Crystal Pier — Pacific Beach (San Diego)

Crystal Pier

Small though it may be, this pier has long held special affection for me for a number of reasons. Most prominent may be the fact that Crystal was the site of my first foray into the adventurous world of California pier fishing. The time was the “I Like Ike” era of the ‘50s, 1957 to be exact, and I was a newbie, basically clueless as to what I was doing. Nevertheless, I caught one (unidentified to this day) fish. Soon after, a quickly drying fish, held up by a pudgy young angler, was proudly paraded through the nearby Oscar’s Restaurant. I’m sure that all those lucky patrons munchin’ on their 44-cent double-deck burgers and slurpin’ up their 25-cent creamy shakes were impressed. It may have seemed exciting to me at the time but looking back I can see that I had no clue.

The Entrance

My family left San Diego soon after that inaugural, not-too-auspicious trip to the pier and it wasn’t until April of 1964 that I would return. By now I was at least a semi-accomplished angler having spent many a day learning the basics at the Newport Pier. Now I just needed more time on the piers.

However, our new address was inland in sun-baked Santee, just a little too far from the ocean for my bright red Schwinn Corvette bike, the bike that had served me so well at Newport Beach. No problemo! Soon I was working and, with my big-time $1.00-an-hour-job, accumulating wealth. Greedy capitalist that I was, I saved my hard-earned money looking for the perfect investment. That investment came in the form of a light blue ’55 Ford that I purchased for the princely sum of $100. It came equipped with white sidewall tires and a great big Ahoooooga horn. I now had some wheels and the American freedom of the road beckoned (especially since gas was 18 cents a gallon and included green stamps, blue chip stamps and/or a free glass when you filled up).

Transportation meant that I was able to fish whenever I wasn’t working or going to school and during the next five years I would be a regular visitor to all of the area’s piers. Crystal would prove to be the most productive San Diego pier: it yielded the highest number of fish per hour as well as good numbers of big fish, especially halibut and shovelnose guitarfish.

Crystal is still, in my opinion, one of the best piers for at least four species of fish: barred surfperch, walleye surfperch, shovelnose guitarfish and (at times) California halibut. It is also seasonally good for yellowfin croaker, queenfish, white croaker, and gray smoothhound shark (sand shark).

Lastly, there are cottages available on the pier, the only pier on the California coast to offer such accommodations. So even though Crystal isn’t one of the largest piers, one of the most modern piers, or one of the most convenient piers in California (as far as parking), it still gets my nostalgic vote for one of the top piers in the state.

Cabins on the pier

Environment. The pier is located at the end of Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach (“PB” to locals) and sits on a long sandy stretch of shoreline that stretches from Mission Beach up to the rocky Tourmaline Surfing Park. The pier has neither rocks nor reef to attract fish; it is simply one of the best beaches to fish for sandy-shore species. However, its proximity to the fish-rich waters of Mission Bay (just down the beach) and La Jolla kelp beds (just up the coast) probably have some influence as to the fish that show up at the pier. Most of the weathered pilings are old and covered with mussels but the pier has fairly recently been restored and lengthened to 872 feet. Past the cabins the pier is fairly narrow, only 20 feet wide, but it does have a wider 100-foot end section. During the summer months there may be heavy growths of kelp around the outer end of the pier.

The number of different types of fish here doesn’t seem as high as some piers (although one PFIC member said he had seen 46 different species); however, the concentrations of some species are very high. Fish here at the tide line include corbina, barred surfperch, spotfin and yellowfin croaker, round stingrays, guitarfish and thornback rays. Halfway out there are all of these but also more walleye surfperch, queenfish, white croaker, halibut and smoothhound sharks. The end area will see these plus Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, jacksmelt, bat rays, small to medium size white seabass, bonito (some years), and an occasional yellowtail.

Spotfin Croaker

Increasingly, in the last few years, more and more bass—kelp bass, barred sand bass, and even spotted sand bass—have been caught. The same is true with giant (black) sea bass, most of them youngsters in the 20-50 pound class. A number of the illegal big bass have been hooked, caught, and released during the new millennium and the numbers seem to increase each year.

Sargo are another fish that used to be rarely seen at the pier but now seem to be fairly common. Although most of these species can be caught almost any time of the year, summer is by far the best time, especially for halibut, spotfin croaker, corbina, mackerel, bonito, big sharks, and rays. Winter often yields fewer but larger halibut; early spring yields the largest barred surfperch.

Summertime, unfortunately, is also a prime time to catch illegal (because of the season) spiny lobster. They’re commonly caught but remember that if one of the bugs grabs your bait (and hangs on) throw them back, failure to do so could result in a very stiff fine.

Brown Rockfish

Unusual catches at the pier have included a 10-pound striped bass and a 55-pound broomtail grouper (Mycteroperca xenarcha). Steve Carson, the esteemed fishing writer, sent me a note that said during the 1983 El Niño a paloma pompano, aka palometa in Mexico (Trachinotus paitensis), and a gafftopsail pompano (Trachinotus rhodopus) were confirmed catches at the pier. In January of 2010 a 14-inch brown rockfish was taken from the pier, an unusual catch of a fish more commonly seen in deeper waters and rocky areas.

Shortfin Corvina caught by Tony Troncale

A once rare species that has begun to show up at the pier are shortfin corvina. Perhaps reflecting their increasing numbers in San Diego Bay, shortfin first showed up at the pier when two small specimens were taken in August of ’08. Then, during the grunion runs in July of ’09, more shortfin made an appearance and most were good-sized fish. Only problem was that some mistook the fish for undersized white seabass and called the DF&G who, much to their surprise, announced after checking that they were legal shortfin corvina. More of the fish were reported in August of 2011 with about 26” being the maximum size. Most of the shortfin were taken by anglers using live queenfish for bait.

 One of the most unusual catches was that of a banded guitarfish, Zapteryx exasperata in August of 2011. Not only was the fish an unusual species itself but the manner of catch was unusual. James Barrick, owner of the pier’s tackle shop netted the fish for the startled angler. When he went to remove the hook from the fish’s mouth, he discovered that the angler’s 2/0 hook was in the eye of a larger 6/0 shark hook, and it was the larger hook that was actually embedded in the mouth of the fish. After extracting the hooks, the fish was lowered back down into the water using the net.

The human environment is also generally pleasant here, with a nice mix of resident species (San Diegans) and seasonal visitors (tourista Americanus).

Grandson Adam, Son-in-Law Dave, and a yellowfin croaker

Fishing Tips. Best fishing here is generally halfway out on the pier on the left (south) side. Fish with two poles. On the larger pole use a high-low or live bait leader. If you can net some small smelt or queenfish, or snag some with a bait rig, use the live bait leader to try for halibut. If you can’t get live bait use cut anchovies, sardines or squid with a high-low rigging. Use 15-20 pound test line with hooks size 2 or larger to catch guitarfish, sharks and perhaps a halibut. On the second, smaller pole, use a high-low leader, size 6 hooks, and a sinker just heavy enough to hold bottom. For yellowfin croaker or barred surfperch use bloodworms, ghost shrimp or mussels. For queenfish, walleye surfperch or white croaker, use small strips of anchovy; cast out and reel in slowly for best results. For many of the fish, a multi-hook bait-rig (Sabiki or Lucky Lura) can be deadly! Use size 4 or 2 hooks for the mackerel, size 6 or 8 hooks for the queenfish, walleye surfperch or jacksmelt. The water down around the pilings will also yield a few of the larger rubberlip or pileperch as well as a few opaleye (I saw a nice 4-pound opaleye caught on one visit).

California Halibut caught by Tony Troncale

Inshore, the quantity will be less, but you can often catch some very nice corbina, spotfin croaker and barred surfperch; use sand crabs if available, next best baits are ghost shrimp, fresh mussels or bloodworms. Fish the shallowest water possible and this often means you are practically right up against the fence that surrounds the cabins on the pier.

A nice walleye surfperch

The far end will yield some pelagic species, but less than at bigger piers that go out into deeper water. Use bait rigs for the mackerel, try jigs, feathers behind a Cast-a-Bubble, or Crippled Herring lures for the bonito. Try anchovies, bloodworms or soft plastics for bass. Use live bait (small queenfish, white croaker or walleye surfperch) for the halibut and I’ve always had my best halibut success casting out from the south side of the pier (and unfortunately it’s hard here to fish down between the pilings).

Quite a few sharays are also taken from the pier. Thornback rays (throw-‘em-backs), round stingrays, shovelnose guitarfish, and gray smoothhound sharks are all very common and will hit on almost any bottom bait including sea worms, ghost shrimp, anchovies, and cut mackerel. Bat rays seem to prefer squid while the large leopard sharks and shovelnose will hit a variety of baits (with live fish seemingly the pièce de résistance). Be sure to bring a net with you, and be sure you know how to use it or have someone with you who can use it (it’s reported to be 28 feet from water to deck during low water). Some truly large guitarfish, bat rays (to 105 pounds), leopard sharks, and halibut have been hooked here, and it feels terrible when one is lost after a spirited fight. Several butterfly rays and diamond stingrays have also been landed here (including a fairly large diamond stingray in September 2008).

Of note was a report in July of 2009 reporting the capture of a 6-foot-long gray smoothhound shark. Most of the smoothhounds landed at the pier are only 2-3 feet in length with an occasional fish reaching four feet. Since the conventional wisdom on the species is that they only reach a little over five feet in length (64.25 inches), the report if accurate would indicate a record fish. However, the fish was not officially weighed nor measured, and some wondered if it might have been a soupfin shark instead of a smoothhound. Although rarely seen at the pier, a four-foot-long 7-gill shark was taken on a live jacksmelt on February of 2010 and August of that same year saw the capture of a 6-foot-long soupfin. The largest shark that I’ve seen recorded here was a seven-gill that measured nearly 8 feet in length in March of 2012. The fish was estimated at 150+ pounds.Not surprisingly, the shark was taken during a time when lots of bait aka food  was in the water—mackerel, sardines ands jacksmelt.

48.5-pound yellowtail caught by caught by Tony Troncale

Amazingly, quite a few yellowtail have also been landed from this shallow-water pier including a 20-pound fish in September of 2006 (which surfers helped land) and a 40+-pound fish in 2007. One key for the yellows is live bait such as a mackerel or jack mackerel and the rig of choice is a sliding leader rig. Cast out a sinker heavy enough to hold bottom, and then slide the live bait down to the water. Use a 3-foot slider with the baitfish at one end and a snap-swivel at the other. It’s a rig I’ve used since the ‘60s and it still works. A second key is to tire out the fish before you bring it to the pier. Yellowtail are tough and a still fresh fish will often head for the pilings and wrap your line as soon as it nears the pier; play it out and then bring it in. The third key is to have quality tackle that is heavy enough to finish the job started by the first two steps. The latter tips were not followed in August 2010 when eight yellowtail were hooked and lost at the pier in a single day. Some were lost to inadequate tackle but the largest, estimated at 30 pounds, was lost to the pilings  due to poor netting  by the frustrated anglers up above.

34-pound yellowtail caught by “Hallman”

Special Recommendations. Live bait is unavailable at this pier, a pier that is one of the top piers in the state for halibut and guitarfish. Go to a tackle shop, buy a live bait drop net, an aerator and a bucket—and use them. Live bait (anchovies, small smelt, queenfish and small perch) is key for the halibut and guitarfish. Live mackerel and jack mackerel, (usually caught on bait rigs) may lure in a yellowtail or other pelagic during the warm water months.

22-Inch kelp bass caught by Angel Hernandez on a live smelt

In addition, bring a fishing license to this pier. There is a seemingly never-ending debate between the City of San Diego and the State of California as to whether or not this pier qualifies as a public pier. As a result wardens often visit the pier and sometimes they have ticketed unsuspecting anglers. Better to be prepared and not risk a fine.

Author’s Note No. 1.  If you’re visiting San Diego and need a place to rest your head I recommend staying at the Crystal Pier Hotel. It’s not the fanciest place you could stay but its unique, populated by a friendly staff, and can provide some night fishing that otherwise you couldn’t enjoy (and their motto “Sleep Over The Ocean” is appropriate). It has also gotten a little more expensive the last few years after being discovered by the travel professionals/writers. Details and rates can be checked out at

Author’s Note No. 2. I speak about losing guitarfish from experience. One night, during a 1977 stay at the pier, I decided to go shark fishing. Since the pier isn’t open to the public at night, I was the only angler fishing when, at 4 A.M., a huge guitarfish decided to swallow the squid I was using for bait. It was a great fight but unfortunately the fish, which I had hooked on the south side of the pier, had circled around the end of the pier and was on the north side when I finally got it to the surface. I could see a nearly five-foot-long guitarfish in the light from my flashlight but I had a problem since I was alone and my treble hook gaff was sitting next to the bench on the south side of the pier. Because of the wave action I didn’t want to risk trying to maneuver the fish around the end pilings back to the left. I finally decided to back up and try to reach my gaff while keeping the line tight, hoping the fish wouldn’t make a new run. It almost worked except that about the time I reached my gaff a large wave surged against the pier, the line stretched a little too tight, there was an abrupt and resounding snap in the line, and the fish was free. I was sick (to the bone) but soon adopted a Taoist-like attitude: to quote Dylan, perhaps it was a simple twist of fate. It was the proverbial “one that got away,” and it still brings back exciting memories after all these years.

Author’s Note No. 3. I have had quite a few really exceptional days at this pier but admit one of my most enjoyable visits was a day in July of 2009. I have had days at the pier where I caught more fish, and days where I caught a larger fish, but this was an unusual day because it yielded up an  “author’s ego” moment.

It was a late afternoon visit on a day when the sun was shining bright and the pier was shaking from large waves and strong current (due to a storm in Tahiti). I was fishing with my buddy Mahigeer and within two minutes of arrival discovered that the yellowfin croaker were on a bite. Not just a bite but a REALLY GOOD bite. I was using my high/low rigging with two size 6 hooks and a one-ounce sinker and quickly began pulling in the fish. The fish were good-sized yellowfins about 1 1/2-2 1 /2 pounds each and put up their typical short but spirited battle. As usual, it was catch and release for me, and even though the numbers were rising a couple of people walked by and commented, “not catching anything?” I would reply “oh, a few croakers.” It was enough said. However, Mahigeer is the friendly type and a little more animated when fishing than me. He soon struck up a conversation with an angler having a little less success who asked if we could give him some fish. Thereafter some yellowfin started to go into the bucket. Soon a good-sized sargo joined the crowd in the bucket, and a little while later a spotfin croaker.

People now began to marvel at the fish. “Wow, this guy’s catching fish every two minutes.” “Look, he’s already got another one.” This is unbelievable, how’s he doing it?” “He’s using some secret bait he’s hiding in that cooler.” “Wow, that’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen in all the years I’ve been coming to the pier” (in reference to the spotfin croaker). The comments were done with an admiring, friendly twinkle in their eyes and though I was replying, what could I really say? I was trying to show them how simple it was but a lot of people just aren’t experienced. I was using live ghost shrimp (usually the best bait) and some cut sardines that I had caught up in Morro Bay the previous week; both were producing fish.

Mahigeer, who had brought out a copy of PFIC. 2nd Ed. to give to the pier’s new bait shop owner, finally held up the book and said, “this is why he’s catching the fish. He wrote this book and is the expert.” People now oohed and awed while I stood there a little sheepishly. I guess I could have said, “I’m the Pier Fisherman and I’m supposed to catch fish,” but that seems just a little much. Instead it was the usual: “I’ve been fishing a long time and have learned a few tricks.” But to be honest, I was proud of the catch and proud that I could live up to Mahigeer’s billing. I have fished a long time and I do know how to catch fish. That day I just happened to be showing that fact to a crowd.

I usually fish alone and don’t really mention the book or that I am the author unless I’ve talked to a person for a while and feel it’s appropriate (although I will tell people to check out That’s just the way I am. But, as said, that day was an “author’s ego” moment and it’s nice to have them occasionally. The catch by the way for three hours of fishing was 26 good-sized yellowfin croaker, a big sargo, an even larger spotfin croaker, a mid-sized barred surfperch, two large round stingrays and a gray smoothhound shark. It was far from my best day at the pier but as said, good for the ego.

 Author’s Note No. 4. Near the front door of the Crystal Pier office sits a dual dog bowl, one side filled with water and one side filled with doggie snacks. It’s in memory of Sinjin a friendly mascot that used to greet visitors to the pier. If you look up to the right of the door you will see a small plaque the reads: “Sinjin 7/1/91-1/10/06. Loyal companion, known by many, friend to all, faithful pier dog, a true best friend. You are family and will be missed and loved always.” Being a “dog” person myself, I know how they felt—and feel.

Author’s Note No. 5. For many years two of the resident regulars were nurturing ladies who believed in giving “God’s creatures” a helping hand. They would be found most mornings out toward the end of the pier filling small buckets with their fish. Inevitably visitors to the pier would stop and look into the buckets of fish and occasionally someone would question why they needed so many fish. One or two may even have questioned if the ladies were exceeding the limits set for various species. But the ladies were catching the fish for a reason. They took their fish home and pressure-cooked them to soften the bones. Then they took the fish down to the Mission Bay Jetty where they fed the feral cats which had been dumped off by less caring members of our society. Those ladies are now gone but the memory of their good deeds linger on.

Author’s Note No. 6. It’s a totally different pier—and state, but the Crystal Pier in North Carolina is somewhat famous for yielding up that state’s record blue shark. The huge fish weighed 478 lb. 0 oz. and was taken back in 1961 by Bobby Kentrolis.  I’m not too sure if a blue shark has ever been taken from San Diego’s Crystal Pier although they’re certainly in the area and many California piers have seen the capture of blue sharks over the years.

History Note. The idea for a pier in Pacific Beach originated with Earl Taylor, a local realtor of the mid-1920s who was trying to sell property in the then sparsely populated (700 resident) area. Although land was fairly inexpensive (private lots cost $400, and commercial lots cost $800-$1,000), demand had slowed after the steam railroad discontinued service to downtown San Diego in 1917. Although the train no longer ran down Grand Avenue to the beach, Highway 1 continued to travel west on Garnet and then north on Cass. What businesses there were lined the route and gave the local area its economic focus. But it wasn’t enough. Something was needed to attract more people to the area. Taylor felt he needed a gimmick, something like the amusement piers that had attracted land buyers to Venice and Ocean Park near Los Angeles. He approached Earnest Pickering, owner of the Pickering Pier in Ocean Park, and soon had a partner, both financially and with insights regarding a pier.

Crystal Pier — 1925

In September of 1925 the local Pacific Beach Banner reported that Pickering and an associate, Neil Nettleship, were in town discussing the construction of the pier. The Pickering Pleasure Pier appeared to be on its way, construction started, and additional headlines soon proclaimed, “Pacific Beach: Home of the Million Dollar Pier.” The headlines were a little premature because Pickering soon experienced money troubles of his own and had to back out of the project. Construction stopped!

At this point Nettleship (who had also built a small pier at the turn of the century at the foot of La Mont Street in Mission Bay) stepped in and, together with the Tye Construction Company, gained ownership of the pier. The name was changed to the Crystal Pier and Nettleship began to issue stock in the Crystal Pier Amusement Company.

On April 18, 1926, the pier was dedicated; festivities included airplane stunt flying, a surfboard-riding exhibition, and nail-driving competitions for men and women. The crushing of a huge bottle by one of the pier’s pile drivers marked the official christening.

Although dedicated, the pier and its amusements would not be finished until the following summer (amid fierce competition between the Crystal Pier and the amusement park at Mission Beach). On the July 4 weekend of 1927, the 950-foot-long pier opened as the “Crystal Pleasure Pier Ballroom and Joy Zone,” an opening heralded in both the San Diego and Los Angeles areas. The main attraction was the towered ballroom that sat out at the end of the pier. The ballroom was built in a sort of 1920s Aztec-like architecture and featured a cork-cushioned dance floor and a crystal ball, high up above the dance floor, which gave the pier its name. Other attractions included an amusement midway with the ever-present arcade.

Crystal Pier — 1927

The attractions were short lived. From day one the pier had rocked in an unsettling manner. Visitors to the ballroom complained of queasiness from the rocking and the swaying lights (which prompted Nettleship to run piano wire through lights and wall fixtures). Some questioned the safety of the pier, some merely resented feeling seasick while out on a pier (which seems fairly reasonable). The initial problem was insufficient bracing which caused the pier to sway in all but the mildest surf. Worse, in the long run, was the fact that marine borers were rapidly destroying the improperly treated, non-creosoted pilings. The pier and ballroom were condemned (although the ballroom was dismantled and reconstructed on Mission Beach next to the amusement park) and the pier was shut down.

Nettleship sued the Pan Pacific Construction Company, won a Superior Court decision, saw it reversed by an appeals court, but then saw his case upheld by the State Supreme Court. Other court decisions ruled that the pier beyond the high tide line was public property (so the owners at the beachfront end would need to lease the ocean end of the pier). But Nettleship’s money was gone and the U.S. National Bank foreclosed on the pier. Nettleship was now out of the picture. Eventually the bank spent $10,000 replacing pilings, built a 500-foot extension and remodeled the pier.

Crystal Pier — 1935

On April 19, 1936, almost exactly ten years after the initial dedication, a new and remodeled pier, complete with ten motel cottages and a soda fountain, opened for vacationers. Souvenir postcards from the day mentioned free pier fishing and tackle for rent —for the princely sum of 25 cents. The cards also mentioned a daily and monthly prize for the big fish. The new pier and motel quickly became a favorite for those coming to the beach to escape the heat of the inland areas.

Two years later a deal was nearly struck to lease the entire pier to the city. The Pacific Beach Chamber of Commerce supported the plan and even wanted the pier lengthened and facilities added so that sportfishing boats could use the pier but that lease deal was never signed. Instead, the pier was sold in 1948 and then again in 1949.

Crystal Pier — 1949

In January of 1953 new problems arose. Two derelict fishing vessels being towed by a barge broke loose during a heavy storm and slammed into the north side of the pier. The vessels snapped ten pilings and dumped a cottage into the Pacific. Luckily the cottage was unoccupied and the eleven visitors who were staying in other cottages at the time had decided to vacate their dwellings during the 7’5″ tidal conditions. The pier was repaired, then, in December of 1953 the city announced a revised lease with the owners of the pier; a 25-year lease which would be in effect until 1978.

The pier in the ’70s

For much of the fifties the pier seemed to be in a slow decline. Then, in 1961 the pier was refurbished and given its now familiar ocean-blue and sky-white colors. Cottages were also restored and redecorated.

A damaged and shortened pier

The infamous pier-damaging storms of 1983 didn’t spare the pier. Fifteen-foot waves destroyed the outer 260-foot section of the pier and questions began anew. Who would fix the pier, the city or the operators of the private hotel? And would a remodeled pier retain the front entryway of the pier that had become a Pacific Beach landmark? After considerable debate, and several different proposals by diverse groups, it was agreed that the pier would be renovated, lengthened, and retain its basic appearance—with both sides contributing money. Eventually a new lease was signed, six more cottages were added (somewhat decreasing available space for those who liked to fish the surf area), and all but the last 20-foot length of the pier was restored and “uplifted” (so that it would hopefully be better to withstand a new storm).

The pier was once again safe and open for angling. As mentioned, Crystal is still the only pier along the Pacific coast which has rooms over the water, thus allowing an angler the chance to virtually fish from his or her front porch (or, in this case, patio area).

       Crystal Pier and some visiting copters

Crystal Pier Facts

Hours: Vary by season; generally 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. (or sunset) for visitors in the summer, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. in the winter. 24 hours a day for those staying in the pier motel.

 The pier bait shop

Facilities: Restrooms, one cleaning station, some benches, and some night lighting. Bait and tackle (including rental tackle)  is available at the pier’s bait shop. Parking can be a problem! Metered parking is available on the side street at the foot of the pier if you can find it. This is a popular area for beach go’ers and surfers and they just don’t seem to realize they should leave some parking spaces for the pier rats. Arriving any time after the early morning hours simply means you must look around for a space. Do not park in parking lots that have posted warnings; they mean it and will not hesitate to have your car towed away. Kono’s, located near the entrance of the pier, serves up great breakfasts and lunches for a very reasonable price and will provide takeout if you’re on the pier.

Try Konos for some good eats

Handicapped Facilities: None. The surface is wood planking with a railing 40 inches high.

Location: 32.79583 N. Latitude, 117.2575 W. Longitude

How To Get There: Take I-5 to Garnet Ave.  then take Garnet to the foot of the pier.

Management: City of San Diego and Crystal Pier Motel.

Sunset at the pier — 2008

Pier Fishing In California Fish Reports

June 1998—Russell Grossbard (The English Bloke) reports that fishing has been good at the pier recently with good-sized mackerel, some sand bass, and lots of large leopard sharks and stingrays. He also said that some nice sized corbina have been taken in the surf area recently as well as barred surfperch. The surf fish were hitting on ghost shrimp, mussels and blood worms. On the 23rd, a five-foot-long shovelnose shark (guitarfish) was landed, and Russell managed to land several sargo in the 2-3 pound range. In addition, he landed a large stingray and a nice sized croaker—all on bloodworms. He followed that success up the next day with a large opaleye, several more sargo, five barred surfperch and a legal sand bass—all on mussels. So, sounds like there is some variety and quality to the action. He does remind anglers to bring a license to the pier since the Fish and Game continue to claim it is a private pier (even though the city disagrees and public funds were used to remodel the pier).

August 1998—Our reporter, Russell Grossbard, relays the following: “Week ending 7/5/98—some nice shovelnose sharks were taken and mackerel and some small halibut were caught and released. Closer to the shore, the action was slow as the surf was heavy so there wasn’t any sargo, but there were a lot of croakers, the odd one in the 2-3 lb. range and the odd surf perch and corbina were taken in between sets. About mid-way up the pier the action was a lot better with a lot of croakers hitting on mussels. Week ending 7/12/98—sargo were back with a whopping 5 lb one been taken by a French bloke, this fish was as big as the lid of my fishing bucket which is a 5 gallon one. He also had 7 others in the 1-3 lb range. At the end of the pier there wasn’t much going on, the odd stingray and thornback were being caught and some still small halibut, and smelt. But down where the sargo were hitting, in the mid-surf there was lots of walleye perch, croakers, and all falling prey to mussels, ghost shrimp and bloodworms. Week ending 7/18/98—I went after work and fished in the surf, and had some luck with sand crabs and mussels and caught croakers in the 1-2 lb range and some small surf perch. I was told by the owner of the coffee stand that someone had caught a 28-inch white seabass early on in the week and the King of Halibut had been down and had caught 4 halibut but none of them were keepers. On a last note, the Fish & Game have been down once more and this time they have posted a notice informing fisher men & women that as from the 8/1/98 any one found to be fishing without a license will be sited. They also said they would be coming down to enforce this.”

September 1998—Our reporter, Russell Grossbard, relays the following: “This last month has been an up and down month. On 8/8, Sam the Shark Man caught a 4 1/2-foot leopard shark on a whole mackerel. I too was lucky and caught a 23 1/2-inch halibut the same day using a small, live mackerel for bait. A lot of people were caching mackerel and smelt at the end of the pier. The shark was caught at the end of the pier and the halibut was almost at the end as well. In the mid-section, there were a lot of croaker being taken on squid/shrimp/bloodworms. On 8/12, I caught an 18-inch halibut that I returned; after that I didn’t have any more luck. The bait shop informed me that someone had caught a 35-pound bat ray earlier that week and that there hadn’t been much action other than the ray. On  8/14, I was back at the pier hunting that allusive big halibut but I didn’t have any luck. There were a lot of people having luck with mackerel and smelt, and one person caught a nice 14-inch bass off the end of the pier. There were also a lot of thornbacks being caught as well. Down in the mid-section there wasn’t a lot going on as most of the fishermen and women were at the end, and ever since the Fish and Game has been coming down there hasn’t been as many fishermen and women on the pier. On 8/22, I was back down and this time I was lucky and caught a 19-inch halibut, which was released; there were a lot of shovelnose sharks caught and most of them were released. There were some small striped perch being caught at the end of the pier and yes, a lot of mackerel and smelt.”

December 1998—Got a mid-month report from our reporter Russell Grossbard. He said, “The bait shop on Crystal Pier has now closed for the winter! I’ve been down a couple of times in the last month but nothing much to report other than some small mackerel being caught off the end and some large smelts. I caught a small halibut on a small piece of mackerel and one thornback ray. Well I am off for now so cheers.”

June 2006—PFIC reports indicate some barred surfperch are being taken on Berkely Gulp Worms while croakers (including a few spotfin) were hitting on ghost shrimp and mussels. Mix in good numbers of mackerel along with a smattering of jacksmelt, queenfish and sand bass and you have a nice mix.

E-Mail Messages

Date: November 24, 1998

To: Pier Fishing In California Message Board

From:  JW

Subject: Crystal Pier

In reply to “Could use some surf fishing info posted by Dave McDowell.” Go down to Seaforth Boat rentals on Quivera Road and pick up some blood worms. Then fish off Crystal Pier. I have had good luck there recently fishing with my freshwater tackle. Use a small hook (I think I use #4, just make sure the curve of the hook doesn’t exceed the size of your nail on your index finger). I rig with 6 lb. test with about a 14” to 18” leader and a 1/4 oz. sliding egg sinker. Cast right where the breakers crest and kind of let you line wash into the shore (but not all the way and make sure you don’t tangle into the pier). Fish the south side of the pier, as there are way too many surfers on the other side. We were able to catch 1-2lb perch and I even caught a leopard shark with this set up. My outings were mid-afternoon, but I am sure that early mornings would be most productive. I have also heard that “grocery store shrimp” is supposed to be a hot bait for the surfperch.

Date: July 22, 2000

To: PFIC Message Board

From: reefisher

Subject: Crystal Pier Report

Fished 9am-1pm. Very slow fishing. Had some bites on sand crabs at the surf zone. Fished at the end with grunion, mussel, squid and plastics. Almost lost my big pole with the grunion to a big something. I was attending another pole when someone screamed, “there goes your pole” I managed to grab the pole before going over the side. I fought it for a while but it was just too big to get close to the pier. It fought like a bat ray. The only other thing I caught was a lobster. Fellow pier rats caught several white croaker, 1 sand bass (14 inches, I measured for the fellow) a mack and assorted cartilaginous fish, mostly small shovelnose. Fresh sardines seemed to be the best bait. reefisher.

Date: August 21, 2002

To: PFIC Message Board

From: 2pac

Subject:  Crystal Pier

I got back last night from 3 nights at Crystal Pier and the fishing was great. The first night me and my dad used mackerel and caught 6 shovelnose sharks that were from 3 to 4 feet long, 2 thornback rays, 1 sting ray, and 1 small halibut. My mom went for a walk on the beach and saw some squid, so I went down to the beach and picked some up for bait. It ended up being the best bait ever. The next two nights my dad, brother, and his wife and I caught; 10 3-foot shovelnose sharks and one that was 4.5 feet, 2 smoothhound shark that were about 3 feet long, 2 thornback rays, 7 small sting rays, 5 bat rays, 1 croaker. The best fish of the trip was my brother’s horn shark.

Date: August 27, 2002

To: PFIC Message Board

From: 2pac

Subject: Crystal Pier

Went to Crystal Pier today after I got out of school and fishing was great. When I got there the end of the pier was full of people so we fished about half way out using squid. First I caught a 2.5 foot shovelnose, next I hooked up with the biggest shovelnose I have ever seen, but right when it saw the pier it took off and broke my line, The same thing happened to two other shovelnose I had on and broke off. Finally I got one in but it was about 3.5 feet but still put up a very good fight.  Some guy had on 40-pound test and a 10 ought hook with a giant mackerel on it and eventually hooked on to a 7-foot shark, which broke of on a very bad gaff job. Right when the guard was going to kick us off the pier I hooked on to a pretty big bat ray, got this one in and took a picture which I will get up as soon as I can. Overall a good day of fishing.

Posted by pesk21

Know what kind of shark the 7-foot shark was? -abe

Posted by 2pac

It was a thresher shark and the tail was amazingly long.

Date: October 27, 2002

To: PFIC Message Board

From: 2pac

Subject:  Big white seabass

Went fishing at Crystal Pier with my dad and bro. I had a big piece of mackerel on and it got slammed; I had 50# test on and the fish was taking line out for like 5 min. I eventually got it in 40 min later and we saw a giant white seabass. We first tried the net but the fish was too big, and then we used a gaff but on the first try we gaffed it and got it 5 feet out of the water and then the line snapped and the giant was gone. Five or six people were there and we estimated it to be about 40 to 50 pounds. I will never be able to catch something that big ever again.

Posted by pierhead

Of course you will… the one today was just for practice!   Pierhead

 Posted by pierangler8787

A tip in case it happens again. When you go to gaff it, put the reel in FREE SPOOL. That way, the only way it won’t be landed is if the gaff tears out of the fish. Congratulations though on your nice catch.

Date: January 14, 2003

To: PFIC Message Board

From: trotsky

Subject: Crystal pier (long)

The best pier to fish for halibut during every season would be Crystal Pier (privately owned, fishing pau as soon as sun sets). [Pau means finished or done in Hawaiian—KJ] Try live anchovies if you don’t mind buying bait or live smelt (3-4” is the best size), which you can hook easily using Damashi. Fish a moderately high tide straight between the pilings (egg sinker, barrel swivel, 2’ leader, and preferably an AH hook brought back from Hawai‘i)–the best, I think, is just beyond the last motel units on the pier. The two inside corners of the “T” at the end is another good spot to try. The middle portion—waste time, I think. Leave the egg sinker above the bottom by about 1/2 the length of your leader, which should be 10-15lb test fluorocarbon. You can also try lures but waste time in my opinion.

Spring is also sometimes good for yellowfin croaker (ono—the meat is firm like ahole without many bones—use bloodworm or mussels about 10-20 ft. feet away from pier from the middle to 3/4 out), barred surfperch (inshore to 3/4), walleye surfperch (middle to end) smelt and queenfish (middle to end), the occasional mackerel (3/4 to end), the infrequent calico bass (sneak a big overhand cast straight out from the end—and watch out for huge kelp paddies) and, of course at this pier, large shovelnose. You might consider trying for this last, as the meat in the tail is ono and the fight is better than most fish you can catch from a pier in San Diego. Pretty good fun even by Hawai‘i standards.

Watch out for the lobsters, which may start to return inshore during this time period (we caught couple big ones in April one year, using a net, of course…).

Watch out for the ubiquitous tourist (harmless, but annoying) and surfer (not harmless, and at times very irritating)—if the latter should shoot the pier, do me a favor and drop a big pile palu (smashed mussels, tomato sardines and bread—whatever) on the head.

Another annoying thing about this pier is the amount of opala—limu of various kinds—that sometimes litters the bottom, making it real humbug to fish, especially if the current is pulling strong. [Opala is trash in Hawaiian; Limu is seaweed. KJ]

The other S.D. piers are, I think, a waste of time, that is if you are set on hooking halibut. Crystal Pier can be waste time as well, but get better chance. Good luck, hope you hanapa‘a, Trotsky


Date: July 9, 2003

To: PFIC Message Board

From: SD Fisherman

Subject: Crystal Pier

Fished Crystal from 11-1pm today. Conditions were decent and in the two hours I pulled in a Leopard, Grey Smoothhound, two big Thornbacks, and some Walleyes on the Sabiki. Not exactly what I was looking to catch, but fun anyway. Tried right past the surf line on the south side about halfway out. I know there are YFC and Corbina in that surf line, maybe next time. Didn’t really see anybody else catch anything while I was there.

Oh yeah, forgot about this…While I was fishing a guy came out with a small duffel bag. He pulls a container out (didn’t notice if it was an urn), and dumps ashes? down into the water. I know people do commit loved ones ashes to the sea off piers, and I don’t know if that was the case here, but the ash residue lingered at the top of the water and drifted right into where I was fishing. A little unnerving. Anybody ever have this happen? ~Don aka SDF~

Posted by OB Pier Rat

Nice report Don…I’ve seen quite a few of these happen at OB as a matter of fact, in a couple cases a boat named “Ashes at Sea” came in close to the pier where a group in funeral attire were standing, a person on the boat would release the ashes and then the group on the pier threw a wreath of flowers into the sea, I thought it was pretty cool. In fact I’ve told my wife a few times that if my burial became a hassle just toss my ashes off the left end of the OB pier, my favorite spot…

BTW, Did you catch any more fish there after the ashes floated over? Always looking for tricks to help catch fish. hehehe…

 Posted by pescare

I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to do it from shore, but if someone’s last wish was for me to spread their ashes there I’d do it in a heartbeat and just be prepared to pay the price. Ed ps. If you happened to see ashes along the shore just outside of Bodega Bay last January it may have been my uncle Tilio who had a similar wish.

Date: July 18, 2003

To: PFIC Message Board

From: SD Fishermean

Subject:  Crystal Pier

Since getting a nice Yellowfin Croaker a couple of weeks back, I’ve been looking to break out at Crystal with a big day. I walked out on the pier to see what was going on at 10am, and there were a bunch of kids in a field trip group fishing, as well as some others, despite the cold/rainy conditions. One of those anglers was an elderly gentleman, and once I saw him reel in two fattie Sargo on mussel, I was convinced it was worth a try. Overall the fishing was okay. Lots of Walleye on the Sabiki as normal. As I was fishing the Sabiki, I see my other rod (baited with squid on a hi-lo) go bendo big time. I rush over, and proceed with a good battle. It’s a good-sized shovel, at least three feet long. It tried to go under the pier, but I lifted it just enough at the surface to keep it stationary. I started handlining it up the side, but the hook popped out and that was it. Oh well. I ended up getting another shovel, about 18” or so, and that was it for the day. The wind picked up and the conditions became choppier, which killed off the fishing. Looking forward to the next time. ~Don aka SDF

Date: July 17, 2004

To: PFIC Message Board

From: reeffisher

Subject: Crystal Pier Black Sea Bass

Saw my first ever black sea bass caught from a pier yesterday. I and three other fishermen on the pier were kicking ourselves for not having our cameras with us. Mine was in the car; I had all the intentions in the world to bring it out on the pier, but alas the excitement of getting out on the pier got in the way of my diminished memory. When the lucky guy hooked up, we all thought he had a large bat ray. Hardly any runs and a slow hard steady tug. It was taking awhile so I went back to catching the mighty smelt (sarcasm mood on). I totally missed how they got it up on the pier and only saw it as it hit the deck with a big cheer from the gathered crowd. Some say it was 50 plus lbs. to me it looked more like 25-30 lbs. maybe 36-40 inches long. To their credit the fisherman and the folks helping him wasted no time getting it back in the water. BUT NO PICTURE!!! As far as I could tell he was using 30-lb mono on a Shimano Baitrunner (4500 or 6500?) with a quality pole, baited with a whole squid.

Date: June 26, 2009

To: PFIC Message Board

From: raider

Subject: New fish at Crystal pier 

Went to Crystal Pier yesterday morning and caught a rock wrasse, which is the 53rd different fish I’ve caught at the pier. And the crazy thing is that I caught it on a Sabiki, along with a lobster, and a small sand bass, all on the same line! I was also able to get about a 3-foot-long shovelnose guitarfish but overall it was another slow day at the pier.


Posted in Daily musings..., Pierfishing, Saltwater Fishing and tagged with , , , . RSS 2.0 feed.

4 Responses to Crystal Pier — Pacific Beach (San Diego)

  1. xi'an says:

    Thank you for a fabulous article! Fun to see the type of fish in the ocean that i swim in, and to read about the history of [ my ] beloved pier.

    My strongest pier childhood memory is when my childhood buddy and i were playing with bb rifles under the pier and accidentally killed a pigeon [ hit in the eye ]; we stared at the bird shocked, then ran away and never did that again! Also i remember seeing the red tides near the pier at night, when the ocean looks like a giant illuminated swimming pool.

    i grew up in Pacific Beach from 1958-1973 on Hornblend St. between Gresham and Fanuel. i love to body surf and boogie board in P.B. [ was just visiting family and beaching it this month ].

    cr aka Beth Anne Savone-Campbell

  2. Greg says:

    Great article. Very informative. I travel to SD every year from late September through the first week of Octiober, mainly for lobster season, but I do fish during the day. I am a complete rookie but enjoy getting some sun and simply relaxing. Thanks for the history lesson of the pier, very cool stuff and also if you have any pointers for bait, I’m all ears. :)

    Cheers! Greg

  3. KENNETH S says:

    What a cool thing to read! Thank you so much. I’m here from Connecticut for two weeks, second day here came down and caught two decent guitarfish (and an east coast jealousy tan). Taking my buddies 12 year old out today after school. I can’t tell who’s more excited!

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