The Good Old Days On The Piers — # 1

 McFadden Wharf — 1895 (site of today’s Newport Pier)

Ken Jones — Fish Taco Chronicles —Spring 2015

Maybe one day there really will be a time travel machine. It may be a “pie in the sky” hope but it’s an increasingly common thought I’ve had while researching the history of California’s piers.

The piers have changed, as has the tackle, but most interesting, or perhaps depressing, is the change to the number and size of fish. The tales of large sportfish being caught on piers (or early wharves) are sometimes amazing.

The records for the late 1800s into about 1910 show incredible amounts of fish and heavy harvesting by commercial nets. By 1910, stories began lamenting the overfishing by the commercial industry; by the 1920s, the records more resemble today’s catches with the exception that large number of yellowtail still were caught from piers, as well as large halibut, and huge giant (black) sea bass.

Today a yellowtail from a pier is a noteworthy achievement, the vast majority of halibut from piers are undersized fish, and while the giant sea bass are once again becoming common to SoCal piers, most are youngsters under 50 pound in weight.

As said, some of the stories are amazing. They give glimpse to a different world and reason why a time machine would be a handy little device to have the next time an urge to go fishing comes along. Some of the most interesting reports follow.

Giant (Black) Sea Bass at Coronado — 1905

Giant (Black) Sea Bass—the stories of giant (black) sea bass caught from wharves in the early 20th century are amazing. Many people fished exclusively for the bass using heavy equipment and many caught huge fish. Today the fish are illegal and though an increasing number are caught from piers, none of the recent fish have been recorded at these large sizes.

• Long Beach—John Leach, an employee of the Pine Avenue Fish Market, broke a Southern California record yesterday at the end of the Pine Avenue Pier by landing a jewfish weighing 365 pounds. —Santa Ana Register, June 12, 1914

• The biggest fish story of the weekend comes from Hueneme Wharf where the five week’s old patience of a Hollywood angler was rewarded with the capture of a 400-pound jewfish yesterday. A crowd of over 100 assembled on the Hueneme Wharf to watch the landing of the monster fish, which took an hour and half of struggle. The successful fisherman was Arthur Kovalovsky of 7300 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, who has camped at the Hueneme Beach Resort for the past 5 weekends, spending most of the time trying to tempt the big fish to accept his offering of three pound mackerel used as bait… Until yesterday he was unsuccessful in landing any of the large fellows though some were nearly caught at times. —Oxnard Press-Courier, July 25, 1927

• Carl Sandino, one of the operators of a live bait stand on Balboa pier, hooked and landed the biggest fish of any kind ever caught off that pier yesterday. Sandino’s catch was a giant black sea bass, which tipped the scales at 452 pounds. The head weighed 70 pounds. —Santa Ana Register, May 13, 1930

• R. A. Hendricks brought in the biggest fish of the year late yesterday afternoon, when he landed a 453-pound black sea bass at Stearns Wharf after a hard fight that lasted nearly two hours. He was fishing on the side of the wharf opposite the pile driver when the big fish struck. He played the fish from the wharf until he had broken one of the handles on his reel and was nearly exhausted. He said this morning that the fish made forty to fifty runs out to the end of his 150 yards of line. Each time the fish apparently tired and allowed himself to be towed back to the wharf by the fisherman. Finally Mr. Hendricks jumped into a rowboat that was alongside the wharf. The fish was tied to the boat and the fight continued. Several times the big fish was worked in alongside of the boat, but would suddenly break away for another run. A small .22-caliber rifle was brought into play as the fish came alongside of the boat for the final time and five shots stopped the fight… Many Santa Barbara fishermen saw the huge fish this morning. It measured seven feet three inches from tip to tip and two feet across the tail.                —Santa Barbara Daily News, October 23, 1925

YellowtailAs would be expected, the deep-water piers at Newport and Redondo, and the long, long, Long Wharf near Santa Monica, led the hit parade for numbers of yellowtail caught by pier anglers. However, from the late 1800s into the “Roaring Twenties” they were seen at almost every pier. Of course these fish were joined by other pelagic species including mackerel, bonito, jacksmelt and, apparently, skipjack.

• Huge Yellowtail Taken From Wharf At Avalon. Terrific Struggle Is Witnessed By Highly-Excited Crowd, Ends Finally in Capture of Forty-Pound Fish — Avalon, Cal., May 21.—W. M. Le Favor of Avalon, while fishing off the wharf yesterday morning, caught a forty-pound yellowtail, which gave him a great fight. As soon as he hooked the monster it began a series of circles, going in and out among the piles, while the many onlookers watched the magnificent struggle for supremacy. Finally the yellowtail cleared the piles and Mr. Le Favor with the assistance of three other men, succeeded in landing him. The day before Le Favor succeeded in landing a thirty-two  and a half pound yellowtail off the same wharf. Fully 150 people saw the fish weighed. Yellowtail are being caught off the wharf daily. — Los Angeles Herald, May 22, 1908

• The smoothest seas of the year are now prevailing at Redondo. People are enjoying the bathing, boating and fishing. Rock cod, halibut and yellowtails are being caught from the pier. Early in the morning long strings of mackerel are pulled out. The balance of the day nothing but larger fish are caught. —Los Angeles Herald, September 4, 1890

• The usual Sunday crowd, numbering up among the thousands, invaded the beach today, enjoying the surf, listening to the Douglas military band in the hotel park or taking out a fine basket of mackerel and yellowtail from the Redondo wharf. —Los Angeles Herald, June 26, 1893

• Mr. J. M. Sare states that yesterday’s fishing at Newport wharf excelled anything he ever saw. The big yellowtail kept the water in a boil, chasing mackerel and other fish up to the very edge of the sands. His wife caught three fifteen-pounders in a few minutes. Fish were stacked on the beach like cordwood. —Los Angeles Herald, September 19, 1896

• No better fishing was ever had at Redondo than now. Numerous anglers on the wharves are catching hundreds of yellowtail, barracuda, halibut, flounder and mackerel. —Los Angeles Herald, October 14, 1898

• Newport— This week the fishing has improved considerably and the farther end of the wharf is busy with anglers. Thursday was one of the good days of the week, a large number of big yellowtail being caught, besides mackerel and halibut. Henry Moye of Santa Ana pulled out four superb yellowtails averaging about 17 pounds each. —Santa Ana Register, September 14, 1907

• Newport—Fishermen are catching yellowtails weighing as high as thirty-two pounds off the wharf. —Los Angeles Herald, May 22, 1908

• Huntington Beach—Many yellowtails have been caught here this week. Earl Nelson secured one at the wharf yesterday weighing thirty pounds. —Santa Ana Register, October 3, 1908

Redondo continued good all the week for cornfed mackerel and jacksmelt, and on two days yellowtail made their appearance and gave great sport. An unusual shore run of sardines brought schools of bonito and skipjacks inside and kept things lively on all three wharves for a day or two. —Los Angeles Herald, October 18, 1908

• Monday and Wednesday were banner days for sportsmen the past week. More than sixty yellowtail were caught from the S. P. wharf at Newport. Geo. Smith caught seven skipjacks and a bonito Wednesday. —Santa Ana Register, October 19, 1908

• Redondo—Spanish and greenback mackerel and yellowtail are running in great numbers here now. All three wharves are occupied by many fishermen. —Santa Ana Register, October 12, 1909

• Newport—Yellowtail have been very numerous around the wharf and five or six is the average number caught daily. A great many more are hooked but manage to escape either by breaking a hook or line. Some of the yellowtail are very large and require an expert to bring them to gaff. —Santa Ana Register, November 1, 1909

• Redondo—Excitement over the heavy run of mackerel has now reached the point where scores of fishermen line the wharves as early as 3 o’clock in the morning to make certain of a place from which to fish at daylight when the mackerel come to feed. At daylight yesterday morning there were no fewer than 300 fishermen on the various wharves waiting for the run… On wharf No. 3, seventeen yellowtails were landed yesterday, the largest one weighing 33 ½ pounds. —Santa Ana Register, August 25, 1910

• Redondo—Yesterday was the first day of the season that the yellowtail and barracuda began running in schools and much excitement and interest prevails along the three wharves where men, women and children are bringing in the big ones, ranging in weight from five to fifteen pounds. —Santa Ana Register, August 5, 1919

Halibut—Halibut were a common catch at all piers but the numbers were higher and the larger fish were bigger.

• Long Wharf—On August 17, 1917, a sensation was created when the biggest halibut to be caught in several years was taken. It weighed 62 ¾ pounds, measured 4 feet 2 inches across the back and 5 feet 8 inches from its snout to the end of its tail, and was 40 minutes in the catching. (It’s unclear if this halibut was actually caught from the pier.) —Ernest Marquez, Port Los Angeles, A Phenomenon of the Railroad Era, 1975

• The largest halibut ever caught with a light line and tackle from a pier on the Pacific coast was hauled in at Balboa late yesterday by Harry Campbell, Balboa fisherman and a member of the Balboa Angling Club. The fish weighed 45 ¾ pounds. Large halibut are being brought in regularly along the beach at Balboa and Newport Beach, but the one captured by Campbell is the largest ever caught in the vicinity. —Santa Ana Register, May 21, 1927

• A 44-pound halibut measuring nearly five feet from tip to tip was the catch of R. O. Stull of North Giassell this morning. Stull caught the big fish off the Newport pier at 7:30 o’clock with a three-pound grab hook… The fish put up a game fight and was landed with difficulty, the line breaking just as a net was lowered under him. —Santa Ana Register, July 29, 1931

• The largest halibut ever to be taken from the Huntington Beach pier is the 54-pound fish pictured above.  W. S. Keith of 1024 North Olive Street, Santa Ana (left), and H. C. Carmichael of Huntington Beach (right) made the catch. —Santa Ana Register, May 5, 1939

White Sea BassWhite sea bass and young sea bass called sea trout were common at many of the piers but especially at the Ocean Park Pier.

• It is reported that the big white sea bass are coming into to surf to feed again and several were hooked off the Newport pier last night, with one weighing 48 pounds being landed. —Santa Ana Register, June 2, 1934

• Can fish see at night is definitely answered by anglers frequenting the pier at Ocean Park each night to fish for sea trout under the brilliant spotlights. Ed Marshall, in charge of the tackle store and end of pier fishing, reports increasing numbers of sportsmen taking up this fascinating method of deep-sea fishing. Good catches of sea trout are reported, which should reach maximum in a week or so, reports Marshall. —Van Nuys News, May 3, 1934

• Biggest Run of Sea Trout, Bass at Pier in Years—One hundred fifty white sea bass in a single evening’s fishing from the Ocean Park Pier during the past week is positive proof of the biggest run of sea trout in years, reports Commodore Bob Oefinger. Not only are great numbers of sea trout being taken at night under the spotlights, but halibut of unusual size and in quantity are also being landed on every unit of the fleet out from this popular fishing port. A few examples of individual catches are given here: Ten sea trout by Geo. Carlson, Pasadena, end of Ocean Park Pier; Fifteen halibut by L. Weiner, Los Angeles, end of Ocean Park Pier; Thirty sea trout by Bob McKay, Venice, end of Ocean Park Pier. —Van Nuys News, June 14, 1934

• One source said pier fishing was the finest in the last 10 years. Several hundred barracuda and white sea bass were taken from the Newport wharf alone yesterday. —Santa Ana Register, May 25, 1939

Sharks and “Biggest Fish From a California Pier”—Back in the day when the giant sea bass were a commonly caught species, the equipment was heavy and the bait was big. However, you never knew what you were going to catch and this shark might have been the largest fish taken from a California pier.

• 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 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… 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. —Santa Ana Register, October 30, 1923

A second version contained additional information.

•  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

• Two immense sharks were caught by Cash Ramsey yesterday from the [Huntington Beach] 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… 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, 1905


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