of the dorsal fin; occasionally pale green while some almost all white fish have been observed. Eyes are distinctive: large and an opalescent, blue-green color. Size: To 25.4 inches and 13 1/2 pounds (a 10-11 year old fish speared off south Laguna); most caught from piers are less than 14 inches. The California record fish weighed 6 lb 4 oz and was taken near Los Flores Creek in 1956.  Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California and the Gulf of California to Otter Rock, Oregon. Uncommon north of Point Conception. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky areas and kelp beds. Piers: Can be caught from almost any pier in southern or central California located near rocks, reefs, or kelp, but they’re uncommon north of Cayucos and rare north of Monterey. Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier (inshore), Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Cabrillo Pier (jetty side), the Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Sportfishing Pier, and the Paradise Cove Pier. Most of the fish caught at most of these piers are fairly small opaleye. The exceptions are the two piers in Avalon that almost always have good-sized fish available for opaleye-seekers.

KJ and an opaleye from the Cabrillo Mole

Bait and Tackle: Some anglers specialize in opaleye, and many of them swear that moss or frozen peas are the best bait. I’ve caught them on both, but I’ve actually caught more on ghost shrimp, fresh mussels, pile worms, bloodworm, and small rock crabs. I also managed to hook a few opaleye using garden snails during an experiment testing different baits at Catalina in 2005. Food Value:  A good eating fish that is generally fried. Comments: Primarily herbivores (vegetarians), opaleye eat a variety of plants including feather boa kelp, giant kelp, sea lettuce and coralline algae. Evidently they also grab organisms attached to seaweed as they’re making their rounds, tasty little items like tube worms and red crabs. Opaleye are a favorite of many anglers; they’re hard to hook but once hooked put up a very good fight for their size. The crystal-clear waters at Avalon present quite a challenge for the sagacious, line-shy opaleye. Big schools of 2-4 pound fish hang around the Green Pleasure Pier and the Cabrillo Mole but can be very hard to catch. Use 2-4 pound fluorocarbon line and you might get them! Of course the 1,794 ropes, tangled lines, pilings and yellow submarines that surround and hang under the GPP might also get your line. At the Mole it’s the long fronds and blades of the giant kelp that sway (tidally) in or out near the railing. If the opaleye are allowed to encircle the kelp it’s pretty much over. As soon as they are hooked apply pressure and try to keep them coming toward you while having a person ready with a net. You need to use light line but can also pay the consequences if you’re unwilling to apply enough pressure.


 Species: Medialuna californiensis (Steindachner, 1876); from the Spanish word medialuna (halfmoon, referring to the shape of the tail) and californiensis  (California, where first found). Alternate Names: Catalina blue perch, island mackerel, blooper, blue wizard, blue perch or blue bass. In early days sometimes called medialuna. In Mexico called chopa medialuna. Identification: Halfmoon are perch-shaped but heavier bodied; they’re similar in many ways to opaleye. Their coloring is normally bluish-black above, bluish-gray on sides, and light blue below. Their tail is shaped like a half-moon. Size: A 19-inch fish weighed 4 pounds 12.5 ounces. Range: Gulf of California to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Habitat: Halfmoon are found in shallow-water, rocky areas and kelp beds. They’re often in small loose schools in the mid-water area and, at times, mixed in with schools with pileperch. Piers: Common at southern and central California piers that are located near rocks, reefs or kelp. They’re common as far north as Cayucos but occasionally taken as far north as Santa Cruz. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, the Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Hermosa Beach Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Gaviota Pier, and the Paradise Cove Pier. Bait and Tackle: Halfmoon will take almost any bait but they prefer fresh mussels, shrimp, or small crabs. When schools are present, a small strip of squid will often work, and you will lose far less bait. Halfmoon caught from boats seem to be less picky and will often hit pieces of anchovy, sardine, or sqiuid.  Food Value:  A good eating, mild-flavored fish. Comments:  Halfmoons are good fighters, very similar to opaleye and the larger perch. They will eat almost anything in their environment including red, green, and brown algae, sponges, bits of seaweed, green moss, shrimp, mussels, squid, and fish. Apparently they have a hard time deciding whether to be vegans or meat-eaters and that may explain their scrappy and perhaps irritable nature.

Black Perch

Species: Embiotoca jacksoni (Agassiz, 1853); from the Greek word embiotoca (bringing forth living young), and jacksoni  (in honor of A. C. Jackson of San Francisco, who first noted that these perch give birth to living young and brought it to the attention of Alexander Agassiz who described the species). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae. Alternate Names: Buttermouth perch, black surfperch, black seaperch or bay perch. Often called pogie by anglers in the Bay Area. In Mexico called mojarra negra or perca negra. Identification: Typical perch shape. Although variable, their coloring is usually black or brown to reddish, and yellowish on the belly; scales often have blue flecking. Lips are orange or yellow and they have a “mustache” on the upper lip. Typically they have dark vertical bars on the side; a bluish-white line is often seen at the base of the anal fin. Easily identified by a large patch of enlarged scales between the pectoral and pelvic fins. Size: To 15.4 inches; most caught off piers are under a foot.The California record fish weighed 1 lb 11 oz and was taken from San Carlos Beach in 2006. Range: Punta Abreojos, central Baja California, and offshore Isla Gudalupe to Fort Bragg, Mendocino County. Habitat: Most common in eelgrass beds of bays and rocky-shore areas; both in bays and along the coast. Piers: Common at most piers north to Bodega Bay. Generally caught at bay piers or inshore piling areas of oceanfront piers. Best bets: Imperial Beach Pier, Shelter Island Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Long Beach Finger Piers, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Venice Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Cabrillo Pier (jetty side), Malibu Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier, Morro Bay T-Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Capitola Wharf, Fort Point Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Candlestick Pier, Berkeley Pier, Ferry Point Pier, Paradise Beach Pier, Elephant Rock Pier, Angel Island Pier, and Fort Baker Pier. Bait and Tackle: Prefers fresh mussels, bloodworms, pile worms, small pieces of shrimp or small rock crabs. Size 8 or 6 hooks fished on the bottom with a high/low leader seem to work best. Food Value: In the past this was considered a fairly good, mild-flavored fish. Today, because of our polluted waters, they are considered unfit to eat in some locales. Comments: Once a favorite spring fish for Bay Area pier fishermen; today there’s a perch closure during the spawning months.

Pile PerchRobert Gardner and a Pile Perch from the Cabrillo Mole

Species: Damalichthys vacca (Girard, 1855); from the Greek root words racos (ragged) and cheilos (lips) and the Latin word vacca  (like a cow). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae. Alternate Names: Splittail perch, forktail perch, dusky perch, white perch, silver perch, piler perch, and porgy. In Mexico called mojarra muellera or perca, Identification: Pile perch are distinguished by the black spot on the cheek, the very deeply forked tail, and the very tall, first soft rays on the dorsal fin that are about twice the height of the last spines. Color is dark brassy-brown, fading to silver on sides and belly; often has yellow pelvic fins. Pile perch have one dusky, vertical bar across the side at about the high point of the soft dorsal. The posterior position of the bar and the deeply forked caudal fin (tail) distinguish it from sargo. Size: To 17 1/4 inches; most caught from piers are 10-14 inches. The California record fish weighed 1 lb 15 oz and was taken at Long Beach in 2007. Range: Isla Guadalupe (and possibly Bahia Playa Maria), central Baja California to southern British Columbia. Unverified report to Port Wrangell, Alaska.Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-areas, and around piers and docks, both oceanfront and in bays. Typically they are a bottom dwelling species, called “benthic grazing carnivores” by some. Others classify them as “commuter” fish that move between different habitats in search of prey. All agree they are primarily day feeders seeking out large, hard-shelled invertebrates that they are able to crush with their well developed, fused pharyngeal tooth plates. Since other perch do not share this ability, some scientists feel pile perch should be placed in a separate genus —Danalichthys. Foods include crabs, brittle stars, sand dollars, barnacles, bean clams, (whole) mussels, limpets, dove shells, California cones, Norris top shells, and chitons. Piers: Pile perch are taken at virtually every pier in California but the largest numbers are taken at Bay Area piers. Best bets: Santa Monica Pier, Stearns Wharf, Goleta Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier, Point Pinole Pier and McNear Beach Pier. Bait and Tackle: Pile perch can be exasperatingly difficult to catch. The large perch will often be seen placidly swimming in clear view around the mussel-covered pilings while refusing to partake of the offerings of the gods up above—anglers whose mojo is evidently on empty. Damalichthys vacca do seem a little easier to catch when in their dense schools are a’spawning. Perhaps their pea-sized brains are distracted and normal caution takes a back seat to other thoughts? The most common setup is to use a high/low leader with number 6 or 4 hooks, light line, and a light sinker. Best bait in southern California seems to be fresh mussels, rock crabs or bloodworms. In the Bay Area, grass shrimp, rock crabs, pile worms or fresh mussels are best. In Humboldt Bay, frozen tube worms or crab backs are most commonly used. Usually pile perch are nestled up next to the pilings; fish accordingly. Check out the shoreline by the pier at low tide and grab some local live bait—small crabs, mussels, worms, snails or clams; these will usually make the best bait. Food Value: Although large sized and yielding some usable meat, the flesh is only fair in taste. Comments: Many years ago, at Newport Pier, I watched an old-timer show one way to catch the perch. Pile perch were doing their typical trick d’tease: big fish showing a leg but refusing to bite. The old-timer tried out a trick of his own. He took out a mass of recently pried loose mussels, at least a dozen in the clump, and in and around this mussel-mass he wound a leader that had several number 8 hooks attached. Then he attached the leader to a handline and carefully dropped it down next to the pilings. This new mini-piling soon attracted the fish and he was able to catch several of the large pile perch. Sporting? I’m not sure, but it sure was effective. Since then, I’ve seen variations of this technique at both the Santa Monica Pier and at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara and heard stories of its use at the Goleta Pier.  

Kelp Perch

 Species: Brachyistius frenatus (Gill, 1862); from the Greek words brachys (short) and istion (sail), and the Latin word frenatus  (bridled). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae. Alternate Names: Brown seaperch, brown perch and kelp seaperch. In Mexico called mojarra sargacera or perca. Identification: Typical perch shape. Kelp perch have a compressed body, long pointed snout, long dorsal fin spines and coloring that is generally golden-brown to reddish above and tan below. There is usually a pale stripe on the upper side and sometimes blue spotting. Size: To 8 1/2 inches (.3 pounds) but most caught from piers are around 6 inches in length. Range:  Bahia Tortugas, central Baja California to near Sitka, southeastern Alaska. Habitat: Typically seen around offshore kelp beds but will move in around piers which have a heavy growth of kelp. Usually a kelp-canopy, dwelling species that likes to pick small invertebrates off of plants. Piers: Seen in late summer at piers with heavy kelp. Best bets: Cabrillo Mole in Avalon, Paradise Cove Pier, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier and the Spud Point Marina Pier (Bodega Bay). Bait and Tackle: Use light tackle with small number 8 or 6 hooks and a small piece of bloodworm, shrimp or mussel. Food Value:  Too small so throw ‘em back. Comments: A “cleaner fish” that often picks ectoparasites off the bodies of larger fish.

California Barracuda — SteveO and a barracuda from the Cabrillo Mole

 Species: Sphyraena argentea (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word sphyraena (an ancient name meaning hammer fish) and the Latin word argenteum  (silvery). Alternate Names: Pacific barracuda, barry, gar, fire hose, stove pipe, skinny, scooter, scoot, snake, slime, slimestick, pencil (small fish), barelycuda (small or short fish), or log (big fish). In Mexico called barracuda plateada. Identification: Barracudas are long and slender with a sharp-pointed head and a mouth full of very sharp fang-like teeth. They have two widely separated dorsal fins. They have a distinct look from most other fish, although the young look a little like lizardfish. Size: Reported to 5 feet but recorded to 4 feet and 18 pounds; most caught from piers are under 30 inches.  Almost all large barracuda are females. The California record fish weighed 15 lb 15 oz and was caught near San Onofre in 1957. Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of California to Kodiak Island, Gulf of Alaska. Uncommon north of Morro Bay. Habitat: Pelagic, but young are often found inshore and in bays. Piers: Only common at piers north to Point Conception although fish will sometimes be caught as far north as Pismo Beach and Avila in the late summer and fall months. Best Bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Cabrillo Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Venice Pier and Burton Chace Park Dock. Bait and Tackle: Live anchovies, when available, are by far the best bait. If using live anchovies, try a size 4 hook and a sliding leader or use a float/bobber to keep the leader at mid-depth. Small smelt can also be used for live bait although they are not as good as anchovies. Gold spoons—Krocodiles and Kastmasters—as well as Rebel Fast Tracks, have proven to be reliable artificial lures for the scooters.

Robert Gardner and a barracuda from the Cabrillo Mole 

Food Value: Keeper size fish are good to excellent eating. Barracuda will tend to soften quickly if left in the hot sun so clean soon after capture and then keep the fillets in a cooler. Comments: Although barracuda today are considered somewhat of a bonus fish by most pier fisherman, there was a time, in the not too distant past, when they were common to piers; however, the numbers that frequent piers seem to decrease each year. When I first moved from Newport Beach to San Diego, I was surprised at the number of barracuda caught from piers inside San Diego Bay and Mission Bay. Since then I have come to learn that bays are often the best areas for the young barracuda—small fish up to around two feet in length. In those days it was sometimes common to catch a fish on nearly every cast using a live anchovy or a small lure, especially gold or silver spoons. Today these small fish are illegal and it is best to simply not fish for them; hooks, in particular the treble hooks common to spoons, will tear up the mouths of the under-sized fish. Strange but true, the only time I ever caught a fish with my line OUT of the water was when I was fishing for barracuda one day near the Dana Marina in Mission Bay. A friend and I had rented a rowboat early one morning, and then proceeded to tie gold spoons onto our lines before heading out to the small bait barge in the cove. I left my pole at the back of the boat with the spoon dangling at least 8-10 inches away from the water. Imagine my surprise when a small barracuda jumped out of the water and grabbed the lure as we were rowing out to our spot. And yes, I did land the fish. It happened in August of 1964 on a trip where I caught 21 barracuda among others. The “out of water” fish was the highlight.

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. 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. Range: Gulf of California (some sources say Bahia Banderas) to southeastern Kamchatka, western Gulf of Alaska. Also Panama to Chile and Islas Galápagos. Habitat: Pelagic, feeding mainly on euphausids (small, shrimp-like crustaceans, i.e., krill, usually 1/8 onch to less than an inch), squid, and young fish. Found from the surface down to about 100 feet.

Robert Gardner and a Pacific mackerel from the Cabrillo Mole

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. 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. 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 deteroriate 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 bar-b-que being 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.). 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 hope 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 Bonito

 Species: Sarda chiliensis (Cuvier, 1832); from the Greek word sarda  (an ancient name for a European species of bonito) and chiliensis (in reference to Chile, South America, where the species was first recognized). Alternate Names: Most commonly called bonehead but also given the names bone, boner, bonefish, flasher, Laguna tuna, magneto, bongo, striped tuna and little tuna. One of my favorites —from the PFIC Message Board—Mr. Bojangles. Called bonito del Pacífico oriental in Mexico. Identification: Tuna-shaped, elongated and pointed at both ends; a series of 6 to 8 finlets that follow the second dorsal fin and anal fin. Coloring dark blue above with greenish reflections and a metallic luster shading into silver below; several dark oblique lines on the back. Size: To 40 inches; most caught from piers are less than 24 inches. The California record fish weighed 22 lb 3 oz and was caught in Malibu Cove in 1978. 

James Liu and a bonito from the Cabrillo Mole

Range: Southern Baja Californa and Gulf of California to Copper River in Alaska. Also found in subtropical eastern Pacific, Peru to Chile, and off Japan. Primarily feeds on fish, occasionally on squid. As a general rule they’re only found north during El Nino, warm water conditions (and I witnessed several large bonito, all over ten pounds, being caught off of Elk in Mendocino County during the El Nino year of 1983). Habitat: Pelagic, although enters bays, especially those with warm water outlets. Piers: Common at most southland piers, both those in bays and those at oceanfront spots. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Stearns Wharf and Goleta Pier. Rarely seen at piers north of Point Conception excepting during warm-water years. Bait and Tackle: Taken on a variety of baits and lures. The best bait is live anchovies fished on a sliding leader or with a cast-a-bubble. The best lure is a bonito feather affixed to either a cast-a-bubble, a Styrofoam float or a golf ball—the bubble/float/golf ball causes commotion on the surface which attracts the bonito and keeps the lure near the top. Food Value:  Bonito are good flavored but require cleaning soon after capture. If bleed quickly, or even better if filleted and then put on ice, the flesh can be quite tasty. If allowed to warm up in a gunnysack on the nice hot surface of a pier the flesh can be almost inedible (which is true with many fish). However, parts of the flesh are dark colored—bloody—and strong flavored. Cut out those parts of the flesh unless you desire them for smoking. Typically the best cooking methods are broiling or bar-b-cuing the meat, although smoked bonito and pickled bonito are also good. When I was young and lived in San Diego, I would often go out on the half-day boats to catch some bonito. A couple of the cooks on the boats would cook up some of the fresh-caught fish. A favorite method was to cut thin slices of meat from the head of the bonito (up behind the eyes) and then lightly cook the slices on a grill using just a little butter. Flavored with soy sauce, it was delicious.

Rita and a bonito from the Cabrillo Mole

Comments: Many people feel that bonito are among the strongest fighting fish, pound for pound, in the sea. Sometimes during the cold-water, winter months, the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in King Harbor is the best place in the state to catch bonito. Sometimes? The nearby power plant used to allow its hot water to flow into the harbor every winter, an event that usually would attract bonito and anglers. Today it’s a sometimes thing. When on, the warm water is discharged via the famous “bubble” that sits a short distance out from the pier.

Jack Mackerel

Species: Trachurus symmetricus (Ayres, 1855); from the Greek words trachus (rough) and oura (tail), and the Latin word symmetria (symmetrical or regularly shaped). A member of the jack family Carangidae. Alternate Names: Spanish mackerel, Spaniard, horse mackerel, mackerel jack, saurel, agii and jackfish. Called horse mackerel and scad by 19th century fishermen. In Mexico called charrito or charitto chicharo. Identification: Typical jack shape although slim. The second dorsal fin and the anal fin extend almost to the caudal fin. On the side, along the lateral line, there is a ridge extending almost the entire length of the fish. Their coloring is iridescent green above, sometimes with a bluish luster, often mottled with lighter and darker shades; silvery on the belly. Size: To 32 inches; most caught off piers are less than 14 inches. The California record fish weighed 5 lb 8 oz and was taken at Huntington Beach in 1988. Range: Gulf of California to the Pacific Ocean south of the Aleutian Islands and in the Gulf of Alaska. Habitat: Pelagic in nature, preferring moderately deep water although ranges from the surface down to 150 feet. Often found in schools with Pacific mackerel and sardines. Primarily feeds on large copepods, euphausids, pteropods, squid and small fish. Piers: Most common to southern California and the central coast. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier and Hermosa Beach Pier. Some years will see large schools of these fish at the Central Coast piers—Avila, Port San Luis, Monterey Wharf #2, Seacliff State Beach Pier and the Santa Cruz Wharf. I have also had reports of good catches of jack mackerel at the “B” Street Pier in Crescent City, which is just a short distance south of the Oregon border. The fish in Crescent City seem to show up from late August to September and typically are good-sized fish, 22-28 inches long, the kind that are more commonly taken out in deep water by anglers trolling for salmon. Bait and Tackle: Usually caught near the top of the water; often found in mixed schools with Pacific mackerel (and sometimes Pacific sardines). When present, jack mackerel can be caught on a variety of tackle and baits. Light to medium tackle, a size 6 or 4 hook, and a live anchovy (especially small pinhead anchovies), can be deadly. Many are also caught on small lures, every thing from small bonito jigs, to Scampis, to small feathers. Often times bait rigs can also produce a lot of fish: simply tie several shiny size 8 hooks to your line. In central California, Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait leaders are the most common rigging. Many times a cast, followed by a slow retrieve, will see the jack mackerel follow the bait nearly to the surface and then strike just before the line leaves the water. Best months are usually July through September. Food Value:  Fair food value, somewhat oily. The common name was changed from horse mackerel to jack mackerel by the DF&G in 1947 in order to increase the consumer appeal of the fish. In other words, it was done to (hopefully) help the fish canning companies make a little more money. Companies that had seen the sardines disappear along with cans of sardines and profits! Comments: Small jack mackerel are favorite baits for white seabass and yellowtail. A close relative and very similar looking fish, the Mexican scad, is occasionally seen in California; the scad have an orange or reddish stripe on the side. The one and only one I have caught was at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon.


 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, Manhattan Beach Pier, and the Henry Chace Park 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. 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 effected 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.

Kelp Rockfish

Species: Sebastes atrovirens (Jordan & Gilbert, 1880); from the Greek word sebastes (magnificent), and the Latin word atrovirens  (black and green). Alternate Names: Confused with gopher rockfish, grass rockfish, and brown rockfish. Commonly called sugar bass, sometimes called dumb bass or grass bass. Called garupa or green rockfish in the Monterey Bay fishery of the 1880s. A favorite but still slightly weird name, one probably invented by some Internet addicted angler, is oogly googly. Called rocote de sargaso or rocote sargacero in Mexico. Identification: Typical bass-like shape. Their coloring is olive-brown to gray-brown with brown mottling; whitish or pinkish white below. Just to confuse anglers, a few kelpies also show up with reddish coloring (don’t know why). Although often mistaken for grass rockfish, they are easily differentiated during cleaning—the kelp rockfish has long and slender gill rakers on its first gill arch while the grass rockfish has very short and blunt gill rakers. Although not really a stuck up fish, they do have a definitive up-turned profile. Size: To 16 3/4 inches; most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. Range: From Bahia San Carlos and San Benito Island, central Baja Californa (some sources say Punta San Pablo), to Albion, Mendocino County. Most commonly found from central California south. Habitat: Commonly found in kelp forests, ranging from the canopy down to the bottom where they feed on a variety of prey including small fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. During the day they will often rest in the kelp, drifting motionless within the blades of kelp (including hanging upside down). At night they come to life seeking out whatever food is near their home. Younger fish are often in intertidal areas although adults can range down to a 190-foot depth (but most common from 20-80). Kelpies are one of the most common rockfish in shallow-water rocky areas. They are also one more resident species that rarely moves more than ten feet away fom its home in an entire year. Although sharing territory with other shallow-water rockfish sich as blue, gopher, black-and-yellow, and olive rockfishes, they are apparently kept out of the bottom areas by the more aggressive (and territorial) gopher and black-and-yellow rockfishes. Piers: Kelp rockfish are primarily found at piers that have a good summertime growth of kelp around the pier. Best bets: Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Paradise Cove Pier, Stearns Wharf, Goleta Pier (along the pipe-reef), Gaviota Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Cayucos Pier, San Simeon Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Monterey Wharf No. 2, and Santa Cruz Wharf. Juvenile fish are common at the Morro Bay T-Piers, Pillar Point Harbor Pier and the San Francisco Muni Pier. Bait and Tackle: Use a high/low leader, number 6 or 4 hooks, and pile worms, small pieces of shrimp, or small strips of squid. Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Italian fishermen of the 19th century considered this to be one of the best tasting of all the rockfish. Comments: Kelp rockfish are reported to live 25 years of age although few are older than 20. Most females are first mature (and reproductive) at about 6 inches and 3 years of age, most are mature by 7 inches and 3.5 years, all are mature by 9 inches and 6 years of age (although one study found initial maturity and reproduction not starting until 8.7 inches and 5 years of age).

Brown Rockfish

 Species: Sebastes auriculatus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word sebastes (magnificent) and the Latin word auriculatus  (eared, referring to the large spot on the gill cover). Alternate Names:  Chocolate bass is a common name as is bolina (from Bolinas Bay where they were first caught in large numbers). Sand bass, sugar bass, brown bass, cinnamon bass, brown bomber, brown rock cod, ground owl, and garrupa (grouper) are other colloquial names. Called cha menuke and chairo menuke by the Japanese; rocote moreno in Mexico. On PFIC these fish are simply designated SBRF or sbrf in deference to the appellation first applied by “pierhead” (actual name Boyd Grant, the Yoda-like Pier Master and patient teacher of youthful, local padawans on the path to “Pier Rat” enlightenment).  He recorded the daily catch at Goleta Pier from 2002-2003 and found that nearly 30% of the fish caught from the pier’s pipe-reef were small brown rockfish. If it was a “larger” small brown rockfish it became SBRF, if it was a “smaller” small brown rockfish it became sbrf. To this day most regulars on the site know what the acronyms mean and use them in their reports. Identification: Typical rockfish shape. Their coloring is light brown with darker brown mottling. A very prominent dark brown spot on the opercle (gill cover) most easily identifies brown rockfish. Sometimes confused with copper rockfish but the coppers do not have the dark spot on the opercle and are lighter colored. Up in the northern waters of Puget Sound hybridization between brownies, quillbacks and coppers can really confuse identification.Size: To 22.4 inches; most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. The California record fish weighed 6 lb 15 oz and was caught at the Colorado Reef, north of Princeton Harbor, San Mateo Co. in 2008. Range: Bahia San Hipolito, central Baja California, to Prince William Sound, northern Gulf of Alaska. A wide-ranging rockfish that I have caught as far south as the Cabrillo Mole at Avalon and as far north as Pier 57 on the Seattle waterfront. Habitat:  Shallow subtidal areas and in bays. In shallow waters they prefer rocky areas and kelp beds; in bays they are often found around structure (especially the younger fish) although some are also found in beds of eelgrass. Adults in deeper waters tend to hang down near the rocky bottoms. San Francisco Bay is considered an important habitat for juvenile brown rockfish. Apparently all of the brownies in S.F. Bay are five years of age or younger, after that age they move offshore into deeper waters. Adults can range down to 444 feet but are only common to about 400 feet. Most are caught in waters shallower than 175 feet. Apparently they are residential, rarely moving more than a couple of miles from home (although sometimes into deeper water during the winter). Their diet includes a variety of invertebrates, especially crabs and shrimp, and they will rarely pass up the opportunity to gulp down an available, smaller fish. Piers: Most commonly caught from piers north of Monterey Bay although the pipe-reef at the Goleta Pier yields a steady number of fish throughout the year. Small brown rockfish are one of the most common fish caught at Bay Area piers. Best bets: Cabrillo Mole (Avalon) Goleta Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Morro Bay T-Piers, Piller Point Harbor Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Port View Park Pier, Berkeley Pier, Paradise Beach Pier, Angel Island Pier, Elephant Rock Pier and the Fort Baker Pier. Many brownies are also caught from the piers and docks that line the Eureka waterfront, especially the Commercial Street Dock. Bait and Tackle: Small brown rockfish are commonly caught under and around the pilings of Bay Area Piers. Small hooks, size 6 or 8, baited with a small piece of pile worm is by far the best bait although strips of squid and even cut bait will take some fish. Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Comments: Brownies can live to 34 years in age although few reach 25 years, a relatively short life for members of the rockfish family. A few fish mature and reproduce at 7.4 inches and 3 years of age, most mature between 9.4-12.1 inches and 4-5 years, all are mature by 14.8 inches and 10 years of age. These fish can be a lot of fun for youngsters to catch but most caught from piers are really too small to keep. According to the California Fish and Game “the brown rockfish has been identified as a species vulnerable to severe localized depletions in other areas; in Washington state, the Puget Sound stock of brown rockfish was recommended for listing as a threatened species in 1999.”

Grass Rockfish 

Species:  Sebastes rastrelliger (Jordan & Gilbert, 1880); from the Greek words sebastes (magnificent) and rastrelliger  (a rake, in reference to the stubby gill rakers). Alternate Names: Often called a variation of bass—grass bass, rock bass, pepper bass, sugar bass, and in the north, kelp bass. Also called rock cod, green garrupa, green rockfish, kelp rockfish, schmo, and green bomber. Called garrupa (grouper) by early day Portugese fishermen; scomoda (Italian for inconvenient or hard to catch) and gopher by Monterey fishermen; grass rockfish by San Francisco fishermen. Called rocote de olivo in Mexico. Identification: Typical bass-like shape although they have the chunkiest body shape of the shallow-water rockfish. They are a dark colored fish—dark green or olive above; mottled green, black or gray on side; whitish below; fins dark. There is also a rare light-colored variation in pigmentation that is yellowish-orange. Although often mistaken for kelp rockfish, these “husky boys” are easily differentiated during cleaning—the grass rockfish has very short and blunt gill rakers on its first gill arch. The gill rakers are nearly as wide as they are long. Size: Length to 22 inches; generally between 8 and 16 inches for those caught from piers. The California record fish weighed 5 lb 6 oz; it was caught at Trinidad in 2006.Range: Bahia Playa Maria, central Baja California, to Westport, Washington. Habitat: A shallow water rockfish, found from intertidal depths to about 150 feet. Most are found in shallow-water rocky areas, especially where there is vegetation. Grassies are common to kelp beds and reefs where they often hide in the crevices. In comparison to other rockfish, their shallow water habitat most closely mimics that of the black-and-yellow rockfish. While juvenile grassies are diurnal (daytime) feeders, adult fish are nocturnal (nighttime) feeders that primarily feed near the bottom. Key prey includes crabs, shrimp, snails, isopods and small fish including perch.  Piers: Although one of the most common shallow-water rockfish in California, relatively few are taken from piers south of Point Conception (although I have taken several from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon). Needed ingredients are a rocky bottom or substantial kelp near the pier. However, juveniles are often taken from piers located in bays during the summer months. Best bets for juvenile fish include the Morro Bay T-Piers, Pillar Point Harbor Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier and Citizen’s Dock (Crescent City). Most years see a few adult fish taken from the Goleta Pier (near the the pipe-reef) and Gaviota Pier. Higher numbers of adults are taken from the Port San Luis Pier, Morro Bay South T-Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Capitola Wharf, Santa Cruz Wharf (in the wells at the end), Point Arena Pier (perhaps the best), Trinidad Pier and Citizen’s Dock (Crescent City). Grass rockfish are fairly common around the Point Arena Pier from June until October; fish inshore or cast straight out on the left side of the pier to the nearby reefs. Generally considered the most important rockfish for rock and jetty fishermen. Bait and Tackle: Medium to light gear is sufficient for these fish. A high/low leader equipped with size 4 or 2 hooks is common tackle. Fish on or near the bottom and be prepared for a strike at any time. Best baits appear to be shrimp, mussel, pile worms or tube worms. Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Italian fishermen of the 19th century considered this to be the best tasting of all the rockfish and apparently that opinion is still held by many. At $4.85 per pound, grass rockfish received the highest prices paid to California commercial fishermen for rockfish in 1998. There was a distinct difference in price between the shallow water rockfish kept and sold as live fish versus the deepwater species but that doesn’t detract from the grass rockfish ranking of #1. Treefish were #2 at $4.66 per pound, olive rockfish and bronzebacked rockfish tied for #3 at $3.74, gopher rockfish were #5 at $2.78, China rockfish #6 at $2.72, black-and-yellow #7 at $2.41, quillback rockfish #8 at $1.79, brown rockfish #9 at $1.61, and kelp rockfish #10 at 1.57.  Rosethorn rockfish were down at the bottom of the 31 species listed at only $.38. Comments:Grass rockfish are relatively short-lived rockfish only reaching an age of about 23 years. In southern California, some females are reproductive by 8.6 inches and 2 years of age, the majority are reproductive by 9.4 inches and 4 years, all are reproductive by 11 inches and five years. Those in central California north take longer to mature. 


Species: Sebastes serriceps (Jordan & Gilbert, 1880); from the Greek words sebastes (magnificent), and serriceps (formed from two Latin words meaning saw head) in reference to the large head spines. Alternate Names: Convict fish, lipstick bass, lipstick fish, barber pole and garrupa.  Called rocote presidiario in Mexico. Identification: Body short and compressed with thick spines on the head. Easily identified by the yellowish to olive (sometimes dark olive) coloring with five to six vertical black bars on the side, pink lips and two blackish bands radiate from the eye. The young have white-edged fins. Size: To 16 inches. Most caught from piers are under a foot in length. The California record fish weighed 4 lb 3 oz and was caught at Malibu in 2003. Range: From Isla Cedros, central Baja California, to San Francisco; common in southern California but rare north of Santa Barbara. Habitat: Although seen down to 100 feet in depth, they are primarily a shallow-water rockfish that likes to spend its time in caves and crevices, rocky areas, and kelp. Treefish are primarily night and twilight predators that seek out bethnic invertebrates such as shrimp, spider crabsand cancer crabs. However they will also grab small fish when they have the chance. A residential, homebody species that rarely strays far from home. Trees are also highly territorial, competing with fellow treefish and nearshore rockfish (black-and-yellows, grass, and gophers) for food and shelter habitat. Piers: Due to habitat only found at a few piers. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Cabrillo Mole (Avalon)—the best, Hermosa Beach Pier and Goleta Pier. Bait and Tackle: Will take a variety of baits including worms, fresh mussels, ghost shrimp, squid and anchovies. They will hit most bait fished on most riggings. However, a high/low leader utilizing number 4 hooks appears to work best. Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Treefish received the second highest price paid to California commercial fishermen for rockfish in 1998 at $4.66 per pound. Comments: Treefish live to 23 years of age but what’s with the Helena Rubinstein lips? Milton Love says these fish are territorial and the pink/red lips may warn off other fish. Sounds reasonable to me.

California Scorpionfish

Species: Scorpaena guttata (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word scorpaena (scorpion, referring to the poison spines), and the Latin word guttata  (a form of small drops or spotting). Alternate Names: Commonly called sculpin although also called scorpionfish, scorpion, little poker, rattlesnake and scorpene. Early records show stingfish and spinefish as favorite appellations. In Mexico they’re called escorpión Californiano. Identification: Typical rockfish shape, heavy-bodied and with strong head and fin spines. Their coloring is red (deeper water) to brown (more shallow water) with dark spotting over the body and fins. Fin spines are venomous and can cause a very painful, although not fatal, wound. Size: To 17 inches, although most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. The California record was for a fish weighing 3 lb 0 oz. It was caught at the Silver Strand Beach in 1997. Range: Uncle Sam Bank, central Baja California, and the Gulf of California, to Santa Cruz. They are uncommon north of Point Conception.

KJ and a scorpionfish from the Cabrillo Mole

Habitat: Most abundant in shallow rocky environments such as rocky reefs, sewer pipes and wrecks; frequently found in caves and crevices. Some are also found on sand. Found from fairly shallow water down to 620 feet. May travel over 200 miles in annual spawning migrations (spring and early summer) that see them form large spawning aggregations on or near the bottom (at a variety of depths). Piers: Although scorpionfish are most common around rocky areas and reef areas, I have seen them caught at almost every oceanfront pier in southern California. Best bets: Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon) and the Cabrillo Mole (Avalon). Bait and Tackle: Scorpions are carnivorous, ambush predators that are primarily nocturnal, feeding at night. Their main diet consists of small crabs, octopus, shrimp, and small fish. A high/low leader with size 4 hooks baited with squid or shrimp seems to work best although they also really like ghost shrimp. Still, I’ve caught them on cut anchovies, strips of mackerel, pile worms, and one on a live queenfish that seemed almost as large as the scorpionfish; they’re not too discriminating as far as food.  Food Value:  An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried (although they are a favorite fish for sushi and command top prices when fresh fish are available). Comments: Handle with extreme care. California scorpionfish are the most venomous member of the family found in California. If handled in a careless manner and a puncture wound does occur there will usually be pain (sometimes intense) and perhaps swelling that should subside after a few hours. If possible, soak the affected area in hot water as soon as practical (since the hot water alters the toxin and makes it less harmful). Multiple punctures may require doctor’s attention or even hospitalization. The worst story I ever heard of such multiple punctures concerned a middle-aged angler fishing from a boat near Catalina. This lady had caught upwards of a dozen scorpionfish that were dutifully deposited into her gunnysack. Unfortunately, many of the long spines were protruding from her bag when a heavy wave caused her to lose her footing and to fall, bottom-first, onto the bag. The result was butt-porcupine and a helicopter trip back to a hospital. Although studies showed a decline in population before 1980, they seem to have increased and today have a healthy population.   

Cabezon (KJ and a cabezon from the Cabrillo Mole)

Species: Scorpaenichthys marmoratus (Ayres, 1854); from the Greek words scorpaena (a related species) and ichthys  (fish), and the Latin word marmoratus  (marbled). Alternate Names: Commonly called bullhead; also marbled sculpin, cab, cabby, bull cod, blue cod, giant sculpin, giant marbled sculpin, scorpion, marble sculpin, salpa and scaleless sculpin. Called scorpion or biggy-head by 19th century Italian fishermen. Identification:  Cabezon have a very large head with a broad bony support from the eye across the cheek, no scales, a cirrus (fleshy flap) on the midline of the snout, and a pair of longer cirrus just behind the eyes. The coloring is brown, bronze, reddish, or greenish above, whitish or turquoise green below, with dark and light mottling on the side. The lining of the mouth is a translucent turquoise green. The color may correlate to their sex with 90% or greater red-colored cabezon being males, 90% or greater green-colored cabezon being females. The mouth is broad with many small teeth. Size: To 39 inches and 25 pounds; most caught from piers are less than two feet. The California record cabezon was a fish weighing 23 lb 4 oz; it was taken near Los Angeles in 1958. The cabezon is the largest member of the cottid (sculpin) family. Range: Punta Abreojos, central Baja California, to Samsing Cove, near Sitka in southeastern Alaska. Habitat: Typically found in shallow-water rocky areas, from intertidal pools to jetties, kelp beds and rocky reefs, any area with dense algal growth. Older fish tend to move to deeper water, as deep as 250 feet. Typically inhabits the tops of rocky ledges as contrasted with rockfish and lingcod that prefer the sheer faces of ledges. Cabezon like to sit and it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s in a hole, on the reef, or on vegetation, they sit versus actively swimming—until they see food. Piers:Cabezon are one of the premier fish for northern California pier anglers with lesser numbers taken from southern and central California piers. Best bets: Cabrillo Pier, Goleta Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Santa Cruz Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Point Arena Pier, Trinidad Pier and Citizens Dock (Crescent City). Bait and Tackle: Although most of the cabezon caught from piers will be fairly small fish less than two feet in length, most years also see some larger fish in the 8-12 pound category. Because of this, you should use at least medium sized tackle; line testing at least 15 pound breaking strength and hooks around 2/0 in size. The best baits are small crabs and fresh mussels but cabezon will bite almost anything that looks like food. Their normal diet includes crabs, small lobsters, abalone, squid, octopus, small fish and fish eggs. Although they often reach good size, they can be frustrating to catch. Cabezon will often tap or mouth bait and spit it out; patience and a feel for when to set the hook is required. Also remember that cabezon like to congregate around “cabezon” holes; if you catch one, there will often be more around. Food Value: Excellent mild-flavored meat that can be prepared in almost any manner; many feel it is best fried. Although few fish are better eating, anglers should not eat the roe (eggs) of cabezon—the eggs are poisonous and can make a person violently ill. Don’t worry if the flesh is blue colored, this is a common occurrence and the flesh will turn white when cooked. Comments: A “lie-in-wait” predator. Their coloring lets them blend in with the surroundings where they lie motionless. When food passes by they use their large, powerful pectoral fins and tails to lunge after the prey engulfing it in their large mouths. In Spanish cabezon means big headed or stubborn and it well describes both their looks and temperment. Cabezon can live to about 20 years of age and I imagine an old cabezon would be a real grouch.

Finescale Triggerfish — KJ and a triggerfish from the Cabrillo Mole

Species: Balistes polylepis (Steindachner, 1876); Balistes comes from the Latin word ballista (a device that shoots arrows—referring to the trigger-like spine) and the Greek word polylepis (many scales). Alternate Name: Triggerfish. In Mexico called cochi, puerco coche, cochito or pez puerco. Identification: The body is very compressed; they have a small mouth containing strong, protruding teeth (8 in each jaw); 3 strong, sharp spines are located in the first dorsal fin with 26-28 rays in the second dorsal; small gill slits are located in front of the pectoral fin. The skin is thick with large, rectilinear, plate-like scales. The coloring is brownish with blue speckles on head. Size: To 32 inches and perhaps as much as 16 pounds. Range: San Antonio, Chile, to Metlakatla, (southeastern) Alaska) but considered rare north of Baja California. Habitat: Generally found on the bottom, nearshore near rocky reefs, but they can range down to 1,680 feet deep. Some have arrived north during the El Niño years and it’s speculated that there are at least three established groups near Redondo Beach, Santa Monica and Catalina. They feed on a variety of bethnic-invertebrates such as snails, sponges, sea urchins, shrimp, and crabs as well as the occasional or fish and are most active during the day. Piers: Reported from the Redondo Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, and Cabrillo Mole in Avalon. Bait and Tackle: Will take most bait including squid, market shrimp, and ghost shrimp. Food Value: Excellent, all-white fillets that can be cooked many ways. The only problem is that the skin is like leather so you need a good, sharp fillet knife. Comments: Considered a fairly rare species in California although just enough fish are caught to keep it interesting. I’ve caught three triggerfish —one in Maui, one while fishing out of Rancho Buena Vista in Baja California, and one from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon.

Swell  Shark

Species: Cephaloscyllium ventriosum (Garman, 1880); from the Greek words cephalo  (with a head) and scyllium  (like a dog or monster) and the Latin ventr  (referring to the belly).  Alternate Names: Catshark, puffer shark and balloon shark. Called tiburón inflado, pejegato globo or gato hinchado in Mexico. Identification: Swell sharks have a broad flat head with a rounded snout, and sharp, pointed little teeth. Their first dorsal is back of the middle of body and directly above pelvic fins; second dorsal above anal fin. Their skin is rough and appears flabby while coloring is yellowish-brown to creamy, with black or brownish spots and saddles; sometimes with white spots. When caught, the swell shark may inflate its belly with air or water until its circumference nearly triples in size. However, young swell sharks are not able to duplicate this neat little trick. So see, sometimes it pays to be an adult. Size: To a little over three feet in length. Range:  Acapulco, Mexico and the Gulf of California to Monterey Bay; most common in southern California.

Habitat:  Usually found near kelp beds or rocky areas that contain some kelp; likes to spend the daytime hours holed up in crevices or caves. A nocturnal feeder, they emerge at night to search for food—mainly small fish. But they seem a little lazy. Although sometimes they suck other fish into their mouth (as would a normal feeding fish), some reportedly simply open their mouths and wait for the smaller fish to swim in. It’s called yawning and perhaps explains why swell sharks have less than an athletic looking body (afterall, how much energy can be expanded in yawning for your food?). The next question becomes how often do you think bait is going to swim into their mouths, especially dead bait? Perhaps this is one reason that they are not more commonly caught. Piers: Rarely a common species although good numbers are reported from the Avila Pier, Port San Luis Pier, and the Cayucos Pier. Best Bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Hermosa Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier, Avila Pier, Port San Luis Pier and Cayucos Pier. Bait and Tackle: Most swell sharks that are caught from piers are around two feet in length, so medium tackle with a size 2 to 2/0 hook should work fine. Small fish, crabs, and shrimp, seem to be the best bait. Food Value: It is reported that eating a swell shark is not so swell! The flesh is slightly toxic and causes stomach cramps and nausea as well as acting as a cheap aperient (result: diarrhea) and emetic (result: vomiting). Unless you’re really into the masochistic routine I would avoid puffer stew. Nevertheless, I can see all those sadistic little eyes lighting up. Wouldn’t it be cute to give Henry some puffer steaks for his dinner? Let’s see how long it is before he heads to the head. Of course there’s always the story that’s told in the fascinating book Cod, by Mark Kurlansky. He mentions the unusual methods used by a people (Icelanders) seemingly on the verge of starvation: “They ate what the island produced, which was mainly every conceivable part of a cod-fish and a lamb. They roasted cod skin and kept cod bones until they had decomposed enough to be soft and edible. They also ate roasted sheeps’ heads, particularly praising the eyeballs. Another specialty was hákarl, the flesh of a huge Greenland shark, hunted for the commercial value of its liver oil. The flesh, which contains cyanic acid, a lethal poison, was rendered edible by leaving it buried in the groud until it rotted.” Apparently æstur hákarl (Icelandic for fermented shark) with its ammonia-rich smell and taste is still enjoyed by some of the locals. Leaving aside this strange diet, and the question of how they discovered these enriching techniques, it makes you kind of wonder if a swell shark could be made edible by burying it in the ground for a few weeks. Anyone want to give rotted swell shark a try? Perhaps the “Iron Chefs” could do a show using æstur hákarl as the featured ingredient? Comments: An unpleasant and mistaken belief in some areas, especially the central coast, is that returning a swell shark to the ocean after capture ruins the fishing. It’s a rather stupid idea, and wrong, yet you’ll often find misshapen dying or dead swell sharks littering the piers. Since you don’t want to eat swellies (see above), and since they DO NOT hurt the fishing, please return them to the water.  Of course that may not be as easy as it sounds! A puffed up shark returned to the water may simply float away to be attacked by… whatever. Best is to net them and bring them to the top of the pier as quickly as possible. Then, as carefully as possible (since they do have sharp teeth), remove the hook. Try to then keep their mouth shut while returning them to the net and lowering them back down to the water. If successful, they will have gulped as little air as possible and still be able to swim away.   

Horn Shark

 Species: Heterodontus francisci (Girard, 1855); from the Greek hetero (different) and odont (tooth) and the Latin francisci (referring to San Francisco). (They have a small pointed tooth at the front of their jaw and a blunt tooth at the rear.)  Alternate Names: Bullhead Shark, Port Jackson shark, horned shark, hornback shark. Called tiburón cabeza de toro, tiburón cornudo or tiburón puerco in Mexico. Identification: Horn sharks are spotted sharks with a somewhat pig-like snout. They have a strong spine at the front of each dorsal fin (which accounts for their name) and an anal fin. Their coloring is tan to dark brown or grayish with black spots above, pale yellowish below. Size: Reported to 48 inches, but the largest verified was just over 38 inches long and 22 pounds. Most hornies caught from piers are under 30 inches in length. Range:Found from the Gulf of California to San Francisco.Habitat: Prefers rocky areas although also found near sandy areas that contain kelp. They are nocturnal, bottom-feeding foragers who prefer to spend their daylight hours resting on the bottom or in caves and crevices. At night they head out in their search for food—primarily squids, urchins, crustaceans, anemones and mollusks—but rarely are they found more than six feet from the bottom. Piers: Most are caught at southern California piers but a few are caught as far north as the pier at Cayucos. Generally found near piers that are close to reefs or kelp. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, San Clemente Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Santa Monica Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, Gaviota Pier and Goleta Pier.  Bait and Tackle: Crabs, shrimp, squid and small fish are prime baits but hornies appear to take almost any natural bait. Most horn sharks taken by pier anglers are fairly small fish so light-to-medium tackle equipped with size 2 to 2/0 hooks will suffice.

Food Value:  Reported to be quite tasty, similar to most other sharks. Comments: An interesting little shark. Small horn sharks are frequently sold in aquarium shops where they command top prices. They are generally harmless but anglers should be careful of the dorsal spines and be aware that agitated fish may try to bite careless handlers. Horn sharks are in the Class Chondrichthyes and Subclass Elasmobranchii (as are all sharks and rays) but in the Superorder Galea, which only includes some of the sharks found at California piers. Many of the sharks found at piers are in the Superorder Squalea, which includes sharks as well as guitarfish and rays. Thus some of the sharks are more closely related to rays than to other sharks.

Bat Ray — Rita and a bat ray from the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon Harbor 

Species: Myliobatis californica (Gill, 1865); from the Greek words myl (a tooth or molar), io (an arrow or poison), batis (a skate or ray) and the Latin word Californica  (referring to location). Apparently called aetobatus californica at one time in California: CA Fish Bulletin #28.  Alternate Names: Stingray, stingaree, bat sting ray, sea ray, eagle ray, batfish, big black, sea bird, flapper, rat tailed stingray, NASCAR, mud marlin (my favorite), and monkey face ray. Called raya murciélago or tecolote in Mexico. Identification:  Bat rays have a very heavy raised head and a dorsal fin at the base of a long whiplike tail with a stinger just behind it. Their coloring is blackish or blackish brown above and white below. Beware of the stinger. Size: Reported to reach nearly six feet across and over 200 pounds. Most bat rays caught from piers are less than fifty pounds but many in excess of a hundred pounds are caught every year. A 240-pound bat ray was reported from Newport Bay in 1957. I received a note on the Pier Fishing in California Message Board of a 246-pound fish with an 8.5-foot-wing span that was reputedly taken from the Newport Pier in the ’80s. However, the width sounds too wide leaving the weight also in doubt. I’ve seen pictures of a 176-pound bat ray taken from the Newport Pier and a 175-pound bat ray that was caught at the Aliso Beach Pier in (I believe) 1990. Another fish, this one weighing 203 pounds and measuring 54 ½ inches wide was measured and weighed on a certified scale. It was caught at the Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara on April 24, 2004. The fish struck a live smelt bait and was landed after a fight lasting one hour and twenty minutes. The fish was hooked and fought by James Elledge, and gaffed by Ron Maxell. With the help of bait shop owner Ray Angel (how appropriate) the fish was carried over to the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company to their certified scales. PFIC representative Boyd Grant was soon on the scene to witness and photograph the huge fish…one of the largest bat rays ever caught on a California pier (and possibly the largest to be weighed on a certified scale).The official California record fish was 4 feet, 9 inches wide and weighed 181 lb 0 oz; it was taken at Huntington Beach in 1978. According to the California DF&G “female bat rays reach a greater size than males, attaining a maximum disc width of 70.9 inches and weight of 210 pounds. The largest reported male is 40 inches wide and a weight of 37 pounds. Bat rays grow slowly, reach sexual maturity relatively late, have few young, and seem to be fairly long-lived. A 60-inch disc width female was estimated to be 24 years old.” So, all of the big bat rays are moms, grandmas or maybe even great grandmothers. Range: Gulf of California to Yaquina Bay, Oregon. Habitat: Prefers a flat, rocky bottom or sand among rocks although also seems to enjoy hanging around kelp beds. Most commonly caught in sandy or muddy bottom bays and the deeper water areas around piers. Bat rays basically “fly” through the water using their powerful pectoral fins and occasionally they will leap out of the water when hooked. Piers: Bat rays are caught at almost all piers in California, both oceanfront and those in bays. Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Stearns Wharf, Cayucos Pier, Berkeley Pier, San Mateo Pier, Elephant Rock Pier, Angel Island Pier, Eureka Municipal Wharf and Del Norte Street Pier (Eureka). Bait and Tackle:  Bat rays eat a wide variety of foods with oysters, clams, crabs, shrimp, abalone, snails and worms being scarffed down on a regular basis. To be expected, they’ll also take almost any bait. However, frozen or live squid, and live bait such as anchovies, ghost shrimp, mud shrimp and grass shrimp, produce most of the fish. Frozen squid is the least expensive and easiest bait to use and is undoubtedly the number one bait for bat rays. It’s reported by the way that these strong rays use their pectoral fins to lift their body rapidly up and down to create a suction that sweeps away the sand and gives easy access to their food on the bottom. Because of the potential large size, anglers wishing to fish specifically for bat rays should use heavy tackle and have a gaff or net available to bring the fish up onto the pier. Never use a pier gaff to lift  them up to a pier unless you’re intending to keep them for food. Food Value: Very good.

Bat ray at the Cabrillo Mole

Comments: Although Ray Cannon’s book How To Fish the Pacific Coast holds a cherished spot on my library shelf, and in many ways was a model for Pier Fishing In California, I believe he was wrong in his comments on bat rays. His most egregious was that “These giant Bat Rays should be exterminated whenever possible because of their menace to crabs, lobsters, and all kinds of edible shellfish.” Although it’s true that those species may be included in a bat ray’s diet, I’m not sure why they were singled out over predators. I think it reflects the thinking of the day, in particular the opinion that bat rays were a danger to commercial oyster operations, i.e., those in Tomales Bay. We know today that they are not a danger to those operations; in fact, they may help by keeping crabs under control. I’m not sure why he made a second statement, an assertion that bat rays are “Seldom taken by anglers.” Even back in those days bat rays (usually called sting rays) were a common catch, and several shark and ray derbies were conducted along the coast, the most famous probably being that at Moss Landing. Today, many anglers concentrate on bat rays. The rays reach a very large size, they put up a strong fight, and are delicious to eat once the fight is over (although more and more people practice catch-and-release with them). Of interest are the bat ray pools found at several aquariums (including the Monterey Aquarium, The Aquarium Of the Pacific, and the Chula Vista Nature Center). The bat rays can be petted and in fact are rather pet-like; some even seem to like to have their backs stroked. Yes, their stingers have been removed! The venomous spines are cut off about once a month (before they reach a length long enough to hurt anyone). Apparently the bat rays receive no harm from these “manicures,” in fact the spines are made of keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails, and the spines grow back. However, bat rays in the wild still have their spines and can inflict a painful wound, so be very careful if you catch one (and some bat rays have two or even three stingers). For some reason Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara sees a lot of small, immature bat rays and they’re usually called monkey face rays. Scientists report that bat rays move into inshore waters to breed during the summer then tend to move offshore in the winter (so guess when they are more likely to be caught from a pier). While inshore, they are sometimes found in large concentrations. At times these bat ray gatherings contain several thousand individuals. The sea bottom holding these creatures must look a little weird and would certainly have a somewhat alien feeling; not sure if it would be more like a black-cloaked Darth Vader convention, a Raider Nation convention, or something even more outlandish (and scary), a political convention.


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Variety, the spice of life —

Although there are some who only seek out the big fish, I’m at a point in life where the goal has changed somewhat. I still LOVE to catch the big fish, but I also am thrilled with a variety of species. This is true, in part, because I have fished on 123 ocean piers in California catching 123 different species. I’m always looking for new California piers and new California pier species. Days when I catch a number of different species are always most interesting. One pier, the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon, on Catalina Island, seems to dominate the entry list. Each year it seems to produce a large plethora of different species on most days (even if they tend to be the same species year to year). However, many, many California piers have made the list.

Multi-species days — from one pier 

Sixteen species trip:

Cabrillo Mole, April 26, 2013—Jack Mackerel, Kelp Bass, Blacksmith, Senorita, Kelp Rockfish, Garibaldi, Halfmoon, Opaleye, Grass Rockfish, Pacific Mackerel, Treefish, California Scorpionfish, Sheephead, Pacific Sardine, Black Seaperch, Spotted Kelpfish

Treefish taken from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon — 2013

Fifteen species trip:

Cabrillo Mole, April 27, 2013—Kelp Bass, Pacific Mackerel, Jack Mackerel, Kelp Rockfish, Blacksmith, Treefish, Black Seaperch, Sheephead, Garibaldi, Senorita, Halfmoon, Opaleye, Pacific Sardine, Grass Rockfish, Spotted Kelpfish

Cabrillo Mole, September 19, 2010—Kelp Bass, Garibaldi, Senorita, Jack Mackerel, Jacksmelt, Opaleye, Halfmoon, Sheephead, Giant Kelpfish, Treefish, Blacksmith, Striped Kelpfish, Rock Wrasse, Blackperch, Finescale Triggerfish

Finescale Triggerfish taken from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon — 2010

Thirteen species trip:

Avila Pier, August 3, 2013—California Lizardfish, White Croaker, Speckled Sanddab, Brown Rockfish, Vermilion Rockfish, Yellowtail Rockfish, Bocaccio, Cabezon, Kelp Greenling, Blue Rockfish, Onespot Fringehead, Barred Surfperch, Jacksmelt

Cabrillo Mole, April 27, 2012—Kelp Bass, Pacific Mackerel, Jack Mackerel, Pacific Sardine, Senorita, Blacksmith, Opaleye, Treefish, Sheephead, Cabezon, California Scorpionfish, Kelp Rockfish, Halfmoon

Cabezon from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon — 2012

Cabrillo Mole, April 23. 2010—Kelp Bass, Opaleye, Senorita, California Scorpionfish, Garibaldi, Rock Wrasse, Sheephead, Jacksmelt, Halfmoon, Kelp Rockfish, Treefish, Giant Kelpfish, Spotted Kelpfish

Sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon — 2012

 Twelve species trips:

Cabrillo Mole, April 16, 2011—Blacksmith, Jack Mackerel, Kelp Bass, Pacific Mackerel, Ocean Whitefish, Senorita, California Scorpionfish, Salema, Treefish, Kelp Rockfish, Brown Rockfish, Pacific Sardine + 2 Spiny Lobster

Cabrillo Mole, April 25, 2010—Sheephead, Garibaldi, Kelp Bass, Opaleye, Halfmoon, California Scorpionfish, Kelp Perch, Rock Wrasse, Kelp Rockfish, Senorita, Jacksmelt, Blackperch

  18″ Kelp Bass (calico bass) from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon — 2010

Cabrillo Mole, April 24, 2009—Kelp Bass, Garibaldi, Giant Kelpfish, Opaleye, Halfmoon, Spotted Kelpfish, California Scorpionfish, Sheephead, Treefish, Senorita, Jacksmelt, Kelp Perch.

Eleven species trips:

Cabrillo Mole, April 28, 2012—Jack Mackerel, Pacific Mackerel, Blacksmith, Kelp Bass, Treefish, Kelp Rockfish, Garibaldi, Pacific Sardine, Sheephead, Jacksmelt, Senorita

Cabrillo Mole, April 24, 2010—Blacksmith, Jacksmelt, Kelp Rockfish, Kelp Bass, Rock Wrasse, Senorita, Pacific Mackerel, Opaleye. Garibaldi, Blackperch, Giant Kelpfish

Cabrillo Mole, April 18, 2008—Kelp Bass, Halfmoon, Senorita, Opaleye, Giant Kelpfish, Sheephead, Rock Wrasse, Garibaldi, Brown Rockfish, Blacksmith, Jacksmelt

California Scorpionfish (sculpin) from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon — 2010

Cabrillo Mole, April 24, 2004—Garibaldi, Blacksmith, Senorita, Jacksmelt, Kelp Bass, Opaleye, Giant Kelpfish, Kelp Perch, Sheephead, Striped Kelpfish, Halfmoon

Pacifica Pier, June 12, 1977—Spotfin Surfperch, White Croaker, Walleye Surfperch, Sand Sole, Shinerperch, Staghorn Sculpin, Pacific Tomcod, Silver Surfperch, Redtail Surfperch, White Seaperch, Starry Flounder

My son Mike and a mix of fish from the Pacifica Pier — 1977

Ten species trips:

Morro Bay South T-Pier, August 2, 2013—California Lizardfish, Jacksmelt, Black and Yellow Rockfish, Gopher Rockfish, Brown Rockfish, Kelp Rockfish, Onespot Fringehead, Bocaccio, Chilipepper Rockfish, Vermilion Rockfish

 Onespot Fringehead from Monterey Wharf #2 — 2013

Monterey Wharf #2, July 20, 2013—California Lizardfish, Blue Rockfish, Speckled Sanddab, Pacific Sanddab, Cabezon, Senorita, Pileperch, Sharpnose Seaperch, Onespot Fringehead, Kelp Greenling + 3 Octopus

   Pileperch from Monterey Wharf #2 — 2013

Port San Luis Pier, July 7, 2013—California Lizardfish, Walleye Surfperch, Bocaccio, Speckled Sanddab, Copper Rockfish, Cabezon, Onespot Fringehead, White Seaperch, White Croaker, Rainbow Seaperch + 1 Octopus

Rainbow Seaperch from the Port San Luis Pier — 2013

Paradise Cove Pier, November 21, 2009—Walleye Surfperch, Giant Kelpfish, Jacksmelt, Black Seaperch, Sargo, Kelp Bass, Jack Mackerel, Queenfish, Striped Kelpfish, Thornback Ray + 1 Rock Crab (large).

Cabrillo Mole, April 21, 2007—Opaleye, Halfmoon, California Scorpionfish, Brown Rockfish. Kelp Rockfish, Garibaldi, Blacksmith, Jacksmelt, Rubberlip Seaperch, Treefish

  Opaleye from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon — 2007

Cabrillo Mole, April 20, 2007—Jacksmelt, Opaleye, Senorita, Rock Wrasse, California Sheephead, Garibaldi, Giant Kelpfish, Kelp Bass, Blacksmith, Halfmoon

Goleta Pier, October 11, 2006—Brown Rockfish, Shinerperch, White Seaperch, Walleye Surfperch, Pileperch, Rainbow Seaperch, Kelp Bass, Jack Mackerel, Gopher Rockfish, Staghorn Sculpin

Goleta Pier, June 6, 2006—Shinerperch, Kelp Perch, Brown Rockfish, Kelp Bass, Pileperch, Barred Surfperch, Walleye Surfperch, Senorita, Speckled Sanddab, Padded Sculpin

Kelp Bass (calico bass) from the Goleta Pier — 2006

Cabrillo Mole, April 23, 2005—Halfmoon, Blacksmith, Kelp Bass, Sheephead, Garibaldi, Treefish, Senorita, Jacksmelt, Kelp Perch, Opaleye   

Opaleye from the Cabrillo Mole, Avalon — 2005

Green Pleasure Pier, April 22, 2004—Kelp Bass, Senorita, Blacksmith, Halfmoon, Rock Wrasse, Garibaldi, Sheephead, Jacksmelt, California Scorpionfish, Shinerperch

Santa Cruz Wharf,  Nov 21, 2003—Blue Rockfish, Jacksmelt, Speckled Sanddab, White Croaker, Staghorn Sculpin, Walleye Surfperch, Spotfin Surfperch, Yellowtail Rockfish (juvenile), Kelp Rockfish, White seaperch

Stearns Wharf, June 28, 1995—White Croaker, Pacific Mackerel, Jack Mackerel, Walleye Surfperch, White Seaperch, Barred Surfperch, Sand Bass, California Scorpionfish, Speckled Sanddab, Queenfish (plus 1 Crab and 2 Starfish)

Elephant Rock Pier, October 11, 1993—Jacksmelt, Walleye Surfperch, Dwarf Perch, Cabezon, Shinerperch, Kelp Rockfish, Black Seaperch, Striped Seaperch, Brown Rockfish, Kelp Greenling

Cabezon from Elephant Rock Pier

Pacifica Pier, January 8, 1977—Silver Surfperch, Walleye Surfperch, Pacific Sanddab, Redtail Surfperch, Jacksmelt, Barred Surfperch, Calico Surfperch, Shinerperch, White Croaker, Staghorn Sculpin

Piers with at least nine species on a single trip: Crystal Pier (San Diego), Oceanside Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier, Port View Park Pier (Oakland), Elephant Rock Pier, Fort Baker Pier, Citizen’s Dock (Crescent City)

Mix of fish from the Goleta Pier — 2004

Piers with at least eight species on a single trip: Imperial Beach Pier, San Clemente Pier, Angel Island Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Goleta Pier.

Often times when I am on my coast-wide fishing trips I will hit 3-5 piers in a day’s time and each receives a separate record. As a result, sometimes the “daily” number of species may be higher than those recorded at a single pier, especially when I am fishing near Point Conception and making the transition between the colder water central coast piers and warmer water southern California piers. Often I will stay in the Morro Bay/Pismo Beach area overnight, get up early and hit a pier or two in that central coast area (Pismo Beach, Avila, etc.) before heading down to the SoCal piers at Gaviota/ Goleta, etc. On those days you often will see a nice variety of fish.

Multi-species days — from several piers during the same day

Eighteen species days

July 20, 2013 (Monterey Wharf #2 & Monterey Coast Guard Pier) — California Lizardfish, Blue Rockfish, Speckled Sanddab, Pacific Sanddab, Cabezon, Senorita, Pileperch, Sharpnose Seaperch, Onespot Fringehead, Kelp Greenling, Gopher Rockfish, Black & Yellow Rockfish, Painted Greenling, Striped Seaperch, Striped Kelpfish, Corraline Sculpin, Bocaccio, Shinerperch

Painted Greenling from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier — 2013

Corraline (?) sculpin from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier — 2013

Sharpnose Seaperch from Monterey Wharf #2 — 2013

Seventeen species days

August 2, 2013 (San Simeon Pier, Cayucos Pier, Morro Bay North T-Pier and Morro Bay South T-Pier) — California Lizardfish, Spotfin Surfperch, Walleye Surfperch, Calico Surfperch, Barred Surfperch, Speckled Sanddab,  Cabezon, White Croaker, Jacksmelt, Onespot Fringehead, Bocaccio, Kelp Rockfish, Gopher Rockfish, Black & Yellow Rockfish, Brown Rockfish, Chilipepper Rockfish, Vermilion Rockfish

Calico Surfperch from the San Simeon Pier — 2013

Spottfin Surfperch from the San Simeon Pier —2013

Kelp Rockfish from the South Morro Bay T-Pier — 2013

Strange looking Black and Yellow Rockfish from the South Morro Bay T-Pier; appears to be missing part of its tail

Gopher Rockfish from the South Morro Bay T-Pier — 2013

Sixteen species days

July 30, 2004 (Gaviota Pier, Stearns Wharf, Port Hueneme Pier, Ventura Pier) — Pacific Sardine, Shinerperch, Speckled Sanddab, Jacksmelt, Topsmelt, Jack Mackerel, Rubberlip Seaperch, Kelp Bass, Pacific Mackerel, Walleye Surfperch, Staghorn Sculpin, Thornback Ray, Cabezon, Queenfish, White Croaker, Pacific Butterfish

Fifteen species days

April 24, 2009 (Green Pleasure Pier, Cabrillo Mole) — Kelp Bass, Rock Wrasse, Sheephead, Pacific Mackerel, Black Seaperch, Garibaldi, Giant Kelpfish, Opaleye, Halfmoon, Spotted Kelpfish, California Scorpionfish, Treefish, Senorita, Jacksmelt, Kelp Perch

Giant Kelpfish from the Cabrillo Mole, Avalon — 2009

Rock Wrasse from the Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon   

Fourteen species days

July 28, 2009 (Santa Cruz Wharf, Capitola Wharf, Seacliff Pier) —Bocaccio, Blue Rockfish, Jacksmelt, Striped Seaperch, Sharpnose Perch, Shinerperch, Walleye Surfperch, White Croaker, Staghorn Sculpin, Barred Surfperch, Brown Rockfish, Speckled Sanddab, Pacific Mackerel, Jack Mackerel

July 30, 2007 (Imperial Beach Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, Oceanside Pier) — Pacific Mackerel, Mackerel Jack, Queenfish, Topsmelt, Walleye Surfperch, Pacific Sardine, White Croaker, Kelp Bass, Sargo, Black Croaker, Pacific Bonito, Salema, Sand Bass, Yellowfin Croaker

Black Croaker from the Oceanside Harbor Pier — 2007

October 11, 2006 (Malibu Pier, Port Hueneme Pier, Goleta Pier) — Pacific Mackerel, California Lizardfish, White Seaperch, Jacksmelt, Speckled Sanddab, Shinerperch, Brown Rockfish, Walleye Surfperch, Pileperch, Rainbow Seaperch, Kelp Bass, Jack Mackerel, Gopher Rockfish, Staghorn Sculpin

June 6, 2006 (Goleta Pier, Stearns Wharf, Ventura Pier) — Kelp Perch, Brown Rockfish, Kelp Bass, Pileperch, Barred Surfperch, Senorita, Speckled Sanddab, Padded Sculpin, Walleye Surfperch, Shinerperch, Pacific Mackerel, Jack Mackerel, Queenfish, White Croaker

April 24, 2004 (Green Pleasure Pier, Cabrillo Mole—Catalina) — Kelp Bass, Rock Wrasse, California Scorpionfish, Senorita, Garibaldi, Ocean Whitefish, Sheephead, Giant Kelpfish, Opaleye, Blacksmith, Halfmoon, Jacksmelt, Kelp Perch, Striped Kelpfish

Ocean Whitefish from the Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon

July 27, 1994 (Newport Pier, Aliso Beach Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, San Clemente Pier) — Pacific Mackerel, California Lizardfish, Pacific Sardine, Walleye Surfperch, Sargo, Shinerperch, Opaleye, Kelp Bass, Jacksmelt, Black Seaperch, White Croaker, Queenfish, Salema, California Butterfish

Thirteen species days

April 16, 2011 (Green Pleasure Pier, Cabrillo Mole) — Pacific Mackerel, Pacific Sardine, Jack Mackerel, Northern Anchovy, Kelp Bass, Senorita, Blacksmith, Ocean Whitefish, California Scorpionfish, Salema, Treefish, Kelp Rockfish, Brown Rockfish

August 17, 1993 (Cayucos Pier, San Simeon Pier, Monterey Wharf #2) — White Croaker, Queenfish, Barred Surfperch, Staghorn Sculpin, Shinerperch, Walleye Surfperch, Silver Surfperch, Jacksmelt, Jack Mackerel, Bocaccio, Gopher Rockfish, Speckled Sanddab, Kelp Rockfish

 Barred Surfperch from the San Simeon Pier 

Walleye Surfperch from the San Simeon Pier 

Twelve species days

November 21, 2009 (Venice Pier, Paradise Cove Pier) —White Croaker, California Lizardfish, Walleye Surfperch, Giant Kelpfish, Jacksmelt, Black Seaperch, Sargo, Kelp Bass, Jack Mackerel, Queenfish, Striped Kelpfish, Thornback Ray + 1 Rock Crab (large)

October 10, 2006 (Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier) — Senorita, Opaleye, Kelp Bass, White Seaperch, Pileperch, Rock Wrasse, Giant Kelpfish, Pacific Mackerel, California Scorpionfish, Mackerel Jack, Pacific Sardine, Jacksmelt

 Rubberlip Seaperch from the Gaviota Pier — 2004

July 13, 2003 (Gaviota Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Cayucos Pier, Morro Bay T-Pier) — Walleye Surfperch, Rubberlip Seaperch, Bocaccio, Cabezon, Thornback Ray, Brown Rockfish, Pacific Sardine, Jacksmelt, White Croaker, Lingcod, Staghorn Sculpin, Shinerperch + Starfish

Garibaldi from the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon — 2002

April 27, 2002 (Green Pleasure Pier, Cabrillo Mole) — Kelp Bass, Rock Wrasse, Senorita, California Scorpionfish, Sheephead, Giant Kelpfish, Crevice Kelpfish, Kelp Perch, Garibaldi, Pacific Mackerel, Jack Mackerel, Shinerperch

June 28, 1999 (Seal Beach Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Newport Pier) — Salema, Queenfish, White Croaker, Shovelnose Guitarfish, Pacific Mackerel, Yellowfin Croaker, Round Stingray, Jacksmelt, Bocaccio, Mackerel Jack, California Scorpionfish, Staghorn Sculpin

June 21, 1995 (Belmont Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Balboa Pier) — Pacific Mackerel, Salema, Jack Mackerel, Queenfish, Jacksmelt, California Halibut, White Croaker, Gray Smoothhound Shark, Staghorn Sculpin, Kelp Bass, Thornback Ray, Round Stingray

July 26, 1994 (Seal Beach Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Balboa Pier) — White Croaker, Queenfish, White Seabass, Pacific Mackerel, Salema, Shinerperch, Jacksmelt, Spotfin Croaker, Pacific Butterfish, Fantail Sole, Topsmelt, Jack Mackerel




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James Liu, 1966-2014 — RIP


James at the Cabrillo Mole on Catalina at the 2013 PFIC-UPSAC Get Together  

James Liu (GDude), a good friend, a fishing companion, and truly one of the finest men I have known, has died and I must admit that I am heartbroken by his passing. I just wish I could somehow prevent the pain his family is suffering. Born in 1966 and died in 2014, simple dates but they show a still fairly young man who leaves family and friends stunned with his passing. Unfortunately, those dates do not do justice to someone who impacted so many lives in such a positive manner.

James was a big man with a big heart, always ready to help out where needed, willing to selflessly give of his time and money, and willing to work longer and harder than most can imagine. James had a brilliant mind as evidenced by his degrees and jobs but what was truly brilliant was his ability to achieve so much success in so many different endeavors. Success helping out his children’s schools, success with UPSAC (United Pier and Shore Anglers of California), success with the Boy Scouts, and success with a plethora of other organizations. Most important though was the success he achieved with his own family, his loving and supportive wife Dora, and his three wonderful children, Warren, Amanda and Elaine. His ability to handle a highly demanding job while at the same time being an exemplary role model for his children is all too rare today. He had high expectations for his children, and they have met the challenge, but he also provided the love and support needed for the challenge and was always the model to be emulated. I rarely use the term great in describing a person but in this case that seems the most appropriate word, a man who achieved greatness in many ways and one who will be missed by all those whose lives he touched.

I recall the words he posted to my Pier Fishing in California message board back in 2005 when Stan Low, another of our PFIC anglers, died: “Each angler carries his own ideas. Some never knew Stan. Some want to honor and pay him tribute. I was the one who wrapped the rod and brought it to Stan’s funeral that folks signed and buried with him. It’s what I would have wanted in his place with so many fishing friends seeing me off and it was the least I could do for Stan and his family on that day.”

We cannot place a rod in James’ hand for eternity, but we can honor his death and remember the grace, humility and kindness he showed to us all.

A collection of pictures over the years —

2002 Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon, Catalina Island

2002 — The group picture at Catalina

2003 — James, a lobster, and some fishin’ buds at the Green Pleasure Pier

2003 — The group picture at Catalina

2004 — James releasing an under-sized sheephead at the Cabrillo Mole

2004 — Warren and Amanda helping with the raffle

2004 —The Liu family (James, Dora, Warren, Amanda) at the Goleta Pier Get Together

2004 — James at Furry Creek near the home he owned in British Columbia

 2005 — James at the Cabrillo Mole at Avalon, Catalina Island

2005 — Group picture at Catalina

 2005 — James and Warren fishing at Redwoods Shore

2005 — James working at the Romberg Center in Tiburon on an environmental project for the bay

2006 — GDude hauling in a bonito, his favorite fish,  at the Cabrillo Mole

2006 — GDude and a bonito at the Cabrillo Mole

2006 — Group picture at Catalina

2007 — Another bonito at Catalina

2007 — Bonito at Catalina

2007 — Group picture at Catalina

2007 — Helping teach the “Ethical Angler” class at the Goleta Pier

2008 — Fish on!

2008 — Another bonito at Catalina

2008 — The lineup at the Mole

2008 — James at Catalina

2008 — James, Amanda and Hashem at Catalina

2008 — Group picture at Catalina

2008 — Dedication of the Goleta Pier Angler Center

2008 — James showing Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf how to fish

2008 — Interview time with the Supervisor

2008 — The group picture at the Goleta Pier Angler Center

2008 — James teaching a Kids Fishing Class at the Santa Cruz Wharf

2009 — Another bonito at Catalina

2009 — Bonito time

2009 — A beautiful bonito

2009 — Waiting on the bonito 

2009 — A beautiful fish 

2009 —The boys at Catalina

2009 — Warren’s first bonito and a proud Papa

2009 — Group picture at Catalina

 2010 — James helping out at the UPSAC booth at the Fred Hall Show in Long Beach

2010 — The crew at the Fred Hall Show

2010 — James at the Cabrillo Mole

2010 — Pier Rats at the Mole

2010 — Pier Rats at the Mole #2

2010 — James and SteveO at the Mole

2010 — James at Dinner at Mi Casita in Avalon

2010 — Group picture at Catalina

2010 —Kids Fishing Derby at Goleta Pier

2010 —Food for the Kids Fishing Derby at Goleta Pier

2011 — Arrival in Avalon

2011 — James and Adam (Baitfish) at the rail

2011 — Adam getting the net ready

2011 — A bonito!

2011 — Dinner at Mi Casita Restaurant

2011 — Dinner at Mi Casita Restaurant

2011 — James and Adam at the Mole

2011 — James with Robert (Redfish) in the background

2011 — Dinner at Antonio’s

2011 — Dinner at Antonio’s — #2

2011 — Dinner at Antonio’s — #3

2011 — Dinner at Antonio’s — #4

2011 — James at the Mud Marlin (Bat Ray) Derby, Berkeley Pier

2012 — Dinner at Mi Casita

2012 — Group picture

2013 — James at the Cabrillo Mole, Avalon

2013 — James at the Cabrillo Mole, Avalon

2013 — Warren, Amanda and James at the Cabrillo Mole, Avalon

2013 — The Liu Family — Warren, Amanda, James, Eiain, and Dora

2013 — Group picture at the Cabrillo Mole, Avalon

2013 — Kids Fishing Derby, Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara — Brian, Warren, Amanda, James and Elain

2013 — James and Brian at Stearns Wharf

2013 — James at the Kids Fishing Derby, Berkeley Pier

2013 — James at the Kids Fishing Derby, Berkeley Pier

2013 — James at the Kids Fishing Derby, Berkeley Pier

2013 — James at the Kids Fishing Derby, Berkeley Pier

 GDude at Furry River, British Columbia

Posted in Daily musings..., Pierfishing · Tagged , , , , , , , , · 1 Comment

Great Whites at the Manhattan Beach Pier?

At the end of December 2013 an article appeared in the New York Daily News by Michael Welsh. The title — Did a great white shark photobomb surfing kids at Manhattan Beach, Calif.?

The woman who snapped the picture of her son and his friend swimming near a shadowy figure that resembles a shark said they did not notice the animal until they were on their way home.

The two boys didn’t realize they were so close to the sea animal until they got back in a parents car and looked through the digital camera.

A California mother wants to know whether the ominous figure looming behind her son and his friend in a viral photo was in fact a shark or merely a harmless dolphin. “It’s surprising that no one has been able to tell definitively what it is,” she told the Daily News. “It was just an insane photo. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”The woman, who asked to not be identified, said no one noticed the animal until they were in the car on their drive back home from the Manhattan Beach visit Friday. While perusing the photos, they saw what looked like either a shark or dolphin just under a breaking wave near the kids who were holding surfboards. The picture went viral soon after she posted it to Facebook and Instagram. But she did not expect news outlets to present the photo as if it were definitively a shark — when the jury is still out. “I’m overwhelmed to be honest,” she said. “I just hope it calms down. … This wasn’t shared to promote fear — awareness is fine but not fear.”


 White Pointer/Getty Images/StockPhoto

Great white sharks are reportedly not uncommon near Manhattan Beach. Some people wonder if the fearsome predator was actually in the photo or if it were a more friendly sea creature.

Michael Welsh, New York Daily News

Most people interviewed regarding the story felt the picture is that of a dolphin.

However, the story reminded me of the recent revision I had made to my Pier Fishing In California article on the Manhattan Beach Pier —

In October of 2013 on one of my trips to Los Angeles I visited and fished the Manhattan Beach Pier. Soon after, I reported my visit on PFIC and was surprised that another PFIC angler had been at the pier and seen me that day. Amidst the post and reply (see below) it turned out that he had hooked a great white shark just a few minutes before my arrival. It stimulated an interesting discussion and brought back memories of an earlier thread and articles about the great whites at Manhattan Beach.

Date: October 21, 2013

To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board

From: Ken Jones

Subject: Manhattan Beach Pier Report — 10/16/2013

Manhattan Beach Pier — 11:30-12:30 — A few fish were being caught here, some mackerel and lizardfish. The snack shop worker said there had been an afternoon mackerel bite recently. Dumb divers were too close to the pier and I got into a long discussion with a local about why the city did not regulate the rules. Fish: two Pacific Mackerel, one Lizardfish, one Topsmelt, and one Speckled Sanddab

Posted by vmarquez

Were u to the right next to the sink wearing a Catalina shirt? That day we had a great white hit our bait at 11 am fought for 14 minutes.

 Posted by csmerril

I wouldn’t have posted that, if you knew it was a GW, it is the law to cut the line right away…

Posted by vmarquez

Its ok, it took 14 mins to realize it was a great white plus we were with the biologist that works at Manhattan Beach and he wanted to make sure it was tagged before we released. It wasn’t but he cut the line anyways… plus by the way its illegal to remove them from the water not hook them. How r we supposed to stop them from eating our bait plus they fight like bat rays so u really can’t tell till u get them close enough.

Posted by Ken Jones

I was by the sink and I think I did have the Catalina shirt on that day. I wound up arguing Manhattan Beach regulations with a regular for about 15 minutes. We began arguing about regulations to keep people away from the pier (based upon the diver) and it evolved into an argument about surfers being by the pier and lifeguards asking anglers not to fish inshore when surfers were in that area. I’m going to try to find out if (1) there are regulations telling people to stay a certain distance from the pier and (2) if there are those regulations why the lifeguards do not enforce the rules. I was told that surfers rule, most lifeguards are also surfers, and the rules would never be enforced.

Posted by vmarquez

Yea I heard u guys arguing; he’s the biologist. Manhattan is always full of swimmers. We been having good luck w/ mackerel and thresher sharks and we get to see great whites swim by; don’t usually take the bait though.

Posted by Ken Jones

I don’t think you did anything wrong. It often takes a while to figure out what you have on your line and in this case you did cut the line.

Posted by makairaa 

There is a reef just off the end of the pier that used to hold bass, halibut, and occasionally yellowtail and [white] seabass. I just wouldn’t dive there because of the number of great whites hooked there in the last 2 years.

Posted by Ken Jones

The divers and surfers don’t seem too worried about the great whites.

Posted by makairaa 

Most small white sharks are fish eaters, so the surfers don’t have much to worry about, besides the fact we could spend hours debating the IQ of many surfers. Surfing next to a pier where you can see people fishing right where they are surfing does not sound too smart to me. The spearfisherman on the other hand are in the water with a bleeding fish where there are 6 to 8 foot dangerous sharks. It’s their choice, but to me it looks like Darwin in action.

Posted by polishfromthedeep  

I bring a gun occasionally when I dive for lobster, shoot fish all the time, and bleed them on my hip. I’m still here and enjoy a much more intimate experience with mother ocean than anybody ON the pier.  You can call it Darwinism or whatever you want, but I call it totally worth it. Worth every bit of “danger.”

Posted by makairaa   

It’s not the shooting of fish while diving that I have a problem with. Its doing it while diving at Manhattan Beach Pier where at least 8 great whites that I am aware of have been caught in the last 2 years. On a side note, be careful about taking lobsters while possessing a spear. Some wardens consider that a hooked object because of the barb and cite people for it.

The earlier PFIC thread  dated to 2001 and was started by one of the sites strongest members—Mola Joe.

Date: June 5, 2001

To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board

From: Mola Joe

Subject: White sharks from a pier

I ran across this photo from a few years back that ran on the front page of our local newspaper. If I remember right, two whites were landed out of several hookups over a two or three week period. The sharks were hooked off Manhattan Pier and then the angler moved to the beach to fight and land them. I believe both sharks were released alive. No official weight, but just babies by white shark standards, maybe 200 to 250 pounds. The following year I also remember seeing something about another landed from this pier also. I heard that after the first two, these guys started chumming for them but were told to stop by the local lifeguards. I kind of see their point. It would really hurt the local economy to have some yahoo from Kansas wading in the water and come out with only one leg. Anyway, things have now changed as white sharks are off limits to fishermen.

Posted by gotem

Our buddy the Great White Shark is still on the protected species list, and rightfully so, but don’t let the status of them fool you, they ARE making a comeback. We will only see and hear of more ‘accidental catches’ and ‘mistaken identity’ attacks within this next generation. Count on it.

Posted by shorepounder 

Hey MJ, I was there for one of the catches. I was riding my bike on the strand and decided to walk the Manhattan Pier. Well as I get close to the end there’s this guy hooked up to something big. After I watched him for a while I thought he just had a big ray on and left the pier to continue my bike ride. As I was coming back around an hour or so later here’s that guy still fighting his fish. So I decided to watch him fight it some more. After a while the fish starts heading towards the beach and goes to just behind the breakers. Then it surfaces and yikes it’s a great white around 8 feet. The lifeguard started yelling at everyone to get out of the water and then everyone around started going nuts. Soon there were news crews, crowds, etc. The guy who caught it was a long time regular if I remember right and he looked familiar to me. Two total were landed and I heard the same thing about him being told not to chum anymore. The other thing is that I thought the second shark that was landed was tossed off the end of the pier… if so I doubt it lived after fighting that long, being beached, put into a lifeguard truck, and then dropped off a pier. I hope I’m wrong about it being dropped off the pier.

Posted by Snookie 

I happened to save the article about the two great whites off Manhattan Beach Pier. It was Thursday, October 29, 1987. The names of the fishermen that caught them were: David Bird, who assembles telescopes part time and Mike Walker, an unemployed construction worker. One of the sharks was 6 feet, 10 inches and the other was 7 feet, 10 inches. The smaller one weighed about 150 pounds and the other weighed about 250 pounds. The fishermen were fishing for bonito and mackerel from the end of the pier to a point 350 yards offshore. The smaller shark took 90 minutes to land. The bigger shark took more than two hours and ended up a quarter mile down the beach. No, they did not release these two sharks. They sold them for $150 to a wholesale fish market in San Pedro after they cleaned both fish and found the stomachs empty. These two sharks were still just babies. Manhattan Beach seems to be an area of birthing for the great white as well as the tiger shark. Later there was a baby tiger shark caught in the surf by a surf fisherman. No, not a leopard shark—a TIGER Shark.

Posted by shorepounder 

Hi Snookie, I guess this has happened a couple of times, because the one I saw caught and the other that I only heard about being caught later the same week occurred in the early 90′s. I’ve always been told that whites use the Santa Monica Bay as a nursery… seems true.  Snookie, do you have the dates of the article by any chance?

Posted by Snookie 

Dear Shorepounder, The article was in the L.A. Times, October 29, 1987, part II, Page 12, titled, JAWS AND JAWS II PROVE BIG CATCH OF THE DAY AT MANHATTAN BEACH PIER by James Rainey, Times Staff Writer. I have collected shark info since the late 50′s, but apparently I missed anything about the ones you know about. Ones the size of the ones mentioned are babies and still on a small fish diet. Their mamas are a different matter though.

Well, that meant I needed to search out the articles and found two from the Los Angeles Times, one from 1987 and one from 1992:

Manhattan Beach Has the ‘Jaws’ Jitters After 2 Great Whites Surface

Landing two great white sharks near the Manhattan Beach Pier was a thrill for fishermen David Bird and Mike Walker, but it created oceans of angst in a community where many residents seem to spend nearly as much time in the water as they do on land.

Lifeguards said word spread quickly of the capture last Friday of the two sharks–one 6 feet, 10 inches long, the other 7 feet, 10 inches–and many fearful beachgoers pledged to avoid the water.

Marine experts, however, said swimmers have nothing to fear from the fish, although they acknowledged that it is unusual to find sharks that large so close to shore.

Bird and Walker, both pier regulars, began casting for bonito and mackerel about dawn. After they caught an ample supply, Walker, 34, of Manhattan Beach baited his line with mackerel and cast out again from the end of the pier.

“I could tell it was something very large,” he said of the tug on his line, “but I thought it would just be a bonito shark.”

Ninety minutes later, at about 11 a.m., the two fishermen had to walk off the pier and onto the beach before dragging a 150-pound shark onto the sand. They immediately recognized the razor teeth and large head of the bonito shark’s more infamous cousin.

Minutes later, Bird, a 24-year-old from Torrance, returned to the pier and felt a strong pull on his own line. He fought for more than two hours and ended up a quarter-mile down the beach before landing the second great white shark, which was at least 100 pounds heavier than Walker’s.

The two friends cleaned both fish and found the stomachs empty. Bird then trucked the sharks to San Pedro, where they brought $150 at a wholesale fish market.

“It’s an anomaly in the sense that we don’t usually find animals that size caught from a pier,” said Ralph Collier of Canoga Park, president of a group known as the Shark Research Committee. “Unfortunately, none of us really knows very much about the life history of these animals.”

Collier said that an attack on humans is highly unlikely in Southern California. In the last 60 years, there has not been a single documented great white shark attack on the coast south of Point Conception, he said. Since 1975, there have been two attacks at the point, which is just north of Santa Barbara, and two more at San Miguel Island. None were fatal.

“Because a shark is caught offshore does not mean it is venturing into the bathing areas,” Collier said. “Human beings are not natural food to sharks, otherwise we would have daily reports of people being consumed by sharks.”

Great white sharks usually do not begin to eat seals and other mammals until they reach 12 feet or more in length, according to Donald Nelson, a biology professor at California State University, Long Beach. The sharks grow as large as 18 feet long and can weigh 4,000 pounds.

Attacks by the big sharks have been more common in Northern California, where great whites venture closer to shore. The last reported attack was off Tunitas Beach on Aug. 15, when a shark attacked a surfboard, injuring the hand of its owner.

Although many beachgoers were alarmed by the Manhattan Beach catch, some took it in stride, lifeguard Tom Hargett said. “They’re not worried about ‘Jaws,’ they’re more worried about the pollution,” he said, referring to recent sewage spills that closed the beach.

Walker, an unemployed construction worker, and Bird, who assembles telescopes part-time, were back on the pier fishing on Wednesday. “I’m real excited about it still,” Bird said. “I’d like to catchn another one.”

—James Rainey, Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1987

Hooking of 3 Great White Sharks Off Pier Stirs Debate: Some swimmers and lifeguards in Manhattan Beach are concerned that sportfishermen are luring creatures that might pose a threat to humans.

The recent catch of three great white sharks off the Manhattan Beach Pier has hooked anglers and lifeguards in a debate about whether sportfishermen should be allowed to bait waters near popular swimming spots to attract the creatures.

Swimmers were unharmed in all three instances, and marine biologists say the sharks were probably too small to be considered a threat to humans. But some lifeguards and local swimmers believe that by dropping “chum,” or cut-up fish, into the water to lure sharks to their hooks, fishermen may be endangering swimmers and surfers.We have never had a conflict between swimmers and sharks, but we don’t want to create one,” Los Angeles County Lifeguard Capt. Steve Saylors said Thursday.

The controversy was sparked on Aug. 31 when sportfisherman Mike Walker, a 39-year-old Manhattan Beach resident, hooked his first of two great white sharks in a week. Walker, who says he fishes shark for fun rather than for food, landed the shark on the sand just long enough to take its measurements–6 feet, 11 inches–before releasing the animal into the waves. “The lifeguard was fit to be tied,” one of his fishing buddies, Richard Bird, 65, of Torrance, said Thursday. “He couldn’t believe (Walker) turned him loose in the surf.”

On Sept. 3, Walker landed his second great white shark–this one slightly more than seven feet long. This time, the lifeguard on duty prevented him from releasing it. Instead, he asked Walker to reel it onto the sand and load it onto the back of a lifeguard truck.

The shark was then driven to the end of the pier and dumped into the ocean. It landed on its back and sank, prompting Walker and others to speculate that it had died.

Three days later, another fisherman caught a great white shark measuring 6 feet, 6 inches. The angler, whose identity was not known, killed the shark and cut it into filets, Manhattan Beach police said.

Los Angeles County lifeguards and some swimmers say they are particularly concerned because the fishermen use chum deliberately to attract sharks into the area.

“I think that’s crazy in a public swimming area,” said Catherine Yates, a 21-year-old swimmer. “It’s just asking for trouble.” Saylors said many lifeguards agree: “A lot of lifeguards would like to see it prevented for safety reasons, but we don’t have any demonstrated problem we can deal with at this point.”

After the first shark was captured, lifeguards asked Manhattan Beach police to check whether the city has any ordinances preventing fishermen from throwing chum near swimming areas. As it turns out, there is nothing in city or state law preventing the practice, according to law enforcement officials.

         “There’s no law on the books saying you can’t catch sharks,” said Manhattan Beach Police Lt. John Hensley. “We can’t do anything about it. It’s not illegal.”

Lifeguards have also sent police a memo asserting that they have some discretionary authority to regulate the activities of fishermen when it may endanger beach-goers. “On heavily crowded beach days, it is possible that a fish hooked off the pier will have to be landed on the pier or released (a safe distance from shore),”  the memo said. “We feel this is in the best interest of marine life and the bathing public.”

Hensley said police plan to meet with lifeguards to discuss the matter.

Walker, meanwhile, remains puzzled by the controversy.

The 39-year-old Manhattan Beach man said he’s been fishing for shark off the pier for years, and that he doesn’t understand why lifeguards are suddenly worried about it being a hazard. He insisted the sharks never go near the swimmers and denied throwing large amounts of bait into the water.

When he fishes for shark, he said, he usually cuts up one mackerel every hour, throwing the head and tail into the water and using a chunk of its meat as bait. “The sharks will be out here, but they’re not going to go onshore,” Walker said. Bird’s 29-year-old son, David, agreed: “It’s sportfishing and I don’t think they should prevent us from fishing for them. What would solve this whole thing is if the lifeguards would study (sharks) and understand the ones we fish for are really harmless.”

Marine biologists, who point out they know of no humans attacked by a great white shark in Santa Monica Bay, are more cautious in their assessment. Great whites under 10 feet in length eat bottom-feeding animals like small fish and crabs, they say. Only the adults, which can reach 21-feet in length and weigh 4,000 pounds, have been known to attack humans, they say. Most of the attacks have occurred in Northern California where seals and sea lions—the staple of adult great whites—breed.

“Small great whites) won’t rush up to somebody and bite them and kill them,” said Jeffrey Landesman, a marine biologist for Cabrillo Marine Museum in San Pedro. “But there is a chance that the small white shark might mistake a foot or something for a small fish. Although it has never happened before, you can’t say it wouldn’t happen.”

Agreeing is David Ainley, a marine biologist at Point Reyes Bird Observatory in San Francisco who is organizing an international symposium on the animals to be held next March: “Baby white sharks don’t pose a threat in that they feed on fish. Probably the people fishing are endangering white sharks more than they are (endangering) humans.”

Ainley said he believes El Nino, the warm-water current that upsets the ecological balance of local waters once every seven or eight years, may be responsible for the recent spate of shark captures off Manhattan Beach Pier. “El Nino disrupts the food web and forces predators—birds, seals and sharks—to find localized food sources,” Ainley said. “One of the characteristics of El Nino is that a lot of predators are forced close to shore to look for food.”

—Kim Kowsky, Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1992

 Both of those articles show that great whites have been visiting the area for many years. Further research showed that they seem to be becoming even more common (although there is no way to know how many sighting are of the same fish). Checks on the Pacific Coast Shark News websites revealed the following Manhattan Beach reports for 2012 and 2013. 

 2012: July 9, September 9, and November 8


2013: July 9, July 10, August 18, August 24, August 27, August 28, September 5, September 23, September 25, October 3 (2), October 10, October 14, October 15, October 16, October 25, October 26, November 2, November 7, November 8, November 9, November 16 (2), November 20, November 21, November 24, November 30


Great White shark rescued off Manhattan Beach Pier

Eric Martin and Valerie Hill, co-directors of Manhattan Beach’s Roundhouse Aquarium, left work on Monday at around 8:30 p.m. after a long day—summer camp in the morning and a board meeting in the evening. Walking down the pier, they noticed a fisherman with a heavily bent fishing pole. He must have caught an extremely large fish, they thought. “Someone got a bat ray,” Martin told Hill, as they walked up the pier. While he disliked seeing them get caught, it wasn’t illegal. He didn’t plan on interfering. That’s until he faintly heard someone say “great white.” His ears perked. “Let me see what this guy has,” Martin told Hill, as he strolled toward the fisherman. Martin leaned over to get a glimpse at the catch. Holy crap, he thought, that’s a great white shark.

            In fact, what the man had on his line was the fifth great white shark caught on the Manhattan Beach pier since 1980, Martin said. The shark—about five to seven-feet long and more than 100 pounds—was a baby, probably not more than a year-and-a-half old, Martin said. Martin determined the shark was female. “If it had been killed it would’ve been a tragedy anyways because there’re not a lot of fully mature great white sharks up and down the Pacific Coast,” he said. Plus, he said, it was beautiful. “They aren’t as dangerous as people think.”

The fisherman needed to cut the line. Instead, the fisherman was dropping a large, round net into the ocean. The line, Martin noticed, was assembled for shark fishing—a steel leader connected to a circle hook. “You have to cut the line,” Martin told him. “You cannot kill a great white shark. That’s the law.” The man allegedly refused. Martin explained that great white sharks were federally protected, and threatened to call the police. “If you don’t let me cut this line right away, you will go to jail and you will get a fine,” Martin recalled saying. The fisherman didn’t budge, Martin said. “I don’t think he understood the urgency,” Hill said.

Martin squeezed his way closer to the line, but was pushed out by three of the fisherman’s friends, he said. When Martin realized the fisherman didn’t speak English, he recruited a husband and wife couple fishing on the pier to translate. Martin explained that great white sharks must be swimming to breathe. If the shark’s head got caught in the net, it wouldn’t be able to pump water through its gills, and would end up dying and sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Hill, watching the drama unfold, had to react. It was her first time ever seeing a great white shark—she wanted to document the moment. But the two parties remained arguing. She pulled out her iPhone. “Do I hit camera? Or police? Camera or police?” Hill recalled thinking. She called the police. “If it turns into a physical fight, and he gets punched, there’s nothing I can do about it,” Hill said, explaining her decision.

The man translating for Martin had a knife in his tackle box, which he handed to Martin. Within five minutes, Martin managed to cut the line, against the fisherman’s will. “He’s going to be mad at me, but I just saved his butt,” Martin said. “If you hook onto something big, the person’s adrenaline rolls. You want to catch it,” Martin said, adding that fishermen like taking pictures to prove and share their catches. “It could be an ego thing.” While Martin managed to cut the line, the hook remained in the shark’s mouth. Without the line, however, the shark could easily free herself from the hook. “She can cut that line like a piece of cake,” Martin said.

What followed the rescue was a learning experience for bystanders, Martin said. “We had other people coming up to us and asking us questions,” Martin said. “Is it common for this (to happen)? Is it safe? Why does a shark have to stay swimming? How long does it take for shark to actually start being mature to have babies?” Hill was happy to turn the sighting and rescue into a teaching experience. “Our goal is to educate as many people as possible about the ocean, the animals, and human interactions, both good and bad,” she said.

—Alan Tchekmedyian, easyreadernews.com, July 11, 2012

Great White Shark In Manhattan Beach Caught, Then Swam Right Under Swimmer 

It’s perhaps the scariest thing that can happen in the water. A great white shark swam right under a swimmer at a Southern California beach Tuesday.

The shark, estimated to be about 8 to 9 feet, was initially caught by an angler who was fishing for bat rays on the Manhattan Beach Pier, Patch reports. The area is very popular as a swimming and surfing spot.        

When the fisherman realized he had accidentally hooked the state-protected species, he called over Eric Martin, director of the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium. Unlike the Manhattan Beach fisherman in July who reportedly wanted to keep the great white that he caught (prompting calls to the police), this angler willingly cut the big guy loose.

But before he did, Martin was able to snap the above photo of the shark with his mouth wide above. Then, in an amazing close call, the shark swam right under an unaware swimmer. The swimmer—who was not harmed—was about 6 feet tall, which is how Martin gauged the size of the shark.

Martin told CBS that now that great whites are federally protected, there have been more sightings in Southern California.

And even though some people get really scared, others “feel really blessed” when they see one, Martin told local online news site, Easy Reader. “This is a special thing,” he commented.

Just last month, a great white was also spotted at Venice Beach and another was spotted at Leadbetter Point, a popular surfing spot in Santa Barbara.

Despite the reported uptick in sightings, a recent estimate found that there are less than 350 adult great white sharks left off the west coast, partly due to sharks dying in fishermen’s nets. In an effort to save these sharks, nonprofits Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards sent a letter last month requesting that west coast great whites be listed as endangered species.

—Kathleen Miles, The Huffington Post, September 6, 2012

Great whites spotted at Manhattan Beach

Lifeguards today are keeping a close watch on Manhattan Beach after several sharks, believed to be great whites, appeared near the shoreline on Tuesday, prompting rescuers to briefly clear the water of some young swimmers.

Authorities say the sightings of what appeared to be baby whites measuring between four and seven feet in length is reportedly a series of events. On July 9, El Porto Beach, located near the beaches of Dockweiler and Manhattan Beach, was closed after a young great white was spotted near its coastline.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium quickly dispatched researchers to Manhattan Beach in an effort to learn more about the behavioral patterns of the juvenile sharks. “Their goal is to actually get them on the boat or pull them into a net and then tag them so they can do research,” lifeguard captain Kyle Daniels told CBS Los Angeles. “August is a great time to try to research them because they often come into closer waters to eat shoreline fish.”

With Labor Day expected to draw a huge crowd to Manhattan Beach to celebrate the traditional end of summer, officials stress the importance of exercising safety precautions while swimming, wading, snorkeling and surfing in the area.

“We have fully staffed lifeguard towers through Labor Day weekend and we’re encouraging everybody to swim near lifeguards,” Daniels told the local news reporting station. “We will continue to advise if we see more sharks and let people know that there are sharks in the area, but not to be too afraid.”

—Sharon Bush, Examiner.com, August 28, 2013

3 juvenile great whites sharks sighted ‘extremely close to shoreline’ off Manhattan Beach

Three juvenile great white sharks, ranging from 4 to 7 feet, were spotted off the coast in Manhattan Beach late Tuesday morning.

“There have been consistent shark sightings through the middle of July to now in the Manhattan Beach area,” said Kyle Daniels, captain lifeguard for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “Nothing actually really happened.”

According to Ken Peterson, a researcher at Monterey Bay Aquarium, the sharks were “extremely close to the shoreline”—about 20 yards offshore—which he says shouldn’t pose any harm to beachgoers under lifeguard supervision as “they’re just out there with the other fish.”

However, the proximity was too close for the team of marine biologists and researchers, who had intended to tag the sharks as part of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Project White Shark, a study started in 2002 to research and exhibit great whites caught off the California coast.

The collaborating team from Cal State Long Beach’s Sharklab, led by Dr. Chris Lowe, took to the coast on a fishing boat from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to capture, tag and release juvenile whites. They commissioned a helicopter to assist in spotting the sharks, Peterson said.

According to Dr. Lowe, the team spotted the three juveniles between 10 and 11:30 a.m. but was unable to wrap a net around them. “The net has to drop to a certain depth,” Peterson explained. In a process called “pursing,” the sharks should be scooped out of the water using the net and put on a holding place until they are tagged and released, he said.

The team has tagged 100 animals since 2002, Peterson said, and has obtained “great data” about the animal’s migration habits and its use of the habitat. “There’s a lot of brand new information that’s coming out of this research,” he said. Daniels said he has noticed a trend of sharks sighted closer to the shoreline, but it’s not necessarily a cause for concern.

“We’ve been monitoring and they’ve been getting to the swimmers,” he said. “No one’s been hurt. We’re keeping a closer eye on it, and most people have been seeing them all summer.”

—EasyReaderNews, August 28, 2013 

Great white shark sightings thrilling, but also a good sign for speciesRecent increase in shark sightings near Manhattan Beach is exciting for spectators and for researchers.

When Jay Dohner heard there were several great white sharks off Manhattan Beach last Sunday, he did what few surfers would do. He grabbed a camera, mounted his paddleboard and set off in search of the apex predators.

It wasn’t long before his helmet-mounted camera was recording three great whites—each between 8 and 10 feet long—circling underneath his paddleboard and just a few yards from a group of oblivious surfers.

“The sharks didn’t seem to be paying me any attention. They looked like they were looking for fish, so I felt I could stand there safely and watch them,” Dohner, 38, said of the roughly five-minute encounter when it began last weekend.

That feeling didn’t last for long.  “There are two different things in your head,” he said. “”Wow, that’s beautiful,’ and ‘We should get out of here.’”

He isn’t the only thrill-seeker to actively seek out and film the sharks, which have recently been spotted more frequently near the El Porto waters off Manhattan Beach, an area popular with surfers and paddleboarders. Others have posted their close encounters on YouTube, but researchers and wildlife officials are calling for restraint, warning that the sharks will attack if they feel threatened.

Many of the great whites appear to be juveniles learning to feed and fend for themselves, said Chris Lowe, a marine biology professor and leader of the research Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach.

Researchers are still trying to determine why the young sharks have been drawn to the El Porto area—perhaps warmer temperatures or a larger feeding pool. Through tagging and other monitoring methods, researchers hope to have more of an answer by next year.

But one thing is clear: Experts have noticed an increase in shark sightings off beaches in Manhattan, Redondo and Ventura over the last few years. That may be alarming for some, but it’s a welcome development for wildlife researchers who say it’s a sign of a healthy rebound for marine life after California legislators prohibited the use of gill nets for fishing in 1990.

On March 1, white sharks earned some protection while state officials decide whether to list them under the California Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered. During that review period, the sharks cannot be legally hunted, captured or killed, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

No violations have been reported so far this year, according to Dan Sforza, assistant chief of the southern district offices for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 —Alicia Banks, Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2013

It seems to me little doubt that great whites, at least juvenile great whites, are common to these waters during the summer months (and later). What’s not clear is the location of the adults (that are dangerous). The biologists seem to suggest that there is limited risk from the juvenile sharks but it seems logical to me that there must be some adults around if the juveniles are in the area. Given the seemingly minimal fear by many of the local swimmers and surfers, I imagine it’s just a matter of time before someone is attacked and suffers injuries—or worse.



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Reviews of Pier Fishing in California — 1st. Edition

 “Pier Fishing in California” — 1st Edition — 1992


“Ken Jones has put a lifetime of pier fishing experience into a book that should be in every angler’s library. It is full of valuable information that will benefit the beginner, the expert and everyone in between.”

—Guy Clifton, Editor, Fishing & Hunting News


“Finally, a fact-filled book for California piers…how, what, where, why and when. Don’t go pier fishing without it.

United Anglers of California


 “This is the best pier fishing book I’ve ever seen. Piers are eminently accessible, mostly free of charge and offer excellent fishing. And the information in PIER FISHING IN CALIFORNIA is just what you need for a successful fishing venture anywhere along the California coast.

—Bill Karr, Editor, Western Outdoor News


“Pier fishing is great fun. And now there is a book that reveals how to pier fish with confidence, and how to catch each of the many species California’s 80-plus piers have to offer.”

—Ron Kovach, Author of Saltwater Fishing In California


PIER FISHING IN CALIFORNIA is an outstanding guide. It provides a first hand, insiders view to every pier in California. It’s eminently useful to everyone from the beginning angler to the expert.”

—Jim Matthews, Editor, California Angler Magazine


The Pier Rats Speak —  Amazon.Com — Customer Reviews — Pier Fishing in California, 1st. Ed.

Classic fishing in the mode of simplicity, December 20, 1999  ★★★★★ Reviewer: gurdonark from La Crescenta, CA  

“Consumerism has invaded fishing much as it has ruined many other pastimes. We are constantly called upon to buy more and better exotic products, in pursuit of the perfect trade magazine nirvana. No longer can one just go to a pleasant locale and just fish—one must be on a five day trip in Mexican waters aboard a luxury yacht with a ton and a half of electronic equipment and shiny tackle materials that make graphite seem archaic. Pier Fishing in California is about a simpler way—fishing from public piers across the state. Here are simple, inexpensive ways to have a day of fascinating fishing, without the need for boat, high tech tackle, trawling motor, or (in the cases of public piers), even a fishing license. The book does the job just right—a pier by pier rundown of where to fish, what you’ll catch, how to catch it, and how good the fishing is, usually with a pier picture. All “how to” books should be this simple and useful, and pier fishing is a sport that deserves more attention. I suspect if more young people were taken to piers and taught patient technique rather than taken on expensive charters and taught how big money = easy fishing, then we might generate more young people with a genuine love for the sport.”

One of the Finest Books on Saltwater Fishing Ever, August 2, 2001 ★★★★★ Reviewer: jimbojack  from Huntington Beach, CA  USA 

“Ken Jones has written a masterful book that details California piers up and down the coast. This books tells you the secrets and tips for more successful fishing adventures on California piers. An in depth look at each pier, what types of fish you’ll catch, and most importantly, how to catch them. Ken reveals what baits to use, how to hook them and even some favorite recipes to prepare your catch. Also included are pictures of many species to easily identify fish. You will learn knots, rigs and what type of tackle you’ll need to become a better angler. This book is no nonsense and straight to the point but never lacks for detail. This book is great for saltwater anglers no matter where you live. If you love fishing the way I do, this is a must read… Great book!”

Bible for the California Saltwater Shorefisherman! August 3, 2001 ★★★★★ Reviewer: Salty Nick from San Francisco Bay Area

“A must for any person who enjoys saltwater fishing in the state of California. Ken has done a wonderful job of clearly and concisely describing fishing tackle & techniques for angling at California’s coastal piers, as well as environments and species available at each specific pier. Though useful to any fisherman—as a boatless shorefisherman, this guide has been invaluable to me. The author’s obvious years of experience are reflected in this book, which has greatly increased my learning curve (and fish count). And the illustrated reference guide in the back of the book is a great tool in identifying what you’ve hooked into. Makes me want to go fishing!”

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