Malibu Pier

More than just a few people welcomed the recent news that the legal problems surrounding the Malibu Pier have been solved, and that the pier may finally present a full operation to its visitors. The pier, a notable landmark along the Malibu shoreline, needs a restaurant and a bait shop and it appears that is about to happen. In fact, a Ruby’s Restaurant will join its sister restaurants that sit on the Oceanside, Balboa, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach piers. To some it will be hard to replace the Alice’s Restaurant that used to sit at the front of the pier but when the food is good (as it generally is at Ruby’s) they’ll forgive the change. Of course the pier may become a tad bit more crowded but such is the life of a pier.

For years following the 1993 El Niño storm, and a similarly damaging 1995 storm, the pier sat damaged and boarded up to anglers. The pier that had allowed public angling since 1934—both pier and charter boat fishing was available—was considered unsafe and no one was quite sure when or even if the pier would reopen.

Hopes were high then in 1997 when ownership of the pier was transferred to the City of Malibu, a transfer with the understanding that Malibu would restore and operate the pier. However, Malibu proved unable to fund the restoration and the pier reverted back to the state.

Finally, in 1999 a $6.2 million restoration was begun by the state that, by 2003, had proceeded far enough to allow anglers to use the main section of the pier (out to where it widens). Then last year the end section was finally opened and the anglers could fish the entire pier including its deepest waters.

Even though the Cape Cod buildings out at the end still sat empty, anglers flocked to the pier and it’s fairly easy to understand why. The fishing is generally fair to good, it’s free compared to the expensive (and very small) Paradise Cove Pier to the north, and it seems more family friendly than the Santa Monica Pier to the south. It also seems to have a more mellow and relaxed feeling than many of the larger piers. Whatever the personal reasons, the pier has now become once again the pier of choice in the area.

The pier sits in a small bay or cove, fronts on a fine beach, and is adjacent to the Malibu Lagoon State Beach and the famous Surfriders’ Beach—home of the Gidget movies. Inshore, the sandy beach yields a typical mixture of surfperch and croaker and, according to my records, seems to produce an above average catch of corbina. Mid-pier anglers are lined up fishing live bait for halibut. Out toward the end, people cast out for a variety of fish but are especially are looking for the pelagics: Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, bonito, white seabass and barracuda. Here too may be the best area for sharks and rays although the leopards seem to prefer the shallower, inshore waters.

Given the variety, how does one approach fishing the pier? It depends on the time of the year and the fish you’re seeking out (which is true at most piers).

During the summer and fall months try the surf area for corbina using live sand crabs (available at Wylies just down the road). If the sand crabs are truant try bloodworms, fresh mussels, clams, or ghost shrimp. Use 8-10 pound fluorocarbon and hooks matching the size of the bait. Winter and spring months will produce barred surfperch in this area using the same baits as for the corbina although more and more anglers seem to prefer grubbin’ for the barreds.

The inshore to mid-pier area is also best for yellowfin and spotfin croaker. I’ve never felt it was a great spotfin pier but some big spotties do show up. Baits to use include fresh mussels, bloodworms, ghost shrimp and lugworms. You will undoubtedly also manage your fair share of jacksmelt, thornbacks (aka throw-‘em-backs), and leopard sharks (from just sprung pups to ones approaching five feet in length).

In the mid-pier area, especially from April-May through September, try on the bottom for halibut using live bait and a fish finder rig (and halibut exceeding 40 pounds have been taken). Almost any live bait will work and you’ll see the regular’s running back and forth from bait poles to their halibut rigs making sure they keep fresh bait on the line. Depending on the season you may see anchovies, smelt, small perch, small brown bait (queenfish and white croaker), sardines or even mini-macs as bait, and all will attract the predatory halibut. Of course many other species beside halibut also like live bait and a wide variety of game fish could show up including white seabass, barracuda and even striped bass (several have been taken in the past few years). Unfortunately a few small and illegal giant sea bass have also been landed; if you hook one be sure to let it go.

If satisfied with the smaller game use a high/low leader, size 4 hooks, and cut anchovies, strip mackerel, or squid for tom cod (white croaker), thornback rays, round stingrays and some shovelnose sharks (guitarfish). Use bait rigs for queenfish, walleye surfperch. and occasionally pompano (Pacific butterfish) or salema. If you try around the pilings with fresh mussels or seaworms you may latch onto a large pileperch, buttermouth (blackperch) or a sargo.

At the end of the pier most are seeking out the pelagics. For the mackerel, most anglers simply use a hook on the end of the line with a light twist-on sinker a short way up the line. If the current is too strong, or the pier is crowded, use a high/low with sufficient size sinker to keep your line away from your neighbor’s line. Strips of squid or pieces of mackerel are the top baits. Bait rigs are also popular, rigs like Sabiki and Lucky Lura, but they’re costly to replace after hooking up to a half dozen mackerel at a time and seeing them twist the rig beyond recognition.

If the barracuda are around, and generally that happens in the evening, use flashy spoons such as Kastmasters and Krocodiles—gold or silver. Bonito will fall for a feather trailed behind a Cast-a-Bubble or a golf ball while some anglers simply use a variety of spoons for the boneheads. While yellowtail may make an occasional appearance it’s usually brief and in the fall.

Bass can also show up, both kelp and sand bass, and again live bait will work along with baits such as cut anchovies, mackerel, ghost shrimp and worms. If the bass are around you also might want to try a green-colored Blam with a squid tentacle attached to the hook. Another winner is a simple leadhead jig baited up with a squid head. A local champion is a Channel Island Anchovy by Worm King. In murky water use the lighter colors; in clear water use the darker colors.

For the sharks and rays use a little heavier gear and 20-pound or so test line (some prefer 30-pound) to reel in the big shovelnose guitarfish, leopard sharks and bat rays although, as mentioned, more leopards are hooked inshore. Typical baits are a big bloody piece of mackerel or a piece of squid but the shovelnose also love a lively little tom cod (white croaker) or herring (queenfish). Remember to bring a net with you if seeking out the bigger fish.

A number of other species may also find your bait of interest out at the end including sculpins (scorpionfish), sanddabs, lizardfish, white perch, angel sharks and even, at times, the larger thresher sharks. The key is simply to be prepared and vary your riggings and baits depending upon the fish you are seeking.

It’s great to see the pier open once again and it shouldn’t be too long until full operations are in place, hopefully including a sportfishing landing. Given the long history of angling in the Malibu area, and the loss to anglers when the neighboring Paradise Cove Pier was damaged (ending sportfishing operations at that beautiful pier), local anglers should rejoice that Malibu is once again open. They should rejoice as well

Fish Taco Chronicles

4 Responses to Malibu Pier

  1. tony hernandrz says:

    Hello I was wondering if the pier is open to fishing

    • kenjones says:

      Sorry for the late reply but yes the Malibu Pier remains open. Unfortunately the fishing is slow at this time with most of the catch being small walleye surfperch and jacksmelt.

  2. bobbyp says:

    is crabbing allowed on the pier. thanks.

    • kenjones says:

      Crabbing is allowed on the pier although I’ve never heard of anyone doing it or hearing of crabs being caught. I am sure some crabs might be available but it’s not the best bottom environment for crabs. The Santa Monica Pier is generally considered a much better pier for crabbing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>