Visitor Comments and Letters - May '97

These messages have been edited. Although I feel the content is of interest, Iwant to provide as much privacy as possible to the various people who have takentime to comment. Let me know if you feel this is an interesting page. KJ

Date: May 1, 1997
To: Jonathan Borchert
From: Ken Jones
Subject: Great Site!

Great site, the best I have seen for East Coast piers. I have a site for California piers which I like to think is pretty cool also. Would you like to link the two sites?

By the way, I used to live in North Carolina and fished on the piers around Morehead City -- back about 35 years ago. I had some pretty good fishing for bluefish and flounders as well as the smaller species like pinfish. But, I bet things have changed; they certainly have in California.

Unfortunately, I haven't fished the East Coast for many years. The last time I was even remotely close was five years ago when I stayed a few days at Biloxi, Mississippi, and experienced some GREAT pier action (and I want to go back). But I also want to return to Carolina and try the fishing there again.

Anyway, best wishes and keep working on the site -- I know it takes a lot of effort and time. And, let me know if you want to link.

You can check out my site at:

Pier Fishing in California

Ken Jones, The California Pier Fisherman

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the compliment (It may be the only pier site on the East coast though!) Yours is by far the best West coast pier site too, I have seen a couple of other West coast sites but they were advertisements for the most part - not much having to do with fishing.

I used to live right down the road from Havelock in Newport, NC. My Dad and Brother live in CA now. My Dad is living near San Francisco and my brother lives in Santa Cruz. Any piers near there?

I will add your site in my fishing links area. Maybe we all can get some ideas from each other's pages.


which we had to work our way back up stream after losing one of our paddles and eventually (after several hours) arrived back to find our parents rather mad. We didn't repeat the trip. I kept those teeth for many years but lost them somewhere between college and the real world. Bet they're worth some money today.

Best wishes and continued good fishing -- especially for those big king mackerel.

Ken Jones

May 5, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Al Spence
Subject: Monterey Pier report

What happened to the Monterey Pier report for May?


After many, many phone calls -- and no return calls, I finally gave up. Do you know anyone who might want to be a reporter?


I Talked to Frank Guarrera - Owner of - The Compass - Boat and Fishing supplies. He said it would be OK to call him.. He is right on the wharf and knows what is going on...



Thanks for your help. I spoke to Frank this afternoon, then wrote the report and gave it to my web master this evening. It should be posted by tomorrow. Looks like I have a new source for Monterey. By the way, do you fish off the wharf? If so, how have you been doing? I was down over the Easter holiday but caught absolutely nothing -- didn't even have a bite. My poorest day of fishing in a long, long time.

Best wishes, Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman


I go to the wharf every now and then. I have not had very good luck there but the other evening I saw about 30 people pulling in the mackerel. I have talked to people who have caught good fish, halibut, salmon and such. We go to Moss Landing a lot - better fishing over there.

The best place to fish in Monterey would be at the Cost Guard - but it's closed to fishing. The city of Monterey doesn't seem to encourage fishing. Our group is trying to change that.


I've fished the Coast Guard pier several times although it's been several years. I've always been told the fishing is better there, but I didn't include it in my book because it was more like a jetty. Send me some information about your club, perhaps it's something that would fit into the next potpourri page.

Thanks again, Ken


We started The Old Monterey Fisherman's Club last summer. It only has a few members but our objective is to promote fishing in the Monterey area. It seems the city of Monterey and Pacific Grove do not encourage fishing. I guess fisherman donít spend as much money as the tourist do. For example there is not a public fish cleaning station in Monterey or PG. When I was a kid they were all over the place.

Recently a group of divers gave the cities of Monterey and PG a proposal to create a underwater park - The Park would run from the Coast Guard to Lovers Point. No fishing would be allowed - We are not against fish preserves, but this is the worst place for one. There are to many divers that use this area (in the thousands) and the sea mammals are thick. The city counsels have not yet decided what they will do, but divers bring money.

There is a no take park at PT Lobos - no fishing and very limited diving - Its run the way a preserve should be.

Ricketts Underwater Park

PT Lobos park


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Al Spence



The Old Monterey Fisherman's Club

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

May 7, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Sandy and Ron (Our Tackle Tips Experts)
Subject: Archives Page

Dear Ken,

Just accessed the archives page. This is wonderfully designed. Your student deserves an A. We would suggest that Bait & Tackle Tips be more specific, ie., March 1997 - Reel Maintenance, April - Monofilament Line, May - Line Storage, June - Loading Line, etc.

Looking good. Sandy and Ron

Sandy and Ron,

I agree, Martel has done a wonderful job. Although still a high school student, his designs are as good as any I have seen on the net (in my opinion). I'll pass your thoughts along.

I also like your suggestions and will tell Martel to incorporate them. Finally, did you view the Potpourri Page, and if so, what did you think of it. I think it's cool!


May 10 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Audrey
Subject: Alien Crabs in Pacifica

Hi Ken,

Its your Huntington Beach reporter with a question I haven't been able to get answered yet from everyone I've asked.

Thursday, I went crabbing and fishing at Pacifica pier, and caught your usual assortment of small croakers and rock crabs. Then, at about 11:30 PM (we started fishing at 8:30-9 PM), we pulled up this alien looking huge crab in our net (we were at the very end of the L shaped pier). We were hesitant to even pull it onto the pier. It has a huge bulbous back end that narrowed down to a point where its head was. It has 5 large and long legs on each side, with negligible claws. I'm not sure how big it was but my guess is 8-10 inches thereabouts. We kept it and a friend took it home. The other crabbers on the pier couldn't identify it. Any ideas? I'd appreciate any help.

Thanks, Audrey

Hi Audrey,

I'm not an expert on crabs but it sounds like some type of spider crab; I've seen some spiders that are really unusual looking (including having things like sponges growing on their backs). But, as I said, I'm not an expert. However, I'll get a couple of books out and see if it can be identified.

By the way, if you could get a good picture of it (showing some detail), we could put the picture on the net and ask for comments. This has been an unusual year for spider crabs with unusually large catches of unusually large crabs at several spots along the coast.

Best wishes, Ken


I found a page with a very similar picture, but the crab I caught was red, not blue. Please take a look if you can, cause the description is a bit frightening to me (though too fantastic to be the one I caught!!)

The one on the page is a Soldier Crab.

Thanks, Audrey


The picture of the crab is VERY INTERESTING!

I'm going to try to find some good pictures of California spider crabs but these critters look a little different. I have three pictures of spider crabs but I will need to scan them before I send them to you or put them on the net.

Best Wishes, Ken

May 11, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: John w Gray
Subject: Newport pier

After the gang came back to Azusa after WW2 we used to go down to Newport pier every Sunday. We would go early so we could get the left hand corner at the end of the pier where somebody had dumped a bench into the water at some earlier time. We never failed to limit out by 2:00 in the afternoon. I just found your page in the USA Weekender magazine in the Sunday paper. The article about Newport pier brought back a lot of memories. I was a born and raised southern Californian. I live in Santa Cruz now and I although I fish the wharf's here they leave something to be desired after growing up with So. California piers.


Glad to hear from you. Newport was where I first fished (in the early '60s) and it's still a favorite place to visit and fish. I imagine the fishing was better in the '50s, although there are still some fantastic days at the pier. Unfortunately, there has been a big anti-fishing push at the pier for the last year and a half and it finally resulted in the city limiting the hours the pier is open. Merchants complained that the pier was too messy -- and basically said that anglers shouldn't be able to use the pier. They wanted it saved for the tourists and the people who eat out on the restaurant at the end of the pier. Luckily that crazy idea was rejected but the hours were cut so some prime nighttime fishing was lost.

I was just down to Santa Cruz but unfortunately didn't get a chance to fish during the visit. A couple of years ago I visited about this time of the year and had some fantastic action on several different types of perch in the inshore area, 3-4 light poles out from the surf. I killed the fish while fishing under the piers as close to the pilings as possible. I used mussels and ghost shrimp for bait and got some really nice fish.

By the way, do you have any unusual stories about Newport or other southland piers that might be of interest? I'm going to include some viewer stories on my next potpourri page -- which will go up in July. Did you check out that page? I'm still waiting for someone to try to win the contests on the page.

Anyway, I've got to go but keep in touch and catch some big fish,

Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman

May 12, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Ron Fitz
Subject: Piers in Santa Barbara

I plan to spend a week in Santa Barbara on business beginning Sunday, May 18th and would like to do some pier fishing in the late afternoons or evening. What piers and tackle would you recommend? I'm from the midwest so most of my tackle is freshwater, but I do have two heavy saltwater outfits. However, I would prefer not to bring tackle that large on a plane unless I'm sure that I will be using it.

Thanks for your help. Ron Fitz


There is only one pier in Santa Barbara -- Stearns Wharf. It is a large multi-use facility with shops and restaurants and fishing areas for anglers. You can drive your car right out to the end and, for a few dollars in parking fees, fish as long as you wish (almost).

Unless you plan to try for some large sharks or rays, I'd leave the large tackle at home. Light tackle is the way to go off the wharf for most of the species that are currently being caught. The biggest fish you are likely to catch would be mackerel, corbina, or halibut, and all of these can be caught on light tackle as long as you keep the fish out of the pilings. I would recommend you check with Mike out at the tackle shop at the end of the wharf when you arrive. Tell him I sent you and get his directions on the best bait and tackle to use.

I've enclosed some passages from my book on Stearns Wharf but my biggest advice is to keep moving until you find the fish. A lot of people go right out to the end, cast out and wait. There are fish somewhere around the pier. If they're not biting at the end go inshore to shallower areas or try right under the pier by the pilings. You can (almost) always find something.


There are several other piers which can be reached in 30-45 minutes driving time. The best is at Gaviota State Park which is north right along Highway 101; to the south is the pier at Ventura, and fairly close is the pier at Goleta which is by UC Santa Barbara. Gaviota and Goleta both offer excellent action at times although both are higher off the water than Stearns Wharf and both are a little harder to fish with light tackle.

Where ever you go, I hope you have a good time and hope you catch some fish. Let me know how you do -- maybe I'll put it in the next potpourri page.

Best Wishes, Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman


Just curious, did you try any of the piers in the Santa Barbara area and if so, how did you do?

Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman


Thanks for your advice. I did fish at the Santa Barbara pier twice last week (on the sunny days). It seems when the weather is overcast, there's little action. But when the sun's out, the Mackerel are everywhere. I probably caught around 30 to 40 each day, but I doubt any of them were over 12", nor did I see any caught larger than that. But, it was fun.

Again, thanks for your help.

May 13, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Audrey
Subject: Huntington Beach Bass

Hi. My dad said last week a large 50 LB Sea Bass was caught off Huntington Pier, and he seemed really sad about it, he thought they should have released it. The perch being caught there right now are on the large side, and the sharks are still around.

No sharks caught off Pacifica pier while I was there but lots of good crabbing.


The crab is gone now, though I didn't ask my friend what he did with it.


Your dad is right, they should have released the bass -- if for no other reason than it had to be illegal. People can no longer keep black sea bass or groupers (which are the only true bass to reach that size locally). It might have been a white seabass which is really a croaker but that's a pretty big white seabass for off the pier.

Sorry you couldn't have gotten a picture of that crab. It would have been interesting to see.

Best wishes, Ken

May 14, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: pierangler (Mark A Grim)
Subject: Pier Fishing S.F. Bay and Delta

Dear Ken,

I've really enjoyed reading your book. It has been fun to compare notes with your findings on all the piers.

My favorite pier is the Pacifica Pier. It's the only pier that you can catch your main course of salmon or striper and have a nice Dungeness crab for a appetizer. I've fished nearly all of the piers listed in your book and have found success (in varying degrees) at all of them. The Oceanside pier after it was repaired and reopened in I believe 1990 or so was an exceptional place to fish. I was using the same bobber terminal tackle that is popular at the Pacifica Pier - which nobody there had seen before. I had seen bonito flashing as they raced through the pilings and decided to try the bobber. I ended up catching 10 bonito in a half hour along with a small barracuda one August afternoon. Since then, my success there has been slow and spotty.

My father taught me how to pier fish on the Cayucos and Avila piers. I now live in Antioch, CA and enjoy fishing the Martinez Fishing Pier and the East Bay Regional Park Antioch Pier. The Martinez Pier is excellent for sturgeon, striper, and salmon. The Antioch Pier is great for striper. Both have bait shops nearby and are usually not crowded. The Antioch Pier has wooden shelters built around

several of the benches for shelter from the wind and sun.

I would like to see these piers added to your next edition of your book. If you would like more info

from me, let me know.

I enjoyed your web site. I don't have internet access at home - e-mail only - but I use friends and library computers occasionally.

Sincerely, Mark Grim

Hi Mark,

Interesting that you would mention the piers in the Martinez-Pittsburg-Antioch area, I've been thinking about adding them to the web site report. I have written a new chapter for the book on those piers but first I've got to sell out the first edition so there can be a second edition. I've added about 50% more material to the book and am hoping I get a chance to have it published. Marketscope Books feels it is too limited (pier fishermen) so I am currently looking for a new publisher.

It's interesting that you have fished all these piers, most people I talk to have only fished in one area. It's nice to know there are a few others who have had the chance (pleasure) to try out the variety offered in other parts of the state. And, a great story on Oceanside.

I agree that Pacifica is probably the best in the north although many piers offer seasonal highlights. Unfortunately, Elephant Rock is closed and that is one of the best for sharks. I'm hoping they find the money to reopen that pier. But I'm rambling...

By the way, would you mind if I put your comments in the next potpourri page? I'm going to include a section for visitor comments and yours would be perfect. Also, if you would like to send me a note once in a while after you've visited the piers I could include it in a report. Let me know your thoughts.

For now, best wishes and good fishing, Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman

Hi Ken!

I was very pleased by your quick response to my message. You are quite welcome to use any of my information and comments for your potpourri page or anywhere else that you might see fit. Your "Pier Fishing in California" book seems to sell quite well in this area. I picked it up at the local Big 5 Sporting Goods store. I had to go in a couple of times to get it because they kept running out. I'll recommend it to my fishing buddies and drum up some business for you.

I went out to the Antioch Regional Shoreline Pier last Wednesday. I was there for about an hour and a half. I had heard that several large striped bass had been caught from off of the pier. I was able to catch and release 20 bass - 2 of which were just short of legal size. I was using cut anchovies and some live grass shrimp for bait. The larger fish were being caught near shore on the east side.

In a couple of weeks I will be visiting the Cayucos Pier once again. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Sincerely, Mark

May 13, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: John Stetser
Subject: Will be in the San Fran-Montery Area in October

What is available Mid October in the northern part of the state. I am coming from New Jersey and would have a variety of equipment I could bring for the surf, party boat or pier. I would like to go for salmon or halibut.

Thanks, John Stetser


Your question is fairly broad but I will answer it the best I can. In mid-October there are usually several different fisheries that are still going strong; it depends on what you want to do.

Bay Area:

  1. October is often good for a late striped bass bite along the Marin shoreline (inside the bay). It's called the World Series bite and some years it is quite good. It's best from boats and there are several party boats headquartered around the bay (including nearby San Rafael) which will seek out the stripers if they're hitting. A plus in recent years is the fact that most of the pot-luck boats will also be seeking out halibut which can be in the same area or a short boat ride away.

  2. Salmon can still be going strong out the Gate but usually they are starting to head inland toward the Sacramento River. However, even though numbers drop somewhat in the fall, it is the best time of the year for really big fish. Usually a few 40+ pound lunkers will be landed during that time.

  3. Bottom fishing out of San Francisco is almost always good. I have NEVER failed to get a limit of rock cod on a trip out to the Farallon Islands. But be prepared for some rough seas (although the fall is the best time of the year weather-wise in San Francisco; it's typically warm or hot and fog-free). Baseball weather in the Bay Area is cold, football weather is warm.

  4. Pier fishing can be mixed during October. A few salmon may be landed at inner bay piers, but not too many, and Pacifica has usually slowed down on salmon by that time. More common will be the smaller species like perch, sole, jacksmelt and small sharks. If you want to try some piers, I would recommend in order Pacifica, Fort Baker Pier, McNear Beach Pier and possible the Muni Pier in San Francisco or Pier 7 for some variety and the "feeling."

  5. Surf fishing has also tapered off somewhat during the fall. Perch are far less numerous but you might still be able to connect with a hog striper over at the beaches in Pacifica.

Half Moon Bay - mid way between San Francisco and Monterey:

  1. Some years will see a fairly good bite of salmon continuing into the fall and several party boast are available here.

  2. Halibut can also be available but most boats don't fish for them; shallow-water, light-tackle fishing for rock cod is becoming very popular in this area -- and it's worth a try.

Monterey Bay:

  1. Salmon fishing can still be decent out of Santa Cruz or Monterey but again fish are starting to think of their inland migration. Bottom fishing for rock cod is an option and is also generally good in that area.

  2. You can still get halibut but sportfishing boats don't really target them in that area. Best bet would be to rent a skiff down at the Capitola Wharf, follow their directions, and go out and catch a halibut or salmon in that area. They're nice people and have good advice.

  3. Pier fishing usually isn't the best in October. HOWEVER, El Nino appears to be coming and there is a very good possibility that by October there will be some southern California species in Monterey Bay which could make things interesting. Check out the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Capitola Wharf, or the Seacliff Pier to see what is happening.

The last big El Nino saw fish like barracuda and bonito enter Monterey Bay and people were getting them from both piers and boats. One lucky angler also got a marlin. There is also a very good possibility that albacore will be available to Monterey boats and usually these are good size fish by the time they have reached these waters. Most boats going after them will be out of Monterey but a few may also leave from Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

This answer has been fairly general but it's hard to know what exactly will happen this far in advance. If you want, contact me a little later in the summer and I should have some better information -- and know if El Nino is really going to affect things.

Best wishes, Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman

May 14, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Benjamin Szu (Master of the Universe)
Subject: San Diego Piers

I went to Ocean Beach pier and Crystal pier. It seems like Crystal Pier is where I'll be going for awhile. Lots of fish there. I'm just buying shrimp from Ralphs and it's working good. You know where I can get some ghost shrimp? Ocean Beach Pier was not too good. We used squid and only caught one mackerel. At Crystal pier, we caught a lot of mackerel, yellowfin croaker, smelt, undersize sea bass. I saw other people catch some type of ray and lobster! The right side of the pier is terrible. Keep getting my line caught. Wish it was a little bigger though, but I still like it a lot. Any tips in particular for Crystal pier? Thanks.


Hi Ben,

Check out the May Pier of the Month on the site, it's Crystal Pier. Fishing tips are included on the page. As for the ghost shrimp, I'm not sure. There used to be a good bait and tackle shop at Dana Cove in Mission Bay that always carried live ghost shrimp. But, I believe it may have closed - not sure. Other than that, your best bet is to get a pumper (available at most good tackle shops) and pump yourself some ghosts out of the mud, sand and gunk of Mission Bay. My father and I used to go down to a number of spots around the bay and we could usually get a day's worth of bait in under half an hour. PLUS, it's a lot of fun. Ralph's shrimp is fine but have you tried Safeways or Vons - just kidding. What I typically do is buy a couple of pounds of shrimp whenever it comes on sale. I then divide it up and put it in zip-lock bags. I put about four ounces into a bag and find that one bag is all I need for most of my pier fishing trips (since I usually also have some other bait). If done properly, the shrimp will last several months in the freezer and still be in good shape.

May 15, 1997
To: May 15, 1997
From: Ken Jones
Subject: Squat


Did you ever go fishing and if so, how did you do? Lots of fish or "squat?"

Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman


I went to this little place in Ventura costs seven bucks includes unlimited bait anchovies and smelt. I hooked up a halibut 20'' on some squid . Lots of croaker, perch and some bass.


May 25, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Glen Wetterer
Subject: Question

I have a question. I'm from South Florida and I'm moving to San Francisco. I enjoy going out on drift or bottom fishing party boats. Do they have any such thing out near San Francisco, and if so , what do you catch?

Glen Wetterer


You'll find plenty of bottom fishing boats out here. Basically there are two types: (1) Boats that fish in San Francisco Bay for halibut and striped bass - and whatever else is biting, and (2) Boats that fish offshore for California's bottom fish - mainly rockfish (called rock cod) and lingcod with an occasional greenling or cabezon for variety.

The bay boats used to be striped bass boats but with the drop in stripers they became potluck boats and, lo and behold, they discovered a rich fishery for halibut. Today more halibut are caught than stripers. However, there are some days when you will go out and catch stripers, halibut, salmon and even rockcod and sharks all on the same trip. These boats usually use a 8 or 4 ounce sinker and bounce live anchovies off the bottom. During the winter months these boats fish the bay for sturgeon and shark.

Bottom boats traditionally fished deep water: 150-300 feet deep and heavy sacks of good tasting rockcod were/are the rule. However, in the last few years, more and more boats are offering light tackle, shallow water trips. They still get a lot of fish but they tend to be smaller fish. But, in some ways they are more sporting and more fun.

The final type boats are the salmon boats that traditionally have trolled for salmon (some now mooch). During the past ten years or so it seems that limits have become a way of life -- at least when the wind cooperates.

It's a different type of fishing than you have had down south, especially in regards to the weather, but I think you will find there are ample opportunities to catch some good quality fish. Of course, there are also the piers...

Best Wishes,

Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman


I just got your E-mail in response to my questions about fishing in San Francisco. I just wanted to thank you for your time and advice. Maybe we'll bump into one another someday on the pier. By the way, Ken, where is the pier?


Actually there are about 40 piers in the Bay Area of which I try to visit at least 25-30 a year (to keep my records accurate). And yes, we may run into each other on one of the trips.

Best wishes, Ken

May 26, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Tim ...
Subject: Shovelnose Guitarfish

a previous report on the shovelnose guitarfish. I am doing a big report on this particular fish for school and was wondering if you could send me the information about this fish. I would REALLY appreciate this. You can e-mail me at ...

Thanks for your time.


You should be able to find the information and picture in the archives section of my site but if not, I'm enclosing below the text of the article. Let me know if I can be of further help (I wrote a magazine article on shovelnose guitarfish quite a few years ago).

Fish of the Month - April '97, Shovelnose Guitarfish -- the information was sent.

Best Wishes, Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman

Mr. Jones,

Thank you for the information on the Guitarfish. I really appreciate it. I would like to look at the magazine article that you did on the Guitarfish. See if you could e-mail me the information. I am already supplied with some pictures. I just need to know if there are any animals that eat the Guitarfish and how this has affected it's behavior. Send me the whole article though, if you can. I might read some interesting information that I wasn't aware of. Thank you once again.



Give me a couple of days. The article is not on my computer so I'm going to have to find the magazine or the old disk it is on. I will get back to you.

By the way, there is some interesting information in the book Probably More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes of The Pacific Coast by Robin Love. If you don't have a copy I might be able to send you some of the information.

Later, Ken Jones


Hi! Thanks for all the trouble your going through to get me more information. I find this area of science interesting and hope to study more about it in the future. Would it be all right if I used your name as a resource in the bibliography part of my project? I am going to the Boston Aquarium soon. Do you think they might have guitarfish there? I'm going to try to find the book by Robin Love in my town library. Thanks again. I'll anticipate hearing from you.

Sincerely, Tim


Below you will find the article which I mentioned in the previous note. Unfortunately, in rereading it after a span of many years, I find that it really isn't that good of an article and may not have any information useful to your paper. Nevertheless, feel free to quote it as applicable.

It appeared in the February 1985 copy of Western Saltwater Fisherman, Vol.5, No. 2, page 6.

Shovelnose Guitarfish

by Ken Jones

The scene I had just witnessed was familiar The fisherman had hooked something big, the fish fought hard and determined and after several minutes of rod-bending performance, the fish was beached. The angler issued an impolite description of the fish's ancestry then tossed the fish up onto the sand where it could begin its own 3-D process; die, dry and decay.

If the fish had been a halibut, or one of its favored relatives, congratulations would have been passed around and care taken to preserve the quality of the meat. But NO, the fish was a shovelnose shark fit only for the trash heap -- such is the prevailing opinion. Unfortunately, it is an ignorant conception. Not only had the angler received a fair fight from a large fish, but he had thrown away some excellent eating fillets. the meat is white and mild, comparable in taste and texture to scallops. I have, over the years, become somewhat resigned to both the debate over sport versus non-sport fish and the lack of knowledge on the part of many anglers. Nevertheless, it still amazes me when I see such a scene.

Shovelnose shark, or more correctly the shovelnose guitarfish, Rhinobatos Producus, is one species that does not deserve the abuse it receives. It is one of the largest fish pier and surf fishermen in California normally catch, it gives a strong if not spectacular fight and, as said, is good eating.

The shovelnose is one of the guitarfish in California, the other being the banded guitarfish, Zapteryx Exasperata, which is rather rare. The banded guitarfish is much wider and has black transverse bands on the top. The shovelnose is somewhat narrow and is brownish gray above. It reminds me of a sawfish without the saw. Once seen, you will not mistake it for any other fish.

Although common from Mexico to Point Conception, shovelnose are virtually ignored by most fishermen. Studies done by the California Fish and Game Department showed, in the early 60s, an annual catch of only 2,230 fish. The figure, perhaps conservative, shows the relative lack of pursuit of the species. Instead, shovelnose are almost always the "incidental" catch made when fishing for more favored species. Perhaps this is why the fish is disliked -- the angler is mad at old shovelnose for taking the bait.

However, a very few anglers do fish for shovelnose. My father is one such angler, seeking the fish in and around Mission Bay and San Diego beaches. When the shovels are running, it is not uncommon to catch three to five during a morning's fishing. Not only can they be consistently caught, but it's possible to get some really good size fish. During July and August of 1982 Dad daily pulled in fish approaching the 5-foot mark. Since the listed record is 61.5 inches and 40 pounds, he may have had a record fish. But he didn't know, or care, he was having too much fun catching the monsters.

I myself have hooked only one shovelnose that I feel would have exceeded the 5-foot mark. It was back in 1977 during a vacation in San Diego. I was staying on the Crystal Pier, the only pier on the West Coast where an angler can actually stay right over the ocean. It was a warm sultry night in August when I decided to get up early and go shark fishing. Earlier, the previous evening, I had excellent luck on yellowfin croaker and white croaker, perch and small sharks. But I knew there were larger sharks out there and I knew they would bite when it was dark. So, at 3:30 a.m., I got up, slipped on some shorts, and headed out to the end of the pier. I was the only angler on the pier.

I thought I was prepared. I had two medium weight setups loaded with forty-pound line. I had spare leaders, hooks and sinkers. I had a strong flashlight and a weighted treble hook, the kind commonly used to gaff large fish from a pier. On a large 4/0 hook was placed a large strip of squid. I thought I was ready.

Within five minutes I caught my first fish, a small thornback ray. Ten minutes more and I landed a small round stingray. Then I landed a gray smoothhound shark, commonly called a sand shark. But after nearly an hour I had not landed a large shark like I was fishing for. Then the fish hit. I was fishing on the south side of the pier but the fish decided it liked a southwest direction better. The fish took off and I merely hung on hoping for the best. I knew I had something big, perhaps a giant bat ray, or a large white seabass, or even a giant black sea bass -- thoughts are not always logical at such times. I knew it was too big to be one of the species I had been catching and I guessed it was a bat ray. After fifteen minutes I had the fish headed back toward the pier. Unfortunately, the fish had a mind of its own and worked around the pier over to the north side. I worked it to the top of the water but now I had a problem. I had inadvertently left the heavy line with the treble hook gaff sitting by my tackle box over toward the south side of the pier.

I didn't want to work the fish back around the end of the pier since the waves would have washed it into the pilings. What to do? I finally decided to back up to the bench on the opposite side keeping the line somewhat tight. I hoped it would not break as it rubbed against the wooden railing of the pier. I reached the gaff o.k. But on the way back to the edge there was a loud snap and the trophy was gone. It may have been the wrong approach to try. But, as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. In addition, I was not in the most unemotional state of my life. When the fish had reached the top of the water I had looked down with my flashlight. It was a huge shovelnose, by far the largest I had ever seen -- and I have seen hundreds. I am sure it was over five feet in length and over forty pounds. From such events memories are made. And from such events a respect for shovelnose is developed,

As said, shovelnose are common to Point Conception. They are caught on virtually every pier, in the surf and in bays. A limited number are caught on private boats; usually in bays. Bait and tackle can be kept simple. Line should be on the heavy side, at least twenty pound test; even better is forty pound test. A surf leader with two dropper limes is standard and sufficient. Hooks should be at least 2/0. On a pier, or in a boat, have a friend help you gaff or net the fish. On shore, in the surf or bay, simply work the fish to water's edge and then grab the tail -- and hang on.

Shovelnose will bite virtually any bait. On piers I have had best luck with squid and live or frozen anchovies. In the surf, I have caught shovelnose on squid, anchovies and sand crabs. In fishing Mission Bay I have found live smelt to work best. The smelt are easy to catch with a small trap, they're hardy, and croakers and small bass don't seem to bother them. However, in the bay, anchovies, ghost shrimp and bloodworms will also work. Surprisingly, I have seen few shovelnose caught on clams even though they would seem to be a natural bait.

You do not have to hook shovelnose, they will hook themselves. When hooked simply hang on and be patient, the hook will not tear out of their tough mouth.

Once landed, care should be taken to keep the meat fresh. The fish are easy to clean. Lay the fish out just like they lay in the sand. Make two cuts down the back from the disk to the end of the tail, one on either side where the backbone would be. Make a cut from the front of each to the two previous cuts out to the edge of the disk. Simply open the skin up. Looking in you will see two fillets, one on either side running the length of the tail. Reach in and simply work the meat loose with your fingers and remove it from the body cavity. Next, cut off any small pieces of red meat. You will be left with two long, bone-free fillets. You can eat the fillets fresh or soak them overnight in some water in your refrigerator before eating. You will wind up with fish as good as any you can buy in the store.

I have told many people that the shovelnose are good to eat but many refuse to listen. My Dad however tells a story which might convince you to try the meat. Last summer he met some tourists down from Seattle. Like most people from that great city they loved seafood. They had been fishing on the boats and were now trying the shoreline areas around Mission Bay. As they caught fish they froze the meat to take it back home in Seattle. They had never seen or eaten a shovelnose. My Dad showed them how to both catch and clean the fish. Shortly after they returned home my Dad received a letter from them. They had let their friends try the various fish they had caught on their trip to southern California. What did the people like best. The winner was shovelnose shark.

Below are a few items which also may be of use. They are from the book Probably More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes Of The Pacific Coast by Robin Milton Love, Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California, 1991. pp. 34-36:

  1. In California "they live in 40 ft of water or less, sometimes in large aggregations. They tend to bunch up during the spring...possibly for mating and spawning."

  2. "Crabs, shrimps and fish form much of the adult diet."

  3. "There is one authenticated report of a shovelnose attacking a human... apparently a diver inadvertently interrupted a male guitarfish while it was courting a female. Instead of taking the diver to court and suing him for several million dollars, the fish took the easy, macho way out and rammed the poor sucker. The diver was probably never in too much danger, as shovelnose have no teeth to speak of and, while they could eat you, it would be a toe at a time, and you would have to be real patient--we're talking several months here."

An interesting book but he doesn't mention what eats the guitarfish. My best guess would be larger sharks.


I forgot to mention that it is fine to use my name. By the way, there is some interesting information on guitarfish in the book Shadows in the Sea - the sharks, skates and rays by Harold W. McCormick, Tom Allen and Captain William Young. It mentions several species that live in the Atlantic so I wouldn't be surprised if you found one in the Boston aquarium. It also says that the largest guitarfish are found in the Indian Ocean and apparently reach a length of 10 feet and a weight of 500 pounds -- not too bad.

Best wishes, Ken Jones, the Pier Fisherman


I got your e-mail just before I left for school, so I didn't get a chance to thank you. Thank you for all of the trouble that you went through to supply me with information. I really appreciate it. I'll let you know how I do, in case you're interested. Other information: Just in case your wondering, I'm e-mailing you from Maine. I'm in the 6th grade. Where are you from? Are you self-employed or do you work for someone else?

Thanks again! Tim


Glad I could help! My main job is that of a teacher and I teach at a small high school located about 110 miles north of San Francisco. Since we are a small school (140 students grades 9-12), we also have a small library. Increasingly my students are using the internet to get their source materials. When you mentioned that you were doing a report, I thought of my own students and was hopeful I could be of help. Let me know how your report and grade turns out.

Best wishes, Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman

May 26, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Shelly Todd
Subject: Top Rod Site Award


The T.V. Fishing Show, Fishing with Shelley & Courtney has selected your site for the coveted " Top Rod Award Site". If you choose to accept this award and place it at the top or near the top of your Homepage, it is possible that your site will appear on one of our fishing shows as one of the top Fishing Page Sites on the World Wide Web.

Our Homepage has a specially linked page to the award winners which should bring you a number of new visitors. The Sport Fishing Page currently has between 750-1000 visitors per day which is among the most successful Internet Fishing Pages on the WWW. Join our success.

Yours Truly

Shelley Todd

Fishing with Shelley & Courtney Productions.


I would be pleased to put the award on my site although it can't go where you suggest. It will have to go somewhere under the pier picture which opens my page.

Sincerely, Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman


That would be fine with us and thank you.


May 29, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Gorton Holland
Subject: Thank You !

Thank you for providing such a neat web site. I am a native Californian now living in Oklahoma. My very first fishing trip and fish caught, was on a pier in So. Cal. It's been too long ago to remember exactly where. Then during the mid-sixties I worked at Davey's Locker Sportfishing in Newport Beach handling their Public Relations and Advertising. Anyhow, a lot of roots to the Pacific Ocean, and your site has helped to bring it all a little closer.

My business now is operating Hooked on Fishing International, which is the force behind the Kids All-American Fishing Derby program. This would be a great program for the pier operators, local bait shops etc., to get involved with. We have a web site that explains the program

This would be a great way to get the "next generation" of young anglers started fishing on a pier. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Best regards,

Gordon Holland


Thanks for your kind words about the site.

I looked at your site and the program sounds great. However, I'm not clear as to how exactly I can help out. I could publicize it on a page and put a link to your organization - what else? If you watch my site you will find out that I intend to do a lot to promote fishing for youngsters; I am a teacher and I feel the future of the sport is in their hands.

By the way, I first began to fish at the Newport Pier in Newport Beach, and I took my first sportfishing trip on a boat out of Davey's Locker. The trip was in April of 1963 on the "Seahorse." We fished Catalina Island and I caught 15 kelp bass and 5 barracuda. It was a very pleasant start -- except for getting seasick. I still go out on boats several times a year and at least half the time get seasick -- and that is one reason why my main fishing is on piers (although I also feel piers have a special attraction).


Best wishes, Ken Jones, The Pier Fisherman

Ken --

Thanks for your response! If you could publicize the programs and put a link to our page, that would be super! I guess the end goal would be to have a kids' event at each pier. Maybe there's a way that you could help us get in touch with the pier operators or local bait shops. But I'm thinking the mention on your web site plus a link to our page is a good start!

Thanks again for your interest and efforts. I think we've got a good thing going!

Best regards, Gordon Holland