Oceanside Harbor Fishing Pier

The entrance to the pier

I believe it was Art Linkletter who became famous from his observation that “kids say the darnedest things.” One warm summer night in 2007 I was reminded of that saying when a youngster of probably eight years of age approached me here after I had caught several fish—including two black croaker, two sargo, and surprisingly, two bonito. He asked me what I was using for bait and I replied that worms seemed to be working. “Are you using those blood sucking worms?” In reply I showed him the lugworms I was using and told him that sometimes I used bloodworms but that they do not suck your blood. He seemed relieved as he returned to his family and that’s when I thought of Mr. Linkletter.  Bloodworms can give you a prickly little nip if you’re not careful but they’re not exactly vampires. There are some parasitic blood-sucking leeches but I’ve never heard of them being used for bait. But who knows, maybe they’d be great?

 The channel

Environment. Since being built in 1967, the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor Fishing Pier has become the favorite of many who used to fish the longer Oceanside Pier. It’s located just a short distance up-shore (about 1.5 miles) and presents a very different feel than the larger, busier pier. The pier is like many in bays, small and close to the water and sits over fairly shallow bay water with a mud and eelgrass bottom. The pier is near to and almost directly fronts the channel entering the harbor and sits just down and across the harbor from the live bait receiver (which typically attract fish).

Bait barge

 It also only pokes out fifty or so feet into the water so anglers are permitted three main areas to fish. The first is the narrow waterway between the shoreline and pier. The second is to cast parallel to the shoreline in either direction away from the pier. The third is to toss a bait straight out into the bay. Each area can present somewhat of a different environment and different species.

The result is a mix of fish common to muddy bottom bays and rocky shorelines combined with more pelagic, top-water species that have taken a wrong turn into the harbor channel.

Upshore

As to species, Fish and Wildlife surveys list jacksmelt and topsmelt as the numeric leaders at the pier (although they are only second in my records). My records (from 25+ years) show bass as number one although unfortunately most are under the legal 14” size. Kelp (calico) bass lead the hit parade but sand bass and spotted bay bass will also show up. Generally most of the spotted bay bass show up at night

Laid back fishing

Croakers and perch would tie for third if there were a ranking. I’ve caught yellowfin, spotfin, white, and black croaker together with the croaker-like sargo. DF&W records also show queenfish in the mix. Another croaker occasionally taken is small white sea bass usually called a seatrout. Surprisingly I’ve never seen a corbina caught at the pier although they should be available.

Spotfin croaker

Perch are numerous but too often it’s the small shinerperch, which, at times, can be difficult to keep off the small hooks you’re using for the larger perch. Luckily black seaperch, white seaperch, rubberlip seaperch, and barred surfperch are also available—and some are fairly good size. Several perch-like species also are common including opaleye, halfmoon, blacksmith and the golden-colored garibaldi (illegal so don’t keep them).

Opaleye

Pelagics will often make an appearance with mackerel leading the hit parade but bonito show up in warm water years and barracuda are a fairly common nighttime visitor.

Flatfish on the bottom primarily will be California halibut although an occasional turbot or sole may also show up.

As for the sharays, the most common sharks are gray smoothhounds but shovelnose sharks (guitarfish), round stingrays, thornback rays, butterfly rays, and bat rays (including a huge bat ray estimated to weigh 150 pounds in August ‘09).

If fishing the inshore rocks for perch, you also might encounter kelpfish and blennies. I’ve caught four species of kelpfish here—giant kelpfish, crevice kelpfish, spotted kelpfish, and striped kelpfish, along with a rockpool blenny. All were fairly small but interesting looking species.

Kelpfish

Uncommon fish that have shown up at the pier include bonefish, snake eels and slime eels. A yellow snake eel was taken in January of 2010, a fish once considered rare in California but increasingly seen (at several piers) over the past decade. Six hagfish, also known as slime eels, were reported in July 2009 while two more were reported in October 2010. The fish, presumably Pacific Hagfish, Eptatretus stoutii, are normally found in deep waters and are known for the amount of slime they secrete. All of the hagfish were caught from the right hand corner of the pier with a cast out toward the deeper water of the harbor’s entrance channel.

Fishing Tips. This is a small pier that really doesn’t seem to have any special spots, although some regulars claim the left corner is best. I’m not sure I agree (I’ve caught most of my fish off of the right corner), but who knows? The main channel of water is the place to fish for the largest species. Nevertheless there are several different approaches anglers can try, both as to the area to fish, depth, and time.

The end zone and by this I mean fishing from the left to right corners of the pier with diagonal or straight casts. The water is a little deeper and you may have a little better chance at certain species.

On the top you can try for mackerel and an occasional bonito or barracuda. The mackerel prefer a small strip of squid or a piece of mackerel on a size 2 or 4 hook with a split shot sinker a couple of feet up the line. If a real “mac attack” is on you can also use a multi-hook, Sabiki-type bait leader (although I simply prefer tying two-three hooks on a line much like a high/low leader). Unless you’re planning on filling a bucket with mackerel to take home, I can’t see a need to catch them 4-5 at a time (and inevitably seeing a $3-4 dollar leader tangled up by squirming mackerel)

If bonito show up, usually in a warm-water year or following the same, most seem to prefer a feather behind a splasher (cast-a-bubble or wooden ball). However, a variety of spoons will also work with Megabaits being among the most popular.

Small, “pencil” barracuda often show up at night. When the “pencils” are around, a shiny spoon usually is the best offering. A majority of anglers seem to prefer gold or silver Kastmaster and Krocodile spoons although newer spoons, i.e., Megabaits will also work. The main problem is that most of these fish are undersized and illegal; they must be returned to the water. Given that most of the spoons have a treble hook, and that it can be difficult removing the hook from a wiggling barracuda equipped with very sharp teeth, too many of the fish may be injured and not survive the ordeal. Perhaps it’s best just to ignore the barracuda unless accidently hooked on live bait intended for a bass or other fish?

California needlefish, which are often mistaken for barracuda, are also common to the pier and also tend to stay near the top of the water. You will sometimes see the 24-30 inch “needles” attacking the schools of smelt that hang around the pier. Not too surprising, the best luck I’ve had is using a live smelt fished about 18 inches under a bobber. You may occasionally see a needlefish hooked with a spoon, but most are taken on live bait.

Small bass are common

Fishing on the bottom yields different species. This is a good area for small kelp bass, barred sand bass, and bay bass (spotted sand bass). Most of these will be taken on anchovies fished on the bottom but bloodworms are better. Here, because the pier is close to the water, you can also effectively use artificial lures. Message Board reports suggest that grunion-colored Fish Traps, golden-brown bait Fish Traps (3-inch size), anchovy-colored Worm Kings, and lime-green grubs (with a fluorescent green or yellow leadhead), Scampis, and Scampi-type plastics are all good producers for the bass.

For halibut, net up some small smelt (they always seem to be around) and use them on the bottom with a live bait Carolina-type leader. If the pier isn’t crowded you might also try artificial lures for halibut with soft bait, Big Hammer-type lures seemingly the favorites. For the smaller flatfish, especially diamond turbot, try live anchovies, baby smelt, bloodworms or small strips of anchovy on a high/low rigging.

Spotfin croaker

Spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, sargo and black croaker prefer ghost shrimp, bloodworms, mussels or clams, and are especially prevalent at night during the summer months; especially off the left hand corner.

For guitarfish, sharks (mainly gray smoothhounds) and rays (mostly thornback rays and bat rays but also a few butterfly rays), try squid, cut mackerel, anchovy or  a live smelt on a Carolina rig.

At night, you may also encounter a few sculpin (scorpionfish). They’re good eating but check and make sure they are legal-sized fish and be careful when handling them.

Black croaker

All of this advice can be used when fishing to the sides of the pier since similar techniques and bait will yield similar fish. However, the somewhat shallower waters seem to yield more bass, croakers, and perch than the waters straight out from the end. Usually bait will yield the best results but artificial lures used at night for the spotted bay bass can also be productive.

A lot of fish, mostly small but some large, can be found in the shallow waters between the pier and the rocky shoreline. For blackperch, rubberlip seaperch, and opaleye, try using fresh mussels, bloodworms or lugworms on a size 6 hook. Large jacksmelt will hit number 8 hooks baited with small pieces of bloodworm fished with a float (adjust the hooks so they are 2-3 feet under the surface of the water); small jacksmelt and topsmelt can often be caught on multi-hook bait rigs with size 8-12 hooks.    A seemingly unending number of small specimens can be caught next to the rocky shoreline. Simply tie a couple of size 8 hooks to your line and bait up with small pieces of bloodworms, lugworms or mussels. You never know what you will catch, it might be sargo, opaleye, small kelp bass, exotic looking kelpfish or even weirder looking blennies; I’ve even heard mention of a moray eel or two. Do realize that fishing this area also means you will probably lose a few riggings. I often cast as close to the rocks as possible so occasionally seeing a sinker or hook snag on a rock is almost inevitable. At the same time there also seem to be some rocks or other items in the water mid-channel that also like to grab a hook or sinker. For me, the risk of catching fish makes the risk of losing a sinker or two worthwhile.

Sargo

Lastly, remember to bring a net or treble-hook gaff when fishing for the larger species, you never know when a two hundred pound mud marlin (bat ray) is going to grab hold of your bait (and a huge bat ray, estimated to weigh 150-pounds, was taken in August of 2009). However, never use a gaff unless you really intend to keep and use the fish.

E-Mail Messages

Date: August 8, 1999; To: PFIC Message Board; From: joel “patient 1” selt; Subject Oceanside Harbor Pier

It’s been very slow for the last couple of weeks. There’s been some good bites, but nothing is taking. The bait of choice seems to be small sliced up anchovies and small pieces of squid. Gentlemen by the name of Tommy Diaz, caught a 12-pound white sea bass on the bank on the north side of the pier. Occasionally a couple of under-sized halibut would be caught and some calico bass. It’s been a little windy in the harbor with some choppy water to go with it. I fish there on the average of two to three times a week. I’ve caught a variety of fish here: big and small, to skinny and huge. Best bet is to be patient and to bring two-rod set-ups with you, never know what could start to bite. Bait can be bought at the bait shop next to the “chart house’ when you first enter the harbor, or if you have a bait net, you can use that off the pier since bait fish are abundant.

A small white sea bass

Date: March 20, 2004; To: PFIC Message Board; From: garth; Subject: Yesterday O’side pier, O’side Harbor

My kid and I headed out early yesterday (we both took the day off) and made bait at Oceanside Harbor. We got over to the long pier about 10AM and tossed some double hooked perch and small smelt at varying distances down the pier, along with some cooked bay shrimp and blood worms. Nothing interesting happened, and the kid got bored, so we headed back to the little pier so she could have some fun with the perch. She picked up a couple of nice ones. The only thing I caught was a bizarre creature about 2-3” long and completely glommed around a piece of anchovy I had hooked. It felt roughly like an intestine, and was very weirdly malleable. A diver fella who walked out on the pier said he’d never seen anything like it. A couple of very nice guys who arrived separately, Justin and Cecil, provided some great company, and we had some fun shooting the breeze. Cecil hooked two, very nice spotfin croaker, and seemed totally surprised by it… I’m not buyin’ it Cecil! Great job. All in all, we fished from just after seven till almost seven at night, and I gotta say, the old saw is right… A bad day fishing is always better than a good day working! Garth

Posted by jess4dhalibut

Hey, I believe you caught a form of sea slug known as a “nudibranch.” I’m a diver, but in more tropical waters, those are common. I’ve seen them in the Philippines and Thailand. For me, the water around here is too cold and murky, another reason the diver from here has probably never “seen one.”

Date: May 8, 2004; To: PFIC Message Board; From: garth; Subject: Oceanside Harbor Pier

Well, today I got a great sunburn and had a nice time with my daughter. The day was bright and there was a light breeze keeping us cool. There were a few people out on the pier, and a lot of kids that Elise went and played with. We showed up with bloodworms, anchovies and squid, and ended up fishing most of the day with smelt. D’oh! I coulda saved the $7 at the bait shop. I had my first attempts at dip-netting my own bait today. The short answer? I stink. I can still catch smelt just fine with my Sabiki, though.

We started with cut anchovies and bloodworms on sliding eggs and hi/lo, respectively. I caught about the smallest calico bass mankind has hooked, a mighty 3” monster! After that, I spent approximately 4 hours without even a bite, shooting the breeze with fellow pier goers, saying hello, and admiring other folks’ catch. There were some annoying people, and some noisy ones, and some overly gabby ones, but mostly nice. My friend Johnny was there, and another guy who, last weekend, lost three halibut because he didn’t have a net…

A younger guy visiting from Arizona got a mighty hookup, I lent my pier net to the battle. Just the same they ended up gaffing a nice legal halibut, 24”. The kids were spellbound.

There was a nice 24” or so wingspan stingray landed, but it didn’t appear to have a tail…was it cut off? Are there rays with no tails?

Well, things started getting better for me, even though my camera batteries were dead and I can’t show you what didn’t come home with me. I had two live smelt out off the north corner of the pier and one just bent steadily over in a way that screamed “ray!”  I spent the next five minutes with a completely bent in half pole as it steadfastly pulled away from the pier, and then made a mad dash at the pilings that I was able to fend off. Johnny manned the pier net and I had a fat 22-24” stingray (I think) exactly like the one the other fellow had landed earlier. It too had no tail. The same fish? You be the judge.       My arms were a little worn out from that, so I kicked back for a while after tossing out a new smelt. In about a half hour, I heard one of my warning bells ring, once. Highly unusual. I examine the line, and its moving parallel to the pier… This is a cheaper rod and reel with no drag (long story), so I flipped open the bail and let whatever run with it while holding the line with my fingers…I felt a strong pull away from the pier, flipped the bail closed and BANG! I had a strong hookup. After a brief battle, I had a nice-looking halibut next to the pier. Johnny dropped the net down, and one of the lines holding the net slipped a knot! It was hanging by two supports…and the fish had gotten it’s second breath… it trashed it’s head after casting a beady eye at me, and snapped my swivel off! It darted for safety… directly into the net hanging at a cockeyed angle… Johnny hoisted the fellow up, and after a quick tape-measure, I had my first-ever legal halibut! I decided, this one time, to keep it.

We stayed for a while after that, then headed home. I got some taters and various bits and readied the wok for some deep-frying. Those were the best-tasting fish’n'chips I’ve had in a long, long time. I don’t plan on keeping any more halibut unless it’s a special occasion, or a super-trophy. I took some pictures.

I also caught a Dr. Pepper can. Not so unusual, except that it contained an octopus that had run into the can with my smelt! We got him outta there and the kids lost their minds a bit before sending him home.  Great day! Garth

Date: June 1, 2004; To: PFIC Message Board; From: garth; Subject: Oceanside Harbor Pier 

Been fishing through April and May on the Little Pier and the action is picking up. We fish Hi/lo #6 or #4 hooks with 1-1 1/2 oz pyramids and 10-15-lb test mainly, and sliders with 1-2 oz. weights & #2 or #1 hooks. There is a line of weeds that follows the shoreline, north and south, inside of which can be treacherous due to rocks, but outside of the weeds its relatively snag free.

Halibut, shorts as well as legals, are biting, on just about anything you throw out there. It seems like you simply need to hit ‘em on the nose. I’ve caught them on live smelt, whole frozen anchovies, and my daughter got one on razor clams! Live smelt or anchovies from the bait dock across the harbor seem to be the number one bait. Biggest spotted was an almost 30” by a visiting ‘Zoner. I either use a slider rig or a hali rig (á la Snookie’s rig).

Sand bass, croaker, opaleye and sargo are biting regularly. The largest barred sand bass (this is a tenuous ID, but they match the pics I’ve seen here and elsewhere very well) was hooked by my girlfriend… sadly a pier net in the trunk of my car, and not on the pier, resulted in the fish kicking off as I tried to hand-line it up. It looked to be in the 16-18” range, and very fat. The bass are eating cut and whole ‘chovies, mussels, bloodworms and squid on hi/lo’s, in addition to live smelt on sliders and hali rigs.

Spotfin croaker are biting the same bait, and really nailing mussels and bloodworms. I have only witnessed one yellowfin croaker. There’s an open boat dock north of the pier that holds a lot of mussels, though it is getting a bit depleted. Sargo and opaleye on bloodworms and mussels. Last weekend the opaleye were out in force, with one kid catching at least a dozen, in addition to about four garibaldi.

Smoothounds, horn shark, and butterfly ray are making appearances. I’ve witnessed and been told about several larger smoothounds, two of which I netted for lucky anglers. The biggest, caught by a nice guy named Tonio, was 43” and 13-lbs. I netted a 41” smoothie that we didn’t weigh as well. I believe they’re “grey” smoothounds, and the most common bait is squid. The bat rays haven’t been around, but butterfly rays are coming up regularly. My pal Joey picked up a butterfly about 26” across last weekend, which I netted and dropped on my camera. D’oh! We also saw a horn shark (my daughter), and a shovelnosed guitarfish come out of the Harbor, both on squid, hi/lo.

Other species seen: white sea bass, short; perch (shiner, walleye, and a red one I couldn’t ID), some yellowish colored eel, from 14” to 36”; kelpfish to 8”; large and small smelt to 16”; one fellow showed me a fish and ID’d it as a bonefish, I can’t tell you if he was right. There’s a fellow who’s there regularly and drops crab nets for large sea snails. He tells me they’re delicious; I’ll take his word for it. Occasionally, people catch lobsters on a line. All the ones I’ve seen landed were thrown back, though I did see a shell floating by recently.

Date: 1/24/09; To: PFIC Message Board; From: tunafshr93; Subject: Oceanside Harbor Pier   1/23/09

Late report. I fished the pier from 7:00 to 12:00. Water extremely dirty, visibility was about 8 inches. Big jacksmelt were there for the taking. I caught a total of 6 fish: 4 jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, and some sort of eel. My biggest jacksmelt that I landed was about 14 inches, smallest being 11 inches. Bloodworms were the key bait. I caught the biggest on squid but I caught more on the bloodworms and the perch. Pelicans at the pier were aggressive. As soon as I brought the fish up they were trying to eat off the hook, and when I grabbed the fish they still went for it; ended up getting bit by one. A pelican stole my biggest smelt before I got it out of the water. The picture is of the eel, I don’t know what type it is. I don’t think its a moray. Caught on a piece of mackerel fished on the bottom. Does someone have an idea of what it is.

Posted by minnow magnet

It’s a yellow snake eel.

Posted by Cjmedina

Nice eel! Those birds are real annoying and aggressive. The last time I went the gulls keep trying to steal my macks and squid.

Date: 2/7/10; To: PFIC Message Board; From: tunafshr93; Subject: Oceanside Harbor Pier 2/6/10

Arrived at the pier around 7:00 and left at 11:00. It was really windy. Caught two walleye surf perch in the first hour. Around 9:00 the wind died a little bit and decided to fish on the bottom. Ended up catching 4 calicos in the 9-11 inch range. The whole pier total was: 11 calicos 9-12 inch range, a lot of perch, 2 Jacksmelt 13-15 inches, 1 sculpin, and 1 kelpfish. Good fishing but a pelican got hooked on my line and pulled my pole in the water. Pelican unhooked itself before I could snag my pole so I lost the pole, but on the good side it gives me an excuse to buy a new pole.

Date: February 14, 2010; To: PFIC Message Board; From: tunafshr93; Subject: Oceanside Harbor Pier 2/13/10

I fished the Oceanside Harbor pier yesterday from 7:00 to 1:00. Picked up some live sardines from the bait barge. Got a run on the sardine but missed the hookset. Ended up getting two walleye surfperch about 8 inches, and a 16-inch jacksmelt. Pier count was: a lot of small perch, 4 jacksmelt, and a lizardfish.

 Pelican

Author’s Note. No. 1. Some do it right, some don’t. This is a place where families often congregate and at times it is interesting to watch the families in action. In particular, I remember one evening when two granddads brought their grandkids down to the pier for a little fishing. One grandpa was constantly yelling at the kids: they weren’t baiting the hook properly, casting properly, or watching their lines close enough. If they wandered off the pier there was hell to pay. Granddaddy grinch appeared to be suffering from the W.C. Fields disease of misopedia. The other “gramps” was patient, never cross, and as nurturing as you could hope. Guess which one got the better attention? Of course it was the nurturing one.

Another angler, a young mensch no more than sixteen himself, was showing a small lad of five or six years age how to fish. Slowly he showed his padawan how to tie a knot and where to place the hook. He explained what bait might work best and where they should put the line. He made the first cast but carefully showed how he had cast, and then made sure the young angler held the pole himself. He had brought a Coleman lantern so they had plenty of light, he had brought a small cooler with cold drinks, and he had brought sandwiches, cookies and chips for food. A small radio allowed both to listen to a ballgame. The munchkin took it all in and was, I bet, hooked on fishing for life.

Author’s Note. No. 2. This is one of those piers where an angler can often “chum up” some fish. In particular, pieces of bread will often attract schools of opaleye when they are tossed into the inshore water near the rocky shoreline. Once the opaleye are present, and excited, fish with sea worms, frozen peas, fresh mussels, or dough-ball bait. Chum made from cut up bait—anchovy/mackerel/squid, and tossed down by the pier pilings will often stir up mixed schools of jacksmelt, kelp bass, perch and sometimes mackerel. When fishing in this manner it is often best to simply tie a small hook onto the end of your line and fly line it into the area of your chum, keeping it near the top of the water or down two to three feet. Some anglers prefer to use a small bobber or float to help maintain the proper depth for the bait but it really isn’t necessary.

Author’s Note. No. 3. For a number of years this little pier was the meeting place for a declining number of veterans, survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the United Sates into World War II. Each year the group met on December 7, had a bell ceremony, and scattered flowers into the bay commemorating comrades lost in the attack. But people age and as the years passed fewer and fewer of the veterans lived to see the ceremony. As a result, 2011 saw the last reunion at the pier by the veterans. Tis sad!

OCEANSIDE: Veterans gather for group’s final

Pearl Harbor remembrance

Remember Pearl Harbor  

Gathering for the final time Wednesday morning on the banks of Oceanside Harbor to remember their fallen shipmates and comrades, the members of North County’s Pearl Harbor Survivors Association marked the 70th anniversary of the attack by the Japanese.

Leaders of the national survivors association announced recently that the group, made up of America’s most highly regarded veterans, will disband Dec. 31, making Wednesday the last time the association would hold official remembrances in Hawaii and throughout the U.S.

 “People have forgotten what Pearl Harbor did. It woke us up,” said Fallbrook resident Joe Walsh, who is the president and the last remaining original member of North County’s Chapter 31. “We weren’t prepared.”

On a cold but sunny morning Wednesday, around 100 people crowded onto the small fishing pier off North Harbor Drive to shake hands with the six Pearl Harbor veterans, toss handfuls of rose petals onto the glassy water and listen as a young Marine Corps corporal played taps. Walsh said the North County chapter originally started with 30 members, swelling to 87 during the 1970s or ’80s. Today, seven members remain.

Guests who attended Wednesday’s ceremony included City Council members, former mayors and six survivors, all wearing the trademark blue windbreakers that stand out in a crowd. Former Oceanside councilman Rocky Chavez spoke briefly during the ceremony, wishing the veterans “fair winds and following seas.” “It’s sad to see that this is going to go away, but as long as we’re here, we’ll always remember about December 7 and what it means—that freedom is not free,” said Chavez, a retired Marine Corps colonel.

“All of you blue-jacket guys look younger and younger every year,” said retired Navy rear admiral and former Oceanside Mayor Richard Lyon. “On that day, 2,403 perished, and the reason that the Pearl Harbor survivors (are here), and the reason that we’re all today with them, is to memorialize those 2,403 shipmates and friends who died,” Lyon added.

Across the country—and especially in Hawaii, where the solemn Pearl Harbor memorial floats above the sunken USS Arizona—Wednesday morning marked a profound moment in the history of the “Greatest Generation.” the surprise attack, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes bombed the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, sinking 12 U.S. vessels that were in the harbor that morning, damaging several others and thrusting the nation into World War II.

Marking the 70th anniversary of the attack, officials with the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association pointed out that the organization was always intended to be a single-generation group. Although “sons and daughters” chapters will live on, as of 2012, there will no longer be a formal organization of survivors.

In Oceanside, Walsh said he was just thankful for the years he’s been given with his fellow survivors. “Any time you’ve got four military guys together, it’s friendly,” he said. “Two of them will make a party.”

Did he think he’d live to see the 70th anniversary? “Hell, no,” said Walsh. “I didn’t even think I’d last where I went. I headed toward Wake (Island) on Christmas Day, right after Pearl.”

Clarence Heidemann, a former Oceanside resident, made the trip from San Marcos, Texas, to be with his chapter during its final hour. “I hate to see it end, but we knew it was going to happen sooner or later,” he said. “I think there’ll probably be a few of them getting together sometimes, even if it’s not official.” Besides Heidemann and Walsh, the four other Pearl Harbor survivors present Wednesday were Bill Greenhouse, Bob Sandwick, Bjorn Christensen and John Quier.

                                                —Tom Pfingsten, North County Times, December 7, 2011

Author’s Note No. 4. Birds co-exist with anglers on every pier and though some can be a nuisance at times (such as when a sea gull grabs your bait), anglers should always strive to see that our avian friends are protected, The following shows an example of anglers doing the right thing.

Fishermen take injured pelican under their wing

Things are looking up for Geraldo the pelican, an injured bird at the Oceanside Harbor, thanks to some local fishermen and SeaWorld officials.

The bird was in a bad way when Ron “Captain Ron” Worsena of Encinitas found him lying on the rocks in Oceanside Harbor near the Oceanside Fishing Pier a few weeks back. “I thought he was dead,” said Worsena, a retired sport fishing boat skipper. “I went over to him, moved his head a little bit. I thought, ‘Oh man, he’s dying.’”

By chance, Worsena had been fishing when he found the bird, so he cut up some of his catch and stuck it in Geraldo’s beak. Nothing. Worsena figured the bird was a goner. He walked away. A few minutes later, Geraldo got up, climbed over the rocks and strutted toward Worsena. “He walked up to me and opened his mouth,” Worsena said.

Since then, Worsena and retired cosmetologist Dino Salvani of San Marcos have taken the pelican under their wings, but they were worried about what will happen to the bird because it’s got a broken wing and can’t fly.

“I just don’t like to see any animal suffer,” Salvani. “His wing is probably healing up, but in the wrong position. He’ll never be able to fly again.” “If the bird isn’t able to have his wing fixed, maybe someone can take care of him for the rest of his life,” Salvani said. Salvani and Worsena said they tried for more than a week to find someone who would come get Geraldo and take care of him, but had little luck until SeaWorld responded. Park spokesman David Koontz said Friday that the park was dispatching a SeaWorld avian rescue team to the harbor to pick up Geraldo.

The bird’s not alone in its plight. “We’ve had about 250 pelicans come in this year. Some of them, they’re not even alive when they get here,” Koontz said. Often, the birds have swallowed fishing hooks or gotten tangled in fishing line.

Salvani and Worsena said they’ve seen plenty of that in Oceanside Harbor, too. With some of the other regulars who spend time at the fishing pier, they’ve formed an informal bird rescue team of sorts. “We take the hooks out, cut the lines off and clean them up,” Salvani said. “I think, ‘What about me? What if I was lying in the street and nobody did anything?’ It’s the same with animals.” Added Worsena: “It makes you feel good when you do something like that.

—Bill Wechter, North Country Times, November 10, 2012

 Author’s Note No. 5. There are so many problems with this story (not counting the misspellings, i.e., muscle instead of mussel) that I hesitated to enclose the article. But it can teach a few lessons: (1) I’m sure it was a bat ray instead of a stingray (they’ve been called that for years); (2) Bat rays reach a size close to 200 pounds with the state record listed as 180 pounds; (3) Bat rays are good to eat although they are somewhat of a pain to clean; most people simply release them; (4) Never gaff any fish unless you intend to use it for food. If you intend to release it simply net it and then return it to the water in the net. If you do not have a net then simply cut the line. (5) Do not kill a fish simply for the sake of killing it. All fish serve a role in the ecosystem and bat rays are no exception; (6) Almost all stings from “stingrays” in California are from the small round stingrays that populate the shallow water surf areas. The few stings from bat rays are from careless anglers who do not know how to handle them; (6) Bat rays can be a lot of fun. For years Pier Fishing In California had a yearly “Mud Marlin” Derby at the Berkeley Pier for bat rays. A good fighting fish and all were released unharmed to fight again another day.

 City Fireman Snags Monster Stingray

The inner waters of Oceanside Harbor are pretty peaceful on the surface. Down below, particularly on the bottom, it is another story.

Take the word of Bob Weber, San Bernardino city fireman… Fishing from a pier midway in the harbor the other day, Weber was trying to hook a halibut. What he hooked was something else—a stingray that weighed between 60 and 70 pounds. Among stingrays, that’s almost in the monster class. They don’t get much bigger on the California coast.

Weber said the stingray was about five foot long, had a four-foot wing spread and his tail, equipped with a three-inch barb-like stinger, was three feet long. There’s a lot of danger in a stingray that size. The little ones are bad enough if they happen to nick you, but a 60 or 80-pounder could inflict a nasty and poisonous wound. Some people, in fact, have died from stingray wounds.

Weber’s fishing ideas were pointed strictly to halibut. He had a light rod and 20-pound monofilament line equipped with two smack freshwater hooks. One hook was baited with a chunk of muscle and the other with a dead anchovy. He was fishing on the bottom of the harbor. The stingray first grabbed the bait on one hook and the hook promptly broke. In the turmoil of the strike, Weber snagged the stingray in its wing with the other hook. “I had no idea what was on the line,” Weber said. “I once caught a 40-pound halibut and It thought this might be another big halibut.”

He knew it was a big stingray only after he was able to bring it to the water’s surface. And then he didn’t know how to bring it the rest of the way because he didn’t have a net or a gaff.  A nearby fisherman had a small net and tried to help out, but it wasn’t nearly big enough. So another chap ran to the Oceanside boat landing, borrowed a gaff and got back in time to bring it on to the pier. As a memento of his big stingray, Weber cut off the three-foot tail and froze it.  “I have no idea what I will do with it,” he said.

As far as the rest of the stingray was concerned, Weber did exactly what all fishermen who catch stingrays are advised to do. He killed it and dumped it back in the water. The wings of rays are eaten in some parts of the world, but not California. Along our coast they are regarded as a menace, particularly to surf bathers who may accidentally step on them and should be destroyed.

—Bob Walton, With The Sportsmen, San Bernardino County Sun, July 25, 1968

An actual big-sized bat ray — from Morro Bay

Author’s Note No. 6. Although lacking the formal training to call myself an ichthyologist, I think I’ve become a pretty good expert on fish to be found in California, especially the inshore pier-frequenting species. I’ve personally caught 127 different species from its piers and have a library of books on saltwater species. Nevertheless, I was surprised when I first heard about an unusual catch at this pier in July of 2009.

The fish were hagfish (presumed to be Pacific hagfish, Eptatretus stoutii) and it was not one but six fish that were taken over a three week period. All were caught at night, all were caught on anchovies, and all were caught by Hank, one of the pier’s regulars. Perhaps other hagfish have been caught from piers but these, as far as I know, represent the only recorded catch of hagfish from a California pier.

Hagfish are, of course, considered one of the slimiest of all fish, and are, to put it bluntly, one of the least favored fish of anyone who has encountered them. Milton Love in his great book Probably More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes Of The Pacific Coast gives a pretty uncompromising portrait of hagfish:

“Hey, let’s face it, hagfish are the most disgusting creatures on earth… these are blind, eel-shaped fish… they have no jaws; a rasp-like structure is thrust out of their permanently open mouths… Probably the best way to tell if your fish is a hagfish is to look at the hand holding the fish. If it is completely covered with thick, ropy slime, that’s all the proof you need… They are not called slime eels for nothing. Hagfish produce truly gargantuan amounts of slime…Your average hagfish can take a bucket full of water and almost solidify it with slime in a few minutes.” Enough said!

Hagfish are also considered a fish of the deep seas, typically found on the ocean floor from a depth of about 30 feet down to 2,600 feet. Thus to be found in the harbor at a fairly shallow depth is very unusual.

 

Hagfish

Hank said, “when I caught the first hagfish I thought I had somehow hooked a jellyfish or something. When it got to the deck it was a balled up mass of slime that was unrecognizable until it uncurled itself. Turned out to be a nasty little hagfish that left enough slime on the pier to fill a bucket.” Hank reported the catch of two more of the slimy fish, both 20 inches long, in October 2010.

Yes indeed, a VERY STRANGE fish from a pier! According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “known as slime eels, hagfish are primitive fishes. They have five hearts, no jaws, no true eyes and no stomach. They have poor vision but a very good sense of smell and touch… They prey on small invertebrates living in the mud, as well as scavenging dead and dying fish. They are noted for their unusual way of feeding—they slither into dead or dying fishes and eat them from the inside out, using their “rasping tongue” to carry food into their funnel-shaped mouth. What these poor innocent hagfish were doing attacking Hank’s anchovies is anyone’s guess.

Do these hagfish have a redeeming value, a saving grace to make up for all that slime? Expensive eelskin wallets are already made from “hagfish leather” and some scientists predict that strong, eco-friendly fabrics may one day be made from their goo.  I’m pretty sure if that happens, marketeers will affix a eelskin fabric label instead of using the distasteful hagfish label.

Author’s Note. No. 7. Another very unusual species showed up in the following story.

Another Rare Oarfish Washes Up in Southern California

Oarfish — Picture courtesy of NBCLA ( NBC Los Angeles)

Another rare oarfish, a serpent-like sea creature, was discovered in Southern California for the second time this week, this time along the coast of San Diego County. A crowd of 50 to 75 beachgoers gathered around the carcass of a silver-bodied oarfish that washed ashore in Oceanside Harbor on Friday afternoon. The NOAA arrived to retrieve the nearly 14-foot-long fish… Police said the oarfish was cut into pieces and hauled away in coolers. Officers said they had never witnessed anything like it, but they recognized the mysterious, deep-water fish after it made national headlines earlier this week.

“The only reason we knew what it was, was because we saw the news reports from Catalina,” Oceanside Police Officer Jon Hoover said. It took more than 15 people last weekend to drag an oarfish from the waters off Catalina Island. A marine science instructor was snorkeling when she spotted the 18-foot carcass with eyes the size of half dollars.

The oarfish can grow to more than 50 feet, making it the longest bony fish in the world, according to the Catalina Island Marine Institute. Because oarfish dive more than 3,000 feet deep, sightings of the creatures are rare. They are likely responsible for sea serpent legends throughout history.

The second oarfish marks the third ocean rarity to surface in Southern California in a single week. A rare beaked whale washed ashore in Venice and, pending further tests, may be even more unique than experts originally thought.

—William Avila, NBCLA, October 19, 2013

Author’s Note. No. 7. I think this is one of the best piers for anglers using wheelchairs. There is adequate parking, the pathway to the pier is paved, and the pier’s size and surface seem well suited for anglers using wheelchairs (or walkers). Not all piers are as good!

History.  Although many had called for a harbor in Oceanside for years it wasn’t until the late 1950s that significant progress was made. In part this was due to the desired area for the harbor, an area that at least in part was located on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base. Eventually the Marines offered no objection and in late 1958 a meeting was held in Washington D.C. between officials of Oceanside and representatives from the U.S. Marine Corps, the Bureau of Yards & Docks and the Secretary of the Navy. Agreement was reached in 1959 for the lease of 68 acres from the government.

However, additional land was needed, land owned by the Beachlake Trailer Park, a park that had provided and camping and recreation for several decades. In time a swap of land was made between the owners of the trailer park and Oceanside and the city acquired 32.6 acres to be used for the harbor.

The next year, 1960, saw voters agree to the formation of a Harbor District and soon after, February 6, 1961, saw the groundbreaking ceremonies —“A Day of Hope and Promise.” The Oceanside Harbor was officially dedicated and opened in June of 1963. Cost had been approximately $7 million and the city now had slips for 520 boats. The next year saw the development of a shopping center with what seemed a mandatory “Cape Cod” fishing village motif (one of several along the coast).

For fishermen, a huge change was the movement of the McCullah Brothers and their fleet of boats from the Oceanside Pier to the harbor. Although missed by some on the pier, all agreed that the loading of anglers onto boats was now a much easier and safer operation.  Eventually that operation was taken over by Helgren’s Sportfishing which began operation in 1979.

Oceanside Small Craft Harbor Fishing Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Free parking is available on the adjacent North Harbor Drive and restrooms are across the street from the pier. There are no bait and tackle shops, no snack bars and no fish cleaning stations. There are several benches on the pier and an attractive lawn area and pay telephone nearby (which I was glad to see one day when I broke my car key in half while attempting to straighten it out). Limited frozen bait is to be found at the opposite end of the harbor at Helgren’s Sportfishing while just up the hill from the harbor, and a short distance away on the frontage road (1413 North Coast Hwy) is Angler’s Tackle, a full service tackle and bait shop.

Handicapped Facilities: Although there is handicapped parking, restrooms are not designed for the handicapped. The pier surface is wood planking and the rail height is 44 inches. Posted for handicapped.

Location: 33.2078136 N. Latitude, 117.3950394 W. Longitude

How To Get There: From I-5 take the Harbor Dr. exit off the freeway, follow it and it will wind down to the harbor; where the road splits stay to the right on North Harbor Dr., and follow it to the pier.

 

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Buffalo Sculpin

Sculpins—Family Cottida

Buffalo Sculpin from the Santa Cruz Wharf

Species: Enophrys bison (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words en  (on), ephrys  (eyebrow), and bison (referring to the two bison-like horns or spines on the head).

Alternate Names: Often called bullhead and mistaken for cabezon. Called büffelgroppe in Germany, glowacz bizonik in Poland.

Identification: Their coloring is dark gray, green, or brown above with purplish bony plates on head and side. Anglers should be careful of the large sharp spines behind the head.

Buffalo Sculpin from the Point Arena Pier

Size: To 14.6 inches; most caught from piers are between 10 and 12 inches.

Range: From Monterey Bay, California to Uyak Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Habitat: Found in shallow-water areas, both oceanfront and in bays.

Piers: I have seen these caught at the Fort Baker Pier, Point Arena Pier (fairly frequently), Eureka Municipal Wharf and Citizens Dock (Crescent City).

Two types of sculpin — Cabezon on top left; Buffalo Sculpin in other three pictures — All caught at the Point Arena Pier

Shoreline: An infrequent catch by shore anglers.

Boats: An inshore species, rarely taken from boats.

Bait and Tackle: These fish will hit almost any bait, but most commonly seem to be caught on pile worms or a chunk of shrimp or squid. Light to medium tackle is the rule and no one, to my knowledge, fishes specifically for these fish.

Buffalo Sculpin caught by Dwight at the Citizen’s Dock in Crescent City

Food Value: This fish is so ugly it deserves to go back. If you persist in eating them, remember that the soft flesh tastes bland so bring on your Creole seasoning. Of course you could surprise your friends with a hors d’oeuvre platter made from staghorn sculpin and buffalo sculpin. Perhaps some deep-fried sculpin-tots with a little sweet-and-sour dipping sauce? If you do make such a plate, be sure you leave a couple of buffalo sculpin heads in the middle of the plate to add a little authentic atmosphere to the party.

Comments: The unofficial winner of the Pier Fishing in California Message Board “ugly fish” contest. Usually when these fish are caught they evoke considerable comment from the onlookers. They are fairly uncommon (except at Point Arena), they are ugly, and most people have no idea what they are. They also will give off a low hum which you can feel as you hold the fish.

     Head of a Buffalo Sculpin caught by Fireridge in Mendocino Co.


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Huntington Beach Pier

“Surf City, U.S.A,” that’s what the town and locals like to call Huntington Beach (and the city went to court battling Santa Cruz for the use of the name). It’s appropriate given the steady stream of surfers to the local waters and sunbathers to the local beaches. The pier itself serves as the focal point for these beachfront activities. Surfing competitions, band concerts, professional volleyball tournaments, you name it, the pier is home to these and many more activities. It’s also home to the thousands of anglers who visit the pier each month, many on a daily basis.

That fact seems kind of funny today because this was a pier that I used to ignore. Newport regulars, myself included, were prejudiced. “Good” anglers fished the deep waters of Newport Pier for bonito; “others” were content to fish Huntington Beach for tomcod (white croaker). It wasn’t that the pier wasn’t nice; it simply offered the wrong kind of fish. Unfortunately, it took years for me to discover the simple fact that there were far more fish than just tomcod at Huntington Beach. In fact, the pier yielded a lot of bonito and large sharks and in many ways fishing was as good or better than that at Newport. But back in the early sixties, I never made the effort to traverse the few miles that separated the two piers, even when nothing was being caught at Newport. Looking back, I wonder what I missed by making that decision.

Environment. This is a huge pier, 1,856 feet long, and the area offers an eclectic southern California mix of fishing and non-fishing sights. Located smack dab at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Main Street, there always seem to be a mix of tanned SoCal yuppie crews—complete with expensive cars, or hot rodders displaying their ‘50s and ‘60s vehicles (especially when the sun sets in the west). Cruising PCH in your car is a tradition. On the street corners and entrance to the pier stand orange, green, or purple-haired (and) tattooed girls. They’re competing with Caribbean-types with birds on their shoulders, skateboarding dogs and skate rats. It’s reminiscent of Venice to the north although the surfer dudes and dudetes provide a distinctive flavor for the area. The tourists with their thousand and one languages and dialects increasingly bring in a new element to the scene although their impact is usually transitory. Then again, there are always the un-card-carrying, proletariat pier fishermen, the pier rats (or perhaps prole rats), making the trek out to the pier to test the waters. Our heroes.

Looking up Main Street

The pier on a typical summer day

There is considerable water and fishing space to test. The pier sits on the Huntington City Beach while to the south is located Huntington State Beach, to the north is Bolsa Chica State Beach. The beaches run for more than eight miles and are some of the widest in southern California. Offshore is the region known as the Huntington Flats, a sandy-bottom area known for sand bass and halibut. Inshore, the bottom is also primarily sand. There aren’t many rocky areas nearby and the water is not as deep as at the piers on the Newport Peninsula. However, this is one of the piers near an artificial quarry rock reef. Although noted for sandy-shore species, pelagics do show up, primarily Pacific mackerel and bonito. Unfortunately the pilings, once heavily encrusted with fish attracting mussels and barnacles, are now often bare due to city efforts to keep the pilings clean, lean and mean (for storms).

Near the entrance to the pier

The shoreline with offshore oil derricks

Looking downshore toward the Newport Pier

The pier itself is large and presents somewhat distinct fishing zones. The end is where most pelagics will be caught, especially the larger bonito and barracuda. It’s also the best area for the larger sharks and rays although both can also be caught in shallower areas. Still, most of the biggest sharks and rays seem to be caught at the end.

Mid-pier is ideal for California halibut, sole (and I caught a nice-sized fantail sole here one day), turbot, sanddab, butterfish, tomcod (white croaker), herring (queenfish), sand bass, jacksmelt, sculpin (California scorpionfish), mackerel, some bonito, and sharks and rays (mostly thornback rays and shovelnose guitarfish).

Down around the pilings (especially when they still contain mussels), fishermen try for pileperch, rubberlip seaperch, kelp and sand bass, halfmoon, a few opaleye, and even an occasional cabezon. Some summers also see large schools of mullet hanging down under the pier.

An unusual catch in February of ’02 was a two-foot-long silver salmon, a now illegal to keep species that was mistakenly kept and taken home by the angler (could have been a big fine.) An almost identical catch of another silver was made in June of ’08 and once again the fish was kept. It followed by two days the catch of a 30-pound or so illegal giant sea bass that was hoisted up onto the pier. By the time the pictures were taken and all the pomp and circumstances were over, including lowering the fish back down into the water where it floated before being snagged and dragged back up onto the pier, it was dead.

For years the pier was noted for its steady and dependable catch of tomcod (white croaker) but that may have changed! Trips to the pier over the past few years have seen fewer and fewer, as well as smaller and smaller, tommies.

Inshore is the premier area for barred surfperch, corbina, spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, and (sometimes) sargo. Most days will see anglers with clumps of mussels seeking out the perch and croakers and much of the time having success. Numerous round stingrays are also caught inshore as are thornbacks (good ‘ol throw-em-backs) and some guitarfish but it’s the perch and croakers that make this a prime territory for fish.

Wacky picture of a nice spotfin croaker

The excellent inshore fishing can make the area one of the most crowded on the pier for anglers but, as mentioned, the human environment here includes surfers, surfers and more surfers. Huntington Beach fought Santa Cruz for the legal right to use the name Surf City and surfers are forever present.

Given the numbers, it’s perhaps inevitable that there will be occasional conflicts between anglers and SWAs (Surfers With Attitudes). Rules do stipulate that surfers must stay a certain distance from the pier, rules that should help prevent surfer-angler conflicts.  Rules also say that surfers are not supposed to “shoot the pier” (surf between the pilings) but it happens and it’s almost a rite of passage.

Given that the space between inshore pilings was lengthened when the pier was rebuilt in the early ’90s, lengthened to provide more room to “shoot the pier,” it seems like the city itself is inviting surfers to ignore and break the rules.

One day (at the old pier) I witnessed several surfers surfing through the pilings and one angler repeatedly being forced to move his line. After shouting at the surfers, and receiving only a one-finger reply, the angler decided to retaliate. He tied a sinker weighing at least five or six ounces directly on to the end of his line. The next time the surfers headed in toward the pilings our noble but impetuous and emotional fisherman aimed and let the sinker fly. Luckily, for both he and one surfer, he missed. But he didn’t miss by much—less than a foot. By this time, calmer heads prevailed and Macho Man realized the danger of his action. He moved. Don’t try such knuckleheaded acts or allow a buddy to try it. Such actions only produce losers, no winners. However, also don’t be afraid to complain to the lifeguards on the pier since they are supposed to keep the surfers away from the pier.

 An angler with a newly acquired friend hoping for a handout — 2013

Fishing Tips. Several varieties of the family Sciaenidae (croakers) lead the hit parade here. The inshore area of the pier can yield yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, corbina and even a few black croaker (especially after dark). This area is also good for the croaker-like sargo. All will fall for mussels (especially fresh mussels), bloodworms, lugworms, ghost shrimp, and pieces of market shrimp or razor clams fished on the bottom. The corbina will be in the shallowest water; the other species can range from the surf to out past the lifeguard tower.

Most anglers simply use a high/low leader and size 4 or 2 hooks but many also use a modified sliding bait leader. For this leader, buy an egg sinker that has a hole through the middle. Run your line through the hole and then attach a swivel to the end of the line (which prevents the sinker from sliding down onto your leader). Next attach a 3-4 foot leader that has a size 6-4 hook at the end. This leader works well for the larger croaker—spotfins up to around 6-pounds in size and yellowfins to about 2 pounds in size (although a 28-inch yellowfin was reported in March 2015 which, if accurate, would have been a new state record). The sliding rig also has the advantage of being a good halibut rig. Some years these croakers will be joined by their croaker cousins—white seabass—but most of those fish will be the juvenile seatrout, misnamed and illegal. A large run of the white seabass took place at the pier in October 2006.

Best croaker action (especially for yellowfins) is during the mid-summer to fall months, but the same location, baits and riggings will yield barred surfperch during the winter months. If you’re after barred surfperch or corbina, you might also want to invest some time and catch yourself some sand crabs down near the water’s edge; they’re a superior bait for those two species.

Some years will also see runs of zebraperch (Hermosilla azurea) being caught in the shallow-water or mid-pier areas; try frozen peas or corn for these vegetarians. It’s hard to get them to bite so unfortunately most are taken on snag lines much like those used for mullet. It’s legal but doesn’t seem too sporting. Some of the zebraperch by the way are an impressive 3-4 pounds in size.

A lot of small round stingrays, thornback rays, shovelnose guitarfish, gray smoothhound sharks and leopard sharks are also taken in the shallower water, from the surf zone out to the mid-pier region. As usual, the best bait for the rays and sharks seems to be squid or a bloody piece of mackerel (although live mackerel and other small live fish are good bait for the bigger sharks).

Although the larger sharks are more common out at the end, an unusual run of thresher sharks did take place in the inshore surf area in September 1998—approximately 40 fish being spotted. The threshers would come up and slap baits with their tails, some were snagged, and four of the 30-80 pound fish were eventually landed.

Mid-pier looking shoreward

A wide variety of fish are caught from the middle of the pier to the end. One of the most common has always been tomcod (white croaker), although, as mentioned, the numbers seem to be going down and, for the first time, in 1998, a 10-fish limit was applied. Most tommies are caught on cut anchovy or small strips of anchovy and often they will strike as the bait is settling down into the water. A slow retrieve will also often entice the fish to hit. Herring (queenfish) are another common little croaker and will hit on strips of anchovy or be caught on Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait rigs. Salema will hit almost any bait as long as you’re fishing with small hooks and at mid-depth levels (in fact they’re often just under the topsmelt and jacksmelt).

Topsmelt and jacksmelt are usually caught on multi-hook bait rigs fished near the top of the water. The topsmelt can be snagged with size 10-12 unbaited hooks, the larger jacksmelt prefer size 8 hooks sweetened with a small piece of bait. The topsmelt are almost always at or near the top of the water, the jacksmelt will sometimes go down a few feet in the water.

Two unusual fish (for the pier) were a pair of striped bass taken near the Lifeguard Tower in November of 2016. What bait? Artificial Berkeley sand worms.

Shovelnose Guitarfish taken by “Cody”  in 2015

Halibut and good-sized shovelnose guitarfish are common inshore and in the mid-pier area. The halibut, being ambush predators, prefer a live bait fished on the bottom—a small smelt, mackerel or shinerperch—or a moving lure, with locals taking quite a few of the hallies on AA sized Cotee Lures (white and blue, white and green, clear silver and blue, or clear silver and green). Some flatties will also be taken on cut anchovy or mackerel, but not as many as the live bait. The shovelnose are less discriminating (although they also like live bait). Generally the shovelnose prefer anchovies or pieces of squid. Sand bass, and sometimes there are good runs of these fish, are generally caught on anchovies fished at mid-depth levels.

Do remember the grunion runs! Halibut will often follow the grunion into the shallow waters and provide some hot fishing if you can time it right. By the way, the halibut also reach a pretty good size with a 37” fish being caught in January of ’02, a 37 ½-incher in May of the same year, a 49-inch fish in October 2004 (on a live sardine), a 36-inch fish in October 2007, and 37-inch and 38-inch hallies in September of 2008.

From the mid-pier area, but especially at the end, is the home of most of the pelagics. The most common riggings used here are probably bait rigs. Mackerel will often attack a size 4 or 2 Lucky Lura or Sabiki leader baited with small pieces of mackerel. Keep the leader just under the surface of the water or cast it out and slowly retrieve it; either method should result in fish. If the mackerel are in a light-biting mode, switch from the bait rig to a single hook on your line with a split-shot or twist-on sinker a few feet up the line. This rigging is a little harder to use here than at piers close to the water but works fine if the wind and current aren’t too strong. Bonito will often show up and when they do try a bonito feather trailing behind a cast-bubble. Summertime to fall should also see some barracuda, especially at night. The best rigging for the barracuda is usually a 1 1/2-2 1/2-ounce silver or gold colored spoon.

Nights will also see anglers trying for sharks and rays, especially the larger leopard sharks (to 4-5 feet in length), thresher sharks (to 9 feet in length), and bat rays. Most seem to be taken out toward the end of the pier and (in my visits) most often at the northwest corner. Since many rays exceeding 100 pounds in size (including a 123-pounder by Robert Gerber in March of ’99), and large threshers have been taken here, remember to bring strong ropes and gaffs with you to the pier.

Bat rays, by the way, can make some fairly interesting runs at piers. A big run occurred at Huntington Beach in April of ’99 when a number of the batties were caught. One angler alone, Greg Taite, caught 12 bat rays over 50 pounds in one five-hour period, two of which weighed about one hundred pounds each. A few days later he returned and in a short time hooked and landed a bat ray estimated to weigh 125 pounds. He used 40/50 pound test line, a 5/0 hook, and the same bait for all—squid.

A huge bat ray, estimated by locals to be over 200-pounds was taken the first week of December of 2009. The huge fish required the combined strength of seven anglers to haul it up to the pier where a picture was taken. However, with the bait and tackle shop being remodeled, and closed, the ray was never weighed. If the locals were right, it would have been a new state record bat ray. Another 200-pound bat ray was reportedly taken in May of 2014. Don’t know if they were record fish but there certainly some big bat rays taken at the pier.

Nice-sized bat ray taken by “Cody” in 2015

Several runs of thresher sharks have also taken place, most out toward the end of the pier. August ’99 saw a run lasting for several weeks with some days seeing ten or more of the six-foot-long sharks being hooked on the live bait (mackerel or sardines) sliding leader riggings. A long cast from the pier followed by sliding the bait down to the water produced lively looking bait that attracted the long-tailed sharks. A similar though shorter run of the threshers took place in May ’09 with a 125-pound fish being the largest that was actually landed. Unfortunately one pier visitor wasn’t too happy to see a thresher on the pier and actually called the Humane Society with complaint. His complaint was ignored.

That same year, 2009, saw a one-day, mini-run in August when twelve threshers were hooked with four landed. Interestingly it was the same day as an earthquake in Baja. Waters around the pier were filled with sea lions, dolphins, and, apparently, threshers. Some speculated that the assemblage of sea creatures was due to the earthquake to the south; I’m guessing there was probably simply a good number of baitfish in the area. But who knows? Just a few days before that scene an 8-foot-long thresher had been landed, two weeks later a 9-footer was landed.

Many other sharks have made appearances at the pier. A short run of soupfin sharks took place in August of 2002 when several were landed, the largest one a six-foot-long, 65-pound fish. November 2016 saw the catch of an 80-pound soupfin. A 6-foot-long 7-gill shark was reported in July  of 2016. A single hammerhead shark was caught in June of 2004, a fish estimated to weigh 50-60 pounds. A 35-pound, 39-inch horn shark was taken in June 2005.  A 5-foot-long blue shark estimated to weigh 75 pounds was take in July of 2005.

An illegal to take shark that has shown in up increasing numbers the past decade is the great white shark (aka man-eater shark). The first reported to PFIC was one taken in August of 2011. When the young angler posted the picture on YouTube of the landing and subsequent parade around the pier with the small, 5-foot-long, bloodied fish, it was sure to attract the attention of the Fish and Game who tracked him down. Since then several great whites have been taken at the pier, usually to adverse publicity and charges. September 2016 saw the report of an estimated 250-pound great white grabbing a piece of bonito but that shark broke off after reaching the top of the water.

Warm water years can also see a few surprises as in the sightings of several hammerhead sharks during 2015-2016.

Hammerhead shark

Although not as common as at Newport and Balboa, occasional flurries of action will be seen from the large Humboldt squid (August 2002, May 2007), squid reaching 4 feet in length. Given the sandy-shore environment at the pier, it isn’t known as a good pier for lobsters although a large bug, 10-12 pounds in weight was taken in September 2003.

Author’s Note No. 1. When it was decided to rebuild the pier in the early 1990s, the question came up as to what to do with the old material. Why not use the concrete to construct an artificial reef in this relatively rock-free stretch of coast? Plans were made to do just that but they couldn’t be carried out. Once the cutting of the structure began, it was determined by the Fish & Game that the concrete was simply too old to be used for a reef—it turned into powder (referred to as “rat feathers” by the contractor) as it was cut.

Unfortunately, after spending millions of dollars to rebuild the pier, the pier has serious deficiencies for anglers. Very frustrating are the railings that are made of anodized aluminum. They look nice but are very slippery and do not provide an adequate support for fishing rods. Most poles simply slide down the railing and wind up falling to the deck. One solution is to bring a couple of pieces of rope or a couple of towels. Tie them to the railing and place your poles between them.

An anglers got to do what an anglers got to do — a homemade rod holder

Another, even more frustrating mistake is lack of bait cutting boards. There are really no places to cut your bait other than the fish cleaning stations. Since it is against the law to cut your bait directly on the deck (and you risk a very real $600 fine), the bait shop offers pieces of cardboard to put under your bait. Often these pieces of cardboard seem to wind up in the water. What to do? I generally fish right next to a cleaning station and cut my bait there. Obviously this will not work for everyone. Next best thought is to bring along some newspapers upon which you can cut your bait, and do put the papers in the trash can when you leave.

There are also very few benches although the benches they do have are very nice! I hate to say this, but I wonder if the needs of the fishermen were considered as important as the pier looking nice for the tourists? Perhaps such criticism is picayune; perhaps the designers of the pier (and city fathers) simply overlooked such basic pier fishing necessities.

Concrete bench

One thing the city has done a great job on is its yearly “Huck Finn Fishing Derby.” The kid’s fishing contest normally has three divisions, age 7 and under, 8-11, and 12-15, with many prizes awarded for the biggest fish and best dressed young anglers. It’s a program that others cities should copy.                                                        

                                                  Huck Finn Derby — 2007

Author’s Note No. 2.  Two state record fish are recorded from Huntington Beach. The first was a 181-pound bat ray taken in 1978 from the Huntington Beach Pier by Bradley A. Dew of Garden Grove. The second was a 5-lb, 8-oz mackerel jack taken on September 1, 1988 by Joe Bairian.

Author’s Note No. 3.  Not every pier has a “queen” but Huntington did. The following is taken from Justice For All, the Official Publication Of The Huntington Beach Police Officers’ Association.

“Ella Christensen 1913 – 2003

Ella was the ‘Queen of the Pier,’ the ‘Mom’ of the police department’s men and women. She had, for whatever reason, adopted every member of this police department and made them a part of her family. Just like a proud mother taking care of her children, this special individual went that extra mile every minute, every hour and every day. Ella was the owner and operator of several of the old concession stands, the Tackle Box, Captain’s Gallery and Neptune’s Locker on the pier until it collapsed in 1988, covering 37 years of service on the pier. Our favorite watering hole then, Neptune’s Locker was the best place to get a sandwich and cold mug of beer served up in glass-handled Mason jars after a long duty shift. People of substance and character such as Ella only come around but once in a lifetime. Because of her special character and support of us, we (the POA) awarded Ella, our ‘mother’, the 1st Annual Supporter of the Year Award in 1991.  So, on behalf of so many of the members of the department, thank you Ella for your many years of kindness and generosity, and may you now rest in peace.”

Author’s Note No. 4. Although it’s hard not to dispute a couple of connotations made by the writer of this newspaper article, especially regarding pier rats, it’s also a fascinating look at the pier and its characters

THE PIER IS A MAGNET —

Communing with the sea or just a stroll in the sunshine? Whatever its attraction, Huntington Beach’s famous landmark draws all kinds.

Huntington Beach — An hour before she was supposed to slip behind her desk at work, Cindy Frickey leaned against the railing of Huntington Beach Pier and studied the surfers below.

A strong morning breeze rolled through her long blond hair as she watched the surfers paddle their boards into position. If she had not been recovering from a bout with the flu, she might have been there too — wetsuited, finned, catching waves with a boogie board.

But if she couldn’t ride the waves, she could at least feel the wind, “I like to come here before work.” Said the 26-year-old secretary. “I like to get the wind on my face, the sun on my body. I like to hear the ocean… it kind of blows my hassles away.”

She had walked the 1,800 feet of concrete to the End Café for breakfast, talked with fishermen, sung parts of songs, climbed the steps to the lifeguard observation tower and now she had to go to her car and drive to Anaheim.

As she walked, she was undisturbed. A pier rat — one of those ill-dressed, unshaven denizens of the dark — had not stopped her for loose change. A dope dealer was not there — “Want to get high, little girl?” No, this stroll on the pier had been idyllic and she could face the clack of her typewriter refreshed.

But not everyone had to work this weekday, a typical one at the pier. One who would not work today was Frank “The Happy Dragon” Finch, who would spend the morning and afternoon listening to the easy chatter of friends and the whistle of nylon line rushing through a fishing rod.

The Happy Dragon? A lot of us who fish here have nicknames,” explained the 21-year-old machinist. “I got mine because of the tattoo here on my left forearm. “Some of the other nicknames?” Truant, Fat John, The Kid, Perch Bill, Corbina Bill, and Fish.

“There’s Two-Wheel John. He’s come here in an electric wheelchair once, twice a week. He says it takes a lot out of him, even with the wheelchair. He told me he lost his legs in World War II. His PT boat sunk just off Midway in the Pacific. His lifeboat was crowded so they took turns hanging over the sides of the boat. In the morning, his legs were gone, gnawed off by sharks. He’s got really big scars. You see the teeth marks.”

To Two-Wheel John, The Happy Dragon and the other fishermen who cast their lines from the end of the pier, Ruth Waller is Mom. “She’s everybody’s Mom,” said Finch. “I know she’s the closest thing I’ve got to a mom. She’s even Mom to the seals.”

“We were up here fishing about three years ago,” explained Mom. “We saw a whole bunch of seals… a school… around the ones who was going to drop a pup. We actually saw the baby born… a beautiful thing to see. The mother and baby stayed around here three months. We named the baby Moe because we tried a lot of names and he seemed to respond to Moe. He came back every year around springtime. He’d come up to the end of the pier and call for us, scream for us.

“We would throw him shrimp, anchovies. We were careful what we threw him. Not like another seal… people fed it everything and it got sick. Moe was my baby and I’d kill anyone who tried to hurt that baby.” “No matter where’d he be… under the pier… all I have to do is let out a yell. ‘Moe, where are ya?’ and he’d be right there. You know, they sense when you love them.”

The pier has also brought into Finch’s life such friends as J.J., a bearded man who wears a headband. “I’ve been coming here for 4 ½ years,” said J.J. “I’m a dry wall  hanger. I come here when there ain’t no work… go fishin’ instead of spending my money in a  bar. I’m very content here. I can sit here for 12 hours and never catch a fish.

“It’s the little peace of mind I get. Not much of it around. Get it while you can. “Caught 20 yesterday and lost 20. I share the fish. I love coming here. Women say J.J. loves his fishing pole more than them. They’re right. This pole’s my old lady… takes care of me… feeds me.

Fishing also feeds Jerry Vaughan, 33, who works at The Tackle Box which sells and rents fishing equipment. “Worked here in and out since I was 11 or 12,” said Vaughan. “Get tired of a regular job and come here to relax. I’ve always been coming to the pier. As a kid, we sold starfish to tourists to raise money to buy our gear. We pulled mussels. We’d camp out. Fish shark all night. Wouldn’t go home for a week. Mother wasn’t too happy about that.

Vaughan’s recollections were interrupted by fishermen who came into the store to order bait from a shopping list that included squid, night crawlers, red worms, and salted bonito. Then Vaughan rented a spinner pole and a bucket to Cherei Gable and Adam Birket, two college students. “I haven’t fished for at least seven years,” Cherei confessed.

When she went to the end of the pier to try her luck she was greeted by Mom, who broke off a bit of frozen anchovy and baited the rented hooks. “She’ll probably get a big one seeing’s as she hasn’t been fishing.” Predicted Mom. Although her line tangled, Cherei managed to hang onto her pole.

“Tons of poles get dropped,” said Vaughan. “I pull up 18 to 20 a year. After they fall in I cast out and drag until I catch a line or pole. I help kids who’ve dropped their poles. They say I’ve saved their life. Their dad would’ve beaten them half to death.”

Poles aren’t the only things that fall in. “I remember this one man and wife who came in here,” Vaughan says. “She was flat driving him nuts — always talking, always contradicting him. They came in here a couple of times and she was really riding him. I heard he threw her off the end of the pier. If I remember, he got fined $50 or $100 for doing it. The lifeguards brought her up. She was pretty mad.”

During his years on the pier, Vaughan has seen some not-so-funny sights too. “There are a lot more pier rats than there used to be” he said. “During summer, sometimes there were 70 guys milling around. You see them coming. They’re ragged looking. Panhandle… can hardly walk down the pier without being hit up. “I’ve seen more crime. Last year we were burglarized at least four times.”

Way out at the end of the pier, and appropriately named, is The End Café where proprietor John Gustafson has created a lifestyle centered on the sun and surf. “I’ve lived in the Huntington Beach area 15 years,” said Gustafson, 49. “Ten years ago I said I ought to buy this place. Two years ago I did. I left my job at Johnston’s Yogurt where I was general production manager. “The previous owner only opened this place during the profitable times but I keep it open even when it’s not so profitable.”

Under glass on his counter, Gustafson has placed old photographs of Huntington Beach: a sugar beet field in 1911, the Union High School in 1927, oil wells, bathing beauties, swampland. And on the back of his menu is an old photograph of the pier. With it is a history: the pier’s initial wood construction, the destructive storms of 1906, 1919 and 1939, and the Army’s occupation from 1941 to 1945.

“I love the history, the people,” said Gustafson. “I like the sunrises and sunsets.” During the evening’s sunset he stood outside his café with his wife Alice, a couple of amateur photographers, a pensive businessman, tourists, fishermen… and Cindy the secretary whose day ended as it had began: with a peaceful stroll down the pier.

—Orman Day, Orange County Register, November 12, 1978

Author’s Note No. 5. Sometimes reading the police files in the newspapers can be interesting. Huntington Beach Pier—A man reported his cellphone was missing after it fell into the ocean because he bent over the rail to reel in a fish he referred to as “the big one” at 12:02 p.m. Thursday.—Huntington Beach Independent, 5/27/04, Police Files. Two questions: (a) The reason you are calling 911? (b) Did you land the fish? (Borrowed from Boyd Grant/Pierhead)

There’s a reason why it is called “surf city”

Author’s Note No. 6. As mentioned previously, there can be an ongoing conflict between anglers and surfers, especially over the shallow water area.

Surfers caught in fishing lines want restrictions on pier — Fishermen say surfers should avoid the pier to solve problem.

HUNTINGTON BEACH – A local surfer who has been tangled in fishing lines near the pier wants the city to put restrictions on where anglers can drop their lines, but some fishermen argue surfers should paddle away from the pier. The long-standing conflict has pitted fisherman against surfer for years – each side claiming their territorial rights to the ocean. But one side will have to budge, said pier fisherman Jose Llamas, 30, of Huntington Beach. “Someone is going to get hurt,” he said. “They need to make a rule; either tell the fishermen to fish only on the south side or tell the surfers to surf farther out.” Lamas added the declining economy has drawn more fishermen to the area, heightening the possibility of a serious incident. “There are now a lot more people out here catching their food,” he said.

Standoff Becomes Fisticuffs — The standoff between anglers and surfers recently turned physical, prompting a local surfer to bring it to the city’s attention. Stephen Stemmer, 23, of Huntington Beach said on July 23 a fisherman followed him home and attempted to assault him after an incident on the water. While catching a wave, he found himself tangled in a fishing line and couldn’t unravel the clear cord fast enough so he snapped the line, he said. “The next thing I know, the fisherman was cursing at me and throwing things,” he said. “It got heated.”

Stemmer headed home nearly an hour later – a five-block walk from the pier – when he heard rapid footsteps behind him. “I turned and saw the fisherman running after me, and he came in for a punch,” Stemmer said. “I used my board and towel to fight him off.” Police responded and wrote it as a citizen’s arrest. They will give the case to the District Attorney’s office, said Huntington Beach Lt. Russell Reinhart Stemmer last year asked council members for help after getting caught up in fishing lines multiple times, one that resulted in him slicing his hand open so he could break free, he said. He approached the council again at the Aug. 3 meeting to petition for fishing restrictions. “It could be prevented but (the city) does nothing,” he said. “That’s why I’m so heated about this.”

Can’t We All Just Get Along? — Marine Safety Officer II Eric Ching said he would guess incidents between the two groups happen almost daily. “It’s kind of like, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’” Ching said. “The fishermen will tell you that is where the best fishing is … and the surfers will tell you that’s where the best waves are.” Ching said the pier and the water surrounding are designated as a multiuse area, and the two groups have to cope.

“The fishermen are responsible for their lines, and surfers are responsible for being aware of their surroundings,” he said. But Stemmer said requiring fishermen to move down the pier would deter any future conflicts. He wants fishing moved to the “second T,” which is near the bait and tackle shop about halfway down the pier. “When you’re catching a wave, those fishing lines are like a spider web… it’s kind of like you’re dodging it, and next thing you know you’re caught up in a line,” Stemmer said.

However, some fishermen say they fish in shallower waters because the catch is better. “I think what they’re asking is unreasonable, they have the whole ocean,” said Junior Cortez, 17, of Santa Ana. “This is where the fish feed and it’s easier to catch.” Cortez added he heard of Stemmer’s recent incident and wasn’t surprised it escalated as it did. “This upsets the fishermen,” he said. “It gets expensive. When they break the line, I lose my bait, my hook, my weight and my line.” Stemmer said he doesn’t buy the rationale behind fishing near the breakwater and anglers could thrive in deeper waters. “There are fish all around this pier,” he said. “They don’t need to do it right here.”

Where The Surf Meets The Fish — Marine Biologist Camm Swift said both groups are correct, in a way. Pier pilings caked with mussels and other sea creatures attract fish to areas all around the pier. Certain fish are attracted to the surf such as corbina and surfperch. “It’s (about) different kinds of fish,” he said. “The surf zone is kind of its own habitat,” said Swift. “If you go farther out on the pier you get sharks, croaker and halibut.”

Stemmer added that some surfers have been hooked in the leg or foot and have had lines wrapped around their necks. “(The city) makes fishermen pull the lines up for the US Open on the south side and when the Junior Lifeguards do their pier swim, so obviously they know it’s a safety hazard,” he said. “So why aren’t they concerned for our safety?” Surfers paddle in alongside the pier because a current, called a tow out, helps pull the surfer to the break line. From there, they paddle away from the pier to catch a wave. The pier is a premier spot for experienced surfers who want a good ride, Stemmer said. “I’ve been surfing here forever,” he said. “This is Surf City, right?”

Ching said there have been times when surfers and fishermen instigate conflict and both groups should be responsible with their respective sports. “Surfers have cut lines when they don’t need to. That is illegal and that is not a way to solve a problem,” he said. “There have been incidents when fishermen are being the aggressors, casting their lines at surfers, which is totally illegal and dangerous.” Llamas said he has witnessed at least five large fights between the surfers and the fishermen over broken lines. “They think the whole beach belongs to them,” he said. But he said he believes something could be worked out. “I respect them… I think we could get along together.”

—Jaimee Lynn Fletcher, The Orange Coast Register, August 14, 2009

  Mike Granat and a feathery friend looking for a finny treat

Author’s Note No. 7. Just to be clear, it’s not all that uncommon to see conflict between residents and visitors in seaside towns.

In Huntington Beach, a new wave of resentment revives ’909er’ stereotype

On a sunny September day, Christina Ayres lay on the sand near the Huntington Beach Pier, tanning in a pink bikini, and ticked off the things that identify a 909er.

Bad clothing — “’Jersey Shore’ style,” the 29-year-old explained. And meth addicts. “That’s what you hear on the news.”

Over on Main Street, Ryan Kaupang, 21, had a more specific description: “White kids that dress like bros,” he said, “bros” meaning people who wear cut-off jerseys and motocross gear and “try to act like tough guys.”

For years, a stubborn divide between youth in Orange County’s beach communities and those who visit from the inland has been summed up in the term ‘909ers,’ a less-than-flattering reference to an Inland Empire area code that — in beach slang — has come to mean anybody east of the county line.

Its popularity has waxed and waned but resurfaced with a vengeance in the aftermath of the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach in July. When the weeklong event ended in a chaotic night of broken windows, street fights and a mess of tossed food, word that 909ers were to blame spread quickly among locals, despite the fact that only three of the 12 adults arrested were from the Inland Empire. The rest were from Orange County, San Gabriel Valley and Ventura.

By the next day, residents in Huntington Beach and neighboring beach towns pointed toward the Inland Empire as the source of the bad behavior. Someone even created a Facebook page called Go Home 909ers, warning that “Southern California Beaches are for LOCALS ONLY.” When an end-of-summer beach rave was staged this month, some worried about the 909ers it might attract. Though the event drew thousands, there were few problems.

“I hate the term ’909ers,’” said Connie Boardman, the beach city’s mayor. “Like it’s some crime to be from some other part of California and come to our beach.”

Yet a stereotype based on an area code persists. Some say ’909er’ is used as a slur. Others say it’s just used in jest. But in Huntington Beach, there is no escaping the 909 — or the 951, the 760, or any other area codes from which the city’s 15 million tourists arrive every year. This is a city that thrives on tourism but has an increasingly tense relationship with tourists.

There is no agreed-upon definition of a 909er. For some, it’s just a catchall for the Inland Empire. For others, it conjures up an image of young people absorbed with dirt-bike gear and lifted trucks.

Urban Dictionary takes its own shot at the 909, describing it as “a great place to live between Los Angeles and Las Vegas if you don’t mind the meth labs, cows, and dirt people.”

For the 21-year-old grad student who created the Facebook page, the tipping point was the night of violence on Main Street, which he insisted was caused by 909ers. “We’re trying to defend our beaches from people that don’t live there. People that come down to destroy instead of protect,” he said, declining to give his name because of the possible repercussions. “I’d prefer if they just didn’t come at all.”

Susie Smith, owner of Makin Waves Salon on Main Street, said some visitors seem to “come with a chip on their shoulder and think we have more things or a better life than they do, and they don’t respect our community.” She conceded, though, that labeling people from the Inland Empire ’909ers’ may not help ease the tension.

“Maybe it’s causing some rivalry,” she said. “Maybe people come from these areas with an attitude because Orange County is labeling them.”

When the 909 area code was created in 1992, it quickly gained a negative reputation. “The 909” was used on TV shows and by comedians as shorthand for a low-class community. “There’s a very close connection between the Inland Empire and Orange County simply because geographically they border one another. So there’s that county rivalry,” said Susan Phillips, assistant professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer College, which sits firmly in the 909. In reality, she said, both regions are much more diverse than stereotypes would have us believe.

Still, many western Riverside County residents could barely contain their joy in 2004 when their area code was changed to 951. Tourism is the lifeblood of Huntington Beach. In addition to the U.S. Open, where crowds get so thick it’s tough to walk on the beach, the city hosts an annual national paintball tournament that attracts tens of thousands. There are volleyball tournaments, food festivals and ample parking for the millions who come just to spend a day at the beach, under an umbrella, huddled around a bonfire or soaking up the nightlife on Main Street at night.

On a recent Thursday, dozens of residents in Hawaiian shirts and shorts packed a Main Street library room to talk about the city’s downtown. They cited a litany of horrors brought by visitors to what locals say is an increasingly raucous Main Street night scene: fights in the early morning hours, vomiting in the streets, urinating in the bushes.

—Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times, September 21, 2013

Great White Shark

Author’s Note No. 8. The following is an excerpt of an article I wrote in on kenjonesfishing.com.

Great Whites at Huntington Beach.  In late February [2017] a shark, probably a great white shark, was hooked from the pier, gaffed using a treble-hook pier gaff, and brought up to the pier to cheers from a crowd of interested onlookers. Pictures were taken and then, apparently, the fish was thrown back into the ocean where it probably died.

The entire episode was filmed by a visitor to the pier who then posted it to YouTube. Soon after someone showed the film to local lifeguards who then contacted the California Fish and Wildlife Department. By then the film had gone viral.

The headlines and reporting summed up the situation—and the feelings. “Possible catch of great white shark at Huntington Beach Pier brings state investigation.” “Video, selfies with baby shark caught off Huntington Beach pier leads to calls for penalties.” “Brutal Treatment of Great White Shark at Huntington Beach Under Investigation”—[the footage is disturbing—a rabid crowd jeers as the shark gets pulled up and placed on the pier.]

The comments that followed were predictable and give evidence of the problem—“Great White Life’s matter. These sportsmen’ need to be investigated, savages…” “This is not sport fishing but the gratuitous torture of an animal.” “Bunch of barbarians.” “The shark died… irregardless if released. If hoisting the shark onto the pier like that didn’t suffocate it, gaffing it in the gills killed it. Those idiots should’ve known better considering the heavy set ups they had.”

“The LA TIMES shows ‘anglers pulling a shark onto the pier as a crowd of people with cameras gathers to watch.’ I love the representation that these guys are anglers. Like they’re in any semblance of the definition a sports fisher. They are two thugs in California with nothing better do to with their time then hang out at a pier versus a bar and kill against the law a protected species that has way more class than these two excuses for humanity will ever have!”

“Protected species– not protected from morons.” “These idiots give all fisherman a bad name. That isn’t something to brag about it’s a protected species.”  “What is wrong with people, this is not the first time this has happened so don’t allow fishing off piers if government cannot control the situation.”

Understandably the Fish and Wildlife Department is investigating with a certain amount of caution. Was it a great white shark whose capture is prohibited? Was it a mako shark, which is legal to catch? Bottom line—does the department feel it can successfully prosecute the anglers for breaking the law. A lot of time and expense can be invested, and lost, if the department can’t prove it was a great white.

A quote in the Orange County Register from the Department of Fish and Wildlife gives evidence of the problem. Spokesman Andrew Hughan, indicated the caution. “It hasn’t yet been determined to be a great white. There are many sharks that look similar,” he said. “I would ask the public to be patient. We are working diligently, investigations take time. Just because everybody says it’s a white shark, doesn’t mean it’s a white shark. We are very well trained and experienced and we’re wildlife experts, but this isn’t ‘CSI,’ we can’t determine things overnight.” In time we will know their conclusion and what legal steps will be taken.

Judgment from local pier anglers was much quicker to reach a conclusion—one of guilt. Many were incensed and convinced that the anglers were seeking out the great whites. One of the regulars I talked to asked the question: “What does it say when an angler is using 12/0 to 16/0 hooks and a 200-pound wire leader? What else could they be fishing for? Given that new, more critical attention is now focused on local pier fishermen, especially those who target large thresher sharks and bat rays, there was little sympathy shown to the anglers under investigation.

The odds do seem to favor the notion that it was a great white. The catch of the (assumed) great white from the pier followed an unprecedented increase of great whites seen in the area during the past few years.

In 2015 scientists working with Chris Lowe of Long Beach State University, the local expert on sharks, spotted 21 great whites off of Huntington Beach and tagged 16 of the fish.     .

On Memorial Day 2016, an unidentified shark bit a woman swimming in the surf at nearby Newport Beach. She lived but evidence from the size of her wounds suggested it was a great white over ten feet in length.

2017, a new year and more sharks. On February 14 a (supposed) juvenile great white, just 6-7-feet-long, was hooked and lost from the Huntington Beach Pier.

On February 20 or 21 an 8-foot-long great white shark was reeled in by anglers targeting thresher sharks while fishing from the surf in Sunset Beach (near Huntington Harbor). The shark was released.

Just a few hours later on the same day the great white that has caused the current controversy was hooked from the Huntington Beach Pier. Its capture was documented on a YouTube video by Mike Hefner, a visitor who just happened to be on the pier that day. The YouTube video has now been seen by more than 100,000 viewers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp1xo0245KY

As mentioned, viewers brought it to the attention of lifeguards who then brought it to the attention of the Fish and Wildlife Department. Someone saw the video and brought it to the attention of local lifeguards who in turn contacted the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The drama wasn’t over. On February 23, a helicopter crew spotted an 11-to-14-foot-long shark swimming 100 feet off of Bolsa Chica State Beach. A few hours later a 6-7-foot-long great white was spotted in the same area. In response, swimmers were banned from using a two-mile stretch of waters along the Huntington Beach shoreline.

None of this surprised regulars on the pier who have reported seeing great whites many times. Their conclusion was that the great whites were feeding on the sting rays in the surf area — and they may be right.

In regard to the capture of the shark at the pier, the questions are fairly simple. Was the angler targeting great white sharks? Of course not according to the angler. Did they know it was a great white when they saw the fish at the top of the water? Of course not according to the angler. Why did they gaff it with a pier gaff and bring it up to the surface of the pier?  They said it was too big for a net so they used the gaff but that doesn’t answer the question about bringing it up to the pier in the first place. Some witnesses said they tossed the fish back into the water after celebratory pictures although no one seems to know if the shark was still alive. Why did they release it if they didn’t think it was a great white? No answers that I’ve seen.

What should have been done? A quote reported by CBS Los Angeles gives the best response. “As soon as they have a visual of the fish on the surface and they determine that it’s not legal to fish for, they need to cut the line right way,” said Lt. Claude Panis, a safety officer with the Huntington Beach Marine Patrol.

What is not in question is the fact that great white sharks have been a protected species since 1994 and that their catch can result in a fine up to $10,000.  It’s also known that while most “shark” anglers on piers are seeking out thresher sharks, leopard sharks, or big bat rays there are some anglers who hope to catch a great white and purposely target them (and it can be hard to tell the difference simply based on gear).

The Incident has brought back memories of the controversy that took place at the Manhattan Beach Pier in May of 2015 when a great white shark was hooked by an angler on the pier. A swimmer than ventured out by the hooked shark and was, in turn, bitten by the agitated fish. No one blamed the swimmer or the fish; all blamed the angler who had hooked the fish (while fishing for bat rays).

The city exploded! The pier was illegally closed, hearings were held, and the city council issued several new city ordinances that were, in themselves, illegal. These included banning all fishing for sharks, prohibiting wire leaders, and prohibiting certain types of fishing line. The California Coastal Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife said they couldn’t do what they did but as of 2017 those rules are still in effect…

Both incidents, the one at the Huntington Beach Pier and the one at Manhattan Beach have, unfortunately, made anglers look bad to a certain segment of society at a time when anglers need all the support they can get.  Some day we’ll learn.

The issues involved in these two stories do bring up the corollary question of what to do when you hook an illegal fish. It’s not that uncommon to hook illegal fish, i.e., garibaldi or silver salmon, but you need to know your fish and know what to do if you hook an illegal fish.

Sometimes you want to remove the hook or tackle from the mouth of a fish and for small fish like a garibaldi you might be able to net the fish and carefully remove the hook before putting it back down into the water with a net. For big fish like a giant (black) sea bass, a sturgeon, or a large shark simply cutting the line is probably the best answer.

As said though you need to know your fish species. I have my own species name for ignorant anglers—Knuckleheadus californicus: California anglers who through ignorance, or purposeful negligence, fail to follow California’s fishery laws. Especially egregious are those who purposely target and catch “illegal” species and whose actions lead to the death of those fish (even if attempting to return them back to the water).

Anglers today must know the species and must follow not only the rules but also best practices as far as catch and release and the proper handling of fish. Failure to do so not only can mean the loss of the fish but also the loss of support of the public who far too often sees anglers as harming the environment instead of people who usually are trying to preserve it.

Special Recommendation. When you’re on the pier check out the pictures by the lifeguard office. One series shows wounds caused by round stingrays and the ways to treat the injuries. The pictures are rather gruesome but also educational.

Early morning

E-Mail Messages

Date May 13, 1997 — To: Ken Jones — From: Audrey — Subject: Huntington Beach Bass

Hi. My dad said last week a large 50 LB Sea Bass was caught off Huntington Pier, and he seemed really sad about it; he thought they should have released it. The perch being caught there right now are on the large side, and the sharks are still around.

Date: November 25, 1999 — To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board — From: Quik2 — Subject: Shark attack at Huntington Beach Pier!!!! 11/24/99

Lots of Sharks at Huntington Pier. Lots of bites, lots of action. We caught over 12 fish, got over 20 bites and two broke our lines really fast. My roommate started the day catching a 2.5 ft mako shark, then I hooked on to a 2.5 ft gray smoothhound. 30 seconds after my hit, my roommate hooked on to a 3 ft smoothhound. All were huge, from 7-15-lbs at least (we had no measuring scale). Anyway, had about 8 thornback rays, really big ones too. Also caught a kingfish, and one bullhead. One shark hit my pole and my reel went zee zee zee. Then I tried to set the hook and snap, I heard 20-lb test snap in 2 sec. I didn’t even flip my switch to on yet on my Sealine reel. I think it chewed through the line… then my roommate also lost his line too. It was a great night, lots of big sharks swimming around. I did a really stupid thing because there was a hook stuck down in the mako shark’s throat and we were using live bait hooks. So, I tried to get it out, with my roommate holding the jaw and it’s mouth, but I accidentally hit my thumb on his mouth and got a … (censored) thumb bleed. For 15 minutes it was like dripping out. Had no Band Aid so I just put a napkin on it and tied it with a 40-lb test fishing line. I had it like that for 20 minutes before I ran into Ruby’s and asked them for a Band Aid because it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Luckily they had one. I felt pretty stupid, cause the teeth don’t look sharp. They looked like teeth on thornback rays. Plus, I’ve never caught such a big shark. Most of the ones I caught at Berkeley Pier in the S.F. Bay Area are mostly 1 ft. and they don’t have much teeth. But this one tore me up. Anyway, it was a great night; all we used was squid. We never got to sit down for more than 10 minutes except the last 30 minutes. We fished 9-12 p.m. Pretty good night!

To: Quik — From: Snookie — Dear Quik, Sounds like you had a great time. As to a mako shark, look up a picture of one. If yours was a mako, it was a newborn baby, and even at that makos usually don’t wander that close to shore here, even to have their young. It is certainly of interest if your shark was a mako. That means there is a big mama around. Hope your next trip is as fun as the last one.   Snookie

To: Snookie — From: Quik — Went Friday and Saturday night! Lots of sand sharks or what the DFG website called a spiny dogfish. Up to 4′ and over 20 lbs. Between me and my roommate we lost over 6 sharks over 3′ in 3 nights because we didn’t bring our crab net. So Sunday we brought our net. We caught one that was 3.5′ and over 15-lbs— didn’t have a scale. A 36,” a 35,” and some others that we didn’t measure. Got it all on camera though. We had over 20 bites last night from 7:30 PM-12 PM. Landed around 8 fish; 6 sharks and 2 thornback rays. Snookie that first one we caught was definitely a mako, all others that follow were sand sharks. People who helped us pull the line to land the fish on to the pier also ID it as a mako; too bad we didn’t bring our camera. It was a baby though, only 2′ long, about 8-lbs I assume; cut my thumb trying to get the hook out. Damn thing still stings as I am typing. People left and right of us also landed sharks. Lots of people there last night, probably more people tonight. I think this will be our last night until my roommate gets done with finals plus there are way too many people now. For the past three weeks no one ever fished the end where Ruby’s is. Now that we started catching sharks there at tons of people, especially kids trying to catch a shark. One kid cast over all four of our poles, which gets us pretty upset. We have lots of fillet white meat in the fridge that will last us at least 2 weeks, we kept three of the biggest we caught and tossed almost all back; gave two away. I’ve never seen so many sharks caught on a pier in my life, at least not in the 3′ range. I often caught 1-2′ sharks at Berkeley Pier but those 3′ and beyond are rare for me so that got me and my roommate excited. Too bad they don’t fight too hard; they mostly jerk left and right trying to free themselves, instead of a tug of war fight. Oh well. I hope you guys go our and see it for yourselves, go between 7 PM-12 PM and use big chunks of squid. It’s almost guaranteed you will get sharks. It was pretty fun catching three 3′ sharks on my 6′ trout pole, and a Daiwa Jupiter reel. hehehehe seems like I am catching a whale on it. Lucky we had a net. We now call it the little trout pole that could. BTW is there a size limit on these sharks or any sharks, except leopard sharks? BTW keep your catches away from sight, lots of pi…. off people these three nights talking about how sad it is for those sharks, and how crude we fishermen are. Hehehe, luckily for us last night we gave ours away or tossed them back. The guys to the left and right of us received some really nasty comments from people walking around the pier. I wonder if they also felt sorry for the chicken and that cow they ate for dinner or maybe that Thanksgiving turkey. Hummm there’s something they could think about.

To: Quik — From: Snookie  — Dear Quik, Glad to hear it was a Mako. Interesting! As to size limits, the leopard is the only one so far with a size limit. Keep watching though as DFG is still thinking about more size limits on some other sharks such as the mako.  Keep up the fun fishing, Snookie

Date: January 16, 2000 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: scott lopez — Subject: Huntington Beach

1/16/00 went fishing at Huntington Beach this morning we hooked up on thresher sharks sizes from 4 to 7 feet long. Four sharks were hooked up but no one was able to bring them up. They were actually able to be seen from the pier before and after they would attack our bait. We were using Penn 500 reels with 30-pound test and steel leaders. One guy after loosing a shark pulled is line up to find his hook cut in half. What a great morning. They were biting from around 8:00 am to 11:00 am. Some small king fish were caught but nothing else.

Date: September 18, 2000 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: scott lopez —Subject: Huntington Beach Pier report

Hey pier rats, I went fishing on Sunday morning. We got to the pier around 7am. When we arrived this fellow was fighting with a rather large catch. His rod and reel seemed too small for what he had on the other end. At that time I told him if he needed it to have someone get me and I would bring my gaff. About five minutes later he was at the end of the pier still fighting then he went all the way to the left side of the pier when he started calling for help. It seemed to be a very good sized ray around 50 lbs. When I saw it I was really surprised that his gear held up. At that point he was happy enough to just get it to the surface and cut his line to let it go. Later on that morning I caught a 16” white sea bass (what a catch), Then around 1030 the fellow next to me caught a nice halibut around 20”; we let that one go. All day long people were catching some good-sized mackerel, along with herring. This was obviously a great day to go fishing. Oh I almost forgot there were around 10-15 small sized rays that were also caught. I went to the pier with 2 mackerel and a package of squid. When I left I took 3 good mackerel for next week’s bait and a new package of squid that was given to me. Between my father, my son and I we must have pulled up around 25 fish. However the lesson we showed my son is you don’t take what you are not going to use. With every catch we carefully removed the hooks and let my son slip them back in the ocean. My son swore up and down he was catching the same mackerel all day long. Oh what it is to be 7 years old fishing with your grandfather and your dad. See you all next week.

Date: March 21, 2002 — To:PFIC Message Board — From: raochtr — Subject:  Huntington Beach Pier

Tuesday was a great day for Bat Rays at the pier. Well, we got to the end of the pier at 7pm to hear a reel whizing and we watched a gentleman fight with a big ray for about 10 mins. Got him to the pier when the ray took off and snapped his 40-lb line, well any ways we get setup and get out useng squid of course. We fished from 1930 til 2130 and we caught 9 rays (the largest ray was 35”) and 3 thornbacks in 2 hours of very nice and warm weather.

Date: April 16, 2002 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: MBP — Subject: Huntington Beach Pier 04/15/02

Big night at the pier last night! I fished from 6:30-11:00pm at the end of the pier. My first time out with my new Penn Power Stick 7′ rod and Penn Jigmaster 500, so I was excited. After 10 min, BOOM – fish on! I knew this was no ordinary bat ray… this one was fighting and BIG.  I wrangled him up the side of the pier… 45″! My biggest yet. Probably weighed around 50-75lbs (no scale). I let him go with a large SPLASH and take off. The night was only getting started. I caught a skate, then another bat ray, and then I moved to the other side of the pier, behind Ruby’s (due to wind). That side was ON FIRE! I caught a skate almost immediately, then a bat ray, then 3 (three!) starfish on 1 cast (one of them a big mother), then a spider crab, another bat ray, a small leopard shark (2ft.), a JUST BARELY illegal halibut (on squid, too!!! 19″, heartbreaker!), another big bat ray, then the fish which ended my fishing for the night… a stingray. It was a round stingray, which I stupidly mistook for a skate (didn’t flip it over). I had him on his back, and went down to take the hook out. Then BAM!! I have a puncture wound on the backside off my right ring finger, blood spraying everywhere. Not fun. I STILL didn’t think this was a stingray at that time, I really believed my hook had stuck me when he twitched… I should have known better. I tried to keep fishing after cleaning up the puncture with some freshwater and a band-aid. I started feeling a bit dizzy, but it passed quickly. Then my hand started throbbing. OMFG – the pain! Ever been stung in the MEAT of a FINGER by a stingray? ArGh! Went home, boiled up some water, let it cool a second, then in goes my hand…. ArGH! Left it there for an hour, then pulled it out, but some peroxide on the puncture and went to bed. All in all, a GREAT day fishing (tons of variety and lots of catching!) – with a bad ending. Watch out for those rays! If I had been allergic… I’d probably be dead right now (since I tried to ignore it).

Total fish caught (all released): 1 halibut (19″); 1 leopard shark (2ft); 3 skates (or so… didn’t count em really); 5+ bat rays (didn’t count em after 5); 1 spider crab (pretty big one); 3 starfish; 1 stingray

Caught on 30lb test with squid and salted sardine pieces.

Date: May 3, 2002 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: Ken Jones — Subject:  April 29 – Day 4 of trip – Huntington Beach Pier

By this time I wasn’t expecting much action one way or another. No one showed any fish inshore when I checked out the buckets (and there weren’t many anglers—a bad sign). Finally headed out to a spot I like about 3/4 of the way out next to a bait cleaning station. At 11 a.m. I cast out a high/low on the heavier pole and continued with the Sabiki on the light pole. Nothing to report. Tried out several different areas under the pier and finally found some fish. Again nothing big but non-stop action. Fished two hours and caught 51 fish—mainly queenfish but also jacksmelt, walleye surfperch and white croaker. Again, not a bite on the heavier pole and it was beginning to dawn on me how hard it was to even tell nibbles on the pole with the wind blowing so hard. If you wanted fish you had to keep the pole in your hand and feel them.

Date: July 24, 2002 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: cougar — Subject: Huntington Beach Pier

After a nice drive down 5 settled in HB. Took care of business and hit the pier from 10pm-midnight. Lots of variety, fished w/ mussels and squid on hi/lo w/ 3oz. and size 6 hooks. 4 guitar/shovel nose, largest 26″ not sure which one they were but were very cool and had spikes up and down back; turn ‘em over and they be smilin’ at ya. 2 yellowfin croakers up to 2pds. 1 leopard shark at 22″, first one ever landed—beautiful fish. 2 corbina 10-12″ and 1 barred perch 12″…had a blast…grunion running Fri. night at 11:04 pm. found this cool coffee shop at on PCH nxt to pier w/ this public access internet. Sippin’ on sum banana nut iced coffee and off for sum business…. later daze.

Posted by cougar on July 25  — 9:30pm-12midnight…as draco said earlier, think they may be thornbacks…caught 4 more 2night w/ one double hookup. 1 zebraperch…my 2nd leopard at 25″ and 2 sand sharks bout 16″ each…only fishing bout 20 yards from shore at high tide on light tackle…fun…boy ole boy has Huntington changed since the 70′s…still has the charm but big money is here now…ala hotels…beach closes at 10pm and pier closes at midnight, what’s up wit dat….later daze.

Posted by cougar on July 27 — 8-10:30pm…2 yellowfin croakers and 1 20″halibut on sardine…released unharmed…yes grunion ran last night, headed in for sum java and back out to see if my hands are quick enuf 2 catch the little critters in about 1/2 hr. lots of croakers and perch…small rays also…later daze.

Date: April 18, 2003 — To: PFIC Message Board —From: John Mykkanen — Subject: Huntington Beach pier also

I caught my first Halibut at age 9 in 1972 off HB pier on mussels. I hand lined it up only to have it pop off just as I touched it. I’m calling it my first. Same year watched a big thresher get hooked and lost by the same guy twice. Each time he surface cast to it and it bit. It fell off the wharf gaff and swam away the second time. 4.5′ Body about 70#.

Date: July 10, 2003 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: SandCrab — Subject: Huntington Beach Pier Corbina!

YES! Finally got my corbina of the season! Used the sliding sinker rig baited with mussels. The Corbina were at the lifeguard tower, so were some YFC, and barred surfperch. I always release my 1st corbinas so next time I’ll keep a few. And all fish released Time fished was 12-4 and used fresh defrosted mussels. Saw a 3-foot shovelnose landed and a 2-foot smoothhound shark. The Bait shop reported that 1 salmon was caught and a 106-lb bat ray. But I didn’t get a chance to fish for mackerel… maybe next time! So the fish count was 3 YFC, 2 Corbina! and lots of BSP.  The waves were good for spongers, wish I had my boogie board with me, and the weather was great. A lil overcast, lil sunny, and breezy. Kevin*  ><> J

Date: October 25, 2003 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: SandCrab — Subject: Huntington Beach Pier 10/25/03

I went out today around 1 and came home around 6 (bus closes at 6) = (so anyways…. no more bonito seems like but the macks and smelt are there, fished the surf a little past the lifeguard tower. Used some frozen mussels like always, well the corbina are still there, caught 3 smallish medium ones. And one YFC and the humble BSP. Moved half way to the bathrooms and fished with some ancient shrimp catching some thornbacks and another YFC, also a small, about 15-inch leopard shark. Man next to me caught a zebra perch and an opaleye. Moved out to the end around 3:00 while I was jigging with a Sabiki for macks and smelt action. Homeless guy walked up to me and started to talk, so we started to talk and he said “wish I could fish” so I went down to the bait shop and rented a rod for an hour. Set him up with a Sabiki and taught him how to jig for the fish. He looked like he had the best time of his life. Felt good knowing that I made his day. Well after that we returned the rod and he couldn’t thank me enough. So jigged for about an hour…after that he stayed a while watching me fish so, changed my setup to a Carolina rig and fished with some squid strips for the rest and caught 2 small sculpin and a starfish. Some bait was boiling pretty far out and that was my day. BTW: ALL fish was released. -Kevin*  ><> Support United Pier and Shore Angers of California, UPSAC!

Date: September 19, 2004 — To: PFIC Message Board —From: alcastillo — Subject: Huntington 9-18 Bonito Crew

My brother and I decided to take the kids pier fishing. We decided on Huntington Beach because last week Balboa was pretty crowded. We fished before the bait shop in the morning with smelt, a stingray, and three juvenile white seabass making up the catch. The kids were starting to get bored. We decided to move further up beyond the bait shop, on the right side of the pier. There was a huge ball of bait and the bonito were in full feeding mode! We quickly jigged up some sardines and set up the rods with Carolina rigs and circle hooks. As soon as they hit the water, the baits were being slammed. The kids fished two at a time, to avoid crossing each other’s lines, and the bonito were keeping them busy. They were glad for the break after catching a fish. It was wide open for a good hour and a half. They each caught a couple of fish and had a great time.

The “Bonito Crew” — Al Castillo’s youngsters with some bonito

Date: December 14, 2004 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: bdwloco — Subject: HB encounter…

I fish HB pier quite regularly, and surf there all the time. So I find myself always looking down into the water (when it’s actually clean and clear!) to see what the fish are doing. I always see surfperch, baby leopards, and other random fishies. So I was on surfline, and read this! “Huntington Beach Shark Encounter: December 6th, John Thomas spotted a 12-foot hammerhead shark. Although not generally observed close inshore, Hammerhead Sharks are frequent visitors to Southern California and caution should be exercised in their presence. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee link below. (A couple divers also reported seeing a hammerhead shark around this same location a few days previous.) “ O !!!!!!!! yikes! I thought it would be kind of interesting for people on this board.  That’s all.

Date: December 21, 2004 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: mikeritr — Subject: Newbie on board intro/history of self

Mike here; long time pier fisherman Huntington Beach since about 1949 with my grandfather. 59 years old. My Grandpa was Bargemaster of the Elsie II of HB pier around 1955. I fished off the pier with Bushy, son of farmer for which Bushard street is named.

Caught all the usual stuff and remember when the 30+ pound white seabass where caught in the grey dawn when the sardines were in. Firecracker yellows as well. Fished Newport with wooden homemade bonito splasher, and slammed ‘em ’55-57. Spent a lot of time on the Surfish, half-day boat out of Huntington, killing the Bonito, Barracuda, and the occasional Yellow. Some Big Sandbass caught too… Used to kill everything and sell it on the pier as a kid, now release a lot of stuff…Like to use the lightest possible outfit for the fish I’m catching. Remember some great times on light outfits with big bonito in the 50′s. 

Date: February 20, 2005 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: SLO_GIN — Subject: Huntington Beach waterspout

I was just listening to the radio news [ksfo] and there was a report of a water spout [tornado on the water] 100 yards off of Huntington Beach Pier. Crazy weather 4 sure. Was wondering if anyone down there witnessed it?

Date: July 2, 2007 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: JohnG — Subject: HB pier + Zebra Perch Poachers!

Ken mentioned the Zebra Perch on the Huntington Beach pier report. That brings up a rant. Well, I saw them Saturday. What an amazing sight, a bait ball 30+ feet in diameter, solid with foot long Zebra Perch. Another amazing sight were anglers (so called) snagging fish one after another, running up and down the rail, with total disregard for others (like me). Some even mentioned the term foul hooked. What a bunch of poachers! Buckets of fish came up. Next time I call Cal-Tip. PERIOD. On to better thoughts. The fishing was a bit slow. I usually fish Bass, and Halibut at night, because that is the only time I can, so I was really excited to fish during the daytime. I hit the pier at 5am to find very little bait, and very little action over all. Picked up a nice Spotted Sand Bass on the plastics, and a couple micro Butt’s. I also got spooled by a Bat Ray, I’d have to guess, on my 20# Newell rig. Nice day of fishing, I went home after watching the poachers. Sorry about the rant. 

Date: June 6, 2008 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: fission machine — Subject: Black Sea Bass & Salmon at HB

Yep, in the span of three days at the HB pier, two different people caught these two species. The first (which is posted on another site right now also, since I am new here — not sure on the rules on posting links?) stirred up controversy in an argument over returning the fish to the water. These “people” caught a black sea bass and hoop netted it up onto the deck. The following argument from several anglers telling them to release it — got to the point of the authorities being called. On top of that the knuckleheads screwed around for so long that — you guessed it — the fish was dead by the time it landed back in the water.

The other incident happened twp days later, and involved a couple, who while bait jigging for mackerel, had hooked a Silver Salmon. The fish was hoop netted over the rail, and was fairly tweaked after being wrapped in the multi hook Sabiki rig. Funny thing was the people wasted no time, wrapped up the fish with their load of mackerel, and bailed off of the pier within minutes.

The only thing missing from this week could have been a great white or a cow cod (which would make for a trifecta)!?!?!? I generally will tell people at least once not to take verboten species – but as many will tell you now – some of the riff raff that comes down to fish at the piers now are armed, and or fresh out of prison, etc. I recommend not pushing your luck too far — especially at the LB or Seal Beach pier but it is getting to where HB, Newport or Balboa can also be not as safe as in the good old days…

The day after the salmon walked off of the pier, I drove by there on the way home from work, and a day late and a dollar short was your friendly neighborhood DFG agent.

Posted by pierhead

Don’t be too quick to tell them the fish is illegal —  act like an admiring tourist and have them pose for a picture with the fish.  Then follow them off the pier and get their car’s license plate. With that info the DFG can get their home address and make a follow-up contact.  Remember — ignorance of the law is no excuse. Starting a confrontation on the pier doesn’t always result in saving the fish. Best to be safe and let the DFG follow-up. The resulting publicity will save more fish in the long run.

Posted by fission machine

The salmon I saw, but the BSB I only viewed by photos. I would pretty much swear to the ID of the BSB though, mainly because I can’t think of anything else it might be. Don’t see the telltale spots, but from that angle they may not be visible. Will try to post an image if I can. I now have found out the story from an eyewitness to the BSB drama. The fish was caught by one set of anglers. It was hoop netted over the rail by these anglers who were instructed to return it to the water. Following the return to the water, the fish was floating and not responding. Upon seeing this, a different group of anglers tied on a surface iron and proceeded to snag the fish and hoist it back up to the pier — at which point CALTIP was called. The DFG called the lifeguards who did come out and inform the “snaggers” to return the fish to the water. By this time the fish had pretty much had it. Apparently, some surfers did their best to try to revive the fish for some time, but it never swam away on it’s own power. Always amazing what kind of idiots come down here to fish and cause trouble vs. the decent people who we don’t need to be concerned with. Moral to this story is — call CALTIP when you see these morons poaching — you could just claim a reward! Store this number on your cell 888 334-2258 just for this purpose.

Date: October 13, 2010   — To: PFIC Message Board — From: Riplee781 — Subject: Huntington Beach Pier

Went to Huntington pier tonight; Jellyfish met me there. Fished 6pm-10pm. Managed to land 3 bat rays, 1 baby leopard, 1 smoothhound, couple macs, and a few jacksmelt. Rays hit on chunks of macs cut up on a hi-lo rig. The leo was caught on shrimp and a hi-low rig. Macs were caught with squid. Had a Carolina rig baited with squid and live bait, but nothing. Changed to hi lo and had much better luck

Date: October 23, 2016 — To: PFIC Message Board — From: EgoNonBaptizo — Subject: Huntington Beach Pier

I arrived at the pier by roughly 6 am. It was dark, but at the end there were many fisherman. There was a pretty good mackerel bite, with a few bonito thrown in. I fished with a Sabiki tipped with mackerel strips, but after a few fish, it was tangled beyond recovery. I rigged up with a micro-jig, sweetened with a strip of mackerel belly, and continued to fish. The fish were all over it. Once the sun came up the fishing slowed considerably. The mackerel bit intermittently, but the lizardfish started coming in hordes. I was able to get a few more mackerel, giving the smaller ones to the shark fishermen. After an hour of fishing, I heard one of the shark setups start screaming. He grabbed the rod, and set the hook into a 4-5 foot thresher shark. It jumped a couple times before getting loose. By now I had to go, so I packed up, cleaned off my gear, and headed home.

It’s a long pier so it’s wise to have a pier cart

Pier Fishing In California Fish Reports

June 1997—Our reporter, Audrey Kim, reports that fishing was hot until about a week ago when things slowed. Anglers were getting a mixed bag with some nice-sized barred surfperch and quite a few sharks at night. She says one angler hooked and landed a 50+pound black sea bass that was spirited away to the car. Dumb move! PLEASE, let these magnificent fish grow, have some babies, and repopulate our waters.

October 1998—Cliff, at Let’s Go Fishing (on the pier and on Beach Blvd.) reports that anglers continue to pull in a large variety of fish. He says inshore anglers are getting barred surfperch, spotfin croakers, yellowfin croakers and corbina while using bloodworms, ghost shrimp, fresh mussels, razor clams and pieces of shrimp. Down around the pilings, some opaleye perch and zebra perch are being landed by anglers using green moss or frozen peas. At the end, lots of mackerel, many the large 2-4-pound horse mackerel variety, are being taken, and on some days Cliff says it is a fish on nearly every cast. A few halibut are also showing up but almost all are short. One guy caught 8 one day and Cliff says the key is to catch a live anchovy or sardine with a bait rig and then fish the live bait down between the pilings. Perhaps the biggest news recently was a run of thresher sharks that showed up in the surf area—approximately 40 fish being spotted. He says the threshers would come up and slap baits with their tails, some were snagged, and four of the 30-40 pound fish were eventually landed.

September 1999—Cliff, at Let’s Go Fishing (on the pier and on Beach Blvd.), that some people are staying away because the local beaches have been closed (due to water contamination). However, there’s been some fantastic fishing for thresher sharks; the run started three weeks ago with all the fish being over 6 feet in size. One day saw 10 threshers hooked in a four-hour span with five landed. One angler, John Stavrakos (sounds like a good Greek name to me) has landed threshers every Saturday for the past three weeks; two on one Saturday—both over 6 1/2 feet in length; another 6 1/2 foot fish the next Saturday; and another 6-foot fish this past Saturday. All of the fish were landed out at the end of the long pier. Most anglers are using 40-50 pound mono line and large, 8-12 ounce sinkers which are cast out as far from the pier as possible. The normal leader is a 6′ wire leader with 8/0-9/0 hooks. Live bait (small mackerel) is best but whole sardines are also used. The bait and leader is then slid down the main line into the water. There have also been some 100+pound bat rays and big shovelnose sharks mixed in with the threshers. Inshore, anglers continue to catch spotfin croakers, corbina and yellowfin croakers using bloodworms, ghost shrimp and fresh mussels. Cliff also reports that quite a few zebraperch are being landed next to the lifeguard station. Lastly, anglers are picking up a few mackerel on top, as well as some small halibut and undersized white seabass.

July 2001—Cliff, at Let’s Go Fishing (on the pier), reports some really interesting fishing action. He says a lot of zebraperch are being taken out at the end of the pier on mussels and moss and they’re huge—3-4 pounds each. Fish down around the pilings. Sargo are also showing up, from halfway out on the pier to the end and they’re also good size—2-3 pounds. Thresher shark action has also added excitement when as many as ten fish were hooked in one day. However, only one was landed as almost all were broken off around the pilings. The sharks have ranged up to 8-9 feet in length. Inshore, he’s seeing some barred surfperch and corbina in the surf area while some shovelnose sharks and halibut are showing up further out. He says he is also seeing quite a few legal size calico (kelp) bass, something he rarely has seen on the pier. And lastly, two fighting species have been seen out at the end: a few barracuda have been taken on spoons, and bonito have been seen boiling about 100 yards off the end of the pier. So far none of the bonito have been caught but he figures it’s only a matter of time.

November 2001—Cliff, at Let’s Go Fishing, reports a variety of action. Interestingly, he says a lot of halibut have been taken recently including fish of 30” and 31”; most are being taken in shallow-water, inshore areas using live smelt or AA sized Cotee Lures (white and blue, white and green, clear silver and blue, or clear silver and green). He says anglers are casting them in the surf area and letting the action of the waves and currents provide the movement for the lures. Sounds interesting. Corbina to 4 pounds have also been taken inshore on fresh mussels, shrimp and clams. Out at the end lots of mackerel are showing up with an occasional; bonito (mostly small). A few shovelnose sharks (Big Guys) and leopard sharks are also showing up with an occasional thresher but he says he hasn’t seen a thresher successfully landed in quite a while.

June 2002—Marion, at Let’s Go Fishing, reports some great fish this month including an 8 1/2-foot thresher shark, a 37 1/2-inch halibut, a 5-foot leopard shark and a 4 1/2-foot shovelnose guitarfish. She says LOTS of BIG spotfins (to 4 pounds) are being taken as well as some large barred surfperch inshore (one weighing nearly 3 pounds). She says there haven’t been any mackerel or bonito but the action on the bottom has been so good nobody misses them. She also said she’s seeing increasing numbers of red crabs. Is El Nino on its way?

September 2002—Marion, at Let’s Go Fishing, reports pretty good action and some unusual species this month. Most unusual were two soupfin sharks that were landed this week, one a six-foot-long, 65-pound fish. The giant squid also showed up but only for a few days. Lastly, about 9 legal-size barracuda have been landed. Action has been steady on sardines but the mackerel come and go. There are still some halibut, including several 28-32-inch fish, and some perch and croakers in the inshore area.

July 2004—Eva, at Let’s Go Fishing, reports a nice mixture of fish. Inshore, some yellowfin and spotfin croaker are making an appearance while further out on the pier some sand bass, halibut and even barracuda are being seen. She reports there are also quite a few zebraperch showing up, mainly mid-pier around the pilings. Biggest news recently was a hammerhead shark taken—and released—on June 20 that weighed an estimated 50-60 pounds.

November 2004—Alex, at Let’s Go Fishing, says there are still bonito to be had; they’re mainly falling to feathers and shiny lures. Although it’s been fairly slow on halibut, a 49” flattie, estimated at 30 pounds, was recently landed on a live sardine. Anglers are also pulling up quite a few shovelnose sharks (guitarfish).

July 2005—Henry, at Let’s Go Fishing, reports fishing is just so so. He says some yellowfin croaker, corbina, walleye perch and barred surfperch are showing up inshore but not in big numbers. There was a nice run of 3-6 pound spotfin croakers being taken on mussels and lugworms but it has slowed. Meanwhile, the mid-pier area has seen a few small white seabass, small rays and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) although halibut have been slow. Not much has been seen on top. Big fish of the month was a 35-pound, 39-inch horn shark.

August 2005—Henry, at Let’s Go Fishing, reports fishing is picking up. He says there are lots of baitfish—sardines, jacksmelt and queenfish along with a few halibut. Henry says the short flatties outnumber the legals 10-1, so handle them carefully. Out at the end, mackerel are showing along with some small bonito.  A few barracuda have been spotted but not hooked. Inshore, spotfin croaker, yellowfins and barred surfperch continue to be available along with too many baby leopard sharks. Sharks have been in good supply with leopards, sand sharks (gray smoothhounds), and shovelnose (guitarfish) being common most days. Recent shark catches have included a 5-foot-long blue shark estimated to weigh 75 pounds and a 3 1/2-foot-long soupfin shark estimated to weigh 25 pounds. Some thresher sharks have also been hooked but most were lost. Almost all of the large sharks were hooked on live mackerel.

November 2006—Marion, at Let’s Go Fishing, reports a good run of leopard sharks ranging from 36” to 46” along with quite a few shovelnose sharks (guitarfish), bat rays and stingrays. Be careful because two of the anglers got stuck by the batties and both had to go to the hospital. She said there’s also been an unbelievable run of white seabass with, of course, almost all being under the legal size; she said she’s trying her best to make sure all are returned to the water. Bonito are in and out; generally they’re following the sardines, while mackerel have been sparse. Inshore, the action on spotfin croakers and yellowfin croakers remains strong and while lots of corbina are being spotted in the shallows they swim up to the bait, turn their heads and swim off.

June 2007—Marion, at Let’s Go Fishing, reports outstanding action on BIG spotfin croakers (to five pounds) and corbina (to five pounds) along with the smaller yellowfin croakers. Best bait has been fresh mussels, which she says is even out producing her worms. Best hours are the evening hours. Some perch are also showing up as well as shovelnose guitarfish and thornbacks but basically it’s been all bottom action with one exception—giant (Humboldt?) squid. The squid are hitting both at day and during the night and not in big numbers but often enough to make it interesting. Size—about 4 feet in length. Red tide has been coming and going. The day I called it was clear but the three previous days were murky. Not a good sign.

February 2009—Mike, at Let’s Go Fishing, says the big news lately was a couple of 6-foot plus threshers taken out at the end on live bait. Halibut are also making a nice showing although most are too small to keep (and it’s early in the year for both species). Inshore is kicking out some perch, yellowfins and spotfins while there’s been a good bite on top, mid-pier to the end, for mackerel, sardines and anchovies. The end section also produced a nice 15-inch calico bass recently, a fish rarely seen at the pier.

September 2009—Marion, at Let’s Go Fishing on the pier, says the action has slowed as seen during the large Huck Finn Derby that was won with a small lizardfish. Nevertheless a few (emphasis on few) quality fish are showing including a spotfin croaker weighing 7-pounds and a thresher shark measuring 8-feet in length, There was a mini-run of the threshers one day with twelve hooked but only four were landed. Apparently it was the same day as the earthquake in Mexico, and the pier’s waters were surrounded by sea lions, dolphins, and, apparently, threshers. Was it connected to the earthquake? Who knows? More likely there were some baitfish in the area and they attracted the various ocean creatures.

November 2010—Marion, at Let’s Go Fishing (on the pier), reports that she’s seeing big numbers of anchovies and mackerel, and apparently they’ve attracted in some bigger fish including bat rays and thresher sharks (at the end). Inshore, some yellowfin, spotfin and black croaker are showing as well as a few corbina. The mid-pier quite area is seeing a few halibut in the 22-26” range along with small lizardfish. Small squid are showing out around the end of the pier at night.

July 2011—Karen, at Let’s Go Fishing (on the pier), says things are picking up with increasing numbers of yellowfin and spotfin croakers, perch, mackerel  and small bat rays. Biggest fish recently were a 6-foot-long leopard shark, a 28-inch barracuda, and a bat ray estimated to weigh 150 pounds. Many small and a few keeper-size halibut are also making a showing.

September 2011—Karen, at Let’s Go Fishing (on the pier), says fishing has been pretty decent. Inshore, it’s a mix of croakers and perch while mid-pier to the end sees a lot of mackerel. Perhaps because of the mackerel the bite continues on thresher sharks out at the end with as many as ten being landed in one day. Of course this is also where an illegal (baby) great white shark was taken last week.

June 2015—Nicole at Let’s Go Fishing (on the pier), said a lot of lizardfish have been showing recently along with the mackerel (that are found at the end). A 20” barracuda was taken and though halibut are being caught, all are small. illegal-size fish. Out at the end a few sharks are showing (including at least one soupfin) as well as some bat rays.

November 2015—Cody at Let’s Go Fishing, on the pier, said  a lot of croakers continue to be taken inshore along with good numbers of bonito mid-pier to the end. Sharays have included some really big bat rays and a shovelnose shark (guitarfish) estimated at 40 pounds. Not hooked, but seen, were two 10-foot great whites and an 8-foot hammerhead shark.

July 2016—Cody at “Let’s Go Fishing” on the pier says there have been tons of mackerel and a few sardines lately (mid-pier to the end). Inshore, anglers are picking up a lot of spotfin croakers (to 4-pounds in size) along with quite a few sargo. He’s also seeing quite a few bat rays from inshore to the end of the pier. Last week an angler caught a 6-foot-long 7-gill shark at the end estimated at 80 pounds.

September 2016—Cody at “Let’s Go Fishing” on the pier says people are catching LOTS of mackerel and LOTS of bonito. It’s slow on the bottom but there are tons of baitfish that are attracting the top fighters. A few threshers have also been caught but action on bottom species is slow. One shark angler did hook a great white shark on a piece of bonito about an hour before I called. They estimated it at 250-pounds and it broke off when it got to the top (no surprise).

November 2018—Scott at “Let’s Go Fishing” on the pier says the main action has been on mackerel and sardines with a ton of both. They’re getting some early morning bonito boils but the last few days they’ve been too far out from the pier to catch them. Two striped bass were also caught, both 18 inches, and both in the surf area by the Lifeguard Tower. Apparently both were caught on Berkeley sand worms. Inshore is also seeing a few croakers while the barred surfperch are starting to show up in bigger numbers. Out at the end the shark fisherman continue to ply their trade. The biggest lately was an 80-pound soupfin shark that hit on a chunk of mackerel.  Although guys are still fishing for threshers, few have been seen lately.

 The Good Old Days

Jewfish and Yellowtail Are Being Hauled in at Huntington Beach—Huntington Beach, Nov. 2—Two immense sharks were caught by Cash Ramsey yesterday from the wharf with a jewfish hook and line, and were towed in and landed on the sand. The larger one measured nine and one-half feet in length and weighed 500 pounds, the other one being almost as large. They were very ugly looking fish, with an immense mouth. A jewfish was caught from the wharf by Mr. Warner, weighing 157 pounds, the same day. There seemed to be a school of large fish around the wharf hunting for food. Fishing in general is excellent at present. Plenty of yellowtail and bonito are the varieties being caught… A. L. Reynolds landed a twenty-two pound yellowtail from the wharf and several fine lobsters weighing five pounds each.

Santa Ana Register, November 3, 1906

Yellowtail Are Hunting The Bait—Huntington Beach, Oct. 2—Huntington Beach—Many yellowtail have been caught here this week. Earl Nelson secured one at the wharf yesterday weighing thirty pounds.

Santa Ana Register, October 3, 1908

Hooks Big Fish—Orange News—What is reported to be the largest fish ever caught off the Huntington Beach pier was hooked by Ronald Boring of this city Monday. It was a stingaree weighing 63 pounds and measured four and a half feet in length and forty inches in width. The boy was 45 minutes in landing the fish.

—Santa Ana Register, June 29, 1916

Herring Driven Away By Roughness Of Sea—Huntington Beach, April 15.—The past few days the ocean has been very rough for fishing, although some good catches have been made in perch, spotfin and surf. The herring departed about as quickly as the came, remaining in but three days. As soon as this rough sea calms down again there will be plenty of herring for all.

Santa Ana Register, April 15, 1918

R. E. Larter, one of the most successful anglers, succeeded in catching 100 fish one day last week at the Huntington Beach Pier.

—Santa Ana Register, June 22, 1917

Landed 90 Lb. Bass At Huntington Beach—J. A. Goras, 606 Deleware street, Huntington Beach, was this morning the envied of all the big bunch of fisherman on the Huntington Beach pier. He landed a 90-pound black bass. Fishing was good this morning and the fans had good sport.

—Santa Ana Register, September 21, 1917

Everybody’s Pulling “Em In—Huntington Beach, Aug. 29.—Fish galore, and then some. Everybody has been getting all the fish they could conveniently handle this week. Monday morning the outer end of the pier was literally covered with smelt, tom-cod, and other varieties. Mackerel by the score, halibut, bass, and even some yellowtail came up and viewed the crowd, while the sea gulls feasted.

—Santa Ana Register, August 29, 1918

Luck Big Factor In Angling Game—Huntington Baech, June 27.—Whether the smaller-sized spotfin croaker, the yellowfin croaker or the corbina are more the most plentiful, the many fishermen who crowd the Huntington Beach pier are unable to determine, for the catches vary according to the luck of the individual. They were unanimous about the halibut being very plentiful at present. Many catch as high as 20, varying in weight from 8 pounds to 36 pounds. These are caught by snagging with a shiny sinker. Many spotfin croakers weighing 8 pounds have been caught this season, but only one that weighed 12 pounds.

—Santa Ana Register, June 27, 1922

Fishermen Get Real Catches of Variety—Huntington Beach, June 18.—Variety fishing proved to be the feature of the pier activities Sunday, while Saturday the size of the catch was the main factor as every one drew in all he could carry in a run of yellow fin, spot fin and sea bass.

Stingaree Hooked—The “feature” work Sunday commenced early in the morning when a fifty-pound stingaree swallowed the hook and as much as he could reach of a convenient line. After a lengthy struggle, in which every hand on the pier was called into action, and many heavy ropes with “gaff” hooks were lowered, the great fighter was hauled onto the pier, killed and returned to the water.

A short time later, a twenty-five pound shovel nose shark was landed in the same manner. Many smaller sharks of the rainbow variety, harmless and of no value, were hauled up. Late in the afternoon, the fisherman’s pet enemy made his appearance on the end of a line and a great “water spider” was thrown out to torment all of the dogs who were drawn to the hard backed animal but afraid to tackle him.

Although the morning fishing was not nearly as good as afternoon, many visitors took home prizes for their Sunday supper. Among these were J. E. Rinehart and son, Kenneth, of Santa Ana, who caught the only Japanese perch, tipping the scales at nearly three pounds. L. Gibson of Wintersburg brought in a five-pound spot fin in the afternoon.

—Santa Ana Register, June 18, 1923

Good Fishing Off Pier Is reported—Huntington Beach, May 8.—A five and one-half pound spotfin fish was landed from the end of the pier here yesterday and, according to E. L. Curtis, proprietor of the fishing tackle stand at the end of the pier, was the largest fish of the year. Between twenty and thirty large spot fin and yellow fin fish were caught Sunday and several large halibut were hooked. Fishing here has been improving during the past few days… Good catches of herring, spot fin, yellow fin, surf fish or corbina, perch, king fish, halibut have been reported with several good-sized sharks also landed.

Santa Ana Register, May 8, 1924

Huntington Beach—Many yellowtail have been caught here this week. Earl Nelson secured one at the wharf yesterday weighing thirty pounds.

Santa Ana Register, May 8, 1924

Big Oil Shark Is Landed At Beach—Huntington Beach, July 16.—The biggest fish of the year was landed from the local pier here yesterday afternoon by Harvey Walker, local angler. Walker landed a seventy-four and one-fourth pound oil shark after playing it for over forty-five minutes.

Walker recently won the prize for catching the largest surf fish of the season. He also landed a twenty-five pound leopard shark from the end of the pier yesterday. Local anglers had their lines baited and set for the huge oil shark which had already taken several lines and been seen several times. The fish had eluded the tempting bait of the shark fishers, however, and seemed to prefer the juicy morsels on the weaker lines.

—Santa Ana Register, July 16, 1924

Pier Fishing At Beach Excellent—Huntington Beach, Aug. 12.—Fishing is steadily improving, according to E. L. Curtis, proprietor of the tackle stand at the end of the pier. Nearly thirty minutes were required yesterday to land a sixty-pound oil shark hooked by a local angler. Several large oil sharks have been landed from the pier during the past few weeks. Harvey Walker leads the list with a shark weighing nearly eighty ponds. Corbina, small leopard sharks, some fine halibut, everal weighing nearly nine pounds, herring, and other fish have been the main catches during the past few days.

—Santa Ana Register, August 12, 1924

Largest Shark Is Landed At Beach—Huntington Beach, August 25,—A thresher shark, six feet in length and weighing fifty-nine pounds was the largest fish to be landed from the local pier here Saturday. W. H. McGee, of 2420 E. Anaheim street, Long Beach, caught the shark. Nearly twenty minutes were taken to land the huge fish. Only one larger shark has been hooked from the pier this season it was believed.

—Santa Ana Register, August 25, 1924

44-Pound Halibut Hooked From Pier—Huntington Beach, June 5,—Seymore Wilson, residing at Delaware and Indianapolis, retired capitalist, hooked a 44-pound halibut from the Huntington Beach pier recently. The huge fish measured 48 inches in length. It was caught with light fishing tackle. It is declared the largest ever hooked from the pier.

—Santa Ana Register, June 5, 1933

Huntington Beach Fishing Improved—Huntington Beach, July 11.—For some unexplained reason fishing on the coast here is better now than the past several years, according to fishermen. The biggest black sea bass of the season was caught off the barge yesterday. It weighed 408 pounds. The big fish was landed with a light tackle and pole. Fishing on the pier has been excellent for several days with large catches reported. Anglers are catching halibut, barracuda and big perch with occasional catches of other game fish. “Mackerel are so plentiful that they are a nuisance” one sportsman declared.

—Santa Ana Register, July 11, 1933

—Santa Ana Register, May 5, 1939

History Note. The history of Huntington Beach exemplifies what happened to many seaside areas in California in the 1800s and early 1900s. Much of the local area was originally part of the “Nietos Grant” given to Manuel Nieto by the Spanish government. In 1834, part of the land was split off as Las Bolsas (the pockets of bays), and later, in 1843, a new split created Bolsa Chica (the little pocket).

In the 1850s, after the creation of California, much of the local land was acquired by Abel Stearns, a trader in Los Angeles. In 1894, a drought caused Stearns to turn over part of his land to a trust and eventually part of it was purchased by Col. Robert J. Northam.

In the early 1900s the story went round Los Angeles about a little girl who rode with her mother to the beach in a Pacific Electric car.

“Mother,” she inquired, “whose streetcar are we riding in?”

“Mr. Huntington’s” was the reply.

Farther along they passed a new town.

“What place is that?” came the inevitable question.

“Huntington Park.”

Finally they arrived at the seashore.

“Where are we now, Mother?”

“Huntington Beach.”

A moment later they stepped onto the sand and looked at the surf.

“Mother,” asked the little girl, “does Mr. Huntington own the ocean or does it still             belong to God?”

—Remi Nadeau, Los Angeles, From Mission to Modern City, 1960

In 1900, the person most important to the founding of the city visited the area. His name was Philip A. Stanton, the founder of Seal Beach, and later Speaker of the California Legislature. He visited the local beach (then called Shell Beach because of the numerous bean clams that dotted the beach) together with S.H. Finley, a Santa Ana engineer. According to the popular legend, Stanton expressed his belief that the climate and beach rivaled the East Coast’s famous Atlantic City. “Let’s build a city here and call it Pacific City,” Stanton said. Finley agreed and soon the West Coast Land and Water Company was formed. It purchased 1,500 acres of land, began to lie out streets, built a pavilion on the oceanfront, and by August the first lots of Pacific City were ready for sale.

“Build it and they will come” did not prove true—sales were slow! Company directors soon became convinced that the problem was transportation. People needed additional ways to reach their “Wonderland by the Sea.” Stanton sold his shares in 1902 and his fellow investors began to court a partnership with Henry Huntington, the owner of the Pacific Electric Company and its electric powered “Red Cars.” In exchange for extending his inter-urban electric railway, Huntington was offered stock in a new company at an unbelievable 17 cents a share, free right-of-way along the ocean front, one-twelfth of all subdivided lots, and one-fifth interest in all ocean front bluff property. Nevertheless, Huntington was still reluctant until told the company and city would be named after him.

In May of 1903, the Huntington Beach Company was incorporated; it purchased all the holdings of the West Coast Land and Water Company, and an additional 1,400 acres. Pacific City now became Huntington Beach. When the “Red Cars” finally arrived in Huntington Beach, on July 4, 1904, there was a huge celebration with more than 50,000 people and land sales began to boom. The boom began to fizzle by 1905 and by 1909 Huntington withdrew his support. However, the city continued to grow and the Pacific Electric continued to run its railway line until 1961.

Most important for our story, 1903 saw the construction of a wooden pier, approximately 1,000 feet long, at the end of Main Street. Nearby, on a bluff, set the Huntington Inn. A plunge was built west of the pier and a band stage was built on the beach between the pier and the plunge.

Favorite Beach For The People

Huntington Beach is a new light in the galaxy of Southern California resorts, but it’s a particularly bright one. The real estate boom is steadily growing larger but the people find time to enjoy themselves in the manifold way afforded by the charming location and surrounding. There are few times during the day when the pier is not lined with enthusiastic fishermen and Huntington Beach gives place to none when it comes to this sport. Deep-sea fishing is possible from the end of the pier and big deep-sea fish are gathered in great numbers. So while the electric cars bring scores of people who are interested in the real estate market they bring many more who are eager to drop a line and enjoy a tussle with the big fellows of the ocean.

—Los Angeles Herald, July 4, 1905

A “Reynolds Wave Motor” was apparently added to the pier in 1906 as an experiment in generating electricity for local residents.  Apparently the experiment was deemed a success, which led to the following article in 1909:

 To Make Electricity For Beach Cities — New Plant Will be Built At Seashore

Wave Motor and Pier 1400 Feet Long Will Be Built by the Reynolds Company at Huntington Beach

Announcement is made from the United States engineer’s office that an application has been made by the California Wave Motor company for permission to construct a wharf into the Pacific Ocean at a point near Twenty-first street, Huntington Beach. The proposed wharf, not to be more than 1400 feet in length, will have a T at the outer end. The T will not exceed 200 feet in length.

Alva L. Reynolds, the inventor if the Reynolds wave motor, declares the company will be in a position to furnish electricity for lighting and power within the next eight months. The Pacific Electric Company and the Huntington Beach company have offered Mr. Reynolds all the encouragement in their power and have signed permits as to the right of way and other privileges… Mr. Reynols declares the experiments that have been carried out on the Huntington Beach wharf have been in every way satisfactory.

—Los Angeles Herald, April 3, 1909

For whatever reason, no report of the actual construction of a new pier occurred. Unfortunately, the original pier was built of untreated rough pine lumber and suffered attack from various marine organisms (especially barnacles) that weakened the structure. In addition, it suffered occasional damage from storms and tides. On July 5, 1910 the Los Angeles Herald reported that “huge tides washed out 350 feet of the Huntington Beach wharf Sunday. The waves are reported as reaching a height of twenty feet.” Nevertheless, that original pier lasted intact until 1912 when a major winter storm demolished the middle part of the pier.  Although it continued to be used for a period of time it was clear that a new, stronger pier was needed in the city.

A $70,000 pier construction bond was soon approved and building began. Upon completion, the city got ready for a BIG celebration.

The City Has One of the Finest Concrete Piers in the World

An Elaborate Program Has Been Prepared

 The municipal pier to be dedicated June 20 and 21, is one of the longest concrete piers on the Pacific Coast, and according to many high authorities who have viewed this magnificent structure is actually the most splendidly designed pier ever. The exact length of this “Pride Of The Pacific,” is 1316 feet, being only four feet short of a quarter mile. The design of the pier being entirely different from any similar structure in existence, it must necessarily be seen to be fully appreciated. The body of this fine pleasure pier structure rests on 208 concrete piles, ranging in length from 38 to 64 feet; the longer ones weighing 20,7000 pounds each; the caps resting on each of the piles weigh 5 tons each, and are 12×24 inches. The pier is divided into sections by two tees or wider places, a portion of which is slightly elevated above the floor…The floor is a combination of timber and cement…The pier is lighted with 34 16-inch globes mounted on ornamental concrete posts…Work began April 15, 1913 and completed May 1, 1914.

For the Dedication of One of the Finest Pleasure Piers In Existence; Music Will Be Furnished By Donatelli’s Famous Italian Band and Long Beach Municipal Band; Southern California Chorus of 150 Voices Among the Many Attractions.

It is certain that no more elaborate preparations were ever prepared in a city of like population than those that have been arranged for the celebration of the one of the most magnificent concrete piers to be found on either of the American coasts, in this city, June 20 and 21.

Huntington Beach News, June 12, 1914

The new 1,316-foot-long concrete pier (some sources say 1,350-foot-long) was dedicated on June 20-21, 1914 and the local Huntington Beach News proudly proclaimed:

Pier Celebration Was Gigantic Success

Twenty Thousand Visitors Entertained; Fifteen Hundred Automobiles Here Sunday; One of the Most Successful Entertainments Ever Given In Southern California; Maximum Attendance Saturday Five Thousand; Sunday Ten Thousand

On the front page were “Three views of the Longest, Highest, and Most Artistically Designed Solid Concrete Pier in the World.” Festivities that day included a concert by the Municipal Band of Long Beach, swimming and diving events, a “surfing” demonstration by legendary board rider George Freeth, a casting tournament by members of the Southern California Rod and Reel Club, and Japanese fencing and sword dances. At 7:30 the lights on the pier were turned on and a carnival band played for a dance and “serpentine battle” out at the end of the pier.

Interestingly, anglers were apparently able to fish from both the old and new piers for a period of time. A Los Angeles Times fish report dated May 30, 1915 reported the following: (1) Huntington Beach concrete pier: Kingfish, mackerel, smelt, a few rock bass. (2) Huntington Beach wave-motor pier: Surf [corbina] generally procurable with soft shelled sand crabs; kingfish and jacksmelt.

Of course realtors continued to advertise lots for sale and the town continued to grow. An ad in the San Bernardino Country Sun 1916 stated:

 Huntington Beach

Your Closest Beach

Only 2 ½ Hours From San Bernardino

Via Santa Fe to Santa Ana—Auto Bus to Beach—12 Miles

The Logical Place for Your Summer Home

Huntington Beach Offers You:

Direct communication with San Bernardino by way of Santa Ana

Coolest summer weather

Finest surf bathing, no undertow

Best surf and pier fishing

Longest and best concrete pleasure pier on the coast

Only open air sanitary plunge on coast

Dancing pavilion

Bowling, tennis, etc.

Free Carnegie Library advantages

Good stores, all lines

Large 50 foot soil lots

Lower prices than any other beach

50-foot Lots , with Improvements, $450 to $1200

Terms: 10 per ct. cash—5 per ct. quarterly

6 per ct. interest

Huntington Beach Company, Owners

634 I. N. Van Nuys Bldg.

Los Angeles, Cal.

In 1923 and 1924 there was a movement by some residents to extend the pier out 600 feet into water that was 27 feet deep at low tide in order to develop Huntington Beach as a “shipping port” similar to that once seen when the wharf at Newport Beach serviced coastal shipping. Plans included making the extension fifty feet wide so that concessions and comfort stations could be built, a diamond shaped end providing more fishing space, and room for a landing to be used by boats “plying between Newport Beach and San Pedro as well as Catalina Island.”  However, the idea did not seem to get off the drawing board in part because an “unsheltered ocean pier” was not considered good for unloading ships in a rough sea nor did it provide much docking space.

A huge improvement took place in 1926 when construction was completed on the Pacific Coast Highway that made access to both the town and pier easier and faster. Faster that is with the exception of “race weekends” when Angelinos clogged the highway heading south to Tijuana and the Agua Caliente racetrack (sounds like SoCal traffic has always been a mess).

In July of 1929 the Santa Ana Register reported that ‘Huntington Beach Pier Extension is Requested.” A petition signed by 450 residents requested an extension of 500 feet to the pier and the city council voted to employ an engineer to make an investigation of the pier (including reports that that some pilings had been weakened). In December the engineer’s report was completed. It said repairs to the pier were needed to the tune of $60,000 and also stated an extension, as requested by the citizens, would cost $62,000. Both the 500-foot extension (some sources say 488’8”) and repairs were approved by the council and bonds were issued.

Sun Room For Extension On New H. B. Pier

Huntington Beach, Aug 18,—At the end of the new municipal pier, 2000 feet out in the ocean, is to be erected a large sun room with a dome that will be illuminated at night with flood lights. The sun room will be glassed in on all sides and inside will be seats for those who desire to escape the ocean wind or to read and rest or enjoy the sunlight without the breeze. Rest rooms for men and for women will be located inside or adjacent to the sun room. Cou cilman E. B. Syevena conceived the idea of erecting a sunroom at the end of the pier. It was tentatively agreed that if the contract bid on the pier work was lower than the bond issue, the sunroom would be built. There are ample funds for the sun room remaining in the bond issue above the expense of the pier. Perched far out on the ocean the sun room will serve several purposes. Brilliantly lighted at night it will serve as a beacon to ships warning them against the shoals along the coast here, where several boats have run aground. It will also be an advertisement for the city too as it will be visible from San Pedro to Laguna…The 500-foot extension will give Huntington Beach the longest concrete pier on the Pacific coast.

—Santa Ana Register, August 18, 1930

Huntington Beach in 1935 — oil derricks onshore and the pier in the background

During the 1930s, the beaches on both sides of the pier were acquired for public use, some by the city, some by the state. Today there are 8.5 miles of nearly unbroken beach.

The pier in 1935

Like most southern California piers, Sportfishing barges were headquartered on the pier. Here it began in the ’20s with Bill’s Barge and continued into the ’30s with the Annie M. Rolph and the appropriately named Huntington barge. In 1938 the Star of Hollywood anchored off the pier. After World War II and into the 1950s, the pier would have a series of new barges—the Elsie I, Elsie II, Neptune, Swallow and Varga. By the mid-‘30s, the barges would be joined by regular Sportfishing boats.

Fishing Barge to Arrive Thursday—Huntington Beach, May 24.—A fishing barge will be anchored off the Huntington Beach pier Thursday, but will not be ready for actual fishing operations for several days, it was announced today by C. H. Warner, Compton, who is owner of the barge. The barge, a large schooner purchased in San Francisco, left the northern port yesterday for Huntington Beach. The boat is 162 feet long and 54 feet wide. Warner plans a number of changes on the boat before putting it in operation. Contractors have completed the landing at the end of the pier.

—Santa Ana Register, May 24, 1926

Gets 30-Pound Bass—Huntington Beach, June 22.—Joe Hutton, of Huntington Beach, caught a 30-pound white sea bass yesterday from the Clarence Morrison barge. Many other good catches were made with barracuda predominating over the yellowtail and halibut.

—Santa Ana Register, June 22, 1933

Fisherman Gets Fifth Black Bass—Huntington Beach, June 20.—J. E. “Dad” Bebs landed his fifth black sea bass of the year yesterday fishing from the Huntington Beach barge anchored three miles offshore. The 288-pounder was hooked on a tiny halibut hook and leader and was brought to gaff only after a long fight. Good catches of barracuda and halibut were brought in from both barges, while the live bait boat “Huntington,” which is making daily runs to Catalina, came home loaded with barracuda and yellowtail.

—Santa Ana Register, June 20, 1934

425 Pound Sea Bass Hooked on H. B. Barge — Huntington Beach, June 6.—A black sea bass weighing 425 pounds was caught off the barge here yesterday. Fishing in the ocean here continues excellent with big catches being made of barracuda, yellowtail and bass and occasionally a halibut being hooked. Mackerel are plentiful and the runs of larger game fish are supposed to be following the enormous runs of mackerel, while mackerel in turn are chasing schools of millions of sardines and herring that race through the water.

—Santa Ana Register, June 6, 1935

The Huntington Beach Pier half-day boat, Sur-Fish, has been taking limits of barracuda, kelp bass, a few white sea bass, and some large halibut.

—Donnell Culpepper, Fishin’ Around, Long Beach Independent, June 20, 1937

Huntington Beach—The “Empress Barge” is anchored off Huntington Beach. This is a small barge accommodating about 100 persons. Fare is $1. Shore boats also leave the pier here for the barge “Annie M. Rolph”, with half-hour service in the morning and hourly service in the afternoon. This barge will accommodate about 450, is equipped for night fishing and has all modern conveniences. Fare is $1.50. Shore boats for this barge also leave Newport’s 19th street landing and the Balboa Pavilion. Two live bait boats are in operation off Huntington Beach, leaving at 6 a.m. and returning at 4 p.m. These boats run to or near the Catalina waters for fishing. Fare is $2.

—Santa Ana Register, June 25, 1937

Hook Sheephead From H.B. Barge —Huntington Beach, Nov. 31.—Large schools of sheephead are invading the waters around the Star of Hollywood barge, anchored three miles from the municipal pier. Anglers casting from the barge one day captured 5 of the deep-sea fish weighing from four to 18 pounds each. In all more than 350 pounds of the fish were brought ashore, according to the new manager of the barge, Capt. Jack Tinsley Jr., recently returned from service in Uncle Sam’s Navy.

—Santa Ana Register, November 21, 1938

All Steel Barge “Star of Hollywood” Anchors Off Huntington Beach — Shore boats and water taxi will run on a 30-minute schedule night and day from the 3,000-foot-long municipally owned pleasure and fishing pier. [An accompanying picture showed “Bill Post of Huntington Beach with a day’s catch of three jewfish, one weighing 400 lbs., taken from the barge anchored in waters frequented by the huge black bass.”]

—Van Nuys News, August 18, 1938

The pier built in 1914 would last more than seventy years. It did however suffer occasional damage—as do all piers. When the 500-foot extension, together with what would become a café at the end, was added in 1930, the pre-cast concrete piles could not be made long enough to meet the sloping sand bottom. As a result, the extension was built four feet lower than the original pier and it was built with flexible pilings to make boat landings safer. The end area would sway and in 1933, when the Long Beach earthquake hit the area, the movement separated the two parts of the pier. To fix the breach the city paved over the break.

In 1939, a chubasco (tropical hurricane from Mexican) that damaged many piers along the south coast also claimed this pier as a victim. During a 20-hour onslaught the storm’s fierce winds and waves (estimated to reach a height of 23 feet) destroyed nearly 240 feet of the far end of the pier (including much of the extension built in 1930). Pier and café now set on the bottom of the ocean.

Hurricane

A hurricane struck Southern California 38 years ago—The tail of an unnamed tropical hurricane hit Southern California late Sunday, Sept. 24, 1939, and battered this area with heavy rainfall and high winds for two days. The storm ended a 10-day heat wave, during which temperatures soared over the 100-degree mark. Even during the storm the mercury dropped to only about 85 degrees… Nearly 6 inches of rain fell in the Long Beach area in just over 14 hours, and at times winds reached 65 miles an hour. The death toll was set at 50 persons, most of whom had been caught aboard pleasure craft off the coast when the winds and rain began.

Heavy surf washed away or severely damaged a number of homes on the Alamitos Bay Peninsula, and eight homes were lost at Sunset Beach. Piers were wrecked at Newport and Laguna Beaches and 400 feet of the almost-new Huntington Beach Pier was torn away by the pounding waves.

—Long Beach Independent, August 30, 1977

Work began almost immediately to repair the pier and by August of 1940 the pier had been restored to a length of 1,832 feet (some sources say 1,821.8 feet). The pilings this time were timber pile. A new dedication for the restored 200-foot section was held on Labor Day with thousands of visitors.

Next came World War II and concern about a Japanese attack. In December of 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the pier was commandeered by the military and fenced off from the public. The pier basically became a submarine lookout station. The buildings on the first T were shared by an Army radio station and the Coast Guard. Mid-pier set a radar-searchlight installation. The end of the pier included a heavy caliber machine gun manned by artillery from Fort McArthur. The Coast Guard operated a horse patrol along the beach with phones installed every 1000 feet. On Christmas Eve in 1943 another winter storm damaged the end of the pier and, once again, it was rebuilt.

The pier returned to its status as a fishing pier (including fishing boats operating from the pier) in June of 1945.

Fish Bulletin #96 — issued by the Department of Fish and Game in 1953 said: “It is a well known sport fishing town with a large fishing pier and an anchored barge offshore. In 1952 there were three sport fishing day boats operating out of the town.”

California Fish and Game Photo

An ad in June 1956 (that misnamed the boat) said:

We Guarantee 5 Fish — Each A.M. Trip for Each Passenger—or P.M. Trip Free!

Half-Day Boat… Fast Diesel, 65-foot, Ship-to-Shore Phone. Fathometer— “Sure-Fish”

6:30 A.M. and 12: 30 P.M. (Bill Wantz, 28 Years’ Experience.)

Full Fare $2.75 Midships to Bow, $3.75 Stern

Huntington Beach Pier — Ph. LExington 6-4081

Only 10 minutes to Halibut, Barracuda, White Seabass grounds

Over the years other attractions have centered themselves near the pier. In 1939, the Pavilion dance hall was built near the left entrance to the pier. It quickly became a local center for the swing and jitterbug of the big band era. In 1941, it was renamed the Pav-A-Lon, a play on the word Avalon. After WWII, it served as a hall for concerts and festivals and then, in 1955, was converted into a skating rink. In 1966 it became The Fisherman Restaurant, and still later, in 1976, it became Maxwell’s, a restaurant and center for jazz. By 1947, there was also a “Fun Zone” adjacent to the pier that included a few rides and a Pier Cafe on the right side of the pier.

Looking onshore from the pier

The pier itself suffered damage in 1958 when a storm damaged the final 600 feet of the pier, but it was soon repaired. Sportfishing boats did continue to operate from the pier. An ad in June of 1958 proclaimed guaranteed fish again, but now it was 3 fish:

 ‘Sur-Fish’ 1/2-Day Sport Fishing Boat 

We Guarantee 3 Large Fish on A.M. Boat, or Ride P.M. Boat Free.

You Are Fishing in 12 Min. After Leaving Pier

Huntington Beach Pier — LExington 6-4081

Various bait and tackle shops populated the pier over the years. In 1959 it was Vern’s Bait & Tackle Shop.

The pier in the ’60s

1967 saw the California Department of Fish and Game dump several tons of rocks around the pier hoping for improved breeding of fish and improved fishing (which was deemed unsuccessful).

In July 1971 Donnell Culpepper, in his fishing column in the Long Beach Independent, mentioned that “Huntington Beach now has half-day, three-quarter-day and twilight boats operating from the end of the Huntington Beach Pier.

But all good things must come to an end (sounds trite)! Several storms and simple old age (and erosion) would mark the end of the pier.

Huge El Niño storms struck the pier in March of 1983, damaged the end of the pier, and destroyed the “End of the Pier” café. The demolition of the end and closure necessitated a $1.4 million repair and rehabilitation. A new, two-story “End Café” opened in September 1985.

Just over two years later, on January 17, 1988, a new storm struck that once again washed away the final 250 feet of the pier and the rebuilt “End Café.

Sea Reclaims Huntington Piers Café

Huntington Beach—The End café on the Huntington Beach Pier, rebuilt after it was destroyed by a storm in 1983, was knocked into the ocean again Sunday after being pounded all day by powerful surf and gusty winds.

The restaurant toppled when the end of the pier collapsed about 8:40 p.m. and last was seen floating out to sea “like a houseboat,” witnesses said.

No one was inside the restaurant when the pier collapsed, but owner John Gustafson said he had been there about 10 minutes earlier to activate a burglar alarm.

Gustafson said he knew he was taking a risk when he decided to rebuild the restaurant after it was washed away the first time during a violent storm in 1983. Gustafson said he and the city spent $1.2 million to repair the pier, reopened in 1985.

“I lost everything in 1983 and I just lost everything again,” Gustafson said Sunday night. “The plan is to get up tomorrow and put one foot in front of the other. That’s about all I know to do in these situations.”

A crowd of about 40 spectators watched as the pier rocked minutes before collapsing. Lights strung along the pier began to flicker, then died. The end of the pier gave way and the restaurant plunged into the sea…

Several witnesses said there was a deep shake or rumble before the pier collapsed. “There was a shudder, the pier shook, and then the end fell off,” said Dr. Matt Benis, a Huntington Beach physician. “It was like a slam-dunk, straight down.”

City lifeguards barricaded the last third of the pier at 8:30 a.m. Sunday after heavy surf snapped a major support beam near its end. The beam was attached to pilings driven into the sea floor…

Huntington Beach police Sgt. Jeff Cope said the high winds and tides meant more of the pier would likely be lost before this morning. “The pier is going to continue to fall into the ocean,” said Cope said.

There is definitely more extensive damage than the ’83 storm,” Huntington Beach Mayor John Erskine said. “It looks like we’ve got a real tragedy on our hands.”

—Pat Brennan, Orange County Register, January 18, 1988

It really was a tragedy. The repeated damage from the storms, and simple old age, brought an end to the majestic 74-year-old pier. The pier was declared unsafe and closed for good on July 12, 1988. The pier, an important symbol for the town, as well as an attraction bringing in visitors and needed money to local merchants and the town, was gone. The question was if a new pier would be built given the estimated $12.5 million dollars needed for reconstruction. .

It wasn’t easy but it was done. Local pier partisans soon sprang into action to find money to rebuild the pier. They formed P.I.E.R. (Persons Interested in Expediting Reconstruction) and raised over $100,000 by selling T-shirts and other items. Eventually over $2 million was raised in private funds. An additional $92,000 came from the people of Anjo, Japan, Huntington Beach’s sister city. But, much more was needed.

Government funds had to be found and in the end it was a partnership of the City of Huntington Beach, Orange County, the California Coastal Conservancy, and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) that provided the majority of the money. The vast undertaking and cooperation of the various agencies and individuals showed the importance of the pier, both for recreation and the local economy.

In July 1990 a construction bid was granted and the actual construction of a new pier began in October.

The new pier replicated much of the architectural form of the original pier (that had been placed on the Federal Register of Historic Places in 1989) but used state-of-the-art building materials in the new construction. Examination showed that the steel in the original pier, exposed to salt corrosion for 74 years, had basically turned to dust. Reinforced steel was used for the new pier and then it was coated with epoxy to protect it from the damp salt air.  The old pier had an end that was 8-feet lower than the rest of the pier. The new pier was sloped slightly upward its entire length resulting in the end area being 13 feet higher than the original pier, a distance judged “far above” the wave zone. In addition, the pier was given a diamond-shaped end designed to (hopefully) better deflect incoming waves.

To accommodate truck loading and unloading the pier included the first use of fiberglass trench covers designed for highway trucks. To accommodate surfers who shoot the pier, the pile spacing was increased and the total number of pilings was reduced.

When completed, following 18 months of construction and a less than expected cost of $10.8 million, the pier had 312 new piles and was 1,856 feet long (some sources say 1830 feet).  As always, a celebration was needed to herald in the grand opening.

A High Tide of Civic Pride Surrounds Rebuilt Pier

Like a phoenix, a gleaming new pier has risen from the sea in the spot where its venerable predecessor stood for 76 years. The off-white, $10.8-million dollar landmark was built despite a persistent recession and the whims of waves and weather. Now the basic structure is finished it’s all over except for the shouting.

And the shouting begins next weekend. With a mixture of pomp and populism, this doughty old seaside community will open its new walkway to the sea with a two-day celebration that starts at 10 a.m. next Saturday.

—Bill Billiter, Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1992

Huntington Pier draws 500,000 on opening day

Huntington Beach — The long-awaited opening oft the Huntington Beach Pier brought more than 300,000 people to a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning, blocking traffic on Pacific Coast Highway and filling Main Street for about three blocks.

City officials, police and lifeguards said the crowd was bigger than any they recall in the city. By late afternoon, lifeguards estimated at least 500,000 had visited the pier and city beaches…

“I feel like saying a yahoo,” said Orange County Supervisor Harrison Wieder, who persuaded the Board of Supervisors to donate $1 million to the project.

The ribbon-cutting  allowed the crowd to march shoulder-to-shoulder to the end of the pier and opened a two-day festival called Pierfest ’92, which featured concerts, clowns, and classic cars.

“It’s wall-ti\o-wall people out there but it’s a good crowd,” said lifeguard Mike Bartlett. “The biggest problem we had was a lot of people jumping off the end of the pier.” Those who jumped off the pier swam back to shore safely, he said…

Among those who waited for the pier to open Saturday morning were Vince and Darlene Lopez, who stood armed with fishing poles, a tackle box, and a bucket of bait.

It had been four long years since they had seen their fishing buddies, who found other spots when the pier closed for repairs. But one by one they began to show up.

There was Rodney Wilson of Huntington Beach, wearing his characteristic broad-brimmed straw hat. And John Ealey from Midway City brought his cart full of fishing supplies.

Members of the group were ready to take their place on the east side of the pier’s end, where they and about 30 others have fished together nearly every weekend for nearly 30 years.

“This is a homecoming for us,” said Darlene Lopez. “These people are just like family and the pier is their home.”

—Laura-Lynne Powell, Range Coast Register, July 19, 1992

Heading out for some fishing!

My first visit to the new pier took place just a few weeks later on August 8, a day that yielded 17 fish in just a little over two hours of fishing (14 white croaker, 2 walleye surfoperch, and one shovelnose guitarfish). Since then I make usually make an annual visit to the pier.

Change continues. In 1996, a large, two-story Ruby’s Restaurant, supposedly modeled after the Avalon Casino on Catalina, opened at the end of the pier and became an instant success. in 1997, Maxwells was torn down to make way for a new $12-million Pier Plaza and promenade. Maxwells was transformed into Duke’s Surf City restaurant.

Let’s Go Fishing

Since then many new features have been added to the pier (including the “Let’s Go Fishing Bait & Tackel” shop). Even more stark in some ways is the  nearby shoreline  that now includes large hotels and many, many new shops. Huntington Beach is no longer a “doughty old seaside community” as it was called in a story in the Los Angeles Times.

Huntington Beach Pier Facts

 Hours: The pier is open 5 A.M. till midnight.

Facilities: Lights, restrooms and a fish cleaning station are located on the pier. Parking is available adjacent to the pier for $1.50 an hour (or $15 for the day) and there is some metered parking on nearby streets ($1.00 an hour with a six hour maximum length of time). Ruby’s Surf City Diner is located out at the end of the pier and although somewhat ugly from the outside, it offers good food for a reasonable price—the same as the Ruby’s on the Balboa and Oceanside piers. A Few blocks from the pier is yet another surfing museum, the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum that claims to be the largest in the world. It’s located at 411 Olive Ave. In 1994, the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame was added; it starts at the corners of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. If you like surfing give it a visit (and why isn’t there an International Pier Fishing Museum?)

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is cement with a 30-inch rail height. Posted for handicapped.

Location: 33.654959222951774 N. Latitude, 118.004150390625 W. Longitude

How To Get There: Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) to Huntington Beach and the pier. It is located at the end of Main Street.

Management: City of Huntington Beach.

 

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Great White Sharks at Huntington Beach

What looks to be a great white shark taken at the Huntington Beach Pier  (Photo from Daily Pilot-Los Angeles Times)

Roughly a decade ago, during the time of the MLPA meetings, I wrote a letter to the editor of Western Outdoor News. The gist of my letter was that anglers were sometimes their our own worst enemies. At a time when public support of fishing was needed, too many anglers broke the rules. Too many kept fish that were too small, too many kept over the limit numbers of fish, and too many broke the seasonal regulations, i.e., for lobster. And unfortunately, too much of this was taking place on the piers where casual passersby could note the actions. It might happen as often on boats or kayaks but they were generally out of view of the public.

Not much seems to have changed in the intervening years. In fact, a recent incident at the Huntington Beach Pier once again brought down the wrath of the public on anglers—and especially pier anglers.

In late February a shark, probably a great white shark, was hooked from the pier, gaffed using a treble-hook pier gaff, and brought up to the pier to cheers from a crowd of interested onlookers. Pictures were taken and then, apparently, the fish was thrown back into the ocean where it probably died.

The entire episode was filmed by a visitor to the pier who then posted it to YouTube. Soon after someone showed the film to local lifeguards who then contacted the California Fish and Wildlife Department. By then the film had gone viral.

The headlines and reporting summed up the situation—and the feelings. “Possible catch of great white shark at Huntington Beach Pier brings state investigation.” “Video, selfies with baby shark caught off Huntington Beach pier leads to calls for penalties.” “Brutal Treatment of Great White Shark at Huntington Beach Under Investigation”—[the footage is disturbing—a rabid crowd jeers as the shark gets pulled up and placed on the pier.]

The comments that followed were predictable and give evidence of the problem—”Great White Life’s matter. These sportsmen’ need to be investigated, savages…” “This is not sport fishing but the gratuitous torture of an animal.” “Bunch of barbarians.” “The shark died… irregardless if released. If hoisting the shark onto the pier like that didn’t suffocate it, gaffing it in the gills killed it. Those idiots should’ve known better considering the heavy set ups they had.”

“The LA TIMES shows ‘anglers pulling a shark onto the pier as a crowd of people with cameras gathers to watch.’ I love the representation that these guys are anglers. Like they’re in any semblance of the definition a sports fisher. They are two thugs in California with nothing better do to with their time then hang out at a pier versus a bar and kill against the law a protected species that has way more class than these two excuses for humanity will ever have!”

“Protected species– not protected from morons.” “These idiots give all fisherman a bad name. That isn’t something to brag about it’s a protected species.”  “What is wrong with people, this is not the first time this has happened so don’t allow fishing off piers if government cannot control the situation.”

Understandably the Fish and Wildlife Department is investigating with a certain amount of caution. Was it a great white shark whose capture is prohibited? Was it a mako shark, which is legal to catch? Bottom line—does the department feel it can successfully prosecute the anglers for breaking the law? A lot of time and expense can be invested, and lost, if the department can’t prove it was a great white.

A quote in the Orange County Register from the Department of Fish and Wildlife gives evidence of the problem. Spokesman Andrew Hughan, indicated the caution. “It hasn’t yet been determined to be a great white. There are many sharks that look similar,” he said. “I would ask the public to be patient. We are working diligently, investigations take time. Just because everybody says it’s a white shark, doesn’t mean it’s a white shark. We are very well trained and experienced and we’re wildlife experts, but this isn’t ‘CSI,’ we can’t determine things overnight.” In time we will know their conclusion and what legal steps will be taken.

Judgement from local pier anglers was much quicker to reach a conclusion—one of guilt. Many were incensed and convinced that the anglers were seeking out the great whites. One of the regulars I talked to asked the question: “What does it say when an angler is using 12/0 to 16/0 hooks and a 200-pound wire leader? What else could they be fishing for? Given that new, more critical attention is now focused on local pier fishermen, especially those who target large thresher sharks and bat rays, there was little sympathy shown to the anglers under investigation.

The odds do seem to favor the notion that it was a great white. The catch of the (assumed) great white from the pier followed an unprecedented increase of great whites seen in the area during the past few years.

In 2015 scientists working with Chris Lowe of Long Beach State University, the local expert on sharks, spotted 21 great whites off of Huntington Beach and tagged 16 of the fish.     .

On Memorial Day 2016, an unidentified shark bit a woman swimming in the surf at nearby Newport Beach. She lived but evidence from the size of her wounds suggested it was a great white over ten feet in length.

2017, a new year and more sharks. On February 14 a (supposed) juvenile great white, just 6-7-feet-long, was hooked and lost from the Huntington Beach Pier.

On February 20 or 21 an 8-foot-long great white shark was reeled in by anglers targeting thresher sharks while fishing from the surf in Sunset Beach (near Huntington Harbor). The shark was released.

Just a few hours later on the same day the great white that has caused the current controversy was hooked from the Huntington Beach Pier. Its capture was documented on a YouTube video by Mike Hefner, a visitor who just happened to be on the pier that day. The YouTube video has now been seen by more than 100,000 viewers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp1xo0245KY

As mentioned, viewers brought the YouTube video to the attention of local lifeguards who then brought it to the attention of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The drama wasn’t over. On February 23, a helicopter crew spotted an 11-to-14-foot-long shark swimming 100 feet off of Bolsa Chica State Beach. A few hours later a 6-7-foot-long great white was spotted in the same area. In response, swimmers were banned from using a two-mile stretch of waters along the Huntington Beach shoreline.

None of this surprised regulars on the pier who have reported seeing great whites many times. Their conclusion was that the great whites were feeding on the sting rays in the surf area — and they may be right.

In regard to the capture of the shark at the pier, the questions are fairly simple. Was the angler targeting great white sharks? Of course not according to the angler. Did they know it was a great white when they saw the fish at the top of the water? Of course not according to the angler. Why did they gaff it with a pier gaff and bring it up to the surface of the pier?  They said it was too big for a net so they used the gaff but that doesn’t answer the question about bringing it up to the pier in the first place. Some witnesses said they tossed the fish back into the water after celebratory pictures although no one seems to know if the shark was still alive. Why did they release it if they didn’t think it was a great white? No answers that I’ve seen.

What should have been done? A quote reported by CBS Los Angeles gives the best response. “As soon as they have a visual of the fish on the surface and they determine that it’s not legal to fish for, they need to cut the line right way,” said Lt. Claude Panis, a safety officer with the Huntington Beach Marine Patrol.

What is not in question is the fact that great white sharks have been a protected species since 1994 and that their catch can result in a fine up to $10,000.  It’s also known that while most “shark” anglers on piers are seeking out thresher sharks, leopard sharks, or big bat rays there are some anglers who hope to catch a great white and purposely target them (and it can be hard to tell the difference simply based on gear).

The incident brought back memories of the controversy that took place at the Manhattan Beach Pier in May of 2015 when a great white shark was hooked by an angler on the pier. A swimmer than ventured out by the hooked shark and was, in turn, bitten by the agitated fish. No one blamed the swimmer or the fish; all blamed the angler who had hooked the fish (while fishing for bat rays).

The city exploded! The pier was illegally closed, hearings were held, and the city council issued several new city ordinances that were, in themselves, illegal. These included banning all fishing for sharks, prohibiting wire leaders, and prohibiting certain types of fishing line. The California Coastal Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife said they couldn’t do what they did but as of 2017 those rules are still in effect.

The situation at Manhattan Beach as well as an earlier incident was reviewed in articles I wrote for my kenjonesfishing.com blog.

Great Whites at the Manhattan Beach Pier?

http://kenjonesfishing.com/2013/12/great-whites-at-the-manhattan-beach-pier/

 Manhattan Beach, Sharks, Swimmers — Redux

 http://kenjonesfishing.com/2015/05/manhattan-beach-sharks-swimmers-—-redux/

Long term the situation made the city, anglers, and the state departments look bad. And, the situation has still not been resolved. More meetings are scheduled but progress has been nil to date.

As to the sharks, white shark versus mako, it turns out I had written an article on the differences in 2011.

 Great Whites & Makos

http://kenjonesfishing.com/2011/10/great-whites-makos-—/

Both incidents, the one at the Huntington Beach Pier and the one at Manhattan Beach have, unfortunately, made anglers look bad to a certain segment of society at a time when anglers need all the support they can get.  Some day we’ll learn.

The issues involved in these two stories do bring up the corollary question of what to do when you hook an illegal fish.It’s not that uncommon to hook illegal fish, i.e., garibaldi or silver salmon, but you need to know your fish and know what to do if you hook an illegal fish.

Sometimes you want to remove the hook or tackle from the mouth of a fish and for small fish like a garibaldi you might be able to net the fish and carefully remove the hook before putting it back down into the water with a net. For big fish like a giant (black) sea bass, a sturgeon, or a large shark simply cutting the line is probably the best answer.

As said though you need to know your fish species. I have my own species name for ignorant anglers—Knuckleheadus californicus: California anglers who through ignorance, or purposeful negligence, fail to follow California’s fishery laws. Especially egregious are those who purposely target and catch “illegal” species and whose actions lead to the death of those fish (even if attempting to return them back to the water).

Anglers today must know the species and must follow not only the rules but also best practices as far as catch and release and the proper handling of fish. Failure to do so not only can mean the loss of the fish but also the loss of support of the public who far too often sees anglers as harming the environment instead of people who usually are trying to preserve it.

Most anglers I know are ethical and support conservationist efforts but there are also those that don’t. It’s our job to reach out and teach those who are still acting like knuckleheads and harming the reputation of reputable anglers.

By the way, here’s one more article on great whites, a story I wrote after a lady was killed at Avila when she decided to swim by the sea lions at the pier. It wasn’t a wise choice since great whites like nothing better than seals and sea lions and a swimmer in a wet suit can look a lot like a seal.

Great Whites, Avila and San Luis Obispo Bay

http://kenjonesfishing.com/2011/07/great-whites-avila-and-san-luis-obispo-bay/

 

 

 

 

 

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Bat Rays & a Brouhaha in Lodi

Bat Ray logo developed by esteemed “Pier Rat” Lucy Phillips in 2004.

I’ve been a fan of bat rays for many years and for over a decade Pier Fishing In California (PFIC) and the United Pier and Shore Anglers of California (UPSAC) held an annual “Mud Marlin Derby” at the Berkeley Pier.

Given my affection for the big old beasts, it stood to reason that I was offended by the following story in my hometown (at the time) newspaper, the Lodi News-Sentinel. I felt the story was so filled with errors that I had to respond.

Bat ray taken from the Morro Bay North T-Pier in 2006.

LODI’S ‘STINGRAY HUNTER’ — Local says his passion is capturing ‘ghetto fish’, By Scott Kaul, Lodi News-Sentinel Staff Writer

At the age of 13, Lodi resident Kevin Burns made his way from his father’s house to the nearby San Francisco Bay and set up for what he thought would be a normal day of fishing for striped bass. After resting his fishing rod against a trash can, he sat back and enjoyed the cool Bay air. Minutes later, the rod leapt off the can and down the shore with Burns darting after it.

After about half an hour of wrestling with the mystery fish in the water, Burns reeled in his strangest catch ever. It was a stingray. “And boy was it ugly,” he said. But that ugly fish set him on his lifelong passion.

Now 43 and residing in Lodi, Burns is a self-described “stingray hunter.” He makes his living marketing timeshares, but he said catching stingrays is his life’s work.

Burns said he was shocked to hear the news that Steve Irwin, the famed “crocodile hunter” was recently killed by a stingray. Though he said the creatures are generally not hostile and will only attack when bothered, they are relatively easy to control when they do attack. “It must have just been a freak accident,” he said.

Using his own combination of squid and anchovies as bait, Burns said he regularly makes the trek back to the Bay to hunt what he and his friends call the “ghetto fish.”

The name comes from the fact that most fishermen avoid hooking the rays, which they see as troublesome and mostly useless — stingrays are practically inedible and rather poisonous. Burns and his buddies, however, actively seek them out, if mostly just for the thrill of the catch.

“Stingrays are probably the hardest-fighting fish out there,” he said. “Reeling one in is like a full workout at the gym.” After he’s caught the stingray and taken a picture with it, he usually throws it back, he said.

Neither Burns nor any of his friends have ever been seriously injured by a stingray, but he says they have been stung several times. He keeps pictures of the wounds and paper towels spotted with blood as mementos from the one time a stingray’s barbed tail caught him across his right knee. Burns regularly fishes at his secret spot on the bay to catch the poisonous rays. “I was lucky, though,” he said, rubbing the scar the attack left behind. “The barb didn’t stick in, so it only bled.”

Since the incident, Burns said he has learned to properly handle his prey without getting stung. The trick, he said, is to hold the ray by small “port holes” located on either side of its head near the eyes. “That way, they can’t get to you,” he said.

The stingrays Burns and his hunting pals usually snare at his “secret fishing spot” in the Bay range from tiny to enormous, with the largest he’s ever caught weighing close to 240 pounds. Though generally, he said, they are closer to 100 pounds.

Burns said hunting stingrays requires no special equipment. “Just a pole and 30-pound test line,” he said. “And about 45 minutes to reel it in.”

Aside from the stingrays, Burns also seeks out sand sharks and leopard sharks, which he said are “good eatin’.” His largest catch, he said, was a 6-foot leopard shark, which he nicknamed Jaws after the film, which had been released around the time he caught it. “I got it just barely in the water, and I had nothing to keep pulling it out of the water with,” he said. “So I just grabbed its gills and pulled it, saying ‘you are not going to be a fish-that-got-away story!’”

Hunting stingrays and sharks is his life, but Burns said his ultimate dream is to go after big game fish in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, or compete in ESPN’s “Monster Shark Tournament” where contestants pull in sharks weighing up to 1,200 pounds. “I want to get out there and have proof, instead of just talking about it.” He said. “I refuse to tell fish stories.”

A bat ray at the Elephant Rock Pier in Tiburon

Stingrays at a glance: Stingrays generally do not attack, but if they do they use their poisonous barbed tails to sting predators.

• A sting will usually cause intense pain and swelling to the victim, but in very rare cases it may kill. Only two other reported instances of a sting directly to the heart, as occurred in the death of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, have been reported.

• Only 17 deaths related to stingray stings total have been reported.

• Rays can grow up to 6 feet in diameter. Their diet consists mostly of squid, small fish, and crabs. Their natural predator is the shark.

• Most of the stingray is considered inedible or flavorless, but some people do eat it the wing-like fins and the meaty area around the eyes called the cheek.

Source: http://www.discovery.com.

Lodi News-Sentinel, September 6, 2006

The newspaper article almost demanded a response.

To The Editor, Regarding Lodi’s ‘Stingray Hunter’

As a Lodi resident, and a subscriber to the Lodi News-Sentinel, I was flabbergasted and rather disgusted this morning when I opened the paper to see your story on Lodi’s ‘Stingray Hunter.’ The story is filled with inaccuracies and unfortunately does harm and disservice to a species that is not a ‘ghetto fish’ as you suggest but instead is a quite charming species. In fact, if you have ever taken your children to the Monterey Aquarium (or several other coastal aquariums) a highlight was probably the “petting pool” where “sting rays”—generally bat rays, allow the children to pet them and actually will come up to the children in a non-fish-like manner.

About now you may be questioning my credentials to criticize your story. I am the author of Pier Fishing In California, 1st and 2nd Editions. I am president of United Pier and Shore Anglers of California, the largest organization dedicated solely to pier and shore anglers. I am vice president of the Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC). I am also an angler who has several thousand fishing trips under my belt (yep, I’m old) and one who has caught several hundred bat rays—your so-called ‘ghetto fish.’

A bat ray caught at the Fortman Marina Pier in 2012

I also own and run a website—Pier Fishing In California, pierfishing.com—that was started nine years ago to educate fellow pier anglers and to serve as a home base for those same anglers.

One of our main goals has been education regarding the marine environment and the development of ethical and conservationist attitudes toward fishing. Early on there developed a special focus on bat rays because (1) they are a common catch from piers and shoreline areas, (2) they were abused more than almost any other fish, and (3) they’re neat little (and big) creatures.

Many, many posts and threads on the website have focused on bat rays and I believe I can say that today they are a respected species. In fact, we have had a “Mud Marlin” Derby at Berkeley Pier for the past five years with upwards of one hundred people in attendance at most of the events. At the derby, any bat rays that are caught (called mud marlins for their hard fighting character) are netted, measured, and then returned via net back to the water.

What are the factual errors that need correction? In chronological order —

1. “Though he said the creatures are generally not hostile and will only attack when bothered, they are relatively easy to control when they do attack.” I have NEVER seen a bat ray attack a person nor does my extensive library of books on fish document actual “attacks” on people. If stepped upon, sting rays (and bat rays) will, in reflex, swing up their tail that contains the barb and people can be hurt. And, careless anglers are sometimes stuck with the barb when inappropriately handling the rays. But I do not think I would call these attacks.  In addition, I would suggest that bat rays are not only not hostile, but indeed fairly gentle in manner most of the time.

2. “Burns said he regularly makes the trek back to the Bay to hunt what he and his friends call the ‘ghetto fish.’ The name comes from the fact that most fishermen avoid hooking the rays, which they see as troublesome and mostly useless — stingrays are practically inedible and rather poisonous. Actually there are a vast number of anglers (i.e., Burns) who fish specifically for sharks and rays mainly because of their fighting ability. In fact, the term mud marlin has become a favorite name for these hard fighting fish.

Inedible and rather poisonous? No, no, no. Many people find bat ray meat delicious and in days gone by you may have found yourself eating their meat disguised under another name. Indeed, in Pier Fishing In California, 2nd Ed., I show how to clean bat rays and give recipes on how to eat them.

3. “Since the incident, Burns said he has learned to properly handle his prey without getting stung. The trick, he said, is to hold the ray by small ‘port holes’ located on either side of its head near the eyes.” Although not technically a factual error, most experienced bat ray fisherman, those who are conservationists, do not hold the rays in such a manner. Instead they actually hold up the rays by their mouth (and we can show you how to do it).

 The correct way to hold a bat rat. A bat ray taken at the “Mud Marlin Derby” at the Berkeley Pier in 2015.

4. “The stingrays Burns and his hunting pals usually snare at his “secret fishing spot” in the Bay range from tiny to enormous, with the largest he’s ever caught weighing close to 240 pounds. Though generally, he said, they are closer to 100 pounds.” The official California record fish weighed 181 lb 0 oz and was taken at Huntington Beach in 1978. Bat rays to 240 pounds have been reported while most that are caught from piers and shoreline areas are under 50 pounds in weight.

From Pier Fishing In California, 2nd Ed. —

Bat Ray

Species: Myliobatis californica; 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).

Alternate Names: Stingray, stingaree, sea ray, eagle ray, batfish, big black, sea bird, flapper, rat tailed sting ray, mud marlin (my favorite), and monkey face ray.

Identification:  Bat rays have a very heavy raised head and a dorsal fin at the base of a long whip-like tail with a stinger just behind it. Their coloring is blackish or blackish brown above and white below. Beware of the stinger.

A bat ray stinger

Size: To six feet across and over 200 pounds; a 240-pound bat ray was reported from Newport Bay in 1957. Most bat rays caught off piers are under 50 pounds, but many in excess of a hundred pounds are caught every year. I’ve seen pictures of a 176-pound bat ray from the Newport Pier and a 175-pound bat ray from the Aliso Beach Pier. (I also received a report on the Pier Fishing in California Message Board of a 246-pound fish with an 8.5-foot wingspan that was reputedly taken from the Newport Pier in the ’80s). The official California record fish weighed 181 lb 0 oz and was taken at Huntington Beach in 1978.

Range:  From the Gulf of California to Oregon.

Habitat: Prefers a flat, rocky bottom or sand among rocks. Most commonly caught in bays and the deeper water areas around piers.

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 (Santa Barbara), Gaviota Pier, Cayucos Pier, Berkeley Pier, Elephant Rock Pier (Tiburon), Angel Island Pier, and Del Norte Street Pier (Eureka).

Bait and Tackle: Oysters, clams, crabs, shrimp, abalone, snails and worms are their main food, but bat rays will take almost any bait. However, live bait such as anchovies, ghost shrimp, mud shrimp and grass shrimp work best. Frozen squid also works well and is probably the least expensive and easiest bait to use. Central California anglers like to fish at night with a whole cut fish (small croaker or mackerel). 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 net available to bring the fish up onto the pier. 

Food Value:  Excellent.

Comments: Many anglers concentrate on bat rays because of their large size. The bat rays also put up a strong fight and are delicious to eat once the fight is over. Of interest are the bat ray pools found at several aquariums (including the Monterey Aquarium 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 stingers are cut off about once a month before they reach a length long enough to hurt anyone. The bat rays evidently suffer no harm from this minor surgery. However, bat rays in the wild still have their spines and can do a lot of damage if handled in a careless manner, 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.

One additional thought concerns your use of the term ghetto, and I must admit that I hate to bring it up. It’s a legitimate word but the context in which it was used here is suspect. Although I myself cringe at how easily people can get upset over the use of a word, as a former teacher I also realize that words do have an impact. Too often the word ghetto is used imputatively in relation to a race or to a certain culture. I’ve rarely heard it used in reference to a fish, or a type of fishing, unless used in a pejorative manner. Hopefully here it was just carelessness but again I think it opens you to criticism.

In conclusion, please be careful when you write a story such as this. There’s enough sensationalism, exaggeration and poor reporting in the newspapers today without including yourself in the mix. And, as for the poor bat rays, I’m sure there will be some determined anglers that set out to avenge the Croc Hunter by killing a few of the creatures. Stories such as yours may encourage such fools.

Rita Magdamo and a bat ray taken at the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon

In response to my letter I was asked to write a short article.

The Mighty Mud Marlin, By Ken Jones, Lodi Sentinel-News, September 8, 2006

Fish are just fish, right? That might have been the accepted opinion at one time but today with whole industries devoted to black bass, trout, and billfish, it seems a slightly outdated concept. Some fish are big bucks, some are not, and in our consumer-dominated society that simple fact often translates into publicity and sharp distinctions as to what fish are good and what fish are bad.

One fish that has recently begun to gain attention in California, and to buck this trend, is the Darth Vader imitatin’ bat ray, Myliobatis californica, a ray found from the Gulf of California to Oregon. Long maligned, and still abused by some ill-informed anglers, it has begun to attract a new legion of admirers even though it wouldn’t seem to be able to compete with the better-known species.

Perhaps in part this is due to the various aquariums around the state. Bat rays, minus their stingers (they’re generally trimmed down once a month), are allowed to be in petting pools that kids can reach. The rays almost always display a nose nuzzlin’, non-fish-like behavior loved by most kids. Happy kids = happy parents.

 It may be due to the publicity surrounding the fighting ability of the bat rays, a trait that has led to the popularization of a second name—mud marlin. They are often the largest and strongest fish in the areas in which they are found and even though a Huntington Beach fish weighing 181 pounds 0 ounces holds the state record, several fish approaching or exceeding 200 pounds in weight have been reported.

Another reason for their popularity may be the Mud Marlin Get Togethers that have been held at the Berkeley Pier for the past five years. Most years see upward of a hundred anglers and also a medley of concoctions (including anchovy-stuffed squid) cast out by anglers eager to lure the hard fighting fish to their hooks. When hooked, the crowd follows the fight, although only about one in three fish actually is netted and makes it up to the pier. Once measured, the fish are gently returned via the net to fight another day.

Lastly, a major reason for their popularity may be the discussions and posted threads on the Pier Fishing In California Message Board (pierfishing.com). Often the neophyte anglers simply admire the fighting ability of the fish or their size. Several of the more experienced anglers though have noted their special traits and some have even decided to no longer pursue the fish. One long time expert, Boyd Grant of Goleta, stopped completely after catching a large ray—and giving it away—to a fellow angler in Morro Bay. He said the fish had watched him with its Bette Davis eyes and he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind. Strange talk from an experienced angler with nearly fifty years fishing California’s south coast.

The bat ray, often given such nicknames as stingray, sea ray, eagle ray, batfish, big black, sea bird, flapper, and monkey face ray (not to count the derisive term ghetto fish used in a Lodi Sentinel story), just seems to glide along winning converts and respect.

Attention though must be given to their stinger. The stinger, located on their whip-like tail, can cause a painful wound. And, as seen in the recent case of Steve Irwin, the noted crocodile expert who was stung by an Australian species of stingray, even death is a possibility.  However, most anglers who seek out the fish are careful and most have never been stung.

Aside from the stinger, the fish is a harmless fish never known to attack a person. They tend to prefer a flat, rocky bottom or sand among rocks and most commonly are caught in bays or in waters around coastal piers. The distinctive rays have a very heavy raised head and a dorsal fin at the base of their tail. Their coloring is blackish or blackish brown above and white below.

Oysters, clams, crabs, shrimp, abalone, snails and worms are the rays’ main food but bat rays will take almost any bait. Frozen squid seems the favorite bait of most anglers but live bait such as anchovies, ghost shrimp, and grass shrimp often work best.

Catch and release has become the model for an increasing number of ray hunters but some people still keep and eat the rays. Their flesh is good eating but has a strange texture, much like scallops, and they do take time to clean. Recipes on the Pier Fishing In California web site have ranged from teriyaki smoked bat ray to bat ray chowder so the meat is versatile. Still though you have those Bette Davis eyes and many prefer just to release the fish gently back into the water.

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