Seal Beach Pier — A Family Pier

A question that is frequently asked is what piers are good for kids? One of the nicest in the Los Angeles-Orange County area is the pier at Seal Beach. It’s large, offers up ample parking—together with a Ruby’s Restaurant out at the end—and, most important, almost always is able to provide some fish, an important attribute both for the young and old anglers alike.

The pier’s environment is affected by a variety of factors, many of the man-made variety. Just east of the pier is the entrance to the Anaheim Bay-Huntington Harbor-Bolsa Chica Bay complex. These bay and estuary areas act as breeding grounds for young fish which eventually move out into the waters of Seal Beach and adjacent areas. Just west is the outlet for the San Gabriel River (with water warmed by the discharge from several power plants), the inlet to Alamitos Bay, and the beginning of San Pedro Bay, a huge, heavily industrial body of water.

An immediate impact is seen in the concrete seawall (or groin) which parallels the pier from the shoreline to about halfway out on the west side of the pier. Because the San Pedro-Long Beach breakwaters changed the local ocean currents, the seawall is necessary to prevent sand from being carried away and the only way to prevent the pilings being undermined. The seawall does make it harder to fish the north side but also provides heavy mussel growth to attract fish and provides very calm water on the south side of the pier.

Additional artificial conditions result from a quarry-rock reef that was constructed just out from the pier in the mid 1960s. It still seems to bring in species such as cabezon that are infrequently caught at most sandy-shore piers.

Although the pier is long, fishing is very similar on most parts of the pier. Inshore, anglers can expect croakers, surfperch, rays and sharks. Further out on the pier, anglers can expect all of these species with the addition of some smaller perch (especially walleye surfperch), jacksmelt, white croaker, queenfish, halibut, a few bass, diamond turbot, and an occasional flurry from pelagic species such as mackerel, barracuda (generally at night) or bonito.

The end area will see most of the larger sharks and rays, most commonly bat rays or shovelnose sharks (guitarfish). Occasionally larger sharks such as threshers will show up and when they do they will generate considerable interest. Of interest too was a small 3-foot-long hammerhead shark landed one day by a startled angler.

The end area also seems to be the spot where most of the pier’s cabezon have been caught (and quite a few of the “king” of the sculpins have been reported during the past few years). Since cabezon are more commonly taken from southland rocks and jetties, their appearance is somewhat surprising; most likely it is due to the nearby artificial reef.

You may occasionally see long, slender fish cruising near the surface of the water. First impressions are that they are barracuda but usually they turn out to be needlefish that have ventured out from the waters of Alamitos Bay and Anaheim Bay. You can try for these with a bobber and a live fish like smelt, but they are hard to hook. Unusual fish recently have included a 20-pound striped bass in April of 1998. Another fish you may spot, although they are very hard to hook, are striped mullet. I received several reports of schools of mullet around the inner sections of the pier in the fall of ’99. Apparently some of the schools contained hundreds of the 2-3-foot-long fish. Break out the doughballs, light line and tiny hooks if you want to try to catch them (although they’re more commonly snagged).

Some fishing tips. There are two distinct fisheries at the pier. From the mid-pier area to the end, use two poles. For the smaller fish, especially queenfish, use light tackle and a multi-hook, bait-rig leader with size 6-8 hooks. Drop the leader to the bottom and simply lift up and down; this works better than a jerky motion. If you are not getting any fish, try your leader at different depths. If schools of queenfish are present, they shouldn’t be too hard to catch. I say present because the queenfish typically move into these waters by the first of June and stay resident throughout the rest of the summer and fall. During the winter they head out to deeper water. If the queenfish are absent, size 8-12 multi-hook riggings will take a variety of other small fish—topsmelt, jacksmelt and salema. Sometimes these species like the hooks sweetened with a small piece of shrimp.

Use your heavier pole for halibut and use live anchovies or small queenfish rigged on a halibut leader as your bait. Although halibut may be caught almost anywhere from the pier, I like to try the depressions between the pilings; these areas often harbor good numbers of the flatties. Cut anchovy on the bottom will yield some white croakers, sand bass, sharks and rays.

As mentioned, the end area is usually the prime area for those seeking the bigger sharks and rays. If specifically seeking out the large threshers and bat rays, come prepared with a heavier rod and reel, 40-60 pound test line and a 6/0 to 7/0 hook. Try a trolley rig with a live mackerel or sardine for the threshers, use cut squid or a bloody piece of mackerel on the bottom for the rays. Many a large thresher is hooked from the pier but few are landed. Many mid-sized bat rays are landed but most of the bigger beasts are lost. And, the bat rays do reach gargantuan size. In March of ’01 there was an influx of the big mud marlins that coincided with the invasion of local beaches by grunion. A 140- and then 160-pound fish were caught and weighed. Then the really BIG fish was landed, an estimated 200+ pound bat ray that dwarfed the earlier fish and required five guys to lift up to the pier for pictures. Soon after, the happy angler announced that he wanted to release the prize and the party of five had to once again lift up the heavy beast before lowering it down to the water. Just hope it survived the ordeal (but I doubt it). Another big bat ray, estimated to weigh 170 pounds was landed in May of ’2001.

Just to demonstrate the power of the grunion gods, halibut also began to hit fast and furious during the grunions’ visit to the inshore waters around the pier. Many, many flatties were caught including several keepers every day. Although most of the hallies were caught on fresh or frozen bait (including grunion), Pier Fishing in California reporter Dillon decided to cast out a lure—a Wham Lure (that looks like an anchovy) from the side of the pier. His result—a keeper, 26-inch fish.

The mid-pier area to inshore yields a mix of different fish—halibut, croakers, jacksmelt, rays and sharks (mainly gray smoothhounds and leopards). A fairly frequent catch is diamond turbot. Although caught in fair numbers most months of the year, some years will see a good late-winter, early-spring run of the tasty little flatfish. Bait of choice by most locals is ghost shrimp.

Inshore, fish on the bottom for spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, China croaker (black croaker) and corbina. Best baits are fresh mussels, bloodworms, lugworms, ghost shrimp or sand crabs. Leaders can be either a high/low leader or a sliding bait leader. Early evening are the best hours for all of these large croakers. The same baits, in the same area, will also yield some surfperch, especially in the late winter, early spring months. On the eastern side of the pier, just inside the lifeguard station, you can try using soft plastics for the barred surfperch (and don’t be afraid to try in the shallowest water). It’s obviously harder to fish the plastics from the pier that if you were standing in the surf but anglers still report success on the tasty perch. Many colored lures will work but root beer colored grubs and motor oil with red flake grubs consistently seem to be rated near the top. Squid or anchovy fished on the bottom in the shallower areas will often produce thornback rays or shovelnose guitarfish, especially during night hours.

For something a little different try fishing the inshore section on the west side of the pier (between the pier and the seawall) with fresh mussels, bloodworms or lugworms.. You only have a few feet of space to fish so you’re generally fishing straight down but it’s an area covered with mussels and often yields a variety of seaperch (especially blackperch, walleye surfperch and silver surfperch), perch-like fish (blacksmith, opaleye and an occasional halfmoon), and fish such as sargo. I almost always (depending on the tide) try this section before heading out to the end of the pier. If the tide was wrong on the way out, it’s usually different and worth a try on the way in. The only negative aspect is that the water in this section can sometimes be filled with flotsam and jetsom that has piled up against the seawall. On such occasions it’s almost impossible to fish.

Surprisingly, the late winter months can offer up some good croaker fishing in this inshore section for both yellowfins and spotfins. Of interest is the reported effects from storms. Regulars say that often when there is a strong surge in the surf area from storms the yellowfin action will be steady, while few spotfins will be caught. When the water lies down, the spotfin will begin to feed while the yellowfin action is reduced.

Late spring to fall can also offer up some decent corbina fishing. Try the shallow waters on the east side of the pier and the surf area just out from the seawall on the west side (although you’ll have to be wary of the surfers). As usual, fresh mussels and seaworms produce a lot of fish but sand crabs and innkeeper worms can make the sleek croakers absolutely giddy.

Don’t forget to watch the papers and be ready for the runs of grunion. When the grunion come into shore to perform their nasty deeds, the larger fish are usually right behind. Go out to the pier and snag (or net) up some grunion (or smelt) and then use them as live bait for the halibut. Remember to think like a fish!

Seal Beach Pier Facts

Hours: 5 A.M. to 10 P.M.

Facilities: There are long, wooden benches designed for anglers, fish-cleaning stations, restrooms, lights, a bait and tackle shop near the end of the pier (although currently closed), and a restaurant/snack bar at the end (Ruby’s Diner). There is limited one and two-hour free street parking. Beach parking, adjacent to the pier, is $3/two hours or $6/day.

Handicapped Facilities: The pier surface is wood planks (some pretty rough) and cement and the rail height is 43 inches. Posted for handicapped.

How To Get There: From the Pacific Coast Highway simply take Main St. west and follow it to the pier.

Management: City of Seal Beach.


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