Goleta Pier, One of California’s Best Piers

The ingredients that make a great pier have, at times, been debated on my website pierfishing.com, and based on the criteria several “Top Pier” lists have been posted over the years. A pier that always seems to make the list is Goleta Pier. A reasonable question is why?

First and foremost is the fishing itself. There are almost always fish to be had whether it be surfperch in the winter, mackerel in the summer, or one of the other more than 50 species that regularly show up in anglers’ bags.

Next is the size, a lengthy 1,450 feet that provides ample room for a large number of anglers. Rare is the day when the pier seems crowded even though a variety of events do take place at the pier.

A variety of environments is also important and of course is one of the reasons for the fish that show up. Inshore there is the typical sandy shore mix of southern California species. Due to its length an angler is presented sufficient water depth to see pelagic species as well as some large sharks and rays. Lastly there is the large pipe that sits 90-120 off the west side of the pier. Over time that pipe and the rocks that support it have become the “pipeline reef” that present anglers a plethora of species fairly uncommon to most southern California piers.

Not to be forgotten are the amenities offered up by the Goleta Beach Park itself. Free parking, large grassy areas for picnics, and a restaurant that seems to serve consistently good food are all available. The fact that the weather is also generally good is another plus.

Many piers have some of these attractions but few can offer this mix. In addition, Goleta is the only pier in the state to have an “Angler Center,” a joint development of the United Pier and Shore Anglers of California and the Santa Barbara Parks District. Staffed pretty much year round, it has served as an outstanding resource both for teaching and communication with local anglers (More on this later).

As for the fishing itself, always remember the specific environment you’re fishing, the fish you are seeking, and the different baits and rigs for those species. First are the sandy, inshore areas. Here the angler is offered up barred surfperch, corbina, and walleye surfperch. Wintertime and early spring is best for the perch, summertime for the corbina and occasional croaker.

In the mid-pier area an angler is presented three options. Cast to the east side of the pier and you have a sandy area. The key fish here are California halibut, the smaller croakers, and a mix of sharks and ray—shovelnose sharks (guitarfish), smoothhounds, leopard sharks and bat rays. The prime halibut time is May to September, the same as the small croakers (a favorite food); sharks will hit year round but the warmer month, when the pelagics are around, is best.

Fish straight down by the mussel-encrusted pilings and the goal is buttermouth (black) perch, rubberlip perch and pileperch. Winter and spring will be the prime time for the big perch.

To the right (west side) of the pier, mid-pier to the end, sits the reef and its tackle grabbing rocks and kelp. Year round it’s a haven for brown rockfish but they’re joined by kelp rockfish, grass rockfish, cabezon and lingcod. Fall to spring are the best times for these fish.

Out at the end is the best spot for the pelagics—Pacific mackerel, Pacific sardines, and Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel). Some years also will see bonito and a few barracuda. At night the shark anglers come out and their favorite goals are the large leopards, shovelnose and bat rays. However, every year will see some threshers, a few soupfins, and occasionally a large 7-gill shark. Spring to fall is the time for the sharks.

Tackle and bait? Inshore most anglers will use light tackle for the perch and live sand crabs are the best bait. If the crabs are unavailable anglers will switch to fresh mussels or seaworms. Increasingly, many of the regulars use grubs and soft baits for the perch.

For the halibut, most anglers use live bait. When anchovies are present they are prime but more common are small smelt or shinerperch and generally a Carolina rigging is used. Again, many locals will use soft baits and this is the home pier for “Big Hammer” founder Pete Wolf. He recommends the 3-inch red flake and red diamond varieties for the halibut.

As for the reef, a variety of baits will work but strips of squid, cut anchovies, or mussels tied on a hook generally produce the most fish. Bring extra sinkers if you plan to fish the reef.

Most anglers seeking out the pelagics keep it simple and Sabiki-type bait rigs often are the first choice and they are fished without any bait. If the macs are a little more persnickety, simply tie a couple of small hooks, size 6-2 in a high/low set up and bait them with small strips of mackerel or squid. It’s generally just as effective!

Last are the sharks and rays. Carolina rigging seems to be the preferred choice of rigs with oily fish—anchovies, sardines or mackerel the favorite bait for the sharks, squid the favorite bait for the big bat rays.

Good facilities, free parking, nearby dining—and some type of fish available year round. What more do you need?

California Sportsman Magazine

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