Oceanside Pier Bait Shop

Ed Gonsalves and the Oceanside Pier Bait Shop

After fishing California’s coastal waters for more than fifty years, one of the things I have learned to appreciate are good bait and tackle shops. Although at one time nearly every pier had a bait shop, and most of those had live bait, today the number of shops and what they carry has dwindled.

An efficient and helpful crew

Luckily I’ve made enough trips along the coast fishing the piers that I have learned where most of the shops are located and which are the ones to visit. Do they carry the necessities? Are the people friendly, helpful and knowledgeable? Are the hours determined by the needs of the customers instead of the needs of the owner. All are questions of importance to me and when I find a shop that meets my criteria it’s a shop that I will visit time and time again.

Tourists have got to buy something — right?

An excellent shop, and one right on a pier, is Pier Bait on the Oceanside Pier owned by Ed and Pam Gonsalves. It’s not very big but it’s crammed to the rafters (literally) with items and it’s usually busy from early morning well into the night. Bait, drinks, light snacks and seemingly a million and one ocean knick knacks seem to flow through the windows non-stop. And, if you need some tackle, rental rods and reels are available.

Lastly, and this is one of the things I like, Ed and his crew try to keep the fishermen informed of the rules and regulations. A ton of fishermen on the pier are newcomers who can’t identify fish and who don’t know the rules. Ed has published various sheets showing the species and shows both size and number limits. He doesn’t have to do it, and most bait shops don’t go to such lengths, but he’s simply trying to be a good citizen and trying to keep the marine environment (and species) as healthy as possible.

This pelican is usually found next to the bait shop and probably has been photographed about as much as any bird in California

We all owe Ed a round of applause and thanks — his hard work is appreciated.

It sometimes seems like the lines will never end — even late at night

 

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Point Arena Pier

Air view of the Point Arena Cove and Pier (photo Courtesy of Wharf Masters Inn)

On March 26, 1987, Point Arena had a celebration. On that date, a new pier was dedicated at the picturesque cove, located just down the road from the center of town. While state, county and city officials gave their usual speeches and congratulated one another, most locals eyed the blue ribbon which stretched across the front of the pier and gave a sigh of relief; perhaps things could now return to normal. It was important for both the local economy and the social well being of the town.

Dedication ceremonies

A pier is important for Point Arena, and it has been for more than a century. In 1866 the first wharf was built to load logs onto coastal schooners. Later, by the 1880s, shipping was needed for industry and commerce; every Wednesday was “steamer day” when local farmers would ship their produce to San Francisco and travelers could embark on the one-day trip south. After a while, commercial fishing became the main activity. Local waters yielded a wide variety of fish and crab. The hub of this commercial activity was the cove. But people who work hard also need to relax so the waterfront area near the end of the narrow valley that led to the cove also became a social center for the town and was busy most nights.

The “old” Point Arena Pier — 1982

A view of some of the boats —1982

All of this came to a screeching halt on the day of January 26, 1983. Three tremendous waves struck the cove, wiped out the pier and an adjoining fish house, and nearly destroyed the small restaurant near the entrance to the pier. For four years after this, commercial fishermen and sportsmen would head south, to Bodega Bay, or north, to Albion and Fort Bragg, to launch their boats. A local pier fisherman named Ken Jones, based in nearby Boonville at the time, was left pierless and would need to journey to more distant venues to satisfy his pier addiction. During this time, the cove and the town would experience an easier and gentler life. But who really wanted it?

The “old” pier after the storm

This was not the first time the pier was destroyed, but it took one of the longest times to rebuild. The pier was a private pier owned by Edward Sudden (since the 1940s), which was, because of the lack of a breakwater and almost annual damage, uninsurable. Although yearly repair and upkeep was possible, a total rebuild just wasn’t affordable. It was decided that if the public wanted a pier, they would have to find a way to fund the pier themselves.

The “new” Point Arena Pier

Although it wasn’t easy, public financing was found. Normally, the local government would fund 50% of the project and the state Wildlife Conservation Board would fund the other half. Here, there simply wasn’t enough local funding to pay for half of the project. Although it was a long and tedious task, local leaders scrounged every available source and finally found the resources. The city came up with $250,000, which was matched by the Wildlife Conservation Board, and then additional money was obtained from the California Conservancy, DBW, and the Economic Development Administration (since the launching of commercial boats would be one of the main uses of the pier). Once funding was arranged, various contracts had to be drawn up, and then the work itself had to be finished. It was, and a sparkling new pier was ready for dedication.

The pier’s office, showers and restrooms

The 330-foot pier, built at a cost of $2.2 million, was a radical change from the former all-wood wharf. Built of concrete and steel, with a surface 25 feet above the water, it embraced the newest pier-building ideas, ideas conceived during the disastrous 1983 storms that smashed into and damaged many of the piers along the coast. Fears that boats would be unable to be launched from the new sling were found to be unwarranted So, too, have been the fears of some pier anglers who scoffed at the idea of bringing fish up from such a distance.

Today the pier is one of the best fishing piers in the state at the right time of the year (the spring) and is, beyond doubt, the best pier to fish if you want to catch rocky-area species like striped seaperch and kelp greenling. It is a good pier to catch cabezon and lingcod, and even offers at times a chance to catch salmon.

Kelp greenling, striped seaperch and cabezon are the three most common fish

Environment. The wharf sits in the Point Arena cove. Point Arena itself juts out to the west (and is, in fact, the closest point in the continental United States to Hawaii). Offshore are some of the world’s deepest waters in the Mendocino Trench, and the underwater Arena Canyon and Navarro Canyon begin directly out from the Point. The cove itself sits southeast of the point and is protected somewhat from northwest winds and storms; water depth is from 20-100 feet deep. The entire cove has a rocky bottom with no sand or gravel, a small stream runs into the ocean to the left of the pier, and there are reefs to the south of the pier.

The inshore rocks to the left (south) of the pier

Fish found here are rocky-area species; they include kelp and rock greenling, cabezon and lingcod, striped, white and calico perch, walleye and silver surfperch, shinerperch, grass, black, blue, and China rockfish, small bocaccio, Pacific tomcod, starry flounder and an occasional salmon. Unusual species include large buffalo sculpin, wolf eels, and an occasional octopus (the harbormaster at the pier reported on a 50-pound octopus). The capture of that creature was quite a feat and included the help of four anglers using a crab net to bring the “big eye” up to the pier). Apparently even a few great white sharks are in the area. In March of 1997 fishermen were startled to see the carcass of a baby great white shark floating in the water by the pier. The four-foot-long creature was grabbed by a couple of interested kids.

A cabezon and a buffalo sculpin

Fishing Tips. The main fishing effort here is for striped seaperch, kelp greenling and rock greenling; both of the latter are usually referred to as seatrout. Bait and tackle is the same for all three, use size 6 hooks with a high-low leader or tie the hooks directly to the line. Best bait is shrimp (small pieces) followed by fresh mussels or pile worms. This same rigging and bait will also attract a variety of rockfish. All of these fish can be caught year round, but perch fishing can be tremendous in the spring when they come into shallow water to spawn. All can be caught anywhere around the pier but inshore to midway out, on the south side, is usually the most productive area. If fishing is slow, cast to the reefs which run parallel to the south side of the pier. The reefs are reachable with a good cast, but also be prepared to lose a lot of tackle.

My foreign exchange daughter Kimiko and a striped seaperch

This is also a good pier for cabezon and there are a least two cabezon holes. The best bait for these is live ghost shrimp (but you’ll have to bring your own). Next best baits are small crabs (which you can catch on the shore), mussels or pieces of shrimp. Many fisherman use abalone guts or squid and a few will be landed on these each year.

A decent-sized cabezon

During the summer months you will often see schools of small fish in the water. These are generally surf smelt (day smelt) but at times there are also a few night smelt, jacksmelt, Pacific herring and even anchovies. These can be caught on multi-hook leaders for live bait or food although it takes quite a few of the smelt to make a meal. You can try live bait for salmon in the fall; every year a few salmon (and steelhead) move into these shallow waters prior to entering local streams. Live bait can also entice the lingcod that like to hang around the pier.

Dan and a small lingcod from the pier

Last but not least is the silver and walleye perch that are often present in the spring through fall months. Best bet for these are small size 6 or 8 hooks baited with small pieces of anchovy and fished mid-depth.

Special Recommendations. (1) Make sure you always bring warm clothing with you to this pier. Point Arena is one of the windiest points on the coast. It’s easy to take off a jacket; it’s not easy to put one on if you didn’t bring it. This pier is also heavily used by both commercial and skiff fishermen. Skiff fishermen use it to launch their boats. Commercials use it to unload their catch of fish, crabs or sea urchins onto the pier and to get supplies, such as ice or gas. This means there are many trucks on the pier, so always be careful to stay out of their way. Also, be careful to not hit anyone as you are casting; remember the underhand cast. The commercial activity means that boats are often tied to the pier in spots you wish to fish or come into water you are trying to fish; be cautious and remember that without this mostly summertime hazard, there wouldn’t be a pier.

Calrat and a cabezon from the pier

(2) Be sure to bring a net or gaff! One day two of my students, John Gowan and Antonio Soto, decided to visit the pier. Following my suggestions, they brought shrimp as bait and were soon fishing in the shallow waters near the inshore rocks. Almost immediately, Antonio had a savage hit from a large fish. Soon after, the still feisty fish was hauled to the top of the water. It was a ferocious looking wolf-eel, one that was a little over 4-feet-long. John and a large group of people watched the battle but there was a problem, since neither John nor Antonio had brought a pier gaff or a net. There were no shortages of suggestions from the onlookers but finally the pier attendant offered to help. A small hoist, usually used to lower and bring up dinghies, was fitted with a fish basket, and then it was lowered into the water. After the eel was brought into position above the basket, it was hauled to the top of the pier. On deck, everyone gave congratulations, a few snapped pictures, and Antonio and John thanked the pier attendant for the help. A few hours later John called and asked, “how do I cook this darn thing?” Remember, always bring a net or treble hook gaff with you.

Debbie and a nice rockfish from the pier

(3) Expect the unexpected. One day in late September, I was fishing with limited success (a few seatrout) when I spotted baitfish breaking the surface of the water.  Deciding to catch some live bait, I rigged up a multi-hook leader and cast it out. A couple of turns of the reel handle, a quick jerk, and I was hooked to a SALMON. Since the leader had size 12 hooks, and a light line, I knew my chances of landing the fish were slim but nevertheless I played the fish carefully and finally got it up next to the wharf. It looked like a silver salmon; about 8 pounds in weight. Unfortunately, the tiny hook, last one on the leader, was just barely caught in the tip of his mouth and about the time he spotted the pilings he decided he had given me enough thrills for the day. He made a sharp turn, the hook pulled out, and a salmon dinner became seatrout fillets (which weren’t too bad).

This large octopus was taken from the pier

(4) Pay attention to any fish you leave on a stringer in the water. One mid-October day I was fishing at the pier with John, had caught a nice kelp greenling (seatrout), and had put it on the stringer, which was dropped into the water. Soon after, John gave an exclamation and ran to the stringer. A large lingcod, in the twenty pound category, had his (her) mouth around that seatrout and was hanging on, much as do the hitchhiker lingcod which grab hooked fish out on the rockcod boats. Although I tried to snag that fish with my treble-hook gaff, and almost got it with one drop, it ultimately proved too smart, and got away. Later, after talking to several anglers, I found out this had happened a number of times. Since there are a lot of lingcod around this pier, be prepared.

Renee and her lingcod

(5) Bring binoculars with you. This pier is probably the best in the state to get a really good view of a whale. Every year gray whales pass close to the cove while making their annual trips up and down the California coast. Several times I have seen these whales playing right in the cove, swimming around the boats which are anchored near the front of the pier, and at times, the whales were within casting distance of the pier. It’s hard to imagine whales in such shallow water but the moderate depth doesn’t seem to bother them.

Kimiko and a nice mess of perch

Author’s Note — An interesting plaque sits near the front of the pier: “This monument dedicated to the fifteen young men from Yawatahama, Japan who sailed 11,000 kilometers across the Pacific in a 15 meter wood boat to realize their vision of coming to America. Landing at Point Arena on August 13, 1912, their dreams and courage continue to be a source of inspiration and a foundation of the friendship between the people of Yawatahama and Point Arena.” Raven B. Earlygrow, Mayor of Point Arena.

James and a nice striped seaperch

••• Note — Now I don’t want to say that some of the people in my old Mendocino County stomping grounds are a bit strange, but… from the Barbary Coast Dive Club Newsletter of September, 1999: “Another highlight of the weekend was the Drowning Woman Parade on the Point Arena Pier. According to the locals, the Festival is a response to the annual Burning Man festival that is held in the Nevada desert. The parade featured a number of revealing, wacky costumes like a guy with a pig head mask who was walking around wearing a giant dildo…Perhaps next year the BCD club can enter a float in the parade. Any ideas…?” My suggestion would be to stick to diving.

••• Note Who doesn’t like a feel good nature story?

‘THE ALBATROSS IS BACK’ — Mr. Al B. Tross has a following at Point Arena

The “Cove Coffee” shop at the Point Arena pier held a modest crowd, with people sipping hot brew and peering at their newspapers shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday. Then the front door was flung open.

“The albatross is back!” a young, bearded man announced. “Just saw him come in and land.”

The customers all nodded and smiled. They were relieved, because the bird had vanished for almost a week. It was easy to understand why someone might get excited about seeing a bird with a 6- to 7-foot wingspan sail into the home cove. I jumped from my table and went to take a look.

This illustrious visitor is a legendary bird locals had named Mr. Al B. Tross, a wandering Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) who has wintered at this harbor in southern Mendocino County for fourteen consecutive seasons. Though the phenomenon of “”agrants” — individual birds who depart or are blown away from customary migratory routes — is well-known in the birding world, this albatross is something special. He’s not simply dropping by. It seems he has adopted Point Arena as his winter home.

—Paul McHugh, San Francisco Chronicle, February 1, 2007

This sign sits near the front of the pier

••• Note —  The Point Arena high school mascot is the “Pirates” but perhaps a better name would be “beavers” since Point Arena is the home of an endangered species of beaver—the Point Arena Mountain Beaver (Aplodontia rufa nigra). The beaver, a sub-species of Mountain Beaver is only found   in a 24 square mile area around Point Arena

A typical mix of fish — rockfish, greenling and perch

History Note.  Originally home to the Native American Pomo Tribe, the first European to “discover” Point Arena and give it a name was the Spaniard Bartolomé Ferrelo who named it Cabo de Fortunas (Spanish for “cape of fortunes”) in 1543.

A little over two hundred years later, in 1775, the cape was renamed Punta Delgado (narrow point) by lieutenant Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (commander of the schooner Sonora), part of a royal expedition chartered by the government of Mexico to map the north coast of Alta California.

However, by the late 18th century the common name among sailors for the point and town south of the point seems to have been Barra de Arena (sand bar) which in turn became Punta de Arenas (sandy point). This name was eventually Americanized into Point Arena.

Early wharf and chute — 1884

Prior to the 1860s Point Arena was one of many sites along this stretch of coast that utilized chutes and wire trapeze rigging to bring supplies to local residents while loading the small coastal schooners with redwood lumber, dairy products, hides and other exports destined for San Francisco and beyond.

Arena Cove — 1896

Most of these ports were so small they were called dog-hole ports—since they supposedly were just big enough to allow a dog to get in and out. Dozens of these were built, and almost any small cove or river outlet was a prime candidate for a chute. Luckily, the captains of these schooners were masters of their art and were able to get out of places like Hard Scratch and Nip-and-Tuck.

Point Arena got its first store in 1859 and a real wharf in 1866. With a prime location, roughly 40 miles south of Fort Bragg and 110 miles northwest of San Francisco, Point Arena became the most active port between San Francisco and Eureka during the booming logging period of the 1870s (in fact at one time the cove had two wharfs). Steam schooners like the Seafoam, Pomo and Point Arena made regular runs along the Mendocino coast.

Unfortunately shipwrecks occurred at the point at an alarming rate so a lighthouse was needed and the original Point Arena Lighthouse was constructed in 1870; this lighthouse was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and later replaced.

In the years since 1866, Point Arena has seen several wharves, testimony to the killer storms (primarily from the south) and waves that periodically thrash the cove. The storm in 1983 was only the latest but it ended the life of the old pier and resulted in the building of a completely new pier in 1987, a pier that hopefully will be better able to weather the storms.

The pier before the 1983 storm

Mendocino Coast Ravaged By Storm

Thousands of coast residents remained without power this morning in the wake of wind and heavy rains from the winter’s roughest storm, but damage was light throughout the inland areas of the county…

Point Arena, at the county’s southern tip, was the hardest hit. Waves, wind and localized flooding caused the collapse of two buildings near the water at Point Arena Cove and smashed through the front windows of the Cove Café.

Eight people were caught inside the restaurant and its rear buildings when the high water struck, but all were rescued without injury.

“My little boy was trapped,” Betty Moran said. “I floated around and started screaming for help. I was afraid that another wave would come and force them to leave me.”

“I was in the building taking a shower when it happened,” said Dori Fox, daughter of the restaurant’s owner.

“I was standing in there looking out the window like I always do and then I saw a wave coming eye level.”

 “I’ve never been so scared in my life. The water was coming in all over — under the door, up the drain. I got out of the house, and people were running all over screaming.”

Fox, 26, said she had lived there all her life and never seen such high surf.

Along with the destroyed boathouse and outbuildings, raging seas demolished much of the Point Arena Cove pier, built during the last century to load timber ships…

—Charles Rappleye, Ukiah Daily Journal, January 27, 1983

The storm and its aftermath

All storm pictures courtesy of Nicholas King and from his EXCELLENT book The Great Disaster at Arena Cove (a recommended purchase if interested in local history of Mendocino County).

Today the nearest oceanfront pier to the north is at Trinidad, a nautical distance of 131 miles. Such was not the case back in the late 1800s. There were a number of true wharves along the Mendocino and Humboldt coasts including those at the Navarro River, Albion, Little River, Caspar, Noyo Harbor, and Fort Bragg (where C.R. Johnson built a wharf at Soldiers Harbor Cove in 1885). To the north was Roger’s Wharf at Westport (which was called Beal’s Landing in the 1860s and Westport after the late 1870s). Eventually Westport had two wharves. Further north, a wharf was built at Rockport in 1876 by W.R. Miller; at the time it was built it was claimed to be among the finest on the coast. Bear Harbor had its own wharf until it was washed away by a tidal wave in 1899. Across the county line, in Humboldt County, a 900-foot-long wharf was built at Shelter Cove in 1886.

Smaller dog-hole ports (which generally had a chute, sometimes a modified type of wharf, but rarely a true wharf) came and went depending on the health of their lumber mills. Still remembered were those at Iversen’s Landing and Saunders Landing, which were south of Point Arena.  Rollerville (near the Garcia River), Greenwood Cove (where Casket Wharf operated until 1929), and Cuffey Cove, were located south of the Navarro River. Mendocino, Cleone, Newport, Kibesilla, Union Landing, Juan Creek (McFall’s Landing) and Hardy Creek are/were all located in central to northern parts of the county still located on Highway 1. Usal, Northport, Little Jackass Gulch and Needle Rock were found in the territory that today is called the “Lost Coast.” Most of these date from the 1860s to 1880s and many today are just history. Although Humboldt and Del Norte counties both saw extensive timber operations in the late 1800s, most of their movement of logs was done by railroad.

Although stories of people fishing on the wharves are to be expected, what is really interesting are the stories of fish caught off the chutes. The chutes weren’t always as safe as wharves, but some people, especially kids, would hardly be stopped just because there was a little danger.

Looking up from the water

Point Arena Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Restrooms with toilets, coin-operated showers, fish cleaning stations, free parking, some benches, night lighting, boat launching (up to 5 tons and 27 feet) are all available on or near the pier. Food is available at the Arena Cove Bar and Grill just a few feet from the foot of the pier. Bait and tackle is available near the foot of the pier. Picnic tables are available near the front of the pier. Private Sportfishing boats are also available some years; check with the harbormaster at (707) 882-2583, he usually has the phone numbers of local craft.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is concrete and the railing is 40 inches high. Not marked for handicapped.

How To Get There: From the south, turn left from Hwy. 1 onto Iverson Ave., which will turn into Port Rd. Simply, follow the road to the pier. From the north, turn right onto Port Rd. and follow it to the pier.

Management: City of Point Arena.

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Anderson Valley High School Marine Biology Class

Part of the class

Last century, mid-80s to be exact I, was living in the beautiful Mendocino County hamlet of Boonville. The town was small, the high school was small, and in such places it’s very easy to get involved in a mix of activities. Thus I found myself helping out at the school, coaching and helping assist a couple of teachers with projects. Since my son Mike was in the marine biology class, and since Linda Wallace the teacher knew of my love for fishing, she recruited me to be an “advisor” for the class.

Looking for plants and animals

It would turn out to be one of my favorite projects at the school. Monthly the students would “pike to the briney in our moshe” (that’s Boontling for travel to the ocean in our bus), specifically to the cove at Point Arena. The task was  to collect new specimens from the briney (the ocean) and put back into the briny the old creatures that had served their time in our aquariums. When the work was done we would have some time to fish from the Point Arena Pier and almost everyone, every trip, caught a few fish so it was a very pleasant time. When they returned to the school they would put the new denizens of Anderson Valley High School into their appropriate tanks and then begin to do a variety of odds and ends to help them better understand those same denizens.

Still lookin”

Look at what I found!

Interesting!

Lots of algae!

Time to go fishing!

Debbie and Ms. Wallace with a couple of striped seaperch

Debbie with a rockfish

James with a striped seaperch

James with a greenling

Back to school!

James checking out a rockfish

Eventually, at the end of the year, we would all make a trip to San Diego. On the way we would spend a night fishing on a barge out of San Pedro — the whole night. We then would sleepily finish our drive to San Diego where we stayed at the Crystal Pier Motel (where we could fish from the pier when we weren’t visiting attractions). We had a back scene’s tour of Sea World. We did the same at Scripps Aquarium. And, we traveled out on a sportfishing boat where at least a majority of the students, and myself, got seasick. Lots of fun! The story and pictures of that trip will come later.

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California Halibut

 

Halibut from the Ventura Pier

Order Pleuronectiformes — Lefteye Flounders — Family Bothidae

Species: Paralichthys californicus (Ayres, 1859); from the Greek word paralichthys (parallel fish) and californicus (Californian)—a California fish that lies parallel to the bottom.

Alternate Names: Halibut, flounder, hali, flattie (or flatty), chicken halibut, alabato, southern halibut, Monterey halibut, bastard halibut; fly swatter or postage stamp (small halibut); door mats (large halibut); extra large halibut, rarely seen on piers, are called barn doors. Called lenguado de California in Mexico.

KJ and Halibut from Balboa Pier

Identification: California halibut are in the left-eye flounder family, although nearly half of these fish are right-eyed. Halibut are noted for their sharp teeth, a large squarish shaped mouth, and a high arch in the lateral line above the pectoral fin. Their coloring is normally white or yellowish on the blind side and a muddy brown on the colored side. Often there is splotching or even white spots on the colored side, especially in smaller fish.

Left-eyed and right-eyed halibut from the Balboa Pier

Size: To 60 inches and 72 pounds; most caught off piers are under 20 inches. The California record fish weighed 58 lb 9 oz and was caught at Santa Rosa Island in 1999.

Halibut caught by Luis at the Santa Monica Pier

Range:  Cabo Falsa, southern Baja California and Gulf of California to Quillayute River, northern Washington.

Habitat: Shallow-water, sandy-shore areas, oceanfront, and in bays.

Piers: Most common at oceanfront piers. Best bets: Crystal Pier, Oceanside Pier, Balboa Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Goleta Pier and Cayucos Pier. A few are caught each year at Monterey Bay piers such as Capitola and Seacliff. An increasing number since the ’90s have been caught at Pacifica and at San Francisco Bay piers such as Pier 7 in San Francisco and the Berkeley Pier. The Berkeley Pier probably ranks #1 among piers north of Point Conception and perhaps sees more large halibut than any other pier in the state.

Shoreline: An esteemed shore species from San Diego to San Francisco.

Boats: One of the favorite species for California boat anglers.

Bait and Tackle: Halibut are predatory hunters that will sometimes grab almost anything that moves. Still, they prefer other fish—anchovies, sardines, grunion, smelt, small brownbait (queenfish and white croaker), small perch (shinerperch and walleyes), Spanish and Pacific mackerel, Pacific butterfish (pompano), lizardfish and squid. If the fish will fit in their mouth they’ll go after it. Thus, by far, the best bait for California halibut is live bait, one of those fish mentioned previously. Whichever bait is used, the key is to keep it lively and keep it near the bottom. A sliding live bait leader works fine, especially with a small slip-on sinker added to get the bait near the bottom. Another approach is to use a Carolina rigging. Take an egg sinker (that has a hole through the middle of it) and run your line through the sinker. Next, tie a snap-swivel to the end of your line (after adding a couple of red beads above the snap-swivel to help attract fish and protect the knot from abrasion). Then attach a three to four foot leader with size 2 to 4 hooks to the snap. High/low leaders can also be used but are generally less effective unless the angler keeps his line in motion. Some regulars “drag” or “troll” for halibut: they put a long-shanked hook into a headless anchovy and then walk slowly along the edge of the pier pulling the line behind them. If the pier is crowded, they will cast out and retrieve slowly.  In either case, be alert for the soft mouthing of the halibut. Halibut will hit cut bait, including anchovies, mackerel, sardine and even squid; just be sure to keep the bait in motion. Halibut can also be caught on artificials. A variety of lures can also be used to take them, everything from soft plastics like Big Hammers and Scroungers, to shiny spoons like Krocadiles, and even crankbaits. Probably the most popular lure recently has been the Lucky Craft lures, expensive but good. In most cases though lures are less effective from a pier high off the water than when used by those fishing close to the water, i.e., in the surf. Halibut will often follow the lure almost to the surface before striking, so be prepared.

Halibut caught at the Berkeley Pier by Songslinger and James (calrat)

Food Value: Excellent! One of the best tasting fish in our waters. White, lean meat with a very low fat content. One of the best frying fish although considered good using almost any method of cooking.

Two fillets from each side.

Comments: Probably the most sought after fish for anglers on southern California piers. Unfortunately, most of the fish caught in the southland are illegal size and far too many people do not know, or do not care, how to handle them properly. The best way is to quickly reel in or handline in the fish without a net (if possible) and then practice C&R (catch-and-release) or CPR (catch-photograph-release) with as little handling of the fish as necessary. If you’re going to net the fish try to find a net with fine mesh. If you use the typical wide-mesh net the net will often tear up the tail of the halibut leading to infection (tail rot) and eventual death. If you have a fine-mesh net, then the best way to handle the halibut is to net it, bring it up, unhook it, place it back in the net, and lower it back down. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s worth it to preserve these fish and they can live to an age of at least 30 years. 

Halibut with “tail rot”

Do be careful of the sharp teeth of these fish! One guidebook jokingly tells the way to differentiate between small halibut and sole or sanddab: “stick your finger in its mouth. If your finger starts bleeding in a relatively short period of time (don’t keep it there for hours), you probably have a halibut.” DON’T DO THIS!

A Plethora of Halibut Pictures

Robert (redfish) and a halibut from the Avila Pier

Julie, James, Kyoo and halibut from the Berkeley Pier

Gary Evans and a halibut from the Balboa Pier

Mel and two halibut from the Paradise Park Pier

Alabama, Chopper, and halibut from the Berkeley Pier

“Stan the Man” Low and halibut from the Candlestick Pier

Ted’s “Big One” from the Berkeley Pier

Daniel’s fist keeper from the Redondo Beach Pier

Halibut from the Capitola Wharf

Mel and a halibut from the Paradise Park Pier

Mike Katz and a halibut from Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara

Halibut from the Venice Pier

Halibut caught by Herberto at the Newport Pier

A nice catch of halibut from the Paradise Park Pier

Halibut from the Ocean Beach Pier

Toejamb and a halibut from the Hermosa Beach Pier

“Stan the Man” Low and a halibut from the Point Pinole Pier

Halibut from the Malibu Pier

Halibut from the Capitola Wharf

Halibut from the Cayucos Pier

Halibut from the Oceanside Pier

The “light” side of the halibut — Songslinger and calrat at Berkeley Pier

Halibut from the Capitola Wharf

Rock Hopper and his first Berkeley halibut

Rockin’ Robin and a Halibut from the Point Pinole Pier

Berkeley Pier, 2008 —It can be crowded when the halibut are running

Story from Western Outdoor News regarding a halibut from the Santa Monica Pier

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Pacific Sanddab

Pacific Sanddab from Monterey Wharf #2

Order Pleuronectiformes — Lefteye Flounders — Family Bothidae

Species: Citharichthys sordidus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word citharichthys  (a fish that lies on its ribs or side) and the Latin word sordidus  (sordid or dull-colored). Listed as Orthopsetta sordida in Fish Bulletin #28.

Alternate Names: Sanddab, soft flounder, sole, mottled sanddab, melgrim, pop tart, and Catalina sanddab. Called lenguado moteado in Mexico.

Identification: This is the largest of the sanddabs and a left-eyed flatfish. They have a small mouth, unmarked fins, and a pectoral fin on the eyed side that is shorter than the head. Their coloring is generally light brown with yellow and orange mottling.

Pacific Sanddabs taken by Ethan at the Fort Baker Pier

Size: To 16 inches and around two pounds; most caught from piers are under a foot in length.

Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California to Holiday Beach, Kodiak Island, western Gulf of Alaska.

Habitat: Shallow to deep water sandy; primarily found over sand.

Piers: Generally taken in deeper water. Best bets: Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Monterey Wharf #2, Seacliff State Beach Pier, Capitola Wharf, Santa Cruz Wharf, Pacifica Pier, Fort Point Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier and Fort Baker Pier.

Pacific Sanddabs from the Fort Baker Pier

Shoreline: An occasional catch from shore in San Francisco Bay.

Boats: An increasingly important species as the number of other California fish dwindle and regulations change. Common in some Central California areas during the wintertime months (when rockfish cannot be taken) are combination crab-sanddab trips. Anglers load up on sanddabs before crab pots are pulled that, hopefully, yield a mess of crabs.

Bait and Tackle: Pacific sanddab can be taken on light to medium tackle baited with small hooks, generally size 8 or 6. When sanddab are present, almost any type of outfit will work. Most anglers catch them on high/low leaders, but snag-line-type leaders made up with four to six small hooks can be deadly; at times every cast will produce four to six fish, the only limiting factor being the number of hooks (a limit of three in San Francisco Bay). The bait can be almost anything but strips of squid stay on the hook the best.

Food Value:  Excellent! Pacific sanddab are best prepared as a pan-fried or baked delicacy. The meat is delicious. When I used to work in the corporate world, I would sometimes go to the venerable Tadich Grill in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district (the Wall Street of the West) just so I could have their sanddab. The Tadich Grill is the oldest restaurant in San Francisco (it was opened in 1873), it’s devoted to fish, and the cooks know how to perfectly prepare sanddab since it’s one of their specialties. A plate covered with a pan-fried sanddab, a side plate of fresh green beans, and a glass of white wine; what more do you need?

Comments: Several times when fishing at the Pacifica Pier during the ’70s, I witnessed phenomenal catches of Pacific sanddabs. Generally this happened during the winter when the waves and wind looked like they would stop any fishing. As a rule, the fish would strike every hook and people would land two or more fish every cast. However, at times it would just be for a couple of hours at dawn, as soon as the sun was fully out, the sanddab would quit hitting. Since then, I’ve learned that these wintertime runs occur every few years (but especially in wet-winter years). In 1997, the sanddabs showed up toward the end of November at Pacifica. Soon there were reports of sanddabs at the Fort Baker Pier and Fort Point Pier, both located just inside the entrance to San Francisco Bay, and at the Muni Pier and Fort Mason Piers along the San Francisco waterfront. Next there were reports of sanddabs at the Paradise Beach Pier and the McNear Beach Pier, the latter just past the San Rafael Bridge in San Pablo Bay. The 6-12 inch fish seemed to blanket the bay bottom. The run lasted for over a month and thousands of eager little fish sacrificed their lives so that anglers would be able to enjoy some fresh fish for the holidays. Anglers were able to catch as many fish as they wished. The only limiting factor was the time they spent fishing, the number of hooks on their line, and the almost inevitable boredom; it was simply too easy! Unfortunately some anglers reported catches of hundreds of fish and the word EXCESS became slightly redundant. Why the fish were in the area has never been answered but if past records are an indicator it will happen again and again. Those that avoid an angler’s hook, or a commercial fisherman’s net, may live to about 13 years of age.

Pacific Sanddab caught  by metfoo at the Fort Point Pier

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