This used to be a two-sack pier; that was what I learned one day while talking to a pier regular. The regular, a gentleman of a youthful 78 years of age, and one who fished about 350 days a year, told me the story. “Back in the thirties you needed to bring two gunnysacks with you when you visited the pier because of the barracuda. Back then we called them logs, you know, big fish about 10 or 12 pounds each, and you could only get about five in a sack lengthwise. You fished until you loaded a couple of sacks then you stopped, no sense overdoing it. Of course you might need a little help carrying the sacks off the pier.” How accurate that memory is after 50 years can only be speculated. There is no doubt, however, that fishing can be very good at Oceanside and that it probably was outstanding “back then.”
In fact, old pictures and faded newspaper stories that once sat under glass near the lifeguard tower gave evidence of how it was "back then." Several pictures of large black sea bass (giant sea bass) that were caught from the pier highlight the pictures; one was of a 286-pound fish taken in 1936. Another picture was of a 200+pound hammerhead shark taken by Max Gray on September 8, 1949. A third showed a 42 lb. 1 oz. yellowtail taken from the pier in July of 1955 by Elmo Nealoff. Stories tell of an 11 3/4-pound bonito and a 10 3/4-pound lobster taken from the pier—both evidently records for the pier.
Of course the big pier is more than just a place to fish to many residents, it’s a place to gather, to see what’s going on, and to be seen. Most any summer night will find the pier crowded with fishermen and others simply out to sample the sights and sounds of the pier at night. One such night I witnessed a group of teenagers huddled around three young men getting ready to dive from the end of the pier near Ruby’s. The three got up on the railing where the leader announced he would do a reverse tuck (I believe). The other two were satisfied to do a simple dive. With cell phone cameras ready to record the action they called out three, two, one, and jumped. The dives were successful and a cheer went up from their friends (as well as more than just a few interested spectators). Soon the young men had climbed the nearby ladder back up to the pier. Last I saw of them was one peering boldly into the back door of Ruby’s. Looked like he was seeking out one of the red-and-white, pinstriped waitresses. Nearby stood two ravishing young ladies shooting pictures of each other near the pier railings. Around the corner came a buxom platinum blond decked out in Hollywood chic and holding an all white miniature poodle. Nearby stood Jimmy and Eddie, two construction workers from Fort Smith, Arkansas who were taking in the whole scene. They commented that they just didn’t have this action back home. Such is California in the new century.
Environment. The pier sits over what was once one of the best sand beaches in southern California—until the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor was built. Unfortunately, currents changed when the upcoast jetty was built and for many years the rocky base of the beach was almost bare of sand. Today the situation seems to have improved; there is more sand, and Pismo clams are even returning, so perhaps the problems have been fixed.
The pier seems to be about as productive as when I first fished it in the mid-1960s although quantity is more common than quality. A lot of fish can still be caught but relatively few of the “trophy” fish common in years past. Fish typically caught here are the normal sandy-shore, long-pier variety.
Inshore, you will find barred surfperch, corbina, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, sargo, round stingray, guitarfish, too many (at times) thornback rays and an occasional California butterfly ray (first recorded from the pier by scientists in 1952).
Midway out, you can catch halibut, white croaker, yellowfin croaker, queenfish, jacksmelt, topsmelt, butterfish, walleye surfperch, bass, more guitarfish and sand sharks (smoothhound sharks).
At 1,942 feet, the pier is long, and out toward the end you may catch any of these fish but also the more pelagic species like mackerel, bonito, barracuda (today, usually a small pencil instead of a log), small white seabass (usually called seatrout), and an occasional small (firecracker size) yellowtail. The end area is typically also the best area for kelp bass, barred sand bass, salema, rockfish and other rock-frequenting species (including infrequent, but occasional, sheephead). It's also the best area for the larger sharks (leopards, threshers and blues), the biggest shovelnose guitarfish, and the monster bat rays (including one that weighed an estimated 150 pounds in April of 2001.
If the fish aren’t biting just sit back and relax—or head down to the Ruby’s at the end of the pier and have a hamburger, fries and a milkshake. Watch the dolphins that seem to show up most days at the pier and, if it is wintertime, you might even see a grey whale migrating by the pier. The pier is a great spot to simply sit and enjoy the ocean.
Fishing Tips. This can be an excellent pier for halibut, sand bass, and guitarfish. Live anchovies are best, but the bait shop doesn't offer them; instead, try to net some bait or snag a smelt, small queenfish, anchovy, or even a baby mac, and use the fish with a live bait rigging. Mid-pier is the best area for the halibut, especially from May to July (although flatties caught in the winter are often the largest of the year). For guitarfish, try the mid-pier to the end. If live bait (fish-type) isn't available, try bloodworms, ghost shrimp, cut mackerel or frozen anchovies.
The end of the pier can be good for bass including barred sand bass and some calico bass (kelp bass). Generally the spring and summer are the best months for the bass. The end area can also, at times, be great for bonito and mackerel. Generally the mackerel will hit best on a small strip of squid or a bloody piece of mackerel. The larger bonito (some up to 6-8 pounds), prefer a splasher, cast-a-bubble or golf ball with a feather trailing behind it. Late summer to fall months will also see some barracuda. Most of the barries show up at night and your best bet to catch them is generally a gold or silver colored spoon like a Kastmaster or Krocodile. As far as sharks and rays, and many are taken from the pier, regulars say a long cast out from the southern corner of the pier is a prime spot.
The mid-pier area is a good area for fish besides halibut and guitarfish, although the halibut certainly receive the majority of attention from May to July. It is the best area for a number of the smaller species such as herring (queenfish), tom cod (white croaker) and jacksmelt. It yields a lot of yellowfin croaker, some spotfin croakers, sargo, China (black) croakers, and quite a few smoothhound sharks, thornback rays, and bat rays. Almost all of these can be caught on high/low leaders with the bait deciding the type of fish that will hit. Queenfish and white croaker will strike on small strips of anchovy, jacksmelt prefer worms or a small piece of shrimp, most sharks and rays get all excited and goose bumpy when they smell a bloody piece of mackerel or a delicious piece of calamari (oops, squid).
Inshore, and this is the area preferred by many locals, try sand crabs, ghost shrimp, bloodworms or mussels for barred surfperch, corbina, spotfin croaker, and yellowfin croaker; remember to use a fairly small hook, no bigger than a size 4. When fishing around the pilings, try mussels, bloodworms, or ghost shrimp; use a bait holder-type hook for the bloodworms and mussels, a Kahle-type hook for the ghost shrimp. These baits will be your best bet for most types of perch (although walleye surfperch like a small strip of anchovy). Best time for the barred surfperch is winter to spring while the large croakers prefer the summer to fall months.
If the pier isn't too crowded, try artificial lures such as Scampis for the sand bass, the already mentioned feathers with a cast-a-bubble for the bonito, and multiple-hook, bait rig outfits for the macs and jacksmelt (although 3-5 mackerel twisting up a Lucky Lura/Sabiki leader isn't so lucky—it often results in the loss of the $2-3 leader).
A few sculpin (California scorpionfish), buckets of salema, and other rock-loving species will be attracted by the rock quarry artificial reef out toward the end of the pier. I say buckets of salema because people literally catch and keep enough of the small fish to fill buckets, although the limit is ten and some of the people are going to face some stiff fines one of these days. This is also the best area for people seeking lobsters during their season with most of the spiny creatures being taken at night.
Although sheephead are never common, quite a few have been caught out at the end of the pier (to 27 pounds); in most instances the bait was ghost shrimp or pieces of market shrimp (although crabs and mussels should also be good bait, and both bloodworms and live anchovies have been reported as successful baits at the pier). If you want to try to catch one of the big-toothed creatures be warned that they only feed during the daylight hours (they sleep at night) and are most common during the winter months.
Unusual fish from the pier have included a deep-water lancetfish, a 27” striped bass (taken in July '00), and a bonefish (taken in February of '01). Although not really rare, basketweave cusk-eels (Ophidion scrippsae) are an infrequent catch from piers; scientific records list at least two of the cusk-eels as being taken from the pier—in 1947 and 1966.
Another truly unusual catch was a 9-pound kelp (calico) bass caught by a neophyte angler in October of '02. He rented a pole, bought some frozen squid, and came back to the bait shop a short time later with the huge calico. Most anglers will fish a lifetime from a pier and never catch a 9-pounder (in fact, it’s a pretty good calico even from a boat).
A fish that was becoming rare, and was considered endangered just a decade or so ago, was the giant (black) sea bass, a goliath of the sea that never fails to startle pier fishermen used to the smaller species. The earliest PFIC report of a giant sea bass capture was of a 143-pound fish that was hooked on Memorial Day Weekend in 1997. Three drops of a treble hook gaff were needed to snag the fish and then four people were needed to haul it up onto the pier. These bass are of course illegal and the smart move would have been to simply cut the line when the angler saw what it was. Instead, the determined angler headed up the pier dragging his catch behind him—only to meet a game warden coming down the pier. It was a TRULY DUMB act since the fine is around $2,000.
Then, in the fall of 2002, several were taken during September and October—including one that most of the regulars said would have topped 200 pounds if not released. Since then there are almost regular reports of anglers hooking the large bass at the pier and occasional stories of knuckleheads who think they should keep them. By the way, Fish and Game “sting operations” are run fairly often at the pier so don’t join that group of knuckleheads.
Another giant, although of a quite different species, is the Humboldt squid and every few years will see a run of the large cephalopods at the pier. One such run, although short lived, took place in May 2007 and resulted in the usual crowds and excited anglers hooking the large (up to around 30 pound) squid. A cousin cephalopod, although of a much more diminutive size, are the small octopus that are sometimes encountered while fishing at night from the end section, especially in the winter months.
Another unusual catch, again not a fish, was a tropical turtle that was caught by a startled angler on July 4, 2000. The creature was netted, the hook removed, and the big fellow (or girl?) was gently lowered back down to the sea.
Persevering twins reap late reward of one giant lobster
It was another marathon Saturday with dad, starting with a 6:30 a.m. tee time and finishing at midnight at the Oceanside Pier. But it turned into a very special day for Blake and Garett Spencer, a pair of 9-year-old twins who teamed with their father, Todd, to catch a lobster of a lifetime.
“Saturday is my day with the boys, and we started with 18 holes at Temeku (Golf Course),” said Escondido’s Todd Spencer, manager of a collection agency. From there, it was on to Oceanside Pier for some hoop-netting for lobsters, an activity the boys later told their dad they’d pick over playing video games.
“This was only our second time hoop-netting,” Spencer said. “We went at the end of last season and fished off Ocean Beach Pier. We didn’t get anything, but the boys loved it.”
Last Friday, the boys asked their father: “When are we going lobster hunting again? Spencer promised they’d go after his golf outing the next day. They packed their rig with items that don’t necessarily go together like ham and eggs: dad’s golf bag and gear, a couple of hoop nets and 2 1/2 pounds of mackerel for lobster bait.
Golf and hoop-netting, an outdoorsman’s daily double, for sure. Golfing done, Spencer said they arrived at the Oceanside Pier at 6 p.m. and started fishing the windward side of the pier. “We were the only ones with hoop nets, and I was beginning to think the Oceanside Pier wasn’t the right place to hoop-net for lobsters,” Spencer said.
He turned to his boys after a few hours of not getting anything and asked them, “Would you guys rather be home with your new X-Box games, or would you rather be out here on the pier fishing and not catching anything?” They chose being on the pier over playing video games. This was more fun, and besides, it was quality time outside with dad. “That made me feel pretty good,” Spencer said. “I’m from Northern California. I grew up in the foothills of Yosemite, out in the country. My kids are city kids, but they have the same interests I have. They love being outdoors.”
Shortly after their talk, Spencer switched to the leeward side of the pier, and the change produced two short lobsters, each about 1/4-inch short, just after 10 p.m. They sent them back like good sportsmen. Another pick of the net produced a giant spider crab, about a 6- or 7-pounder, Spencer said. He was about to throw it back, but a man told him to keep it because it was very good eating.
“It looked nasty, but he said it was good,” Spencer said. “I cooked it later, and it not only looked nasty, it tasted nasty. Next time, it’s going back into the water.” The spider crab provided a thrill to Spencer and his boys, and since it was getting close to midnight, Spencer felt it was time to go.
But then Spencer heard the cry of, “C’mon dad, one more pull, one more pull before we go.” “One more pull” to a hoop-netter is what “one more cast” is to a fisherman, what “one more shot” is to a bird hunter. Spencer gave in. They made a set, left it for a while and made one more pull.
“It was the last pull of the night,” Spencer said. And what a pull. As the net came up, Spencer and his boys couldn’t believe their eyes. There in the net was what Spencer later called the “mutant lobster.” He never weighed the giant crustacean, but, including its antennae, the giant bug was at least 46 inches long, nearly as tall as his boys, who are 56 inches tall. He estimated it at 15 pounds.
California spiny lobsters have been known to go as high as 25 to 30 pounds. Biologists figure a lobster that big could be anywhere from 50 to 150 years old.
“I have a friend who dives, and he’s saying it’s a minimum of 15 pounds,” Spencer said. “I wish now I would have taken it to a supermarket or somewhere and weighed it,”
Spencer and his boys celebrated the next day with a lobster feast. “You know how people say the big old lobsters are tough and not good eating,” Spencer said. “That’s not so. This lobster was tender and sweet. Really god eating.”
Looking back, Spencer said he likely would have quit around 9 p.m. had the boys chosen to go home to play video games. “It was all because they wanted to stay,” Spencer said. “It was our day out. And what a fantastic day.”
—Ed Zieralski, Outdoors
San Diego Union-Tribune, October 20, 2002
Date: February 22, 2001
To: Ken Jones
From: Chuck Stoianovici
Subject: Bonefish at Oceanside
On 2/19/01 my friends and I were fishing at Oceanside Pier. At 7:23 AM we caught a 13-inch bonefish using a chunk of mackerel. I know you’re a big fish fan so I wanted to let you know.
No boats necessary
Dedicated pier patrons are proud and happy to spend their days fishing from California's shoreline pilings
Basketball has its gym rats, golf has its range rats and, yes, fishing has its very own pier rats.
They are a special breed of angler, these fanatics who fish from pilings, whether they be concrete or wooden. Pier rats don't care.
“Our motto is no boats, no kayaks and no freshwater for posts on our board,” said newby pier rat Garth Hansen of Escondido. Their message board is on www.pierfishing.com.
In his excellent book, “Pier Fishing in California,” Ken Jones, the modern-day Pied Piper of this new breed of pier rat, leads his cult-like followers to 113 piers, including those in the Carquinez Strait (about 20 miles northeast of San Francisco) and West Delta. In his second edition of the book, Jones includes an enlarged fishing-tips section and also details a history of the piers. There's an entire section on fish identification, and he tops it with a section called “The Pier Rats Speak,” a dozen classic posts from the “Pier Fishing in California” message board on www.pierfishing.com.
At a recent get together at Oceanside Pier, Hansen was joined by John Kim of Carlsbad, Reid Mimaki of San Marcos, Rod Mina of San Diego and Rich Reano, the site's Web master from Chula Vista, for some early-morning shore fishing followed by a trip to the pier.
Hansen discovered the group while searching the Web one day. “The fishing report is one of the more useful things about the site," Hansen said. "I'm a beginner, so it helped me with good fishing information and tips. I took my daughter out to the pier the first time. Except for a 16-inch smelt, we got skunked. But since then I've landed my first legal halibut, first legal sand bass and way too many croakers.”
Reano fished from the beach early and, like the others, landed a handful of barred surf perch. He used a unique offering, a size 8 Wooly Worm fly with a half-ounce barrel sinker, a standard Carolina rig. Reano has been the group's Web master since 1997. “We get just over a half million page views a month,” Reano said. “We're small compared to boards like Allcoast Sportfishing, but for pier fishing, we do OK. We have a narrow focus, but still have a lot of views for that.”
There are 8,000 registered members of the board but, as Reano said, “many more lurking out there.”
Mina said the reports and pictures that pier and shore anglers post make the site valuable to those looking for information, tips and places to fish. “Part of it is people want to educate others about pier and shore fishing, but part of it is people want to brag, too,” Mina said.
The group stresses that all pier and shore fishermen follow Department of Fish and Game regulations, a big issue on the state's piers. Many pier fishermen are recent immigrants who often plead ignorance on fish and game laws. They have a reputation with other fishermen for taking over-limits and fish or lobsters out of season. “We place a huge emphasis on rules,” Reano said.
Ben Acker and Bryan Burch traveled from Pasadena to join the others for the rare get together last Saturday. Acker, a sixth grade teacher in Arcadia, is a veteran hoop-netter and pier angler. “I have five younger brothers, and my mom said the only thing we could ever do without fighting is fishing and singing,” Acker said. Acker converted an old baby jogger into a fishing pier buggy that he loads all his gear on for an easy trek to a spot along the pier's rail. As Acker was setting up his gear, a tourist passed by and said: “Do you need a fishing license to fish on a pier?” Acker responded, “No.” And the guy winced and said, “I just lost a $5 bet with this guy because I bet him you needed one.”
Anglers don't need a fishing license, but knowledge of the shoreline structure under the pier is a huge benefit. And knowing how to rig for the various fish is equally important. “It's a sharp learning curve, but if someone puts the time in, it's not that hard to learn,” Acker said.
Acker said piers are the best-kept secret for hoop-netting lobsters. “I've probably hoop-netted more lobsters from a pier than I have from my kayak,” said Acker, who has his own special way of lowering his hoop net. He cradles it under his arm and tosses it the way someone would toss a discus. He got a good 30 yards on his toss on this day.
Down the pier from Acker, Daniel Elrod of Lancaster, another bona fide pier rat, displayed his invention, the L-Rodholder that he uses for rods and even a pulley arm for pulling hoop nets up from the depths. He sells them for $45 to $59. “I'm 46 years old and I've been pier fishing my whole life,” Elrod said. "My dad started me out when I was young." Elrod said he visited Ocean Beach Pier during lobster season last year and asked a hoop-netter there if he'd like to sample his pulley arm device for pulling up his net. Elrod said the man hoisted up 30 lobsters in two hours before the men were kicked off because there was an electrical problem on the pier. “It was the middle of the day, too,” Elrod said. “I mean every pull, every 15 minutes, he'd have five, six lobsters in there. It was incredible because they were all keepers (legal-size) except for one.”
Elrod had his 14-year-old son, Kyle, along with him, doing his part to pass on the pier-rat tradition. “I'm on that pierfishing.com site every day,” Elrod said. “It's an addiction. I like to read what's going on in Northern, Central and Southern California, and it's a great place for that. Everyone has their own style of fishing, their own personality. But by knowing what's going on along the whole coast helps me plan my own fishing trips and excursions.”
Boyd Grant is vice president of United Pier and Shore Anglers of California. He travels in his motorhome and checks on piers. He's a mobile pier rat with a shell. “I'm a full-time volunteer and field representative,” Grant said. “I drive the entire coastline and check out the beaches and the piers. I have over 30 years of fishing every pier in California.” Grant said one of the other features of www.pierfishing.com is that it includes a link to Ken Adelman's www.californiacoastline.org. The site offers up-close and updated looks at beach access and fishing areas. Grant called “Pier Fishing in California” author Ken Jones “the best piling fisherman I've ever seen.” “When we go to Catalina, we get 20 fish. He catches and releases 200 or more,” Grant said of Jones. “I don't care where it is. Any pier, any piling. He's the piling master.” Grant said he loves the entire atmosphere that can usually be found on a fishing pier. “There's a lot more to pier fishing than just hooking fish,” Grant said. “I've found that no matter where in the world we go, when we visit a pier we have so much in common with the people there. Within five minutes, we're talking like we've known each other all our lives.”
As Grant spoke, the Flatt family fished behind him on the north side of the pier. Steven and Melissa Flatt were there with Kalyn, 2. It was a family, glad to join the ranks of the pier rats. “He wanted a fisherman, so Kalyn now is into fishing,” Melissa Flatt said. “This is her first time fishing the pier, but she's caught bluegill and has fished in Yosemite already.”
—Ed Zieralski, Outdoors
San Diego Union-Tribune, January 22, 2005
Special Recommendations. A lot of small, undersized (and illegal), white seabass (generally called seatrout by anglers) are caught on this pier. Please return them to the water and help this species once again become a viable resource. You may also avoid a large fine and the loss of your fishing license!
Face-off at Oceanside Pier
City tries to ease tension after anglers, surfers fight
Oceanside—Adam Beutz sometimes packs scissors in the sleeve of his wet suit when he paddles out to surf at the Oceanside Pier. The scissors come in handy when he needs to cut through someone's fishing line.
Adam, 16, a Vista High School junior, has been surfing the pier for several years, and he has been snagged by fish hooks and tangled in fishing lines more times than he cares to count. On Memorial Day, after Adam was forced to free himself from a line by gnawing through it with his teeth, he and his friends got into an argument with the fisherman who cast the lure, leading to a fight on the beach.
Such is life at the Oceanside Pier, where surfers and anglers have jostled and sparred for decades over who has rights to the same small swath of ocean. Now Oceanside is studying its ordinances to see if anything can be done to reduce tensions between the two factions.
At 1,954 feet in length, the Oceanside Pier is the longest wooden pier on the West Coast. Dozens of anglers line its edges on any given day, their bait buckets filled with mussels and squid, their rods dangling over the frothing surf. The croakers that swim in the shallows are a particularly popular catch. “They melt in your mouth when you cook 'em,” said Zack Oller, 46, an Oceanside construction worker who fishes at the pier several times a week.
Surfers say the pier produces one of the best waves in North County. With every big swell comes a steady supply of barreling water. Although a local ordinance requires surfers to stay at least 100 feet away from each side of the pier, the best place to catch a wave is often at the edge of the pilings—a temptation too great for many surfers to resist.
“When the wave is good there, it's really good,” said Scott Prestie, 44, a surfer who happens to be a captain with the Oceanside Fire Department. “It's just something you can't pass up.”
When the waves are pumping, surfers head out in droves, even if they have to navigate a forest of dangling fishing lines. When paddling from shore, they tend to stay as close to the pier as possible to get the benefit of a rip current near the pilings. Arguments are a daily occurrence. Surfers say anglers purposely cast in their direction. Fishermen accuse surfers of deliberately slicing their lines. “They're all over the place, like flies,” fisherman Bob Sugita, a Vista security guard, said one recent morning, standing on the pier and motioning toward the surfers bobbing in the waves below.
Nate Pitcher, 25, said he nearly came to blows with an angler who hooked his wet suit and yanked him off his board. Pitcher paddled to shore to confront the fisherman but backed off when the man pulled out a fishing knife. “It's an everyday problem,” Pitcher said of the tension between the two groups.
Open hostility between surfers and anglers long has been an issue at many piers in Southern California, although Oceanside's problem appears to be the worst in San Diego County. At Imperial Beach, surfers routinely ignore the ordinance that requires them to stay at least 20 feet from the pier. In 2003, partly out of concern for the safety of surfers, the Imperial Beach City Council banned bow-and-arrow fishing on the pier. At the Ocean Beach pier, surfers are supposed to maintain a distance of at least 75 feet, but they often disregard the rule so they can “shoot” the pier, meaning surf underneath it from one side to the other. Conflicts at the Ocean Beach pier are rare because anglers fish the deeper water, while surfers catch waves closer to shore, said San Diego lifeguard Lt. John Greenhalgh.
Over the years, Oceanside officials have considered and rejected a number of proposals to remedy the problem, none of them particularly practical or safe. One idea—using buoys to create a demarcation line—would pose a danger to surfers because their leashes could become tangled in the buoys.
At the Sept. 28 meeting of the city's Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee, Oceanside lifeguard manager Ray Duncan said he would study the problem and see whether the situation could be improved. The city could increase the buffer zone to 200 feet, Duncan said, or pass an ordinance mandating that anglers and surfers use the water on alternating days. Commission members seemed reluctant to make such drastic changes.
Many surfers say the city should restrict fishing to the outer half of the pier, which would ease tensions because the best waves are closer to shore. Perhaps not surprisingly, the anglers say that proposal is ridiculous. The best croaker fishing is close to shore, they say. They point out that the pier—which was built in 1925 and significantly expanded in the 1980s—was constructed specifically for anglers. Its official name is the “Oceanside Municipal Fishing Pier.”
It was the Memorial Day fracas involving Adam Beutz, his friends and some irate anglers that prompted city officials to take a fresh look at the problem. Even before the confrontation, the Vista High student said, his patience with the anglers had been wearing thin. The previous year, Adam had been hooked by three lines at once, with one barb digging so deep into his toe that he had to paddle back to shore to get it removed.
On Memorial Day, Adam was hooked again, leading to the argument with the fishermen. Before long, one of Adam's buddies was standing on the beach, exchanging punches with one of the anglers. By all accounts, Adam's friend got the worst of the fight. Police didn't file any charges, partly because witnesses gave differing accounts of what happened.
“Half of them said it was the surfers' fault, half of them said it was the fishermen's fault,” Oceanside police Sgt. Sean Sullivan said.
Carolyn Krammer, a local real estate agent who runs the annual Surf for the Sea competition at the pier, said she doubts the problem will ever go away. The two groups have been at each other's throats for years, Krammer said. In the old days, anglers would stand on the pier and toss bottles and cans at the surfers below. “I've seen guys up there just laughing away,” Krammer said. “They try to hook you, like you're a fish.”
Oller, who has been fishing the pier for two decades, insists it is the surfers who instigate most arguments, yelling and cursing at the anglers above. Even though he has been screamed at more times than he can remember, Oller said he always resists the temptation to cast his line in a surfer's direction. “I wouldn't know how to fillet one of those,” Oller said.
San Diego Union-Tribune, October 8, 2006
Author's Note No. 1. At one time the Oceanside Pier had its own Sportfishing operation. One of the old pier items that I have is an unopened package with a wire barracuda leader. The printing on the package states it is from Art & Bill's Tackle Store and says, “Save a Boat Ride—Drive to Oceanside. McCullah Bros. Sport Fishing, Oceanside Pier.” For reservations, one simply called Oceanside 4467. I'm not sure of the date of this package, it could have been anywhere from the thirties to the fifties.
Author's Note No. 2. For many years one of my favorite bait shop owners was George Tasulis who ran the shop on the Oceanside Pier. Each month I would call the shop for a fishing report and inevitably I would wind up spending more time talking on the phone than I planned. Whenever I was in the area I would stop in to say hi and, of course, usually do a little fishing. Alas, age and illness finally caught up with him but luckily I had the chance to sit down with him for a short interview before he left the pier.
Interview with George Tasulis — Oceanside Pier
It's nearly noon on a hot August day in 2003, the sun is shining a little too bright, and you're almost late for your appointment at the Oceanside Pier Bait and Tackle shop. But there it sits, midway out on the pier, opposite the lifeguard tower and helping to form a perfect frame for Ruby's Restaurant out at the end. As you get closer, the irreverent, hand-lettered signs are the first things to grab your attention! “Next bait shop 3,645 miles due west!” “Will work for $35.00 per hour, I have my own food.” “The buck stops here...leave one.” “Cigarette smoking by Chinese spies will not be tolerated...this is grounds for immediate dismissal...Bill Clinton.” “We love Hillary, she's our man.” “It takes a village to raise an idiot.” Then you notice the photographs under glass: large sharks and marlin from other seas and the huge black sea bass caught at the Oceanside Pier—although many, many years ago. Next you notice the crowd near the front of the bait shop and the three men working ever so hard to keep up. Finally, you notice an umbrella and several folding chairs that sit across the pier next to the lifeguard office. Each of the chairs has a label denoting ownership: George with the “T,” The Hankster, and Big Al.
George with the “T” is George Tasulis, owner of the bait shop and one of the deans of Southern California fishing, especially pier fishing. One day I sat down with George and asked him to discuss some of the changes he has seen take place over the years.
The Oceanside Pier itself was of course one of the main topics. His relationship with the pier dates back to 1934 when he was a mere lad of 14. He and his friends would make the all day trip down to Oceanside from Santa Monica. Oceanside was the “primo pier" to load up on yellowtail, barracuda and bonito. Fill up the gunnysacks with fish, ice them down, and head back to Santa Monica. Once there, the wagons were loaded and the boys headed down to the promenades at Venice and Ocean Park to sell their catch. Yellowtail garnered the grand sum of $.50 a fish, barracuda $.30 and bonito $.15. It was hard work but decent money and a good way to make a buck back in those Depression-era days. It was the beginning of a lifetime connection with fishing and the area that today he calls home.
The bait shop itself is fairly new. The pier was rebuilt and opened in 1988, but George has run the pier bait shop for longer than that. He operated the Oceanside Liquor and Bait and Tackle for 25 years prior to the stint at the pier. That shop, first known as Schneider's Liquor and Bait and Tackle, set on the old Coast Highway and was, for many years, the place to go if you wanted live bait.
George says it was a real art getting good quality bait. The specialty was black razor clams taken from the back bay at Carlsbad, and ghost shrimp. He says he had good ghost shrimp then, not the kind you see today. He feels the pumps used today break the backs of the shrimp and that's why they only last 2-3 days. Back then he used a technique taught to him by some Australian anglers. He would go down to the Tijuana Slough and walk around the mud looking for air holes. Once found, he would begin to stomp on the holes (sounds like an Australian jig) and pretty soon the shrimp would come to the top where he and his buddies would grab them. The shrimp were kept in saltwater tanks and would last for a month. However, he also says that during peak periods the shop would sell as many as 500-1,000 dozen shrimp a week, so they rarely stayed in the shop for a month. The razor clams, by the way, are long gone, and it isn't worth the trip down to the Tijuana Slough.
Today the only live bait he sells is bloodworms and they are flown in from Maine. What about live anchovies? “Impossible, the city wants $18,000 to run a saltwater line from the front of the pier to the bait shop.” What about fresh mussels? “No, we have flash-frozen mussels from Japan and Korea, they're easier to use and just as effective." Other baits? “Frozen squid, Pismo clams, shrimp, mackerel, razor clams (from the north), and salted anchovies.”
How is fishing on the pier? “It's still good at times but nothing like it used to be. Too many people break the laws today and they keep too many fish. People will fill a bucket with perch, salema, herring (queenfish), tom cod (white croaker), smelt and other small fish, and some of these species have limits. Many ethnic groups are fishing for food and they keep everything they hook. The Fish and Game tries to crack down on the people but they simply go to the courts in Vista and San Marcos, plead an ignorance of the law, and are let off with no penalty. The judges really don't seem to care. People still catch mackerel, croakers, and perch, but you don't see nearly as many quality fish. Large halibut, white seabass, barracuda, yellowtail and even black sea bass used to be common to the pier. The Department of Fish and Game is beginning to run sting operations at the pier, four so far this year, and they seem more successful so perhaps it will improve. People also are supposed to have only two poles at the pier but many times I'll see a person with 5-6 poles. They'll bring along relatives and claim that they are all fishing, but they're not."
“One good thing that is happening is the reappearance of Pismo clams on the beach. People really haven't clammed on local beaches for over 30 years but kids are starting to find them once again.”
What changes have taken place in tackle or techniques? “There is much more light tackle fishing today. Also, the techniques for bonito have really changed. Years ago you would go to the five and dime store, buy a rubber ball, and then put a torpedo sinker in it. You would then rig a short leader behind the ball with a bonito feather. About twenty years ago I helped develop the idea of using a clear plastic bubble filled with water instead of the ball, and that's one of the standard riggings today.”
Seen any unusual fish at the pier? “Years ago you would see huge black sea bass, some over 300 pounds. In the '40s a lot of black sea bass were caught off the pier and a huge hammerhead shark was caught in 1944. One angler caught an illegal 143-pound black sea bass this year that was confiscated by the Fish and Game. He faces a fine of several thousand dollars. The last legal black sea bass caught in the state was one caught locally in '88 or '89. A guy caught the 350-pound fish while fishing from a freshwater bass boat up by the San Onofre nuclear power plant. He brought it in late in the day and we put it in the cooler. Had to cut off its head to fit it in the cooler and then the next morning I nailed the head back on. It was quite a sight, both the fish, and me, nailing the head back on. It's also ironic that he caught it where he did. Before they even opened the plant we noticed hot bubbling water. They said not to worry. Then we noticed some fish were getting cancers and the kelp was beginning to disappear. It's hurt the fishing in that area.”
“Of course the Fish and Game also screwed up by allowing the Japanese to harvest kelp. There were supposed to be strict guidelines and they said harvesters couldn't cut the kelp too near the bottom. The law was never enforced and the kelp is largely gone.”
“Getting back to unusual fish, once an angler landed a deep-water lancetfish. It was about three feet long and very ugly. That was probably the weirdest fish.”
Got any stories about the regulars at the pier? “One guy was “Corbina” Al Amlick who fished until he was 90 years old. He always wanted small fresh mussels and he would shuck the mussels himself. He always used a certain pound test line, would always fish the surf area, and he would bring up corbina every time. Other people would try to copy him, same bait, same line, but none were as successful as him. His name is engraved on one of the sponsor boards near the front of the pier."
What about yourself, what's the biggest fish you've caught? “The biggest was a 210-pound marlin I caught at Cabo San Lucas. I also caught a 45-pound white seabass in Ensenada. A guide took me out to a kelp bed where he used his machete to cut a path into the middle of the kelp. I hooked and landed the fish right in the kelp. Some of the local officials really wanted that fish for themselves. I was offered drugs and even women if I would give up the fish. But I didn't give it away.”
Any other stories that might interest our readers? “Well, I spent one summer when I was a kid working as a lifeguard in Avalon on Catalina. We only got $.85 a hour but we still made good money. How? When the big ships came in to dock, people would throw silver dollars in the water. Only the lifeguards were allowed in the water and we would sometimes make $200-300 in a single day from the silver dollars.”
About this time, a swarm of lookers and buyers hit the shop, and it was time to stop the interview. Although George is approaching 80 years of age you'll still find him out at the pier most days. He's still watching the fish and still selling the bait. I don't think however that you'll ever see him dive into the water for silver dollars.
Author's Note No. 3. Two major surf competitions take place adjacent to the pier in June—the West Coast Pro-Am and the National Scholastic Surf Association—and parking can be pretty gnarly. If you plan to fish the pier on those weekends (check the newspapers for dates) get there early.
Did You Know? That the Oceanside Pier is seen in the movie Bring It On?
Condition of Oceanside pier raises concerns
Without a tram, visits tough for some people
Oceanside—The Municipal Fishing Pier is the longest wooden recreation pier on the West Coast, but it is too long and its wooden planks are too uneven for many elderly and disabled to enjoy.
“It's always a bumpy ride, let me tell you that,” said Jackie Camp, who uses a wheelchair. Camp is director of Able/Disabled, a nonprofit service and advocacy agency.
Longtime Oceanside resident Patte Prentiss said the planks are too bumpy for her frail husband, so he no longer can enjoy one of his few pleasures in life, fishing off the pier during mackerel and bonito season. Prentiss said her husband, Gerald, 76, was almost in tears from fear his scooter chair would turn over the last time she tried to wheel him down the pier. She wants the tram that used to traverse the pier returned to service.
“They have to find a way,” Prentiss said. “It's our pier. We paid for the pier. We can't use it.”
Until a couple of years ago, the four-seat tram was operated by Ruby's Diner, a restaurant perched at the end of the pier. The tram, which resembled an oversized golf cart, took passengers for a 50-cent fee. Camp said no one has contacted her organization to protest the pier's condition or the elimination of tram service. City officials have asked Camp to meet with Frank Quan from the city Department of Harbor and Beaches on Tuesday to demonstrate difficulties wheelchair users may have accessing the pier.
City officials experimented with a rickshaw on the pier Friday, said Councilwoman Shari Mackin, and they planned to repeat the trial yesterday.
While some decry the elimination of tram service, Dolores Skolimowska, who uses a motorized scooter chair, said the tram really wasn't the answer because it could not accommodate wheelchairs. Skolimowska said she navigates the pier with her scooter “very slowly, very carefully.” “It is very rough,” Skolimowska said. “But I can make it.”
City Attorney John Mullen said Ruby's operated the tram until former City Manager Steve Jepsen allowed it to discontinue service a couple of years ago because of the financial hardship to the restaurant. “We wanted to operate it,” said Ruby's general manager Chris Jones. “We did not want to get rid of it.”
Jones said that city officials told Ruby's that it had to buy a public-transportation license and provide insurance as a public carrier. That was too expensive for a four-person tram. The restaurant had run the small tram from a public parking lot on the east side of Pacific Street down the 1,942-foot-long pier since it opened in 1996.
Most people thought it was required to do so. Mullen said the contract signed with the city in 1996 was “not a model of clarity.” It states that the city shall provide two tram vehicles and the lessee (Ruby's) shall pay the costs of maintaining them, including the driver and necessary insurance. The city was to pick up half the cost as a credit against the rent the restaurant paid the city. The rent is a flat fee, now $87,500, plus a percentage of profits. Mullen said the contract did not say how often the tram was to run. While Mullen and city officials debate how the tram came to be sidelined, older and disabled residents say they still can't get down the pier and would like to do so.
Don Hadley, city director of harbor and beaches, said the city still owns the tram and has asked Ruby's to use it as much as possible to take supplies to the restaurant instead of driving heavier vehicles on the pier.
The pier predates many laws about disabled access...
“It's one of my highest priorities right now to get access to the pier,” Interim City Manager Barry Martin said Friday, adding that “we're looking at several possibilities,” ranging from pedicabs to a return of the tram.
Prentiss said she wondered why the city couldn't just put a 3-foot-wide asphalt strip over the wooden planks to provide a smoother surface for wheelchairs or unsteady walkers.
Hadley said the city has rejected that idea because asphalt destroys wood, although the damage often can't be seen.
Mackin is pushing for an answer because her own octogenarian father, George Thornton, finding no tram, attempted to walk to Ruby's for lunch a couple of years ago and found the trudge too hard on his heart. He needed medication and a lift off the pier from lifeguards. “How terrible was that?” Mackin said. “Scary.”
San Diego Union-Tribune, July 9, 2006
History Note. Oceanside was founded in 1883. Just five years later, in 1888, the construction of Oceanside's first wharf began at the foot of Couts Street (now Wisconsin Street). It was largely paid for by subscription, by pledges, by people hoping to make a buck. Promoters of the wharf felt Oceanside could rival San Francisco or Los Angeles—if the city had a wharf. Work started but slowed almost immediately. There were lawsuits, unpaid subscriptions, delays and damage from storms. In December of 1888 a huge storm tore away several planks from the pier and washed lumber down the coast. Records are not clear, but the all-wooden pier, the southernmost oceanfront wharf in the state, continued to be built. By August of 1889 Oceanside asked citizens to raise a final $4,000 and promised completion of the wharf in 40 days. No one seems to know if the pier actually met its goal of extending out more than 1,200 feet into the blue Pacific. It is known that winter storms first reduced the wharf to a length of 940 feet before a storm in January of 1891 destroyed all but 300 feet of the pier.
Melchior Pieper, owner of the South Pacific Hotel, gathered and saved much of the loose lumber that was left from the storms. He had it piled up behind his hotel and soon began to campaign for a new pier be built near Third Street, the site of his hotel. In 1894 that second pier was built. It was partly constructed from the lumber of the original pier but it was given iron pilings and extended out only 400 feet. It soon acquired the affectionate name “Little Iron Wharf.” The pier was lengthened in 1896 and a proposal was made for lengthening it in 1900 but a new storm damaged much of the pier in 1902.
Pier number three emerged in 1903. This pier was nearly 1,300 feet long and supported by steel railway rails purchased from the Southern California Railway Company. In 1908, lights came to the pier when the Oceanside Electric Company offered to light the pier free for one year. Eventually that pier would also succumb to winter storms.
A $100,000 bond issue in 1926 paid for the fourth pier. It was made of wood and concrete and extended out 1,900 feet. It was dedicated on July 4, 1927, amid a three-day celebration that attracted over 20,000 people to Oceanside. The pier and its productive fishing waters quickly became a favorite haunt for anglers.
Angler Fails To Land Fish
Oceanside Business Man Pulled from Pier
Large Catch Wins in Fight For Freedom
Rescuers Save Fisherman from Drowning
Oceanside, July 17—When a big fish, hooked off the end of the Oceanside pier about 6:30 o’clock last evening, decided he did not like fishermen and did not want to leave his happy home in the waters of the Pacific, he came very near making one less fisherman instead of one less fish.
C.A.Peddicord, Oceanside business man, intent upon catching a large fish, bought brand-new fishing tackle, baited the hook with a pound and a half mackerel, and proceeded to wait. He caught it all right, but the fish objected to being taken from the water and proceeded to throw Peddicord over the railing of the pier, break his leg, land him in the deep water, and leave him to flounder desperately to keep afloat until he was saved by Cal Young coming to his rescue in a skiff and getting him aboard. Just before the skiff arrived to avert a drowning tragedy, Jim Donnell, popular high school graduate of this year, made a quick dash for a life preserver near by and threw it to the struggling man. He could not reach it, however, but the appearance of a man below the pier encouraged the drowning man just enough that he continued to fight to keep above water until he was rescued.
Peddicord had fished more or less for years, but had never caught a big fish. He got the heavy tackle with the intention of getting the thrill of the big-fish catch. As he waited for the fish to bite, he received instructions about how to set his drag, not too heavy, he was told, and learned how to hold the rod. He waited and waited but the fish seemed unconcerned so he tightened up his drag a few turns and thought it would be easier to slip the pole under his leg and be ready for business if any surprise came. The surprise arrived and he proceeded to reel in his fish and had it fairly up to the pier when it made a dart underneath. He leaned over to see what was happening down there when the fish gave a big lurch and Peddicord made a flip over the rail, the pole acting as a lever, the fish on the long end, he on the short. As he went over he grabbed for support, struck his leg on the cross beam of the pier, breaking his leg halfway between the ankle and the knee.
Just what kind of a fish it was that he caught is unknown. He had a regular jewfish outfit, but it is believed not to have been a jewfish that put on this surprise exhibition of fish ingenuity and activity.
Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1930
By the '30s, barge fishing was also available from the pier. Anglers who craved a little more action than that found on the pier could take the water taxi out to the Oceanside by 1934, and the Glenn Mayne by 1938. In 1942 a terrible storm destroyed 385 feet of the pier; use of the pier was curtailed but World War II was now the main topic of concern and repairs to the pier would have to wait.
The war ended in 1945 and in 1946 voters once more went to the voting booth. They approved a bond issue for $175,000 and construction of Oceanside's fifth pier began. The new pier was 1,943 feet long and at the time of construction it claimed to be the longest pier on the West Coast. City fathers also hoped it would last a little longer than most of the previous piers. Ceremonies included placement of a silver dollar on the last piling as symbol of a hoped-for 100-year life. It wouldn't happen but the pier did last longer than any of its predecessors.
During the late '40s and '50s, before the harbor area was developed, saw the barge fishing that was headquartered on the pier resume in the forms of the Lazy Daze and the Morfun. The pier also served as home base for a number of Sportfishing boats including the Calypso. A 1953 report on Oceanside by the Fish and Game Department said that “No commercial fishing power boats operate here but 6 to 10 men fish from skiffs and deliver to a market at the Oceanside Pier... In 1952 three party boats and four charter boats operated here with two barges anchored off the town.”
New storms would come and new storms would do their dirty deeds. A 600-foot section of the pier's end was destroyed by large waves in 1978 followed by an additional loss of 90 feet in 1982. Finally, after a fire on the pier, the pier sat in ill-repair for several years. The end was missing, there were few facilities, and many people began to question if it would ever regain its former size or glory, to sound dramatic. In 1985 the Coastal Conservancy became involved, helped organize local plans for a rebuilt pier, and gained a commitment for $1.0 million dollars from the WCB and the city. That money was followed by $4.5 million in additional funding in 1987 and a basically new pier opened in 1988. Today the pier is almost as good as new (although $200,000 was used for resurfacing and to repair loose bolts in 1997).
One of the most impressive sights of any pier I have visited on the coast are the thousands of wooden 2x4's that line the sides of this pier from the beach to the seaward end; carved in each is the name of a person who contributed time or money to rebuild the pier. Too bad that more towns do not have similar maecenas to lend a hand.
Oceanside Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: A parking lot is available near the entrance to the pier and metered parking is available on Pacific Street. Restrooms and the bait and tackle shop is located mid-pier. Lights, benches, and fish cleaning stations are found throughout the pier. Snacks can be purchased at the bait and tackle shop bars while a Ruby’s Diner with its ‘50s themed food and servers covers much of the end of the pier.
Handicapped Facilities: The pier has handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is cement and planking and the rail height is 44 inches. Posted for handicapped.
Location: 33.19278 N. Latitude, 117.38583 W. Longitude
How To Get There: From I-5 take Mission Blvd. west to Pacific, turn right and follow it to the pier.
Management: City of Oceanside, Public Works Department.
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