There is something almost magical about the ocean at night. For myself, that sense of magic is heightened when I'm on a pier at night. Such was the case one evening in Ventura. Just two hours previously I had been at Port Hueneme, the wind was howling, and I was shivering. In fact, I was downright cold. But now the wind had disappeared and it was the kind of night that attracts visitors to southern California. A huge orange ball seemed to sink into the Pacific and, as the lights gained control, schools of fish could be seen slashing their way through the phosphorescent water. It was July of 1994, and it was my first visit to the new, actually reconstructed, 1,958-foot-long Ventura Pier, a pier that had seen off-and-on damage and repair since the terrible El Niño storms of 1983.
I caught lots of fish that night and saw lots of fish caught. Mackerel, queenfish, white croaker, bass, perch, thornbacks, gray sharks and bat ray; all were caught that night. But the fishing was almost secondary in importance. More important, at least to me, were the scenes of a young father teaching his young son how to fish, an elderly lady of Asian descent sharing stories of her youth with her granddaughter (or perhaps great granddaughter), and teenagers evidently out on a date at the pier. Nights, and scenes like those, sometimes give me hope that we may still yet find answers to our society's problems (opportunities).
Environment. The new pier sits on the same spot and beach as the original Ventura Wharf, a pier dating back to 1872. That original wharf was a private wharf sitting on private land but since 1949 the pier has belonged to the state. Today, the beach and pier are part of the San Buenaventura State Beach.
The bottom here is primarily sand, pilings have a good growth of mussels, and at times, usually late summer to fall, there can be considerable kelp and seaweed toward the end of the pier. Sand-frequenting species dominate the action.
Inshore, barred surfperch are the number one type of fish followed by a few spotfin croaker, fewer corbina, sharks and rays (although thornback rays are very common). Mid-pier sees a larger variety of fish: white croaker (aka tom cod), queenfish (called herring in most of So Cal but here often called seatrout), halibut, sanddabs, kelp bass (aka calico bass), salema, and more sharks and rays. The end area is the main area for big sharks and rays along with the pelagics when they’re in the area. Although rarely considered a great pier for mackerel or bonito (although once abundant) enough still show up to keep things interesting.
One of the unique features is the large, cutout section of the pier out toward the end. Not just a fish well but a hole probably 20 by 30 feet that allows anglers to fish down among the pilings. AND, it is lit up with strong searchlights at night, lights that attract baitfish and the inevitable larger species attracted by the baitfish. During most months it can be a great place to fish, especially at night. (It reminds me of the now non-existent Aliso Pier although that pier never had strong lights to attract the fish at night.)
Another unique feature is the ability to plug in electrical lines to the light poles. Families can hook up lights to help in the fishing, hook up electrical heaters to keep warm, or simply hook up radios for a little music. (And this was a feature that the Belmont Pier in Long Beach USED to have.) Seems the folks at Ventura took a few good notes and have incorporated these now unique and excellent features in their pier.
Like most piers, Ventura occasionally sees species uncommon to southern California waters. Such was the case in January of '99 when two baby hammerhead sharks were reported from the pier. Another unusual catch (if true) was the reported capture of a 181-pound black sea bass in 2000. Supposedly the fish wound up in the back end of a pick-up truck after a two-hour fight on the pier. Not too smart since the anglers were risking a hefty (potentially multi-thousand dollar) fine. Even more unusual was the report of a 2-3 foot-long albacore feeding near the end of the pier in the winter of 2000. The time of the year is wrong, and rarely do they venture that close to shore, but strange things do happen. Anglers, by the way, unsuccessfully cast out their lures to attract the longfin to no avail.
The pier, with its sandy bottom, has never been seen as a good producer for crabs or lobsters although a few are taken each year. Better crabbin’ is to be had at Santa Barbara and Port Hueneme.
One final ingredient in the environment is a Steinbeck-group of locals who hang out at the pier most of the day and night and give it a little color and flavor. While liquor is not allowed on the pier, it’s a little hard to patrol and enforce such a rule 24 hours a day on a pier this size. Good thing because inebriation is a frequent visitor. But the gang is a usually friendly bunch and will treat you with respect if you show them the same.
Fishing Tips. The bottom here is sand so fishermen should fish accordingly. Inshore, expect to see barred surfperch much of the year with the largest concentrations, and largest fish, in the winter and early spring. Most of the barreds will fall to sand crabs, fresh mussels, bloodworms or clams fished on the bottom. Use a light or medium outfit equipped with number 6 or 4 hooks and just use enough weight to hold bottom. The same surf area will yield yellowfin croaker, corbina, and perhaps a few spotfin croaker in the late summer and fall months.
Anglers fishing the surf area, or just past it out to the mid-pier area can also catch rays and sharks. For these, use cut anchovies, mackerel or squid. Species encountered include pinback rays (thornback rays), stingrays (round stingrays), shovelnose sharks (shovelnose guitarfish), bat rays and some skates. For these guys use a little heavier outfit with hooks up to 4/0 size.
Late spring to late summer is the prime time for California halibut and these good eating fish will hit best just past the surf area to the middle area of the pier. Live bait on the bottom is the key here but you will need to snag some bait—small queenfish, white croakers or smelt. Use a live bait leader and remember to check and change the bait as needed.
Mid-pier to the end, use a snag line with number 8 hooks for jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, and queenfish. Many times these small fish will school around the pilings or in the depressions between the pilings. The same areas may also yield a few kelp bass and sand bass with most of these landed on anchovies. Anglers who try fresh mussels or bloodworms around the pilings may also be rewarded with salema, pompano (butterfish), a few blackperch, and rubberlip seaperch!
The summer months, July through September, are generally also the best time for several other species including Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, and increasingly, Pacific sardines. These can be caught almost anywhere around the pier using multi-hook bait rigs, although the mackerel are often caught with a strip of squid or anchovy under a split shot sinker. If you use one of the Lucky Lura-type bait leaders, use size 6 or 4 hooks and don't hesitate to put small pieces of mackerel on a couple of the hooks to attract their cannibalistic brethren.
Casting out, away from the pier with a high/low leader baited with cut anchovy will yield tom cod (white croaker) most of the year. Late fall is generally the key time for bonito to show up and most years will also see some toothy barracuda surprising anglers, especially in the evening hours. Both the boneheads and barries seem to prefer artificials; the bonies will hit on a feather trailing a cast-a-bubble while the barries like gold or silver spoons. Neither is all that plentiful but both show up just often enough to keep the hopes of anglers high.
Fishing in the cut out section can yield almost any species but at night it can be good for both jigging up some bait and catching the big 'uns waiting under the bait. Use bait rigs weighted with a one-ounce shiny torpedo sinker or use a lure—a Kastmaster, a Dart, or even a small diamond jig—to snare herring (queenfish), tom cod (white croaker), smelt, sardines or mackerel. Then use some of the live bait to fish for larger species. White seabass will sometimes be found in this area, especially early in the morning, while halibut will often be found in the depressions between the various pilings. Do be sure to use line heavy enough to keep the fish from reaching the pilings.
Out toward the end is also the traditional sharay area. Most nights will find parties of anglers pursuing their “big game.” The most common species will be smoothhounds and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) but mixed in will be a few leopard sharks, spiny dogfish, soupfin sharks, and thresher sharks. Every few years will see an angel shark landed (watch out for their jaws) and I got one report of a Pacific electric ray landed in the late '90s. The report on the electric ray said that the angler who landed it decided to stick a knife into it and, no big surprise here (duh!), was shocked—literally shocked so bad that he was knocked out for about ten minutes. I later saw pictures of another electric ray taken in '02 and once again the angler got the shock of his life. Do be careful! Most often the largest “shark” will not be a shark at all. Instead, it'll be a big old mud marlin—a bat ray— and a 220-pounder was reported as caught in the early '80s.
If pursuing these larger fish, especially the big bat rays and thresher sharks, be sure to use a heavier line and hooks up to 7/0 in size. The bat rays prefer squid or a squid/fish combo pack, the threshers prefer a live mackerel slid down the line on a slider leader. Also have a way to bring them up to the pier and remember to never gaff a fish unless you intend to keep and eat it.
Author's Note 1. One of the largest shovelnose guitarfish I have seen was caught on a fairly warm December night in '02 at this pier by Boyd Grant (Pierhead), one of the main contributors to the PFIC Message Board. I was visiting the area and arranged a meeting with Pierhead and Sinker. Soon after my arrival something struck Pierhead's live croaker bait and the fight was on. The fish was determined to escape but not as determined as Boyd. Fifteen minutes or so after the fight began we saw the shape of the fish in the water, a huge “shovel.” I grabbed the net and silently prayed that I'd be able to get the fish in the net. More large fish are lost from a pier at the time of netting than at any other time and I hoped the fish would cooperate. The gods were with us as the fish headed into the net and soon was being lifted up to the pier (with a little help from Braulio—a newly converted pier rat). Soon after, the fish was weighed and measured—29 1/2 pounds and 56 7/8 inches long. A couple of quick pictures and then the fish was returned to the sea to fight another day. Boyd had caught a fish to remember for many years and the PFIC contingent had once again had success.
Author's Note 2. If you want to see a “really big” fish drive over to the nearby Country Inn. On the wall in the lobby are the stuffed remains of a 1,319-pound, 15-foot, 3-inch-long Pacific blue marlin that was caught on September 26, 1980 in Hawaii. The girth by the way was 6-foot, 11-inches.
Date: February 9, 1999
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
From: Papafats and mamafats
Subject: Ventura Pier
Hi, My husband and I try to get to Ventura Pier as often as we can. In fact, this weekend we have plans to camp near Ventura and enjoy a bit of fishing. We just started fishing again after 25 years of getting caught up in the “No time too busy LA life style.” We're not experts by any means just enjoy the peace and solitude of fishing and meeting fellow anglers on the pier.
We generally use salted anchovies or squid. Sometimes for fun we'll throw out a lure. Our catch is for fun and all fish are returned whenever possible (providing the fish are not caught in mid air by seagulls). I especially enjoy visiting with the many children who stop by to feel or look at the fish as we land our lines.
We generally catch sand shark, dogfish, bat ray, lobster (once-caught him/her while I was reeling in the line to change bait) and host of others that are still unknown to us. I guess you'd say we enjoy bottom or near bottom fishing. Our favorite spot is near the end of the pier.
Once this summer we were fishing in the evening while there was activity at the Ventura Fair Grounds (which is right on the coast). The lights from the Fair Grounds illuminated the water at the end of the pier and the fish that were swimming close to the top. What a beautiful site! ...
In 1970-74 the pier seemed a lot longer and we would fish all night. Always had a great time.
Date: February 18, 1999
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
Subject: Ventura Pier
Saturday the 13th, fishing was great! My Husband and I landed the following: 6 ea. skates, One California halibut (8" long) and a white croaker... We did hear earlier in the morning that 2 baby hammerheads were also landed. The weather was great until the wind kicked up, about 3 PM. The Channel Islands were crystal clear and absolutely breathtaking...While waiting for the 'big strike' we witnessed a very dangerous incident involving two teenage girls. Luckily for them their daily diary entry will be one of laughter and excitement and not one of sorrow... The girls decided for kicks to jump off the pier. As they were giggling their way back to shore, they realized they weren't swimming alone. A large seal decided to join in the fun! As the seal's head bobbed next to them their screams shattered the silence and startled the seal. Those of us watching laughed until we were breathless... It was evident the seal only wanted their company. As the seal disappeared, the fish took notice and started to nibble once again... Sunday the 14th turned out to be a wash...The wind was far too strong and cold. The pier started to rock. So, we called it a day. Catch y'all next time...Happy Fishing!
Date: February 20, 1999
To: Ken Jones
From: papafats and mamafats
Subject: Question of the Month—What is your favorite pier and why?
Yup! our favorite pier is Ventura! We enjoy the fun, excitement, and on a clear winter day the view of the Channel Islands. Quite spectacular! As you look at the islands you think about what the seas were like during the days of the Chumash Indian Tribes. As you sit on the pier try imagining a Chumash Chief fighting large fishing game with a hand made spear and line in order to feed and warm his family. Now try imagining this same Chumash Chief is fishing from a small canoe!! Amazing!
You never know what you'll see or experience while fishing or just strolling on a lazy afternoon or evening. During the summer you can be sure to play ‘line tag’ with a few sharks and rays! The dolphins visit regularly in July, August and September. Springtime can guarantee regular visits by the local seal population. I hear the halibut stop by in March to check out the local action. I hope one stops by my line this year!
So Ken for now I must say I love the Ventura Pier! Regards, Mamafats
PS, Many German and British tourists love to stop and talk. I love to see their faces as they talk about the versatility of visiting the California coastline, mountains and especially the National Parks.
Date: July 1, 1999
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
Subject: Ventura Pier
Hi all, It's been awhile. My husband, grandson and myself fished Ventura Pier last Saturday. I caught a good-sized sand shark (guitarfish) but the rest of the family was not as lucky. Other fish caught included good-sized bat rays, stingrays, smoothhounds and a small thresher. It was great to escape from the LA heat. One thing I must add to this report is disappointment and sadness felt for a fellow fisherperson. The individual was fishing the end of the pier and caught several bat rays. Once the ray was landed, this individual cut off the wings and threw the body back. Pretty sad. Either fish to eat or fish and throw the back in one piece, but don't be sadistic about it. By the way when this individual prepared to leave for the day everything else went back into the ocean. What a jerk! Thank you for letting me get this off my chest. Everyone have a safe and great Holiday Weekend!
Date: November 3, 2001
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Ventura Pier Report — I was ROBBED!
Got up at 5:00 am on Saturday, and headed to the Ventura Pier. Stopped at the Mc Donalds for a cup of coffee, and arrived at the pier around 5:30 am. Started at the end of the pier, using anchovies, mackerel, and squid. The water was calm, and the sunrise was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. No wind. An hour or two goes by, and no bites or nibbles (I was using squid on one rod, and anchovies on the other at this point). I switched to using mackerel, and almost immediately, started getting nibbles.
All morning, the ‘birds’ kept harassing me, and I had to keep ‘shoo’-ing them off.... To protect my baits, I put them UNDER the bench. Then I started getting good SOLID bites on BOTH rods. Both rods going off at the same time! WOW! From the excitement I ran to grab the rods/set the hooks, I noticed something or someone behind me, and turned around and realized that I have been ambushed and am being robbed!
One @#%!@^# bird is taking off with my ENTIRE bag of squid, another one is taking off with ALL of my anchovies, while yet ANOTHER bird is taking my BIG mackerel with an 11-inch fillet knife STILL IN THE FISH!!! I start running after the ‘thieves’ like an enraged wacko, shouting and swearing (kept the language clean though).... COME BACK HERE YOU SON OF A MUFFIN... to no avail. They were, however, somewhat thoughtful, as they eventually dropped my fillet knife somewhere mid pier.
Now, I have no bait whatsoever.... all of this when the bite appeared to have just turned on... Like a hobo, I started going around and looking in trash cans for some bait (felt VERY embarrassed!), and got a few stares from the 'couples in love' that came to watch the romantic sunrise at the pier. I felt as if I was COMPLETELY ruining their 'moment'.... Desperation I say, desperation! What is a fisherman to do without bait when the bite is on? I packed up and started to leave. I must have looked real 'down' when a couple fishing the surf line asked me how I did. They generously offered me some squid and salted chovies! So I took a squid and 4 ‘chovies....
WHOOPIE! The fishing continues! As it was getting late (I had to attend a wedding) I only went to mid pier area, and started getting nibbles immediately, but no hookups. I was using a 1/0 and 2/0 hooks, so I thought “something small.” I switched to smaller hooks, and ended up catching (and releasing) yellowfin croakers. There seemed to be a good number of them around (they do taste gross... maybe I didn't prepare them right, but they were VERY fishy and foul smelling), so all were released.
Talked to another couple of the pier, and they said that the crabs kept stealing their bait (they were fishing close to the pier). I thought “great! the crabs are back!.” On the back to the car, several people were catching and keeping surf perch (walleye looking), however, they were WAY TOO SMALL to be worth keeping (real small), but I guess some didn't think so.
Date: March 28, 2002
To: Ken Jones
From: Tim Durham
Subject: Ventura Pier
Ken, There is a good perch bite at the front of the pier on mussels and bloodworms, an occasional sargo has been caught as well. Mid pier is not seeing much action other than some croakers, all juveniles. The end of pier is seeing regular spiny dogfish catches on squid most every night along with thornback rays and bat rays. A Pacific electric ray measuring 34 inches was caught the other night. Smoothhound sharks, shovelnose guitarfish and leopards sharks have not been seen this month. Center hole (end of the pier) plenty of small baitfish with herring chasing them. Herring catches have been good out of the center hole although the average size has only been about 8 inches. Most of these have been taken on Sabiki rigs and/or fly lining strips of anchovies. I had one strong night this month as reported on the board (believe it was the 8th) with the 72-pound bat ray, this was caught on 10 lb. P-Line. P-Line is sending out hats, stickers and line for the catch.
Date: June 14, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
From: pierangler 8787
Subject: Ventura Pier, Tuesday 8:30-11:30 AM
Got all my stuff packed, double checked everything and took off to Ventura. Get there, and forget my money!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH! Drive all the way back home, then back again. You know what? Yep, free parking today!!!! I laughed.
Now back to fishing. There’s a few people out there, a little more than I expected for morning. My favorite spot is taken, so I move down one bench from it. First cast, it’s a shaker. Set the hook. Not much of a fight, just a lot of head shakes. Fish in sight. White croaker. I was surprised at the size of it. Usually just dinks around here. Gets to the surface and splashing everywhere. This is the first time I've actually seen a croaker JUMP!
I let my dad use the Sabiki, There was a HUGE school of what looked like smelt. Most of them were just babies. The rod doubles and he brings up a well over a foot, croaker. I cast out again, and result in another huge croaker. I'm not real proud, since they are just croaker, but this one was big. I'm sure it wasn't a WSB, no, I am positive. Anyways, up the pier I see something being brought up. It was a 19 1/2 inch leopard shark.
Cast out both of my lines. Another croaker steals my bait. I'm getting kind of sick of these things. The second my line gets in, they steal the bait from all the good fish. Finally I bring in a leopard shark.
A class of kids just happened to visit today. They still haven't made it to where I was, taking there time to stop by everybody fishing and looking at the different things. Rod bounces, set the hook and finally get a fight! It’s about time! Some sort of ray or skate, no idea as to what it was. Put a good fight too. That’s when all the kids crowded around. I like to see all those kids happy. The teachers were doing a good job keeping the kids away from my pole. A couple stepped on it. They were petting it and yelling “STINGRAY! STINGRAY! ITS A STINGRAY!” No, not a stingray. Very curious kids as to what exactly it was. Put him back in. They make it to the end and come back to my spot again. Bring in another, bait stealer. They all crown around again, but back he goes. Then the fishing just stopped, dead stopped.
We move to the end after an hour. Wind has picked up now, despite how calm and peaceful it was at the beginning. Another bait stealer from the center hole, palm-size.
We pack up and leave and 11:30. Bait today was anchovies. All fish were released.
History Note. The May 20, 1871 edition of Ventura’s newspaper, the Ventura Signal, asked “Is it possible that the most flourishing town and region of country on the whole coast is to go still another year without a wharf?” Given the fact that the local roads had axel-breaking potholes during the winter, throat-choaking dust in the summer, and two rivers, the Ventura and Santa Clara, that essentially isolated the city between them during times of rain and flood, it was a good question. With railroads a still distant dream for the future, coastal shipping had to be used for cargo and passengers. And the system of lighters then in use was both inefficient and sometimes dangerous.
That same day, at a town meeting of interested citizens, Joseph Wolfson, owner of one of the small “lighter” barges that carried passengers and freight to and from the ships anchored offshore, along with his father-in-law Juan Camarillo, presented a proposal for the construction of a privately-owned wharf near California Street.
Citizens supported the idea and by March 1872 a $45,000 contract to build the wharf was awarded to R.G. Salisbury, the man who would build many of the wharves in the area. “A wharf at San Buenaventura, so long talked of and so badly needed, is now a fixed fact,” announced the Ventura Signal in its March 2, 1872 edition. “The schooner ‘Free Trade’ arrived here with the first installments of pilings on Monday!”
On May 18, 1872, Arcadia Camarillo Wolfson broke a bottle of wine against the pilings and proclaimed: “In the name of the people of Ventura County, I dedicate (the construction of) this wharf to the uses of commerce and to the promotion of the agricultural and material interests of this section of the state.” Construction soon began on the 1,200-foot-long wharf, a wharf that reached a water depth of 24 feet, and contained railroad tracks out to the end of the pier. On October 5, 1872 the Ventura Signal proclaimed, “It is a grand improvement upon the old way, and duly appreciated by shippers and travelers.” Soon the local farm products—cattle, hogs, sheep, wheat, barley, corn and citrus had a safe method of transport. By the 1890s oil from west Ventura, Santa Paula and Fillmore and joined the list of exports.
In 1874 the wharf was purchased by Captain Robert Sudden, a former sea captain who had helped organize the Pacific Steamboat Company. Just three years later, another newspaper account, dated March 1877, said, “a large portion of the San Buenaventura Wharf was washed away yesterday afternoon.” A second report recorded that “about 300 feet of the old part was washed out... It was so badly bored by teredo that it would have been necessary to rebuild it in a short time.” This was only the first of many such disasters.
On October 23, 1877, it was reported that 400 feet of wharf had washed away at San Buenaventura; “three unusually large breakers approached the pier... and crushed the wharf in pieces like an egg-shell, the pieces going down like straws before a mower...It seems that if the piles had been of good timber and well driven, the wharf would have withstood the surf. The wharf at Hueneme, although equally exposed, passed through the storm all right.” In December of 1878 new damage was reported.
However, Sudden rebuilt after each storm and even improved the wharf by adding a large warehouse for local farmers. His efforts, and later those of this family ensured the continued use by such ships as the S.S. Santa Rosa and S.S. Kalorama and made the wharf a profitable family adventure until 1917.
However it wasn’t always easy. In the early 1900s many of the local coastal vessels were replaced by larger steam ships that only stopped at the larger ports. In addition, a more efficient railroad service began giving the shipping industry its first competition.
In 1914 the wharf again was damaged (cut in half) when the SS Coos Bay was pushed into the wharf by large swells. That damage was repaired by 1917 and an additional section, 500-foot-long, was added making the total length 1,700 feet.
During the first part of the '20s the pier flourished (it even had its own sportfishing barge—the Jane L. Stanford). Then, in 1926 history repeated itself when the pier was attacked by storms and suffered considerable damage.
In 1935 much of the wharf was destroyed by fire. Another storm and accompanying large waves damaged over 1,000 feet of the rebuilt wharf in 1937. This time there would be a different response. The wharf was rebuilt back to its prior length and began a new life as a recreational pier (although WW II saw a submarine station located out on at the end of the pier).
Mother Nature wasn't finished! Storms ravaged the pier in 1949. 1969 saw the end of the pier damaged and in the winter storms of 1977-78 new damage was suffered and part of the pier was closed. Storms hurt the pier in 1983 and then in January of 1986 there was major damage by winter storms and 10-foot waves. Two thirds of the pier was now closed. After partial repairs, the pier was once again opened in 1988 but the outer 500-foot section was closed to anglers.
Agreement was finally reached that a major reconstruction was necessary. Funding was found to carry out the ambitious $3.5 million plan and the work began. Pilings and decking were replaced, fish cleaning stations were added, a snack bar and bait shop was added, restrooms were added, the entrance was widened, and a 5,000 square foot restaurant was built at the shore end of the pier.
On October 2, 1993, the beautiful new, renovated Ventura Pier opened to cannon fire and a flotilla of boats. Soon after, 100 swimmers dived from the pier to swim around and commemorate the pier. The only complaint was from the fishermen who had to wait until late in the day before the crowds cleared and a little serious fishing could begin. An interesting feature of the pier was a series of interpretive panels, thirty in all, that described local history and ecology. Another interesting item was the “Wavespout,” an $80,000, 6'x6' copper kinetic sculpture built at the end of the pier; the copper fountain imitated a blowhole and spurted saltwater up to 10 feet high.
Alas, even that major project would not be the last. Storms in January of 1995 necessitated a $500,000 repair and then on December 13, 1995, pounding surf ripped out 420 feet of the pier, including over 150 pilings and the “Wavespout” sculpture. The sculpture washed ashore in two pieces; the pilings were found scattered along the Ventura County coast.
A minimum of $1.5 million, and perhaps as much as $3.3 million, would be required to fix the pier (including placing the sculpture back on the pier). Mayor Jack Tingstrom vowed that the pier would be rebuilt...“it is such a valuable asset to this city...we will just have to find a stronger way to build it.”
The pier eventually had a $2.2 million upgrade, one that included new steel reinforced pilings and a new square deck at the end in; it was finished in 1998. Such is the history of piers at such locations.
What is most impressive to me is the efforts made by local citizens to raise money to restore and maintain their “beloved” pier. In 1993 the community formed a “Pier into the Future” campaign to establish a $1 million endowment fund for the pier. To raise the money, several different fundraisers have been used. In one, individuals, businesses and civic groups can donate various sums of money—$125 Deck Hand, $1,000 First Mate, $2,500 Commander, $5,000 Captain, $10,000 Admiral. In response, they receive a variety of commemorative plaques, “Grant Deeds,” and get their name engraved on an honor roll at the entrance to the pier. A second, highly successful event has been a “Pier under the Stars” food and wine tasting event (which includes a commemorative Pier wine glass). Another has been selling t-shirts, caps and other products, including salsas and barbecue sauces with labels showing the old pier. Last, but certainly not least, has been the issuance of several calendars showing old-time pictures of the pier ($5). It's a great approach and one that should be copied by many communities. Pier anglers wanting to help Ventura's campaign can contact these good folks at: Pier Campaign, P.O. Box 99, Ventura, CA 93002-0099, or call them at (805) 658-4739.
Today the pier appears to be in great shape and contains a never-ending series of displays to help enrich the environment of the pier. On my last visit a new display showed a perpetual tidal movement and described the forces that affect the tides. Long live this pier and the group that protects and preserves it.
An additional pier used to exist at Serena Beach, east of Carpinteria, an area midway between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Records from 1883 describe the F. & J.M. Smith Wharf (and it was also called the Serena Beach Wharf), an 800-foot-long wharf which “contained railroad tracks to the seaward end” and which “reaches water deep enough for any vessel.” The wharf was primarily used to ship out local corn, beans, nuts, and fruit, and to bring in lumber. An interesting early picture shows a side-wheel vessel anchored up to the wharf. When boats were absent it was a favorite spot for local anglers. (A book of early California history also mentions wharves near the asphalt pits of Carpinteria; “in the early days of Santa Barbara County, wharves were built at this asphaltum deposit and materials were taken out for shipment to San Francisco and other towns in California.” It's unclear if these wharves included the Smith Wharf or if they predated that wharf.)
The Smith Wharf was destroyed and rebuilt at least once, since a second Carpinteria wharf is mentioned in the early 1900s. In the late 1870s, the wharf was the main competitor of the Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, at least until 1878 when a tornado-like storm hit the Santa Barbara harbor. The storm knocked a Chinese junk free from its mooring and then proceeded to smash the craft into Stearns Wharf. It destroyed 500 feet of the wharf. The wreckage of Stearns Wharf was then driven by the wind and tides into the Chapala Wharf (another competitor of Stearns). The Chapala Wharf was demolished and then debris from both wharfs continued eastward down the coast until they encountered the Smith Wharf. The pounding from the pilings and lumber spelled doom for the Smith Wharf—at least for a period of time.
The only one who benefited from the storm was Stearns who quickly rebuilt his wharf in Santa Barbara. He now had a monopoly on the local wharf business since his competition had been destroyed. His favorite quote became “It's an ill wind that blows nobody good!” Both the Smith Wharf and the Chapala Wharf are today only history.
Before the coming of the white man and the wharf, the coastline west of the pier was a site from which the native Chumash Indians launched their tomols or plank canoes in pursuit of trade with other coastal and Channel Island villages. Their headquarters was the village of Shisholop (meaning in the mud), their main trade was Shell bead “money,” acorns, and fish. The village, established around 1000 A.D. was the site where Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first encountered California Native Americans in 1542.
Ventura Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Lights, benches, fish-cleaning tables, restrooms, bait and tackle, and a snack bar are all found on the pier. A large fish restaurant is located at the front of the pier. Near the pier is the parking lot for San Buenaventura State Beach; the cost is $1 an hour not to exceed $5 a day. The parking lot is open 6 A.M. until 11 P.M. but you may leave the parking lot after 11 P.M. since they do not lock the gate. There is very limited free side street free parking but you need to arrive early and be prepared for a considerable walk to the pier.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is wood and cement and the rail height is 36 inches. Access to the pier is from the public parking lot and then up a number of stairs (which are steep) or Handicap Accessible at the pier entrance off the main road.
Location: 34.273743998389165 N. Latitude, 119.29143905639648 W. Longitude.
How To Get There: From Highway 101 take the Seaward Drive exit west to Harbor Drive, turn right and follow it to the pier.
Management: California Department of Parks and Recreation.
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