The Piers of Avalon

It isn’t every day that you see a 100+pound black (giant) sea bass swimming ten feet or so beneath your feet. But there it was, a huge fish, swimming just a few feet under the surface of the water near the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon Harbor. We could have touched it with a long pole but we were all simply too amazed seeing it swimming so close to our fishing posts. But we shouldn’t have been shocked. Another large fish had been seen in the water just a short time before. That fish, just barely visible in the water, had the distinctive triangular shape of an angel shark, one that at an estimated five feet in length would have weighed 50-60 pounds in weight. Not as impressive as the huge giant sea bass but still awesome nevertheless.

Such sights, although not common, point out the special opportunities that present themselves to anglers fishing from one of the two “public” piers at Avalon — the Green Pleasure Pier in the middle of the harbor, or the Cabrillo Mole that sits adjacent to the ferry landing docks and serves as one jetty for the harbor. Just as private boaters and party boats make the trek over to Catalina for the special fishing so too can pier fisherman journey to the “blessed isle” for some special, out-of-the-ordinary angling opportunities.

Although the main attraction at the piers is the sheer number of fish being caught, the diversity of species (many that are uncommon to mainland piers), the crystal clear water (it’s like fishing in a giant fish tank), and the ambiance of the city and island itself provide an unforgettable experience. The two “piers” are quite different though even if situated only a few hundred yards apart.

The Green Pleasure Pier —Nestled at the foot of Catalina Avenue sits this small, 300-foot-long pier, a pier built back in 1920. Here you can rent boats, tackle, diving equipment, board a viewing submarine or the “glass bottom” boat, visit a fish market, or even buy a fishing license (although you don’t need one on the pier). A few people even fish although the authorities make it harder each year to fish from the pier

The environment at the bottom here is mainly sand with some rock and lots of kelp and seaweed to provide cover for the fish. The depth around the pier is fairly shallow but the bay itself slopes quickly into deeper depths;

As far as sheer number of fish this pier undoubtedly ranks first in the state. I’ve averaged over twelve fish per hour at this pier over the years. Unfortunately, the vast majority of fish are under-sized kelp bass, most in the 8-11 inch range. It’s light tackle fishing at its best but you need to make sure your techniques do not harm the fish. Experiments I’ve conducted the past two years have shown that a high-low rigging with small size 6 hooks should be safe for the fish. I’ve landed over three hundred of these small bass during the annual Pier Fishing in California get-togethers in April and not one was gut hooked. All were mouth-hooked, generally in the lips, and all were returned safely to the water. (So, do not use a sliding-type rigging). If you want to sample the bass fishing simply use a small piece of anchovy or cut mackerel and fish on the bottom straight down by the pier. The fish will find your bait.

A short cast from the pier using blood worms or small pieces of shrimp will yield scads of senorita and good fighting rock wrasse if you fish on the bottom and/or use a very slow retrieve. Fishing the mid-depth area with the same bait will yield halfmoon, blacksmith and (some years) pelagics such as jack mackerel, Pacific mackerel and bonito. Sheephead are common on the bottom when using ghost shrimp or squid and a few ocean whitefish make an appearance (quite often in the break-of-dawn hours). Nighttime will yield sculpin (scorpionfish using squid, while a few sharks, mostly horn sharks, may also make an appearance. Huge bat rays can be seen and are frequently hooked but it isn’t easy landing them amidst the various lines and obstructions around the pier.

Large garibaldi will be seen swimming the mid-depth areas but be sure to return any of these beautiful gold-colored fish you hook to the water since they are illegal to keep. Most exasperating are the big opaleye that swim around the pier. Schools sometimes exceeding fifty fish will be seen near the top of the water but are extremely hard to hook in these crystal clear waters. Try peas, moss or shrimp with a slip bobber but be prepared for disappointment. Experiments in April 2005 showed 2-pound fluorocarbon and size 12 hooks would yield the fish but it was almost impossible to land the fish at the pier. Four-pound line simply didn’t see the same amount of bites.

One negative aspect must be mentioned about the environment. It seems like less and less space around the railing is left free for pier anglers. There was a time when almost the entire side of the pier was open for angling. Now most of the sides of the pier are reserved for various commercial enterprises. The end area is fishable but has lines criss-crossing the area connected to a floating dock off the end. At most, 8-10 anglers can fish in this area.

Green Pleasure Pier Facts —

Hours: The pier is open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Rental tackle is available on the pier at the Avalon Boat Stand and Joe’s Rent-A-Boat (although much of what they have is geared to boat fishing). Some tackle is available at the High Tide Traders near the pier. Bait is available from Rosie’s Fish Market at the end of the pier (usually open at 7 a.m.). Fish-cleaning stations are non-existent, but lights and restrooms are available on the pier. There’s no parking but you do not need it since all motels are within walking distance of the pier. Two snack bars are located on the pier.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped restroom facilities; railings are 42 inches high.

How To Get There: The trick here is to get to Catalina. Ships and helicopters make the journey several times a day from the Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point Harbor. Information is available on all of these by calling the Avalon Chamber of Commerce on the Pleasure Pier (213) 510-1520 or the Visitor’s Information & Service Center (213) 510-2500. Once in Avalon there should be no problem in finding the pier which is located at the foot of Catalina Avenue.

The Cabrillo Mole — The area near where the ferries land is called the mole and this area offers an even more unique environment to anglers. It’s as though you’ve thrust yourselves into a kelp forest. Straight down from the railing usually offers kelp-free water but twenty feet out from the railing sees huge fronds of giant kelp harboring fish and strands to tangle your lines.

Almost immediately upon arrival you’ll spot the gold-colored garibaldi and quite often the large opaleye. When you start fishing you never really know what may partake of your humble bait offering. Most common will be the kelp bass, halfmoon, blacksmith, senorita and sheephead, but most trips will also see a few senorita, rock wrasse, kelp perch, giant kelpfish, striped kelpfish and rockfish — most commonly treefish, sculpin (scorpionfish) or kelp rockfish. Our PFIC Get-Togethers have also seen ocean whitefish, moray eel, mackerel, barracuda, and bonito. We’re waiting for the first white seabass and yellowtail. Many of these are species infrequently seen at mainland piers.

Two basic riggings are recommended. The first is light rigging if you’re content to fish down around the kelp adjacent to and under the Mole. Use 8-pound test fluorocarbon line, two size 6 (or 4) hooks, and a one-ounce torpedo sinker. This rigging will yield a lot of hits, although primarily from the smaller species, and is capable of landing most of the fish if you’re able to keep them out of the kelp. It will not prevent some fish making it to the kelp and will not always break free of the vegetation. Heavier lines are safer but will yield less fish. Do keep your hook size 2 or below, because several of these fish have small mouths.

As for technique, I keep the rod in my hand at all times so that I can strike quickly if there is a bite and keep the fish headed in toward me. Give the fish a chance to get to the kelp and you might lose them. I sight see some fish and will try to drift the bait into their area, at other times I try to drop the bait next to various fronds since many times fish are hanging just under the fronds and will dart out to the get the bait.

Best baits are bloodworms, ghost shrimp, market shrimp or strips of squid. Although the worms will often yield non-stop strikes on the small hooks, realize that the senorita will often strip the hooks in a matter of seconds. As for the ghost shrimp, break them into a couple of pieces if using the small hooks, switch to a size 2 Kahle hook if you want to use them whole (and the ghost shrimp are a good bait for the sheephead). Squid will stay on the hook but yield more of the small kelp bass that seem to cover these waters.

Out beyond the kelp is deeper water and most of the larger species. Here you can expect to be fighting the fish and the vegetation. Heavier 20-30-pound test line is required but it’s necessary. Here I would try a couple of size 2 to 2/0 hooks on a high/low setup. The further you cast the deeper the water will be since there’s a pretty good drop off in depth. Out past the kelp on the bottom will yield some of the larger kelp bass, larger sheephead, and ocean whitefish. Bottom areas may also yield the white seabass and yellowtail if they’re around. For most of these, squid is a favored bait. It’s a good bait for these species and will stay on the hook during a long cast.

Some pelagic species are also common in the deeper water. Most of these are near the top of the water so you can either try some type of lure or set up a heavy float rigging. A float rigging also presents more possibility of avoiding the vegetation but you should still plan on losing some of your tackle. Bait floated a few feet under the surface (usually squid, anchovies or cut mackerel) can yield mackerel and the larger species such as barracuda, bonito and possible a yellowtail. So, try the bottom for bass, sheephead, ocean whitefish and a possible rockfish or two. Try on the top for the pelagic species. But try for both with heavier rigging than you would use in the waters adjacent to the pier.

Cabrillo Mole Facts —

Hours: The pier is open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Tackle and bait is available a short way away at the Green Pleasure Pier. Lights are adjacent to the mole but quite a distance from the railings. Restrooms are found on the mole. Snack bars are adjacent to the ticket office.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped restroom facilities; railings are 42 inches high. Some spots on the surface may not be good with regard to the wheels on wheel chairs.

How To Get There: Once you get to Catalina you will be at the Mole since it is the site where you embark and disembark.

Fish Taco Chronicles

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>