The Piers Of The Middle Kingdom

Last June, at the Outdoor Writer’s Conference in San Luis Obispo, I was confronted with one of those days when I seemingly couldn’t make a bad choice.

Should I partake of the spotted bass fishing with a guide at Lake Nacimiento? Should I take the half-day bottom fishing trip out of Virg’s Sportfishing in Morro Bay. Should I join the group heading down to Morro Bay for a guided kayak excursion in the bay? Another group was headed to Margarita Lake for a combined kayak and hiking outing. But then there were also the horseback rides, a bicycle and wine tasting tour, and Hummer rides on the beach. What to do?

Well, I decided on a tour of my own, not because I’m anti-social but because I know how much fun it can be to hop from pier to pier in what I call California’s Middle Kingdom, an area midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and home to the famous Hearst Castle where we were scheduled to have a catered meal that evening.

Each year I hit the piers in this area and I love it because it is so easy to hit them in two days. Day 1 I normally visit the San Simeon Pier, Cayucos Pier, and the small wharf in Morro Bay. Day 2 sees a visit to the Avila Pier, Port San Luis Pier and the Pismo Beach Pier. I stay the night at either Morro Bay or Pismo Beach, both which contain dozens of motels and lodges ranging in price from $50 or so up to a couple of hundred dollars. Since I’m usually fishing, and by myself, cheap lodgings are all I need. Why pay top prices when I’m fishing until 10PM at night and getting up at 6AM to get started again?

On this trip I was staying at the beautiful Embassy Suites Hotel in San Luis Obispo. Great digs and only twenty minutes or so from the Pismo-Avila piers or 30 minutes from the Morro Bay-Cayucos piers. Since I had stopped on the way down at the northern piers, I opted for the southern trio.

Up at 6:30 I was parked in front of the Avila Pier before 7AM and soon grabbing a cup of coffee before heading out to the pier. I’ve always caught fish at Avila but also learned over the years to check out the inshore action first. Quite often there can be good action on perch or other species inshore while the far end of the pier is nearly fishless. Summertime, when the schools of big jacksmelt move into the bay is the time to fish the end and sometimes those jacksmelt are joined by big schools of mackerel and sardines. The end is also the place to usually catch sharks but that’s more a nighttime proposition (and it’s one of the best piers for swell sharks).

I decided to cast out my light pole rigged with a high-low set-up, one-ounce torpedo sinker, and size 6 hooks baited with pile worms. Soon after I had the first of what would turn out to be 14 barred surfperch, most of which were only hand size but a couple which were slabs that I might have kept if I was seeking out dinner.

Surprisingly, small leopard sharks were also hanging out in the water just outside the breakers and a half dozen of the pretty little sharks joined the fun on the pier before being released.

But I also needed to check out those other piers so headed down the three-minute drive to Port San Luis at 9:30. Normally I park in the free parking lot at the front of the pier but that day I drove out toward the end and found a free parking spot just inside the famous restaurant that sits out at the end—The Olde Port Inn.

Port San Luis can yield up perch at many spots, kingfish (white croakers) almost anywhere, and a variety of bottom species out toward the end and that’s where I started fishing. But now the action slowed with the first half hour yielding up one lone sanddab and one brown rockfish. I finally decided to try fishing straight down by a couple of pilings where I had previously had success and once again they yielded fish. A pretty rainbow seaperch joined two white seaperch. A pileperch finally joined in the fun but again I had to leave if I was going to do the three-pier circuit.

I headed over to Pismo Beach and parked in the free parking lot near the front of the pier. By 11:45 I was fishing mid-pier, out past the breakers using the same rigging and bait as I had used all morning. Perch, as usual, were the main game to be had at Pismo (perch and jacksmelt almost always leading the hit parade). This time it was 8 mid-sized barred surfperch and 1 large walleye joined by a lone sanddab.

By 1:30 I headed back to the hotel to relax a little and get ready to catch the bus that would take us to San Simeon. There we were given a wonderful dinner featuring the best of the San Luis Obispo region—wines, cheeses, produce, beef and seafood.

But what about the other piers that I had visited on the way down? San Simeon had yielded nothing but small sanddabs, 6 of them, in an hour and a half. Cayucos, 30 minutes down the road, had yielded up 4 barred surfperch, 1 jacksmelt, 1 white croaker and 1 sanddab in another hour and a half of fishing. The Morro Bay T-Wharf, just fifteen more minutes away, had yielded nothing but big jacksmelt, 5 of them in 45 minutes. So, nothing too big, but a little action at each pier, action that typically would get better through August and then start to decline. The summer months are when big schools of jacksmelt, mackerel—both Pacific and Spanish, as well as sardines move into the areas and when present the fishing for these small species is unbelievable. Summer too is the best time for the big sharks and rays that roam Morro Bay, and the threshers that visit Pismo Beach (late afternoon) and Avila (at night).

The nice thing for me of course has always been the availability of so many piers in such a relatively small area and an area largely devoid of the traffic found to the south and north (as well as the parking fees). Given the short distances it’s easy to hop from one to another if the fish aren’t biting at one spot. Then again, I enjoy hitting all of them even when the fish are biting. You just never know what you’re going to see or what you’re going to catch and each pier offers up its own unique environment.

The piers of the Middle Kingdom (south to north) —

Pismo Beach Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Restrooms and free parking is available at the foot of the pier. The signs indicate a 4-hour limit from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and no parking from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Fish-cleaning stations, benches, lights, bait (primarily frozen) and tackle are available on the pier. Some food is also available at the pier bait and tackle shop.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and restrooms. The surface is wood planking and the railing is 42 inches high. Posted for handicapped.

How To Get There: From the north, take Hwy. 101 to the Five Cities Dr. exit; follow Dolliver into the middle of town, then turn west on Pomeroy and follow it to the pier and parking lot. From the south, take the Pismo Beach Exit (Price St.), follow it to Pomeroy; turn west and follow it to the pier.

Management: City of Pismo Beach.

Avila Beach Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Restrooms and showers at the foot of the pier, additional restrooms at the end of the pier. Fish-cleaning stations, benches, and lights on the pier. Free parking is available at the foot of the pier on Front St.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking but non-handicapped restrooms. The surface of the pier is wood planking with some of the spaces between the planks fairly wide and perhaps unsafe for wheelchairs. A concrete ramp leads to the pier and the rail height is 44 inches. Not posted for handicapped.

How To Get There: Take Hwy. 101 to Avila Rd. and go west; turn left off of Avila Rd. on to Front St. and follow it to the pier.

Management: Port San Luis Harbor District.

Port San Luis Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours.

Facilities: There is ample free parking near the front of the pier and limited parking on the pier. Restrooms are available adjacent to the pier, as are fish-cleaning stations. Lights are on the pier but no benches. Bait and tackle is available on the pier and a boat hoist is available near the front of the pier. There is also a restaurant on the pier.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is wood planking with a rail height of 35-42 inches. Not posted for handicapped.

How To Get There: Take Hwy. 101 to the Avila Rd. turnoff and head west; follow the road to the end and the pier.

Management: Port San Luis Harbor District.

Morro Bay T-Piers Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Free public parking is available adjacent to both piers. Restrooms bait and tackle shop, and restaurants are adjacent to the North T-pier. Fish-cleaning stations are unavailable at either pier.

Handicapped Facilities: North Pier—Handicapped restrooms and quite a bit of free public parking near the pier (but no marked handicapped parking spaces). The pier surface is wood railing with no rail although there is a 7.5-inch high curb. Posted for handicapped. South Pier—No handicapped parking or restrooms. The pier surface is wood planking with no rail but a 7.5-inch curb exists fairly close to the edge. Posted for handicapped.

How To Get There: From Highway 1 turn south onto Main Street, follow it to Morro Bay Boulevard, turn left toward the bay and follow it to Embarcadero, turn right and follow Embarcadero to the end of the public parking which adjoins the piers.

Management: City of Morro Bay.

Cayucos Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day year round.

Facilities: Benches, lights, and fish cleaning stations are found on the pier. Adequate free parking is found near the foot of the pier along with restrooms and showers. Near the entrance to the pier is the Tidepool, an excellent source for bait, tackle, and refreshments. [The Tidepool is now closed.]

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking but non-handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is wood planking with a rail height of 39 inches. Not posted for handicapped.

How To Get There: Take Highway 1 to either Ocean Boulevard, which is the main street and will take you past the pier, or take the Cayucos Drive exit which will take you straight to the pier.

Management: San Luis Obispo County.

San Simeon Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day although the pay station at the entrance to the park is only open dawn to dusk.

Facilities: There are fish cleaning stations and benches on the pier. Entry to the state park costs $4 (seniors $3) although the rate seems to change almost every year but many people park outside the park entrance and simply walk in. Lodging is found approximately three miles away.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking is available as are restrooms. The pier planking is wood and the railing is approximately 36″ high. Handicapped BBQ facilities are also available. Not posted for handicapped.

How To Get There: Highway 1 to the entrance.

Management: California Department of Parks and Recreation.

—Fish Taco Chronicles, Summer 2007

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