Pier Fishing in California

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Updated Hermosa Pier Information—

Posted by Ken Jones (Skipper - Posts: 11990)
on May-10-08 2:56pm

Hermosa Beach Pier

The first time I visited this pier was in 1982; the pier was crowded, live bait was available, and anglers were catching yellowtail. That fact may seem trivial or insignificant to the uninformed, but it seemed pretty amazing to me. Yellowtail are one of the most prized sportfish in southern California and are commonly caught out on the party boats. They are far less common on piers. In fact, they are relatively rare to most piers. However, several of the muscular fish were on the deck of the pier that day. Later, I found out that more than 200 yellowtail were caught on the pier that year, most between July and September. One of the regulars, a true “Hermosa Pier Rat,” had landed 33 of the prized fish himself; his “best” day had seen him land 7 yellowtail in the 7-10 pound range together with a 14-pound white seabass.
In addition, several hundred “keeper” halibut and many large white seabass were also landed that year. When these “large” gamefish were mixed in with the more common pier varieties, it indicated quality, quantity, and diversity rarely seen on most piers. It also meant that this pier was worthy of being included among the best in the state.
The only question in my mind was if the results reflected a fairly typical year? The answer would be no since ’82-83 were El Niño years and the warm water in those years undoubtedly had a lot to do with the larger gamefish showing up at the pier. Not every year is great for the larger species (and the number of legal-size halibut has taken a nose dive). Not every visit means great fishing. Nevertheless, most years seem to yield quite a few fish and the pier remains one of the best in the southland area.

Environment. The pier itself is relatively small, only 1,140-foot-long (although one source says 1,228 feet and another says 1,168 feet), 20 feet wide, and it has a 50-by-58-foot platform at the end. The bottom is primarily sand, and pilings have a heavy growth of mussels. There is often kelp and seaweed near the end of the pier by late summer. An artificial 3,000-ton quarry rock reef surrounds the last 650 feet of the pier, approximately 65 feet from the edge of the pier. The sandy beach provides good surf action and the reef acts as an attractant for larger fish further out on the pier.
Anglers fishing inshore near the beach can expect to catch barred surfperch, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, corbina, and an occasional round stingray, thornback ray or shovelnose guitarfish.
Mid-pier areas yield a variety of fish including queenfish (herring), white croaker (tomcod), jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, silver surfperch, pileperch, black seaperch, salema (I think it's one of the better piers in California for these), and halibut. Most years will also see a run of zebraperch during the spring, a fish that is fairly rare to local piers.
The last half of the pier will see even more variety. Large game fish include bonito, yellowtail, white seabass and California halibut, the main goal for many anglers.
Sharks and rays are also a possibility. Thornback rays, shovelnose guitarfish, and bat rays are common most of the year while, in late summer and fall, a few thresher sharks should make a showing (although there have also been some good spring-time runs). Occasionally an angler will hook a blue shark, spiny dogfish, angel shark or a soupfin shark and a 200-pound great white shark was illegally taken in 2003. I have seen a picture of a 140-pound bat ray taken at the pier as well as a fish estimated to weigh 200+ pounds that was caught by PFIC regular Mola Joe back in the ‘80s. A hammerhead shark weighing about 175-pounds was also reported.
Smaller fish will include California scorpionfish (sculpin), halfmoon (Catalina blue perch), opaleye, black seaperch (buttermouth), blacksmith, Pacific butterfish, sargo, Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, Pacific sardine and jacksmelt.
Unusual catches reported on the PFIC Message Board have included an ocean whitefish in October 2000, a salmon in January of 2002, and a needlefish in June 2002. Several bluefin tuna were hooked during the El Niño years in the ‘80s.
Perhaps the most unusual catch from the pier was one reported by Mola Joe (see his posts below). The fish was a popeye catalufa (Pseudopriacanthus serrula), a deepwater fish more common to Baja waters. It was caught in the early '70s and a picture of it hung in the pier's bait shop for a number of years. As Joe said, it “must of been way lost.”
Hermosa has traditionally been an excellent pier for California lobster and regulars with the “know-how” regularly take their limits during the lobster season. Unfortunately, too many regulars also keep illegal lobsters out of season and too-small lobsters in season. The result: a drop off in lobster catch in recent years. Hopefully there will be a return in numbers but it will probably not happen unless the DF&G is willing to step up enforcement of the rules and people are willing to cooperate—from understanding or fear—with those rules. A lot of spider crabs are also taken although few people actually seek out the ugly creatures.

Fishing Tips. For inshore fishing, the best months are winter to early spring for large barred surfperch, and summer to fall months for croakers. For all of these, the preferred bait is live sand crabs followed by ghost shrimp, bloodworms, fresh mussels, or clams. Most often used is a high/low leader utilizing size 6 or 4 hooks, and a pyramid sinker just heavy enough to hold the line in place. Increasingly, many anglers fish for the big barred surfperch with plastic grubs and the 2" clear, red flake grubs are the color of choice of many of the regulars. Although the barred surfperch will hit at any hours, late afternoon to after dark seems the best times for the yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, China croaker (black croaker), and corbina. An unfortunate local practice, one that is far too common throughout many areas of southern California, is snagging corbina with big treble hooks. Some local groups are working to outlaw the practice but the non-sportsmen continue to do this dastardly (and dumb) deed for the present.
In the mid-pier area many people also use the high/low leaders although the quarry now becomes tom cod (white croaker), bass, and croakers that have wandered away from the surf area. Snag lines are also common, especially Sabiki riggings, and they will latch onto queenfish, topsmelt, jacksmelt, sardines and mackerel. Many anglers also fish for perch down around the pilings and use bloodworms, mussels, or small pieces of shrimp. Lots of salema are also present and for these, a small strip of squid about 2-3 inches long, fished on a size 6-8 hook, at mid-depth levels should produce fish. This area, especially late spring to summer is the best spot for California halibut. Use a live bait leader baited with live anchovies, queenfish, smelt, shinerperch or baby macs that you've been able to snag with a bait rig leader. Live bait produces almost all of the legal sized halibut.
The horseshoe shaped reef that surrounds the end (actually about half of the pier) does produce some of the best fishing. Regulars say there is a break in the reef on the right side of the pier about three quarters of the way out, just before the wider end section of the pier. Regulars believe the fish funnel in through that gap and that’s why that spot is given the name “halibut alley.” Many additional species also show up in the “alley.”
A cast on the left side of the pier opposite “halibut alley” has also often been good for me. For many of the reef species, including fish such as calicos (kelp bass), perch, an occasional rockfish, salema, and others, a decent cast is required (the reef is approximately 65 feet from the pier) but well worth the effort. Also remember that if you are specifically seeking out reef species such as perch use bloodworms or mussels (probably ones you have toughened).
At the very end of the pier, much of the angling focuses on the pelagic species like mackerel, jack mackerel and bonito, although warm water months, as mentioned, may also see a few yellowtail, barracuda and white seabass. Many anglers here use bait rigs to capture small baitfish—sardines, baby mackerel, smelt—and then use the baitfish on top for the bigger game fish or on the bottom for halibut. Many times though it is just mackerel. The mackerel fisherman will generally use a strip of squid and a split shot sinker while others may use a multi-hook leaders. Most bonito fall to a cast-a bubble and a bonito feather, or to a spoon (such as a Krocodile). If windy, use a gold ball with a feather.
A number of regulars fish for sharks from the pier. The most valued seem to be leopard sharks and thresher sharks although any big shark or ray is highly respected (and an angler in September of '98 landed a 6-foot-long, 50+pound soupfin shark). Thus a large shovelnose guitarfish, bat ray, or blue shark will also win points for the angler. Still, the threshers seem to be the special prize and fish approaching (and sometimes exceeding) 100 pounds are caught each year. Tackle of course is fairly heavy. 30-60 pound monofilament line, hooks in the 4/0-6/0 range, and steel leaders are fairly common. The best bait? Lively jack mackerel or Pacific mackerel lead the list of baits.

Special Tip. The pier regulars know how to pursue the “large” gamefish. When small-sized Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel) or greenbacks (Pacific mackerel) are available, the regulars will use a bait rig to catch them for bait. Then, a long cast is made with the main line, as close to the near-by reef as possible. Next, a sliding leader baited with the mackerel is slid down the line toward the reef. If large fish are present, this is often the preferred method. Large anchovies, small jacksmelt, butterfish and shinerperch are also used but they do not work as well for bait. The hoped for results are keeper-size white seabass, yellowtail or halibut but the anglers will gladly take home large calicos (kelp bass) or the above-mentioned sharks and rays.

Great White no surfer’s story Hermosa pier fisherman proves

Great White shark sightings reported by Hermosa surfers over the past several months were confirmed Saturday morning when Abraham Ulloa, a general contractor from Los Angeles, hooked a six-foot, 200-pound Great White off the end of the Hermosa Pier. In March lifeguard captain Tom Seth, riding a personal watercraft, chased what guards believe was the same Great White away from the pier.
Ironically, surfers in the water watched Ulloa being pulled back and forth around the end of the pier for nearly two hours, not realizing it wasn’t just a big halibut he was working.
Ulloa said he used sardines and 40-pound test on a heavy leader to catch the shark. His young son and daughter, George and Giovanna, kept him supplied with sodas while his fishing partners Luciano Jimenez and Douglas Ciscernos stood by with a gaffing hook attached to a heavy line.
The two gaffed the Great White after Ulloa was finally able to pull it in close to the pier, just as it made a run for the pilings in an effort to snap the light fishing line. Ulloa said he and his friends had to enlist the help of a fourth fisherman to pull the shark up to the pier and over the rail.
He said he’s been fishing for shark at the pier every weekend since last September when he caught a similar-sized Mako shark.
After landing the Great White, which he planned to take home for dinner, he continued fishing.
—Kevin Cody
Hermosa Beach News, June 5, 2003

Great white shark isn't a great catch

A Los Angeles fisherman who caught a 1-to 2-year-old great white shark from the Hermosa Pier will be cited by the State Department of Fish and Game for killing a protected species. Abraham Ulloa, a general contractor from Los Angeles, posed with the estimated 61/2 -foot white shark on the pier June 7 along with two Hermosa Beach lifeguards. The photo appeared with a story in the Easy Reader, a Hermosa Beach newspaper, and even though the caption identified the catch as a “200-pound mako,” the story and headline identified it as a “great white shark.” The story described Ulloa's two-hour battle with the shark on 40-pound test line and heavier leader and how two fishing buddies helped haul the fish up with grappling gaffs.
Outraged by the story and photo, sport and commercial fishermen called Fish and Game officials and media. Many criticized the Hermosa Beach lifeguards for their involvement. “We received a lot of tips from the public on this,” said Carrie Wilson, a marine biologist with the DFG. Department of Fish and Game warden Rebecca Hartman investigated and traced Ulloa to his home in Los Angeles. Ulloa told her his family had eaten some of the fish, and he had distributed portions to friends. But he still had the fins and jaws of the shark. Hartman didn't cite Ulloa because he claimed he thought it was a mako shark. She confiscated the fins and jaws and took them to a marine biologist for identification.
Chris Lowe, a biology professor at Long Beach State, identified the great white by its unmistakable teeth. “At that young age, the teeth are somewhat like a mako's, but the great white has serrated bottom teeth,” Lowe said. “And its uppers are more triangular than a mako's.” Hartman plans to cite Ulloa even though he professed ignorance. “It's a violation even though he claims he didn't know what it was,” Hartman said. “The law is set up to protect the animal. If you don't know what it is, don't take it. In this case, this individual took a great white shark, a predator that keeps sea lions in check and fills a certain niche in the ocean.”
Ulloa could not be reached for comment. He faces a misdemeanor charge, a fine of $1,000 and/or six months in county jail. Hartman said the Hermosa Beach lifeguards in the picture with Ulloa won't be charged because they arrived after the shark was killed. They played no role in the killing of the fish, she said. Lifeguards Charlie Piccaro and Bill “Shark” Harkins' only “crime” is they posed with Ulloa over a dead protected great white shark.
Lowe said Southern California is a nursery for great whites, and he estimates six to eight young great whites are caught each year by sport and commercial fishermen between Dana Point and Ventura. He said it's important that laws stay in place to protect them. “The best guess is that great white sharks take 12 to 18 years to mature and give birth,” he said. “And when they do give birth, it's only to one or two pups at a time. These fish have a life span of humans.”

—Ed Zieralski
San Diego Union-Tribune, June 10, 2003

Author's Note No. 1. Rarely does religion come into play at the piers (unless you count an angler praying for a fish to bite). Thus, the following story intrigued me when I first heard it. On the Oprah television show one day the topic was doing good to others. Lo and behold two of the guests were fishermen who had met at the Hermosa Beach Pier. Their names were Rick Wilson and Frank Rembert and evidently Rembert was pretty sick when they met; his kidneys were not working, he was on a dialysis machine, and the doctors said he was going to die unless he received a transplant. One day his wife took him to the pier for a little relaxation and a chance to get his mind off his troubles. There he happened to cut his hand, a neighboring angler, Wilson, offered a band-aid, they struck up a conversation, and they quickly became friends. Wilson soon learned of Rembert's need for a new kidney and when he got home he couldn't put his new friend's need out of his mind. Two days later, over the objections of his family and friends, he called offering to donate one of his own kidneys. Eight months later the operation was performed and both men emerged in healthy condition (although they had to remove one of Wilson's ribs to get to his kidney—and polished pieces of the rib bone are now worn on silver chains around each man's neck). Why did Wilson do such a thing for a stranger? He said some force had told him to move to Hermosa Beach, the same force had told him to fish on the pier, and the force seemed to direct him to offer up his kidney. Soon after the operation he moved from the beach. He attributed it to his religion and who am I to argue?

Author’s Note No.2. From DF&G Fish Bulletin #96, 1953—“On the "beautiful beach" there is a pleasure pier (recently closed because of storm damage) used by anglers but no commercial boats operate out of the town. In past years two or three small boats fished here and landed lobsters and rockfish at the pier but there have been no such landings since 1947. Before this date the yearly landings averaged 6,000 pounds.”

Author’s Note No. 3. Unfortunately Hermosa, like Manhattan Beach to the south, has become an in spot for those who have the energy and bling to hang out in the area around the pier. Parking lots fill up early on most summer days and you can almost forget about most weekends (one guidebook suggests a typical Hermosa weekend is like Fort Lauderdale at spring break). Action can be non-stop along palm-lined Pier Avenue and our humble pier rats may feel just a tad bit out of place as they walk by the bars and restaurants with their blaring music, crowds waiting for a table, and the blondes—Aphrodite and Adonis-wannabes who help define the culture of southern California.

History Note. The name “Hermosa” is the Spanish adjective for “beautiful” and was used by the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company when their new subdivision was laid out in 1901. Three years later, in 1904, the company built the first Hermosa Beach pier, an all-wooden structure. Designed to attract visitors (a.k.a. potential buyers or pigeons) to the beach, it extended out 500 feet into the ocean. The pier sat at the end of Santa Fe Avenue, the early name used to designate the main route to the Santa Fe Railway (the main transportation through the area), and its tracks, which were seven blocks away from the beach. When the reliance on the railway ended, the street was renamed Pier Avenue, the same as it is today. That first pier was partially washed away in 1913, then torn down and replaced by an asphalt-covered pier. The new pier included tiled pavilions, which were erected at intervals along the side to afford shade for fishermen and picnic parties. It too was eventually destroyed.

Like many piers in the '20s, a sportfishing operation on the pier was begun when Capt. J.M. Anderson built a landing which could be used to shuttle anglers out to the barge Olympic in 1926. An additional barge, the Kohala, was used from 1927-1928, and the Olympic II replaced the Olympic in 1934. In addition, from 1930-33 a number of sportfishing boats ran from the pier; they included the Martha, Calypso, Big Redondo and Little Redondo.
The Lahaina, a 4-masted barkentine converted into a fishing barge, was apparently available during the late ‘20s; it was owned by Hans Monstad who also ran a sportfishing operation on the Redondo Pier.
From 1934 to '36 a new company operated the Grant, Calheeta and Asahi. Then, in 1936, another operation operated the barge Magdalena Bay. Finally, Paul Froude operated a succession of boats until the outbreak of WW II in 1941. His boats included the Irene F., Neptune, Kingfish, Asahi, Grant and Calheeta. Two attempts were made to operate profitably after the war, one on the Pier Fisher, another on the Offshore, but both were short-lived. Since then no boats have operated from either the older pier or the new pier.
Perhaps the most famous angler to use the old Hermosa Pier was the “silver-tongued” William Jennings Bryan. The former congressman, Democratic candidate for President (1896, 1904, and 1908) and Secretary of State, was known as the “Great Commoner” and evidently that was a good name for him. Bryan liked to spend his summer vacation months at Hermosa and would show up most mornings at the pier, dressed in overalls and a straw hat, and spend his time fishing and telling stories for the listeners. The most famous fish from the pier was undoubtedly a showstopper, a 427-pound black sea bass taken on May 16, 1921 by a visiting angler from Amarillo, Texas. It isn't recorded if Mr. Bryan ever hooked one of these giant fish but if he had he might have been speechless for the first time in his life. As for the Texan, well for once in his life he may not have had to exaggerate.
Eventually however, the cycle that affects most California piers once again raised its ugly head. Storm damage and old age led to the condemnation and eventual demolition of the old pier. But the city wasn't finished. It purchased the beach surrounding the pier, and together with the California Wildlife Conservation Board, built a new pier that opened in 1965. The pier's price, $600,000, seems a bargain today when multi-million price tags prevent the construction of several piers. Damage does still visit the pier: it was closed for extensive repairs in 1999 and didn't open until the late fall of 2000.

Hermosa Beach Pier Facts

Hours: Open 6 A.M. to 10 P.M.

Facilities: There are lights, benches, and fish-cleaning stations on the pier. Restrooms are found near the front of the pier. Parking is available adjacent to the pier at a cost of $1 an hour in the parking lot. Some metered parking is also available on nearby streets; most are $.50 an hour with a 2- or 3-hour maximum. As mentioned, finding parking can be a problem during the summer, especially on weekends. The best bet is to arrive very early in the day.

Handicapped Facilities: Some handicapped parking near the pier but non-handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is cement and the rail height is 40 inches. Posted for handicapped.

How To Get There: Take the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy.1) to Pier Avenue and follow Pier Avenue west to the pier.

Management: City of Hermosa Beach.

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Current thread:
Updated Hermosa Pier Information—   Ken Jones - May-10-08 2:56pm
Hermosa Pier Fish Reports—   Ken Jones - May-10-08 2:57pm
Some PFIC Posts/Hermosa Bearch Pier—   Ken Jones - May-10-08 2:59pm

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