It’s A Family Thing

In the research that was done for Pier Fishing In California, and in conversations with hundreds of professionals in the fishing industry since publication—writers, landing operators, tackle representatives and scientists—one story repeated itself time after time. That story was simply the revelation that they had begun their lifelong devotion to fishing on one of California’s many piers. Many, if not most, had eventually moved on to other forms of fishing but each still recalled quite fondly those early days at their local pier and the affect it had to their life. The numbers sometimes seem surprising but the story itself is not. They typically began to fish at local piers with their families and eventually became “pier rats” on one or more of their local piers. Eventually they were addicted to fishing and the lucky ones managed to figure out a way to make a living while enjoying their addiction.

The stories reflect the simple truth that there is no other saltwater fishing venue in the state that offers the ease and availability to families and children that is available via California’s network of public piers. The piers are a place where people can relax and spend hours together in an outdoor setting with minimal cost. The piers are close, do not require a lot of fancy gear, and offer room for the entire family. Indeed, the main cost today is often the parking at some of the piers in the Los Angeles and Bay Area regions. The low cost and easy accessibility undoubtedly are the main reasons why individuals and families are out on the piers week after week throughout the year. As long as the weather is good and fish are around people will be at the piers.

These facts were brought home in the California Recreational Fishery Survey conducted in 2004 (a survey that most in the industry feel is more accurate than previous surveys). One little reported statistic concerned the number of angler days attributed to the various forms of fishing. 302,468 days were reported by beach and bank anglers, 672,965 days by private boaters and those who rented boats, 725,319 days by those venturing out on party and charter boats, and a whopping 8,166,038 days spent by those fishing on piers and jetty’s (primarily the piers). In other words, ten times as many days were spent by anglers on piers as spent by people on party/charter boats. Some will respond that it only makes sense given the cost and restrictions placed on those who favor party/charter boats. That, of course, is the point! It doesn’t cost much to be out on the piers week after week, day after day (as are the true“pier rats”).

Most special to me is the attraction offered to kids. Although piers are home to many kid’s fishing derbies, derbies designed to teach the basics of fishing to local youth, on a day in, day out basis the same is happening on almost every pier. Whether it is dad, mom or a grandparent, the love of fishing is being developed on a daily basis. The synergistic relationship with family is, I believe, one of the main reasons why these times are so fondly remembered by the “professionals” I mentioned. And, as I teach my own grandchildren—Serena and Adam—the basics of angling, I recall the scenes I have witnessed at the piers over the years.

One scene took place on a warm summer night at the Ventura Pier. The wind had died and the sun was doing its best to look like a huge orange ball sinking slowly into the horizon of the sea. Soon after, darkness enveloped the sea but it was tempered by the lights on the pier while schools of fish could be seen slashing their way through the phosphorescent water. Although I managed to catch many of those same fish, the most memorable scenes I witnessed that night were of the families on the pier. Scenes of a young father patiently teaching his young son to fish while an elderly lady of Asian descent shared stories of her youth with her granddaughter (or perhaps great granddaughter). Different generations sharing time on the pier in the great outdoors instead of clashing over different values and cultures. Nights, and scenes like those, sometimes give me hope that we may still yet find answers to our society’s problems (opportunities).

A second scene reflects a story told to me one day at the small pier and float that serve as pier in Pittsburg. An old man slowly ambled down to where I was standing, looked out toward my line, and began to speak. “Keep your bait in that warm water right where you’re at, that’s just about where I caught the 37-pound striper that won the derby. Of course that was a long time ago, but there’s still some big ones around, I see them every so often.” The old-timer was small, coriaceous and wiry, and I could imagine him wrestling with that big striped bass. But his story wasn’t over! “Funny thing was that I won a brand new rod and reel for that fish and I lost it two weeks later. I took my young sons fishing over at Rio Vista and I let them borrow the rod and reel while I had a couple of beers. You know how young boys are, they were messing around and not casting too good, so I said, give it here, let me show you how to cast. I took it with both hands, cast it as far as I could, and watched the rod and reel sail out into the water. I’ll never forget that day, I guess maybe I had a few too many beers.” I guess the old codger was right!

The stories vary as do the instruction and lessons learned. I remember one evening at the small pier in Oceanside Harbor when two granddads brought their grandkids down to the pier for a little fishing. One grandpa was constantly yelling at the kids: they weren’t baiting the hook properly, casting properly, or watching their lines close enough. If they wandered off the pier there was hell to pay. Granddaddy grinch appeared to be suffering from the W.C. Fields disease of misopedia. The other “gramps” was patient, never cross, and as nurturing as you could hope. Guess which one got the better attention? Of course it was the nurturing one.

Another angler, a young mensch no more than sixteen himself, was showing a small lad of five or six years age how to fish. Slowly he showed how to tie a knot and where to place the hook. He explained what bait might work best and where they should put the line. He made the first cast but carefully showed how he had cast, and then made sure the young angler held the pole himself. He had brought a Coleman lantern so they had plenty of light, he had brought a small cooler with cold drinks, and he had brought sandwiches, cookies and chips for food. A small radio allowed both to listen to a ballgame. The munchkin took it all in and was, I bet, hooked on fishing for life.

One of my favorite piers to visit, even though it’s not one of my top fishing piers, is the Port Hueneme Pier. It almost always seems crowded with kids and their families and is the only pier that I have seen where a sizable number of the local anglers (adults and kids) ride their bikes out to the end of the pier to go fishing. Most piers today do not even allow bikes to trespass on their hallowed surfaces. In today’s society, with its dysfunctional families and over regulation, it is nice to see such a user-friendly environment.

But what are the best piers for kids? Which piers offer the combination of safety (railings) together with a variety of features that will keep most kids satisfied and hopefully provide the excitement to get them hooked on fishing? The following would get my nod if you’re seeking out such a pier.

San Diego County—Imperial Beach Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Old Ferry Landing Pier, Shelter Island Pier, Oceanside Pier and Oceanside Small Craft Harbor Pier.

Orange County—San Clemente Pier, Dana Point Harbor Fishing Pier, Balboa Pier, and Seal Beach Pier.

Los Angeles County—Belmont Pier, Shoreline Aquatic Park Piers (Long Beach), Cabrillo Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Burton Chace Park Fishing Dock, Venice Fishing Pier and Malibu Pier.

Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties-Port Hueneme Pier, Ventura Pier, Goleta Pier and Gaviota Pier.

San Luis Obispo County—Pismo Beach Pier, Avila Beach Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Cayucos Pier and San Simeon Pier.

The bottom line though, as seen in the stories above, concerns the way YOU approach the kids. To some degree the initial trips to the piers with the young is about them, not you. If you cannot be torn away from your fishing do not bring them along. To be a successful teacher requires full attention be given the student and that must be kept in mind at all times. Be patient, be helpful, and above all remember that if you treat them right you may be developing a life-long fishing partner. Not every son and daughter will develop a love of fishing (my daughter does, my son doesn’t) but when they do it’s a real bonus and adds fun to YOUR trips.

Fish Taco Chronicles

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