|Oceanside Small Craft Harbor Fishing Pier
I believe it was Art Linkletter who became famous from his observation that “kids say the darnedest things.” One warm summer night in 2007 I was reminded of that saying when a youngster of probably eight years of age approached me here after I had caught several fish—including two black croaker, two sargo, and surprisingly two bonito. He asked me what I was using for bait and I replied that worms seemed to be working. “Are you using those blood sucking worms?” In reply I showed him the lugworms I was using and told him that sometimes I used bloodworms but that they do not suck your blood. He seemed relieved as he returned to his family and that’s when I thought of Mr. Linkletter. Bloodworms can give you a prickly little nip if you’re not careful but they’re not exactly vampires. There are some parasitic blood-sucking leeches but I’ve never heard of them being used for bait. But who knows, maybe they’d be great?
Environment. Since being built in 1967, the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor Fishing Pier has become the favorite of many who used to fish the longer Oceanside Pier to the south. It is a typical small bay pier located over fairly shallow bay water with a mud and eelgrass bottom. The pier is very near to the entrance into the harbor and sits just down and across the channel from the live bait receiver (which typically attract fish). It also only pokes out fifty or so feet into the water so it is as easy for an angler to fish the water between the pier and the rocky shoreline as it is to fish the main channel. The result is a mix of fish common to bays combined with more pelagic species that have taken a wrong turn into the harbor channel. Fishing here can often be productive. Most common species are several varieties of perch, jacksmelt, mackerel, bass, croakers, guitarfish and bat rays.
Fishing Tips. This is a small pier that really doesn't seem to have any special spots, although some claim the left corner is slightly better. I'm not sure I agree (I've caught most of my fish off of the right corner), but who knows? The main channel of water is the place to fish for the largest species. On the top you can try for mackerel and an occasional bonito or barracuda. The mackerel prefer a small strip of squid or a piece of mackerel on a size 2 or 4 hook with a split shot sinker a couple of feet up the line. If a real “mac attack” is on you can also use a multi-hook bait leader. The bonito prefer a feather behind a splasher while small barracuda will sometimes show up at night. When the “pencils” are around they will sometimes hit on a gold or silver spoon such as a Kastmaster or Krocodile. California needlefish, which are often mistaken for barracuda, are common to the pier and also tend to stay near the top of the water. Often you will see the 24-30 inch “needles” attacking the schools of smelt that hang around the pier. Not too surprising, the best luck I've had is using a live smelt fished about 18 inches under a bobber. You may occasionally see a needlefish hooked with a spoon, but most are taken on live bait.
This is a good area for small kelp bass, barred sand bass and bay bass (spotted sand bass). Most of these will be taken on anchovies fished on the bottom but bloodworms are better and don't be afraid to try jigs or Scampi-type lures. Message Board reports suggest that grunion-colored Fish Traps, golden brown bait Fish Traps (3 inch size), anchovy-colored Worm Kings, and lime-green grubs (with a fluorescent green or yellow leadhead) may also produce. For halibut, net up some small smelt (they always seem to be around) and use them on the bottom with a live bait leader. For diamond turbot try live anchovies, baby smelt, bloodworms or small strips of anchovy. Spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, sargo and black croaker prefer ghost shrimp, bloodworms, mussels or clams, and are especially prevalent at night during the summer months; especially off the left hand corner. For guitarfish, sharks and rays (mostly bat rays but also a few butterfly rays), try squid, cut mackerel, anchovy or clams.
A lot of fish, mostly small, can be found in the shallow waters between the pier and the rocky shoreline. For blackperch, rubberlip seaperch, and opaleye, try using fresh mussels or bloodworms on a size 6 hook. Large jacksmelt will hit number 8 hooks baited with small pieces of bloodworm fished with a float (adjust the hooks so they are 2-3 feet under the surface of the water); small jacksmelt and topsmelt can often be caught on multi-hook bait rigs with size 8-12 hooks. A seemingly unending number of small specimens can be caught next to the rocky shoreline. Simply tie a couple of size 8 hooks to your line and bait up with small pieces of bloodworms or mussels. You never know what you will catch, it might be sargo, opaleye, small kelp bass, exotic looking kelpfish or even weirder looking blennies; I've even heard mention of a moray eel or two. Finally, remember to bring a net or treble-hook gaff when fishing for the larger species, you never know when a two hundred pound mud marlin (bat ray) is going to grab hold of your bait.
Date: August 8, 1999
To: PFIC Message Board
From: joel “patient 1” selt
It's been very slow for the last couple of weeks. There's been some good bites, but nothing is taking. The bait of choice seems to be small sliced up anchovies and small pieces of squid. Gentlemen by the name of Tommy Diaz, caught a 12-pound white sea bass on the bank on the north side of the pier. Occasionally a couple of under-sized halibut would be caught and some calico bass. It's been a little windy in the harbor with some choppy water to go with it. I fish there on the average of two to three times a week. I’ve caught a variety of fish here: big and small, to skinny and huge. Best bet is to be patient and to bring two-rod set-ups with you, Never know what could start to bite. Bait can be bought at the bait shop next to the “chart house’ when you first enter the harbor, or if you have a bait net, you can use that off the pier since bait fish are abundant.
Date: March 20, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Yesterday O’side pier, O’side Harbor
My kid and I headed out early yesterday (we both took the day off) and made bait at Oceanside Harbor. We got over to the long pier about 10AM and tossed some double hooked perch and small smelt at varying distances down the pier, along with some cooked bay shrimp and blood worms. Nothing interesting happened, and the kid got bored, so we headed back to the little pier so she could have some with the perch. She picked up a couple nice ones, and the fella pictured she took home. The only thing I caught all day was that bizarre creature in the pic, anyone know what it is? It was about 2-3" long and completely glommed around a piece of anchovy I had hooked. It felt roughly like an intestine, and was very weirdly malleable. A diver fella who walked out on the pier said he'd never seen anything like it. A couple very nice guys who arrived separately, Justin and Cecil, provided some great company, and we had some fun shooting the breeze. Cecil hooked two, very nice spotfin croaker, and seemed totally surprised by it... I'm not buyin' it Cecil! Great job. All in all, we fished from just after seven till almost seven at night, and I gotta say, the old saw is right...A bad day fishing is always better than a good day working! Garth
Posted by jess4dhalibut
Hey, I believe that is a form of sea slug known as a “nudibranch.” I'm a diver, but in more tropical waters, those are common. I've seen them in the Philippines and Thailand. For me, the water around here is too cold and murky, another reason the diver from here has probably never “seen one.”
Posted by climberb9
Date: May 8, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Oceanside Harbor Pier
Well, today I got a great sunburn and had a nice time with my daughter. The day was bright and there was a light breeze keeping us cool. There were a few people out on the pier, and a lot of kids that Elise went and played with. We showed up with bloodworms, anchovies and squid, and ended up fishing most of the day with smelt. D'oh! I coulda saved the $7 at the bait shop. I had my first attempts at dip-netting my own bait today. The short answer? I stink. I can still catch smelt just fine with my Sabiki, though.
We started with cut anchovies and bloodworms on sliding eggs and hi/lo, respectively. I caught about the smallest calico bass mankind has hooked, a mighty 3” monster! After that, I spent approximately 4 hours without even a bite, shooting the breeze with fellow pier goers, saying hello, and admiring other folks' catch. There were some annoying people, and some noisy ones, and some overly gabby ones, but mostly nice. My friend Johnny was there, and another guy who, last weekend, lost three halibut because he didn't have a net...
A younger guy visiting from Arizona got a mighty hookup, I lent my pier net to the battle. Just the same they ended up gaffing a nice legal halibut, 24”. The kids were spellbound.
There was a nice 24” or so wingspan stingray landed, but it didn't appear to have a tail...was it cut off? Are there rays with no tails?
Well, things started getting better for me, even though my camera batteries were dead and I can't show you what didn't come home with me. I had two live smelt out off the north corner of the pier and one just bent steadily over in a way that screamed “ray!” I spent the next five minutes with a completely bent in half pole as it steadfastly pulled away from the pier, and then made a mad dash at the pilings that I was able to fend off. Johnny manned the pier net and I had a fat 22-24" stingray (I think) exactly like the one the other fellow had landed earlier. It too had no tail. The same fish? You be the judge. My arms were a little worn out from that, so I kicked back for a while after tossing out a new smelt. In about a half hour, I heard one of my warning bells ring, once. Highly unusual. I examine the line, and its moving parallel to the pier... This is a cheaper rod and reel with no drag (long story), so I flipped open the bail and let whatever run with it while holding the line with my fingers...I felt a strong pull away from the pier, flipped the bail closed and BANG! I had a strong hookup. After a brief battle, I had a nice-looking halibut next to the pier. Johnny dropped the net down, and one of the lines holding the net slipped a knot! It was hanging by two supports...and the fish had gotten it's second breath...it trashed it's head after casting a beady eye at me, and snapped my swivel off! It darted for safety...directly into the net hanging at a cockeyed angle...Johnny hoisted the fellow up, and after a quick tape-measure, I had my first-ever legal halibut! I decided, this one time, to keep it.
We stayed for a while after that, then headed home. I got some taters and various bits and readied the wok for some deep-frying. Those were the best-tasting fish'n'chips I've had in a long, long time. I don't plan on keeping any more halibut unless it's a special occasion, or a super-trophy. I took some pictures.
I also caught a Dr. Pepper can. Not so unusual, except that it contained an octopus that had run into the can with my smelt! We got him outta there and the kids lost their minds a bit before sending him home. Great day! garth
Date: June 1, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Oceanside Harbor Pier
Been fishing through April and May on the Little Pier and the action is picking up. We fish Hi/lo #6 or #4 hooks with 1-1 1/2 oz pyramids and 10-15-lb test mainly, and sliders with 1-2 oz. weights & #2 or #1 hooks. There is a line of weeds that follows the shoreline, north and south, inside of which can be treacherous due to rocks, but outside of the weeds its relatively snag free
Halibut, shorts as well as legals, are biting, on just about anything you throw out there. It seems like you simply need to hit 'em on the nose. I've caught on live smelt, whole frozen anchovies, and my daughter got one on razor clams! Live smelt or anchovies from the bait dock across the harbor seem to be the number one bait. Biggest spotted was an almost 30" by a visiting 'Zoner. I either use a slider rig or a hali rig (á la Snookie's rig).
Sand bass, croaker, opaleye and sargo are biting regularly. The largest barred sand bass (this is a tenuous ID, but they match the pics I've seen here and elsewhere very well) was hooked by my girlfriend...sadly a pier net in the trunk of my car, and not on the pier, resulted in the fish kicking off as I tried to handline it up. It looked to be in the 16-18” range, and very fat. The bass are eating cut and whole 'chovies, mussels, bloodworms and squid on hi/lo's, in addition to live smelt on sliders and hali rigs. Spotfin croaker are biting the same bait, and really nailing mussels and bloodworms. I have only witnessed one yellowfin croaker. There's an open boat dock north of the pier that holds a lot of mussels, though it is getting a bit depleted. Sargo and opaleye on bloodworms and mussels. Last weekend the opaleye were out in force, with one kid catching at least a dozen, in addition to about 4 garibaldi.
Smoothounds, horn shark, and butterfly ray are making appearances. I've witnessed and been told about several larger smoothounds, two of which I netted for lucky anglers. The biggest, caught by a nice guy named Tonio, was 43" and 13-lbs. I netted a 41” smoothie that we didn't weigh as well. I believe they're “grey” smoothounds, and the most common bait is squid. The bat rays haven't been around, but butterfly rays are coming up regularly. My pal Joey picked up a butterfly about 26” across last weekend, which I netted and dropped on my camera. D'oh! We also saw a horn shark (my daughter), and a shovelnosed guitarfish come out of the Harbor, both on squid, hi/lo.
Other species seen: white sea bass, short; perch (shiner, walleye, and a red one I couldn't ID), some yellowish colored eel, from 14” to 36”; kelpfish to 8”; large and small smelt to 16”; one fellow showed me a fish and ID'd it as a bonefish, I can't tell you if he was right. There's a fellow who's there regularly and drops crab nets for large sea snails. He tells me they're delicious; I'll take his word for it. Occasionally, people catch lobsters on a line. All the ones I've seen landed were thrown back, though I did see a shell floating by recently.
Authors Note.. Some do it right, some don't. This is a place where families often congregate and at times it is interesting to watch the families in action. In particular, I remember one evening when two granddads brought their grandkids down to the pier for a little fishing. One grandpa was constantly yelling at the kids: they weren't baiting the hook properly, casting properly, or watching their lines close enough. If they wandered off the pier there was hell to pay. Granddaddy grinch appeared to be suffering from the W.C. Fields disease of misopedia. The other “gramps” was patient, never cross, and as nurturing as you could hope. Guess which one got the better attention? Of course it was the nurturing one.
Another angler, a young mensch no more than sixteen himself, was showing a small lad of five or six years age how to fish. Slowly he showed his padawan how to tie a knot and where to place the hook. He explained what bait might work best and where they should put the line. He made the first cast but carefully showed how he had cast, and then made sure the young angler held the pole himself. He had brought a Coleman lantern so they had plenty of light, he had brought a small cooler with cold drinks, and he had brought sandwiches, cookies and chips for food. A small radio allowed both to listen to a ballgame. The munchkin took it all in and was, I bet, hooked on fishing for life.
Special Recommendation. This is one of those piers where an angler can often “chum up” some fish. In particular, pieces of bread will often attract schools of opaleye when they are tossed into the inshore water near the rocky shoreline. Once the opaleye are present, and excited, fish with sea worms, frozen peas, fresh mussels, or dough-ball bait. Chum made from cut up bait—anchovy/mackerel/squid, and tossed down by the pier pilings will often stir up mixed schools of jacksmelt, kelp bass, perch and sometimes mackerel. When fishing in this manner it is often best to simply tie a small hook onto the end of your line and fly line it into the area of your chum, keeping it near the top of the water or down two to three feet. Some anglers prefer to use a small bobber or float to help maintain the proper depth for the bait but it really isn't necessary.
Oceanside Small Craft Harbor Fishing Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Free parking is available on the adjacent North Harbor Drive and restrooms are across the street from the pier. There are no bait and tackle shops, no snack bars and no fish cleaning stations. There are several benches on the pier and an attractive lawn area and pay telephone nearby (which I was glad to see one day when I broke my car key in half while attempting to straighten it out). Limited bait is to be found at the opposite end of the harbor at Helgren’s Sportfishing.
Handicapped Facilities: Although there is handicapped parking, restrooms are not designed for the handicapped. The pier surface is wood planking and the rail height is 44 inches. Posted for handicapped.
How To Get There: From I-5 take the Harbor Dr. exit off the freeway, follow it and it will wind down to the harbor; where the road splits stay to the right on North Harbor Dr., and follow it to the pier.
Management: Oceanside Harbor District.
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