|From Pier Fishing in California
Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier
My first visit to this pier took place on a sultry summer night in the mid-1970s. I was visiting southern California with my family, shepherding my wife and kids to the “must see” tourist spots during the day, and making short excursions to the local piers during the morning and evening hours. Much to my surprise, anglers at this pier were using droplights to fish. These lights consisted of a heavy electrical cord with a plug at one end and a light with a reflector at the other end. Fishermen would plug their lights into the electrical outlets located on the pier's overhead lights. They would then lower their cords and lights down so that the droplights were just above the surface of the water. Inevitably, small fish such as anchovies and smelt were attracted to the lights and would swarm near the top of the water. Every so often a larger fish would approach, the small fish would scatter and disappear, and then, a few moments later, fish would reappear. Anglers, using light lines and small baits, were catching their share of the larger fish.
One couple allowed me to share their light and I quickly caught a small sand bass followed by several tom cod (white croaker) and mid-sized queenfish. I didn't have a droplight but vowed that when I returned, I would bring one with me. Unfortunately, I waited too long. The electrical outlets were removed in the '80s (due, the authorities said, to the fact that the outlets encouraged all-night camping and fires which the campers set to keep warm).
Even without droplights, I've generally caught some type of fish whenever I've visited the pier. Ken Dumong, long time southern California fisherman, as well as a one-time owner of the bait shop on the pier, feels that it is one of the best “fish catching” piers in the southland. Although I'll remain an agnostic as to awarding the pier that status, it does receive heavy use from anglers and, with the exception or “red tide” occurrences, almost always does seem to yield some fish.
Environment. The 1,620-foot-long, T-shaped pier sits inside the protected waters of the Long Beach-San Pedro breakwaters; the result is very moderate surf and a wide sandy beach. Further out and around the end of the pier the bottom is sand and mud. This area usually shows little growth of seaweed or kelp, but does have a fairly heavy growth of mussels on the pilings. In addition, concrete rubble was placed among the pilings during the construction of the pier (in 1967) to act as an artificial reef.
The pier has above-average surf fishing yielding corbina, spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, barred surfperch, round stingray, thornback rays and guitarfish (shovelnose sharks). Midway out on the concrete pier is the best area for halibut and sand bass, as well as the smaller walleye surfperch, jacksmelt, tom cod (white croaker) and diamond turbot (some years sees fairly good runs of the small flatfish, especially in February or March). This mid-pier area will also yield good numbers of croakers but not in the numbers of the inshore area. The end area is best for the pelagics such as mackerel and bonito as well as most sharks. The areas near the bait shop and the boat landing seem best for sargo and herring (queenfish).
A negative aspect of the pier is fairly common red tide conditions (when fish will be virtually absent); at least a third of my visits in the past ten years have seen the pier surrounded, or nearly surrounded, by red tide. An interesting visual attraction is the group of islands that sit a short distance offshore from the pier. Island Chaffee, Island White and Island Freeman are artificial islands containing oil-drilling equipment. However, the islands are sheathed in pastel-colored, modernistic walls that cloak their industrial activity. Society wants the oil but doesn't want to see the activity that produces it.
Fishing Tips. Try the inshore areas for large croakers using sand crabs, fresh mussels, ghost shrimp, or bloodworms. Early morning hours, or just before dusk, seem the best times, and be prepared for some action. I personally think it may be one of the best piers in the state for corbina (and I have seen as many as thirty corbina caught in just a few hours of early morning angling—by eight anglers). Although anglers will debate the topic endlessly, two of the best riggings will be size 4-2 baitholder hooks used with sand crabs or bloodworms, and size 2 -1/0 Kahle hooks covered with fresh mussels or ghost shrimp. I tend to go with the smaller hooks but it depends on the type of bait you are using and the fish you are seeking.
Fish the mid-pier area using a Sabiki/Lucky Lura-type bait rig for jacksmelt, topsmelt, walleye surfperch or queenfish. If you catch a small queenfish, or even a smelt or small mackerel, remember that they make excellent halibut baits. Put the small fish on a live bait leader, sit back, and watch your pole for the light mouthings of the toothy halibut. Pay attention and be ready. The top spot for the halibut seems to be around the black asphalt section near the middle of the pier. Also remember to check the local papers for the times of the grunion runs. Halibut follow the little fish into the shallow waters by the pier.
Out near the end, close to the bait shop, is sometimes a good area for bass (both sand bass and kelp bass) as well as perch. Most of the bass seem to hit on anchovies, squid or lures. Anglers fishing down around the mussel-covered pilings with mussels (surprise) are sometimes rewarded with good-sized buttermouth perch (blackperch), rubberlip perch, or forktails (pileperch). Some years also see good runs of sargo (generally May to July). The scrappy grunts, up to about three pounds in weight, love fresh mussels, get positively giddy over live ghost shrimp, and seem to hit best on the bottom near the pilings in the early evening or night hours.
Fish the outer wings of the pier for pelagics such as bonito and mackerel, barracuda and sharks. Use live anchovies when they're available (generally in the summer months) for the macs, the boneheads and the pencils. Unfortunately, most months see a lack of live anchovies. Plan #2! For the mackerel, fish with strips of squid or pieces of mackerel under a splitshot sinker. Bonito splashers will work for the bonito, as will feathers trailing behind a cast-a-bubble. Spoons, gold colored, when cast at night, may yield a few barracuda during the summer to fall months.
For the sharks, jig up some live bait (especially Pacific mackerel or jack mackerel) and then fish them on a live bait, sliding leader. Most of the sharks will be gray sharks (gray smoothhounds), shovelnose sharks (shovelnose guitarfish), leopards (leopard sharks), or pinback sharks (spiny dogfish) but occasionally there will be large threshers mixed into the action (a 65-pounder in November 1999, a 70-pounder in September 2001, and a 50-pounder in July of 2002). Less common will be blue sharks and sometimes even a bonito shark (mako shark)—a five-foot-long mako being landed in May of '98. About once every thirty years you'll also hear of someone latching onto a hammerhead shark and once every sexcentenary or so an intrepid angler may hook a white “man-eater” shark (why do they only eat men?); most of the latter are still missing in action. If you're satisfied with the smaller sharks, cut mackerel and squid fished on the bottom will yield small smoothies (gray smoothhounds), thornback rays, and bat rays. If seeking out the monsters, be sure to bring a treble-hook gaff, strong line, and a couple of strong friends to hoist your prize up to the pier.
Some itsy bitsy fish are also found out at the end. Most common are herring (queenfish), topsmelt, small perch and pompano (Pacific butterfish). All can be caught on Sabiki-type bait rigs jigged at mid-depth range, although the pompano are true Epicureans and prefer to have their hooks sweetened by a delicious but small piece of fresh mussel. I've also seen a few salema here but not in the numbers found at other county piers.
Author's Note No. 1. Like many of California’s piers, a number of uncommon to rare species of fish have been caught from the pier over the years. One such catch occurred in July of 1977 when a Belmont Pier angler caught a 34 1/2-inch yellow snake eel (Ophichthus zophochir) whose range is listed from Peru to Berkeley Pier. Not only was it an unusual catch, but it was also the largest such eel ever seen, the previous record being only 32 1/2 inches long. The eel, by the way, was long considered rare in California with less than 20 having been recorded into the ‘70s. However quite a few have been reported from SoCal piers (and Berkeley Pier) on the PFIC Message Board since 1997.
Although far from being the largest of their species, two relatively young green sturgeon were taken at the pier many years ago. As reported by Fitch and Lavenberg in 1971, one was 36 inches long and weighed 6.5 pounds while the other was 35 inches long and weighed 5.25 pounds. Green sturgeon can reach at least 350 pounds in weight.
It was also reported that a number of threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense) were landed in October 1997; a condition attributed to the El Niño conditions at the time. (These fish are common to Central America but considered rare in our ocean waters—although they have been reported from the Long Beach Harbor in the past). In addition deepbody thread herring Opistlzonemu libertute, were also reported and examined during the same fall month (and I wonder if the shad may have actually been these thread herring).
A species reported by Marine biologist Milton Love is the normally-found-in-freshwater tilipia. He reported that several have been taken from the pier; they apparently are able to live for some time in high salinity waters including saltwater.
In addition to these pier-caught fish are a number of fish that that were taken in the surf near the pier. One of the rarest was a Pacific bigscale pomfret (Taractichthys steindachneri), one of only a handful recorded from the eastern Pacific. As reported by Fitch and Lavenberg (1968), the fish “was caught barehanded on March 17, 1964, in the surf near the Belmont Shore pier by a Long Beach fisherman, Kevin Desmond. This fish... was 678 mm TL, and weighed about 5.5 kg (12 lbs).”
The first escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) from California was picked up on shore at Long Beach in the spring of 1928. This fish, 734 mm TL, was reported upon by Myers (1932: as Xenogramma carinatum), and apparently represented the fifth or sixth known specimen from anywhere in the world. The second specimen from California was 610 mm TL and weighed 1835 g. It was picked up in the surf near Marineland of the Pacific's pier on August 1, 1960 (California Fish and Game, April 1978).
An oddity, although not a rare species, was a fish captured by hand in March of 1998. It seems a Belmont Pier angler spotted a fish that had beached itself on the sand while chasing a school of grunion into the shallow waters. The angler raced down to the beach and grabbed the fish. Turned out to be a 7-pound skipjack tuna (Euthynnus pelamis)! What the normally offshore fish was doing in these inshore waters is anyone's guess.
Lastly was the strange fish reported by Vernona Fath (Snookie), a fish that would match most of the exotic species in interest. In response to a PFIC Message Board thread concerning halibut that were brown on both sides, or white on both sides, she reported: “Yes, I have seen some of these halibut with unusual color patterns. Some have been solid. Others have been patchy. In 1955 there was an albino halibut caught off Belmont Pier. It was almost completely white with the exception of black fins, a black tail and black eyes. Fish apparently don't have pink eyes as in other albinism cases. This fish was 13 3/4 inches long and weighed less than a pound. It was a healthy specimen. It was also the first halibut with albinism to be caught and seen.” So yes, this pier does yield some unusual critters.
Author's Note No. 2. An interesting story comes from George Van Zant, the writer for Saltwater Sportsman Magazine who calls himself “Piscatorial Prevaricator II.” He has a web site called George's Corner and one tidbit caught my eye: “Most of my elementary school years ['40s?] was spent on Belmont Pier where I raised money catching herring for the halibut fishermen. 5 cents each was the charge unless I swam the bait out, then it was 25 cents. I learned to swim in the Colorado Lagoon and more importantly I learned to catch smelt with a bent pin. I used them to catch 100 pound “rat-tail” sting rays off the lagoon floats.” Sounds like catching herring (queenfish) and smelt for live bait has been a standard technique for quite some time.
Author's Note No. 3. The pier played the part of another pier (the Balboa Pier) in episode 13 of the television series The O.C. Usually the Redondo Beach Pier played that part but it’s speculated that Belmont’s shape was preferred for a scene where two of the characters—Sandy and Rebecca—scattered the ashes of Max. It sounds just a tad complicated to me and I never even knew Max.
Author’s Note No. 4. The barge Annie B was accessible from the Belmont Pier for many years. It was where I spent one so-so night in 1988 with a group of marine biology students from Anderson Valley High School. We had traveled down from Boonville in vans and planned to spend the entire night on the barge in part to save the cost of a motel. Unfortunately, the catch was mostly queenfish and white croakers with a few mackerel mixed in for variety. Not exactly big game and I grew tired of answering the question—“Mr. Jones, when are we gong to catch some big fish?” Luckily most of the students were asleep by 3 AM while I continued to fish. It probably wasn’t the smartest decision since I had to drive a van to San Diego the next morning. In San Diego we made sure to stay at the Crystal Pier where we were able to do some fishing in between back-of-the aquarium tours at Sea World and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. We did seek out the bigger fish (yellowtail) on the Mascot VI out of H&M Sportfishing but unfortunately most of the students were seasick for much of the trip. Once again, that’s why it’s called fishing not catching.
Fisherman had hero's heart
Families tell of man who lost his life trying to save another.
LONG BEACH - Fisherman Shann Deon Day was the type of man who didn't hesitate when he saw another man drowning.
Day, a 36-year-old Long Beach resident, was fishing off Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier at about 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday when he saw Melvin Monta Rabb jump in the water in an attempt to swim to the shore. Day didn't even remove his shoes before he dove in after him, witnesses said.
But soon, both men were struggling against the current. Day struggled to hold up the 27-year-old Rabb and tried to pull him toward the shore. Within minutes both men had gone under.
Rescuers pulled Day's body from the water at 3:22 p.m., about 50 feet south of the pier, said Long Beach Fire Department Spokesman Will Nash.
A team of 12 divers and three life guard boats continued to search for Rabb on Tuesday night and Wednesday before officially calling off the search at about 1:15 p.m. due to the difficult visibility, said Capt. Paul Wawrzynski.
“At this point, we're just going to let nature take its course,” he said.
Rabb, a Long Beach resident and father of three, was with his family at the pier to spread his mother-in-law's ashes on what would have been her 31st wedding anniversary, family said.
Robert Allen, Rabb's father-in-law, said Rabb had been drinking and was “in kind of a crazy mood” and wanted to go swimming.
“He thought he could swim from the pier to the shore,” said Rabb's wife of five years, 27-year-old Shontae. “He kept saying, ‘I can swim.’”
Local fisherman at the pier, where Day fished about five days a week, weren't surprised to hear about his heroic act.
“That's just the kind of man he was,” said Long Beach resident Tim Bowling, 58, who fished with Day every week for more than six years. “Shann was a very well-liked and respected man.”
Fishermen described Day as a quiet man who would bring extra bait and was always willing to help others with hooking lines and pulling up fish.
“If you didn't know how to fish he'd get you started,” said fisherman Mike, who did not give his last name. “Everyone knew him down here.”
Day, a father of seven, grew up in Compton and worked as a carpenter and contractor. But fishing was his true passion, family said.
“He lived to fish in Long Beach,” said his brother, Obie Lee Day III, 37, who was shocked to hear that his brother had drowned.
Day was always a good swimmer and had worked as a junior lifeguard in Watts, he said.
“I didn't believe it when I heard it,” he said. “And it's still hard to believe. But knowing that my brother gave his life to save someone, I can say that my heart has been lifted.”
Day's father also died at the age of 36, his brother said.
“We all know where he's going, to reside with father,” said his sister, 38-year-old Mechelle Hooper in a statement. “It was not shocking to us that he died this way because he was just that type of man. You could always count on him.”
Day's seven children were in Fontana with their mother Maria Torres, family said.
The families of Rabb and Day came together at the pier on Wednesday afternoon, where Rabb's family was still watching the rescue boats. Rabb's wife, Shontae, and Day's mother, Dorothy Maxie, embraced each other and cried.
“(Day) is an angel,” said Rabb's sister 18-year-old Danisha Rabb. “He tried to save my brother.”
Don Maxie, Day's stepfather, said the family was relieved to hear that he had not died from violence.
“He died trying to save someone,” Maxie said. “And he died in the place he loved the most. What a way to go.”
The family of Shann Deon Day has set up a fund to cover his funeral expenses. For more information on where to donate, contact Mechelle or Renee at (562) 436-1123.
—Kelly Puente, Long Beach Press Telegram, 10/24/2007
Special Recommendation. Because of elevated levels of DDT and PCB, the Cal OEHHA recommends that no more than one meal of locally caught surfperch be consumed every two weeks.
History Note. Belmont Pier was built in 1968 alongside the older Grand Avenue Pier, a pier that was also called the Belmont Heights Pier by some, and the Devil's Gate Pier by others (in reference to the geologic formation—a natural bridge—which in those days extended seaward from the low bluffs at 39th Place).
The Grand Avenue/Belmont Heights/Devil’s Gate Pier opened on Christmas Eve 1915 and was seen as a payback gift from the Long Beach municipality to the residents of the Belmont Heights section of town (an area that was mainly tidal flat and far from the center of action). Locals had earlier asked the city to fund a pier but been refused. In response, the residents formed a new city—the City of Belmont Heights—which meant Long Beach would lose the local taxes from the area. Long Beach leaders had a change of heart, agreed to build the pier, and the area rejoined Ling Beach.
The pier was 975-foot-long and had a maximum width of 112 feet in the middle and a minimum width of twenty-five feet. Ornamental lights illuminated the pier and in the middle were two pergolas. Newspapers reported that 3,000 to 4,000 people visited the pier the first two days it was open and that 500 to 600 automobiles drove out to the end on the smooth concrete surface.
Barge fishing was available by the mid-‘20s with the introduction of the James McKenna (1925 to postwar). The barge Rainbow (AKA Makaweli) joined the mix in 1935, one of several different sportfishing boats and barges operated from the pier, although their use would be curtailed during World War II. Nevertheless, fishing barges returned soon after the war and by 1947 five operated from the pier: the Kilroy, New Rainbow, Fox, Hemlock and Bounty (AKA Martha Buehner). In 1951 the pier was renovated and given a 300-foot extension.
Box and highlight (three boxes)—
1947 Newspaper Ads
DEEP SEA FISHING
Day Or Nite
On The Live Bait Barge
A 145 Footer with a 35 foot beam
A Good Spot To Spend An Enjoyable Day’s Outing,
Plus Good Fishing
Staterooms • Comfortable Lounge
Good Galley Service * Tackle Store
Rental Tackle Available
Shore Boats Leave Daily From
Foot of 39th Pl., Long Beach, Caif.
For Schedule Tune in “Fishing Facts” Over KFOX Each Mon. at 8 P.M.
And Thurs at 9 P.M. or Call Long Beach 860-21
Largest Fishing Barge On The Coast
Deep Sea Fishing Barge
BELMONT PIER * LONG BEACH
Foot of 39th Pl.
Excellent Accommodations * Galley * Day and Night Fishing
Regular Boat Service Daily Between Barge and Pier
Call Long Beach 875-95 for Information
One of the Outstanding Fishing Barges
Located in Ideal Fishing Grounds a short run from
Belmont Pier, Long Beach, Calif.
Excellent Accommodations • Capacity 200 Passengers • Good
Galley • Lounge Room • Sun Deck • 6 Staterooms • Tackle Store Rental Tackle • Flood Lights for Night Fishing
Live Bait Boats also on Daily Schedule
BELMONT SPORT FISHING CO.
Belmont Pier, Foot Of 39th. Pl. Long Beach
Hdq. Belmont Tackle Store
Free Parking Ph. Long Beach 876-17 or 864-61
A Fish and Game Bulletin in 1953 makes note of the fact that “The city has had, throughout the years, several pleasure piers for anglers. At Belmont Shore there is now a modern pier. In 1952 there were 22 party boats and 64 charter boats out of Long Beach. Five fishing barges were anchored offshore.”
By the 1960s the older pier was in poor condition and the decision was made to build a new pier. One week after the new pier opened, the demolition of the old pier began (and plans included placing part of the rubble from the older pier around the new pilings, thus acting as an artificial reef).
On Sunday, February 19, 1967, the new 1,450-foot-long Belmont Pier opened and the local newspaper's headline read “Throngs Hail Opening of New Pier.” The story reported that free live bait was given out all day long and recorded the initial catches at the new pier. The first fish officially caught was by an eleven-year-old girl, Rosemary Rodriguez, who caught a sand bass. Brian Williams, a four-year-old angler was the youngest to catch a fish—a bullhead. The oldest was 82-year-old Albert Parbst who caught a perch. The largest fish of the day was a 2-pound, 8-ounce bonito caught by 16-year-old Maureen Younger.
Among the pier's amenities in those days was a Sportfishing fleet that operated from the 336-foot, y-crossing at the seaward end. The Queen of the Sea operated as a half-day boat and the Hurricane operated as a three-quarter day boat. For many years it was possible to catch The Islander which served as a water taxi to take anglers out to the 150-foot-long barge Annie B.
Many of the old-timers feel that the fishing has gone down since those days, a fact which they contribute to pollution of the bay's water and to the change in the mix of the pier's anglers. Many of the pier's regulars today are Latino and Asian and many are subsistence fishermen fishing for food (even though the food may not be particularly safe to eat). Since most of the fish, regardless of size, are kept, the population of larger fish probably has decreased. However, those who have the know-how still catch fish, including some that are pretty decent size. Today's mix of anglers also represents, I believe, a change in the focus of the pier. The pier has become a family pier where regulars and their families will be found most days, especially non-school days. Some may protest this mix but activity at the pier is actually mellower and certainly less destructive than that in the late '70s and '80s and a change, I believe, for the better.
Plans were announced early in 2002 for the closing and renovation of the pier beginning in the fall or winter of 2002. Among the changes was the name. The rechristened pier became the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier!
Plans call for tearing down all current buildings and building new structures. The pier may be closed for over a year.
Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier Facts
Hours: Open from 5 A.M. till sundown.
Facilities: Lights, some benches, fish-cleaning stations, restrooms, and a bait and tackle/snack shop all on the pier. There is a parking lot near the foot of the pier ($.50 an hour with a 10 hour limit, no parking 6:30-7:30 A.M. on Tuesdays, and no parking from 12 midnight until one hour before sunrise). Both free and metered parking on adjacent streets.
Handicapped Facilities: Some handicapped parking in the parking lot at the foot of the pier. The pier is wheelchair accessible with a railing 42 inches high.
Location: 33.7564577805144 N. Latitude, 118.14889311790466 W. Longitude.
How To Get There: From the north take I-405 to the Lakewood Boulevard turnoff, and then go south to 7th Street, turn west (right) until you come to Ximeno Ave. and then turn left. Follow it to Livingston Dr. and go west. You will see signs by Ocean Ave. and Termino Ave. indicating the pier. From the south take the Pacific Coast Highway to 2nd. Street (Westminister becomes 2nd. Street when it crosses PCH), go west, follow to Livingston Dr. Follow it to signs by Ocean Ave. and Termino Ave. indicating the pier and parking lot.
Management: City Of Long Beach.
Support UPSAC! Preserve pier and shore angling in California.