Ken Jones — Fish Taco Chronicles —Summer 2015
As chronicled in the previous article there has been change to California’s piers and the fish from those piers during the past century. That article displayed the great changes that have taken place in the number and size of the larger species—yellowtail, white seabass, halibut, giant (black) sea bass, and sharks. So too has been the change to some of the smaller species, especially the numbers of those fish. However, most of the favorites are still favorites with a couple of minor exceptions.
Not too different from today, both yellowfin croaker and corbina were favorites from both the piers and surf. However, although the croakers were almost always called by their normal name, corbina were as often as not given the alternative, interchangeable name—surf or surf fish. If an article referred to surf or surf fish, it meant corbina. Most of the stories detailing large numbers of croakers, and large-sized croakers, were from the resort of Balboa (today’s Newport Bay). Some of those numbers are truly amazing but even the piers took their fair share as seen below.
Croakers and Corbina — There were fewer fishermen at Peck’s wharf yesterday than usual, and the fishing was rather poor, although Robert Pottinger of Bakersfield, who is summering at the seashore, made a good catch. He caught three yellowfin which weighed three and one-quarter, three and three-quarters and four and one-half pounds. Three surf fish which he also caught weighed five and five-eighths, four and one-half and three and one-half pounds. —Los Angeles Herald, July 15, 1908
The passage by the legislature and the signing by the governor of the Southern California Rod and Reel club’s bill which prohibits the taking of surf fish, yellowfin and croaker except with rod and reel has been received with “glad acclaim” by every fisherman in the south except the market variety. The law becomes effective in May, a short time after the opening of the regular season. —Los Angeles Herald, April 3, 1909
• A five-pound corbina was caught at Huntington Beach Sunday and several were brought in which ran as high as three and a half pounds. Monday the largest corbina caught this season at Playa del Rey was taken off the beach below the new pier. The fish tipped the scales at six pounds eleven ounces, and with the exception of the eight-pound surf taken at Balboa two weeks ago is the largest caught this season at any resort. —Los Angeles Herald, June 6, 1909
For the first time this season the beneficent effects of the seining law passed by the legislature, forbidding the taking of corbina, yellowfin and croaker except with rod and line, was felt to its fullest extent, and because of the fact that these game fish are protected from the market fishermen the sportsmen anglers who fish for pleasure reaped a plentiful harvest of these beauties… At Peck’s wharf, where for two years the fishing has been nil, there were some splendid catches made. Both surf and yellowfin were running in numbers and in large size, and a catch there on Thursday is a sample of what happened all week. Frank Munser of Bakersfield, Prof. R. B. Emery, Edward Nelson, John Ward, S. J. McKenzie, John Hebbard, Oscar Baer and two or three others took forty-eight surf and thirty-four yellowfin on the incoming tide. The surf ranged from one pound in weight to six and a half pounds; the yellowfin from three-quarters to two pounds. On Monday Prof. Emery, Mr. Munser and Mr. Hebbard took fifty-eight yellowfin at sundown, ranging in size from one to four pounds. Smaller fish were thrown back into the ocean.— Los Angeles Herald, July 31, 1909
• Takes Nice Catch—George Reynolds landed twenty-two surf yesterday from the motor pier at Huntington Beach, between the hours of 4 and 6 p.m. —Los Angeles Herald, September 29, 1909
• Lands Seven-Pound Surf Fish At Venice — Venice, July 17.—Louis Miller, a waiter at the Ship café, today exhibited a surf fish which he caught here weighing seven pounds. This is the largest of this species of fish caught in the bay this season. The surf fish caught in this section rarely weigh more than four or five pounds. Miller landed it with an ordinary surf fish hook and line. —Los Angeles Herald, July 18, 1910
• Long Beach fishermen are patiently awaiting the repair to the pier and confidently expect big hauls on account of the enforced rest. Mackerel and surf are the chief game from the wharf, —Los Angeles Herald, July 15, 1910
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
Butterfish — One of the interesting changes is the respect that was accorded a fish which, although not rare, is today only an occasional catch at most piers—Pacific Butterfish, Peprilus simillimus. It was, and still is, simply called a pompano by most anglers. In those early years it was considered the best eating fish and for that reason was one of the favorite catches by pier fishermen.
Food Fishes—Of the small varieties of fish there are the smelt, herring, perch, sardine and pompano, together with quite a number of other varieties. The pompano is the rarest and most expensive fish caught on this coast, the market price being $1 per pound, and the fish is sold readily at that price as soon as put upon the market. —Los Angeles Herald, January 1, 1893
• Ocean Park—Pompano fishing from the piers along Santa Monica bay today equaled the best record, at least in regard to the quantity of fish caught. The number of large pompano was limited, but sizeable fish came in myriads, often chasing the bait to the surface as lines were drawn in. They were most commonly caught in pairs. F. S. Volk, at the end of the Horseshoe pier, alone caught seven pounds of the fish early in the morning. There was a second run later in the day and although the piers were so crowded that it was hazardous to swing a pole, no one went away empty handed. At one time the schools of pompano were broken up by a lot of yellowtail that came into feed on them. These made sport for the fishermen… Surf fish also are running freely. —Los Angeles Herald, May 25, 1908
• Playa del Rey—Hardly a foot of the wharf was unoccupied by some fisherman casting his line and reaping a harvest from the unusually fine run of pompano. Everybody on the pier joined in the sport, nearly, and good baskets were the result in every instance. —Los Angeles Herald, July 9, 1908
• Pompano, the delicious little poppy fish, made Playa del Rey one of the most popular resorts during the week. —Los Angeles Herald, September 28, 1908
• Jacksmelt and pompano, corn-fed mackerel and yellow fin ran in great schools at Redondo and Playa del Rey during the week and great catches were made almost every day. – Los Angeles Herald, October 25, 1908
• Sea at Redondo Beach Swarms With Pompano—Redondo Beach, May 5.—This beach has been experiencing an unprecedented run of pompano during the last week. Sunday and Monday the local wharves were black with anglers, who came here for the purpose of enjoying the sport… Many fine specimens of other varieties have been caught, among them three sea bass which aggregated 1000 pounds. The largest of these is estimated to weigh nearly 500 pounds. —Los Angeles Herald, May 5, 1909
• Redondo Beach, May 14.—Large schools of pompano are running at wharf No. 1 during early hours of each day, and many large catches are reported… A curiosity in marine life was a double halibut taken on the banks this morning by Charles Johnson. The fish was identical on both upper and lower sides.n —Los Angeles Herald, May 15, 1909
• Good Hauls Made At Crescent Bay — Santa Monica, June 11.—The whole Santa Monica bay from Port Los Angeles to Redondo has been alive with pompano for the last few days. Fishermen at all the piers along this stretch of the coast are daily carrying large baskets of these little fish… At the Marine Street pier, where a new concrete structure is being erected, as many pompano have been taken in the last two days that they are no longer looked on as worth catching. These fish, with herring and an occasional halibut, are furnishing great sport for the many followers of Isaac Walton who daily line the railings… At Playa del Rey fishermen are taking advantage of the extension of the new pier and large numbers visit the place daily, catching pompano, herring, yellowfin and some surf fish… At Redondo on Wharf No. 1 the pompano are greatly in evidence and with the exception of steamer days, when the sport necessarily ceases for a time, men, women and children constantly line the pier and dangle lines between the piling. At Number 3 Wharf yellowtail and trout are also taken occasionally. —Los Angeles Herald, June 12, 1909
• Ocean Park, June 16.—Pompano are biting at the Marine Street Wharf in numbers, many record breaking catches being made. Hundreds of anglers are out daily after this game little fish and that their efforts are amply rewarded is shown by the large baskets which are being carried away. —Los Angeles Herald, June 17, 1909
• 18-Inch Pompano Caught At Laguna — A real find in the shape of a genuine gulf coast pompano, which measured 18 inches from tip to tip, fell to the lot of Oscar Farman of Laguna, who promptly enjoyed a pompano dinner. This is declared to be the largest fish of this variety ever caught along the southern coast. Pompano of five or six inches in length are not unknown, but even those are fairly scarce and few enjoy the distinction of annexing them. In San Francisco, according to Farman, pompano used to “sell” for one dollar ($1.00) a pound. —Santa Ana Register, July 10, 1919
Pancherodoes — A mysterious fish story is that of the pancherodoes. The story is from central California, Santa Cruz to be precise, and it’s a mystery still unresolved. What is known is that it was a type of smelt but to date no one has been able to verify an identity, even the people who oversee the fisheries at the Santa Cruz Wharf. The best guess is that the pancherodoes were night smelt and the smelt called silver smelt were day smelt. Today it’s rare to catch a smelt off a pier unless considering jacksmelt and topsmelt as smelt. Perhaps there’s been a change in numbers, habitat, or simply fishing technique by anglers.
• SMELT OFF DAVENPORT—With smelt of the Pancherodo species still running, fishermen are now looking for their appearance off Davenport, at the cement plant. At certain seasons of the year smelt of this variety are caught in the breakers in large numbers during the night and day in homemade nets. Residents living at Davenport have been catching them in this manner for some years past and have made a practice of salting all the surplus supply down under a similar treatment that anchovies are subjected to. Prepared in this way these small smelt are said to excel anchovies in point of flavor and general tenderness. The smelt generally make their appearance off the little beach at Davenport just before their spawning season. — Santa Cruz Evening News, December 23, 1920
• School Fish Appear—School fish are coming closer to shore and good catches of smelt of the pancherodo variety are being made from the municipal pier. These fish are transparent in appearance when held up to the light and can easily be distinguished from other species of smelt of smaller size. Ordinary garden angle worms make the best bait to catch them with, providing fishermen use a No. 14 catgut hook attached to a light leader. —Santa Cruz Evening News, October 20, 1922
• Smelt Reappearing — While mackerel are seemingly more numerous than ever, wharf fishermen now and then manage to catch a few smelt of the Pancherodo variety. During the spawning season, this species of fish of the smelt family go up the larger fresh water streams to spawn. In the larger rivers of Oregon and Washington, when the fish begin to go upstream in countless schools they can be scooped out of the water by the hundreds with anything that resembles a receptacle or net of any description. There are occasions though when Pancherodoes remaining in the bay have been known to spawn up the coast close to the shoreline where the sand is of a coarse and pebbly nature. Proof of this has been furnished at Davenport on several occasions and whenever this happens the fish can be scooped up with buckets or nets right in the rolling breakers. —Santa Cruz Evening News, July 30, 1926
• Big Run Of Smelt—Smelt of the pancherodo variety are being caught at Moss Landing, and pole fishermen are enjoying some rare sport. A. B. Shaw residing on Riverside avenue visits Moss Landing frequently with friends and they are making big enough catches to keep their friends supplied with plenty of these fine eating fish, which are regarded the equal of small trout as a table delicacy. As yet the winter run of pancherodoes have not made their appearance on this side of the bay, —Santa Cruz Evening News, January 6, 1927
• Busy Day On Wharf—With the weather conditions ideal for travel over the highways, the municipal wharf was one of the main points of rendezvous for visitors yesterday and all available parking space for autos on the wharf was taken long before the noon hour. The big run of smelt now on was a magnet of attraction for many fishermen who put in an appearance at an early hour and most of whom remained all day. The fish evidently believing in keeping the Sabbath, did not bite any too eagerly during the morning hours but some good sport was enjoyed the latter part of the afternoon. The smelt being caught are of both the silver and pancherodo variety. Ordinary angle worms are proving the most alluring bait to bring results. —Santa Cruz Evening News, January 24, 1927
• About the only excitement furnished on the wharf yesterday was the large number of fishermen that were bobbing their lines for smelt… All of the smelt caught were of the pancherodo variety. These fish migrate to Monterey Bay in immense schools every year, both during the summer and winter months. During certain stages of the spawning season they are caught close to the breaker line on the beach at Old Davenport. They are caught during the night and it is an easy matter to scoop them out of the breakers with almost any sort of a receptacle. When occurrences like this happen, it does not take the news long to spread among Davenport residents and cement company employees. —Santa Cruz Evening News, January 2, 1930