2002 PFIC Catalina Get Together — The First Get Together

From my post on Pier Fishing in California

The 2002 Logo

May 3, 2002

To: PFIC Message Board

From: Ken Jones

Subject: Million Dollar Bash AKA First Pier Fishing in California Get Together

Ev’rybody from right now

To over there and back

The louder they come

The harder they crack…

We’re all gonna meet

At that million dollar bash

I get up in the mornin’

But it’s too early to wake

First it’s hello, goodbye

Then push and then crash

But we’re all gonna make it

At that million dollar bash

Well, I looked at my watch

I looked at my wrist

Then I made it over

To that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee

It’s that million dollar bash

Million Dollar Bash – Bob Dylan

Copyright © 1967  Dwarf Music (Abridged – stanzas 2, 4 & 5)

 It wasn’t exactly Dylan’s Million Dollar Bash, but then again how to you put a price tag on friendship and camaraderie? Mix together the beautiful setting of Avalon on Catalina Island, an assortment of fish which, although admittedly mostly small, were still relatively rare and unusual catches for California pier anglers, and the anglers themselves, a highly dedicated, enthusiastic and intelligent group and you have the mixings for quite a shindig. And, in my opinion, it was a synergistic type of gathering in which the collective wisdom of the individual members merged into a greater than the whole group experience. Million dollars? Priceless is more like it!

        Pier Rats—Dolphinrider, Stinkeyfinger, Sinker and Pierhead

April 26—Day 1: For me it started with an early morning exit from the home on Mallard Lake in Lodi and a fairly rapid seven-hour drive to the Long Beach Catalina Express office. I was booked on the 12:30 boat, and while getting lined up at 12 I notice a young man with a fishing pole. Could it be a pier rat? I went over  and sure enough it was a pier rat—Josh, the designer of our 2002 shirts. I rode on the ferry with Josh and his family and we discussed fishin’ all the way.

The Green Pleasure Pier

Upon arrival in Avalon we headed to our respective hotels with promises to meet down at the Green Pleasure Pier. I got there at 2:45 and saw that Josh was already present. So, I broke out the bait. I had picked up two dozen (huge) pile worms the prior afternoon, two dozen ghost shrimp, a bag of frozen shrimp, a box of squid, a box of frozen peas and onions (the onions were along for the ride) and a can of peas. I also brought along some anchovies and mackerel from my freezer for the kelp bass that seemingly are always in attendance. I was hoping to attract some of the more exotic species such as sheephead with the ghost shrimp while hopefully catching some opaleye on the worms or peas. (I brought two types of peas to see which actually would work best on the opaleye. As it turned out neither produced a fish.) I figured the squid would work good on the halfmoon, which were sure to be in abundance, and hoped to possibly pick up a moray eel at night on the squid.

Green water and an opaleye

Since it was a little windy, the water wasn’t crystal clear but it was obvious that there was a school of fish at mid-depth range just out from the pier. I decided to try right by the pier first. Seeking out the perch-like species, and also hoping for a few perch, I used my usual perch rig: two size 6 hooks attached to the line with a one-ounce torpedo sinker at the end. I decided to try the worms first and hold on to the ghost shrimp until we spotted some larger fish. I sort of forgot about the senorita that are the supreme bait stealers and which also love worms. I basically got a fish on almost every cast unless the fish stole the bait first. Unfortunately, they did steal the bait about 75% of the time. However, you only use a small piece of the worm so a nice mix of fish started to show up on the pier. Mostly though it was a three-way toss up—rock wrasse, senorita and kelp bass. If you cast out from the pier and let the bait sit on the bottom the rock wrasse would come out and grab the bait. If you cast under the pier (especially) or even out away from the pier, you might pick up a bass. Let the bait get to the mid-water depth and you were sure to catch senorita. It wasn’t so much trying to catch fish as trying to figure out how not to catch certain species. Yes, we could have switched to larger hooks but that would not have kept the senorita from stripping away the bait. It only would have slowed down the bite on more desirable fish.

Josh and a kelp bass

Some time later PFIC Webmaster extraordinaire Rich Reano showed up after his arrival from Dana Point and shortly thereafter we spotted some nice-sized opaleye emerging from under the pier. I tried the ghost shrimp and soon was able to nab three of the beautiful fish, two of the large-sized variety. Also managed two sheephead on the ghost shrimp before pulling in a beautiful blacksmith on worms. Rich is a halibut lover so he netted some small smelt for halibut bait. Once he had his bait he began the hallie wait.

Pierhead and a duo of kelp bass

Shortly thereafter, Pierhead and Sinker made an appearance as did, a short time later, Baitfish and his wife Rebecca (RoosterQueen). Greetings were made with all and then we all began to fish. We now had a nice group and everyone was catching fish. Pierhead and Sinker were using their “special” commie bait and nailing the bass; Baitfish and Rebecca were using, I think, squid (although all of them began to experiment with artificials as the day/night went on).

“Pier Rats” at the Green Pleasure Pier

Eventually the sun decided to sink into the ocean and about that time a school of mixed mackerel and jacks—large Pacific mackerel and somewhat smaller jack mackerel—made their first appearance. Most people latched onto a few fish but the “mac attack” died about as fast as it had begun.

A “bug” on the railing

I then landed a lobster and just about that time we figured out where Stinkyfinger and Dolphinrider were—sitting mid-pier catching their own fish. We went to show them the lobster and they moved out to the end.

They were just in time for a reappearance of the mackerel and once again the action was hot and heavy for a few minutes. But, as before, the action soon slowed. Several of the species at Catalina are night sleepers (especially rock wrasse, sheephead and senorita) so the bites were less frequent. However it was an absolutely beautiful night sittin’ on the dock on the bay. There were the normal sounds of an ocean at night, the excitement when a school of baitfish would flash through the water (including a few flying fish), some sea birds and a few sea dogs, mostly silent but still evident. Amidst the salty tang of the air was a beautiful moon that arose over the hills of Catalina. And the lights—the harbor lights reflecting a mix of colors and shapes off the water, the yachts and the pier. It all created an ambiance that it hard to beat.

By this time though most of us were really tired so we stopped fishing around 9PM and headed over to Antonio’s for some good Italian food (and peanuts). Stuffed, most of us headed back to our rooms for some needed sleep. A few diehards—Sinker, Josh, Stinkeyfinger and Dolphinrider, continued to fish from the pier far into the night. Personal results for Day One: 6 1/4 hours fishing, 19 kelp bass, 17 rock wrasse, 16 senorita, 6 Pacific mackerel, 3 opaleye, 2 sheephead, 2 jack mackerel, 1 blacksmith, 1 shinerperch and 1 lobster.

         April 27—Day 2: I arrived down at the Green Pleasure Pier at 6:30 AM where I found Baitfish already castin’ and reelin’.

Rebecca (Rooster Queen), Adam (Baitfish) and a kelp bass

I decided to try anchovies that morning since I wanted to save the worms and ghost shrimp for the derby at the Cabrillo Mole. Action was still steady. I fished from 6:30 until 10:45 when Adam and I headed over to the Mole. 4 1/4 hours fishing: 23 kelp bass, 3 rock wrasse, 3 senorita, 2 California scorpionfish and 1 sheephead. Baitfish and Pierhead (who had joined us) had similar action with several keeper and near keeper-sized bass.

Boyd (Pierhead), Adam (Baitfish) and a bass

Upon arrival at the Cabrillo Mole, scene of the derby, I was pleased to meet the assembled pier rats who had come over for the day’s derby: Joromaca, Boomer, JimboJack, Gyozadude, Castlebravo and Frenchy. Soon joining the group  were Rich, Baitfish,  RoosterQueen, Pierhead, Sinker, Stinkyfinger, Dolphinrider, Josh and his parents (did I forget anyone?).

The “Mole”

All present were catching fish although there was a lot of surge and a lot of gear was being lost in the kelp. Although I visited for a while, and some of us made a run to the store to buy additional food, I couldn’t resist fishing a little myself.  I picked a spot a little further down from the group that was in a little clearer water.

Ken Jones (The Pier Fisherman) and a garibaldi

Spotting some fish, I tied on a ghost shrimp and soon after a garibaldi grabbed the bait; it wasn’t a big fish but it was so beautiful. Easy to see why it is California’s official saltwater fish—and why it is illegal to keep them. It was gently returned to the water. I was fishing a mixture of ghost shrimp and pile worms and I began to catch a mix of fish—although none were large. Most interesting might have been the 4 kelpfish I caught.

Giant kelpfish (yellow version)

Three were giant kelpfish, one a yellow-colored fish, one a greenish brown, and one a dead ringer for kelp brown. I also caught a different species of kelpfish—a striped kelpfish. I also managed to hook a large halfmoon that I estimated to weigh 3+ pounds but the line broke at the knot. An unusual occurrence for me and I wonder if it was due to the Stren Flurocarbon that I was testing out? Total fish for just over two hours of actual fishing time: 3 kelp bass, 3 giant kelpfish, 2 senorita, 1 striped kelpfish, 1 rock wrasse, 1 garibaldi and 1 kelp perch.

James (GDude) and a kelp bass at the Mole

In between the socializing and the food the fishing continued and everyone looked to be bringing in fish (although Rich was still trying for that hallie just outside the kelp). We finally stopped fishing so that we could present everyone with a gift (courtesy of Sinker). We had a drawings and the gifts ranged from stickers to a clock. Everyone seemed pleased and we even managed to get a group picture of most of the people.

The group at the first “PFIC Catalina Get Together”

Shortly thereafter some of the people had to head back to the boring life on the mainland and the “official” gathering broke up.  However, an “unofficial” gathering took place as several of us headed over to the room Stinkyfingers and Dolphinrider had rented; we all shared some excellent company (and refreshments) with Baitfish, RoosterQueen, Pierhead and the hosts. It was a mix of fishing stories galore and the development of a real rapport with the group.

But the fishing wasn’t over! I arrived back at the Green Pleasure Pier at 7:15 PM and fished until 10:45. As mentioned, the action on some of the Catalina species is slower at night but fish were still present. The mackerel showed up as scheduled at dusk and lobsters really made an appearance this night.

Lisa (Dolphinrider) and a lobster

Pierhead and Dolphinrider both got bugs as well as a guy fishing near us who pulled in about a half dozen of the spiny creatures. All were of course released but they provided a lot of fun and entertainment that night.

Boyd (Pierhead) and a large sculpin (scorpionfish)

Pierhead also managed two nice really sculpin while Sinker and baitfish tried out artificials on the bass and had excellent results (they’ll have to report the types of artificials they used). Personal fish score for the evening: 9 kelp bass, 6 Pacific mackerel, 4 jack mackerel and 4 shinerperch. Again, Josh and Sinker fished late

April 28—Day 3: Sunday morning the wind had died down and I was all by my lonesome when I arrived at the pier at 6 AM. I started to catch fish but now, since I had the whole end to myself, I set out two rods, one was for the potpourri of smaller species, one set up for bigger quarry.

Boyd (Pierhead)

Soon after, Pierhead showed up just to visit but not to fish. Thank God because within a short time something pretty big  grabbed the squid bait on my bigger rod and headed out to sea like a freight train. Sound familiar? Big bat rays inhabit these waters and I think that was what I hooked. One long run and then a determined battle where I would mange to pull in a couple of feet of line before the “monster” pulled out ten more feet. Since I was only using 15-pound test I knew my chances were slim. Pier pilings, docks all over the place, and boats and moorings. But who knows? About this time a shore boat decides to cut right across where my fish is sitting on the bottom and my line gets wrapped on his antenna. No problem! The harbormaster that was sitting in his office watching the fight called him and got him to back up and  free the line. So now the fight could begin anew. Unfortunately, I could now feel something else on the line, either a rope or kelp. I could feel the fish and tried everything I could to free it but to no avail. Finally after a few more minutes the fish took off once again and the line snapped. While this was going on Pierhead had hopped down onto the adjacent dock with my gaff and was ready to land the fish but it was probably just as well that I lost it. I don’t think I would have had him gaff it. Bat rays deserve to fight another day. But I would have liked to have seen it. But then again, since I didn’t see it, maybe it was a huge white seabass, halibut or even one of those giant black seabass that used to be so common to these waters. I’ll never know.

By the way, after Pierhead headed for the ferry and his ride home, Baitfish showed up and we resumed the catching of fish.

Adam (Baitfish) and a kelp bass

The water was now crystal clear and the fish were a little more wary but they were still biting. Now out of worms and ghost shrimp, I had to rely on the other baits and the results showed it. Total for 4 hours fishing: 9 kelp bass, 5 rock wrasse, 3 senorita, 1 halfmoon and 1 shinerperch. The halfmoon was the next to last fish I caught. Originally I had been so confident that we would catch scads of the halfmoon that I made the fish the Fish of the Month on pierfishing.com. But few were actually caught; they were present but very wary of hooks.

Josh and an opaleye

I finally had to stop at 10 A.M. and get ready for the boat ride back to Long Beach—but I truly hated to go. The time was so relaxing and the companionship so special that I felt I had experienced something special—not to sound sappy—and had a true bonding with those of our pier rat nation. I hope it was just the first of many such events. And I have to give special thanks to Baitfish and Rich who did most of the organizing, and Sinker who provided the great gifts. How do we top this special moment in time?

But now it was time to return to reality. I rode next to Josh on the way back to L.B. and I think we now have a committed pier rat to carry on the legacy when old-timers (like myself) move on. Such is the nature and cycle of life.

Conclusion—lots of meaningless fish but also lots of meaningful friendships. It’s nice to know that you can travel down the coast now and meet up with others also enthralled with the mystique of pier fishing and the fellowship of the pier. It doesn’t have to always be on a pier, and you don’t always have to catch fish, but the people who make up this board are a group of which we can be proud. Long live the pier rat nation! 


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