Largest Fish From A California Pier?

A frequent question over the years has been, “what is the largest fish taken from a California pier?” A 453-pound giant (black) sea bass is recorded from Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara in 1925 and there’s an unconfirmed report of a 600-pound giant sea bass taken from the Manhattan Beach Pier in 1929. Huge white sturgeon have been reported and an authenticated catch of a 194-pound sturgeon was made at the Vallejo Pier in 1980. Then there are the sharks and rays. Several 200-pound+ bat rays have been reported including a 203-pound bat ray at Stearns Wharf in 2004. However, the official record is only an 181-pound bat ray taken from the Huntington Beach Pier in 1978. There have been several reports of huge 7-gill sharks from a variety of piers but pictures show most to be under 200 pounds. And finally, there’s the 200-pound hammerhead shark reported from the Newport Pier. Even given the size of those fish, I have not been able to find any records of a fish approaching the following in size — a shark taken from the Newport Pier back in 1923.

Big Shark Is Snagged And Then Shot

Newport Beach, Oct. 30—A genuine “man eating” shark, fourteen feet long and weighing approximately 1800 pounds, said to be the largest fish ever caught from the Newport Pier, was hauled to land shortly after 2 o’clock Monday afternoon by Frank Claudenia.

The battle between the huge sea monster and Claudenia waged only for fifteen minutes when onlookers, realizing that the catch at the end of the line was of such nature that it could not probably have been landed, made for their homes for a rifle which which to shoot the monster.

R. J. Shaffer of this city, who had been fishing on the pier, was the first to reach shore and return with a rifle. He immediately took four shots at the monster. The last of the shots succeeded in hitting the “man eater” in a vital spot and he floated quietly on the water. A team of horses was secured to draw him upon the beach.

The news of the large catch soon spread and hundreds of persons from both Balboa and Newport rushed to see the huge fish.

Fishermen immediately had a considerable discussion concerning the species of the monster. Several declared that the fish was a mackerel shark and others declared that they knew it to be of the “man eater” species. One fisherman, who professed to know, declared that he had killed scores of this species which he generally found at a considerable distance from shore, and declared that this was as close to a “man eater” as he had ever seen if it was not a genuine shark of the “man eating” variety.

According to the version of the catch as explained by Claudenia, the monster had tackled several hooks of other fishermen but had succeeded in breaking their lines. The fish then took his bait which consisted of a three pound mackerel and started for deep water. While he held him others ran for a rifle and the huge sea monster’s life was soon ended.

The large fish has been hauled beneath the pier and will be preserved and kept whole for a while and will be placed on exhibition.

—Santa Ana Register, October 30, 1923

Within a few months the story had made it into newspapers throughout the United States. Herein one version, shorter and slightly different than the original.

Take Giant Shark On Hook—Sea Monster 15 Feet Long Weighed 1,800 Pounds

A shark 15 feet long, weighing about 1,800 pounds and 57 inches in circumference was caught off the Newport pier by Frank Claudenia. He had been after jewfish when the shark swallowed his hook. The big fish pounded the piling and put up a fight until he was shot with a rifle by Rube Schaffer. When the shark was finally brought into the surf a team of horses was hitched on and the fish pulled ashore. The fish is what is known as a mackerel or bone shark and is a sea scavenger. It is not of the man-eating variety.

—The Evening Standard, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, December 12, 1923

Of course some people might ask if the fish can even be considered a record catch? It certainly would not meet the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) rules or the rules used by the California Fish and Wildlife Department. And, if it was indeed a Great White Shark, it would no longer be a legal species to take.

Nevertheless, it is probably the largest fish ever taken by an angler from a California pier. Back in those days many anglers used heavy gear for the giant (black) sea bass and the combination of heavy tackle and a quickly procured rifle meant the landing of a true monster from the deep.

The fact that such large sharks inhabit the waters at Newport Beach should not come as a surprise. Several large sharks have been sighted and several large sharks have been caught by local commercial fishermen.

Another Shark Is Snagged At Newport Beach

Fred Gunther, known to his friends in Newport Beach as “Shorty,” apparently is out to break the world’s record for catching sharks with hook and line. Sunday he landed a 16-foot, 2500-pound man-eating shark, which he had battled from time to time, for three years. Today he pulled in a 10-foot hammerhead shark, weighing 300 pounds.

Gunther claimed that the shark which he caught Sunday was the one that got away from him three years ago, after the fisherman had speared it several times. He pointed to spear marks on the fish as proof of his story.

The shark caught early today was one of the most peculiar looking sea denizens seen in Newport Beach in recent years, according to fishermen. Its eyes are 32 inches apart. Gunter will exhibit his catches within the next few days and, in the meantime, he is out after more sharks.

 —Santa Ana Register, October 20, 1926

One of the most famous (and controversial) sharks taken in the Newport area was one caught approximately 100 yards out from the end of the Balboa Pier. Local commercial fisherman Ted Phegley in his 16-foot dory boat took the shark, an estimated 12-foot-long, 1,400-pound great white, on January 29, 1960. Although he was fishing for white seabass, he managed to net and capture the huge great white that, at the time, was considered one of the largest “whites” ever taken along the Pacific Coast. It was soon hauled into shore and hung up on block and tackle near the Crab Cooker Restaurant in Newport Beach. That weekend, crowds estimated at 20-50 thousand people swarmed to Newport Beach to see the “man-eater.”

I say controversial simply because of the size. It is based upon newspaper accounts that appeared at the time of the capture (and which are posted on the wall at the Crab Cooker). When I asked “Snookie,” our local Orange County expert to review the Pier Fishing In California section on Balboa Pier she sent me the following: “Ted Phegley’s shark was actually 11 feet, 2 inches long and weighed 775 pounds. He was assisted in the landing by the 40-foot commercial fishing boat Crusader who passed by, hove to and helped Phegley land the shark. They used a winch to get the shark to the top of the water and then looped a rope over its tail to make it immovable. It was taken to McCarthy’s Dock in Newport and hoisted and weighed still alive. It almost snapped a 4 x 6 dock rail in two with its teeth in a last effort to escape. This was the second great white for Phegley. The July before he hauled in a smaller one in approximately the same location.”

Now I know that some of you good readers think that newspapers are always accurate and filled with stimulating, factual information (which is, of course, never biased) but I have a lot of faith in “Snookie.” Whatever the size of the fish, (and there’s quite a measurable mathematical difference between 775 and 1,400 pounds) there is no disagreement that the fish was very, very big.

A Newport Great White at the Crab Cooker Restaurant

Today the fish is stuffed and hangs in the main dining room at the Crab Cooker Restaurant, just across the street from the Newport Pier. Sort of a stuffed fish watching humans stuff themselves on fish. If you visit the restaurant do make sure you view the fish and also look inside the mouth at the rows of teeth. Behind the main row of teeth are several other rows of teeth ready to slip down and replace teeth that the white has lost for whatever reason.

Great White Shark closes beach

Newport Beach (AP)—A 20-foot Great White shark approaching within 20 yards of one of California’s most popular beaches is a rare sight — proving enough of a scare to convince officials to close a five-mile stretch of beach.

The beach was reopened Friday morning about 18 hours after the estimated 20-foot Great White shark cruised within 20 yards of the shore and within three feet of a lifeguard’s boat.

The shark was eventually frightened by a helicopter sent to track it and swam out to sea, authorities said.

About 30 people were ordered  from the water near the Balboa Pier after the shark was seen roaming near the beach at 3:44 p.m. Thursday, said lifeguard Eric Bauer.

“We have verified it as a great white, about a 20-footer,” Bauer said. After confirming the sighting, water along the five-mile length of Newport Beach was evacuated, he said.

—San Bernardino County Sun, May 14, 1988

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