|Green Pleasure Pier
How happy the children were to land at the little town of Avalon, and to know that they were to have a month at this beautiful place! They hurried down to the beach and their first choice of amusements was the glass-bottomed boat. These boats have “water-telescopes,” which are only clear glass set in boxed-in places. The glass seems to make the ripples still, so that you can look down, down to the bottom of the ocean, twenty or thirty feet below you. The boatman rowed the children out in the bay, where the water, now green, now blue, was always clear as crystal. On the rocks and sand at the bottom starfish and crabs crawled slowly along or clung to some stone. The purple sea-urchins, queer round-shelled creatures covered with thorny spines, crowded together, and the ugly toad-fish hid in the green and brown seaweeds. Blue, purple, and rainbow-colored jellyfish floated on top of the waters, while gold perch with red and green sunfish swam through the seaweed “like parrots in some hot country's woods,” Retta thought. In the shallow places on the rocks those curious sea-flowers, the anemones, looked like pink or green cactus blossoms. The children never tired of the water-telescope in all their stay at the island. At night the warm ocean waters seemed on fire, since they are full of very tiny, soft-bodied creatures, each of which gives out a faint, glowing light. Every day the fishermen brought in new and strange fishes. The black sea-bass, heavier than the fisherman himself and longer than he was tall, were wonderful, and they could hardly believe that such big fish were caught with a rod and line.
—Ella M. Sexton, Stories of California, 1903
Green Pleasure Pier
If one were a fine connoisseur of piers (instead of wine), a description of this pier might be as follows: a small, easily overlooked, off-the-beaten-path pier; one that offers distinct pleasures and rare opportunity both in species and environment.
Picture the island of Catalina and the harbor of Avalon. Twenty-two miles from Long Beach, it is a short one-hour boat ride and the destination of hundreds (even thousands) of visitors most summer days. Home of glass-bottom boats, yellow submarines, sailing craft of many type, flying-fish excursions, hotels, and restaurants, it is an ideal vacation destination.
Nestled at the foot of Catalina Avenue sits a small, 407-foot-long pier, a pier built back in the early 1900s—the “Green Pleasure Pier” of Avalon. Here you can rent boats, tackle, diving equipment, visit a fish market, or even buy a fishing license (although you don't need one on the pier). A few people even fish.
Once again, picture a visit. You've gotten up early, slipped on some shorts and sandals, and walked down to the pier. It is early and the streets and bay are undisturbed. The water is clear as glass and you can see every rock, piece of kelp, or emergent fish as it arrives. Around you is every imaginable type of boat and, off to the north, you can see the old casino and the coastline of the island. You walk along the railing and look down into the water. Soon you see some halfmoon, and you decide to bait up. You tie two size 8 hooks onto your six-pound test line, attach a half-ounce sinker, and then bait up with a small piece of squid. You drop your line into the water, let it settle near the bottom, then watch the fish check out your bait—first a halfmoon, then a rock wrasse, then a hoard of undersized kelp bass. The number of fish continues to grow until two large golden garibaldi and several senorita appear. Here the problem isn't catching a fish, it's catching the right fish. By watching your bait and keeping it away from the immature and illegal bass (and the illegal garibaldi), you limit your catch to the halfmoon. After 20 minutes two large opaleye appear, each in the two-to three-pound range. Now, you open your package of frozen peas and bait one of your hooks with the peas. The halfmoon are attracted by the squid, the opaleye by the peas; both seem excited by the presence of the other. Soon you have caught two more halfmoon and one opaleye, but it is getting harder and harder to keep the bass off your hook. You finally switch to peas by themselves, action slows, and it is a wait-and-see game, and you can see the game.
Does it sound interesting? It is! However, most anglers who visit Avalon will never sample the pier action. It is simply too close to excellent boat fishing and scuba diving. Why settle for small game when you are so close to the bigger action? Well, it is ideal for youngsters, you don't have to worry about seasickness, and it has a charm all of its own. You may, of course, catch one of the bigger fish that roam these waters but as a rule small game is the main game.
Environment. The bay bottom here is both sand and rock with lots of kelp and seaweed to provide cover for the fish. The depth around the pier is fairly shallow but the bay itself slopes quickly into deeper depths; remember, Catalina is an island. Within rowing distance is water hundreds of feet deep. Because of location and environment, this is probably the best pier in Southern California to catch rocky-shore species. Among the most common are halfmoon (Catalina blue perch), opaleye, senorita, rock wrasse, blacksmith, garibaldi (a beautiful fish protected by the state for many years), California scorpionfish (sculpin), and California sheephead. Less common but always a possibility are ocean whitefish (Caulolatilus princeps).
Small, generally illegal-size kelp bass (calico bass) are almost inevitably the number one catch on the pier as far as numbers but unfortunately you will catch 20 undersized fish to every one that approaches or exceeds the 12-inch minimum size (although larger bait yields larger fish). Grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, jacksmelt and topsmelt, blackperch, rubberlip seaperch, rainbow seaperch, shinerperch and kelp seaperch round out most of the other main species.
At night it is common to have mackerel (Pacific mackerel and jack mackerel) invade the pier's water as they attack the schools of bait. Infrequently an angler will also spot a white seabass or a yellowtail cruising through the water but they're rarely caught off the pier, they're more commonly taken from the deeper water of the nearby mole. The pier may also be the best pier in the state from which to catch a California moray eel (Gymnothorax mordax) although it’s a tossup with the nearby Mole. Last but not least, Catalina waters are home to many big ol' freight train mud marlin—bat rays—and they can be encountered at the pier.
Unfortunately the actual space available for angling has decreased dramatically over the past few years. When I first visited the pier in the ‘60s almost the entire side of the pier was open for angling and it remained that way for many, many years. Now angling space has been lost due to buildings and floating docks reserved for craft of various design (glass bottom boats, submarine, etc.). In addition, a plethora of ropes hang from the end and sides to the various docks. Anglers for the most part are only presented a few feet of space out at the end and even there the ropes crisscrossing the water can be hazardous. During the winter, when the outer dock is moved, and some of the tourist boats are moved, more space is available but from the Easter Week well into the fall space is at a premium. At most about a half dozen anglers can fit in at the end and even then you have to be very careful to avoid tangling your line. I’ve fished it enough to have figured it out; many have not.
Fishing Tips. Anywhere around the pier can yield good fishing but the secret here is to try to use bait that will get you the species you are after. If you're content with the bass, almost any bait will work. However, pieces of anchovy and mackerel appear to be best. You can use hooks size 8-2 but remember that the larger your hook the less your chance of hooking the various perch and perch-imitatin' species.
For the large opaleye, bring your own frozen peas, fresh mussels, pile worms, bloodworms or ghost shrimp. Halfmoon seem to feed on all of these but also love small strips of squid, and the squid will stay on your hook much better than the other baits considering the tremendous number of small fish that will often swarm around your hook. Senorita are the peskiest bait stealers and love to strip worms from the small hooks you're using but you have little choice if you're seeking these bottom species. Rock wrasse love pile worms, bloodworms and small pieces of market shrimp; generally they will follow the bait on the bottom before grabbing it with a bone chilling bite. The senorita tend to grab the bait in the mid-depth range but they may grab it anywhere from the bottom to the top. The perch-like blacksmith and the true perch species tend to hit worms, mussels or shrimp on the bottom. Sheephead definitely prefer ghost shrimp but will also hit on squid and market shrimp. The garibaldi are about the hardest fish to hook but I've found ghost shrimp will tempt them (along with worms or fresh mussels). Unfortunately, most of the bait that is for sale in Avalon is frozen bait, so if you want to use quality bait bring it with you from the mainland.
A tried and true tradition at Catalina is chumming for fish and it also works on the pier. If things are slow, try chumming. Take along a few pieces of bread and break them into small pieces. Next squeeze them into balls and drop a few into the water. Usually it will only be a few moments before smelt will appear. Generally the kinetic excitement of the smelt will act as an attractant for the other species and you will soon have a variety of fish in your spot. Continue to chum with an occasional piece of fish or squid and enjoy the action.
Larger species are, of course, a possibility. Your best bet in seeking larger fish might be to try a live smelt which you have caught with a small hook (or net). Kelp bass, sheephead and sculpin will take live smelt, and experts say that early morning and late evening hours can produce some of the largest, keeper-size kelp bass. If you're lucky, a yellowtail, white seabass or halibut might even decide to swim by while your smelt is dancing its sexy little dance. You never know!
Nighttime fishing is a special attraction at the pier although it is a story with a mixed story. The beauty and personality of Avalon is enhanced after dark with the hills aglow and the multi-colored lights from homes and businesses reflected on the ocean waters. As for the fishing, it sees some changes. Several of the bottom species encountered during the day—rock wrasse, senorita, sheephead and blacksmith—just to name a few, are diurnal species that sleep or are fairly dormant at night. Thus concentrate on the bass and the species that often do show up at night—Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, California scorpionfish, sharks and bat rays. Big bass will come out from under the pier's protection at night and bait (anchovies and cut mackerel) as well as artificials will catch them in quantity although perhaps somewhat less numbers than during the day. Scorpionfish will also hit anchovies but prefer a nice strip of squid and are fairly common at night. Mackerel and other pelagic species (including bonito some years) will swing in around the pier in pursuit of baitfish. They're a possibility much of the year but I believe the long, sustained “mac attacks” are more expected in the warm-water months.
Since the shoreline of Catalina is reported to be the best place in the state to catch moray eels, it stands to reason that this pier and the nearby Mole are the best piers. I'm convinced that some of the gnarly creatures reside in the cracks and cervices under the pier and although I've yet to catch one there, I'm convinced they are available for the taking. If in pursuit, it’s best to fish at night and a fairly heavy outfit is needed because of all the obstructions around the pier. Use squid, baby octopus, a live ghost shrimp, or a piece of market shrimp for bait and be ready to strike if an eel takes the bait. And did I mention the thousand and one obstructions around the pier?
A lot of spiny lobsters (favorite food and sworn enemy of all morays) are also taken out at the end of the pier, especially straight down among the pilings and on the left side of the end area out toward the rocks. They can be a lot of fun but make sure your techniques are legal and that you only take (keep) them during the approved season.
Lastly, sharks and rays are also available at night. Quite a few horn sharks are taken of which most are small. It's reported that at Catalina the adults move out into deeper water during the winter, but come into shallower waters during the summer. Milton Love in his book Probably More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes Of The Pacific Coast says “juveniles occur in relatively shallow (sometimes intertidal) waters, frequently on sand near reefs, often sitting in the depressions made by bat rays.” Sounds just like the area around the pier.
Which brings up the subject of the bat rays. During the “pier rat” gathering at Avalon in 2002 we fished well into the nights. On Saturday night I left early, around 10:15 P.M., and didn't see the big bat ray that was spotted cruising the pier by those who had stayed to fish. However, the next morning I was back on the pier at 6 A.M. and a short time later managed to hook something huge (at least it seemed huge) while using my heavier pole baited up with squid. After the initial long run (characteristic of a bat ray) the fish began to sulk on the bottom. Along comes a shore boat and tangles my line on its antenna. The Harbor Master, who was watching the fight, gets him to back up and untangle the line. The fish was still hooked but had, in the meantime, wrapped the line on something—a mooring line from a nearby boat or kelp—I'm not sure. Whatever the obstacle in the water, it prevented me from bringing the fish in and after an additional five or so minutes the fish took off and the line parted. Was it a big white seabass or halibut, or maybe a throwback from Catalina's piscatorial history, a giant black seabass? I'll never know but I believe it was one more large bat ray lost to the elements. And, with the number of boats, mooring lines, docks and pilings under and around the pier, it probably will be a miracle if you're able to land one of these big beasties. But they're there.
Authors Note No. 1. This pier, as well as the nearby Cabrillo Mole, was the setting for the first “Pier Fishing in California Pier Rat Get Together.” It took place in April of 2002 and attracted an eminent group of dedicated, enthusiastic and intelligent pier anglers from the web site. Coming from as far north as San Francisco, and as far south to San Diego, we had a chance to fish together, socialize and put the faces to the names we had seen on the Message Board. It was one of the most enjoyable experiencing of my pier fishing career and led me to designate Avalon as my personal Brigadoon (or perhaps El Dorado), and to give the nod to this small pier as my favorite pier. The gemutlich (warm and congenial) fellowship shared by the pier rats during the limited time we had together provided frabjous (better than fabulous) memories that will last a lifetime. Since then, the April Get-Togethers (just before motel rates go up) have become an annual event.
As for the fishing, the seven years of “Get Togethers” have seen me fish the pier for 107.75 hours and catch 1276 fish of sixteen different species (kelp bass, senorita, Pacific mackerel, rock wrasse, jack mackerel, sheephead, Pacific sardine, blacksmith, shinerperch, halfmoon, scorpionfish, jacksmelt, garibaldi, opaleye, ocean whitefish and island surfperch. Non-fish included several lobster, a huge spider crab, and a large octopus). Mostly small to mid-sized species but still a lot of fun
Author's Note No. 2. What are the odds? In 1999, friends pushed a Matthew Keer into the water from one of the Green Pleasure Pier’s docks as a prank. Turned out to be a sad dunk because he lost his Texas A&M class ring (I assume he wasn't too thrilled by the prank). A year later, at the 2000 Avalon Underwater Cleanup Day, California Diving News publisher Dale Sheckler found the ring in the pier's waters. However, he had trouble reading the inscribed name on the ring and was forced to submit a partial name, as well as year, to the college's alumni association. A few months later he was contacted by Mr. Keer who gratefully accepted his ring back from Davey Jones' Locker.
Author's Note No. 3. My first trip to this pier took place in September of 1966 on the second morning of my honeymoon. I awoke early and found the newly crowned Mrs. Jones still asleep. What to do? Well, why not go fishing? After all, this was Avalon, one of the most famous fishing spots in California. I slipped on some shorts and headed down to the Pleasure Pier where I fished for a half hour or so until the boat rental stand opened up. Soon after I was rowing out to deeper waters in the small skiff from which I proceeded to catch some kelp bass, mackerel, halfmoon and an ocean whitefish. Mrs. Jones (Pat) was not particularly amused even though she was somewhat used to it (my fishing) by that time. It did however emphasize from an early point that the significant other in our marriage would be my fishing.
History Note. The town of Avalon was called Timm's Landing (although some used the name Dakin's Cove) up until the time of George R. Shatto, the man who bought Catalina Island (for $200,000) in 1887. Shatto developed the town site and his sister, Etta M. Whitney, gave it the name of Avalon, apparently naming it after a mythical island valley in the Tennyson poem Idylls of the King, the paradise where King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table went to heal their wounds. A 1903 edition of Webster's Dictionary gives the meaning of Avalon as “Beautiful Isle of the Blest,” and “Bright Gem of the Ocean,” so perhaps she was right.
Shatto saw Avalon as a vacation destination and soon set up a steamer service to the mainland, built a hotel, and began to sell tiny, inexpensive lots. Tents were erected as vacation cottages on many of these lots and Avalon soon had a tent city, similar to those found at most seaside towns in California during those days. However, echoing the boom and bust nature of real estate in southern California in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Shatto went broke.
In 1892 Shatto sold the island to the Banning brothers of Wilmington who continued to work to make Catalina a prime destination spot for tourists. They established the Santa Catalina Island Company in 1894 and built a larger tent city. By 1913 Avalon had a summer population approaching 10,000 people. More elaborate plans (perhaps designed as competition for the Santa Monica, Ocean Park and Venice Amusement Piers) were hurt by a fire that swept through Avalon in 1915. In 1919, the brothers sold their holdings to William Wrigley Jr. Since 1972 the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy has maintained much of the island.
A number of piers have graced Avalon's Harbor since the late 1800s. Records talk of piers in the bay as early as 1895 and mention a fishing pier in 1905. The Green Pleasure Pier was basically a gift to the city, being sold to Avalon for the princely sum of $5 in 1909. It had originally been built by the Freeholder's Association, a group of local businessmen, and conceived as an alternative landing spot in opposition to an attempted monopoly by the Banning brothers who had built a pier parallel to the beach in 1905 (and tried to corner most of the tourist business). The other, larger pier was the Steamer Pier that set near the Hotel Metropole and which eventually was washed out.
[An alternate history says, “In February 1909, the Freeholders Improvement Association of Avalon applied to the War Department to build a pleasure wharf, which the Santa Catalina Island Company would construct and maintain. Permission was granted and the pier was completed in the same year. In 1914, the pier was transferred to the City of Avalon.” I‘m still trying to pin point the exact history!]
Whatever its origin, the pier is still the center of beachfront activities. Still, the pier may be best remembered as the site where many of the huge marlin, tuna, swordfish and black sea bass were weighed and photographed during the days when Catalina was a Mecca for big game fishermen. Originally boatman's lockers set on the pier, as did a weigh station.
During the ‘20s, and up until nearly WWII, a number of fishing barges operated from the pier. Included were the Earl Wood’s Barge (1925-1931), Samar (1932-34), the Baitwell (1930s) and the Empress (1936-1940). Tsunami records report a small pier being washed away at Catalina on April 1, 1946 but it isn’t clear which pier was destroyed.
Green Pleasure Pier Facts
Hours: The pier is open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Rental tackle is available on the pier at the Avalon Boat Stand and Joe's Rent-A-Boat (although much of what they have is geared to boat fishing). Some tackle is available at the High Tide Traders near the pier. Bait is available from Rosie's Fish Market at the end of the pier (usually open at 7 A.M.). Fish-cleaning stations are non-existent, but lights and restrooms are available on the pier. There's no parking but you do not need it since all motels are within walking distance of the pier. Two snack bars are located on the pier.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped restroom facilities; railings are 42 inches high.
Location: 34.14066900185003 N. Latitude, 119.19479370117188W. Longitude
How To Get There: The trick here is to get to Catalina. Ships and helicopters make the journey several times a day from the Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point Harbor. Information is available on all of these by calling the Avalon Chamber of Commerce on the Pleasure Pier (213) 510-1520 or the Visitor's Information & Service Center (213) 510-2500. Once in Avalon there should be no problem in finding the pier, which is located at the foot of Catalina Avenue.
Management: City of Avalon.
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