Ocean Beach Pier



One of the things that I find amusing is the attention paid by the various cities as to who has the longest pier. I’ve had a number of different writers call me for information when they were writing articles about their local piers and when I said no, their pier wasn’t the longest, they would ask, “are you sure?” Yes, I am sure, I know the lengths of the different piers even if the information popped the balloons of a few local tourist agencies. As for the Ocean Beach Pier, at 1,971 feet it is supposed to be the longest concrete pier in the world. That may be true if we’re talking California and if we are talking piers built strictly as fishing piers. As for overall length, it is only fifth among California’s piers currently open for angling. The pier does receive a lot of angling pressure (more than 500,000 visitor-days of use per year) but, because of the railing space, it rarely feels crowded.

However, the important question for fishermen is does the pier yield fish? When it opened in 1966 this pier promised to be one of the premier piers in the entire state. It provides nearly a mile of railing space, has full facilities, and it juts out into the Point Loma kelp beds. San Diego anglers, including yours truly, had visions not only of the regular smaller pier species but also of the bigger sport species— kelp bass, barracuda, bonito, yellowtail, white seabass and perhaps even a few giant black sea bass. However, most days see the more normal species—perch, croakers, mackerel, sharks and rays. There are days when the bigger species show up but they’re infrequent.

The length though does offer different environments in which to fish. The end is T-shaped and extends 360 feet to the south and 193 feet to the north. The end area sees water about 25 foot in depth and is blanketed by kelp much of the year. The most common species are kelp bass, sand bass, several varieties of perch, bonito, mackerel, scorpionfish, halibut and, quite often, California lobster. Occasionally a black sea bass (giant sea bass) will also pass through this area and a number have been landed but they are not common—and remember to release any that are hooked.

Midway out, on both sides of the bait shop, is the best area for the smaller white croaker, queenfish, jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, barracuda, mackerel and white seabass (usually the small, illegal, juvenile fish called sea trout). This area also seems to yield the majority of halibut (spring to summer), guitarfish and bat rays.

Inshore, the foot of the pier is built over a rocky cliff area and, although shallow, its location presents exposure to many of the rocky shore species. Here, if tidal conditions are right, high tide with small breakers, anglers can often catch rubberlip seaperch, blackperch, halfmoon, opaleye, bass and less common pier species such as senorita and blacksmith. Anglers fishing at night might also latch onto a moray eel. This shallow area is also a good area for lobster. Given these different areas, are there specific tips to increase success? Sure!

Bonito will be abundant some years and be absent other years. In the ‘60s they were almost too numerous and people would complain that they were crowding out the “better” fish. Then, when they did a disappearing act for many years, people lamented the loss of these great game fish. In the ‘90s, and into the new century, there have been good years and bad years. Strangely, several of the last few years have seen runs of micro-size bonito, small fish that were uncommon in the past. When the medium to large-sized bonito do show up, the best rigging seems to be a feather trailed behind a Cast-A-Bubble or golf ball. Micro-sized bonito are young ‘uns and perhaps not as sharp, they will hit bait rigs, often several at a time. But why, since you’re are limited to five small bonito, use a bait rig? One cast might yield your limit.

The barracuda like the end but will be found all the way down the pier to the bait shop area. They show up almost every year and are most common in the fall and at night. Nevertheless there can sometimes be great daytime action depending upon how the schools of bait are hanging around the pier. Bets results on the barracuda seem to be with a gold or silver-colored spoon like a Krocodile but other artificials are also used with MegaBaits and Rebel Fast Tracks leading the way. Swim baits will also work but be prepared to have them torn up by the toothy creatures.

Yellowtail are the trophy fish although most pier fisherman will never land one. But they do show up most years, generally between July-October, and their appearance can quickly galvanize the pier rats into a state of apoplexy. Several methods are time proven for the yellows: (1) Live bait such as a lively jack mackerel or Pacific mackerel (small) that you’ve caught with a bait rig. Use a sliding leader or a leader with a float. (2) A leadhead jig that has a strip of mackerel 1 1/2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide attached to the hook. (3) Artificial lures such as Crippled Anchovies, MegaBaits, Rebel Fast Tracks and Buzz Bombs.

Pacific mackerel are common from the end almost into the shallows. If you’re after Pacific mackerel, the most common rigging is a single size 4 or 2 hook baited with a strip of squid or a piece of mackerel. A few feet above the hook is a small splitshot sinker. Many people also use bait rig leaders (Sabiki and Lucky Lura being most common). The bait rig is also good if Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel) show up. As for myself, I usually just use a high/low rig with size 4 hooks and a torpedo sinker. Two macs at a time quickly fills the bait cooler and I don’t feel like spending the time untangling a bait rig or, even worse, having a $3-4 rig tangled into a mess destined for the trash. That $3-4 might buy one gallon of gas, enough to get to the next pier.

Most of the biggest sharks and rays are also caught at the end. Best bait is squid or a piece of bloody mackerel fished on the bottom; be sure to use fairly strong (30+) test line and tackle. Shovelnose guitarfish, bat rays, and some of the bigger sharks (like threshers) are common. As is true at almost every pier, the nighttime hours are the best if you’re seeking these denizens of the deep. A reputed hot spot for the shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) is the left branch at the very end of the pier (called “Spyglass Point” by some anglers and “Shark Alley” by others). In May of 2006 a nearly 8-foot-long, 112-pound 7-gill shark was caught in the area; in September of the same year a 7-foot, 100+pound thresher shark was landed.

The left end corner also seems to have been the most frequent spot for catching sheephead and many of the buck-toothed critters have been taken. Best bait for them seems to be either live ghost shrimp or pieces of market shrimp. In May of 2007 several giant squid were hooked from the pier but alas none of the anglers was using line strong enough to reign in the beasts.

When fishing midway out on the pier, your best bet for the larger species is once again live bait. Halibut will often lay in the depressions between the pilings while eyeing the schools of small queenfish and walleye surfperch up above. A 38-pound flattie was landed in August of 1998, a 44-inch fish in November of 2006. Catch the queenfish (herring) and walleyes with multi-hook bait rig leaders (size 6 or 8), or make your own snag line (tie 3-4 small hooks directly to your line, about four inches apart). Fish the snag line unbaited, or sweeten it with a small strip of anchovy (or a very small live pinhead anchovy or smelt). A lot of shovelnose guitarfish and bat rays will also be hanging out in these waters feeding on the queenfish (and a 57-pound shovelnose was reported in July of ’99). Don’t be afraid to try artificial lures if the pier isn’t too crowded (I saw a picture of a 30-inch halibut taken on light tackle by an angler using a pearl-colored Fish Trap lure).

Some years will also see fairly good runs of sargo in this area; try a high/low rigging baited with pieces of shrimp, ghost shrimp, bloodworms or fresh mussels. Quite often you will find both sides of the pier loaded with anglers in this area, especially both sides of the bait shop and restaurant. Many are whole families fishing for small herring (queenfish) and they will fill buckets with the small but tasty fish. There is not a limit on the fish and it’s a good thing for them because at times they will have hundreds of fish.

A short way out on the pier, just past the breaker area, and where the pier surface ends its descent and begins to level off, is a large, green colored wire cage. This area, primarily on the north side, seems to yield a lot of leopard sharks, some of which have been pretty decent in size (including a 57-inch, 36-pound leopard in September 1997). Fish on the bottom using squid, mackerel or similar strong flavored (and smelling) bait. Don’t be surprised if you also see a few shovelnose guitarfish, thornback rays, round stingrays and (mostly small) bat rays in this area.

Inshore, try using either fresh mussels or seaworms making sure to keep your hook small, usually size 6 or 8. If the tide is right, you may be able to hook some rubberlip seaperch, blackperch, halfmoon, opaleye, senorita or blacksmith in this shallow area near the rocks on the south side. For some nice-size opaleye, try using frozen peas that have been allowed to thaw; place just enough peas on the hook to cover the hook. Fishing on the north side of the pier may yield a few barred surfperch but generally action is slower than at piers built over strictly sandy bottoms. However, action on yellowfin croaker can be good from the inshore waters out to the mid-pier area. Those in the know use fresh mussels or ghost shrimp.

Because it is a long way out to the end of the pier, most regulars use pier carts to hold their rods and reels, tackle box, bait bucket (be sure to bring one here) and any other miscellaneous materials they need.

A couple of final notes. I had an interesting discussion one day with one of California’s foremost outdoor writers. He felt Ocean Beach was the best pier in the state for big fish. His contention is that most of the fishermen simply don’t know how to catch them—and he may be right. A special mention should also be given the bait shop and restaurant on the pier. The bait shop is well stocked with most of the bait and tackle you’ll need, so give them a try. The restaurant is noted for good food, including unusual dishes like mango pancakes, lobster omelets and lobster tacos. They’re open most of the morning into night.

Ocean Beach Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Restrooms out toward the end, bait and tackle shop, fish cleaning stations, benches and lights. There is free 24-hour parking in a small parking lot near the foot of the pier. The Ocean Beach Pier Café sits next to the bait shop.

How To Get There: From the north take I-5 to the Sea World Dr. exit and follow it until it turns off to Sunset Cliffs Blvd. From the south take I- 5 to the Nimitz Blvd. exit, then follow that road to Sunset Cliffs Blvd. Follow Sunset Cliffs Blvd. to Newport Ave., turn right and follow the road to the pier parking lot.

Fish Taco Chronicles

One Response to Ocean Beach Pier

  1. james parker says:

    Great stuff here. I am new to SD and have been reading info on fishing piers for the last 2 weeks. This is by far the best info I have found…. Great JOB My Friend, see you on the PIER!


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