|Imperial Beach Pier
Students of history should remember that Friday, November 22, 1963, was the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. For those who were alive during those days, the weekend that followed was a haunting melodrama still vivid more than forty years later. At Imperial Beach, people's emotions were torn. Saturday was the official opening day for the new pier and festivities were planned—but it is hard to be festive when the nation is in mourning.
Nevertheless, the pier did open and people quickly began to catch fish. Within two weeks, anglers had landed a 20-pound halibut, five-pound bonito, 4 3/4-pound sculpin (scorpionfish) and a six-foot-long leopard shark. Build it and they will come; that saying could apply to this pier. When fishing is good, they (the anglers) will come. Unfortunately, depending on one's viewpoint, the success of a few fishermen resulted in unbelievable crowds during those first few weeks. As many as 3,000 anglers lined the rails, shoulder to shoulder. A tram operation scheduled for the pier even had to change its plans because of the crowding on the pier.
Stories about the pier appeared regularly in the local papers and a young angler named Ken Jones, recently transplanted from Newport Beach and the Newport Pier, began to visit and fish the pier. Action, although generally good, was rarely great. Better fishing seemed to exist north at Crystal Pier or in the bay at Shelter Island. Nevertheless, it became one of the piers I would visit during my high school and college days.
Environment. This is the southern-most pier in California (and the city proclaims that it is the “Most Southwesterly City in the U.S.”). It is within walking distance of the Mexican border and displays on most days a beautiful view of the Los Coronados Islands just off to the southwest. Unfortunately, the proximity to Mexico also leads to a fairly frequent, at least once a year, condition that tends to put a real damper on activities along the beach, including fishing. That phenomenon is sewage spills into the ocean from the Tijuana River. Sometimes a million or more gallons of untreated sewage flows into the Pacific just down-shore from Imperial Beach. When it happens, the “no swimming” signs inevitably go up and the anglers on the pier ask themselves if they really want to eat the fish from the water. Good question! However, both the United States and Mexico committed money to build a new treatment plant and it is hoped that the new plant will solve the problem.
The pier is located on a long sandy beach, has short finger jetties to the north, and extends out 1,491 feet into water that is nearly 20 feet deep. Several fish attractants exist under and around the pier. Pilings have a heavy growth of mussels and an artificial, half-moon shaped, rock reef was constructed near the end of the pier in 1964. Later, after a barge accidentally spilled a large load of boulders, an additional, although unplanned, reef was added to the mix. Fish here are the normal southern California sandy-shore species but mixed in are species attracted by the reefs and the deeper, calmer waters found at the far end of the pier.
Inshore, there are barred surfperch, California corbina, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, thornbacks, stingrays, guitarfish and an occasional halibut. Midway out will find more white croaker, queenfish, walleye surfperch, jacksmelt, halibut, lizardfish, sand sharks (gray smoothhound sharks) and guitarfish.
The far end may yield all of these but will also see a scattering of more pelagic species such as bonito, mackerel, small barracuda, and even an occasional yellowtail or white seabass. Deeper water also seems to be best for the larger sharks and bat rays. Fishing down around the pilings can often yield a fat pileperch or rubberlip seaperch. At times, this can be a fairly good pier for halibut and, at the right time of the year, it sometimes yields good catches of sand bass that spawn in the sandy flats south of the town.
Fishing Tips. Best fishing here is behind the surf line (or in it) and about half way out where the pier begins an upward slope. This surf area is one of the better places to take both barred surfperch and California corbina; it also yields a lot of yellowfin and spotfin croaker. On most any day you'll see the knowledgeable “regulars” fishing the inshore area; newcomers seem to head automatically out to the end. The best bait is live sand crabs or fresh mussels, but ghost shrimp and bloodworms can also be productive. Winter and early spring are the best times for the barred surfperch, while late summer and fall are the best times for the croakers. Nighttime, during an incoming tide, is almost always best for the larger croakers, especially a high tide of five feet or greater.
The second best area is halfway out on the pier and primarily yields the smaller queenfish (called herring), white croaker (called tom cod) and jacksmelt. The water here can harbor huge concentrations of these fish and almost every day will see whole families catching (or snagging) the small fish. The most common rig for these fish is a multi-hook rigging (your own or a Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait rig) but a single, size 8 or 6 hook, on the end of a slightly weighted line, baited with a small strip of anchovy or squid, will often yield the larger queenfish and walleye surfperch. In addition, anglers jigging with small crappie jigs (generally white or yellow) often show impressive bags of medium to large size queenfish. I've also noticed that the schools of fish in this mid-pier area are generally on the north side of the pier, the same as at Ocean Beach and Oceanside.
The mid-pier area is (surprise, surprise) also one of the best areas for halibut with most of the flatties hitting from the late spring until the early autumn months. Best baits are live baits and the small queenfish, white croaker, and smelt seem best suited to light up the eyes of a hungry hallie. This area also seems to be the main locale that lizardfish inhabit when schools of the pesky fish invade inshore waters; when present, you will sometimes take one or more of the toothy fish on every cast. Although I've never tried it, I know that one of the “big money” halibut derby's in Santa Monica Bay was won by an angler using lizardfish as bait for the halibut.
Down around the pilings, or in the depressions between the pilings, are areas that can yield some of the largest perch. Both pileperch and rubberlip seaperch will fall to fresh mussels or bloodworms fished on small size 6-8 hooks. Try different depths, but most of the perch are usually caught a few feet beneath the surface of the water. Watch your leader closely to prevent it from being washed into the pilings and their leader-grabbing mussels.
Out toward the end is the best area for sand bass and the pier yields quite a few California scorpionfish (sculpin). Both fish are normally taken on the bottom on a variety of baits—cut anchovy, squid, bloodworms and ghost shrimp. Quite often the best time for the tasty sculpin is after dark. The deeper water area is also the best area for the biggest shovelnose guitarfish and bat rays.
Although some sharks are caught at the pier, the number isn't large and neither are most of the sharks (although a number of thresher sharks exceeding 6 feet in length have been taken). But that doesn't stop the stories. One day my son Mike and I were calmly catching fish at this pier when a stranger walked up and asked if we minded sharing the area. Of course, we didn't, and it turned out to be a wise decision. We were enthralled as we listened to some of the most interesting stories we had heard in a long, long time. The stories involved tuna boats, helicopter jobs (and crashes) in Africa, spies, insurance fraud and similar far ranging subjects. Apparently suffering from paramnesia, the veracity of the stories was unclear but the forceful and flamboyant nature of the teller was never in doubt. He said he lived nearby and was out on the pier to catch a tiger shark. “You know” he said, “a number of huge sharks have been caught off of the pier.” To catch them he came equipped with a truly heavy pole (one better suited for fighting a marlin from a boat), a huge Penn reel, and a wire leader equipped with, I would guess, about a 16-0 hook. He stuck a whole mackerel on the hook, tried to cast it out (not too successfully), sat down on the lawn chair he had brought, opened a beer, and then regaled us with his stories. After an hour, and no bites, he bid adieu! Large sharks can be caught here, most often blues or threshers, but you only need medium to light-heavy tackle, not the monster tackle he possessed.
Another time, Mike and myself were fishing out toward the end the pier and catching far too many mackerel. In fact, we became somewhat bored given the ease with which we were catching fish. We finally decided to move to the shallower waters to see if we could catch some croakers or perch.
Just inshore from the restroom area stood a small woman catching queenfish. She would cast out her leader, a multi-hook affair, let it bump the bottom, give a couple of jerks, and pull in a fish on nearly every cast. We fished next to her for ten minutes without a fish. Finally, this famous pier fisherman and author (yours truly) wandered over to her to see what she was using. She said she had the right jigs! The leaders were homemade and she sold them for $2 each. Unwilling to be further embarrassed, two of the leaders were purchased.
Author and son tied on the leaders and soon both were catching the queenfish; although the first fish caught was a small bonito that had the unfortunate audacity to strike the leader. Each leader had a number of green-colored flies with size 4 gold-colored hooks. I've used similar multi-hook leaders, and seen others use similar leaders, but I had never seen any leader work quite as well as those which this little ‘lady’ made.
Almost every area of the pier, from the surf line to the end will sometimes see huge schools of mackerel biting on everything thrown their way. Bait rigs will show a fish on every hook while high/lows will show the same in more manageable amounts. But “mac attacks” aren’t always the case, sometimes the number and ferocity is less. When this is the case tie a single hook (size 6-2 depending on size of the mackerel) baited with a strip of squid or piece of mackerel and retrieve slowly for the hoped for fish. If that doesn’t work, fish the bait under a float. Often the macs will also show a morning bite or early evening bite that begins as the twilight is fading. In the dark use a glow stick above your bait; it can sometimes help
Date: October 6, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Rich Reano
Subject: Imperial Beach Pier
Fished the Imperial Beach Pier this morning from 7:30am to 9:30am. There was an abundance of bait in the water. So much in fact, there were pockets of “black clouds” made up by schools of these fish. There were sardines, anchovies, and smelt. It was quite a busy morning at the pier. Not only on it, but around it. There were hundreds of birds working the surface, and in a short while seals and porpoises joined in. I only brought my Baitcaster with a Kroc and managed to get some mackerel and large smelt. It was pretty much non-stop mackerel action for the morning. I didn't see anyone working the bottom, but the conditions seemed right to catch the larger fish like halibut.
Date: February 23, 2003
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Imperial Beach Pier
Went yesterday mainly for crabs. Got my limit on rock crabs and also got three big spider crabs and a legal lobster; pretty good for not expecting much more then the rock crabs. A lot of jacksmelt being caught out there with a few perch mixed in. I saw one sand bass caught. Everything you can use for bait is what they were getting them on—anchovies, squid, and regular shrimp.
Date: September 24, 2005
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Imperial Beach Pier Picture
“Over the last couple of years the ROADNet project has deployed multiple high resolution cameras throughout San Diego County that automatically take photos at pre-specified rates. These photos are transmitted to a real time database here at SIO via the HPWREN project, and then displayed on the web via a Real Time Image Bank. The cameras operate 365-24/7. Last night’s storm was recorded by the cameras, and there is one great image that captures lightning striking the Imperial Beach pier:”
Pier Fishing In California Fishing Reports
April 1997—John Munoz at Cox Bait & Tackle says fishing is starting to pick up. Most interesting news of late has been the catch of thresher sharks with several approaching 6-feet in length being landed in the past couple of weeks. Anglers fishing the surf area continue to land barred surfperch and yellowfin croaker, and some of the perch have been good-sized fish, up to about three pounds in weight. Most of the perch and croaker are being landed on fresh mussels or bloodworms. Deeper water areas continue to produce some sculpin (California scorpionfish) and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) for bait fishermen, while a few bonito have begun to hit lures. Action is still somewhat spotty on the smaller species like walleye and queenfish. As for halibut, although John has heard of a few being landed, he hasn't seen any legal fish recently.
November 1999—There were two reports posted to the Message Board: (1) On October 5 Amateur Pier Rat reported “I was at the I.B. Pier this Saturday and there was a Mac attack. People were catching mackerel on every cast, and I'm not talking little babies, they were huge. I came home with 40 mackerel and 20 lizardfish. All were caught on mackerel and or squid. Sometimes I came up with 3 macs on my line because I use Sabiki bait catchers. It was the most exciting trip of pier fishing that I ever had. We were there from 3 to 6 PM so it got pretty cold. My mom wanted to leave because she had frostbite (just kidding)! I wanted to stay there all day. We had to leave but I would have caught many more. People also caught baby manta rays and a CABEZON! There were also bow fisherman on the shore catching gigantic corbina.” (2) On October 17 Amateur Pier Rat said, “IB is slow. Some macs, smelt, lizardfish, and an occasional shovelnose shark. Best hours seem to be in the evening. Use mackerel or strips of squid. Bait rigs are primarily the hooks being used (Hayabusa, Sabiki, Owner etc.).”
March 2002—Liz at Cox Bait & Tackle says that action is fair with some mackerel making an appearance in the deeper-water sections of the pier. Inshore, most of the action is on barred surfperch and she says it’s “legendary” (not too sure about that although this section of surf is usually considered good for barreds). She says there are also some queenfish around for those so inclined and an occasional bat ray and skate (thornback ray?) on the bottom.
September 2004—Liz at Cox Bait & Tackle says there has been great bonito action but she feels it is tapering off somewhat. She says her regulars like using “Crippled Herring” in the 1/2 or 1 oz. size. Unfortunately she sold all her lures and has been unable to get a new supply of the hot lures. She says anglers continue to take good numbers of mackerel and herring (queenfish) along with a smaller number of halibut.
October 2004—Matt at Cox Bait & Tackle says the bonito action remains good and recommends spoons such as Krocodiles as being best. Inshore anglers are pulling in some yellowfin and spotfin croakers as well as a few corbina (use fresh mussels, ghost shrimp, worms or sand crabs). Further out on the pier good numbers of shovelnose sharks, rays and leopard sharks are being caught.
Author's Note No. 1. This is one of the few piers where I’ve witnessed anglers using bow and arrows to fish although that practice is now at an end (at least at IB). The anglers (if you can call them anglers) primarily shot halibut, corbina, guitarfish and large mullet in the inshore surf and were pretty successful. Opposition from surfers (who aren’t supposed to be near the pier anyway) and tourist-minded officials led to a prohibition against the practice. I thought I was the only person reporting this news (PFIC 1st and 2nd Ed.’s) until I saw the following newspaper story. I imagine a few more people knew about it after the story. BTW, should I tell him he’s using the pier totals from the 1992 PFIC that are outdated and that it’s corbina, not corvina?
As Bowmen Hunt, Surfers Feel Like Targets
Imperial Beach, Calif., Nov. 13—There are 92 public piers along the California coast. Fishermen of all types inhabit them, but on only one, here in Imperial Beach, the last town before California succumbs to Mexico, is hunting fish with bow and arrow allowed.
On most days and nights, a handful of bow fishermen take up stations on the 1,500-foot-long pier, staring down with arrows ready for the telltale shadow or flash of scales of the corvina, or white sea bass, their most prized prey.
The ocean currents occasionally bring swimmers and surfers within the bowfishermen's range, setting off angry confrontations, although no humans have yet been impaled. But Imperial Beach officials, reflecting the town's rough-and-tumble character, have so far refused to ban the sport despite repeated protests from surfers and
Although the prime corvina feeding season had passed, Blake Jacobson was out recently with his bow watching for whatever might swim among the pilings. A school of mullet might occasionally pass, or a shovelnose shark, a stingray or a confused salmon too close to shore.
“Give me a big, fat, slow dumb guy, that's what I'm looking for,” Mr. Jacobson said, his gaze never lifting from the water.
His friends call him Blake the Caveman, and it is not meant as an insult. His hands are thick with calluses, his legs covered in scabs and bruises. He wears a torn black tank top with a tarnished silver fishhook necklace around his sun-reddened neck. His face looks as if his beard got the better of his razor some days earlier. He makes a living as a hand on an sport fishing boat, using traditional tackle.
On this day, he is wielding a compound hunting bow, modified with an open spool holding 350 yards of 100-pound-test monofilament. The arrow attached to the line leaves the bow at 300 feet per second, and if a fish happens into its trajectory, the tip will run right through it unless deflected by fin or bone.
The presence of these weapons on the public pier makes some people uncomfortable in this rather threadbare beach town. The waters on both sides of the pier are popular with swimmers, surfers and boogie-boarders, except when an inconvenient current brings sewage and runoff from the mouth of the Tijuana River down the coast.
The bow fishermen are not supposed to aim more than 20 feet from the pier, but they consider their target zone to extend about 30 yards from it because, they say, they need the extra room to get a clean angle. Surfers occasionally find themselves staring up at a hunting arrow.
“Last week I had to yell at a guy who had his bow pointed right at me,” said Serge Dedina, a surfer and former lifeguard here.
Mr. Dedina said the bow fishermen were a belligerent lot, with little concern for public safety. He has complained to lifeguards and police, but little has been done, he said.
“People in this town are terrified of these guys,” said Mr. Dedina, who asked.
“Would you let a guy with a gun hunt on a Little League field?” he asked. "Someone's going to get shot."
Bow fishing is popular in the upper Midwest and the South. Most states limit the take to rough fish like carp, gar, suckers and other bottom-feeders. Bow fishing has encountered opposition in many places, particularly among other recreational users of the waters in which it is practiced, said Mark Ellenberg, president of the Bowfishing Association of America, which has about 500 members.
“People go kind of crazy when they see us pointing arrows,” Mr. Ellenberg said. “I call it the tree-hugger factor.” He said some accidents had occurred, most involving bow fishermen shooting other bow fishermen. “For the most part,” he said, “it's pretty safe.”
Imperial Beach tried to ban bow fishing five years ago, but the fishermen—a boisterous group of about 20 devotees—persuaded officials to let them continue under a licensing system. The city now requires bow fishermen to take a two-hour safety course for a permit. Bow fishing is not allowed during prime beach hours in the summer, but there are no limits the rest of the year.
“There was a group that was going around trying to get rid of it, like business owners and surfers who said that at nighttime there's some dangerous people out there,” said Jeff Cox, a plumber who is considered the unofficial leader of the bowmen. “I've seen no injuries in my 21 years. And, listen, this town needs every bit of help it can get, especially because of the sewage spills from Mexico.”
Imperial Beach's status as the only place in California permitting bow fishing from a pier is a peculiar distinction for an unusual town. It advertises itself as “the southwesternmost city in the continental United States,” and it has been the end of the line for drifters and small dreamers. In the Depression, thousands of refugees from the Dust Bowl settled here because land was cheaper than elsewhere on the California coast and work was available on the nearby farms and citrus groves. Only five miles from Tijuana and Baja California, Imperial Beach retains some frontier flavor.
“It's kind of a blue-collar town with a hard-core element of people who really don't like surfers,” said Mr. Dedina, who grew up in Imperial Beach and who runs a small environmental organization called Wildcoast. “A lot of people identify with the bowhunters.”
Despite sporadic efforts to spruce up the place, Imperial Beach, population 27,500, remains a poor cousin of more gentrified Southern California beach communities like Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Santa Monica. None of those places allow bow fishing from their piers.
Lifeguards have had run-ins with the bow fishermen, but no one has been arrested, said David Ott, who is in charge of public safety and is deputy city manager for Imperial Beach. Mr. Ott acknowledged some “inherent incompatibilities” between the recreational use of the waters and people with lethal weapons shooting into the surf. But he said he was supporting and enforcing the compromise with the bow fishermen.
Mr. Jacobson, about to give up the hunt after two fruitless hours peering into the empty ocean, said he had heard about problems between surfers and bow fishermen, but that things had been better lately.
“Everybody has really stuck to the safety rules this summer,” he said. “There have been no accidents, no close calls, even. It's very clear that you're looking for fish, not a surfer.”
Doesn't really sound like my kind of thing, since impaling a fish with an arrow kind of obviates the option to practice catch and release. More like “shoot 'n haul.”
—John M. Broder
New York Times, November 19, 2002
Bow fishing banned from city's pier, shore
Imperial Beach—For decades Imperial Beach has been home to a subculture of sportsmen who like to hunt fish with bows and arrows.
But within a month they will become another part of the city's colorful history.
The City Council passed an ordinance last week banning bow fishing from the pier or shore. It will take effect in 30 days. It was the fourth time in 15 years that the city tackled the issue of whether those who used steel-tipped arrows and those in the water could coexist at the municipal pier.
Each time the bow fishermen prevailed by convincing the council their pastime was safe. But now, with tourism and beach crowds increasing, council members unanimously felt bow fishing had to stop.
Two bow fishermen came to the council to plead their case one last time. Bobby Hart, who was armed with petitions, complained that it seemed the wishes of the surfers took precedence over those of the fishermen.
Mayor Diane Rose disagreed. “It isn't all about the surfers,” she said. “For me, it's all about the tourists who are coming to our beach and the safety of so many people.”
Hart said the council misunderstood the technical side of the sport, and said the fish are hunted at close range with arrows fired no more than 10 feet off the side of the pier.
Surfers and swimmers are supposed to stay clear of the pier for 20 feet on either side but don't always follow the guidelines.
Tom Wallace, a former lifeguard and avid bow fisherman, said there have been no documented accidents statewide related to bow fishing dating to 1994. He said many other recreational activities, including swimming, are much more hazardous and are not banned.
Serge Dedina, also a former lifeguard and the director of an environmental organization in town, applauded the council's action. “Basically, my kids can go out in the water and not worry about being shot by a bow-and-arrow fisherman,” he said.
The city last tried to ban bow fishing from the pier in the summer of 1998. Under organized pressure from the bow-fishing community, council members relented and allowed the practice to continue, with restrictions. Bow fishermen were required to pass a safety course and obtain a certificate, and were prohibited from fishing during the daytime in the summer.
But, the council members said, the beach crowds have increased too much to let bow fishing continue. A city staff report concluded there were approximately 1.5 million visitors to the Imperial Beach shore in 1998. This year the city anticipates 2.5 million beach-goers.
“Six years ago we did try really hard to find a compromise to allow the sport to continue,” Councilwoman Mayda Winter said. “But I just don't see how you can mix a lethal weapon and large groups of tourists. That was then, this is now. Things have changed.”
—Leslie Wolf Branscomb
San Diego Union-Tribune, June 29, 2003
Author’s Note No. 2. If the pier looks familiar it may because you saw the 2004 movie “Lords of Dogtown,” a movie based upon a fictionalized version of the 2001 documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys.” The movie tried to recreate the look and feel of Venice Beach and its “Dogtown” in the ‘70s, a time when a group of surfers co-mingled their surfing and skateboard attitudes (and skills) to create the new skateboard culture. The I.B. Pier and surrounding area were used for six weeks in the production.
Author’s Note No. 3. Although it’s a non-fishing activity, every July sees the US Open Sandcastle Competition held near the pier. The sculptures can be amazing and deserve a visit on your way to fishing, coming from fishing, or totally ignoring fishing (although you still have to visit the pier). Since upwards of 200,000 people come to see the artistic creations, come early to avoid traffic/parking jams.
History Note. Prior to the twentieth century, this area was called South San Diego Bay. Then, in 1908 the South San Diego Investment Company was formed. R.R. Morrison filed plans to subdivide the area and George Chaffey bought several parcels. His plan was to create a beach resort and retreat for those trying to escape the summertime heat in Imperial Valley, hence Imperial Beach. His plan was successful and the area became one of the many thriving resorts along California's shores. To stimulate real estate sales, the investment company organized the South San Diego and Imperial Railway Company in December of 1908. Passengers would sail on a ferry down from San Diego to a landing in the marsh where they would transfer onto a gas powered car to take them to “beautiful Imperial Beach.”
In 1909 a boardwalk was built, as was a 500-foot-long pier at the foot of Date Street. Both were built by the Imperial Beach Improvement Association and the two became the centers of beachfront activity. In 1912 the ferry ceased operation but direct electric inter-urban train service began from San Diego to Imperial Beach—an event which affected the pier. Passengers would ride the San Diego and South Eastern Railway to Otay Junction, today's Main Street in Chula Vista, where they would transfer to the Mexico and San Diego Railway to finish their journey to Imperial Beach. To power the electric cars, six wave motors, designed by Charles E. Edward, were built on a dogleg extension at the end of the pier, and, so, for a period of time, the pier was called the Edwards’ Wave Motor Pier. The machines were used to power the electric train cars with excess electricity being sold to subscribers. Eventually these wave machines lost favor but the pier continued to be used for recreational fishing until 1941 when the pier was damaged by winter storms. In 1948 storms finally washed the pier away for good and then, in 1953, the boardwalk suffered a similar fate.
Ten years later, the new Imperial Beach Pier was built, a 1,200 foot-long-pier that was longer and much more extensive than the original. In addition to the pier fishing, one of the attractions was the sportfishing landing that operated from the wide, T-shaped end of the pier. Half-day fishing trips to the rich waters of the Coronado Islands were soon offered on the 65’ City of Imperial Beach. It was less expensive, as well as a much shorter trip, than those offered by the landings found in San Diego Bay. In time, that boat would be joined by the 45’ Sea Scout and the 50’ R-Zee.
Unfortunately, the partyboat trips ended in 1983 after the pier, like many others along the coast, suffered considerable and repeated damage from winter storms. A 1969 storm caused damage, which necessitated the first reconstruction. Then, in 1981 storms destroyed nearly 250 feet of the 1,200 foot-long pier. Before this section could be fixed, the monster storms of 1983 damaged an additional 180 feet and weakened much of the rest. Finally, new damage in 1985 seemed to portend the possibility of an ending to the pier. Most of the pier was closed to public use in 1986 and one of the favorite resources for local anglers was in danger of being lost.
However, after much planning (and fund acquisition), work to both restore and enlarge the pier was begun. Although the $2.8 million dollar project nearly bankrupted the City of Imperial Beach, the now 1,491-foot-long pier was officially re-dedicated and re-opened in March of 1989.
Although the new pier was lacking the wide T-shaped end, it included a 31-foot height and steel pilings to give added protection. Facing a financial crunch, the city asked the state to help in paying for the costs of repair. As a consequence, the state allowed the San Diego Unified Port District to take control of the city’s tidelands and pier with the Port inheriting the $350,000 annual payments. In addition the Port committed to spend $10.5 million on a variety of projects in Imperial Beach.
In 1997, $100,000 was spent to build a special loading ramp under the pier for the Morning Star Sportfishing fleet. Anglers could board the 105’ Bright and Morning Star or the 65’ Morning Star and in less than 40 minutes be fishing at the Coronado Islands. Unfortunately the operation was short lived, lasting less than a year; rough seas just made it too difficult to load boats
Two years later, in 1999, the port completed the $2.8 million renovation of the pier area, called Portwood Pier Plaza. Included were new shops and the bright, multi-colored, surfboard-like sculpture Surfhenge that graces the entrance to the pier.
The Port has continued improvements and upkeep including replacing several piles in 2006. Today, the pier is in generally excellent shape.
Imperial Beach Pier Facts
Hours: A curfew is enforced in the area from 10 P.M. till 5 A.M.
Facilities: Restrooms, fish-cleaning stations, benches, and night lighting. Some free parking is available on adjacent streets. A parking lot is situated nearly at the foot of the pier; cost is $2 for all day except after 5 p.m. when there is a charge of only $1. Bait and tackle is available on Palm Avenue or at the liquor store across the street from the pier. The Tin Fish is a restaurant out at the end of the pier and it serves up good food. The basics—clam chowder, fish and chips and fish tacos—are excellent while those looking for something a little more non-traditional might try the salmon omelets or the octopus.
Handicapped Facilities: Several handicapped parking spaces are found near the front of the pier as are the restrooms which offer handicapped facilities. The surface is wood planking and the railings are 41 inches high.
Location: 32.57944 N. Latitude, 117.13417 W. Longutude
How To Get There: From I-5 take the Palm Ave. (Hwy. 75) exit and follow it to where Palm Ave. and Hwy. 75 divide. Follow Palm Ave. to Seacoast Dr., turn left and it will take you right to the pier.
Management: San Diego Unified Port District.
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