When is a pier not a pier? Although I did not consider the Mole at Avalon a pier the first few times I fished from it, that changed during the 2003 “PFIC Pier Rat Get Together” in Catalina. In fishing from the Mole, and observing it from the incoming ferry, it was obvious it is more of a pier than simply a rocky shoreline or jetty and deserves inclusion in this book. Good thing because even though the numbers will be less, the Mole presents even more variety, and often yields bigger fish, than the Green Pleasure Pier that sits just around the curve of the Avalon Harbor.
Environment. Imagine yourself just arrived from one of the many ferries that carry passengers to the romantic city of Avalon. You haul your bags up the plank from the ship and see, upon touching dry ground, a group of anglers directly across from you. You amble the hundred or so feet over to where they are reeling in fish and are startled by the sight. Straight down from the railing is deep, crystalline water, water so clear that the image presented is that of an aquarium rather than being at the edge of a Pacific island. But there is a strong surge and the leaves of the giant kelp are pushed into your view, leaves several yards long and attached to a plant whose size would seem to rival that of Jack-in-the-Beanstalk fame. And while the leaves reach up and kiss the surface of the water, the main body of the plant disappears down to the bottom of the sea more than 20 feet below. Soon you spot the fish as they languidly swim from frond to frond. Beautiful orange and gold-colored garibaldi, blue-colored halfmoon and greenish-blue opaleye. If you're lucky you might even spot the kelp bass, kelp perch and kelpfish that so closely mimic the colors of the kelp and are nearly indistinguishable from the vegetation itself. Sometimes those species are under the leaves, sometimes they're hanging out on the bottom just a little out of sight. Rarely is a California angler presented such a sight, especially a California pier rat, but here that view is the norm. Rare is the time when the sea isn't clear and the fish aren’t present in somewhat unbelievable numbers.
Many a visitor will wet his or her fishing line and hopefully, if the fish like what they see, they will grab one of the angler's baits or lures. Of course then you have to keep the fish, line, and sinker out of the kelp, which is often a neigh near impossible task. It depends on the area you are fishing, the size of your fish, and the strength of your line, but it can be done—sometimes. A cast out into the deeper water, over and beyond the kelp that envelops the shoreline area, will often yield larger species—barracuda, bonito, ocean whitefish, larger kelp bass, white seabass and even yellowtail, but an even greater challenge is presented in bringing in the fish through the heavy kelp.
Nevertheless, the quantity and diversity presented warrant a trip to the Mole. Fish landed by the pier rats during the various “Get Togethers” at the Mole have included roughly 25 different species including some good-sized kelp bass, opaleye, sheephead, scorpionfish, barracuda, ocean whitefish and a California moray eel. You just never know what you will catch and many of the species are fish that you'll rarely see at mainland piers.
Fishing Tips. Two basic riggings are recommended. The first is a light rigging if you're content to fish down around the kelp adjacent to and under the Mole. What I've used is a light outfit equipped with 8-pound test line (I used fluorocarbon line for its nearly invisible appearance) with two size 6 (or 4) hooks and a one-ounce torpedo sinker. This rigging will yield a lot of hits, although primarily from the smaller species, and is capable of landing most of the fish—if you're able to keep them out of the kelp. It will not prevent some fish making it to the kelp and will not always break free of the vegetation. Switch to a slightly heavier line and you may get fewer bites but you'll increase your chances of landing the fish. Do keep your hook size 2 or below, because several of these fish have small mouths.
As for technique, I keep the rod in my hand at all times so that I can strike quickly if there is a bite and keep the fish headed in toward me. Give the fish a chance to get to the kelp and you might lose them. I sight see some fish and will try to drift the bait into their area, at other times I try to drop the bait next to various fronds since many times fish are hanging just under the fronds and will dart out to the get the bait. If fishing at the end railings of the mole, where you can drop your bait down into the crevices between shoreline rocks, I look for channels between the rocks and rocks that may have holes under them that often hold fish. Drop your bait down between the rocks, let the current sweep it under the rocks, and be prepared for a quick strike. Some fish are mid-depth, some are on the bottom, but rarely are too many fish at the top of the water in this section.
Best baits are pile worms, bloodworms, ghost shrimp, market shrimp or strips of squid. Although the worms will often yield non-stop strikes on the small hooks, realize that the senorita will often strip the hooks in a matter of seconds. As for the ghost shrimp, break them into a couple of pieces if using the small hooks, switch to a size 2 Kahle hook if you want to use them whole (and the ghost shrimp are a good bait for the sheephead). Squid will stay on the hook but yield more of the small kelp bass that seem to cover these waters.
Out beyond the kelp is deeper water and most of the larger species. Here you can expect to be fighting the fish and the vegetation. Heavier 20-30-pound test line is required but it's necessary. Here I would try a couple of size 2 to 2/0 hooks on a high/low setup. The further you cast the deeper the water will be since there's a pretty good drop off in depth. Out past the kelp on the bottom will yield some of the larger kelp bass, larger sheephead, and ocean whitefish. Bottom areas will typically also yield the white seabass and yellowtail if they're around. For most of these, squid is the favored bait. It's a good bait for these species and will stay on the hook during a long cast. Once in a blue moon you may be able to snag some live squid at night. If you're lucky enough to get some, and can keep them alive, they are the primo bait for white seabass.
Some pelagic species are also common in the deeper water. Most of these are near the top of the water so you can either try some type of lure or set up a heavy float rigging (that provides enough weight for the cast but is large enough to keep the bait near the surface). A float rigging also presents more possibility of avoiding the vegetation but you should still plan on losing some of your tackle. Bait floated a few feet under the surface (usually squid, anchovies or cut mackerel) can yield mackerel and the larger species—barracuda, bonito and possibly a yellowtail. So, try the bottom for bass, sheephead, ocean whitefish and a possible rockfish or two. Try on the top for the pelagic species. But try for both with heavier rigging than you would use in the waters adjacent to the pier.
Artificials can of course be used here and for recommendations I yield to DaveMcD who has posted several messages on the PFIC Message Board regarding fishing at the pier on San Clemente Island in similar conditions. In one message he said “I recommended 4” and 6” swimbaits, 3” and 5” curltails, in colors such as Red Shad, Rainbow Trout, Chartruese, Pumpkinseed, and Golden Brownbait; these work well around the kelp (as well as open water) for calicos, yellowtail, an occasional sheephead, and white seabass. Krocodile spoons 4-6” models, and Tady 45 irons (green and yellow combo seems best).” In another message he said “I used a second pole with 10-lb line to cast 4-inch, Red Shad color, Bass Assassin curltails that I rigged weedless with a 1/4oz bullet sinker, and some Mustad, size 1, worm hooks that are blue and have the double 90 degree angles near the eye. I put the angle part so the hook shank comes out on the back of the Assassin (and lies flush on the outside of the back) and then poke the point back through so the point lies tucked up between the two belly flaps of the Assassin. This made it extremely weedless for dragging through the kelp and at first I wondered if this would affect the hooking ability, but the bass proved this didn't hinder them at all. I cast out into the weeds trying to hit the holes and let it sink as far as it would, and then a very slow sort of yo-yo retrieve. The line would lie on top of the floating kelp strands, so I would bring the lure up until it would go over the next kelp strand, and then let it fall again into the next hole. Worked great, got two calicos about 3+ pounds each and a third about 1 1/2 pounds, all while watching a beautiful orange and rose sunset over the Pacific.”
Authors Note No. 1. The Mole (together with the Green Pleasure Pier) has become the annual site for the “Pier Fishing in California Get Togethers” that started in April of 2002. Adequate space for a large group as well as nearness to several amenities led to its selection. It has proven to be a perfect spot. The only negative aspects of this site are that it tends to be windier than the nearby pier and that there can be considerable surge from the waves and passing boats. When you're trying to keep your line out of the kelp you do not need a lot of tidal surge.
As for the fishing, the seven years during the “Get Togethers” has seen me fish the Mole for 72.50 hours and catch 375 fish of twenty-two different species (blacksmith, kelp bass, halfmoon, senorita, sheephead, garibaldi, giant kelpfish, jacksmelt, opaleye, kelp perch, rock wrasse, Pacific mackerel, treefish, scorpionfish, striped kelpfish, crevice kelpfish, Pacific bonito, brown rockfish, kelp rockfish, rubberlip seaperch, olive rockfish, and Mexican scad).
Authors Note No. 2. Raymond Chandler, creator of the famous detective Philip Marlowe (the main character in several of his books), was known for his colorful, unique and non-stop descriptions of people, places and things. In Farewell, My Lovely, he had Marlowe describe a colorfully dressed character: “he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” The same could be said of garibaldi.
When you get off the ferry that brings you from the mainland to Avalon one of the first things you may see in the crystal-clear water by the landing dock are those tarantulas, I mean garibaldi. They’re Catalina’s gold fish and California’s state marine fish (golden trout get the freshwater honor). You’ll see them at the Mole and basically everywhere around the harbor. They’re also illegal to take even though you will almost inevitably catch a few when you’re fishing for the other assorted species that define the inshore mix. They’re pugnacious, hard fighting, and often good-sized but handle them with care and gently return them to the water.
Cabrillo Mole Facts
Hours: The pier is open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Tackle and bait is available a short way away at the Green Pleasure Pier. Lights are adjacent to the mole as are restrooms. Snack bars are adjacent to the ticket office.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped restroom facilities; railings are 42 inches high. Some spots on the surface may not be good with regard to the wheels on wheel chairs.
Location: 34.14066900185003 N. Latitude, 119.19479370117188W. Longitude
How To Get There: Once you get to Catalina you will be at the Mole since it is the site where you embark and disembark onto the ship that brought you to the island.
Management: City of Avalon.
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