Cabrillo Mole/Pier

Of the more than 120 piers that I regularly visit in California only a handful can be called truly unique. This pier is one of them. It sits on beautiful Catalina Island, is located over the jetty that protects one corner of Avalon Harbor, and sits amidst a kelp jungle with fronds of giant kelp enveloping the waters of the pier. In fact, it is that kelp which presents the greatest difficulty when an angler hooks into a large fighting fish.

And, it does produce large fish. It regularly produces hard fighting bonito, keeper-size barracuda, and large kelp bass, opaleye and sheephead. Occasionally an angler will see—or hook— a white seabass or yellowtail. Although illegal and rarely hooked, it’s fairly common to see huge giant (black) sea bass approaching 5-6 feet in length, fish that can weigh several hundred pounds. And though few anglers fish for them, it is an area thick with large, 100+pound bat rays.

The variety and allure of uncommon species is one of the attractions that brings me back to this pier even though it requires a special trip over from the mainland. Twenty-one trips to the pier and 601 fish, that’s my total at the pier. As important to me is the variety, nearly three-dozen different species including sheephead, ocean whitefish, halfmoon (Catalina blue perch), opaleye, rock wrasse, several varieties of kelpfish, several different rockfish, and the beautiful, illegal, but difficult to keep off the hook garibaldi. Of course that doesn’t count the spiny lobster, large spider crabs and octopus to be had from the pier.

Nine of my 21 trips to the pier have seen at least ten different species; one trip produced 13 species—kelp bass, opaleye, senorita, California scorpionfish, garibaldi, rock wrasse, sheephead, jacksmelt, halfmoon, kelp rockfish, treefish, giant kelpfish, and a spotted kelpfish. If you love variety this is the pier for you.

Coupled with the variety of fish, and chance for large fish, are the sounds and scenes of Catalina itself. The mole serves as the main loading and unloading point for visitors to Catalina. As you walk off the ferry the first sight you see are the railings of the mole and usually a few anglers attached to the railing. In front of the mole you’ll often spot the Yellow Submarine and the Glass Bottom Boat; both allow visitors to peer down into Avalon’s crystal clear waters. In the harbor you’ll see all manner of yachts visiting Avalon. Look across the point and you’ll see the Casino, a former ballroom recently renovated and home today to a history museum and a theater. Look along the shoreline and you’ll see “The Tuna Club,” the most famous fishing club in California if not the world.

However if you are like me you will be there to fish and luckily only a couple of techniques need to be understood to be successful. For the kelp species two basic riggings are recommended. The first is a light outfit equipped with 8-pound test line (I use fluorocarbon line for its nearly invisible appearance) with two size 6 (or 4) hooks and a one-ounce torpedo sinker. This rigging will yield a lot of hits, although primarily from the smaller species, and is capable of landing most of the fish—if you’re able to keep them out of the kelp. Switch to a slightly heavier line and you may get fewer bites but you’ll increase your chances of landing the fish. Do keep your hook size 2 or below, because several of these fish have small mouths.

As for technique, I keep the rod in my hand at all times so that I can strike quickly if there is a bite and keep the fish headed in toward me. I sight see some fish and will try to drift the bait into their area, at other times I try to drop the bait next to various fronds since many times fish are hanging just under the fronds and will dart out to the get the bait. Opaleye mainly inhabit the top fifteen or so feet of water as do the halfmoon, blacksmith and kelpfish. Dropping to the bottom yields sheephead, shallow-water rockfish, perch and an occasional ocean whitefish or moray eel. Calico bass (kelp bass) are found from the top to the bottom.

Best baits are pile worms, bloodworms, ghost shrimp, market shrimp or squid. Although the worms will often yield non-stop strikes on the small hooks, realize that senorita will often strip the hooks in a matter of seconds. As for the ghost shrimp, break them into a couple of pieces if using small hooks; switch to a size 2 Kahle hook if you want to use them whole. Ghost shrimp are great bait for the sheephead and opaleye but you’ll have to bring live bait from the mainland. Squid will stay on the hook and will yield bass, rockfish and sheephead. If you want to fish the deeper waters past the kelp for the bottom species use a heavier braid line since the braid will sometimes cut through the kelp.

Bonito are the main goal on the top with artificial lures the favored method for seeking them out. A splasher rig that uses a weighted float such as a cast-a-bubble, golf ball or launcher float is combined with a leader 4-8 feet long. Typically the leader is fluorocarbon with a variety of lures following the float. Feathers have long been the preferred lure but plastics like Big Hammers and Fish Traps are becoming popular. Hard body lures like Krocodiles, MegaBaits, Tadys and even BuzzBombs have also proven to work. Although bonito are the main goal, barracuda will occasionally show up and if you’re really lucky a yellowtail. Of course that kelp is still sitting there between you and the fish.

Quality and quantity in fish, unmatched ambiance, and the chance to catch fish uncommon to mainland piers are an attraction that brings me back each year. One trip and I think you too will be hooked.

California Sportsman Magazine

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