California Fish

2019 Trinidad Pier Youth Fishing Derby

Saturday, October 5, 2019 saw youth assemble at the Trinidad Pier in the beautiful redwoods north of Eureka to participate in the 6th Annual Trinidad Pier Youth Fishing Derby.

Free loaner rods and reels, free terminal tackle, free bait, free hot dog lunches and drinks, raffle prizes, and a winner in each age group helped generate excitement.

Although the wind picked up a little in the afternoon, the day’s overall weather was gorgeous and the 40 young anglers and the crowd estimated at about a hundred people agreed it was a fun day at the pier.

Ruby Broese with a small cabezon

Of course catching some fish also helps and though the fishing was a little slower than the prior year (no lingcod this time), the mix still included kelp greenling, cabezon, buffalo sculpin, brown rockfish, walleye surfperch and jacksmelt. When a nice school of jacksmelt showed out at the end of the pier toward the end of the day, it provided a nice finishing touch to the tournament.

Ruby Broese with a kelp greenling

David Shigematsu with a small brown rockfish

Buffalo sculpin

Joe Polos, a retired member of the USFWS, set up a touch tank with specimens he collected before the tourney, and put a couple of fish in the tanks for the kids to look at.

Jonathan Pitcher with a buffalo sculpin

Jack Broese with a kelp greenling

What is this?

Is it a starfish? No, a sea star.

A baby cabezon

A little larger kelp greenling

CDFW Wildlife Officer Norris 

Everybody ready for some hot dogs?

There was a fundraiser for the custom rod made by Daniel Troxel of “Bass Man Dan’s Custom Fishing Rods”

Dan Troxel and a rod

Next up was the announcement of the individual age group winners.

Ed Roberts of the CFGD and some of the prizes for the winners

The 6-year-old (and under) winner was Ruby Broese, of Eureka who caught two kelp greenling and a cabezon.

The 7-year-old winner was Taylor Holt of Arcata.   

 The 8-year-old winner was Mannie Guerrero of Trinidad. 

 The 9-year-old winner was Daniel Galan of Arcata. 

The 10-year-old winner was Lucie Bertrand of Arcata. 

 The 11-year-old winner was Jovani Galan of Arcata. 

The 12-year-old winner was Kieryn Wolfe of Trinidad. 

The 13-year-old winner was David Shigematsu of Davis who caught a kelp greenling, buffalo sculpin, brown rockfish, large walleye surfperch, and three jacksmelt. David was the overall winner of the tournament, and this is his third victory in a row.

The 14-year-old winner was Jonathan Pitcher of Arcata who caught a buffalo sculpin.

Last but not least was the raffle with prizes for all contestants.

The sponsors of the derby were the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers, Pacific Outfitters, the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), United Pier and Shore Anglers of California (UPSAC), Pier Fishing In California ( and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The main organizer was Edgar W. Roberts of the CDFW (California Fish and Wildlife Department). Volunteers included CDFW’s Natural Resource Volunteers John “Grondo” Grondalski and Patricia Figeroa, and from HASA (Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers) Joe Polos. Other volunteers: Daniel Troxel, Russell Janak, Lucas Janak, and Daniel Roberts. CDFW Wildlife Officer Norris kept watch over the proceedings.

Special thanks goes to Grant Roden of the Rancheria, Scott McBain and Joe Polos of HASA, Daniel Troxel of “Bass Man Dan’s Custom Fishing Rods,” and Aaron Ostrom of Pacific Outfitters for making this happen.

Oceanside Pier

The Oceanside Pier — 2005

This used to be a two-sack pier; that was what I learned one day while talking to a pier regular. The regular, a gentleman of a youthful 78 years of age, and one who fished about 350 days a year, told me the story: “Back in the thirties you needed to bring two gunnysacks with you when you visited the pier because of the barracuda. Back then we called them logs, you know, big fish about 10 or 12 pounds each, and you could only get about five in a sack lengthwise. You fished until you loaded a couple of sacks then you stopped, no sense overdoing it. Of course you might need a little help carrying the sacks off the pier.” How accurate that memory is after 50 years can only be speculated. There is no doubt, however, that fishing can be very good at Oceanside and that it probably was outstanding  “back then.”

In fact, old pictures and faded newspaper stories that once sat under glass near the lifeguard tower gave evidence of how it was “back then.”  Several pictures of large black sea bass (giant sea bass) that were caught from the pier highlight the pictures; one was of a 286-pound fish taken in 1936. Another picture was of a 200+pound hammerhead shark taken by Max Gray on September 8, 1949. A third showed a 42 lb. 1 oz. yellowtail taken from the pier in July of 1955 by Elmo Nealoff. Stories tell of an 11 3/4-pound bonito and a 10 3/4-pound lobster taken from the pier—both evidently records for the pier.

The entrance to the pier — 2010

Of course the big pier is more than just a place to fish to many residents, it’s a place to gather, to see what’s going on, and to be seen. Most any summer night will find the pier crowded with fishermen and others simply out to sample the sights and sounds of the pier at night.

One such night I witnessed a group of teenagers huddled around three young men getting ready to dive from the end of the pier near Ruby’s. The three got up on the railing where the leader announced he would do a reverse tuck (I believe). The other two were satisfied to do a simple dive. With cell phone cameras ready to record the action they called out three, two, one, and jumped. The dives were successful and a cheer went up from their friends (as well as more than just a few interested spectators). Soon the young men had climbed the nearby ladder back up to the pier. Last I saw of them was one peering boldly into the back door of Ruby’s. Looked like he was seeking out one of the red-and-white, pinstriped waitresses.

Nearby stood two ravishing young ladies shooting pictures of each other near the pier railings. Around the corner came a buxom platinum blond decked out in Hollywood chic and holding an all white miniature poodle. Next to me stood Jimmy and Eddie, two construction workers from Fort Smith, Arkansas who were taking in the whole scene. They commented that they just didn’t have this action back home. Such is California in the new century.

             Oceanside Pier — 2015

Looking back from the end — 2006

The pier seems to be about as productive as when I first fished it in the mid-1960s although quantity is more common than quality. A lot of fish can still be caught but relatively few of the “trophy” fish common in years past. Fish typically caught here are the normal sandy-shore, long-pier variety.

Spotfin Croaker — 2010

Inshore, you will find barred surfperch, corbina, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, sargo, round stingray, guitarfish, too many (at times) thornback rays, and an occasional California butterfly ray (first recorded from the pier by scientists in 1952).

Midway out, you can catch halibut, white croaker, yellowfin croaker, queenfish, jacksmelt, topsmelt, butterfish, walleye surfperch, bass, more guitarfish and sand sharks (smoothhound sharks).

The pier — 2007

The pier, at 1,942 feet is one of the longest on the coast and out toward the end you may catch any of these fish but also the more pelagic species like mackerel, bonito, barracuda (today, usually a small pencil instead of a log), small white seabass (usually called seatrout), and an occasional small (firecracker size) yellowtail. The end area is typically also the best area for kelp bass, barred sand bass, salema, rockfish and other rock-frequenting species (including infrequent, but occasional, sheephead). It’s also the best area for the larger sharks (leopards, threshers and blues), the biggest shovelnose guitarfish, and the monster bat rays (including one that weighed an estimated 150 pounds in April of 2001.

Shovelnose Guitarfish caught by Bernie in 2015

If the fish aren’t biting just sit back and relax—or head down to the Ruby’s at the end of the pier and have a hamburger, fries and a milkshake. Watch the dolphins that seem to show up most days at the pier and, if it is wintertime, you might even see a grey whale migrating by the pier. The pier is a great spot to simply sit and enjoy the ocean.

Rubys — 2015

Most piers will see pelicans occasionally; some have pelicans that are resident members of their pier and Oceanside is one such pier. Almost every day you will see the birds in their favorite spots just past the bait shop and almost every day you will see people lined up trying to get pictures with the birds. Ed Gonsalves, who owns the bait shop has been known to toss an anchovy or two at one of the birds, the one the regulars call Michael Jackson (since he likes to dance). Another pelican, Charlie, is a little more staid and prefers to simply sit on the trashcan by the shop (where he gets a LOT of attention).

Charlie the Pelican — 2009

Fishing Tips.  This can be an excellent pier for halibut, sand bass, and guitarfish. Live anchovies are best, but the bait shop doesn’t offer them; instead, try to net some bait or snag a smelt, small queenfish, anchovy, or even a baby mac, and use the fish with a live bait rigging. Mid-pier is the best area for the halibut, especially from May to July (although flatties caught in the winter are often the largest of the year). For guitarfish, try the mid-pier to the end. If live bait (fish-type) isn’t available, try bloodworms, ghost shrimp, cut mackerel or frozen anchovies.

The end of the pier can be good for bass including barred sand bass and some calico bass (kelp bass).

Kelp Bass aka Calico Bass — 2013

Sand Bass — 2013

Generally the spring and summer are the best months for the bass. The end area can also, at times, be great for bonito and mackerel. Generally the mackerel will hit best on a small strip of squid or a bloody piece of mackerel. The larger bonito (some up to 6-8 pounds), prefer a splasher, cast-a-bubble or golf ball with a feather trailing behind it. Late summer to fall months will also see some barracuda. Most of the barries show up at night and your best bet to catch them is generally a gold or silver colored spoon like a Kastmaster or Krocodile. As far as sharks and rays, and many are taken from the pier, regulars say a long cast out from the southern corner of the pier is a prime spot.

Halibut — 2016 (Picture courtesy of Oceanside Pier Bait Shop)

The mid-pier area is a good area for fish besides halibut and guitarfish, although the halibut certainly receive the majority of attention from May to July. It is the best area for a number of the smaller species such as herring (queenfish), tomcod (white croaker) and jacksmelt. It yields a lot of yellowfin croaker, some spotfin croakers, sargo, China (black) croakers, and quite a few smoothhound sharks, thornback rays, and bat rays. Almost all of these can be caught on high/low leaders with the bait deciding the type of fish that will hit. Queenfish and white croaker will strike on small strips of anchovy, jacksmelt prefer worms or a small piece of shrimp, most sharks and rays get all excited and goose bumpy when they smell a bloody piece of mackerel or a delicious piece of calamari (oops, squid).

Inshore, and this is the area preferred by many locals, try sand crabs, ghost shrimp, bloodworms or mussels for barred surfperch, corbina, spotfin croaker, and yellowfin croaker; remember to use a fairly small hook, no bigger than a size 4. When fishing around the pilings, try mussels, bloodworms, or ghost shrimp; use a bait holder-type hook for the bloodworms and mussels, a Kahle-type hook for the ghost shrimp. These baits will be your best bet for most types of perch (although walleye surfperch also like a small strip of anchovy). Best time for the barred surfperch is winter to spring while summer to fall is considered the prime time for both yellowfin croakers and spotfin croakers. However, the bite can start early, especially if the water warms up. May of 2007 saw a run of large spotfins (some exceeding six pounds) with baby mussels being the irresistible bait.

Spotfin Croaker — 2012

If the pier isn’t too crowded, try artificial lures such as Scampis for the sand bass, the already mentioned feathers with a cast-a-bubble for the bonito, and multiple-hook, bait rig outfits for the macs and jacksmelt (although 3-5 mackerel twisting up a Lucky Lura/Sabiki leader isn’t so lucky—it often results in the loss of the $2-3 leader).

California Scorpionfish — 2013

A few sculpin (California scorpionfish), buckets of salema, and other rock-loving species will be attracted by the rock quarry artificial reef out toward the end of the pier. I say buckets of salema because people literally catch and keep enough of the small fish to fill buckets, although the limit is ten and some of the people are going to face some stiff fines one of these days. This is also the best area for people seeking lobsters during their season with most of the spiny creatures being taken at night.

Although sheephead are never common, quite a few have been caught out at the end of the pier (to 27 pounds); in most instances the bait was ghost shrimp or pieces of market shrimp (although crabs and mussels should also be good bait, and both bloodworms and live anchovies have been reported as successful baits at the pier). If you want to try to catch one of the big-toothed creatures be warned that they only feed during the daylight hours (they sleep at night) and are most common during the winter months.

Although not a noted pier for sharks, enough are taken to keep the local shark fraternity busy. The usual suspects are encountered—leopard sharks, spiny dogfish, shovelnose sharks (guitarfish), and thresher sharks while every so often a blue shark or 7-gill will show up to keep things interesting. In some warm-water years hammerheads have even been taken. Best bait for most of the sharks is a large, bloody piece of mackerel while the threshers prefer a live mackerel on a sliding leader. Bat rays, and there are some big ones here, prefer a big piece of squid. Do remember though that if you’re seeking out the big critters to bring a net since it’s reported to be 32 feet up from the low water mark to the pier surface.

Striped Bass — 2016

Unusual fish from the pier have included a deep-water lancetfish. Striped bass were consideed uncommon when a 27” striped bass was taken in July ’00. However, many stripers have been taken from 2015-2017 including a 37″ fish in 2015. Although not really rare, basketweave cusk-eels (Ophidion scrippsae) are an infrequent catch from piers; scientific records list at least two of the cusk-eels as being taken from the pier—in 1947 and 1966. A common fish, although uncommon to southern California piers, was a grass rockfish taken in April of 2015. Last, but not least, a number of shortfin corvina were caught at the pier in 2016. More common to Baja waters they’ve become common in San Diego Bay and apparently have spread out from the bay.

Shortfin corvina taken by Luis in 2016

Perhaps the most rare species taken at the pier was a Pacific tripletail (Lobotes pacificus) taken in early October 2014. Typically found in the Sea of Cortez, and along the Pacific coast of Baja California south of Guerrero Negro, only a few of the fish have ever been taken in California waters. As evidence of the warm waters in 2014, another tripletail was taken in San Diego Bay in August of the same year.

Pacific Tripletail — 2014 (Picture courtesy of Oceanside Pier Bait Shop)

Bonefish have also made occasional appearances. Bonefish were taken in February of ’01 and August 2007 but an earlier report from 1963 showed an even greater catch of the elusive bonefish:

John E. Fitch, research director of the DFG Marine Resources Operations on Terminal Island {reports} fishermen have been catching from one to a half-dozen bonefish daily off the Oceanside Pier. Either there has been a successful catch in our waters in recent years or these fish have wandered north with a tongue of warm water in late September and October.

—Donnell Culpepper, Fishin’ Around, Long Beach Press-Telegram, November 13, 1963

A striped bass taken by Jeff in 2017 (Photo courtesy of Oceanside Pier Bait Shop)

 An unusual fish due to its was a 9-pound kelp (calico) bass caught by a neophyte angler in October of ’02. He rented a pole, bought some frozen squid, and came back to the bait shop a short time later with the huge calico. Most anglers will fish a lifetime from a pier and never catch a 9-pounder (in fact, it’s a pretty good calico even from a boat).

Salema can be very common out toward the end in mid-depth water. They look somewhat like a miniature version of a striped bass although more colorful.

A fish that was becoming rare, and was considered endangered just a decade or so ago, is the giant (black) sea bass, a Goliath of the sea that never fails to startle pier fishermen used to the smaller species. The earliest PFIC reports of a giant sea bass capture at Oceanside was a 143-pound fish that was hooked on Memorial Day Weekend in 1997. Three drops of a treble hook gaff were needed to snag the fish and then four people were needed to haul it up onto the pier. These bass are of course illegal and the smart move would have been to simply cut the line when the angler saw what it was. Instead, the determined angler headed up the pier dragging his catch behind him—only to meet a game warden coming down the pier. It was a TRULY DUMB act since the fine is around $2,000.

Then, in the fall of 2002, several were taken during September and October—including one that most of the regulars said would have topped 200 pounds if not released. May of 2003 saw a fish estimated at 150 pounds, a “giant” fish was caught on July 4, 2008, and a fish estimated at 200 pounds was seen in early June 2009. That fish was hooked on heavy line and wound up tangling the line around the pier’s pilings. Eventually the bait shop was able to contact lifeguards who swam out to the fish and cut the line allowing it to swim free (nice job!).

Today there are almost regular reports of anglers hooking the large bass at the pier and occasional stories of knuckleheads who think they should keep them. In response, Fish and Game “sting operations” are run fairly often at the pier so don’t join that group of knuckleheads.

Humboldt Squid — 2007

Another giant, although of a quite different species, is the Humboldt squid and every few years will see a run of the large cephalopods at the pier. One such run, although short lived, took place in May 2007 and resulted in the usual crowds and excited anglers hooking the large (up to around 30 pound) squid. A cousin cephalopod, although of a much more diminutive size, are the small octopus that are sometimes encountered while fishing at night from the end section, especially in the winter months.

One final non-fish catch that I find interesting was a tropical turtle that was caught by a startled angler on July 4, 2000. The creature was netted, the hook removed, and the big fellow (or girl?) was gently lowered back down to the sea.

A whale “shooting the pier” on January 1, 2018 (Photo courtesy of Oceanside Pier Bait Shop)

Although never landed, quite a few whales have been hooked over the years when they decided to swim between the pilings.

Persevering twins reap late reward of one giant lobster

It was another marathon Saturday with dad, starting with a 6:30 a.m. tee time and finishing at midnight at the Oceanside Pier. But it turned into a very special day for Blake and Garett Spencer, a pair of 9-year-old twins who teamed with their father, Todd, to catch a lobster of a lifetime.

“Saturday is my day with the boys, and we started with 18 holes at Temeku (Golf Course),” said Escondido’s Todd Spencer, manager of a collection agency. From there, it was on to Oceanside Pier for some hoop-netting for lobsters, an activity the boys later told their dad they’d pick over playing video games.

“This was only our second time hoop-netting,” Spencer said. “We went at the end of last season and fished off Ocean Beach Pier. We didn’t get anything, but the boys loved it.”

Last Friday, the boys asked their father: “When are we going lobster hunting again? Spencer promised they’d go after his golf outing the next day. They packed their rig with items that don’t necessarily go together like ham and eggs: dad’s golf bag and gear, a couple of hoop nets and 2 1/2 pounds of mackerel for lobster bait.

Golf and hoop-netting, an outdoorsman’s daily double, for sure.  Golfing done, Spencer said they arrived at the Oceanside Pier at 6 p.m. and started fishing the windward side of the pier. “We were the only ones with hoop nets, and I was beginning to think the Oceanside Pier wasn’t the right place to hoop-net for lobsters,” Spencer said.

He turned to his boys after a few hours of not getting anything and asked them, “Would you guys rather be home with your new X-Box games, or would you rather be out here on the pier fishing and not catching anything?” They chose being on the pier over playing video games. This was more fun, and besides, it was quality time outside with dad. “That made me feel pretty good,” Spencer said. “I’m from Northern California. I grew up in the foothills of Yosemite, out in the country. My kids are city kids, but they have the same interests I have. They love being outdoors.”

Shortly after their talk, Spencer switched to the leeward side of the pier, and the change produced two short lobsters, each about 1/4-inch short, just after 10 p.m. They sent them back like good sportsmen. Another pick of the net produced a giant spider crab, about a 6- or 7-pounder, Spencer said. He was about to throw it back, but a man told him to keep it because it was very good eating.

“It looked nasty, but he said it was good,” Spencer said. “I cooked it later, and it not only looked nasty, it tasted nasty. Next time, it’s going back into the water.” The spider crab provided a thrill to Spencer and his boys, and since it was getting close to midnight, Spencer felt it was time to go.

But then Spencer heard the cry of, “C’mon dad, one more pull, one more pull before we go.” “One more pull” to a hoop-netter is what “one more cast” is to a fisherman, what “one more shot” is to a bird hunter. Spencer gave in. They made a set, left it for a while and made one more pull.

“It was the last pull of the night,” Spencer said. And what a pull. As the net came up, Spencer and his boys couldn’t believe their eyes. There in the net was what Spencer later called the “mutant lobster.” He never weighed the giant crustacean, but, including its antennae, the giant bug was at least 46 inches long, nearly as tall as his boys, who are 56 inches tall. He estimated it at 15 pounds.

California spiny lobsters have been known to go as high as 25 to 30 pounds. Biologists figure a lobster that big could be anywhere from 50 to 150 years old.

“I have a friend who dives, and he’s saying it’s a minimum of 15 pounds,” Spencer said. “I wish now I would have taken it to a supermarket or somewhere and weighed it,”

Spencer and his boys celebrated the next day with a lobster feast. “You know how people say the big old lobsters are tough and not good eating,” Spencer said. “That’s not so. This lobster was tender and sweet. Really god eating.”

Looking back, Spencer said he likely would have quit around 9 p.m. had the boys chosen to go home to play video games. “It was all because they wanted to stay,” Spencer said. “It was our day out. And what a fantastic day.”

Ed Zieralski, Outdoors, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 20, 2002

E-Mail Messages — A Bakers Dozen

Date: November 14, 1999; To: Pier Fishing In California Message Board; From: VincentC; Subject: Oceanside pier fishing report

Went to Oceanside today. I caught 1 legal halibut near the surf line but let it go; was 22” even anyway. Caught 1 corbina, 5 yellowfin croaker, 2 spotfin croaker, and 1 walleye surfperch. One guy caught a bonefish. I was positively sure it was a bonefish. He said he caught it near the surf line on bloodworms. How can that be possible? Another guy caught a 20-pound bat ray on a Lucky Lura out at the end!!

Date: February 22, 2001; To: Ken Jones;  From: Fishermanchuk (Chuk Stoianovici); Subject: The bonefish I caught at Oceanside Pier

On 2/19 my friends and I were fishing at the Oceanside Pier. At 7:23 we caught a 13-inch bonefish using a chunk of mackerel. I know you’re a big fish fan so I wanted to let you know.

Date: December 20, 2001; To: PFIC Message Board; From: jllgzt; Subject: Oceanside Pier

Two teenagers pulled up a 28-inch halibut off of the Oceanside Pier on 12/15/01, it was caught under the pier at the north west corner behind their restaurant. Three weeks ago a giant black sea bass around 4 feet was pulled up from the same area. Fishing is slow, but there are still some gems here and there off of the Oceanside Pier.

Date: January 13, 2002; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Needlefish; Subject: Oceanside Pier

I fished the pier yesterday from about 1:00 to 4:00 pm. It was mobbed. I did alright on the south-facing side of the pier, caught a short (15” ?) halibut on plastic (clear redflake 3” grub with a 1/2 oz head) and a lizardfish on squid. I thought I would be clever and use the lizardfish as live bait. Nothing hit it…hey I didn’t even want to touch it. That is one ugly fish. The lizardfish hung me up on something and that cost me a rig. I seem to remember (too late) they like to burrow into holes and crevices and structure etc. Back to the plastic… caught a short sand bass on the north facing side of the pier, jigging the grub between the pilings. Then on the south side again I got a nice halibut (looked to be around 20” or so) on the grub but I didn’t have my net and the hook must have ripped out halfway up the pier after a really great fight on 6 lb. test. Elsewhere on the pier not a whole lot was going on…  A few cats on the end of the pier got a short white seabass and a nice sculpin. I think they were using live bait. The inshore mussel soakers weren’t getting anything as far as I could tell. So I hope this helps. I would say fish way out near the end on the south facing side and have a few different baits and lures to try. Still, great people watching, lots of pretty girls and beautiful weather… how can you go wrong?

29-inch halibut caught in 2011

Date: July 12, 2002; To: PFIC Message Board; From: caliasian909; Subject: Tight lines, friends (in reply to Fishing at Oceanside)

I fish Oceanside Pier about 2 to 3 times a week. I’m not sure about the open ocean fishing on a boat, but the pier does really well. Even rare occurrences of the Giant Black Sea Bass are hooked. Two weeks ago one was caught at the end of the southeast corner and a MONSTER was caught early this morning (around 2:30am, July 12) at the end of the northwest corner. I caught 2 shovelnoses, 36” and 48”, using chunks of herring. Best fishing in my opinion is at the end and I noticed some boats right out of the casting range. From what I understand, there seems to be some sort of reef out there… who knows?

Date: July 19, 2002; To: PFIC Message Board; From: caliasian909; Subject: Oceanside Pier — July 18-19

Well what can I say? I am forever addicted to fishing and this pier is one to give thanks to!! Okay, here’s the report. I got to the pier around 11:00pm Thursday night and fished until 4am Friday morning. I fished the southeast corner at the end all night. Total fish count: 4 Shovelnoses (one nice 4-footer!); 1 9.5”-Sculpin (released); 4 HUGE HITS that I choked on!! I must have not set the hook right!!

My Buddy got— 3 Shovelnoses (one fatty!); 2 baby Kelp (Sand) Bass (I mean baby’s!! like 2” and 3” in length!!); Too many macs and croakers to count.

Around me people were catching the regular sort too… mackerel, croaker, bass (all undersized). There was one odd sighting though. Giant Squid in large schools invaded the pier. People who had their squid jigs were catching them from 1am till I left. They were pretty nice too… one was given to me that was about 2’ long. Though there wasn’t as much variety of fish as I wish there were that night, Shovelnoses were hitting all night. If you’ve never fished Oceanside Pier, you have to try it. It’s awesome there. The people are nice, the waters clean, the surroundings are quiet, all positive in my opinion… but then again I fish late nights/early mornings. Happy Fishing!!

 Date: July 23, 2002; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Stuman; Subject: Oceanside pier/squid

I went at 9:30 pm Monday night. I didn’t fish but I did observe a lot of others fishing. In the surf zone there were several good anglers with 5-10 fish (yellowfin, spotfin, and corbina). Most were caught on mussel. At the end of the pier they were catching some small mackerel and some 2-ft squid. I was at the end of the pier for 30 min and saw about 6 squid come over the rail. I think without the full moon they would have been more attracted to the lights. They said on Friday they landed about 70 squid. Also, saw one nice sized bat ray hooked but not landed. Another shovelnose was lying near a bucket.

Date: May 31, 2003; To: PFIC Message Board; From: charliethetuna; Subject: Oceanside report

Hey fellow pier pier rats, I hit Oceanside pier today and it wasn’t very productive. However there were two nice fish taken in by other people. A guy managed to pull in whopping 150-lb. Black Sea and then shortly released it  (Biggest damn fish I’ve ever seen in my life). Another guy managed to pull in a 24-in halibut with live smelt. It took the black sea bass guy 30 mins to reel the fish in it was the most insane battle I’ve seen on a spinning reel. I managed to pull in three 16” jacksmelt, and three small croakers.

Date: October 1, 2003; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Mikey; Subject: Oceanside Pier 10/01

Well, looks like the boneheads might be making a late run this year. I took a walk this afternoon to shoot the bull with some of the regulars. I didn’t see any bonito caught, but heard the guys say they caught a few fish earlier — maybe 3-lbs or so. Also, talked to a guy that landed a yellowtail (yeah, that’s right) on the end fishing for bonito. I saw the yellow — he was a good 8-lbs. Also, while I was there, there were plenty of mackerel, and boils from what I’m pretty sure were yellowtail — just too big to be mullet, and chasing baitfish.

Date: August 23, 2004; To: PFIC Message Board; From: carlsbadsvt; Subject: Oceanside Pier

I hit the O-Side Pier with my two sons today and had what I felt was an amazing day. We arrived at the pier at 9:30am and intended to only stay for a few hours. We headed to the very end of the pier behind Ruby’s. I do not know all the technical jargon yet, but I will try to describe what we were using. We tied a 2oz. round sinker to the main line, then used an artificial minnow crank bait app. 4 feet below that. On our very first cast, we caught an 18-in bonito that weighed app. 3lbs. I didn’t have a scale, but will pick one up before next time out. Between 10am and 2pm we didn’t go more than 2 casts without catching a bonito. They ranged between 12 and 18inches. At app. 12:30pm my knot came undone and we lost our incredibly lucky little minnow, so we switched to the same rig and a silver/blue spoon. Retrieval was a steady medium speed. We were not nearly as lucky with this rig, but seemed to catch bigger fish. Since it was my very first day pier fishing, and my son’s first time fishing outside of trout fishing in Montana, we were all very happy! Every fish with the exception of one was released, there was one fish (app. 14-inches) very early on that devoured the lure and was pretty much dead but the time I got it out. It was given to the couple next to us.  On a sour note, we did see MANY people who were taking BUCKETS of bonito out, many of which appeared to be under 12 inches. I didn’t understand the reason for this, and we didn’t see a Fish and Gamer guy all day. Things we learned on our first day out… SUNSCREEN is a must, snacks are a must if you have kids with you, get more minnow crank baits, take camera, and did I say USE SUNSCREEN??? Sorry if this was too emotional and not informative enough, I’m just a little jazzed right now! My sons have been bouncing off the walls since their first hookup!

 Date: August 25, 2004; To: PFIC Message Board; From: carlsbadsvt; Subject: Oceanside Pier 08/25/04

Quick report. My sons and I went back to O Side pier today. Got out around 11:30 and went straight to the same spot we had so much luck two days ago (the first bench past the rest rooms). We decided to do a little experimenting, so instead of the sinker, we tied on a golf ball that I had rigged up last night. We rigged app. 5 feet of 25-pound test after the golf ball and tied on another lucky Rapala (3 inch silver. red minnow with small bill). First toss, BAMB an 18.5-inch bonito weighing just over 5 pounds. It caught me off guard because it hit as soon as the lure hit the water. I didn’t even crank the reel one time and the fight was on. During the next two hours, we tried changing the retrieval speed a little and found that a pretty fast and steady retrieval was the most productive. But, on two occasions we allowed the golf ball and lure to sink and then did a really slow steady retrieval and pulled in two small halibut. One measuring 12 inches and the other 13 inches. This was especially exciting, because it was a new species for all three of us! I’m not quite sure what the halibut were doing going after the Rapala (the guy next to us didn’t believe that was what we caught them with…) In total, we caught 21 bonito, one fish that was identified as a croaker (with a huge chunk out of its side) and the two halibut. We had plenty of sunscreen this time, food, soda, and a camera.

Date: November 17, 2004; To: PFIC Message Board; From: rockfisherguy; Subject: Oceanside Pier 11/17 am

Just got back from the pier. Plenty of action on bonito. Interestingly, it seemed like 95% were caught on the southern side, between the sinks and the end. They were really boiling in that area, even jumping completely out of the water occasionally. Looked like everything was working again. Mine all came on jigs. The first on a purple/black 2.5oz Megabait. Luckily he wasn’t hooked bad and was an easy release. I then switched to a green/chrome 2.5 oz Kroc and pinched down the barbs of the treble. I caught six casting into the boils. It was like casting on breaking yellowfin tuna at the Cortez bank. On a couple of casts I’d get hit, pulled on for a few seconds, dropped, then immediately picked up again after a few cranks. Doesn’t get too much better than that! However, I also caught three just jigging the Kroc straight up and down below me. Bonita will try to wrap you around the pilings of the pier, so you have to pull hard if you do this. All fish were released safely except for one that completely ate the Kroc, and I had to wait until he was dead to get the hook out, even with the barbs pinched down. That’s how aggressive these fish are. I gave him to a old guy that kept getting sealed. Speaking of which, there were probably a dozen sea lions and a couple harbor seals making the rounds.  Nice conditions at the pier, 64-degree water, little bit of breeze. Nine bonito in two hours is a nice day by anyone’s standards. Bring at least 15-lb test line, and a reel with a good drag system if you’re gonna throw a jig. I wouldn’t go less than 12-lb with bait. You have to turn the fish and get them up before the seals get to you, and the bonito aren’t too line shy. I was using the mid-size Baitrunner on an old seven foot Berkley big game stick with fresh 17-lb P-Line. It came in handy when I was hanging them right between the pilings below me.

Humboldt Squid — 2007

Date: May 27, 2007; To: PFIC Message Board; From: stuman; Subject:  Sunday squid Oceanside

Walked out on the pier to see if the squid report was true. At 11:30 PM I saw 3 squid on the pier—looked like they were just caught. We watched another angler lose one, before they could drop the net. Saw some free swimming in the water. There were about 20 anglers fishing for the squid.

Pier Fishing In California Fishing Reports — Some old reports, some good, some bad!

May 1997—Charley at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop reports the arrival of warmer water and better fishing. Water temperature hit 64 degrees last week and the fishing exploded. Inshore, anglers are catching barred surfperch, corbina, spotfin croaker and gray smoothhound sharks. The perch and croaker are hitting on fresh mussels or bloodworms while the sharks are hitting on squid. Best spotfin of the past two weeks was a beautiful 9-pound fish that hit on mussels. Further out on the pier, anglers are continuing to pull in bucketful’s of small walleye surfperch and some small-to-medium sized Pacific mackerel. Halibut have also started to bite and a number of keepers have been taken — mostly on live shinerperch or anchovies that have been caught with snag lines. Summer is getting closer!

June 1997—Charley at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop says the water is warming up (70 degrees) and the fishing is getting hot. Top news has been the number of halibut landed along with a lot of big croakers, both spotfin and yellowfin. The halibut are hitting all around the pier with the best bait  being anchovies or live bait that has been snagged; most days are seeing 3-5 keepers. The croakers are hitting inshore and are smacking fresh mussels and bloodworms. Buckets of mackerel are being caught at the end of the pier, most on bait rigs, and they’re running a nice 1-2 pounds in size. White seabass are also being taken out toward the end but almost all are shorts — and make sure you don’t keep them. Finally, although perch fishing is slow, quite a few sculpin (California scorpionfish) are being landed and they’re one of the best tasting pier fish.  Dumb move of the Memorial Day weekend was the capture of a black sea bass weighing around 150 pounds. It took three drops of a treble hook gaff to snag the fish and then four people were needed to haul it up onto the pier. These fish are of course illegal and the smart move would have been to simply cut the line when the angler saw what it was. Instead, the determined angler heading down the pier dragging his catch behind him — only to meet the game warden. A severe fine will be the result; perhaps in the two grand, $2,000 category. TRULY DUMB!!! (By the way, a more positive story concerns a black sea bass taken far to the north in San Francisco Bay. A halibut fisherman (on a boat) pulled in a blackie estimated to weigh about fifty pounds. Deckhands quickly netted the fish, removed the hook, and gently lowered him/her back into the water. That was the right thing to do. Let these fish make a comeback!!!)

Croakers — yellowfin and spotfin

July 1997—Charley at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop reports one of the best runs of bonito in years, both as to numbers and to size of fish. Most of the boneheads are falling to bonito feathers. There’s still a lot of medium size mackerel at the end of the pier and quite a few spotfin croaker, some approaching 5 pounds in size, falling to anglers fishing the shoreline. He says there’s also been a good run of sargo inshore. The spotfin are falling to bloodworms and fresh mussels, the sargo to mussels. Only a few halibut lately as well as some shovelnose guitarfish and bat rays. He says he’s seen 3 bat rays in the last week that averaged 60-70 pounds each.Bonito — Justin’s first fish

August 1997—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop, reports a potpourri of species at the pier. Mackerel are thick out toward the end and anglers have also taken quite a few bonito. Most of the boneheads are running 2-3 pounds but several 6-8 pound fish were also landed. Most of the tuna hit on feathers and spin floats but some have been landed on Krocodile and Kastmaster lures. Inshore, to the mid-pier area, anglers continue to land corbina, yellowfin croaker and spotfin croaker on the bottom. The good sized fish are hitting mainly on bloodworms and fresh mussels — so get some! Action is rounded out by sand bass (on squid or small live bait), illegal size white sea bass, barred surfperch, pileperch and opaleye. Most of the perch are falling to mussels.

September 1997—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop, reports continued good fishing. Leading the list has been a number of large spotfin croaker which have been landed in the inshore areas by anglers using mussels, bloodworms or ghost shrimp. The same area is also producing a lot of nice sized yellowfin croaker — primarily in the evening hours. The mid-pier to end areas are yielding quite a few halibut including 4-5 keepers most days. Out at the end, anglers continue to pull in good numbers of mackerel while bonito do their here one minute, gone the next routine. Most of the bonito that are landed are nice 4-5 pound fish. Most unusual fish recently was a 6-pound sheephead landed on mussels near the bait shop. (I fished the pier for two and a half hours on the morning of August 1st. The visit produced 17 salema and 2 jacksmelt at the far end of the pier, and 3 yellowfin croaker and 1 jacksmelt in the inshore area.)

Date: October 1997—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop, says things are still hopping, although there aren’t the number of fishermen that you found during the summer. Inshore, spotfin croaker and buttermouth perch continue to hit mussels and bloodworms. Further out, from the mid-pier area to the end, there have been huge schools of big sardines (10-12″ range) which have been filling buckets for anglers so inclined. Carl says there are also a lot of sand bass and calico bass (kelp bass) being caught. Seems the life guards are stripping the mussels off the pilings in an attempt to lessen the weight of each in case El Nino storms hit the pier. The food which falls into the water by the removal of the mussels seems to be attracting scads of the tasty bass. Shark action is fair although lots of shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) and quite a few bat rays continue to add excitement. Carl said it was 80 degrees and beautiful the day I called (November 1st) and the water temperature remained a warm 68-69 degrees.

Nice scorpionfish taken by Smithy in 2016

February 1998—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop, says that the water temperature is down to 61 degrees but fish continue to bite. Mackerel are in and out but large schools of jacksmelt seem to offer steady sport. A number of sheephead have also been landed recently, most on ghost shrimp, and almost all out by the end. Both sand bass and kelp bass continue to offer some sport on squid but the corbina and croakers have stopped biting, you can still see them in the shallow-water areas but they’re not hungry. However, barred surfperch are hitting on fresh mussels in the inshore area and a few buttermouth perch (blackperch) are hitting around the pilings. At night a few lobsters continue to be brought in to the pier.

March 1998—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop, says that the water is a pleasant chocolate-brown color, just right for bottling. Unfortunately, the water is also cold and the fishing has plummeted. A few small barred surfperch do continue to be landed on mussels, and there was a decent run on 4-6 foot long leopard sharks last week, but everything else is slow. Most visitors to the pier are sightseers looking at the big waves. The day before I called the waves were up to the roof of the lifeguard shack on the pier, and frightening the brave souls who were dining out at Ruby’s at the end of the pier. Luckily there hasn’t been any real damage done to the pier—knock on wood. Carl said the brown water is caused by mud from the San Luis Rey River which enters into the boat harbor, and shortly thereafter into the ocean, just north of the pier. Carl also said the main road down to the harbor has washed out, a significant event to the people who work at the restaurants and boat landing in the harbor.

May 1998—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle, reports that fishing was slow with a pretty rough ocean (on the first). Anglers were getting a few mackerel and sardines out toward the end of the long pier, and a smattering of croakers and corbina in the inshore area. A few sand bass, calico bass (kelp bass) and halibut were also beginning to be caught out at the end. Most interesting were the catches of sheephead during the month, including a 12-pounder and a 27-pound fish. Most of the sheephead have been landed on shrimp.

April 1999—George, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that the fishing is finally starting to pick up. He says it was the worst winter for fishing he has ever seen but anglers are now starting to pick up good numbers of yellowfin and spotfin croakers in the inshore areas and big shovelnose sharks out at the end of the pier. The shovelnose are running 3-5 feet long and there seems to be a pretty good run.

A BIG spotfin croaker taken in 2016

July 1999—George, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that all Hell has broken loose and the fish have really started to bite. The water temperature jumped up to 66 degrees and corbina, yellowfin, spotfin, bass and halibut have been on a good bite. Its also seeing sharks and rays so it’s a little bit of everything.

August 2000—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), reports that fishing is pretty good. He’s seeing corbina, croaker and perch inshore, while out at the end anglers are getting some BIG mackerel and BONITO. He says the bonito are small “but they’re here” – after being gone for a couple of years.  The bonito are taken on feathers and spin floats. Unusual catches recently included a 27” striped bass caught in the surf area and a turtle that was brought in and released on July 4. He says there are also lots of small sharks.

November 2000—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), reports that fishing has slowed somewhat with the advent of cold and windy weather. However, there have been some interesting catches recently. As example, there was a good run of spotfin croaker inshore toward the end of the month and some barred surfperch have begun to enter into the picture. Out at the end of the pier there have quite a few opaleye perch taken on mussels together with several nice sheephead (including a 23” and 24” fish). Mackerel are still around but not in the numbers seen recently.  Carl says it has been dead on sharks and rays.

May 2001—Dan, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), reports that anglers are picking up yellowfin and spotfin croaker while working the surf areas along with a few barred surfperch. Try fresh mussels, ghost shrimp or bloodworms. Mid-pier to the end, the action’s been mostly on walleye surfperch and smallish-sized mackerel. What wasn’t small was a 150+pound bat ray taken on Sunday. Unfortunately the fish was pretty carved up by the time they got it onto the pier, Dan says the water is still a cold 60 degrees.

Tony the Tiger says “Fresh mussels are GREAT”

November 2001—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that mackerel and bonito are being caught – most of the boneheads on ball and feather set ups.   A few bass and halibut are showing up in the mid-pier area while some BIG spotfin croakers and small corbina have been taken inshore. He’s also starting to see a few sargo and barred surfperch so perch season may be fairly close at hand.

February 2002—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that things are slower than slow. He says it has been too cold for the fishermen (the pier was covered in frost one morning this week) and the ones who do show up aren’t catching much. Mainly it’s walleye surfperch. Hardly anything else.  

May 2002—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says fishing is finally starting to pick up. Says he’s seeing some nice corbina, spotfin croaker and barred surfperch inshore; herring (queenfish) and jacksmelt out at the end. He’s also seen quite a few shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) lately. He did report one bad sign. Seems there is an algea in the water affecting the sea lions and seals. Says there are several sick or dead sea lions on the beach. Lastly, there was a short mini-run of sheephead and scorpionfish out at the end of the pier a couple of weeks ago but they seemed to have stopped

Sunrise, October 2017 (Picture courtesy of Oceanside Pier Bait Shop)

June 2002—George, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that “everything is exploding. People are landing lots of halibut (one guy landed 6 keepers in two days ON FROZEN MUSSELS) while inshore the action is hot on croakers, corbina and stingrays. He’s also seeing lots of bass and increasing numbers of sharks, especially shovelnose (guitarfish). Bait rigs on the end are pulling in quite a few sadines and mackerel are finally starting to show in good numbers” This may be one of the piers to hit now.

September 2002—George, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that the fishing is still very good with lots of spotfin and yellowfin croaker along with some halibut (including a few keepers) and some small white seabass. He says shovelnose are all over the place; around 20-25 a day. No bonito to speak of although a small 8-inch fish was caught this week; mackerel come and go – hot action followed by dead. One thing that is in big numbers is sardines—night and day; use bait rigs. Two final notes: (1) giant squid are making a short appearance most nights and (2) a 20-pound black sea bass was caught this week and finally released after George gave the angler a big warning. Good thing George was there or the guy would have kept it.

Two halibut taken by Mark in 2016

October 2002—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that a 9-pound calico bass (kelp bass) was taken by an angler using squid on 9/29. The fish was caught mid-way out on the pier, just past the restrooms. He also says there have been lots of yellowfin croakers and spotfin croakers taken inshore. At the end anglers are still getting mackerel while anglers fishing on the bottom continue to pull in a fair number of shovelnose sharks (guitarfish).

November 2002—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that things are starting to slow down although some yellowfin and spotfin croakers continue to be caught inshore along with a few barred surfperch. It’s slow further out on the pier although a few mackerel continue to be taken. Biggest news recently was the capture of a 210-pound giant (black) sea bass taken and released by Ben Seto. Don’t know how it was weighed but Carl says they’ve seen 3-4 fairly big giant sea bass in the past two months. He also chuckled over the 9-pound calico (kelp) bass caught by a neophyte angler who rented a pole, bought some frozen squid, and then came back a short time later with the huge calico. Most anglers will fish a lifetime from a pier and never catch a 9-pounder (in fact, it’s a pretty good calico even from a boat).

December 2002—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that with a few exceptions, things are slowing down. There’s been some spotfin croakers showing up along with a few keeper halibut and mackerel – on some days. The macs seem to come and go and you just have to be there when they show up. Of interest was a 20-lb, 32-inch sheephead and two more giant (black) sea bass, both estimated to weigh over 100 pounds. That makes about a half dozen giant sea bass in the past two months topped by the (estimated) 200-pound fish in October.

Wintertime is the time for lobster

February 2003—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that things are very slow, a few jacksmelt, barred surfperch (inshore) and small bass (calicos and sand) out at the end. Biggest news recently was the capture of a 20+ pound sheephead by 12-year-old John Kinsey. He caught the bucktooth creature out at the end of the pier on mussels. The water temperature is only 58 degrees which partly explains the slow fishing.

June 2003—George, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), reports that the fishing has exploded. Inshore there are lots of croaker – spotfins, yellowfins and corbina (although most are in the 2-3 pound range, not any real big fish). Out at the end lots of calicos (kelp bass) are showing up together with some big shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) including one that weighed a little over 25 pounds. In addition, big schools of mackerel and sardines have covered the water on some days.

November 2003—George, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), said it was cold and raining the morning I called BUT fishing had been excellent with LOTS of bonito and mackerel. He said the end of the pier has been like summertime, i.e., crowded. But the bonito haven’t been around for a while so I’m not surprised. George says there are lots of anchovies in the water and they’re bringing in the boneheads and macs – so enjoy it while you can. If seeking out the bonito try feathers with a cast-a-bubble or lures like Krocodiles.  Croaker action has died off as has most bottom action. George says it has been fun watching the dolphins feasting on all the local bait.

May 2004—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that things are still somewhat slow but picking up. A few halibut have been landed (including a 36-inch, 22-pound fish, and a 30-inch, 12 1/2 pound fish). Inshore, anglers are getting a few yellowfin croaker while further out herring (queenfish) and walleye surfperch are more common. Bat rays and shovelnose guitarfish are hitting on the bottom.

September 2004—Charlie, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says a lot of bonito are being taken on live bait, feathers, and top running lures. There is a lot of bait—anchovies and sardines—in the water to attract the boneheads. In addition, he is seeing quite a few sargo (most on fresh mussels) and some huge shovelnose sharks (guitarfish). Inshore there are some yellowfin and spotfin croakers; the croakers are falling to bloodworms, fresh mussels, or shrimp.

October 2004—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), reports continued good action on bonito and mackerel with tons of bait in the water. One angler, Romeo, landed a 40-pound or so halibut using live bait. Many white seabass are also showing up but most are small, illegal fish (usually called sea trout). It’s been a little slow on the inshore croakers.

Halfmoon (left) and Sargo (right) from the pier

November 2004—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), reports fantastic bonito action along with LOTS of short white seabass and mackerel. He’s also seen quite a few bat rays but the action on halibut is slow and the croaker bite is non-existent. Leopard sharks re being taken on squid, sardines and cut mackerel.

August 2005—Carl, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), reports that the red tide has finally bid adieu after its two-month visit and the result is improved fishing—and catching. Out at the end there are many, many mackerel along with a few bonito (caught on feathers w/bubbles). Mid-pier the herring (queenfish) are thick along with a few walleye perch. A few halibut have shown but most are shorts; use live smelt or small queenfish as bait. The surf area continues to kick out some corbina and yellowfin croakers (use bloodworms, fresh mussels or ghost shrimp). It sounds like it’s the time to go!

May 2006—Dino, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says that there has been a really good bite on croakers—yellowfins and spotfins—with many of the spotties hitting 3-5 pounds. Try fresh mussels or ghost shrimp. There’s also been some good perch fishing with a combination of species. Corbina are also picking up—try fresh mussels by the bait shop. A few mackerel are hitting out at the end but the action is sporadic. Biggest news recently was a HUGE bat ray that was supposedly weighed in at 250 pounds; a picture was supposed to be sent to the Oceanside paper. I’d appreciate a copy.

Spotfin Croaker — 2012

June 2006—Charley, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says the fishing has been really good recently. The last week saw a number of BIG spotfins show up led by 6 and 8-pound fish.  There’s also been good numbers of yellowfin croaker and barred surfperch inshore. Out at the end there was a decent run of good-sized 5-6 pound bonito but they apparently have moved on and been replaced by smaller bonito. Most of the bonito were taken on spoons such as Kastmasters and MegaBaits rather than bubbles w/feathers. He said it is slow on halibut. One side note, a lady did commit suicide by jumping off the pier last week and there was a fisht between a fisherman and a surfer. Sounds like  things were busy down there.

October 2006—Charley, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says people continue to pull in good-sized spotfin croaker to about four pounds together with nice yellowfin croaker. He says there are tons of mackerel and lots of bonito but you have to be there when the bonito decide to visit the pier. When they get to the pier just about everyone gets them but they only make a visit a couple of times a day. Other than that it’s mostly perch with almost no halibut showing up. (Snookie always says when the bonito are around you will not catch the halibut).

April 2007—Verg, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says things have slowed somewhat from a few weeks ago. There’s still barred surfperch inshore but lesser numbers of the yellowfin and spotfin croakers. A few shovelnose are being caught along with mackerel they move in for short visits to the pier. Biggest news the day I called was the 100-pound or so giant (black) sea bass that was going up and down the pier in water shallow enough to put on a show. Luckily no one was trying to hook him.

June 2007—Charlie, at the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle (on the pier), says it’s spotfins, spotfins and more spotfins with many of the fish hitting close to five pounds in size. Best bait according to Charlie are baby mussels but ghost shrimp and worms should also attract them. Other than that it’s pretty slow for most other species although some (Humboldt?) squid are being brought in. Not big numbers but the squid are being taken during both the day and night hours. They range in size to about 5 feet in length

No boats necessary

Dedicated pier patrons are proud and happy to spend their days fishing from California’s shoreline pilings

 Basketball has its gym rats, golf has its range rats and, yes, fishing has its very own pier rats.

They are a special breed of angler, these fanatics who fish from pilings, whether they be concrete or wooden. Pier rats don’t care.

“Our motto is no boats, no kayaks and no freshwater for posts on our board,” said newby pier rat Garth Hansen of Escondido. Their message board is on

Garth and his daughter Lisa

In his excellent book, “Pier Fishing in California,” Ken Jones, the modern-day Pied Piper of this new breed of pier rat, leads his cult-like followers to 113 piers, including those in the Carquinez Strait (about 20 miles northeast of San Francisco) and West Delta. In his second edition of the book, Jones includes an enlarged fishing-tips section and also details a history of the piers. There’s an entire section on fish identification, and he tops it with a section called “The Pier Rats Speak,” a dozen classic posts from the “Pier Fishing in California” message board on

At a recent get together at Oceanside Pier, Hansen was joined by John Kim of Carlsbad, Reid Mimaki of San Marcos, Rod Mina of San Diego and Rich Reano, the site’s Web master from Chula Vista, for some early-morning shore fishing followed by a trip to the pier.

Hansen discovered the group while searching the Web one day. “The fishing report is one of the more useful things about the site,” Hansen said. “I’m a beginner, so it helped me with good fishing information and tips. I took my daughter out to the pier the first time. Except for a 16-inch smelt, we got skunked. But since then I’ve landed my first legal halibut, first legal sand bass and way too many croakers.”

Reano fished from the beach early and, like the others, landed a handful of barred surf perch. He used a unique offering, a size 8 Wooly Worm fly with a half-ounce barrel sinker, a standard Carolina rig. Reano has been the group’s Web master since 1997. “We get just over a half million page views a month,” Reano said. “We’re small compared to boards like Allcoast Sportfishing, but for pier fishing, we do OK. We have a narrow focus, but still have a lot of views for that.”

There are 8,000 registered members of the board but, as Reano said, “many more lurking out there.”

Mina said the reports and pictures that pier and shore anglers post make the site valuable to those looking for information, tips and places to fish. “Part of it is people want to educate others about pier and shore fishing, but part of it is people want to brag, too,” Mina said.

The group stresses that all pier and shore fishermen follow Department of Fish and Game regulations, a big issue on the state’s piers. Many pier fishermen are recent immigrants who often plead ignorance on fish and game laws. They have a reputation with other fishermen for taking over-limits and fish or lobsters out of season. “We place a huge emphasis on rules,” Reano said.

Ben Acker and Bryan Burch traveled from Pasadena to join the others for the rare get together last Saturday. Acker, a sixth grade teacher in Arcadia, is a veteran hoop-netter and pier angler. “I have five younger brothers, and my mom said the only thing we could ever do without fighting is fishing and singing,” Acker said. Acker converted an old baby jogger into a fishing pier buggy that he loads all his gear on for an easy trek to a spot along the pier’s rail. As Acker was setting up his gear, a tourist passed by and said: “Do you need a fishing license to fish on a pier?” Acker responded, “No.” And the guy winced and said, “I just lost a $5 bet with this guy because I bet him you needed one.”

Anglers don’t need a fishing license, but knowledge of the shoreline structure under the pier is a huge benefit. And knowing how to rig for the various fish is equally important. “It’s a sharp learning curve, but if someone puts the time in, it’s not that hard to learn,” Acker said.

Acker said piers are the best-kept secret for hoop-netting lobsters. “I’ve probably hoop-netted more lobsters from a pier than I have from my kayak,” said Acker, who has his own special way of lowering his hoop net. He cradles it under his arm and tosses it the way someone would toss a discus. He got a good 30 yards on his toss on this day.

Down the pier from Acker, Daniel Elrod of Lancaster, another bona fide pier rat, displayed his invention, the L-Rodholder that he uses for rods and even a pulley arm for pulling hoop nets up from the depths. He sells them for $45 to $59. “I’m 46 years old and I’ve been pier fishing my whole life,” Elrod said. “My dad started me out when I was young.” Elrod said he visited Ocean Beach Pier during lobster season last year and asked a hoop-netter there if he’d like to sample his pulley arm device for pulling up his net. Elrod said the man hoisted up 30 lobsters in two hours before the men were kicked off because there was an electrical problem on the pier. “It was the middle of the day, too,” Elrod said. “I mean every pull, every 15 minutes, he’d have five, six lobsters in there. It was incredible because they were all keepers (legal-size) except for one.”

Elrod had his 14-year-old son, Kyle, along with him, doing his part to pass on the pier-rat tradition. “I’m on that site every day,” Elrod said. “It’s an addiction. I like to read what’s going on in Northern, Central and Southern California, and it’s a great place for that. Everyone has their own style of fishing, their own personality. But by knowing what’s going on along the whole coast helps me plan my own fishing trips and excursions.”

Boyd Grant is vice president of United Pier and Shore Anglers of California. He travels in his motorhome and checks on piers. He’s a mobile pier rat with a shell. “I’m a full-time volunteer and field representative,” Grant said. “I drive the entire coastline and check out the beaches and the piers. I have over 30 years of fishing every pier in California.” Grant said one of the other features of is that it includes a link to Ken Adelman’s The site offers up-close and updated looks at beach access and fishing areas. Grant called “Pier Fishing in California” author Ken Jones “the best piling fisherman I’ve ever seen.” “When we go to Catalina, we get 20 fish. He catches and releases 200 or more,” Grant said of Jones. “I don’t care where it is. Any pier, any piling. He’s the piling master.” Grant said he loves the entire atmosphere that can usually be found on a fishing pier. “There’s a lot more to pier fishing than just hooking fish,” Grant said. “I’ve found that no matter where in the world we go, when we visit a pier we have so much in common with the people there. Within five minutes, we’re talking like we’ve known each other all our lives.”

As Grant spoke, the Flatt family fished behind him on the north side of the pier. Steven and Melissa Flatt were there with Kalyn, 2. It was a family, glad to join the ranks of the pier rats. “He wanted a fisherman, so Kalyn now is into fishing,” Melissa Flatt said. “This is her first time fishing the pier, but she’s caught bluegill and has fished in Yosemite already.”

—Ed Zieralski, Outdoors, San Diego Union-Tribune, January 22, 2005

Sunset at the pier — 2004

Special Recommendations. A lot of small, undersized (and illegal), white seabass (generally called seatrout by anglers) are caught on this pier. Please return them to the water and help this species once again become a viable resource.  You may also avoid a large fine and the loss of your fishing license!

Note No. 1. At one time the Oceanside Pier had its own Sportfishing operation. One of the old pier items that I have is an unopened package with a wire barracuda leader. The printing on the package states it is from Art & Bill’s Tackle Store and says, “Save a Boat Ride—Drive to Oceanside. McCullah Bros. Sport Fishing, Oceanside Pier.” For reservations, one simply called Oceanside 4467. I’m not sure of the date of this package, it could have been anywhere from the thirties to the fifties.

Note No. 2. Two major surf competitions take place adjacent to the pier in June—the West Coast Pro-Am and the National Scholastic Surf Association—and parking can be pretty gnarly. If you plan to fish the pier on those weekends (check the newspapers for dates) get there early.

A beautiful sunrise in January 2018 (Photo courtesy of Oceanside Pier Bait Shop)

Note No. 3.  Did you know that the Oceanside Pier is seen in the movie Bring It On?

Note No. 4.  Fishing at a pier can teach many lessons about life. Here we’re presented the age-old question: Is a fish story really a lie?

Not all the sharks are big ‘uns. This is a baby leopard shark.

We Get Hooked on Fish Story

Carlsbad, Calif.—There has been some fishing and some lying, none of it too successful. As is customary, we visit the Oceanside pier from time to time while on vacation here to (as I believe they say it) wet a line, but mainly, I think, to get hot chocolate and doughnuts at the end of the pier. ,

The fishing is secondary. It is nice that way. It’s regulars, the old folks who settle down for the day with sack lunches, folding chairs and battered straw hats, put their lines in, but they are there to visit and take the sun and breeze. Mine just happen to take the hot chocolate.

The sports congregate at the end of the pier, probably 1,000 yards out from shore, and they are elbow to elbow and intense and want the fish to bile. One old girl, about an ax handle across the stern, seemed to be the star performer out there the other day.

She was dressed in jaded blue overalls, with a man’s blue workshirt bnttoncd at the neck, canvas shoes and a wide straw hat with the trailing edges reaching her shoulders. Probably she was in her ‘70’s but she whooped and hollered every time she pulled in a fish and she truly seemed to have the touch.

As I walked by from the end of the pier with a black coffee “to go,” her pole bent sharply again, waving, and she warhooped again.

Well, this is the serious fishing spot, and I suppose that it is because it is farthest from land, but you can’t fool ‘em about halfway out in. I have caught halibut there, and mackerel, tomcod, rays and small sharks, but the best thing to do is visit the small fish market located there.

The children got bored the other day after about 15 minutes and left me with the poles while they trooped out for chocolate

“Give me two bonitas, please,” I asked the young fellow behind the counter. I dropped them in my sack.

And I was standing there, looking rather unconcerned, line in the water, when they came back and asked what was in the sack.

I told them to look. “Gee, did you catch those?” the young fellow yelled. “He bought them at the fish market,” his slightly older and wiser sister stated. “Let’s tell them we caught them when we get home.”… her brother was enthused with the plan. “Yeah.” He said. “You caught one and I caught one. I get to carry the sack”…

Parents are supposed to teach their children that lying is dreadful, leaving them to pick it up as they mature. “This is not really lying.” I told them, and they nodded.  “This is what they call a fish story, and it is different.” They nodded again.

They went roaring into the house when we got home, displaying their trophies. The big girl looked up from her book. “You bought those at the pier, didn’t you?” she queried, “Yes,” I said. What a know-it-all.

—Bill Sumner, Vacation Report, Pasadena Independent, August 17, 1961

Oceanside’s beach — 2008

Note No. 5.  A good pier article is always welcome

Oceanside pier attracts all ‘walks of life’

OCEANSIDE —- When Rico Nguen moved to Escondido from Texas, one of the first things he wanted to do was to check out the fabled Southern California beach scene a few miles to the west. A town with a name like Oceanside had to be a good place to start, he figured. But when he got here, it wasn’t the sand or the surf that struck his fancy—it was the pier.

“I’d never been to California before I moved here, so I figured I should take advantage of it,” Nguen said this week while supervising his girlfriend’s 11-year-old son, who was casting his first fishing lines into the surf 40 feet below. “It’s nice to come out here and relax.”

Ten-year-old Dale Wuehler of Vista tosses a hungry pelican a fish that he caught as his sister Tina Ayers, 22, watches while on the Oceanside Municipal Pier.

The Doull family of Fallbrook, from left, Brittney, 11, Shane, his wife Nina, and Cayla, 9, gets splashed by the surf as they have a family portrait taken next to the Oceanside Municipal Pier by wedding photographer Andrea Welding on Sunday.

Victor Estrada of Vista drops a bat ray back into the ocean after he caught it while fishing at the end of the Oceanside Municipal Pier on Sunday.

Chris Miller, Nguen’s charge for the day, wasn’t there to relax. He was bumming baitfish from a fellow fisherman while simultaneously setting a line and trying in vain to pet a seagull. He was too busy to talk, but acknowledged with a chuckle that, yes, catching a shark would be pretty cool.

The Oceanside Municipal Fishing Pier stretches 1,954 feet into the sea, providing about 1 million tourists per year with an expansive view and lost souls with the temporal satisfaction that, for the moment, there’s nowhere else to go.

If Oceanside has a symbol, the pier would have to be it.

On a clear day, the pier is visible from La Jolla on the south to well into Orange County on the north. It’s even easier to see at night, when the rows of Victorian-style streetlights—pierlights?—turn the utilitarian structure into a ribbon of lights leading into the misty dark. There’s nothing except a restaurant at the end of the ribbon, but that only urges visitors onward. Some mumble to themselves. Most take pictures.

“The pier gives visitors a unique perspective on the California coastline,” said Mike Francis, director of tourism for the California Welcome Center’s Oceanside branch. “It was always a central point for me and my friends when we were growing up. That’s where we went to meet people who weren’t from here.” …

Ruby’s runs a shuttle—an extended golf cart—from the shore to the restaurant, allowing customers to keep their new calories for just 50 cents, rather than walk some of them off in the salt air. It’s a very popular service, judging by the number of people clambering off and on at each end.

Maintaining the pier comes with its own challenges. Topside, seagull droppings and fish guts must be hosed off constantly. The railings were recently replaced because years of bait-cutting had permanently rutted their surface. And slats in the fence featuring the names of people who paid $25 in 1988 for the honor of being displayed on the pier have to be replaced or, at least, re-carved from time to time due to weather and because the legally carved names tend to attract illegal imitators, said John Shepard, the pier’s only full-time maintenance worker.

Things get a little trickier underneath, Shepard explained. The pier was built without a catwalk, so Shepard has to borrow a few colleagues from elsewhere on the city’s harbor payroll to help set up scaffolding so he can inspect the wooden pylons and steel braces that support the structure. It’s a long process. In his 15 years on the job, Shepard has been out and back beneath the pier just three times, he said.

Shepard is currently gearing up for his annual ritual of intensive bottom-side maintenance. The pier attracts fewer visitors in the winter, resulting in less wear and tear up top. That gives him more time to prowl below.

“Right now, we’re stripping the accumulation of mussels off the pylons because they increase resistance in rough weather,” Shepard said. “Mostly, I grind rust off braces and coat them with zinc and tar. I have to replace them occasionally, which takes four or five guys. I only replace deck boards when it’s absolutely necessary. They’re 24 feet long, and that’s a whole tree.”

“I love my job. People from all walks of life make the trek to the end of the pier. The furthest you can go west is our pier. People who feel lost, and who are looking for something, they always come out. They can’t go any further.”

 —John Flink, North County Times, December 1, 2002

Headin’ out to the pier — 2008

Note No. 6.  Having friends who are elderly and disabled I can easily see the need for trams at some of the larger piers, especially those with wooden planks. On the other hand, it is economically feasible?

Condition of Oceanside pier raises concerns — Without a tram, visits tough for some people

Oceanside—The Municipal Fishing Pier is the longest wooden recreation pier on the West Coast, but it is too long and its wooden planks are too uneven for many elderly and disabled to enjoy.

“It’s always a bumpy ride, let me tell you that,” said Jackie Camp, who uses a wheelchair. Camp is director of Able/Disabled, a nonprofit service and advocacy agency.

Longtime Oceanside resident Patte Prentiss said the planks are too bumpy for her frail husband, so he no longer can enjoy one of his few pleasures in life, fishing off the pier during mackerel and bonito season. Prentiss said her husband, Gerald, 76, was almost in tears from fear his scooter chair would turn over the last time she tried to wheel him down the pier. She wants the tram that used to traverse the pier returned to service.

“They have to find a way,” Prentiss said. “It’s our pier. We paid for the pier. We can’t use it.”

Until a couple of years ago, the four-seat tram was operated by Ruby’s Diner, a restaurant perched at the end of the pier. The tram, which resembled an oversized golf cart, took passengers for a 50-cent fee. Camp said no one has contacted her organization to protest the pier’s condition or the elimination of tram service. City officials have asked Camp to meet with Frank Quan from the city Department of Harbor and Beaches on Tuesday to demonstrate difficulties wheelchair users may have accessing the pier.

City officials experimented with a rickshaw on the pier Friday, said Councilwoman Shari Mackin, and they planned to repeat the trial yesterday.

While some decry the elimination of tram service, Dolores Skolimowska, who uses a motorized scooter chair, said the tram really wasn’t the answer because it could not accommodate wheelchairs. Skolimowska said she navigates the pier with her scooter “very slowly, very carefully.” “It is very rough,” Skolimowska said. “But I can make it.”

City Attorney John Mullen said Ruby’s operated the tram until former City Manager Steve Jepsen allowed it to discontinue service a couple of years ago because of the financial hardship to the restaurant. “We wanted to operate it,” said Ruby’s general manager Chris Jones. “We did not want to get rid of it.”

Jones said that city officials told Ruby’s that it had to buy a public-transportation license and provide insurance as a public carrier. That was too expensive for a four-person tram. The restaurant had run the small tram from a public parking lot on the east side of Pacific Street down the 1,942-foot-long pier since it opened in 1996.

Most people thought it was required to do so. Mullen said the contract signed with the city in 1996 was “not a model of clarity.” It states that the city shall provide two tram vehicles and the lessee (Ruby’s) shall pay the costs of maintaining them, including the driver and necessary insurance. The city was to pick up half the cost as a credit against the rent the restaurant paid the city. The rent is a flat fee, now $87,500, plus a percentage of profits. Mullen said the contract did not say how often the tram was to run. While Mullen and city officials debate how the tram came to be sidelined, older and disabled residents say they still can’t get down the pier and would like to do so.

Don Hadley, city director of harbor and beaches, said the city still owns the tram and has asked Ruby’s to use it as much as possible to take supplies to the restaurant instead of driving heavier vehicles on the pier.

The pier predates many laws about disabled access…

“It’s one of my highest priorities right now to get access to the pier,” Interim City Manager Barry Martin said Friday, adding that “we’re looking at several possibilities,” ranging from pedicabs to a return of the tram.

Prentiss said she wondered why the city couldn’t just put a 3-foot-wide asphalt strip over the wooden planks to provide a smoother surface for wheelchairs or unsteady walkers. Hadley said the city has rejected that idea because asphalt destroys wood, although the damage often can’t be seen.

Mackin is pushing for an answer because her own octogenarian father, George Thornton, finding no tram, attempted to walk to Ruby’s for lunch a couple of years ago and found the trudge too hard on his heart. He needed medication and a lift off the pier from lifeguards. “How terrible was that?” Mackin said. “Scary.”

San Diego Union-Tribune, July 9, 2006

You do not need a license on a public pier in California

Note No. 7.  Competition for space between pier anglers and surfers is an ongoing problem that just doesn’t seem to end. The Oceanside Pier is one of the piers entangled in the war.

 Face-off at Oceanside Pier — City tries to ease tension after anglers, surfers fight

Oceanside—Adam Beutz sometimes packs scissors in the sleeve of his wet suit when he paddles out to surf at the Oceanside Pier. The scissors come in handy when he needs to cut through someone’s fishing line.

Adam, 16, a Vista High School junior, has been surfing the pier for several years, and he has been snagged by fish hooks and tangled in fishing lines more times than he cares to count. On Memorial Day, after Adam was forced to free himself from a line by gnawing through it with his teeth, he and his friends got into an argument with the fisherman who cast the lure, leading to a fight on the beach.

Such is life at the Oceanside Pier, where surfers and anglers have jostled and sparred for decades over who has rights to the same small swath of ocean. Now Oceanside is studying its ordinances to see if anything can be done to reduce tensions between the two factions.

At 1,954 feet in length, the Oceanside Pier is the longest wooden pier on the West Coast. Dozens of anglers line its edges on any given day, their bait buckets filled with mussels and squid, their rods dangling over the frothing surf. The croakers that swim in the shallows are a particularly popular catch. “They melt in your mouth when you cook ‘em,” said Zack Oller, 46, an Oceanside construction worker who fishes at the pier several times a week.

Surfers say the pier produces one of the best waves in North County. With every big swell comes a steady supply of barreling water. Although a local ordinance requires surfers to stay at least 100 feet away from each side of the pier, the best place to catch a wave is often at the edge of the pilings—a temptation too great for many surfers to resist.

“When the wave is good there, it’s really good,” said Scott Prestie, 44, a surfer who happens to be a captain with the Oceanside Fire Department. “It’s just something you can’t pass up.”

When the waves are pumping, surfers head out in droves, even if they have to navigate a forest of dangling fishing lines. When paddling from shore, they tend to stay as close to the pier as possible to get the benefit of a rip current near the pilings.     Arguments are a daily occurrence. Surfers say anglers purposely cast in their direction. Fishermen accuse surfers of deliberately slicing their lines. “They’re all over the place, like flies,” fisherman Bob Sugita, a Vista security guard, said one recent morning, standing on the pier and motioning toward the surfers bobbing in the waves below.

Nate Pitcher, 25, said he nearly came to blows with an angler who hooked his wet suit and yanked him off his board. Pitcher paddled to shore to confront the fisherman but backed off when the man pulled out a fishing knife. “It’s an everyday problem,” Pitcher said of the tension between the two groups.

Open hostility between surfers and anglers long has been an issue at many piers in Southern California, although Oceanside’s problem appears to be the worst in San Diego County. At Imperial Beach, surfers routinely ignore the ordinance that requires them to stay at least 20 feet from the pier. In 2003, partly out of concern for the safety of surfers, the Imperial Beach City Council banned bow-and-arrow fishing on the pier. At the Ocean Beach pier, surfers are supposed to maintain a distance of at least 75 feet, but they often disregard the rule so they can “shoot” the pier, meaning surf underneath it from one side to the other. Conflicts at the Ocean Beach pier are rare because anglers fish the deeper water, while surfers catch waves closer to shore, said San Diego lifeguard Lt. John Greenhalgh.

Over the years, Oceanside officials have considered and rejected a number of proposals to remedy the problem, none of them particularly practical or safe. One idea—using buoys to create a demarcation line—would pose a danger to surfers because their leashes could become tangled in the buoys.

At the Sept. 28 meeting of the city’s Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee, Oceanside lifeguard manager Ray Duncan said he would study the problem and see whether the situation could be improved. The city could increase the buffer zone to 200 feet, Duncan said, or pass an ordinance mandating that anglers and surfers use the water on alternating days. Commission members seemed reluctant to make such drastic changes.

Many surfers say the city should restrict fishing to the outer half of the pier, which would ease tensions because the best waves are closer to shore. Perhaps not surprisingly, the anglers say that proposal is ridiculous. The best croaker fishing is close to shore, they say. They point out that the pier—which was built in 1925 and significantly expanded in the 1980s—was constructed specifically for anglers. Its official name is the “Oceanside Municipal Fishing Pier.”

It was the Memorial Day fracas involving Adam Beutz, his friends and some irate anglers that prompted city officials to take a fresh look at the problem. Even before the confrontation, the Vista High student said, his patience with the anglers had been wearing thin. The previous year, Adam had been hooked by three lines at once, with one barb digging so deep into his toe that he had to paddle back to shore to get it removed.

On Memorial Day, Adam was hooked again, leading to the argument with the fishermen. Before long, one of Adam’s buddies was standing on the beach, exchanging punches with one of the anglers. By all accounts, Adam’s friend got the worst of the fight. Police didn’t file any charges, partly because witnesses gave differing accounts of what happened.

“Half of them said it was the surfers’ fault, half of them said it was the fishermen’s fault,” Oceanside police Sgt. Sean Sullivan said.

Carolyn Krammer, a local real estate agent who runs the annual Surf for the Sea competition at the pier, said she doubts the problem will ever go away. The two groups have been at each other’s throats for years, Krammer said. In the old days, anglers would stand on the pier and toss bottles and cans at the surfers below. “I’ve seen guys up there just laughing away,” Krammer said. “They try to hook you, like you’re a fish.”

Oller, who has been fishing the pier for two decades, insists it is the surfers who instigate most arguments, yelling and cursing at the anglers above. Even though he has been screamed at more times than he can remember, Oller said he always resists the temptation to cast his line in a surfer’s direction. “I wouldn’t know how to fillet one of those,” Oller said.

—Charlie Neuman, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 8, 2006

Hope a big one doesn’t bite!

History Note. Oceanside was founded in 1883. Just five years later, in March of 1888, a wharf company was formed and on May 12, 1888, the first piling was driven for the new pier. That pier was located at the foot of Couts Street (today’s Wisconsin Street) and locals say that at low tide a person can still see some of the pilings from that original pier. The American Bridge Company from San Francisco handled construction, and the costs were largely paid for by subscription pledges from people hoping to make a buck. Promoters of the wharf felt Oceanside could rival San Francisco or Los Angeles—if the city had a wharf. Work started but slowed almost immediately. There were lawsuits, unpaid subscriptions, delays and damage from storms.

In December of 1888 a huge storm tore away several planks from the pier and washed lumber down the coast. Records seem a little hazy, but the all-wooden pier, the southernmost oceanfront wharf in the state, continued construction. By August of 1889 Oceanside asked citizens to raise a final $4,000 and promised completion of the wharf in 40 days. It’s unclear if the pier actually met its goal of extending out more than 1,200 feet into the blue Pacific. It is known that winter storms first reduced the wharf to a length of 940 feet before a storm in December of 1890 destroyed all but 300 feet of the pier.

 Oceanside’s Wharf Wrecked by Heavy Seas — A New Iron Pier Will Replace the Old Structure

 By Telegraph to the Times

Oceanside (Cal.,) Jan. 1—[By the Associated Press] The heavy west wind which prevailed on Tuesday night swept the wharf ashore, with the exception of about 300 feet. Work was commenced on it May 12, 1888, and suspended August 13, 1888. The wharf was out 940 feet. A new company is to be formed and an iron pier to be built.

—Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1891

Melchior Pieper, owner of the South Pacific Hotel, gathered and saved much of the loose lumber that was left from the storms. He had it piled up behind his hotel and soon began to campaign for a new pier, one be built near Third Street, the site of his hotel. In 1894 that pier, Oceanside’s second, was built. It was partly constructed from the lumber of the original pier but it was also given iron pilings and extended out only 400 feet. It soon acquired the affectionate name “Little Iron Wharf.” The pier was lengthened in 1896 and a proposal was made for lengthening it in 1900 but a new storm damaged much of the pier in 1902.

Pier number three emerged in 1903. This pier was nearly 1,300 feet long, 12 feet wide, and supported by steel railway rails purchased from the Southern California Railway Company. In 1908, lights came to the pier when the Oceanside Electric Company offered to light the pier free for one year. Eventually that pier would also succumb to winter storms.

Fishing from the pier — 1904

A $100,000 bond issue in 1926 paid for the fourth pier. It was made of wood and concrete and extended out 1,900 feet. It was dedicated on July 4, 1927, amid a three-day celebration that attracted over 20,000 people to Oceanside. The pier and its productive fishing waters quickly became a favorite haunt for anglers.

 Angler Fails To Land Fish — Oceanside Business Man Pulled from Pier — Large Catch Wins in Fight For Freedom — Rescuers Save Fisherman from Drowning

Oceanside, July 17—When a big fish, hooked off the end of the Oceanside pier about 6:30 o’clock last evening, decided he did not like fishermen and did not want to leave his happy home in the waters of the Pacific, he came very near making one less fisherman instead of one less fish.

C.A.Peddicord, Oceanside businessman, intent upon catching a large fish, bought brand-new fishing tackle, baited the hook with a pound and a half mackerel, and proceeded to wait. He caught it all right, but the fish objected to being taken from the water and proceeded to throw Peddicord over the railing of the pier, break his leg, land him in the deep water, and leave him to flounder desperately to keep afloat until he was saved by Cal Young coming to his rescue in a skiff and getting him aboard. Just before the skiff arrived to avert a drowning tragedy, Jim Donnell, popular high school graduate of this year, made a quick dash for a life preserver near by and threw it to the struggling man. He could not reach it, however, but the appearance of a man below the pier encouraged the drowning man just enough that he continued to fight to keep above water until he was rescued.

Peddicord had fished more or less for years, but had never caught a big fish. He got the heavy tackle with the intention of getting the thrill of the big-fish catch. As he waited for the fish to bite, he received instructions about how to set his drag, not too heavy, he was told, and learned how to hold the rod. He waited and waited but the fish seemed unconcerned so he tightened up his drag a few turns and thought it would be easier to slip the pole under his leg and be ready for business if any surprise came. The surprise arrived and he proceeded to reel in his fish and had it fairly up to the pier when it made a dart underneath. He leaned over to see what was happening down there when the fish gave a big lurch and Peddicord made a flip over the rail, the pole acting as a lever, the fish on the long end, he on the short. As he went over he grabbed for support, struck his leg on the cross beam of the pier, breaking his leg halfway between the ankle and the knee.

Just what kind of a fish it was that he caught is unknown. He had a regular jewfish outfit, but it is believed not to have been a jewfish that put on this surprise exhibition of fish ingenuity and activity.

—Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1930

By the ’30s, barge fishing was also available from the pier. Anglers who craved a little more action than that found on the pier could take the water taxi out to the Oceanside by 1934, and the Glenn Mayne by 1938.

A busy pier in 1935

In 1942 a terrible storm destroyed 385 feet of the pier and then an additional 150-foot portion of the pier was sheared off in January of 1943. Use of the pier was curtailed but World War II was now the main topic of concern and repairs to the pier would have to wait.

The war ended in 1945 and in 1946 voters once more went to the voting booth. They approved a bond issue for $175,000 and construction of Oceanside’s fifth pier began. The new pier was 1,943 feet long and at the time of construction it claimed to be the longest pier on the West Coast. City fathers also hoped it would last a little longer than most of the previous piers. Ceremonies included placement of a silver dollar on the last piling as symbol of a hoped-for 100-year life. It wouldn’t happen but the pier did last longer than any of its predecessors.

During the late ’40s and ’50s, before the harbor area was developed, saw the barge fishing that was headquartered on the pier resume in the forms of the Lazy Daze and the Morfun. The pier also served as home base for a number of Sportfishing boats including the Calypso.

California Fish and Game picture — 1950

“There are new faces back of the counter of the sporting goods store on the Oceanside pier. Art and Bill Kemper of Newport Beach fame have taken over, and moved the stock from the San Clemente store down there. Art says the pier fishing is really something, with perch and goggleye always on hand, and halibut, smelt, herring, etc. plentiful at times.”

—Andy Anderson, Fishin’ Along The Coast, Long Beach Independent, August 2, 1951

A 1953 report on Oceanside by the Fish and Game Department said that “No commercial fishing power boats operate here but 6 to 10 men fish from skiffs and deliver to a market at the Oceanside Pier… In 1952 three party boats and four charter boats operated here with two barges anchored off the town.”

As is usual with oceanfront piers, new storms would occasionally batter the pier and cause damage. However, as seen below the damage wasn’t always due to Mother Nature.

Oceanside pier closed by storm

Oceanside (UPI) — The popular Oceanside Pier was closed as a “safety precaution” at midday Saturday after a night of battering by strong wind and waves buckled several of its pilings. Guests of wind up to 35 mph and white-capped waves up to six feet pounded the moorings of the city landmark and snapped a quarter-mile steel water main extending from the shore to the end of the pier.

A police spokesman said Saturday that the half-century old pier was in no danger of collapsing but that “it was moving more than it should.” By the afternoon the wood pilings of the T-shaped fishing pier were noticeably loosened under the wave action but none of them had snapped.

—The Hayward Daily Review, January 3, 1971

Oceanside Pier ruined by storm

Oceanside (AP) — Heaving seas caused $100,000 damage to Municipal Pier, making it necessary to build another one, says the city projects engineer. The storm last Thursday destroyed 19 pilings at the end of the end of the 1,900-foot pier, breaking off one section 30 feet by 40 feet in size.

—Long Beach Press-Telegram, April 22, 1976

Fire Destroys Café On Oceanside Pier

Oceanside (AP) — Fire hit the Oceanside pier early today, destroying a landmark café which stood at the west end of the structure for more than 30 years. The flames and smoke were seen for a mile or more. The cause of the fire, confined to the Pier Café, was under investigation.

—Oxnard Press-Courier. December 21, 1976

A 600-foot section of the pier’s end was destroyed by large waves in 1978 followed by an additional loss of 90 feet in 1982. Finally, after a fire on the pier, the pier sat in sad-condition for several years. The end was missing, there were few facilities, and many people began to question if it would ever regain its former size or glory, to sound dramatic.

The shortened pier in 1987

A Pier with Few Peers Going Up in Oceanside

OCEANSIDE — Plank by plank, piling by piling, there’s a pier taking shape on the seashore here.

Work began in earnest last week on Oceanside’s pier, a 1,942-foot structure that will replace a wave-racked predecessor that had fallen victim to the ocean.

But this, mind you, won’t be just another set of pretty pilings. It’ll be a pier with few peers. City officials boast that the pier, expected to be completed by next summer, will be a state-of-the-art structure and the undisputed centerpiece of Oceanside’s blossoming oceanfront.

“We’ve taken the positive aspects from all the piers that have been built over the past few years and integrated them in this one,” said Dick Watenpaugh, city recreation director and one of the officials overseeing the project. “When it’s finished, we’ll have a very high-tech pier.”

To begin with, the pier will be higher off the surf, enabling it to escape some of the piling-crunching waves from fierce winter storms. In addition, workers will encase traditional wooden pilings with hard plastic coatings to more effectively ward off the day-to-day grind of sand moving with the swells.

Officials hope the $5-million waterfront edifice will help civic revitalization efforts, luring visitors who in recent decades have avoided the rundown area around the pier. “It’ll be one of the big draws,” Watenpaugh said.

But building a structure suspended above waves a quarter mile out at sea is no easy task, and the Oceanside project has a few added engineering oddities. Glenn Prentice, the city’s public works director, described the construction effort as being akin to erecting a building with the original structure still standing in place.

A 900-foot stretch of the old municipal fishing pier that was spared by the waves will be used by workmen as a perch for their heavy equipment as they drive wooden supports deep into the ocean floor, working their way outward from the shoreline.

Once the pier is built, scuba divers will use underwater buzz saws to cut down the old pilings. The hefty timbers will then be floated to shore.

The new pier will be the fifth one at that location in Oceanside. Historians do not know when the first pier was built but say it was replaced in 1894, when city officials spent $1,200 building the second one. That one eventually fell to the waves, and a wood and steel pier replaced it in 1927. Even steel proved vulnerable to the ocean, and a wooden pier was erected in 1947.

Winter waves lopped off about 600 feet of that pier in 1978, and a 110-foot section fell in 1983.

Eager to rebuild the structure, city officials placed a measure on the ballot in November, 1983, to fund much of the cost of rebuilding the pier, but voters rejected it.

—Eric Bailey, Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1986

However, in 1985 the Coastal Conservancy became involved, helped organize the plans to rebuild the pier, and gained a commitment for $1.0 million dollars from the Wildlife Conservation Board and the city. An additional $4.5 million in funding was obtained in 1987. Work commenced, and a new pier, 1942 feet in length, and the sixth to grace the city’s shoreline, was opened to the public on September 29, 1987.

Entrance Sign — 2008

In 1997, $200,000 was used for resurfacing and to repair loose bolts. This was followed by work in 2010 and 2013 to replace worn and uneven planks in order to make the surface smoother and better able to accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. At the same time, work was done to replace roughly 200 of the pier’s 1,089 metal braces and to refurbish the aging restrooms on the pier. Today the pier looks almost as good as new.

             Oceanside Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: A parking lot is available near the entrance to the pier and metered parking is available on Pacific Street. Restrooms and the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop are located mid-pier. Lights, benches, and fish cleaning stations are found throughout the pier. Snacks can be purchased at the bait and tackle shop while a Ruby’s Diner with its ‘50s themed food and servers covers much of the end of the pier.

Ed Gonsalves runs an excellent and always busy baitshop

Nearby Attractions: The Junior Seau Pier Amphitheatre and Junior Seau Beach Community Center (Beach Recreation Center) are located near the front of the pier. The amphitheater hosts a plethora of events while the recreation center includes a gymnasium, stage and kitchen. Not too far from the pier (312 Pier View Way) is the California Surf Museum, a neat place to visit if you’ve ever had a question about surfing. The cost is $3 adults, $1 students/seniors/military.

Handicapped Facilities: The pier has handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is cement and planking and the rail height is 44 inches. Posted for handicapped.

Location: 33.19278 N. Latitude, 117.38583 W. Longitude

How To Get There: From I-5 take Mission Blvd. west to Pacific, turn right and follow it to the pier.

Management: City of Oceanside, Public Works Department.

13th Annual Mud Marlin Derby — 2014

The 13th Annual Mud Marlin Derby was held at the Berkeley Pier on May 17, 2014 from 6PM until midnight.

Berkeley Pier

The mission was to (1)  catch and release some cute little (or huge monster) mud marlin, aka bat rays; (2)  meet up with some fellow “pier rats” from the “Pier Rat Nation”;  (3) for some – to win the derby and/or raffle prizes. Mission #1 was only accomplished by four people; Mission #2 was largely accomplished, and, as expected, Mission #3 was limited to a several people.

Some halibut had been caught earlier

The official list showed 72 people signed in although we think the actual total was slightly higher since some people did not sign in. Those who signed in (and apologies since some signatures were hard to decipher)—Matthew, Richard Samms, Wa Moua, Nai Moua, Choua Thao. Twan Sysengchanh, Steven Kha, Logan Freda, Dylan Zimmerman (?), Damon Knudson, Orlan Gumban, Christopher Fajardo, Michael Karam, Sargon Tomy, Albert Karam, Chris Karam, Dave Clingman, Bob Griffin, Adam Vanul, Robert Gardner, Cory Ferry, Michael Shephard, Matt Galvin, April Galvin, Richard Vang, Cher Xiong, Abduhl ?, Danity Donohm, Shea Donohm, Justin Looking, Josephine Mayorga, Nick Messer, Ezequiel (Zeg) Fajardo Igor K, Wesley Harris, Juan Duran, Manuel Chavez, Nicolas Chavarria, George Vue, Mason Vue, Xing Vue Mova, Serg Vang, Devonte Fortson, Thomas Graytan, Abe ?, Brian ?, Hans Jones, Hans Jones Jr., Reubin Aguilar, Ashley Mercure, Cole Dunlap, Steve Timbroar, Robert Oakes, Robert Munoz, Anthony Gaspar, Julio Marciel, Richard Velarde, Jonathan Steele, Frank Rasheed, Andy Szostek, Richard McIntosh, Ken Jones, Ignacio Carbajac, Ken Murakami, Alan Kurosawa, Robert Zasta, Daniel Pedrelra, Mark Ervin, Johnny Guinowes, Andrew Lozoya, Leslie Townsend, and Ana Townsend.

Anglers getting ready for the derby


Some notes: I arrived at the pier about 3:45 and decided to fish for a few minutes by the inshore rocks. Unfortunately the waves were slapping the rocks, conditions just weren’t right for perch, and although I tried under and around the restrooms I failed to get a single bite. However, imagine my surprise when I heard a girl screaming “Oh my God, there’s a stingray in the toilet” as she rushed out of the restroom. Perplexed, I went into the room and sure enough there was a fish, a thornback ray, lodged in the toilet looking up. I took my pliers, removed the fish, and assured the girl she could now safely use the toilet. But really… a fish in the toilet?

Thornback (Toilet) Ray

 Eventually I decided to head out to the derby area. Along the way I was checking for fish and one angler, Marcus (?), had two nice-sized halibut that he had taken earlier. Snapped a picture of the fish and moved on. Out by the third sink area I ran into Matt and Josh and that’s where I decided to set up shop. Relived some old times with Matt including his first fish reports to me back in 1998 and our meeting up at the Pacific Pier that same year (where he had caught a nice striped bass). Met Josh and saw pictures of the two halibut he had caught earlier in the morning. Matt had journeyed down from Reno, Josh from Sacramento, and unfortunately they had only experienced two bites, and had gotten two fish, during the entire time at the pier. Things were slow and when combined with a bone-chilling wind it looked like it might be a long night.

Josh and Matt

 The evening would indeed turn out to be windy and cold and the fish were few. However, the company was good and the time passed quickly. (And, the wind even died down around 10pm.)

• I had a nice chat with Dave Klingman (West Coast Dave) who had brought several people with him from Sacramento. Dave showed me the pictures of (many) pink salmon that he caught at the Dash Point Fishing Pier in Washington last year and expressed sorrow that he had not had a chance to visit GDude in Vancouver during his trip. (And I too missed making the trip north last summer, GDude’s last.) I didn’t realize it until our talk but he and GDude had been the only two people to make it to every Mud Marlin Derby and now, with GDude’s passing, Dave has the lone distinction of being at every MMD

.• One of the pleasures was spending some time with Leslie and Ana Townsend. Ana had never been fishing and her mom had brought her out to the pier expecting a short visit. However, Ana was really interested in fishing so she was set up with a rod and reel (by Matt and Josh) and tried to catch a fish. Unfortunately she did not catch a fish but at least she got to hold up the bat ray that Big Rich caught and hopefully will return for the kid’s fishing derby in June.

Ana and Leslie Townsend

 • Biggest and fanciest carts – I think this honor went to Bob Griffin who’s been making it out to the piers for years. His cart seems to hold everything needed and it even has two rod holders attached to the top. Yes, a true pier rat.

Bob Griffin and his pier cart

• Met a good group of guys that fish the Martinez Pier on a regular basis and heard a little about the sturgeon fishing at the pier. I need to make a trip over there to fish with them and get some tips.

• Food — As always, the food was excellent. Brian did most of the cooking along with a little help from Big Rich, Hans and Matt. Brian was cooking the chili, hot dogs, bratwurst, and hot links, while Hans cooked up some excellent “dog bites” in a BBQ sauce. Finishing up the food was some fresh halibut fillets donated by Matt and Josh. Robert donated water.

Brian Linebarger and Hans Jones cooking

 • The Derby Winners were: 1st—Richard Velarde with a 37-pound (47-inch wingspan) bat ray;

Richard Velarde —1st Place Winner

2nd—Igor Klyashchitsky with a 33-pound (43-inch wingspan) bat ray;

Igor K — 2nd Place Winner

3rd—Richard Vang with a 13-pound (27-inch wingspan) bat ray. Being edged out by Igor’s fish at nearly midnight was Big Rich who had caught the first bat ray of the night, a 4-pound (12-inch wingspan) bat ray.


Richard Vang — 3rd Place Winner

• Special thanks to: (1) Brian Linebarger for setting up and hosting the event for the seventh year in a row (as well as the cooking). Brian has now moved north which will limit his time at these events and Hans Jones is scheduled to be next year’s host. (2) Richard McIntosh (Big Rich) for his help in many ways including picking Brian up at the airport, helping Brian get the various supplies, and providing some muscle power to get everything out onto the pier. (3) Hans Jones for rounding up some nice raffle prizes as well as helping with the cooking.

“Big Rich” McIntosh and Ken Jones

Hans Jones and the owner of the Castro Valley Sportsman’s Center

that donated raffle prizes

Thanks also goes to both the Castro Valley Sportsman’s Center and the Berkeley Marina Pro Shop. Included in their donations were an American series Seeker rod, a Daiwa Regal 3500 reel, a Penn Fierce reel, and an Okuma V system reel. In addition there were many smaller prizes. Hans Jones donated three crab snares that he made. The Berkeley shop also had a raffle for people who had purchased bait for the derby through the shop and awarded an Ugly Stik as a prize at the derby.

Raffle Prize Winners

Big Rich and a baby mud marlin (bat ray)

Weighing the bat ray

Ana and Leslie Townsend


Shovelnose Guitarfish

Mahigeer (Hashem Nahid) and a shovelnose guitarfish at the Hermosa Beach Pier

Order Rhinobatiformes — Guitarfish—Family Rhinobatidae 

Species:  Rhinobatos productus (Ayres, 1854); from the Latin word rhin (shark with a rough skin) and the Greek word batis (a ray or skate), and the Latin word product  (a lengthened form, in reference to its long shape and form). 

OB Pier Rat (Mike) and a shovelnose from the Ocean Beach Pier

Alternate NamesShovelnose shark, sand shark or guitarfish. Called guitarra viola in Mexico.

Haley and her first shovelnose at the Ocean Beach Pier

Identification: They have a rather spade-shaped head with a long and pointed nose; the disk is longer than it is wide. Their body is flattened but the tail is well developed with two dorsal fins on the top. Their coloring is sandy brown above, white below. (They also have the “most soulful, woebegone eyes you have ever seen.” This last reference is from the book Certainly More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes Of The Pacific Coast by the eminent marine biologist Dr. Robin Milton Love, a book that every angler who fishes California’s coast should read.)

Size: Reported to 5 1/2 feet in length and over 40 pounds. Typical size at piers is from two to four feet.

Shovelnose from the Manhattan Beach Pier

Range: Southern Mexico and the Gulf of California to San Francisco. Though once considered rare north of Monterey Bay, quite a few have been  reported from San Francisco Bay piers since 2007.

 DompfaDan (Dan Acker) and a guitarfish from the Goleta Pier

Habitat: Found on sandy beaches in coastal waters as well as bays (on both muddy and sandy bottoms) to a depth of about 50 feet. Sometimes appears in very large aggregations (apparently when they’re in “the mood”). Typically feeds on worms, crabs, and clams.

Pierhead (Boyd Grant) with a shovelnose from the Ventura Pier (29.5 lbs, 56.7 inches)

Piers: One of the most common rays at all piers south of Pismo Beach and one of the favorites due to their size and the delicious meat which can be cut from the tail. Best bets: Imperial Beach Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Crystal Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Newport Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Ventura Pier, Stearns Wharf and Goleta Pier.  


Leapin Bass (Pete Wolf of Big Hammer fame) with a shovelnose from the Goleta Pier

 Shoreline: A favorite catch of southern California shore fishermen, especially in bays.

Thomas Orozco and a guitarfish caught at the Marin Rod & Gun Club Pier in San Rafael

Bait and Tackle: Since this is one of the larger fish most pier anglers will encounter, you should use at least medium saltwater tackle—twenty pound test line and size 2 to 4/0 hooks. Guitarfish will hit almost any bait but live anchovies, smelt, shinerperch and brown bait—small queenfish or white croaker—seem to work best. Other baits considered to be good include ghost shrimp, squid, clams, innkeeper worms and cut mackerel or anchovies. Bait should be fished as close to the bottom as possible and in shallow water, just past the breakers. Most commonly seen in summer and fall.

Two shovelnose from the Malibu Pier

Food Value:Excellent. Unfortunately most anglers simply discard these rays even though, in taste and texture, the meat (found in two long, narrow fillets in the tail) is somewhat like that of expensive scallops. However, more and more people are learning how to properly prepare Mr. Shovelnose.

                                     A shovelnose taken from the Malibu Pier

Comments: Remember to bring a net or pier gaff (but only gaff them if you intend to keep them)!

Dad with a shovelnose caught in Mission Bay

My dad used to head down to Mission Bay each day, pump up some ghost shrimp, sit back with his dog Mitzi, and wait for a spotfin croaker or big old shovelnose to grab his bait. He was the one who taught me that guitarfish are good eating. In fact, one day he was talking to some visitors from Seattle who had been in San Diego on a fishing trip. They had fished on boats and shore and were headed back. He gave them some shovelnose and they called a few days later stating that they liked the meat from the shovelnose better than the other fish. Who would have known?

A shovelnose caught at the Marin Rod & Gun Club Pier in San Rafael

A related, though smaller relative, the banded guitarfish, is occasionally seen at piers in the San Diego area; most are caught from piers in San Diego Bay.

A banded guitarfish from the Goleta Pier

In Mexico, dead guitarfish are mutilated, shaped, dried, and turned into basilisks or diablos (devils) and sold to to naive/gullible tourists as curios. I imagine there might be a good market for them in the “Area 51″ crowd?

A garadiablo or sea demon made from a shovelnose guitarfish

Shovelnose guitarfish from the Balboa Pier

Then there’s always this real  guitar-fish. Courtesy of Barry Melton, co-founder of “County Joe and The Fish” and now a successful attorney.


Pier Fish of Catalina Island

Catalina Island and its main city Avalon are wonderful places to visit and offer up an environment and atmosphere markedly different from that of the mainland that sits just a short, hour-long ferry ride away. So too the piers on Catalina, which offer up a plethora of different species of fish many of which are rarely encountered on the mainland piers. Herein, a sampling of species from the Catalina piers, primarily from the Cabrillo Mole and Green Pleasure Pier, both in Avalon, and the Isthmus Pier at Two Harbors.


Garibaldi — Species: Hypsypops rubicundus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word hypsypops  (high area below the eye) and the Latin word rubicunda (red). Alternate Names: Golden perch, ocean sunfish and ocean goldfish. In Mexico called jaqueta garibaldi. As for the name garibaldi, it apparently was a name bestowed upon the fish by California’s Italian commercial fishermen in the 1800s. Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of the main leaders in the unification movement to create an Italian nation and his followers were known as the “Redshirts” for the bright red shirts they wore. He was considered a hero to Italians throughout the world and apparently the fish, at least to some, were reminiscent of those red shirts. Identification: Garibaldi are easily distinguished by the brilliant golden-orange coloring on the whole body and are considered by many the prettiest fish in our coastal waters. They are perch-shaped but very deep-bodied with large fins. The young (up to about 6 inches in length) are reddish orange with bright blue spots.

Garibaldi — a young fish with blue spots

Size: To 14 inches (some books say 15 inches) but most pier-caught fish are under a foot in length. Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California to Monterey Bay. Uncommon north of Santa Barbara and rare north of Point Conception. Habitat: Generally found in shallow-water, rocky-shore areas although they have been encountered down to a depth of almost 100 feet. Fitch and Lavenberg, Tidepool and Nearshore Fishes of California, report that “A wide variety of food items has been found in garibaldi stomachs, including sponges, sea anemones, bryozoans, algae, worms, crustaceans, clams and mussels, snail eggs, and their own eggs.”  No wonder it is sometimes hard to keep them off a hook even though they’re illegal to keep.

Garibaldi — Kim and a small garibaldi from the Cabrillo Mole in 2003

Piers: Often hooked at southern California piers located near kelp beds or rocky reefs. Best bets: Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, and the three main piers on Catalina island—the Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole at Avalon (where it’s hard not to hook them), and the Isthmus Pier at Two Harbors. Bait and Tackle: None—illegal to take. Food Value: None since you can’t keep them. Comments: Although pretty to look at, they are pugnacious, strong, and not the friendliest fish. They are extremely territorial and will defend fairly large areas. This is especially true during the spring-summer spawning season when males will build a nest and defend it against intruders, both fellow male garibaldi and other species (including humans). Apparently the cute little missy garibaldi are an exception and allowed to invade those spaces and deposit their eggs. It is illegal to keep these fish, but why? As related to me by a Fish and Game official, the campaign to make them illegal originated in Avalon. It seems that the glass bottom boats, a popular attraction at Avalon on Catalina Island, were worried that anglers (actually divers) were taking far too many of the beautifully colored fish and that it was bad for their business (since garibaldi are one of the most viewable fish from the boats). They got a law passed making it illegal to keep them in Avalon waters and soon after the question came up as to why not make it illegal throughout the state. Eventually the statewide law making them illegal was indeed passed by the legislature. Today, most anglers return the fish to the water if they’re mistakenly hooked. However, a number are also speared illegally. It seems colorful fish are required at the wedding dinner tables of some Pacific Islanders and garibaldi are a favorite. Once again long-time cultural tradition clashes with today’s rules. Garibaldi are one of California’s two official “state fish.” Garibaldi are the “saltwater” or marine fish while golden trout are the “freshwater” fish. Garibaldi are illegal to keep in California.

Kelp Bass  — Small, average size kelp bass from Cabrillo Mole

Kelp BassSpecies: Paralabrax clathratus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words para (near) and labrax (a European bass), and the Latin clathratus  (latticed, referring to the coloring on the back). Alternate Names: Commonly called calico bass; also rock bass, bull bass, checkerboard bass, kelp salmon, lockee cod, cabrilla, bucket mouth (a large bass) and dinner bass. Weird name—police car, a name probably invented by an angler who watched too many episodes of Cops. Called cabrilla sargacera in Mexico. Identification: Typical bass shape. Kelp bass have a single dorsal fin notched between the sections, and the third and fourth spines are of about equal length and taller than the soft-rayed section. Their coloring is brownish or olive on the back, brownish white blotches on the uppersides, tinged with yellow on the underside, and yellow fins.

Kelp Bass — DompfaPops and a kelp bass from the Cabrillo Mole in 2008

Size: Length is to 28.5 inches and weight to 14.5 pounds. Most caught from piers are less than 12 inches in length. The California record fish weighed 14 lb 7 oz and was taken near San Clemente Island in 1958. Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California to the Columbia River, Washington. Uncommonly seen north of Monterey Bay. Habitat: Rocky areas or around kelp, from surface down to 130 feet, but common from 8 to 70 feet. Milton Love, our favorite über-marine biologist, says “kelp bass actually should be called stuff bass, because what they really like is, well, stuff. And they don’t care what the stuff is. Sewer pipes, old tires, oil platforms, chunks of sunken streetcars, it doesn’t really matter. If a kelp bass can stare at it, sort of cuddle up to it and the stuff doesn’t turn around and eat it, that’s all that counts.”

A bass from the Mole in 2015. She’s not going to kiss it, that’s for sure!

Piers: Oceanfront piers with artificial reefs or extensive summer kelp see the most kelp bass. Best bets: Embarcadero Marina Park Pier, Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Stearns Wharf (Santa Barbara), Goleta Pier and Gaviota Pier. Bait and Tackle: As with their brethren bass, they are opportunistic feeders grabbing just about anything that looks palatable. They’re also carnivores subsisting mainly on small fish—anchovies, smelt, sardines, perch, queenfish—as well as squid, octopus, crabs, shrimp and worms. Most kelp bass that are caught off piers are caught while anglers are fishing on the bottom for other species. Typical gear is a high/low leader with number 4-2 hooks. Best bait is live bait—anchovies or smelt—followed by strip bait, such as anchovy, mackerel or squid. Live bloodworms, fresh mussels and ghost shrimp will also attract the calicos, as will well-presented artificial lures.

KJ and a kelp (calico) bass from the Cabrillo Mole in 2010

Food Value:If you are lucky enough to land a keeper-size fish you will have a good meal. Kelp bass have a mild-flavored meat suitable to almost any kind of cooking. They can be used as fillets, baked whole, or cut into smaller pieces for deep-frying. Comments: One of the favorite sport fish of southern California anglers but not really a leading species on piers. However, the number of small, immature, and illegal bass found at times around the Green Pleasure Pier at Avalon is almost unbelievable. An interesting discussion took place one week on the Pier Fishing in California Message Board. The question was asked as to which fish was a better fighter—kelp bass or largemouth bass? With one exception, those anglers who have caught both species gave the nod to the kelp bass. The lone dissenting vote did not rule in favor of largemouth bass. He simply said that calicos (kelp bass) fight differently in open water than they do around kelp. He felt around cover they fight incredibly strong, in the open water they fought somewhat less, likening it to the fight of a smallmouth bass which he still thought was superior to that of a largemouth.


BlacksmithSpecies: Chromis punctipinnis (Cooper, 1863); from the Greek word chromis (a croaker) and the Latin words punctipinnis  (spot fin). Alternate Names: Blue perch, kelp perch, rock bass and black perch. In Mexico called castañeta herrera. Identification: Perch-shaped but not so deep—compressed and somewhat elongate. Their dorsal fin is long and undivided. Their coloring is dark blue or black on the back, grayish blue on sides, yellow tones in fins; they have black spots on the posterior half of the body. Size: Length to 12 inches; most caught off piers are 6-10 inches. Range: Punta San Pablo, central Baja California, to Monterey Bay. Common in southern California. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-shore areas and in kelp beds; young and adults aggregate according to size. Surface to 150 feet deep although may travel down to 300 feet. Piers: Generally found only at southern California piers, and then only those located close to extensive kelp or reefs (although I have seen a few blacksmith landed at Monterey Wharf #2). Best bets: Oceanside Harbor Pier, Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, and sometimes in late summer, Gaviota Pier. Bait and Tackle: Size 6 to 8 hooks fished on the bottom to mid-depth. Best bait are live bloodworms, lug worms, live crabs, fresh mussels or small pieces of shrimp. Food Value:  Too small to have much meat. Comments: Really only common at a few piers although I have seen them caught at many piers. It is reported that young blacksmith seek out cleaning fish, usually juvenile pileperch or senorita, and place themselves in positions where the cleaning fish are almost forced to remove external parasites from them. During these actions, the blacksmith may be head up, head down, on their side or even upside down. If the cleaner tries to leave, blacksmiths follow and prevent escape. Talk about bad manners.

California Sheephead

SheepheadSpecies: Pimelometopon pulchrum (Ayres, 1854); from the Latin pulcher (for beautiful) and pimelometopon (meaning fat forehead). And, this may have been changed to Semicossphus pulcher. Alternate Names: Sheepie, goat, billygoats (large fish), red fish, snaggle tooth, humpy, and fathead. Early day names included California redfish. In Mexico called vieja californiana.

A female sheephead beginning to transform into a male

Identification: Easily identified by color. Adult females uniform brownish-red to rose; male with black head, red band in middle, and black in posterior portion of body; chin white on both sexes. Males have a large, fleshy lump on their forehead, which increases in size with age. Stout, protruding canine-like teeth in front of mouth; somewhat bucktoothed. Size: Length to 3 feet, and weight to 36.25 pounds although the majority of fish taken from piers are 9-14 inches in length. The California record fish weighed 30 lb 8 oz, and was taken at Newport Beach, Orange Co. in 2009. (A 29-pound sheepie was 32-inches long and 53 years old.) The largest sheephead I’ve seen reported from a pier was a 29.7-pound sheephead taken from the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in February 2008.

A young female sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole

Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of California to Monterey Bay. Common in southern California but considered uncommon north of Point Conception. An isolated population is found near the warm water discharge at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near Avila Beach and Port San Luis. Habitat: Surface to 180 feet deep, along rocky bottoms and in kelp beds.

Rita and a sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole in 2012

Piers: By far the two best piers are those located at Avalon—the Green Pleasure Pier and the Cabrillo Mole. Sheephead are an expected catch at those piers.  Coastal piers that are located near rocks or kelp beds will see a few sheephead most years but they are always an unexpected treat. Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Santa Monica Pier and Paradise Cove Pier. 

KJ and a sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole in 2012

Bait and Tackle: Medium sized tackle, hooks size 4-2/0, and a variety of baits—shrimp, ghost shrimp, bloodworms, fresh mussels, cut squid—will attract sheephead if they’re around the pier.

Corki and a small, itsy bitsy, baby sheephead from the Cabrillo Mole

Food Value: Good. Sometimes used as a lobster substitute in salads and other recipes.

KJ and a sheephead taken from the Isthmus Pier in 2012

Comments: Feeds on such delicacies as sea urchins, sand dollars, sea cucumbers, snails, squid, lobsters, shrimp and crabs. It uses its canine-like teeth to pry food from rocks, which it then crushes with tooth-plates in the rear of the mouth. Can live to over 50 years and is a protogynous hermaphrodite starting life as a female and then turning into a male when about one foot in length and 4 to 5 years in age (although some appear to stay females up to fifteen years of age and some even refuse to change). Why, dear reader, do most of these fish start life as females and then turn into males? The process, by the way, seems to take less than a year. Apparently it is much more effective than that practiced by the medical establishment in California and is, I am sure, much less expensive.

Rock Wrasse (male, note bar following pectoral fin)

Rock Wrasse Species: Halichoeres semicinctus (Ayres, 1859); from the Greek words hal (belonging to the sea) and choer (like a pig); and the Latin words semi  (half) and cinct  (banded, in reference to the color). Alternate Names: Wrasse, iodine fish and Parrot Fish. Called señorita piedrera in Mexico. Identification: Similar in shape and sometimes confused with senorita; rock wrasse have a long and slender body (but considerably deeper than a senorita) and a small mouth with protruding teeth. Their coloring is generally greenish brown with dusky vertical bars; males have a dark blue bar behind the pectoral fin. Lacks the large black spot at the base of the tail fin found in senorita. Size: Up to 15 inches although most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. A 12-inch male weighed 1 pound and was 7 years old.

Rock Wrasse (female, no bar following pectoral fin)

Range: Isla Guadalupe, central Baja California and the Gulf of California to Diablo Cove, San Luis Obispo County. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-shore areas, preferring areas with small patches of coarse sand. Main foods are amphipods, small crabs, dove shells, and slipper shells. Piers:  Common at only a few piers due to their rock-loving affinity. Best bets: Green Pleasure Pier at Avalon (where they are common), Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, and occasionally at inner bay piers such as the Shelter Island Pier and the Oceanside Harbor Pier. Bait and Tackle: By far, the best bait is fresh mussels or sea worms, although they will bite on shrimp or small crabs. Tackle should be a size 6 or 4 hook and a light leader. Rock wrasse like to grab bait and immediately head back to their hole under a rock so be ready with a quick response. Food Value: The verdict isn’t in. Some say they’re good, some say not so good.

Rock Wrasse (unusual color phase)

Comments: This little fish invokes an interesting vocabulary and a somewhat epicene and unconventional sex life. These wrasses are protogynous hermaphrodites, which means in simple terms that they start their lives as females and become males when they reach a length of about one foot. Some sources say all rock wrasses go through this BIG, BIG change, some sources say as little as 5%. Whatever the percent, it must be a traumatic experience. They are also diurnal (another interesting word) meaning they sleep at night. Most seem to bury themselves in sand with only their head sticking out. Reports say they go to bed at twenty minutes before sunset and reappear twenty minutes before sunrise. Since I’ve never witnessed any of these critters wearing a watch, or even a tiny clock, I’m not too sure how they manage this twenty-minute routine? Perhaps the moon acts as the zeitgeber, the environmental cue triggering their strange nap-time behavior? By the way, they are not the only local fish that are hermaphrodites, California sheephead undergo a similar feat at about the same size.


SeñoritaSpecies: Oxyjulis californica (Gunther, 1861); from the Greek words oxy  (sharp, for sharp nosed fish) and julis (an old world genus of wrasses), and californica (from California, the location of the first fish studied). Alternate Names: Kelp fish, kelp wrasse, butterfish and iodine fish. Called pescery by 19th century fishermen. Also called Señorita in Mexico. Identification: Señorita have a very long and slender body (one guide book says they’re cigar-shaped), a small mouth and protruding buckteeth. Their coloring is reddish orange above and yellow below with brown and bluish streaks on the side of the head; they have a large black or dark brown crescent-shaped spot at the base of the caudal fin (tail). Size: To 10 inches although most caught from piers are 6-8 inches. Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California, to Salt Point, Sonoma County. Considered uncommon north of Santa Cruz. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-shore areas, and near kelp beds; usually found in small to dense schools. Senorita are carnivores that feed on small animals and the animals can be located on plants, other animals, in the water or on the bottom. They will pick parasites from other fish and are apparently sought out by a diverse group that includes bat rays, giant (black) sea bass, kelp bass garibaldi, halfmoon, opaleye and mola. It’s reported many fish will maintain awkward positions while being “cleaned” and that garibaldi actually hold their gill slits open for removal of parasites in the gill chamber. Considering that the “ectoparasites” removed includes bacteria, copepods, and isopods, it’s easy to see why the larger fish would be willing to maintain a weird position or two. Piers: I have only seen these caught on a few piers but where present they are the proverbial “bait stealers” for the most part. However, they can be caught at almost any southern California pier located near rocks, reefs or kelp beds. Best bets: Oceanside Harbor Pier, Green Pleasure Pier at Avalon (where they are far too common), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, Gaviota Pier in the fall, and Monterey Wharf No. 2 (where they also are sometimes far too common). Bait and Tackle: Winner of the MNBS (Most Notorious Bait Stealer) Award. Señorita will try to grab (steal) almost any bait that is in their immediate vicinity. If you want to catch them use a small hook, size 6 or 8, and a small piece of mussel, shrimp or worm. Drop your bait to the bottom and then move it up in short increments until you find the school, or perhaps more accurately, until they find your bait—and they will. Food Value: Really too small to eat since a 9-inch señorita only weighs about three ounces. Nevertheless, some people claim to find their “different” flavor delicious and they eat them, others say they have a slight iodine taste. One angler who likes to catch and eat señorita reported that the meat was soft and flakey and tasted a lot like sheephead. Comments: As discussed in Fishes, An Introduction to Ichthyology, by Peter Moyle and Joseph Cech, señorita apparently are sometimes involved, in a complex manner, in helping to restore kelp beds: “Occasionally a severe storm will destroy a kelp forest, and regeneration may be prevented by the grazing of fishes or sea urchins on new kelp plants. Regeneration can occur, however, if rapidly growing green algae colonize the area first, providing the new kelp plants with shelter from grazing fishes (Harris et al. 1984). One of these grazers is the señorita, which is actually after a small bryozoan that encrusts the blades of plants. In order to eat the bryozoans, the señorita has to take bites from the blades; this can seriously weaken the plant if it is small, but has little effect when the plant is large. There is, however, another invertebrate, a herbivorous isopod, than can become so abundant it can destroy mature kelp plants. The señorita is the main predator on this isopod and keeps its populations small, maintaining the kelp beds in the process (Bernstein and Jung 1979).“ Señorita are attractive little fish that seem best suited for saltwater aquariums, or simply to be left alone since they seem to do quite a bit of good. Problem is they won’t leave bait alone. It is reported that they bury themselves at night in the sand with just their heads sticking out. Since they’re typically found in fairly large congregations, their nesting area must look a little strange. Perhaps like some sort of a weird colored, underwater asparagus patch. 

Ocean Whitefish — Caught by Adam (Baitfish) at the Catalina Get Together in 2011

Ocean Whitefish Species: Caulolatilus princeps (Jenyns, 1840); from the Greek words caulo (stem) and latilus (probably a similar fish) and the Latin word princeps (leader).  Alternate Names: Blanquillo, blanka. In Mexico called pez blanco, blanquillo fino or pierna. Identification:  Elongate with a small mouth; distinguished by the very long single dorsal fin; long base of anal fin originates about middle of body; caudal peduncle rounded and slender. Brown to yellowish back, paler below; yellow or yellowish green edging on fins; blue stripe near edge of dorsal and anal fins. Size: To 40-inches, although most caught by anglers are less than 8 pounds in weight and most caught from piers are only 12-15 inches long. The California record fish weighed 13 lb 12 oz and was taken at Cortes Bank in 1988. Range: Reported from Peru, including Galapagos Islands and Gulf of California, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia; rare north of Monterey.

Hashem Nahid proved in 2006 that a kissing an ocean whitefish was a BAD idea!

Habitat: Mostly offshore rocky reefs and banks. Also found around kelp beds; shallow water in summer, deeper in winter. Typically feeds on crabs, shrimp, octopuses, squid and small fish. Piers: Although occasionally seen at southern California piers near deep water or kelp, they are only common at two piers, the Cabrillo Mole and Green Pleasure Pier, both in Avalon. Bait and Tackle: Usually caught on the bottom though reported to typically feed four to six feet off the bottom. Top bait seems to be fresh squid cut into strips about 4 inches long and half an inch wide. It’s reported that a reverse dropper loop—with the hook on the bottom and the sinker hanging from a dropper loop a couple of feet up the line—can be deadly. Other good baits include ghost shrimp, market shrimp, mussels, worms and small live bait. Light to medium tackle and a size 4 or 2 hook is all that is needed for most of the pier-caught fish. Deeper water fish require stronger tackle. Food Value: A very good, mild flavored flesh that can be prepared many ways Comments: Care should be taken when handling these fish because they have very sharp serrated edges on their gill plate covers. Their small mouths make them hard to lip latch so use a wet towel to grab and cradle their body. Due to the excellent fighting nature of these fish they are sometimes called the “poor man’s yellowtail.”

Giant Kelpfish (brown coloring)

Giant Kelpfish Species: Heterostichus rostratus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words heter  (different) and ost (extra bone), and the Latin word rostratus  (beaked or hooked). Alternate Names: Kelpfish, eel, iodine fish, butterfish, and kelp blenny. Called sargacero gigante in Mexico. Identification: The body is long and compressed. The dorsal fin is very long and continuous with many more spines than soft rays. The caudal fin is deeply forked (rounded in spotted kelpfish and striped kelpfish). Their coloring varies from light brown to green to purple depending on the habitat; typically those in kelp are usually kelp-colored, those in eelgrass bright green with brilliant silvery stripes.  Apparently these fish can change colors rapidly, at least juvenile fish, with browns and greens seeming to be the preferred colors. Adult females also have the ability to change from red to brown to green, however, it takes them a little longer than the kids. Alas, the adult males seem to have forgotten how to perform this party-pleasing trick. Size: To 24 inches long; most caught off piers are 10 to 14 inches. Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California to British Columbia.

Giant Kelpfish (yellow coloring)

Habitat: Shallow-water areas near rocks or kelp. Piers: Found at piers that have a heavy growth of kelp or seaweed. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Cabrillo Pier, Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, and Gaviota Pier. Bait and Tackle: Light to medium tackle and small, size 8 to 6 hooks. The best bet is to tie the hooks directly onto the line. Preferred baits appear to be small crabs, pieces of shrimp, live bloodworms or pile worms, and fresh mussels (although I have caught some on small pieces of abalone). Food Value:  Reported to be fair eating although with an unusual flavor. I’ve never tried them myself but would expect them to be good fried. The flesh assumes the external color of the fish. 

Giant Kelpfish (red coloring)

Comments: Although generally considered uncommon north of Point Conception, I have caught a number of these pretty fish while fishing inshore at the Berkeley Pier. The fish were caught right in among the shoreline rocks and the usual bait was small pieces of pile worm. Two related species, striped kelpfish and crevice kelpfish are also common at Bay Area piers; both though have rounded tails and their coloring is different from giant kelpfish.

 Striped Kelpfish

Striped Kelpfish —  Species: Gibbonsai metzi (Hubbs, 1927); from Gibbonsai (William P. Gibbons, an early naturalist from Alameda), and metzi (Charles W. Metz, a student of ichthyology once interested in kelpfish). Alternate Names: Striped kelp-fish, seaweed kelpfish, weed klipfish. Called sargacero or sargacero rayado in Mexico. Identification: Reddish to light brown, usually with darker stripes or darker mottling on sides (color often matches nearby seaweed). Tail rounded (distinguishes them from a giant kelpfish); pectoral fin is short, not reaching the front of the anal fin.Size: To 9 1/2 inches long; most caught off piers are 5-8 inches. Range: Punta Rompiente, central Baja California to Maquinna Point, Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Habitat: Shallow-water areas near rocks or kelp. Piers: Found at piers that have a heavy growth of kelp or seaweed. Best bets: I’ve taken them at the Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), the Paradise Cove Pier (Malibu), Coast Guard Pier (Monterey) and the Princeton Harbor Pier. I’ve also taken them at several Bay Area piers including Agua Vista (in San Francisco), Berkeley Pier (East Bay), and Elephant Rock (North Bay). At the first two they were inshore by the rocks, at the latter the pier sits on a rock. Bait and Tackle: Light to medium tackle and small, size 8 to 6 hooks. Preferred baits appear to be pieces of worm, blood or pile, while small pieces of shrimp and mussels will also entice them. Food Value: Too small, let ‘em go.  Comments: A pretty little fish that likes to hang by the rocks, dart out to grab the bait, and then head back to the rocks.

Spotted Kelpfish

Spotted Kelpfish Species:Gibbonsia elegans (Cooper, 1864);from Gibbonsai (William P. Gibbons, an early naturalist from Alameda), and the Latin word elegans (elegant or handsome).  Alternate Names: Called Sargacero or Sargacero manchado in Mexico. Identification:Typical kelpfish shape—pointed snout, tiny mouth, rounded caudal fin, and long dorsal fin. Color varies widely; green to brown or tan or reddish—often blotched or streaked. 1-3 (often 2) ocelli on back. Soft rays more widely spaced toward rear of dorsal fin. Scales that extend well onto the caudal fin distinguish it from other kelpfish. Size: To 6.2-inches long; most caught from piers are around 4-5 inches. Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California, including Isla Guadalupe, to Piedras Blancas Point, central California. Habitat: Shallow-water areas near rocks or kelp. Typically feeds on benthic crustaceans, small mollusks and worms, but also eats fair quantities of algae. Found from subtidal rocky areas to 56 m depth, usually in seaweed. Female lays white eggs in seaweed; male guards egg mass. Piers: Embarcadero Marina Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, Cabrillo Mole in Catalina, Redondo Spotfishing Pier, Malibu Pier, and Monterey Coast Guard Pier. Bait and Tackle: Light tackle and small hooks. Preferred baits appear to be sea worms—pile worms and bloodworms, pieces of shrimp, and fresh mussels. Food Value: Too small to be used for food. Comments: A small fish that is rarely caught due to their small mouth. However, they are sometimes an incidental catch by perch anglers using small hooks.


Opaleye Species:  Girella nigricans (Ayres, 1860); from the French word girelle (a derivative of julis, an old word used to denote a number of small wrasse in Europe), the Latin word nigr  (dark) and the Greek word ikanos  (becoming, in reference to its pleasing appearance). Alternate Names: Blue-eye perch, green perch, opaleye perch, bluefish, blue bass, greenfish, Jack Benny, Catalina perch, button-back, button-eye, and button bass. Called chopa verde in Mexico. Identification: Opaleye are perch-shaped but heavier bodied. Their coloring is usually dark olive green, usually with two light spots at the base of the dorsal fin; occasionally pale green while some almost all white fish have been observed. Eyes are distinctive: large and an opalescent, blue-green color.

Amanda Liu and an opaleye from the Cabrillo Mole in 2013

Size: To 25.4 inches and 13 1/2 pounds (a 10-11 year old fish speared off south Laguna); most caught from piers are less than 14 inches. The California record fish weighed 6 lb 4 oz and was taken near Los Flores Creek in 1956.  Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California and the Gulf of California to Otter Rock, Oregon. Uncommon north of Point Conception. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky areas and kelp beds. Piers: Can be caught from almost any pier in southern or central California located near rocks, reefs, or kelp, but they’re uncommon north of Cayucos and rare north of Monterey. Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier (inshore), Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Cabrillo Pier (jetty side), the Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Sportfishing Pier, and the Paradise Cove Pier. Most of the fish caught at most of these piers are fairly small opaleye. The exceptions are the two piers in Avalon that almost always have good-sized fish available for opaleye-seekers.

KJ and an opaleye from the Cabrillo Mole in 2007

Bait and Tackle: Some anglers specialize in opaleye, and many of them swear that moss or frozen peas are the best bait. I’ve caught them on both, but I’ve actually caught more on ghost shrimp, fresh mussels, pile worms, bloodworm, and small rock crabs. I also managed to hook a few opaleye using garden snails during an experiment testing different baits at Catalina in 2005. Food Value:  A good eating fish that is generally fried. Comments: Primarily herbivores (vegetarians), opaleye eat a variety of plants including feather boa kelp, giant kelp, sea lettuce and coralline algae. Evidently they also grab organisms attached to seaweed as they’re making their rounds, tasty little items like tube worms and red crabs. Opaleye are a favorite of many anglers; they’re hard to hook but once hooked put up a very good fight for their size. The crystal-clear waters at Avalon present quite a challenge for the sagacious, line-shy opaleye. Big schools of 2-4 pound fish hang around the Green Pleasure Pier and the Cabrillo Mole but can be very hard to catch. Use 2-4 pound fluorocarbon line and you might get them! Of course the 1,794 ropes, tangled lines, pilings and yellow submarines that surround and hang under the GPP might also get your line. At the Mole it’s the long fronds and blades of the giant kelp that sway (tidally) in or out near the railing. If the opaleye are allowed to encircle the kelp it’s pretty much over. As soon as they are hooked apply pressure and try to keep them coming toward you while having a person ready with a net. You need to use light line but can also pay the consequences if you’re unwilling to apply enough pressure.


Halfmoon —  Species: Medialuna californiensis (Steindachner, 1876); from the Spanish word medialuna (halfmoon, referring to the shape of the tail) and californiensis  (California, where first found). Alternate Names: Catalina blue perch, island mackerel, blooper, blue wizard, blue perch or blue bass. In early days sometimes called medialuna. In Mexico called chopa medialuna. Identification: Halfmoon are perch-shaped but heavier bodied; they’re similar in many ways to opaleye. Their coloring is normally bluish-black above, bluish-gray on sides, and light blue below. Their tail is shaped like a half-moon. Size: A 19-inch fish weighed 4 pounds 12.5 ounces. Range: Gulf of California to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Habitat: Halfmoon are found in shallow-water, rocky areas and kelp beds. They’re often in small loose schools in the mid-water area and, at times, mixed in with schools with pileperch.

Halfmoon taken at the Mole by Jimbojack in 2007

Piers: Common at southern and central California piers that are located near rocks, reefs or kelp. They’re common as far north as Cayucos but occasionally taken as far north as Santa Cruz. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, the Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Hermosa Beach Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Gaviota Pier, and the Paradise Cove Pier. Bait and Tackle: Halfmoon will take almost any bait but they prefer fresh mussels, shrimp, or small crabs. When schools are present, a small strip of squid will often work, and you will lose far less bait. Halfmoon caught from boats seem to be less picky and will often hit pieces of anchovy, sardine, or sqiuid.  Food Value:  A good eating, mild-flavored fish. Comments:  Halfmoons are good fighters, very similar to opaleye and the larger perch. They will eat almost anything in their environment including red, green, and brown algae, sponges, bits of seaweed, green moss, shrimp, mussels, squid, and fish. Apparently they have a hard time deciding whether to be vegans or meat-eaters and that may explain their scrappy and perhaps irritable nature.

Black Seaperch or Blackperch

Black Seaperch Species: Embiotoca jacksoni (Agassiz, 1853); from the Greek word embiotoca (bringing forth living young), and jacksoni  (in honor of A. C. Jackson of San Francisco, who first noted that these perch give birth to living young and brought it to the attention of Alexander Agassiz who described the species). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae. Alternate Names: Buttermouth perch, black surfperch, black seaperch or bay perch. Often called pogie by anglers in the Bay Area. In Mexico called mojarra negra or perca negra. Identification: Typical perch shape. Although variable, their coloring is usually black or brown to reddish, and yellowish on the belly; scales often have blue flecking. Lips are orange or yellow and they have a “mustache” on the upper lip. Typically they have dark vertical bars on the side; a bluish-white line is often seen at the base of the anal fin. Easily identified by a large patch of enlarged scales between the pectoral and pelvic fins. Size: To 15.4 inches; most caught off piers are under a foot.The California record fish weighed 1 lb 11 oz and was taken from San Carlos Beach in 2006. Range: Punta Abreojos, central Baja California, and offshore Isla Gudalupe to Fort Bragg, Mendocino County. Habitat: Most common in eelgrass beds of bays and rocky-shore areas; both in bays and along the coast. Piers: Common at most piers north to Bodega Bay. Generally caught at bay piers or inshore piling areas of oceanfront piers. Best bets: Imperial Beach Pier, Shelter Island Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Long Beach Finger Piers, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Venice Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Cabrillo Pier (jetty side), Malibu Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier, Morro Bay T-Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Capitola Wharf, Fort Point Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Candlestick Pier, Berkeley Pier, Ferry Point Pier, Paradise Beach Pier, Elephant Rock Pier, Angel Island Pier, and Fort Baker Pier.Bait and Tackle: Prefers fresh mussels, bloodworms, pile worms, small pieces of shrimp or small rock crabs. Size 8 or 6 hooks fished on the bottom with a high/low leader seem to work best. Food Value: In the past this was considered a fairly good, mild-flavored fish. Today, because of our polluted waters, they are considered unfit to eat in some locales. Comments: Once a favorite spring fish for Bay Area pier fishermen; today there’s a perch closure during the spawning months.

Pile PerchRobert Gardner and a Pile Perch from the Cabrillo Mole in 2013

Pile Perch Species: Damalichthys vacca (Girard, 1855); from the Greek root words racos (ragged) and cheilos (lips) and the Latin word vacca  (like a cow). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae. Alternate Names: Splittail perch, forktail perch, dusky perch, white perch, silver perch, piler perch, and porgy. In Mexico called mojarra muellera or perca. Identification: Pile perch are distinguished by the black spot on the cheek, the very deeply forked tail, and the very tall, first soft rays on the dorsal fin that are about twice the height of the last spines. Color is dark brassy-brown, fading to silver on sides and belly; often has yellow pelvic fins. Pile perch have one dusky, vertical bar across the side at about the high point of the soft dorsal. The posterior position of the bar and the deeply forked caudal fin (tail) distinguish it from sargo. Size: To 17 1/4 inches; most caught from piers are 10-14 inches. The California record fish weighed 1 lb 15 oz and was taken at Long Beach in 2007. Range: Isla Guadalupe (and possibly Bahia Playa Maria), central Baja California to southern British Columbia. Unverified report to Port Wrangell, Alaska. Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-areas, and around piers and docks, both oceanfront and in bays. Typically they are a bottom dwelling species, called “benthic grazing carnivores” by some. Others classify them as “commuter” fish that move between different habitats in search of prey. All agree they are primarily day feeders seeking out large, hard-shelled invertebrates that they are able to crush with their well developed, fused pharyngeal tooth plates. Since other perch do not share this ability, some scientists feel pile perch should be placed in a separate genus—Danalichthys. Foods include crabs, brittle stars, sand dollars, barnacles, bean clams, (whole) mussels, limpets, dove shells, California cones, Norris top shells, and chitons. Piers: Pile perch are taken at virtually every pier in California but the largest numbers are taken at Bay Area piers. Best bets: Santa Monica Pier, Stearns Wharf, Goleta Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier, Point Pinole Pier and McNear Beach Pier. Bait and Tackle: Pile perch can be exasperatingly difficult to catch. The large perch will often be seen placidly swimming in clear view around the mussel-covered pilings while refusing to partake of the offerings of the gods up above—anglers whose mojo is evidently on empty. Damalichthys vacca do seem a little easier to catch when in their dense schools are a’spawning. Perhaps their pea-sized brains are distracted and normal caution takes a back seat to other thoughts? The most common setup is to use a high/low leader with number 6 or 4 hooks, light line, and a light sinker. Best bait in southern California seems to be fresh mussels, rock crabs or bloodworms. In the Bay Area, grass shrimp, rock crabs, pile worms or fresh mussels are best. In Humboldt Bay, frozen tube worms or crab backs are most commonly used. Usually pile perch are nestled up next to the pilings; fish accordingly. Check out the shoreline by the pier at low tide and grab some local live bait—small crabs, mussels, worms, snails or clams; these will usually make the best bait. Food Value: Although large sized and yielding some usable meat, the flesh is only fair in taste. Comments: Many years ago, at Newport Pier, I watched an old-timer show one way to catch the perch. Pile perch were doing their typical trick d’tease: big fish showing a leg but refusing to bite. The old-timer tried out a trick of his own. He took out a mass of recently pried loose mussels, at least a dozen in the clump, and in and around this mussel-mass he wound a leader that had several number 8 hooks attached. Then he attached the leader to a handline and carefully dropped it down next to the pilings. This new mini-piling soon attracted the fish and he was able to catch several of the large pile perch. Sporting? I’m not sure, but it sure was effective. Since then, I’ve seen variations of this technique at both the Santa Monica Pier and at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara and heard stories of its use at the Goleta Pier.  

Kelp Perch

 Kelp PerchSpecies: Brachyistius frenatus (Gill, 1862); from the Greek words brachys (short) and istion (sail), and the Latin word frenatus  (bridled). Family Embiotocidae, subfamily Embiotocinae. Alternate Names: Brown seaperch, brown perch and kelp seaperch. In Mexico called mojarra sargacera or perca. Identification: Typical perch shape. Kelp perch have a compressed body, long pointed snout, long dorsal fin spines and coloring that is generally golden-brown to reddish above and tan below. There is usually a pale stripe on the upper side and sometimes blue spotting. Size: To 8 1/2 inches (.3 pounds) but most caught from piers are around 6 inches in length. Range:  Bahia Tortugas, central Baja California to near Sitka, southeastern Alaska. Habitat: Typically seen around offshore kelp beds but will move in around piers which have a heavy growth of kelp. Usually a kelp-canopy, dwelling species that likes to pick small invertebrates off of plants. Piers: Seen in late summer at piers with heavy kelp. Best bets: Cabrillo Mole in Avalon, Paradise Cove Pier, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier and the Spud Point Marina Pier (Bodega Bay). Bait and Tackle: Use light tackle with small number 8 or 6 hooks and a small piece of bloodworm, shrimp or mussel. Food Value:  Too small so throw ‘em back. Comments: A “cleaner fish” that often picks ectoparasites off the bodies of larger fish.

California Barracuda — SteveO and a barracuda from the Cabrillo Mole in 2009

California BarracudaSpecies: Sphyraena argentea (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word sphyraena (an ancient name meaning hammer fish) and the Latin word argenteum  (silvery). Alternate Names: Pacific barracuda, barry, gar, fire hose, stove pipe, skinny, scooter, scoot, snake, slime, slimestick, pencil (small fish), barelycuda (small or short fish), or log (big fish). In Mexico called barracuda plateada. Identification: Barracudas are long and slender with a sharp-pointed head and a mouth full of very sharp fang-like teeth. They have two widely separated dorsal fins. They have a distinct look from most other fish, although the young look a little like lizardfish. Size: Reported to 5 feet but recorded to 4 feet and 18 pounds; most caught from piers are under 30 inches.  Almost all large barracuda are females. The California record fish weighed 15 lb 15 oz and was caught near San Onofre in 1957. Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of California to Kodiak Island, Gulf of Alaska. Uncommon north of Morro Bay. Habitat: Pelagic, but young are often found inshore and in bays. Piers: Only common at piers north to Point Conception although fish will sometimes be caught as far north as Pismo Beach and Avila in the late summer and fall months. Best Bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Cabrillo Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Venice Pier and Burton Chace Park Dock.

Adam (Baitfish) and a barracuda from the Mole in 2003

Bait and Tackle: Live anchovies, when available, are by far the best bait. If using live anchovies, try a size 4 hook and a sliding leader or use a float/bobber to keep the leader at mid-depth. Small smelt can also be used for live bait although they are not as good as anchovies. Gold spoons—Krocodiles and Kastmasters—as well as Rebel Fast Tracks, have proven to be reliable artificial lures for the scooters. Food Value: Keeper size fish are good to excellent eating. Barracuda will tend to soften quickly if left in the hot sun so clean soon after capture and then keep the fillets in a cooler.

Robert Gardner (Redfish) and a barracuda from the Cabrillo Mole in 2009 

Comments: Although barracuda today are considered somewhat of a bonus fish by most pier fisherman, there was a time, in the not too distant past, when they were common to piers; however, the numbers that frequent piers seem to decrease each year. When I first moved from Newport Beach to San Diego, I was surprised at the number of barracuda caught from piers inside San Diego Bay and Mission Bay. Since then I have come to learn that bays are often the best areas for the young barracuda—small fish up to around two feet in length. In those days it was sometimes common to catch a fish on nearly every cast using a live anchovy or a small lure, especially gold or silver spoons. Today these small fish are illegal and it is best to simply not fish for them; hooks, in particular the treble hooks common to spoons, will tear up the mouths of the under-sized fish. Strange but true, the only time I ever caught a fish with my line OUT of the water was when I was fishing for barracuda one day near the Dana Marina in Mission Bay. A friend and I had rented a rowboat early one morning, and then proceeded to tie gold spoons onto our lines before heading out to the small bait barge in the cove. I left my pole at the back of the boat with the spoon dangling at least 8-10 inches away from the water. Imagine my surprise when a small barracuda jumped out of the water and grabbed the lure as we were rowing out to our spot. And yes, I did land the fish. It happened in August of 1964 on a trip where I caught 21 barracuda among others. The “out of water” fish was the highlight.

Pacific (Chub) Mackerel 

Pacific Mackerel Species: Scomber japonicus (Houttuyn, 1782); from the Greek word scombros (an ancient name for the common mackerel of Europe) and japoniocus (of Japan). Given the name Pneumatophorus japonicus diego in the early Fish Bulletin #28. Alternate Names: Greenback, green mackerel, green racer, greenies (or candy bar greenies—small mackerel), blue mackerel, striped mackerel, zebra mackerel, right mackerel, chub mackerel, cornfed, frog, tiny tuna, mac, big mac, or mac trash. 19th century fishermen called these tinker mackerel, little mackerel or Easter mackerel. My goodness, what a plethora of diverse names. Called macarela del Pacífico in Mexico. Identification: Typical mackerel shape with am elongated body tapering at both ends; identified by the long space between the dorsal fins, 25 to 30 black to dark green bars and spots across the back, and irregular spots on the sides. Size: To 25 inches and 6 pounds. Most caught off piers are less than 18 inches. The California record fish weighed 2 lb 8 oz and was taken at Los Angeles in 1995. Range: Gulf of California (some sources say Bahia Banderas) to southeastern Kamchatka, western Gulf of Alaska. Also Panama to Chile and Islas Galápagos. Habitat: Pelagic, feeding mainly on euphausids (small, shrimp-like crustaceans, i.e., krill, usually 1/8 onch to less than an inch), squid, and young fish. Found from the surface down to about 100 feet.

Robert Gardner and a Pacific mackerel from the Cabrillo Mole in 2010

Piers: Common at most piers in California north to and including those in Monterey Bay (at more northern piers in late summer or fall). Best bets: Imperial Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Malibu Pier, Stearns Wharf, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier and Monterey Wharf #2. Generally uncommon at piers north of Monterey Bay although recent years have seen them enter San Francisco Bay. In 2009 they were taken at many Bay Area piers including most along the San Francisco waterfront and several in the East Bay. Bait and Tackle: Caught on a wide range of baits and artificial lures. A very simple method is also the most common; it is especially useful when fishing from a pier that sits down near the water. Simply attach a size 4-2 hook to the end of the line, put a small split-shot sinker a couple of feet above the hook, and use a small strip of squid, 2-3 inches long, or a bloody strip of mackerel, as the bait. The rigging can be used as is, or used in conjunction with a small float so that the bait stays a few feet under the surface of the water. If available, live anchovies are also excellent bait. When a school of mackerel is in one of their ravenous moods, a Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait rig can be deadly and will often produce a fish on every hook (which can lead to tangles and loss of the rig). The most fun can be had with a light outfit and a small artificial lure—a light bonito-type jig or even a cast-a-bubble with a bucktail fly. Generally the bait, whether live bait or cut bait, should be kept moving. A technique that often works is to cast out a high/low leader baited with cut anchovy or piece of mackerel, let it sink toward the bottom, then immediately begin a medium speed retrieve; mackerel will often hit it on the way up, usually just before it gets to the surface. At times, when a school is really hungry, the mackerel will hit on anything and everything (although I think pieces of mackerel are the best bait) and this leads to the common term: “mac attack.” It’s an appropriate title. Food Value: Mackerel are a fairly strong flavored fish, a fact that stops some people from eating them. Too often they wind up being used as bait, as fertilizer, or being thrown away. At the same time many people find them delicious. Typically the difference is due to the way they are handled and cooked. Being a fairly oily fish, the flesh can quickly deteroriate and soften. Put them on ice after capture, keep them cold, and use within a couple of days, and you will be starting with a much more palatable type of flesh. In addition, you can remove the darker (muscle) flesh from the side of the fish (the lighter the flesh the more mild). Lastly, if you want to reduce the strong flavor, cook utilizing methods that remove oil from the flesh—broiling and bar-b-que being best.  If you have a smoker they can also be made into tasty jerky. It’s recorded that in England there has been a special dispensation in existence since the seventeenth century that allows mackerel to be sold on Sunday. Thus the quickly spoiling fish are not wasted. It simply affirms the necessity of keeping them cold and eating them while fresh. The flip side is that some groups prefer the strong flavors. They know that using spices that complement the flesh produces a tasty and favorable piece of fish. Still, mackerel may not be the fish for those raised on the mild tasting, white-fleshed fish used for fish and chips (cod, halibut, rock cod, etc.). Comments: Mackerel numbers seem to go in cycles; for years they will be fairly uncommon and then there will be years when they will be at nearly every southern California pier. Recent years have seen huge catches. Unfortunately many of these mackerel go to waste. I have seen people who loaded buckets (or gunnysacks) with mackerel day after day at their favorite piers. I sincerely hope they used them. Pacific mackerel are pretty little fish and terrific fighters for their size. Seafood, A Connoiseur’s Guide and Cookbook by Alan Davidson, comments on the “attractive and flashy appearance of mackerel,” noting that the “French name maquereau also means ‘pimp’” and that “in the past mackerel was a term for dandy in England.”

Pacific Bonito

Pacific BonitoSpecies: Sarda chiliensis (Cuvier, 1832); from the Greek word sarda  (an ancient name for a European species of bonito) and chiliensis (in reference to Chile, South America, where the species was first recognized). Alternate Names: Most commonly called bonehead but also given the names bone, boner, bonefish, flasher, Laguna tuna, magneto, bongo, striped tuna and little tuna. One of my favorites —from the PFIC Message Board—Mr. Bojangles. Called bonito del Pacífico oriental in Mexico. Identification: Tuna-shaped, elongated and pointed at both ends; a series of 6 to 8 finlets that follow the second dorsal fin and anal fin. Coloring dark blue above with greenish reflections and a metallic luster shading into silver below; several dark oblique lines on the back. Size: To 40 inches; most caught from piers are less than 24 inches. The California record fish weighed 22 lb 3 oz and was caught in Malibu Cove in 1978. 

James Liu and a bonito from the Cabrillo Mole in 2009

Range: Southern Baja Californa and Gulf of California to Copper River in Alaska. Also found in subtropical eastern Pacific, Peru to Chile, and off Japan. Primarily feeds on fish, occasionally on squid. As a general rule they’re only found north during El Nino, warm water conditions (and I witnessed several large bonito, all over ten pounds, being caught off of Elk in Mendocino County during the El Nino year of 1983). Habitat: Pelagic, although enters bays, especially those with warm water outlets. Piers: Common at most southland piers, both those in bays and those at oceanfront spots. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Stearns Wharf and Goleta Pier. Rarely seen at piers north of Point Conception excepting during warm-water years.

SteveO and a bonito from the Mole in 2014

Bait and Tackle: Taken on a variety of baits and lures. The best bait is live anchovies fished on a sliding leader or with a cast-a-bubble. The best lure is a bonito feather affixed to either a cast-a-bubble, a Styrofoam float or a golf ball—the bubble/float/golf ball causes commotion on the surface which attracts the bonito and keeps the lure near the top. Food Value:  Bonito are good flavored but require cleaning soon after capture. If bleed quickly, or even better if filleted and then put on ice, the flesh can be quite tasty. If allowed to warm up in a gunnysack on the nice hot surface of a pier the flesh can be almost inedible (which is true with many fish). However, parts of the flesh are dark colored—bloody—and strong flavored. Cut out those parts of the flesh unless you desire them for smoking. Typically the best cooking methods are broiling or bar-b-cuing the meat, although smoked bonito and pickled bonito are also good. When I was young and lived in San Diego, I would often go out on the half-day boats to catch some bonito. A couple of the cooks on the boats would cook up some of the fresh-caught fish. A favorite method was to cut thin slices of meat from the head of the bonito (up behind the eyes) and then lightly cook the slices on a grill using just a little butter. Flavored with soy sauce, it was delicious.

Rita and a bonito from the Cabrillo Mole in 2009

Comments: Many people feel that bonito are among the strongest fighting fish, pound for pound, in the sea. Sometimes during the cold-water, winter months the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in King Harbor is the best place in the state to catch bonito. Sometimes? The nearby power plant used to allow its hot water to flow into the harbor every winter, an event that usually would attract bonito and anglers. Today it’s a sometimes thing. When on, the warm water is discharged via the famous “bubble” that sits a short distance out from the pier.

California Yellowtail — A 48.5-pound beauty caught by Tony Troncale at the Crystal Pier in San Diego

California Yellowtail Species: Seriola dorsalis (Valenciennes, 1833); from the Italian word seriola (for amberjack) and dorsalis (the long dorsal fin). Some sources now use Seriola lalandi. Alternate Names: Yellowtail, amberjack, white salmon, amber fish, forktail, tails, rats (little fish), firecracker  (small fish), mossback (large fish) and cavasina. In Mexico typically called esmedregal or medregal de rabo amarillo. Identification: Typical jack shape with metallic blue to green above, a brassy horizontal band along the sides from eye to tail; silvery below; some fish are olive-brown to brown. Fins and tail are yellowish Size: To 80 pounds and over 5 feet long. Most caught off piers are less than 10 pounds. The California record fish weighed 63 lb 1 oz and was caught at Santa Barbara Island in 2000. Range: Circumglobal in warmer waters and some temperate waters. In the eastern Pacific from Chile to northern British Columbia. Unverified reports from Gulf of Alaska off Kodiak Island and Cordova. Uncommon north of Point Conceptin. Habitat: Usually found around offshore islands, rocky reefs, or kelp beds. Primarily feeds on squid and fish.

Rita Magdamo caught this firecracker-size yellowtail at the 2014 James Liu Derby

Piers: Most southern California piers located near reefs or kelp will see a few yellowtail caught during the year.  However, they are always a bonus fish and rarely caught in large numbers off of piers. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Crystal Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, and the Hermosa Beach Pier. 

A yellowtail taken from the Green Pleasure Pier in 2014

Bait and Tackle: If an angler wants to try for yellowtail he should have heavy enough tackle to insure a fair chance of landing the fish. Yellowtail like to head for rocks or kelp as soon as they’re hooked so line should test 20-30 pounds, hooks should be small (size 6 or 4) but strong, and the angler must make sure the fish is played out before it nears the pier and the pilings. Although lures work well on boats, almost all of the pier-caught yellowtail are taken on live bait—especially on small jack mackerel, Pacific mackerel or Pacific sardines. Food Value: A fairly good tasting fish that is usually broiled or bar-b-cued. Comments: One of the favorite southern California sport fish but much more common out in deeper water.

Jack Mackerel

Jack Mackerel Species: Trachurus symmetricus (Ayres, 1855); from the Greek words trachus (rough) and oura (tail), and the Latin word symmetria (symmetrical or regularly shaped). A member of the jack family Carangidae. Alternate Names: Spanish mackerel, Spaniard, horse mackerel, mackerel jack, saurel, agii and jackfish. Called horse mackerel and scad by 19th century fishermen. In Mexico called charrito or charitto chicharo. Identification: Typical jack shape although slim. The second dorsal fin and the anal fin extend almost to the caudal fin. On the side, along the lateral line, there is a ridge extending almost the entire length of the fish. Their coloring is iridescent green above, sometimes with a bluish luster, often mottled with lighter and darker shades; silvery on the belly. Size: To 32 inches; most caught off piers are less than 14 inches. The California record fish weighed 5 lb 8 oz and was taken at Huntington Beach in 1988. Range: Gulf of California to the Pacific Ocean south of the Aleutian Islands and in the Gulf of Alaska. Habitat: Pelagic in nature, preferring moderately deep water although ranges from the surface down to 150 feet. Often found in schools with Pacific mackerel and sardines. Primarily feeds on large copepods, euphausids, pteropods, squid and small fish. Piers: Most common to southern California and the central coast. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier and Hermosa Beach Pier. Some years will see large schools of these fish at the Central Coast piers—Avila, Port San Luis, Monterey Wharf #2, Seacliff State Beach Pier and the Santa Cruz Wharf. I have also had reports of good catches of jack mackerel at the “B” Street Pier in Crescent City, which is just a short distance south of the Oregon border. The fish in Crescent City seem to show up from late August to September and typically are good-sized fish, 22-28 inches long, the kind that are more commonly taken out in deep water by anglers trolling for salmon. Bait and Tackle: Usually caught near the top of the water; often found in mixed schools with Pacific mackerel (and sometimes Pacific sardines). When present, jack mackerel can be caught on a variety of tackle and baits. Light to medium tackle, a size 6 or 4 hook, and a live anchovy (especially small pinhead anchovies), can be deadly. Many are also caught on small lures, every thing from small bonito jigs, to Scampis, to small feathers. Often times bait rigs can also produce a lot of fish: simply tie several shiny size 8 hooks to your line. In central California, Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait leaders are the most common rigging. Many times a cast, followed by a slow retrieve, will see the jack mackerel follow the bait nearly to the surface and then strike just before the line leaves the water. Best months are usually July through September. Food Value:Fair food value but somewhat oily. The common name was changed from horse mackerel to jack mackerel by the DF&G in 1947 in order to increase the consumer appeal of the fish. In other words, it was done to (hopefully) help the fish canning companies make a little more money. Companies that had seen the sardines disappear along with cans of sardines and profits! Comments: Small jack mackerel are favorite baits for white seabass and yellowtail. A close relative and very similar looking fish, the Mexican scad, is occasionally seen in California; the scad have an orange or reddish stripe on the side. The one and only one I have caught was at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon.


 SalemaSpecies: Xenistius californiensis (Steindachner, 1876); from xenitius (strange sail, in allusion to the dorsal fin) and californiensis (in reference to California as a geographic area). Alternate Names: Bass, big eye, big eye bass, striped bass and lima perch. In Mexico called salema, pajarillo or ojotón. Identification: This pretty little fish resembles a striped bass in shape and is even striped, but both color and range is different. Salema have a bass-like body, very large eyes, and 6-8 orange-brown horizontal stripes on the side. Their coloring is iridescent blue-green above, and silvery below; tail fins orange-brown. They will often also make a grunting noise when removed from the water. They are sometimes mistaken for small striped bass. Size:Up to 12 inches but most caught off piers are only 6-8 inches long. Range: Found from Peru to Monterey Bay but reportedly most common south of Dana Point. My records however show they are most commonly caught from piers between Oceanside and Santa Monica. They are uncommon north of Point Dume and rare north of Santa Barbara. Habitat: Shallow-water rocky areas and in kelp beds. Salema are usually found in schools and though primarily nocturnal feeders they also forage (and bite) during the day. The young often school with juvenile sargo and black croaker. Piers: Best bets: Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, and the Henry Chace Park Pier. I have also taken quite a few from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon but only during nighttime hours. In addition, I have seen a number taken from the Port Hueneme Pier and Ventura Pier—both supposedly in areas where salema are considered uncommon. Bait and Tackle: These fish will take most small baits on a size 6 or 8 hook, including small pinhead anchovies. Most, however, are caught on mussels, bloodworms, or a small strip of anchovy or mackerel. Fish around the pilings and fish from just off the bottom to mid-depth. Food Value: Salema are a mild-flavored fish, best suited for pan-frying. Comments: Although this is a small fish, its relative scarcity and attractive appearance make it a worthwhile catch (and they give a good, rugged little battle when caught on ultra-light tackle). I’ve always thought they would make a beautiful saltwater aquarium fish.I’m not sure where the name derives but there is a small fishing village on the coast of Portugal named Salema. Although once considered part of the “last undiscovered tourist frontier,” those days apparently are over (at least according to the esteemed travel expert Rick Steves). It’s been discovered. In 2006 Practical Fishkeeping Magazine reported: “Men hallucinate after eating fish. Two men have suffered terrifying visual and auditory hallucinations after eating a popular local seafish in Mediterranean restaurants… the men started seeing and hearing things after contracting a rare form of hallucinogenic poisoning from the Salema fish they were dining on… The effects of eating ichthyoallyeinotoxic fishes, such as certain mullet, goatfish, tangs, damsels and rabbitfish, are believed to be similar to LSD, and may include vivid and terrifying auditory and visual hallucinations. This has given rise to the collective common name for ichthyoallyeinotoxic fishes of ‘dream fish’. The poisoning can start to cause vivid hallucinations within minutes of eating a poisonous fish and may last for days, often with no other effects. There is no antidote… Indoles, with similar chemical effects to LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) are believed to be responsible and may be consumed when the fish eat algae or phytoplankton containing the chemicals. All of the species effected by ichthyoallyeinotoxism are algal grazers. Others have claimed that different species of ichthyoallyeinotoxic fishes, such as Kyphosus fuseus, contain much more potent hallucinogens, such as dimethyltryptamine or DMT, which is considered to be one of the world’s most mind-bending hallucinogenic chemicals… Sarpa salpa, the fish consumed by the men was a member of the Sparidae family and is commonly known as the Salema porgy… According to the paper, Sarpa salpa was consumed as a recreational drug in the Med during the Roman Empire.” So there you have it, the salema in California were not the culprit in this strange episode of hallucinogenic poisoning even though California, especially the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco would seem a natural place for such an occurrence.

Kelp Rockfish

Kelp Rockfish Species: Sebastes atrovirens (Jordan & Gilbert, 1880); from the Greek word sebastes (magnificent), and the Latin word atrovirens  (black and green). Alternate Names: Confused with gopher rockfish, grass rockfish, and brown rockfish. Commonly called sugar bass, sometimes called dumb bass or grass bass. Called garupa or green rockfish in the Monterey Bay fishery of the 1880s. A favorite but still slightly weird name, one probably invented by some Internet addicted angler, is oogly googly. Called rocote de sargaso or rocote sargacero in Mexico. Identification: Typical bass-like shape. Their coloring is olive-brown to gray-brown with brown mottling; whitish or pinkish white below. Just to confuse anglers, a few kelpies also show up with reddish coloring (don’t know why). Although often mistaken for grass rockfish, they are easily differentiated during cleaning—the kelp rockfish has long and slender gill rakers on its first gill arch while the grass rockfish has very short and blunt gill rakers. Although not really a stuck up fish, they do have a definitive up-turned profile. Size: To 16 3/4 inches; most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. Range: From Bahia San Carlos and San Benito Island, central Baja Californa (some sources say Punta San Pablo), to Albion, Mendocino County. Most commonly found from central California south. Habitat: Commonly found in kelp forests, ranging from the canopy down to the bottom where they feed on a variety of prey including small fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. During the day they will often rest in the kelp, drifting motionless within the blades of kelp (including hanging upside down). At night they come to life seeking out whatever food is near their home. Younger fish are often in intertidal areas although adults can range down to a 190-foot depth (but most common from 20-80). Kelpies are one of the most common rockfish in shallow-water rocky areas. They are also one more resident species that rarely moves more than ten feet away fom its home in an entire year. Although sharing territory with other shallow-water rockfish sich as blue, gopher, black-and-yellow, and olive rockfishes, they are apparently kept out of the bottom areas by the more aggressive (and territorial) gopher and black-and-yellow rockfishes. Piers: Kelp rockfish are primarily found at piers that have a good summertime growth of kelp around the pier. Best bets: Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Paradise Cove Pier, Stearns Wharf, Goleta Pier (along the pipe-reef), Gaviota Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Cayucos Pier, San Simeon Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Monterey Wharf No. 2, and Santa Cruz Wharf. Juvenile fish are common at the Morro Bay T-Piers, Pillar Point Harbor Pier and the San Francisco Muni Pier. Bait and Tackle: Use a high/low leader, number 6 or 4 hooks, and pile worms, small pieces of shrimp, or small strips of squid. Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Italian fishermen of the 19th century considered this to be one of the best tasting of all the rockfish. Comments: Kelp rockfish are reported to live 25 years of age although few are older than 20. Most females are first mature (and reproductive) at about 6 inches and 3 years of age, most are mature by 7 inches and 3.5 years, all are mature by 9 inches and 6 years of age (although one study found initial maturity and reproduction not starting until 8.7 inches and 5 years of age).

Brown Rockfish

Brown RockfishSpecies: Sebastes auriculatus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word sebastes (magnificent) and the Latin word auriculatus  (eared, referring to the large spot on the gill cover). Alternate Names:  Chocolate bass is a common name as is bolina (from Bolinas Bay where they were first caught in large numbers). Sand bass, sugar bass, brown bass, cinnamon bass, brown bomber, brown rock cod, ground owl, and garrupa (grouper) are other colloquial names. Called cha menuke and chairo menuke by the Japanese; rocote moreno in Mexico. On PFIC these fish are simply designated SBRF or sbrf in deference to the appellation first applied by “pierhead” (actual name Boyd Grant, the Yoda-like Pier Master and patient teacher of youthful, local padawans on the path to “Pier Rat” enlightenment).  He recorded the daily catch at Goleta Pier from 2002-2003 and found that nearly 30% of the fish caught from the pier’s pipe-reef were small brown rockfish. If it was a “larger” small brown rockfish it became SBRF, if it was a “smaller” small brown rockfish it became sbrf. To this day most regulars on the site know what the acronyms mean and use them in their reports. Identification: Typical rockfish shape. Their coloring is light brown with darker brown mottling. A very prominent dark brown spot on the opercle (gill cover) most easily identifies brown rockfish. Sometimes confused with copper rockfish but the coppers do not have the dark spot on the opercle and are lighter colored. Up in the northern waters of Puget Sound hybridization between brownies, quillbacks and coppers can really confuse identification.Size: To 22.4 inches; most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. The California record fish weighed 6 lb 15 oz and was caught at the Colorado Reef, north of Princeton Harbor, San Mateo Co. in 2008. Range: Bahia San Hipolito, central Baja California, to Prince William Sound, northern Gulf of Alaska. A wide-ranging rockfish that I have caught as far south as the Cabrillo Mole at Avalon and as far north as Pier 57 on the Seattle waterfront. Habitat:  Shallow subtidal areas and in bays. In shallow waters they prefer rocky areas and kelp beds; in bays they are often found around structure (especially the younger fish) although some are also found in beds of eelgrass. Adults in deeper waters tend to hang down near the rocky bottoms. San Francisco Bay is considered an important habitat for juvenile brown rockfish. Apparently all of the brownies in S.F. Bay are five years of age or younger, after that age they move offshore into deeper waters. Adults can range down to 444 feet but are only common to about 400 feet. Most are caught in waters shallower than 175 feet. Apparently they are residential, rarely moving more than a couple of miles from home (although sometimes into deeper water during the winter). Their diet includes a variety of invertebrates, especially crabs and shrimp, and they will rarely pass up the opportunity to gulp down an available, smaller fish. Piers: Most commonly caught from piers north of Monterey Bay although the pipe-reef at the Goleta Pier yields a steady number of fish throughout the year. Small brown rockfish are one of the most common fish caught at Bay Area piers. Best bets: Cabrillo Mole (Avalon) Goleta Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Morro Bay T-Piers, Piller Point Harbor Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Port View Park Pier, Berkeley Pier, Paradise Beach Pier, Angel Island Pier, Elephant Rock Pier and the Fort Baker Pier. Many brownies are also caught from the piers and docks that line the Eureka waterfront, especially the Commercial Street Dock. Bait and Tackle: Small brown rockfish are commonly caught under and around the pilings of Bay Area Piers. Small hooks, size 6 or 8, baited with a small piece of pile worm is by far the best bait although strips of squid and even cut bait will take some fish. Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Comments: Brownies can live to 34 years in age although few reach 25 years, a relatively short life for members of the rockfish family. A few fish mature and reproduce at 7.4 inches and 3 years of age, most mature between 9.4-12.1 inches and 4-5 years, all are mature by 14.8 inches and 10 years of age. These fish can be a lot of fun for youngsters to catch but most caught from piers are really too small to keep. According to the California Fish and Game “the brown rockfish has been identified as a species vulnerable to severe localized depletions in other areas; in Washington state, the Puget Sound stock of brown rockfish was recommended for listing as a threatened species in 1999.”

Grass Rockfish 

Grass Rockfish Species:  Sebastes rastrelliger (Jordan & Gilbert, 1880); from the Greek words sebastes (magnificent) and rastrelliger  (a rake, in reference to the stubby gill rakers). Alternate Names: Often called a variation of bass—grass bass, rock bass, pepper bass, sugar bass, and in the north, kelp bass. Also called rock cod, green garrupa, green rockfish, kelp rockfish, schmo, and green bomber. Called garrupa (grouper) by early day Portugese fishermen; scomoda (Italian for inconvenient or hard to catch) and gopher by Monterey fishermen; grass rockfish by San Francisco fishermen. Called rocote de olivo in Mexico. Identification: Typical bass-like shape although they have the chunkiest body shape of the shallow-water rockfish. They are a dark colored fish—dark green or olive above; mottled green, black or gray on side; whitish below; fins dark. There is also a rare light-colored variation in pigmentation that is yellowish-orange. Although often mistaken for kelp rockfish, these “husky boys” are easily differentiated during cleaning—the grass rockfish has very short and blunt gill rakers on its first gill arch. The gill rakers are nearly as wide as they are long. Size: Length to 22 inches; generally between 8 and 16 inches for those caught from piers. The California record fish weighed 5 lb 6 oz; it was caught at Trinidad in 2006.

A Grass Rockfish caught by Ken Jones at the Cabrillo Mole in 2015

Range: Bahia Playa Maria, central Baja California, to Westport, Washington. Habitat: A shallow water rockfish, found from intertidal depths to about 150 feet. Most are found in shallow-water rocky areas, especially where there is vegetation. Grassies are common to kelp beds and reefs where they often hide in the crevices. In comparison to other rockfish, their shallow water habitat most closely mimics that of the black-and-yellow rockfish. While juvenile grassies are diurnal (daytime) feeders, adult fish are nocturnal (nighttime) feeders that primarily feed near the bottom. Key prey includes crabs, shrimp, snails, isopods and small fish including perch.Piers: Although one of the most common shallow-water rockfish in California, relatively few are taken from piers south of Point Conception (although I have taken several from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon). Needed ingredients are a rocky bottom or substantial kelp near the pier. However, juveniles are often taken from piers located in bays during the summer months. Best bets for juvenile fish include the Morro Bay T-Piers, Pillar Point Harbor Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier and Citizen’s Dock (Crescent City). Most years see a few adult fish taken from the Goleta Pier (near the the pipe-reef) and Gaviota Pier. Higher numbers of adults are taken from the Port San Luis Pier, Morro Bay South T-Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Capitola Wharf, Santa Cruz Wharf (in the wells at the end), Point Arena Pier (perhaps the best), Trinidad Pier and Citizen’s Dock (Crescent City). Grass rockfish are fairly common around the Point Arena Pier from June until October; fish inshore or cast straight out on the left side of the pier to the nearby reefs. Generally considered the most important rockfish for rock and jetty fishermen. Bait and Tackle: Medium to light gear is sufficient for these fish. A high/low leader equipped with size 4 or 2 hooks is common tackle. Fish on or near the bottom and be prepared for a strike at any time. Best baits appear to be shrimp, mussel, pile worms or tube worms. Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Italian fishermen of the 19th century considered this to be the best tasting of all the rockfish and apparently that opinion is still held by many. At $4.85 per pound, grass rockfish received the highest prices paid to California commercial fishermen for rockfish in 1998. There was a distinct difference in price between the shallow water rockfish kept and sold as live fish versus the deepwater species but that doesn’t detract from the grass rockfish ranking of #1. Treefish were #2 at $4.66 per pound, olive rockfish and bronzebacked rockfish tied for #3 at $3.74, gopher rockfish were #5 at $2.78, China rockfish #6 at $2.72, black-and-yellow #7 at $2.41, quillback rockfish #8 at $1.79, brown rockfish #9 at $1.61, and kelp rockfish #10 at 1.57.  Rosethorn rockfish were down at the bottom of the 31 species listed at only $.38. Comments:Grass rockfish are relatively short-lived rockfish only reaching an age of about 23 years. In southern California, some females are reproductive by 8.6 inches and 2 years of age, the majority are reproductive by 9.4 inches and 4 years, all are reproductive by 11 inches and five years. Those in central California north take longer to mature. 


Treefish Species: Sebastes serriceps (Jordan & Gilbert, 1880); from the Greek words sebastes (magnificent), and serriceps (formed from two Latin words meaning saw head) in reference to the large head spines. Alternate Names: Convict fish, lipstick bass, lipstick fish, barber pole and garrupa.  Called rocote presidiario in Mexico. Identification: Body short and compressed with thick spines on the head. Easily identified by the yellowish to olive (sometimes dark olive) coloring with five to six vertical black bars on the side, pink lips and two blackish bands radiate from the eye. The young have white-edged fins. Size: To 16 inches. Most caught from piers are under a foot in length. The California record fish weighed 4 lb 3 oz and was caught at Malibu in 2003. Range: From Isla Cedros, central Baja California, to San Francisco; common in southern California but rare north of Santa Barbara. Habitat: Although seen down to 100 feet in depth, they are primarily a shallow-water rockfish that likes to spend its time in caves and crevices, rocky areas, and kelp. Treefish are primarily night and twilight predators that seek out bethnic invertebrates such as shrimp, spider crabsand cancer crabs. However they will also grab small fish when they have the chance. A residential, homebody species that rarely strays far from home. Trees are also highly territorial, competing with fellow treefish and nearshore rockfish (black-and-yellows, grass, and gophers) for food and shelter habitat. Piers: Due to habitat only found at a few piers. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Cabrillo Mole (Avalon)—the best, Hermosa Beach Pier and Goleta Pier. Bait and Tackle: Will take a variety of baits including worms, fresh mussels, ghost shrimp, squid and anchovies. They will hit most bait fished on most riggings. However, a high/low leader utilizing number 4 hooks appears to work best. Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Treefish received the second highest price paid to California commercial fishermen for rockfish in 1998 at $4.66 per pound. Comments: Treefish live to 23 years of age but what’s with the Helena Rubinstein lips? Milton Love says these fish are territorial and the pink/red lips may warn off other fish. Sounds reasonable to me.

California Scorpionfish

California Scorpionfish Species: Scorpaena guttata (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word scorpaena (scorpion, referring to the poison spines), and the Latin word guttata  (a form of small drops or spotting). Alternate Names: Commonly called sculpin although also called scorpionfish, scorpion, little poker, rattlesnake and scorpene. Early records show stingfish and spinefish as favorite appellations. In Mexico they’re called escorpión Californiano. Identification: Typical rockfish shape, heavy-bodied and with strong head and fin spines. Their coloring is red (deeper water) to brown (more shallow water) with dark spotting over the body and fins. Fin spines are venomous and can cause a very painful, although not fatal, wound. Size: To 17 inches, although most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. The California record was for a fish weighing 3 lb 0 oz. It was caught at the Silver Strand Beach in 1997. Range: Uncle Sam Bank, central Baja California, and the Gulf of California, to Santa Cruz. They are uncommon north of Point Conception.

KJ and a scorpionfish from the Cabrillo Mole in 2010

Habitat: Most abundant in shallow rocky environments such as rocky reefs, sewer pipes and wrecks; frequently found in caves and crevices. Some are also found on sand. Found from fairly shallow water down to 620 feet. May travel over 200 miles in annual spawning migrations (spring and early summer) that see them form large spawning aggregations on or near the bottom (at a variety of depths). Piers: Although scorpionfish are most common around rocky areas and reef areas, I have seen them caught at almost every oceanfront pier in southern California. Best bets: Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon) and the Cabrillo Mole (Avalon). Bait and Tackle: Scorpions are carnivorous, ambush predators that are primarily nocturnal, feeding at night. Their main diet consists of small crabs, octopus, shrimp, and small fish. A high/low leader with size 4 hooks baited with squid or shrimp seems to work best although they also really like ghost shrimp. Still, I’ve caught them on cut anchovies, strips of mackerel, pile worms, and one on a live queenfish that seemed almost as large as the scorpionfish; they’re not too discriminating as far as food.  Food Value:An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried (although they are a favorite fish for sushi and command top prices when fresh fish are available). Comments: Handle with extreme care. California scorpionfish are the most venomous member of the family found in California. If handled in a careless manner and a puncture wound does occur there will usually be pain (sometimes intense) and perhaps swelling that should subside after a few hours. If possible, soak the affected area in hot water as soon as practical (since the hot water alters the toxin and makes it less harmful). Multiple punctures may require doctor’s attention or even hospitalization. The worst story I ever heard of such multiple punctures concerned a middle-aged angler fishing from a boat near Catalina. This lady had caught upwards of a dozen scorpionfish that were dutifully deposited into her gunnysack. Unfortunately, many of the long spines were protruding from her bag when a heavy wave caused her to lose her footing and to fall, bottom-first, onto the bag. The result was butt-porcupine and a helicopter trip back to a hospital. Although studies showed a decline in population before 1980, they seem to have increased and today have a healthy population.   

Cabezon — KJ and a cabezon caught from the Cabrillo Mole in 2012

Cabezon Species: Scorpaenichthys marmoratus (Ayres, 1854); from the Greek words scorpaena (a related species) and ichthys  (fish), and the Latin word marmoratus  (marbled). Alternate Names: Commonly called bullhead; also marbled sculpin, cab, cabby, bull cod, blue cod, giant sculpin, giant marbled sculpin, scorpion, marble sculpin, salpa and scaleless sculpin. Called scorpion or biggy-head by 19th century Italian fishermen. Identification:  Cabezon have a very large head with a broad bony support from the eye across the cheek, no scales, a cirrus (fleshy flap) on the midline of the snout, and a pair of longer cirrus just behind the eyes. The coloring is brown, bronze, reddish, or greenish above, whitish or turquoise green below, with dark and light mottling on the side. The lining of the mouth is a translucent turquoise green. The color may correlate to their sex with 90% or greater red-colored cabezon being males, 90% or greater green-colored cabezon being females. The mouth is broad with many small teeth. Size: To 39 inches and 25 pounds; most caught from piers are less than two feet. The California record cabezon was a fish weighing 23 lb 4 oz; it was taken near Los Angeles in 1958. The cabezon is the largest member of the cottid (sculpin) family. Range: Punta Abreojos, central Baja California, to Samsing Cove, near Sitka in southeastern Alaska. Habitat: Typically found in shallow-water rocky areas, from intertidal pools to jetties, kelp beds and rocky reefs, any area with dense algal growth. Older fish tend to move to deeper water, as deep as 250 feet. Typically inhabits the tops of rocky ledges as contrasted with rockfish and lingcod that prefer the sheer faces of ledges. Cabezon like to sit and it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s in a hole, on the reef, or on vegetation, they sit versus actively swimming—until they see food. Piers:Cabezon are one of the premier fish for northern California pier anglers with lesser numbers taken from southern and central California piers. Best bets: Cabrillo Pier, Goleta Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Santa Cruz Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Point Arena Pier, Trinidad Pier and Citizens Dock (Crescent City). Bait and Tackle: Although most of the cabezon caught from piers will be fairly small fish less than two feet in length, most years also see some larger fish in the 8-12 pound category. Because of this, you should use at least medium sized tackle; line testing at least 15 pound breaking strength and hooks around 2/0 in size. The best baits are small crabs and fresh mussels but cabezon will bite almost anything that looks like food. Their normal diet includes crabs, small lobsters, abalone, squid, octopus, small fish and fish eggs. Although they often reach good size, they can be frustrating to catch. Cabezon will often tap or mouth bait and spit it out; patience and a feel for when to set the hook is required. Also remember that cabezon like to congregate around “cabezon” holes; if you catch one, there will often be more around. Food Value: Excellent mild-flavored meat that can be prepared in almost any manner; many feel it is best fried. Although few fish are better eating, anglers should not eat the roe (eggs) of cabezon—the eggs are poisonous and can make a person violently ill. Don’t worry if the flesh is blue colored, this is a common occurrence and the flesh will turn white when cooked. Comments: A “lie-in-wait” predator. Their coloring lets them blend in with the surroundings where they lie motionless. When food passes by they use their large, powerful pectoral fins and tails to lunge after the prey engulfing it in their large mouths. In Spanish cabezon means big headed or stubborn and it well describes both their looks and temperment. Cabezon can live to about 20 years of age and I imagine an old cabezon would be a real grouch.

Finescale Triggerfish — KJ and a triggerfish caught from the Cabrillo Mole in 2010

Finescale Triggerfish — Species: Balistes polylepis (Steindachner, 1876); Balistes comes from the Latin word ballista (a device that shoots arrows—referring to the trigger-like spine) and the Greek word polylepis (many scales). Alternate Name: Triggerfish. In Mexico called cochi, puerco coche, cochito or pez puerco. Identification: The body is very compressed; they have a small mouth containing strong, protruding teeth (8 in each jaw); 3 strong, sharp spines are located in the first dorsal fin with 26-28 rays in the second dorsal; small gill slits are located in front of the pectoral fin. The skin is thick with large, rectilinear, plate-like scales. The coloring is brownish with blue speckles on head. Size: To 32 inches and perhaps as much as 16 pounds. Range: San Antonio, Chile, to Metlakatla, (southeastern) Alaska) but considered rare north of Baja California. Habitat: Generally found on the bottom, nearshore near rocky reefs, but they can range down to 1,680 feet deep. Some have arrived north during the El Niño years and it’s speculated that there are at least three established groups near Redondo Beach, Santa Monica and Catalina. They feed on a variety of bethnic-invertebrates such as snails, sponges, sea urchins, shrimp, and crabs as well as the occasional or fish and are most active during the day. Piers: Reported from the Redondo Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, and Cabrillo Mole in Avalon. Bait and Tackle: Will take most bait including squid, market shrimp, and ghost shrimp. Food Value: Excellent, all-white fillets that can be cooked many ways. The only problem is that the skin is like leather so you need a good, sharp fillet knife.

Rita Magdamo and son Kyle with a triggerfish she caught during the 2014 James Liu Derby

Comments: Considered a fairly rare species in California although just enough fish are caught to keep it interesting. I’ve caught three triggerfish —one in Maui, one while fishing out of Rancho Buena Vista in Baja California, and one from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon.

Swell Shark caught by Thomas during the 2012 Catalina Get Together

Swell Shark Species: Cephaloscyllium ventriosum (Garman, 1880); from the Greek words cephalo  (with a head) and scyllium  (like a dog or monster) and the Latin ventr  (referring to the belly).  Alternate Names: Catshark, puffer shark and balloon shark. Called tiburón inflado, pejegato globo or gato hinchado in Mexico. Identification: Swell sharks have a broad flat head with a rounded snout, and sharp, pointed little teeth. Their first dorsal is back of the middle of body and directly above pelvic fins; second dorsal above anal fin. Their skin is rough and appears flabby while coloring is yellowish-brown to creamy, with black or brownish spots and saddles; sometimes with white spots. When caught, the swell shark may inflate its belly with air or water until its circumference nearly triples in size. However, young swell sharks are not able to duplicate this neat little trick. So see, sometimes it pays to be an adult. Size: To a little over three feet in length. Range:  Acapulco, Mexico and the Gulf of California to Monterey Bay; most common in southern California.

Habitat:  Usually found near kelp beds or rocky areas that contain some kelp; likes to spend the daytime hours holed up in crevices or caves. A nocturnal feeder, they emerge at night to search for food—mainly small fish. But they seem a little lazy. Although sometimes they suck other fish into their mouth (as would a normal feeding fish), some reportedly simply open their mouths and wait for the smaller fish to swim in. It’s called yawning and perhaps explains why swell sharks have less than an athletic looking body (afterall, how much energy can be expanded in yawning for your food?). The next question becomes how often do you think bait is going to swim into their mouths, especially dead bait? Perhaps this is one reason that they are not more commonly caught. Piers: Rarely a common species although good numbers are reported from the Avila Pier, Port San Luis Pier, and the Cayucos Pier. Best Bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Hermosa Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Goleta Pier, Gaviota Pier, Avila Pier, Port San Luis Pier and Cayucos Pier. Bait and Tackle: Most swell sharks that are caught from piers are around two feet in length, so medium tackle with a size 2 to 2/0 hook should work fine. Small fish, crabs, and shrimp, seem to be the best bait. Food Value: It is reported that eating a swell shark is not so swell! The flesh is slightly toxic and causes stomach cramps and nausea as well as acting as a cheap aperient (result: diarrhea) and emetic (result: vomiting). Unless you’re really into the masochistic routine I would avoid puffer stew. Nevertheless, I can see all those sadistic little eyes lighting up. Wouldn’t it be cute to give Henry some puffer steaks for his dinner? Let’s see how long it is before he heads to the head. Of course there’s always the story that’s told in the fascinating book Cod, by Mark Kurlansky. He mentions the unusual methods used by a people (Icelanders) seemingly on the verge of starvation: “They ate what the island produced, which was mainly every conceivable part of a cod-fish and a lamb. They roasted cod skin and kept cod bones until they had decomposed enough to be soft and edible. They also ate roasted sheeps’ heads, particularly praising the eyeballs. Another specialty was hákarl, the flesh of a huge Greenland shark, hunted for the commercial value of its liver oil. The flesh, which contains cyanic acid, a lethal poison, was rendered edible by leaving it buried in the groud until it rotted.” Apparently æstur hákarl (Icelandic for fermented shark) with its ammonia-rich smell and taste is still enjoyed by some of the locals. Leaving aside this strange diet, and the question of how they discovered these enriching techniques, it makes you kind of wonder if a swell shark could be made edible by burying it in the ground for a few weeks. Anyone want to give rotted swell shark a try? Perhaps the “Iron Chefs” could do a show using æstur hákarl as the featured ingredient? Comments: An unpleasant and mistaken belief in some areas, especially the central coast, is that returning a swell shark to the ocean after capture ruins the fishing. It’s a rather stupid idea, and wrong, yet you’ll often find misshapen dying or dead swell sharks littering the piers. Since you don’t want to eat swellies (see above), and since they DO NOT hurt the fishing, please return them to the water.  Of course that may not be as easy as it sounds! A puffed up shark returned to the water may simply float away to be attacked by… whatever. Best is to net them and bring them to the top of the pier as quickly as possible. Then, as carefully as possible (since they do have sharp teeth), remove the hook. Try to then keep their mouth shut while returning them to the net and lowering them back down to the water. If successful, they will have gulped as little air as possible and still be able to swim away.   

Horn Shark

 Horn SharkSpecies: Heterodontus francisci (Girard, 1855); from the Greek hetero (different) and odont (tooth) and the Latin francisci (referring to San Francisco). (They have a small pointed tooth at the front of their jaw and a blunt tooth at the rear.)  Alternate Names: Bullhead Shark, Port Jackson shark, horned shark, hornback shark. Called tiburón cabeza de toro, tiburón cornudo or tiburón puerco in Mexico. Identification: Horn sharks are spotted sharks with a somewhat pig-like snout. They have a strong spine at the front of each dorsal fin (which accounts for their name) and an anal fin. Their coloring is tan to dark brown or grayish with black spots above, pale yellowish below. Size: Reported to 48 inches, but the largest verified was just over 38 inches long and 22 pounds. Most hornies caught from piers are under 30 inches in length. Range: Found from the Gulf of California to San Francisco. Habitat: Prefers rocky areas although also found near sandy areas that contain kelp. They are nocturnal, bottom-feeding foragers who prefer to spend their daylight hours resting on the bottom or in caves and crevices. At night they head out in their search for food—primarily squids, urchins, crustaceans, anemones and mollusks—but rarely are they found more than six feet from the bottom.

 Kyle Pease and a horn shark caught during the 2015 James Liu Derby

Piers: Most are caught at southern California piers but a few are caught as far north as the pier at Cayucos. Generally found near piers that are close to reefs or kelp. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, San Clemente Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Santa Monica Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, Gaviota Pier and Goleta Pier.  Bait and Tackle: Crabs, shrimp, squid and small fish are prime baits but hornies appear to take almost any natural bait. Most horn sharks taken by pier anglers are fairly small fish so light-to-medium tackle equipped with size 2 to 2/0 hooks will suffice.

Food Value:  Reported to be quite tasty, similar to most other sharks. Comments: An interesting little shark. Small horn sharks are frequently sold in aquarium shops where they command top prices. They are generally harmless but anglers should be careful of the dorsal spines and be aware that agitated fish may try to bite careless handlers. Horn sharks are in the Class Chondrichthyes and Subclass Elasmobranchii (as are all sharks and rays) but in the Superorder Galea, which only includes some of the sharks found at California piers. Many of the sharks found at piers are in the Superorder Squalea, which includes sharks as well as guitarfish and rays. Thus some of the sharks are more closely related to rays than to other sharks.

Bat Ray — Rita and a bat ray from the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon Harbor in 2011

Bat Ray Species: Myliobatis californica (Gill, 1865); from the Greek words myl (a tooth or molar), io (an arrow or poison), batis (a skate or ray) and the Latin word Californica  (referring to location). Apparently called aetobatus californica at one time in California: CA Fish Bulletin #28.  Alternate Names: Stingray, stingaree, bat sting ray, sea ray, eagle ray, batfish, big black, sea bird, flapper, rat tailed stingray, NASCAR, mud marlin (my favorite), and monkey face ray. Called raya murciélago or tecolote in Mexico. Identification:  Bat rays have a very heavy raised head and a dorsal fin at the base of a long whiplike tail with a stinger just behind it. Their coloring is blackish or blackish brown above and white below. Beware of the stinger. Size: Reported to reach nearly six feet across and over 200 pounds. Most bat rays caught from piers are less than fifty pounds but many in excess of a hundred pounds are caught every year. A 240-pound bat ray was reported from Newport Bay in 1957. I received a note on the Pier Fishing in California Message Board of a 246-pound fish with an 8.5-foot-wing span that was reputedly taken from the Newport Pier in the ’80s. However, the width sounds too wide leaving the weight also in doubt. I’ve seen pictures of a 176-pound bat ray taken from the Newport Pier and a 175-pound bat ray that was caught at the Aliso Beach Pier in (I believe) 1990. Another fish, this one weighing 203 pounds and measuring 54 ½ inches wide was measured and weighed on a certified scale. It was caught at the Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara on April 24, 2004. The fish struck a live smelt bait and was landed after a fight lasting one hour and twenty minutes. The fish was hooked and fought by James Elledge, and gaffed by Ron Maxell. With the help of bait shop owner Ray Angel (how appropriate) the fish was carried over to the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company to their certified scales. PFIC representative Boyd Grant was soon on the scene to witness and photograph the huge fish…one of the largest bat rays ever caught on a California pier (and possibly the largest to be weighed on a certified scale).The official California record fish was 4 feet, 9 inches wide and weighed 181 lb 0 oz; it was taken at Huntington Beach in 1978. According to the California DF&G “female bat rays reach a greater size than males, attaining a maximum disc width of 70.9 inches and weight of 210 pounds. The largest reported male is 40 inches wide and a weight of 37 pounds. Bat rays grow slowly, reach sexual maturity relatively late, have few young, and seem to be fairly long-lived. A 60-inch disc width female was estimated to be 24 years old.” So, all of the big bat rays are moms, grandmas or maybe even great grandmothers. Range: Gulf of California to Yaquina Bay, Oregon. Habitat: Prefers a flat, rocky bottom or sand among rocks although also seems to enjoy hanging around kelp beds. Most commonly caught in sandy or muddy bottom bays and the deeper water areas around piers. Bat rays basically “fly” through the water using their powerful pectoral fins and occasionally they will leap out of the water when hooked. Piers: Bat rays are caught at almost all piers in California, both oceanfront and those in bays. Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Stearns Wharf, Cayucos Pier, Berkeley Pier, San Mateo Pier, Elephant Rock Pier, Angel Island Pier, Eureka Municipal Wharf and Del Norte Street Pier (Eureka). Bait and Tackle:  Bat rays eat a wide variety of foods with oysters, clams, crabs, shrimp, abalone, snails and worms being scarffed down on a regular basis. To be expected, they’ll also take almost any bait. However, frozen or live squid, and live bait such as anchovies, ghost shrimp, mud shrimp and grass shrimp, produce most of the fish. Frozen squid is the least expensive and easiest bait to use and is undoubtedly the number one bait for bat rays. It’s reported by the way that these strong rays use their pectoral fins to lift their body rapidly up and down to create a suction that sweeps away the sand and gives easy access to their food on the bottom. Because of the potential large size, anglers wishing to fish specifically for bat rays should use heavy tackle and have a gaff or net available to bring the fish up onto the pier. Never use a pier gaff to lift  them up to a pier unless you’re intending to keep them for food. Food Value: Very good.

Bat ray at the Cabrillo Mole

Comments: Although Ray Cannon’s book How To Fish the Pacific Coast holds a cherished spot on my library shelf, and in many ways was a model for Pier Fishing In California, I believe he was wrong in his comments on bat rays. His most egregious was that “These giant Bat Rays should be exterminated whenever possible because of their menace to crabs, lobsters, and all kinds of edible shellfish.” Although it’s true that those species may be included in a bat ray’s diet, I’m not sure why they were singled out over predators. I think it reflects the thinking of the day, in particular the opinion that bat rays were a danger to commercial oyster operations, i.e., those in Tomales Bay. We know today that they are not a danger to those operations; in fact, they may help by keeping crabs under control. I’m not sure why he made a second statement, an assertion that bat rays are “Seldom taken by anglers.” Even back in those days bat rays (usually called sting rays) were a common catch, and several shark and ray derbies were conducted along the coast, the most famous probably being that at Moss Landing. Today, many anglers concentrate on bat rays. The rays reach a very large size, they put up a strong fight, and are delicious to eat once the fight is over (although more and more people practice catch-and-release with them). Of interest are the bat ray pools found at several aquariums (including the Monterey Aquarium, The Aquarium Of the Pacific, and the Chula Vista Nature Center). The bat rays can be petted and in fact are rather pet-like; some even seem to like to have their backs stroked. Yes, their stingers have been removed! The venomous spines are cut off about once a month (before they reach a length long enough to hurt anyone). Apparently the bat rays receive no harm from these “manicures,” in fact the spines are made of keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails, and the spines grow back. However, bat rays in the wild still have their spines and can inflict a painful wound, so be very careful if you catch one (and some bat rays have two or even three stingers). For some reason Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara sees a lot of small, immature bat rays and they’re usually called monkey face rays. Scientists report that bat rays move into inshore waters to breed during the summer then tend to move offshore in the winter (so guess when they are more likely to be caught from a pier). While inshore, they are sometimes found in large concentrations. At times these bat ray gatherings contain several thousand individuals. The sea bottom holding these creatures must look a little weird and would certainly have a somewhat alien feeling; not sure if it would be more like a black-cloaked Darth Vader convention, a Raider Nation convention, or something even more outlandish (and scary), a political convention.

California Moray (Eel) caught by Martin at the 2003 Pier Fishing In California Get Together in Catalina

California Moray Species: Gymnothorax mordax (Ayres, 1859); from the Greek words gymno and thorax (naked breast or lack of scales) and the Latin word mordax  (prone to bite).  Alternate Names: Moray or conger eel. Early-day names included marina and muraena. Called morena de California or anguila in Mexico. Identification: Typical eel-like shape with a large head tapering to a pointed tail; the only shallow-water eel lacking pectoral fins. They have very well developed teeth (to grab their prey) and the coloring is greenish-brown, greenish-yellow, or red-brown. Size: Up to five feet long and around 15 pounds. Most caught from piers are less than three feet. A 49-inch moray with an empty stomach weighed 11.2 pounds while a 47-inch fish, whose stomach contained two flying fish, weighed 14.58 pounds. Conclusions: (1) Don’t eat flying fish if you’re on a diet and (2) flying fish should stay at the top of the water and not head down to the realm of the morays. Range:  From Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California, to Point Conception. Habitat: Considered a true bottom fish that lives in continuous contact with the substrate; morays occupy crevices in shallow reef or rocky areas, especially around the offshore islands. Primary foods are crustaceans and small fishes with small spiny lobsters, red rock shrimp, kelp bass and blacksmith considered favorites.

California Moray caught by KJ at the Catalina Get Together in 2015

Piers: Every year will see a few California moray caught by southern California pier fisherman; an event that attracts the attention of most nearby anglers. Morays are both uncommon and ferocious in nature—it is one fish that should be handled very carefully. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Dana Point Harbor Pier, San Clemente Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Gaviota Pier, and, by far the best, the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon. Bait and Tackle: Morays are seldom the intentional catch of anglers; instead they are caught incidentally when fishing for other rocky-shore fish. They will grab almost any bait. However, best bait would appear to be shrimp, crabs, or small live fish. The best time to fish is at night and the angler should keep the bait in motion since moray will hide in crevices waiting for prey to swim by. Tackle should be kept simple; a medium-sized outfit with at least 15-pound test line and a size 4 to 2 hook. Be prepared to strike and start reeling quickly before the moray can retreat to the rocks. Food Value:  I’ve never eaten a moray but I have been told that they are quite tasty. Comments: Moray are a favorite of skindivers and often are quite tame. However, those I have seen caught on the end of a fishing line (I’ve only caught two myself), are usually ready to do battle. Because of their mouth full of sharp teeth, be careful if you happen to inherit the unenviable job of removing a hook from a still-thrashing, nasty-tempered moray. By the way, although moray are common at Catalina it doesn’t mean you are always going to catch one. I have caught over a hundred different species of fish from California piers and though I had once caught a moray while fishing from a boat at the Coronado Islands, I had never caught one from a pier. Thus I decided around 2010 that I needed to catch a moray from a pier and I felt the Cabrillo Mole would be the place to catch it. Years went by and even though there was an annual visit to Catalina, and several friends caught moray, I never caught one until 2015. Soon after I caught my moray a friend caught one fifty feet away on the Mole and then as we were leaving the Mole we discovered a group of kids had just caught another moray. Whatever the reason for their abundance that night it will long be remembered as the “Night of the Moray.”

Just sit back and dream like you’re listening to Dean Martin. (With apologies to Jack Brooks, and Harry Warren, the writers of “That’s Amore.”)

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie

That’s a time for a moray

When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine

That’s a time for a moray

Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling
And you’ll sing “Is it time for my moray?”

Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay
And you’ll sigh in relief with your moray