|Seal Beach Pier
I've known several people over the years that considered themselves experts at everything. In common vernacular they were know-it-alls. Rarely did their knowledge match their egos. However, I have also known a couple of people whose knowledge and range of interests were astounding. One was Bob, a neighbor of mine back nearly forty years ago when I was just beginning to fish. Bob was a Kramer-like personality (think of Seinfeld), a gonzo type (before the word was even invented), and a maverick who had a million and one projects going full bore at all times. He was a Renaissance sort of guy and a true 20th Century polyhistor. Although he never personally claimed to know-it-all, and displayed little sense of fanfaronade, his actions indicated that he thought he did. I certainly thought he was an expert at everything. He probably wasn't, but he did like to tinker and invent and he did have a working knowledge about many, many subjects.
He also had, in the eyes of this naive fifteen-year-old child, a truly amazing workshop. The shop was huge and filled with a variety of objects, most with no discernible purpose in life. I don't think Bob had thrown away any usable parts of any usable contraption for fifty years (and he was about seventy years young at the time I knew him). There were tools, old signs, bottles, Geiger counters, and thousands of similar items. His pride was the skull and horns of a Texas Longhorn (and it was, in truth, interesting). Included in the mélange were a few hundred spiders and at least a like number of spider webs. It wasn't exactly a chemically clean or even clean environment (in fact it would probably be considered a toxic waste site by some today). Nevertheless, amidst this “junk” was a corner reserved for his fishing equipment. Seven split bamboo rods of various lengths and strengths! A box of reels for everything from surf to deep, deep-sea fishing! And hundreds of lures, hooks, leaders, sinkers and accessories that he had accumulated over the years, most in excellent condition. Bob was a fisherman, a semi-regular at Newport Pier, and one of my early mentors.
One day Bob asked if I would like to go up to the Seal Beach Pier. Since my normal trips were limited by the distance I could travel on my bulky Schwinn bike, it was an offer I quickly accepted. A few nights later, Bob and I were headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway in his old but reliable Dodge truck. The destination was Seal Beach and the pier. The night proved warm, the water was flat, and the fishing was slow (I caught three queenfish in four hours). Nevertheless, we still had a good time at the pier. Then, on the way home, Bob offered up one of his “golden rules,” and he had many of these little homilies.
“If you want to catch bonito, fish at the Newport Pier. If you want to catch tom cod, go to the Huntington Beach Pier. If you want to catch herring, go to the Seal Beach Pier.” It was a straightforward expression of his belief. But was he right?
My recent trips have shown a much-reduced catch of bonito at Newport, and a continued, though reduced, catch of tom cod at Huntington Beach. What about Seal Beach? In July of 1990, two hours of jigging with a Lucky Lura leader resulted in 90 fish: 84 herring (queenfish) 3 Pacific mackerel, 2 extra large sardines, and an unusual four-inch long barracuda. Yes, I guess the queenfish are still present! Of course I shouldn't have been surprised; visits over the years have yielded nearly 17 queenfish per trip and most of these visits were of only two to three hours in length. So maybe Bob was right!
Most of the queenfish are small but mixed in will be an occasional plump, pan-sized fish, a fish big enough to save and eat. However, most of the regulars at the pier fish for the smaller queenies and are most excited when they catch an especially small fish. That fish represents prime halibut bait and that is what the experts (regulars/pier rats) are after. Unfortunately, most of the tasty flatfish today are under the minimum size. Still, halibut are one of the premier fish for pier anglers and Seal Beach seems to offer up quite a few halibut. So Bob was only half right, there are queenfish at this pier but also halibut and many other fish; in fact, it is also one of the best piers for a variety of croakers.
Environment. The pier's environment is affected by a variety of factors, many of the man-made variety. Just east of the pier is the entrance to the Anaheim Bay-Huntington Harbor-Bolsa Chica Bay complex. These bay and estuary areas act as nursery grounds for young fish that eventually move out into the waters of Seal Beach and adjacent areas. Just west is the outlet for the San Gabriel River (with water warmed by the discharge from several power plants), the inlet to Alamitos Bay, and the beginning of San Pedro Bay, a huge, heavily industrialized body of water.
An immediate impact is seen in the concrete seawall (or groin) that parallels the pier from the shoreline to about halfway out on the west side of the pier. Because the San Pedro-Long Beach breakwaters changed the local ocean currents, the seawall is necessary to prevent sand from being carried away and the only way to prevent the pilings from being undermined. The seawall does make it harder to fish the inner portion of the pier on the west side (if you’re casting out) but it also provides protection for the beach and very calm water on the south side of the pier. The wall also presents a fairly unique, mussel-covered fishing area straight down from the pier, one heavily utilized by fishermen.
The warm water from the San Gabriel River offers a second man-made affect when the currents cooperate and bath the pier in water that is warmer than surrounding areas. Warm water attracts warm water fish and species occasionally show up at the pier that are relatively rare for the area (bonefish, triggerfish, sea turtles, etc.). When the exotics show, they often leave the locals scratchin’ their heads and wonderin’ about the fish they just caught.
Additional artificial conditions result from a quarry-rock reef that was constructed just out from the pier in the mid 1960s. It still seems to bring in species such as cabezon that are infrequently caught at sandy-shore piers like Seal Beach.
Unfortunately the proximity to San Pedro Bay can also cause a few problems. Because of heavy pollution, some of the fish in these waters may not be safe to eat in quantity, fish such as tom cod (white croaker). Another result of the closeness to the breakwater is very mild wave action in the surf on most days. This is a good area for corbina and one of the best areas for spotfin croaker, China croaker (black croaker) and sargo. For the most part, the bottom around the pier is sand, pilings have a good growth of mussels, and water is fairly shallow.
Although the pier is long, fishing is very similar on most parts of the pier. Inshore, anglers can expect croakers, surfperch, rays and sharks. Further out on the pier, anglers can expect all of these species with the addition of some smaller perch (especially walleye surfperch), jacksmelt, white croaker, queenfish, halibut, a few bass, diamond turbot, and an occasional flurry from pelagic species such as mackerel, barracuda (generally at night) or bonito.
The end area will see most of the larger sharks and rays, most commonly bat rays or shovelnose sharks (guitarfish). Occasionally larger sharks such as threshers will show up but they’re usually youngsters (a 70-pound thresher was caught in March of '00) and when they do they will generate considerable interest. Of interest too was a small 3-foot-long hammerhead shark landed one day by a startled and probably somewhat confused angler. Two members of the family Rajidae have been reported to PFIC, a big skate (Raja binoculata) in 2001 and a California skate (Raja inornata) in January of ’08.
The end area also seems to be the spot where most of the pier's cabezon have been caught (and quite a few of the “king” of the sculpins have been reported during the past few years). Since cabezon are more commonly taken from southland rocks and jetties their appearance is somewhat surprising; most likely it is due to the nearby artificial reef.
You may occasionally see long, slender fish cruising near the surface of the water. First impressions are that they are barracuda but usually they turn out to be needlefish that have ventured out from the waters of Alamitos Bay and Anaheim Bay. You can try for these with a bobber and a live fish like smelt, but they are hard to hook.
Unusual fish recently have included a 20-pound striped bass in April of 1998; another striper, although smaller, was taken a month later. In January of 2009 a cusk-eel was taken from the pier. El Niño, warm-water years (like 1959) will often see more exotic species landed. A Pacific bumber (Chloroscombrus orqueta), once called Pacific yellowtail jack, was caught September 13, 1959 on the pier while a Pacific threadfin (Polydactylus approximans) was recorded from Seal Beach on March 3, 1959.
A fish you may spot, although they are very hard to hook, are striped mullet. I received several reports of schools of mullet around the inner sections of the pier in the fall of '99. Apparently some of the schools contained hundreds of the 2-3-foot-long fish. Break out the doughballs, light line and tiny hooks if you want to try to catch them (although they're more commonly snagged).
Fishing Tips. There are two distinct fisheries at the pier. From the mid-pier area to the end, use two poles. For the smaller fish, especially queenfish, use light tackle and a multi-hook Lucky-Lura or Sabiki-type leader with size 6-8 hooks. Drop the leader to the bottom and simply lift up and down; this works better than a jerky motion. If you are not getting any fish, try your leader at different depths. If schools of queenfish are present, they shouldn't be too hard to catch. I say present because the queenfish typically move into these waters by the first of June and stay resident throughout the rest of the summer and fall. During the winter they head out to deeper water. If the queenfish are absent, size 8-12 multi-hook riggings will take a variety of other small fish—topsmelt, jacksmelt, salema, and an occasional pompano (Pacific butterfish). Sometimes these species like the hooks sweetened with a small piece of shrimp.
Use your heavier pole for halibut and use live anchovies, sardines or small queenfish rigged on a halibut leader as your bait. Although halibut may be caught almost anywhere from the pier, I like to try the depressions between the pilings; these areas often harbor good numbers of the flatties. Cut anchovy on the bottom will yield some white croakers, sand bass, kelp bass, sharks and rays.
As mentioned, the end area is usually the prime area for those seeking the bigger sharks and rays. If specifically seeking out the large threshers and bat rays, come prepared with a heavier rod and reel, 40-60 pound test line and a 6/0 to 7/0 hook. Try a trolley rig with a live mackerel or sardine for the threshers, use cut squid or a bloody piece of mackerel on the bottom for the rays. Many a large thresher is hooked from the pier but few are landed.
Many mid-sized bat rays are landed but most of the bigger beasts are lost. And, the bat rays do reach gargantuan size. In March of '01 there was an influx of the big mud marlins that coincided with the invasion of local beaches by grunion. A 140- and then 160-pound fish were caught and weighed. Then the really BIG fish was landed, an estimated 200+ pound bat ray that dwarfed the earlier fish and required five guys to lift up to the pier for pictures. Soon after, the happy angler announced that he wanted to release the prize and the party of five had to once again lift up the heavy beast before lowering it down to the water. Just hope it survived the ordeal (but I doubt it). Another big bat ray, estimated to weigh 170 pounds was landed in May of '2001. Several anglers who specialize in sharks and rays feel that Seal Beach offers the best chance to get the really big, 100+ pound mud marlins, and they may be right.
Just to demonstrate the power of the grunion gods, halibut also began to hit fast and furious during the grunions' visit to the inshore waters around the pier. Many, many flatties were caught including several keepers every day. Although most of the hallies were caught on fresh or frozen bait (including grunion), PFIC reporter Dillon decided to cast out a lure—a Wham Lure (that looks like an anchovy) from the side of the pier. His result—a keeper, 26-inch fish.
Local expert George Van Zant reports that the bottom slopes rather rapidly on the eastern side of the pier reaching a depth near 20 feet by the end. He also says that there is a shale-like bottom area out from the pier that is home to many a large halibut. Though great for boaters it’s supposed to be just outside of normal casting range for most pier anglers. If adventurous, you might try a trolley rig in the area, casting out your sinker and then sliding live bait down the line. You would probably need an eastern flowing current for this to work with the hallies but it might be worth a try. As for myself, I’ve always had pretty good luck fishin’ the depressions between the pilings.
Another regular, Bobbie Lienau, reported local anglers “walking” their baits for big halibut. They will use fresh anchovies, smelt, grunion or small queenfish as bait and bury a fairly good size hook in their head. They cast straight out using as light a weight as possible and then slowly walk the bait down the pier. The key is a fairly empty pier (since you’re using up quite a bit of area). Quite a few halibut in the 13-18 pound range have been landed using this technique. Another key according to Mr. Lienau is to use fairly light line; I would recommend using fluorocarbon to fool the hallies.
A final note on halibut is the use of lures by some of the locals. A variety of lures have proven effective including Big Hammer swim baits and Berkley Gulp! Jerk Shad (in the sapphire shine color).
One area I like to fish because of the perch is under the pier, especially by where the now vacant bait and tackle shop sits. I’ve had some tremendous luck on buttermouth (black perch) there as well as good action on the big pileperch that like to drive people a little crazy. The pileperch will swim languidly around the pilings as well as back and forth from piling to piling all the while in water shallow enough to be seen by anglers up above. But seeing them and getting them to bite are two different things. The pilies are epicurean and want something similar to what they see on the mussel-encrusted pilings that they are checking out. Fresh mussels and small sidewinder crabs are the answer for bait while light tackle is helpful in attracting the line-shy perch. I usually use 6-8 pound fluorocarbon line, a size 8 hook, and just a small twist-on sinker for weight. Drift your offerings right up against the piling and be prepared for a quick, hardly-detectable bite. Then hang on as the fish will try to wrap you around the pilings. A successful operation can yield perch in the 14-16 inch range.
This same area saw the capture of an estimated 25-pound big skate in the winter of ’01 by PFIC regular Jimbojack. The fairly uncommon fish, at least to southland piers, with a 32” wingspan and 42” length, hit a piece of mackerel and provided a spirited fight before being netting.
The mid-pier area to inshore yields a mix of different fish—halibut, croakers, jacksmelt, stingrays, thornback rays and sharks (mainly gray smoothhounds and leopards). A fairly frequent catch is diamond turbot. Although caught in fair numbers most months of the year, some years will see a good late-winter, early-spring run of the tasty little flatfish. Bait of choice by most locals is ghost shrimp.
Inshore, fish on the bottom for spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, China croaker (black croaker) and corbina. Best baits are fresh mussels, bloodworms, lugworms, ghost shrimp or sand crabs. Leaders can be either a high/low leader or a sliding bait leader. Early evenings are the best hours for all of these large croakers. The same baits, in the same area, will also yield some surfperch, especially in the late winter, early spring months. Squid or anchovy fished on the bottom in the shallower areas will often produce round stingrays, thornback rays or shovelnose guitarfish, especially after the sun goes down.
On the eastern side of the pier, just inside the lookout station, you can try using soft plastics for the barred surfperch (and don’t be afraid to try in the shallowest water). It’s obviously harder to fish the plastics from the pier than if you were standing in the surf but anglers still report success on the tasty perch. Many colors will work but root beer colored grubs and motor oil with red flake grubs traditionally were rated near the top. However, Berkeley Gulp! are becoming the choice of lures for many surfperch aficionados.
For something a little different try fishing the inshore section on the west side of the pier (between the pier and the seawall) with fresh mussels, bloodworms or lugworms. You only have a few feet of space to fish so you're generally fishing straight down but it's an area covered with mussels and often yields a variety of seaperch (especially blackperch, walleye surfperch and silver surfperch), perch-like fish (blacksmith, opaleye, halfmoon), sargo and even an occasional cabezon. Sargo, by the way, have been reported here exceeding 7-pounds in weight. Since the state record is only 4 pounds, 1 ounce, grab some live ghost shrimp and see if you can set a record.
I almost always (depending on the tide) try this inshore section before heading out to the end of the pier. If the tide was wrong on the way out, it’s usually different and worth a try on the way in. The only negative aspect is that the water in this section can sometimes be filled with all the flotsam and jetsam that have piled up against the seawall. On such occasions it’s almost impossible to fish but remember that the various debris that flows into this area includes all sorts of food that also attracts the fish.
Surprisingly, the late winter months can offer up some good croaker fishing in this inshore section for both yellowfins and spotfins. Of interest are the reported effects from storms. Regulars say that often when there is a strong surge in the surf area from storms the yellowfin action will be steady, while few spotfins will be caught. When the water lies down, the spotfin will begin to feed while the yellowfin action is reduced.
Late spring to fall can also offer up some very decent corbina fishing. Try the shallow waters on the east side of the pier and the surf area just out from the seawall on the west side (although you’ll have to be wary of the surfers). As usual, fresh mussels and seaworms produce a lot of fish while soft-shell sand crabs and innkeeper worms can make the sleek croakers get absolutely giddy.
A couple of final suggestions. Watch the regulars for the best techniques. One approach used by old-timers is to occasionally throw a piece of stale bread into the water; this acts as an attractant for very small anchovies and smelt. The smaller fish seem to act as attractions for larger fish and stimulate action as the fish compete for the breadcrumbs. Also watch the papers and be ready for the runs of grunion. When the grunion come into shore to perform their nasty deeds, the larger fish are usually right behind. Go out to the pier and snag (or net) up some grunion (or smelt) and then use them as live bait for the halibut. Remember to think like a fish!
Date: June 1, 1999
To: Pier Fishing In California Message Board
Subject: Seal Beach Pier
I've been to Seal Beach Pier for the past three Saturdays and every time I have caught huge shovelnose from around 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The big shovelnose seem to bite well on small whole tom cods that I catch on Lucky Luras baited with either squid or small mackerel strips. Also, when I put the Lucky Lura just below the surface I caught some small smelt and mackerel. Strangely, I also caught a short halibut on the surface; I actually saw it come up for the Lucky Lura. Anyway, if you catch a small tom cod, cut some slits in its side and stomach then hook it through the head on a dropper rig and throw it out as far as you can. If you have a baitcast reel put it in free spool and put the bait clicker on. That way you will not lose your rig like I almost did last week. I also saw a couple of huge surfperch caught near shore; all were caught on bloodworms. I saw an old man also catch a nice sand bass at the end of the pier on a live tom cod.
Date: July 23, 1999
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: (In reply to: Freight Train Bats? posted by LaughingClam on Jul-23-99)
Watch for the Grunion runs. That seems to bring them in. A couple of weeks ago out at Seal Beach Pier, my friend lost two (on 40lb test) and brought one up during a Grunion run. That one weighed in at 150-lb. I don't know what you mean by freight train bat, but that works for me. I was there for the run that was supposed to start on the 14th, but the Grunion didn't seem to know about it. I assume it started the next day or so. I haven't been out since, but will be at Seal Beach pier tonight. It's fairly occasional, but the big bats are there. We throw one or two whole squid on 40-lb test with 5-8oz weights; that seems to keep the thornbacks and eight-inch grays from bugging us.
Date: July 28, 1999
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Seal Beach Pier
Decent day at the pier today. Personally—1 Sand bass, 2 Thornbacks, 1 Lizardfish, 3 White Croaker, 2 Mackerel, 2 baby Grey Smoothhound and about 15 Salema, some of which were 6”-7” (which is pretty good size for Salema!) Saw a good-sized (about 3 feet) grey smoothhound landed and several undersized halibut. Salema were the rule today, as many people had several in their buckets. I did see one of the craziest things that I've ever seen today; these kids had “Pixy Stix” candy mixed with water and were injecting it into their bait and were smokin’ everybody on the pier. These guys were landing fish left and right! Their day did end abruptly, however, when after one of them landed a stingray and after being warned by yours truly about the stinger in the tail, one of them got stung in the wrist. I suggested they high-tail it home and gave them the first aid procedure for taking care of it. Memo to beginners: Stingrays are not toys, handle with caution!! Tight lines to all!
Date: August 14, 1999
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Seal Beach Pier
We hit the Seal Beach Pier this morning 5 a.m. till noon; the halibut were biting everything. One keeper was landed (24”) while dozens of undersize ones were being tossed back. There was some barracuda action on the end, while corbina and croakers were hitting in the middle of the pier. Many parents brought their kids and most of them had a great time jigging Lucky Luras and catching lots of queenfish. The weather was overcast with a mist all morning and the sun didn’t make a showing while we were there. The pier was crowded in the early morning and stayed that way, but still ample room to fish. It seems that Ruby’s is remembering to lock the end gate at night, but if your lucky there’ll be a delivery truck to break it open for you like this morning.
Date: June 14, 2001
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Seal Beach
If you're looking for halibut, use live bait and drop your line straight down almost anywhere along the pier. Corbina have been caught up in the surf and some sargo inside the breakwall lately. Perch bite has dropped off. The sharks and rays are generally taken more from the deep end, but do sneak into the shallower water depending on the tides, availability of bait, etc. Use live smelt, queenfish, chunk mackerel, or whole squid for the big boys and cast out as far as you can. There is an artificial reef along the deep end of the north side. That is the only spot I've ever caught bass, but watch for snags in that area. Never had a problem catching plenty of live bait with a Sabiki at Seal.
Date: September 1, 2001
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Seal Beach Pier 8/31/01
Finally made it out to a pier on Friday night as the Mrs. gave me a break from baby duty. Got to the pier with Grandpa about 4:30 PM and he waited a few minutes while I attempted to catch sand crabs on the north side of the pier. Big mistake. After about 15 minutes, I had maybe six crabs for my efforts. Went up on the pier and got him situated on the first benches over the water while I went back to try for more sand crabs. Tip: get your crabs on the south side of the pier. Even better under the pier, but watch out when big waves come in and crash into the pilings. Sends spray everywhere. Prepare to get wet and maybe bring some dry clothes.
So we fished in the surf area for a few hours and I caught one 6” yellowfin croaker. We moved to the benches just opposite the tower and Gramps tosses out a larger sand crab on a #2 hook. Meanwhile I brought in a decent 11” yellowfin croaker, when BAM! Gramp's pole goes off and he's got a real fight on with his lightweight gear. Gets the fish up by the pier and we were reluctant to drop the net because the end of the seawall is right there. So he asks me to handline it up and I was nervous the whole time as I thought the fish would fall off at any second. It was just getting dark and at first I thought it might be a small WSB, but as I got it a ways up I could tell it was a big corbina. It was the biggest he has ever caught in 70 years of fishing the Pacific and would not part with it. (Sorry Mola Joe) Grandpa was real excited as he doesn't fish much any more and usually has rotten luck when he does. Caught a few more small croaker on sand crabs and thin strips of squid. I caught a 12” stingray and 14” leopard shark with whole squid on a 6/0 octopus hook. Missed the hookup on a few good runs. Saw a small bat ray and lots of tiny yellowfin croaker caught. Beautiful evening as the wind was mild after sunset. Left about 10:30 feeling pretty good to see an old guy so happy. Jim
Date: November 13, 2001
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Biggest Fish From A Pier
Big skate- 32" wingspan, 42" length. Estimated weight at 25 lbs. I got this beast last January or February. I caught it from the Seal Beach pier out near the bait shack. Bait was chunk mackerel I think. It's not my longest pier fish, (I've caught longer sharks) but it was certainly the heaviest and best fighter from a pier. Made a few good runs and I thought I was tangled up on the pilings, but managed to pull him out. My arms were tired! My grandma took the pictures with her camera and just got the film developed. If you have never eaten a skate, you should try it. Very tender white meat, a little stringy like crab, very delicate flavor, and not fishy at all. Jim
Date: March 3, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Seal Beach Pier Friday 3/1/02
Didn't get a chance to post until now. My daughter who just turned seven months cuts into message board time. I don't mind one bit. Got out to the pier with my grandpa about 4:30 PM and it was a little breezy. He went on the pier, I went for the shore. Very few sand crabs and very tiny. I was putting 4 at a time on my # 6 hook. Only a few subtle hits and no hookups. Maybe I should try Mola's technique and let it go in freespool as it seemed the fish were just mouthing the bait. Tried lugworms and grubs with no luck. Went on the pier at dark and met a guy named Nick. He was at the fish cleaning station with what looked to be some good-sized corbina and yellowfin croaker which were beheaded and gutted.
Grandpa hadn't caught anything except for some smelt. He was way out by the bait shack. We fished for a while using a variety of baits, and I was beginning to think I would get skunked. The wind died down and it was beautiful. Slow until about 7:30, I remembered the lugworms and tried those. Started getting queenfish like crazy. Got a bite and thought it was a mackerel on steroids, but turned out to be about a 10” [yellow snake] eel. Threw him out live for shark bait but no luck. Grandpa pulled in a small corbina about 9" and about a minute later I got another corbina about 18". Grandpa got a good sized round stingray on chunk mackerel. The rest of the night was a few thornbacks on mackerel and squid and queenfish on worms. Jim
Date: May 27, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Using cut squid and store shrimps good bait?
I grew up fishing on Belmont and Seal Beach pier, like 50 yrs ago. Both piers have been rebuilt since then, Belmont because it became dilapidated. Seal Beach got wiped out in a heavy storm. Both used to have live ‘chovys. You would buy bait tickets and take your tickets and bucket to the bait guy and he would scoop ‘choves from a tank and put them in your bucket. Bonita and Halibut were the main target and live ‘choves was the bait of choice. But, when the Herring were around we would use a snag line and try to snag Herring (the smaller the better) and use these for Halibut. Almost all the Halibut were caught in the 1st half of the piers and the Bonita and Barracuda caught on the far end. The action was fast and furious back then, ten and twelve-pound bonitos and thirty five- pound Halibut were common, a whole book could be written about it. Times have changed but don’t dismay, I was there last summer (2003) no live bait tanks but still snagged herring and got Halibuts to fifteen pounds. And caught a lot of bat rays and Dogfish. Dogfish are new but Bats have been there for my whole life many 150 pound plus caught off Rainbow Pier, long gone... To answer your Question, in my experience squid and shrimp were not that good of a bait off Belmont or Seal Beach piers
Date: August 3, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
From: by oldmanandthesea
Subject: I don't live down there anymore...
but many good memories of great fishing days. Do you remember Dicky, the guy at the Seal Beach Pier that would splash an iron tied to a rope and say he was ironing the ocean?
Date: November 1, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
From: reelly hooked
Subject: Seal Beach Pier
Got the guys to go fishing with me after telling them about the awesome bonito bite. Got to the pier about 10:30am with 4 amateur freshwater fishermen. Looked into the water and mass balls of bait were visible (sardines). Sardines were instant on the Sabiki rig, but the bite started out slow. My buddy got picked up about 30 mins into fishing, but was cherry picked, and then at about 11:30 or so the bite was on! It was instant once the bait hit the water, and there were a few times when we were all bendo, I never get tired of seeing that! I managed about 8 or 9, that's in between catching bait, and retying hooks; the other fellas got about 4 or 5 each. Between the 5 of us, 12 fish were kept, and the rest released to fight another day.
It's interesting how passerbyers questioned me about flylining a sardine into the water, but what's even more interesting is seeing the look on their faces and hearing their remarks when 5 bonies boiled on my bait... All in all a beautiful day to be fishing, even better, four more guys hooked on to pier fishing, “this is way better than using Powerbait,” it was music to my ears. Oh yea, all the fish were about 15-in or so, with a few big boys mixed in, maybe about 20 to 25 inches, but none of the big guys hit the deck, just followed the hooked fishes, and two short wsb caught and released (22-24inches). Get em while they're hot.
Date: November 17, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: OC Sandcrabs
The most consistent spots I've found for winter crabs are under Seal Beach Pier, and near the Wedge in Newport.
Date: January 27, 2005
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Seal Beach Pier
During the warmer months, the lights from the boat launches near the end attract tons of queenfish. This in turn attracts predators to the feast. I have caught several big sand bass throwing Fish Traps under the pier near the fish cleaning station. Otherwise, the mid pier area near the lifeguard tower can be good for bat rays and thornbacks if you like that kind of thing.
Pier Fishing In California Fish Reports
August 1997—Janie, at the Seal Beach Sportfishing shop, reports that fishing continues to be good. Inshore, a lot of good-sized corbina are being caught on sand crabs and mussels while the area by the lifeguard tower is yielding a lot of sargo on mussels and ghost shrimp. Further out on the pier, the mackerel bite remains steady and barracuda are starting to provide a little excitement. The barries are primarily hitting on live anchovies, as are a few keeper halibut. Sometimes the bait shop has live bait while other times you'll need to catch your own using bait rigs. Janie also reports she caught a nice spotted sand bass while a few barred sand bass have been brought in by other anglers. Finally, anglers are getting some big shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) and bat rays while using squid and mackerel as bait. Anglers also continue to land too many under-sized and illegal white sea bass—throw them back!
April 1998—Janie, at Norm's Big Fish Sportfishing Shop at the end of the pier, says that anglers out at the end of the pier are taking LOTS of tom cod (white croaker); they're hitting on bloodworms. Inshore, anglers are still catching yellowfin croaker on fresh mussels and ghost shrimp and recently some big corbina have also made a nice showing. Out toward the bait shop, halibut have also begun to show whenever the grunion make a local appearance. Best bait for the bottom fish is a small smelt (if you can snag one), otherwise try anchovies on the bottom. Anglers also continue to pull in some bat rays and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) and an angler lost a big bat ray just before I called on the 29th. It had headed up and down the pier and finally decided to tangle up some other lines together with a trip around a piling—such is big game fishing on a pier
May 1998—Janie, at Norm's Big Fish Sportfishing Shop, says that fishing remains fair. Out at the end of the pier, anglers are catching jacksmelt on bait rigs, big sargo on ghost shrimp, and lots of big eyed perch (walleye surfperch). The perch are found between the pilings near the bait shop and most are hitting on bloodworms. Inshore, some corbina, yellowfin croaker and spotfin croaker continue to fall to anglers using ghost shrimp and fresh mussels; some barred surfperch fall to mussels. Janie says there are also a lot of baby sharks, various varieties, showing up. Janie managed to do a little fishing herself (she is one of the true experts on the pier) and landed a 23 1/2 inch halibut while fishing with a small but lively sardine. Most unusual catch of the month was a 20-pound striped bass caught by an angler fishing out by the tower. The striper, which is rare in these waters, was caught on ghost shrimp.
November 1999—There were several messages posted to the Message Board: (1) On October 10 Anthony reported “Fished from 9 am to 2 p.m. Caught 1 cabezon, 1 spotfin croaker, 6 perch, and all you wanted of the 5-9 inch smelt. I got 3 runs using the large smelt for bait; 2 never took the hook. But one definitely took the hook and ran for its life. The fish never showed, but ran up and down the pier twice and then took a 200-yard run before breaking off. I never saw what it was. Any Ideas? The guys at Norms told me that threshers have been seen in the area recently. I also saw a 27-inch halibut caught on the end of the pier. Tons of huge mullet swimming around the pier.” (2) Craig posted a report the same day: “I also fished the pier Sunday from 9-2pm. We had a lot of similar smelt over the rail, 5+ inches as well. We were able to capitalize on a midday session of croaker. A lull had taken over and suddenly rods were going off all over the place. All I have to say is our biggest was about 2 lbs. and we all had a little luck on our croaker score. Mussels and Ghosties.” (3) Anthony posted a third message on October 16: “Fished from 11 am to 5 p.m. caught plenty of smelt for bait on bait rig tipped with mussel. The mussel was the key, Caught one 20-inch halibut (of course released) and one huge yellowfin croaker (also released). Hopefully the next time they are caught they will be even bigger. People using mussels were catching sargo, yellowfin and spotfin croaker just below the mid section of the pier. There was one mackerel and a 24-inch barracuda at the end of the pier. Tons of mullet around the pier all day. They were in large schools some of them even as high has 100+.”
July 2000—Dillon, at Norm's Big Fish Sportfishing Shop (on the pier), says that fishing has been good on halibut—mostly shorts—and quite a few bass; both sand bass and spotted sand bass (bay bass). Most of the bass and halibut have been taken on small live queenfish used by people who have caught them with bait rigs (see my report of a couple of weeks ago). He says there have also been some really big bat rays taken; a couple exceeded 100 pounds in weight. Lastly, he says there was a fantastic sargo bite in the inshore area at the start of the month but things have slowed down there lately
April 2001—Dillon, at Norm's Big Fish Sportfishing Shop (on the pier), says fishing has been great for the past ten days to two weeks. Anglers are filling up buckets with walleye surfperch out toward the end of the pier and are also getting a lot of big jacksmelt—both on bait rigs (i.e. Lucky Luras). Anglers are also getting lots of halibut, including six legal size fish, in the past few days. Most of the halibut are being landed on frozen anchovies although Dillon managed to get a 26” fish himself using a Wham Lure (that looks like an anchovy). But the biggest story may be the huge bat ray estimated to weigh over 200 pounds that was caught and released three weeks ago. The big fish dwarfed recent 140- and 160-pound rays that were landed and weighed—but it was released to fight another day. Dillon said the head area was over three feet thick when the ray was lying on the deck of the pier and that it took five anglers to lift it up to the pier and then back into the water. Why the hot fishing lately? Dillon speculated the halibut and bat rays have followed the grunion into the inshore areas where the little fish are doing their nasties (aka spawning).
July 2001—John, at Norm's Big Fish Sportfishing Shop (on the pier), reports fair fishing. Inshore a few croakers are showing up, along with some corbina and perch. Further out on the pier quite a few shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) and bat rays have been landed including a 95-pound fish last week. On top there are lots of mackerel while mid-depth the herring (queenfish) are showing up. And, anglers using live herring are picking up some halibut, although almost all are short. A few thresher sharks have also been hooked but so far, none have been landed. Finally, he reports the capture of a couple of unusual flatfish—a Dover sole and a c-o turbot. It just goes to show that you never know what will show up.
August 2004—Juan at Big Fish Bait & Tackle says some corbina are being taken inshore by anglers using nuclear worms (a new import from Viet Nam)—interesting. He says the worms look like bloodworms. Anglers are also seeking out and apparently getting a few thresher sharks along with a few smaller sharks and rays. He says there is a lot of baitfish, mainly smelt and he’s getting reports of small bonito.
June 2005—Bobby, at Big Fish Bait & Tackle, says some thresher sharks are starting to make an appearance. About 20 of the long-tailed sharks have recently been hooked on live sardines and smelt but only 4 have been landed. Inshore, sargo are being caught on lugworms; fish by the lifeguard station. Two twin 16-pound halibut were weighed from the pier last week, both caught on live smelt. Lastly, a few bonito are starting to show at the end.
December 2005—Rambo at Big Fish Bait & Tackle says anglers are catching a lot of nice fish out at the pier including a 20 3/4-lb halibut. A lot of halibut are being caught but they’re almost all within 25 feet of the shoreline and most anglers are over-casting the fish. Rambo says the inshore action on big halibut is typical for this time of the year; use live or frozen anchovies, both seem to be working. The surf line is also seeing good numbers of barred surfperch, croakers and corbina. (Guess where I would try on the pier?) Some sharks and rays are available at night
August 2006—Gerry, at Big Fish Bait and Tackle, reports that halibut to 7-pounds and sargo to 4-pounds have been making an appearance. He also says there is good inshore action on yellowfin croakers and spotfins while shark anglers are getting quite a few bat rays and angel sharks. There’s very little action on mackerel and virtually no bonito.
February 2007—Bobbie Lienau at Big Fish in Seal Beach reports excellent action on a variety of fish. Inshore, just past the breakers, try for a nice mix of barred surfperch, yellowfin croaker and sargo. (Daughter Page Lienau reported a stringer of walleyes and four sargo to four pounds—on lugworms). Opaleye are being taken down around the pilings while halibut are showing from the lifeguard tower to the end. Most of the flatties are falling to regulars who put a hook about twice the normal size into the head of a frozen anchovy and then slow troll the anchovy along the pier. Live smelt are also available but the cormorants have been tough lately grabbing almost any live bait cast out by anglers. Biggest halibut reported were by David Chate at 17 pounds, 9 ounces and Randy Copeland at 13 pounds, 9 ounces.
August 2007—Gary, at Big Fish in Seal Beach, reports some great action. Leading off are spotfin croaker (to 8 pounds) and yellowfin croaker hitting inshore; use fresh mussels or ghost shrimp. Sargo (to 6 pounds) are found down next to the pilings; use nuclear worms or ghost shrimp. Gary says mackerel action is a wide open although they haven’t seen bonito as yet. Sharks are also in evidence with good numbers of gray smoothhound, shovelnose (guitarfish) and bat rays.
Author's Note No 1. One visit saw me sharing the railing with “Bill,” a youthful 82 years of life. Bill had a million and one stories to tell but this book only has room for a couple. One was his story about a granddaughter and her first yellowtail. According to Bill, all anglers must eat the heart of the first yellowtail they catch. Sure enough, when he took his granddaughter fishing (on a partyboat) she caught her first yellowtail. Ditto several other anglers. Kiddingly, the deckhand cut out the hearts of the fish and offered them to the anglers. No one took up the offer until Bill's granddaughter stepped up, took a swig of coke and gulped down the heart. The older anglers, now embarrassed, were forced to follow. A second tale concerned his use of “Mexican anchovies” to catch big fish like yellowtail. “What,” I asked, “is a Mexican anchovy?” “Simple,” Bill said, “it's a strip of mackerel cut thin to resemble a large anchovy or sardine. It's cast out, allowed to sink a few feet, and then reeled in very quickly. It kills the fish.” The gospel according to Bill!
Author's Note No. 2. As reported in more detail in the chapter on fish, Seal Beach is “Stingray Central” for California and the nation—and local waters are sometimes called “Ray Bay” by locals. One fourth to one third of the entire nation’s wounds from stingrays occur on the mile-long beach that is home base for the pier. Therefore, don’t be surprised that when you’re fishing in the shallow waters of the surf area that you occasionally pull in a round stingray.
Author’s Note No. 3. If the pier and surrounding beach area looks familiar to you, it may be because both were main settings for “Sunset Beach,” the NBC soap opera that ran in the late ‘90s. The saucy show didn’t seem to reflect the “small town” character of Seal Beach but most local citizens didn't seem to mind. They were proud of the attention their town received and didn’t object to the money the movie company poured into the city's coffers. Although some locals worried that a mob of curious fans might descend on their city, others pointed out that didn't happen in the past when the area was used for films. Back in the '20s, when Cecil B. DeMille filmed the original silent version of “The Ten Commandments,” the local shoreline was used as the site for the parting of the Red Sea. If movie fans didn't invade the beach to see “Moses” surely they wouldn't invade the area for this show. Of course the actresses in “The Ten Commandments” were dressed a little more conservatively than the vixens in the TV show. By the way, the romantic Sunset Beach Pier (where, according to legend two people would meet and fall in love) was of course the Seal Beach Pier.
The pier and adjacent downtown area by the way seem to show up in many movies. In a scene in “As Good As It Gets” Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt walk along a pier supposedly set in Chesapeake Bay. It actually is the Seal Beach Pier spruced up by the addition of several thousand lights.
In “American Pie 2” Seal Beach is portrayed as Grand Harbor, Michigan. Both the town and pier are seen frequently in the movie. In one scene, where the boys cruise down the main street, you can see such local landmarks as O'Malley's Irish Pub, Walt's Wharf Restaurant, and the pier.
Author’s Note No. 4. Fish Bulletin #96 put out by the California Department of Fish Game in 1953 states: “There is a sport-fishing pier but no fish-cleaning sheds or canneries. Small amounts of commercially caught fish are landed here but the average has been about two tons per year... The catches have been barracuda, lobster, rockfish, and rock bass... In 1952 three party boats and one or two charter boats operated out of Seal Beach. One Sportfishing barge is anchored off the town.
History Note. Like many, if not most, of the coastal cities in Orange County and Los Angeles County, Seal Beach experienced much of its growth as a result of the efforts of local real estate developers, in this case Philip A. Stanton and his Bayside Land Company. Stanton, who had been an early promoter of the nearby Huntington Beach area before selling his share of that land, took a sleepy little burg called Bay City and developed it into one of the leading resort centers in the area. Prior to Stanton's entrance into the scene the immediate area was little populated although it had long been a favorite spot for summertime vacations.
German Burghers who had settled Anaheim (“Ana” for the Santa Ana River and the German “heim” meaning home) had developed Anaheim Landing in the nearby bay in the 1860s as a port from which to ship out their produce. They also discovered that the local beaches made a great spot to escape the hotter climate of their inland city—even though only a dozen or so miles away. However, year-round settlement was limited. In fact, J.C. Ord, considered one of the fathers of Seal Beach, was the lone resident in 1901.
Bay City grew at a slow rate in the early 1900s but began to grow more rapidly after the Pacific Electric Railway entered the town in 1904. Easier access in and out of the area provided impetus for the development of hotels, bathhouses and dance halls. It also gave purpose for the development of a pier (since every beachside resort needed a pier). In 1906 the original Seal Beach Pier (Bay City Pier?) was built; at 1,865 feet it was the longest pier south of San Francisco.
Real growth and true development as a resort center took place in 1915-16 after the city incorporated (as Seal Beach). Frank Burt, manager of the concessions at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, moved south following the closing of the Exposition and helped found the Jewel City Amusement Company. With Stanton's cooperation, a new pier was built to replace the original pier.
The new pier became the center of the “Jewel City” amusement area. The pier was flanked at its shoreside end by the Jewel Cafe on the north and a Bathhouse and Dance Pavilion on the south. According to reports the cafe's opening night saw a “banquet from the sea” for 500 people. Dishes included albacore, barracuda, clam chowder and oyster cocktails. The huge Bathhouse contained 1,000 dressing rooms that opened directly onto the beach; their moto was “A beach without an undertow.” Just to the south of the pier set the Derby, the racer roller coaster brought down from San Francisco. A final touch was added by the addition of the “Scintillator” lights, also brought down from San Francisco, fifty-two huge lamps which projected changing rainbows of light onto the water for nighttime bathing.
Pier fishing and barge fishing were, of course, two of the main attractions of the pier itself. Fishing was considered good at the pier but when it slowed down anglers would simply switch to the angling found in the deeper waters by the barge. The first barge at Seal Beach, the James McKenna, began operating in 1925; it was joined by the F.S. Loop and Homer in 1939.
By the '30s the city was well established but the amusement area itself began to decline. Nevertheless, plaques near the front of the pier give evidence of the pier's history and resiliency. One says, “Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, 1938, Project No. Calif. 1723-F.” It represents a rebuilding that was necessitated by the storms of 1935 and the wave damage that partially destroyed the pier. The pier was closed for four years.
Ironically, part of the damage in 1935 was caused by large surf from a hurricane in the Philippines. California’s only recorded hurricane ripped the pier in half just four years later, in 1939, just a year after the pier was reopened. This time the pier was quickly repaired, at a cost of $110,000. However, these were only two of many repair projects.
The killer storms spawned by the 1983 El Niño devastated many California piers and included Seal Beach as one of their victims. Several sections of the pier were torn away and many questioned if the pier would ever be rebuilt. No problemo! An energetic band of local citizens soon rallied around a rebuilding project. Forming a “Save Our Pier” group, the members raised money from both private and public sponsors and got their pier rebuilt, at a cost of $2.3 million. Today, plaques honoring Emily Frazier, Daisy Funk and Joyce Risner, who co-founded the group, as well as various other individuals, businesses and groups that contributed time and money to the effort, are visible on the pier.
The '80s also saw the use of one of the last southern California barges—the Annie B. Used in conjunction with the landing at the Belmont Pier, and sitting inside the breakwater, the barge would provide low-cost fishing into the mid '90s.
Additional incidents have somewhat routinely closed the pier. On May 15, 1992, an electrical fire (which started in the lifeguard tower on the pier) caused major damage to the pier. A few months later, the Lander's (or Big Bear) earthquake cracked some of the pier's support pilings.
Finally, on May 21, 1994, falling barbecue coals ignited a natural gas line under the pier. The new blaze blocked the mid-pier section and trapped about 150 people out at the end of the pier. Although a few panicked, many simply continued to drink their coffee and finish their snacks out at Ruby's Diner, and the majority just kept right on fishing, reeling in the mackerel, and listening to the radio tell about the fire at the pier as they watched the smoke bellow inshore from their position. All were soon evacuated.
The pier sat closed for a few months, and then, like the proverbial phoenix, the pier was reopened once again. However, only temporary repairs had been made and so, in May of 1995, the pier was once again closed for a short time to facilitate repairs to the damage caused by the 1992 and 1994 fires and earthquake.
In April of 2000 a small fire eerily reminiscent of the 1994 blaze occurred although a discarded cigarette supposedly caused this fire. The L.A. Times reported “Diners Trapped as Small Fire Burns Hole in Seal Beach Pier.” A 4-foot-by-4-foot hole was burned through the pier and once again people were trapped at the end.
The pier was once again closed for repairs in the spring of 2006 while the pier underwent a $500,000 rehabilitation that included replacement of the boat landing. In 2007 a portion of the wooden planks on the walkway were replaced—at a cost of $262,925. Then, in 2008 the pier was closed for a short time when huge waves knocked two wooden pilings off the boat ramp. It’s all part of the life of a pier.
Seal Beach Pier Facts
Hours: 5 A.M. to 10 P.M.
Facilities: There are long wooden benches nicely designed for anglers, fish-cleaning stations, restrooms, lights, and a Ruby’s Diner restaurant at the end with its candy-striper waitresses and ‘50s decor. There is limited one and two-hour free street parking. Beach parking, adjacent to the pier, is $3/two hours or $6/day.
Handicapped Facilities: Although there is handicapped parking, the restrooms are not equipped for the handicapped. The pier surface is wood and cement and the rail height is 43 inches. Posted for handicapped.
Location: 33.737188352323436 N. Latitude, 118.10789823532104 W. Longitude
How To Get There: From the Pacific Coast Highway simply take Main St. west and follow it to the pier.
Management: City of Seal Beach.
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