|Ocean Beach Pier
I should have been there (but I wasn't). The date was July 2, 1966, the official opening day for the Ocean Beach Pier. Included in the 7,000 people who crowded the pier that day were local politicians, city officials (including Mayor Curran), and the main man, California's governor, Edmund G. Brown who was scheduled to make the first cast from the pier. The San Diego Union reported the next day that Brown borrowed an angler's rod, fished for five minutes, failed to catch a fish, and returned the rod. The angler decided to move! Just a short distance away, a large white cabin cruiser circled slowly around the front of the pier. On the side of the boat was a large banner reading “Reagan for governor” (and Reagan would defeat Brown that November). It must have been a sight!
The first fish reported caught that day was an 8-inch sunfish (but since sunfish are freshwater fish, it was probably a perch of some type); next in line was a gray shark and then a crab. Not too impressive, but a start.
When it opened, this pier promised to be one of the premier piers in the entire state. It was long, providing nearly a mile of railing space, had full facilities, and it jutted out into the Point Loma kelp beds, one of the finest fishing areas in southern California. Anglers had visions of not only the smaller pier species but also larger game fish like barracuda, yellowtail (generally 5-10 pound firecracker size), white seabass and perhaps even a few giant black sea bass. Alas, although there are occasional glimpses of that promise, most of the days the fish and fishing is much like that found at other piers—fair to good but generally unexceptional.
Personal experience would seem to substantiate those thoughts. My first visit was on August 6, 1966 and produced nothing but queenfish, even if a lot of queenfish. Several additional trips that year produced nothing but more small fry—white croakers, jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, jack mackerel and queenfish. Better results were obtained at Crystal Pier and so it was there that I would typically go unless at night when OB would be open while Crystal closed. Eventually though (in 1967 and 1968) the larger fish did show up—halibut, bonito, shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) and barracuda, in fact quite a few barracuda. So, there are larger fish to be found at the pier but be realistic and do not expect to have the fishing match the size of the pier.
Environment. At 1,971 feet the Ocean Beach Pier is supposed to be the longest concrete pier in the world. It also has a T-shape at the end extending 360 feet to the south end and 193 feet to the north end with a width of 20 feet throughout the pier. The far end extends into the Point Loma kelp bed and is blanketed by kelp much of the year. This can attract some kelp resident species but can also cause a lot of tangles, usually at the most inopportune time—such as when you have a large fish attached to the end of your line. At this far end, where the water is 25 feet deep, the most common species are kelp bass, sand bass, several variety of perch, bonito, mackerel, scorpionfish, halibut and, quite often, California lobster. Occasionally a black sea bass (giant sea bass) will also pass through this area. In August of 1997 a 9-pound baby black was caught and quickly released back into the water. Since then an increasing number of the giant sea bass have been landed. Who knows, maybe it’s the mamas and the papas and their relatives?
Midway out, on both sides of the bait shop, is the best area for the smaller white croaker, queenfish, jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, barracuda, mackerel and white seabass (usually the small, illegal, juvenile fish called sea trout). This area also seems to yield the majority of halibut (spring to summer), guitarfish and bat rays; it was in this area that I once caught a nearly 4-foot-wide California butterfly ray. Another day I got an uncommon, just barely 6-inch-long deepbody anchovy (Anchoa compressa) that hit a bait rig intended for mackerel. I believe there is a reef on the north side of the pier in this area, and that may explain why the majority of the fish seem to be taken on that side.
Inshore, the foot of the pier is built over a rocky cliff area and, although shallow, its location presents exposure to many of the rocky shore species. Here, if tidal conditions are right, high tide with small breakers, anglers can often catch rubberlip seaperch, blackperch, halfmoon, opaleye, bass and less common pier species such as senorita and blacksmith. Anglers fishing at night might also latch onto a moray eel. This shallow area is also a good area for lobster.
The pier receives a lot of angling pressure (more than 500,000 visitor-days of use per year) but, because of the length of the pier with more than a mile of railing space, it rarely feels crowded. Regulars used to include such characters as Halibut Harry, Bonito Man, Buffalo Kid and Big Mama, but the cast and names change with the times.
Something that doesn't seem to change is the antics of the sea gulls. Never leave your bait unattended because the robber gulls will quickly swoop down and grab anchovies or similar baits. Best to cut a piece of bait and then put the rest of the bait back into a cooler.
A final important consideration regarding the environment is the behavior on the pier. One visitor to my web site reported that a popular California fishing guide mentioned that it was unsafe to visit this pier at night due to unruly thugs. This was news to me! Although I had spent many a long night on the pier back in the '60s, recent trips had rarely extended beyond 10 P.M. In checking with the local “experts” it is fairly apparent that there were some problems in the mid-'90s due to transients using the pier at night for their lodgings. However, tactics changed. The police now use bicycles to patrol the pier (thus not tipping off their arrival), and 24-hour parking has been set up adjacent to the pier, which seems to cut down the number of people on the pier at night. Also, and this was a big factor, no alcohol is allowed on the beach or on the pier. Thus it is generally safe to visit the pier at night.
Fishing Tips. At the far end of the pier, in the deepest water, are found some of the biggest fish. Several pelagic species—bonito, barracuda and yellowtail—like the combination of deep water and kelp, while several bottom species—kelp bass, sand bass, sheephead, and sculpin (scorpionfish) seem primarily attracted by the kelp.
The bonito will be abundant some years and be absent other years. In the ‘60s they were almost too numerous and people would complain that they were crowding out the “better” fish. Then, when they did a disappearing act for many years, people lamented the loss of these great game fish. In the ‘90s, and into the new century, there have been good years and bad years. Strangely, several of the last few years have seen runs of micro-bonito, small fish that were uncommon in the past. They’re supposed to spawn off of Baja and no one, including scientists that I talked to, seemed to know why baby bonito were showing up at So. Cal piers. But, we’ll take them! When the medium to large-sized bonito show up, the best rigging seems to be a feather trailed behind a Cast-A-Bubble or golf ball. Micro-sized bonito are young ‘uns and perhaps not as sharp, they will hit bait rigs, often several at a time. But why, since you’re are limited to five small bonito, use a bait rig? One cast might yield your limit.
The barracuda also like the end area but will be found all the way down the pier to the bait shop area. They show up almost every year and are most common in the fall and at night. Nevertheless there can sometimes be great daytime action depending upon how the schools of bait are hanging around the pier. Bets results on the barracuda seem to be with gold or silver-colored spoons like a Krocodile but other artificials are also used with MegaBaits and Rebel Fast Tracks leading the way,
Yellowtail are the trophy fish although most pier fisherman will never land one. However, they do show up most years, generally between July-October, and their appearance can quickly galvanize the pier rats into a state of apoplexy. Pier rats are soon tossing out whatever metal creations happen to be found in their tackle boxes, hoping to lure the ‘tails into their coveted section of water. The yellows for their part usually show just enough ‘tail to entice and tease the excited anglers. Then they disappear. Still it is fun while it lasts and adequate numbers are caught most years to keep the hope alive. Several methods are time proven: (1) Live bait, a still lively jack mackerel or Pacific mackerel (small) that you've caught with a bait rig. Use a sliding leader or a leader with a float. (2) A leadhead jig that has a strip of mackerel 1 1/2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide attached to the hook. (3) Artificial lures such as Crippled Anchovies, MegaBaits, Rebel Fast Tracks and Buzz Bombs.
Pacific mackerel are common from the end almost into the shallows. If you're after the macs, the most common rigging is a single size 4 or 2 hook baited with a strip of squid or a piece of mackerel. A few feet above the hook is a small split-shot sinker. Many people also use bait rig leaders (Sabiki and Lucky Lura being most common). The bait rig is also good if Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel) show up. I've heard reports, but never seen pictures, of a few bullet mackerel (Auxis rachei) being landed at the pier during warm water years. As for myself, I usually just use a high/low rig with size 4 hooks and a torpedo sinker. Two macs at a time quickly fills the bait cooler and I don’t feel like spending the time untangling a bait rig or, even worse, having a $3-4 rig tangled into a Gordian knot that requires an Alexander-like slice through the mess with a sword, ahh bait knife. That $3-4 might buy one gallon of gas, enough to get to the next pier.
Most of the biggest sharks and rays are also caught at the end. Best bait is squid or a piece of bloody mackerel fished on the bottom; be sure to use fairly strong (30+) test line and tackle. Shovelnose guitarfish, bat rays, and some of the bigger sharks (like threshers) are common. As is true at almost every pier, the nighttime hours are the best if you're seeking these denizens of the deep.
A reputed hot spot for the shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) is the left branch at the very end of the pier (called “Spyglass Point” by some anglers and “Shark Alley” by others). One angler reported that a right side corner-cast, as far out as he could cast at a 45 degree angle, often produced large shovelnose sharks with many exceeding 30 pounds in size. In May of 2006 a nearly 8-foot-long, 112-pound 7-gill shark was caught by Omar Garcia in the same area. In September of the same year a 7-foot, 100+pound thresher shark was landed by Inez Chavarin.
The left end corner also seems to have been the most frequent spot for catching sheephead and many of the buck-toothed critters have been taken. Best bait for them seems to be either live ghost shrimp or pieces of market shrimp. In 2006 a legal-sized salmon was also taken in this area.
Sand bass, calico bass (kelp bass), sculpin (scorpionfish) and halibut are possibilities while fishing on the bottom or at mid-depth levels out at the end of the pier. I also received a report of a 4-foot-long moray eel taken from this area in May of '99 together with a large reddish-colored fish that remains unidentified. An occasional grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, olive rockfish (Johnny bass) or cabezon will also enter the catch. In May of 2007 several giant squid were hooked from the pier but alas none of the anglers was using line strong enough to reign in the beasts.
When fishing midway out on the pier, your best bet for the larger species is once again live bait. Halibut will often lay in the depressions between the pilings while eyeing the schools of small queenfish and walleye surfperch up above (and a 38-pound flattie was landed in August of 1998). Catch the queenfish (herring) and walleyes with multi-hook bait rig leaders (size 6 or , or make your own snag line (tie 3-4 small hooks directly to your line, about four inches apart). Fish the snag line unbaited, or sweeten it with a small strip of anchovy (or a very small live pinhead anchovy or smelt). A lot of shovelnose guitarfish and bat rays will also be hanging out in these waters feeding on the queenfish (and a 57-pound shovelnose was reported in July of '99). Don't be afraid to try artificial lures if the pier isn't too crowded (I saw a picture of a 30-inch halibut taken on light tackle by an angler using a pearl-colored Fish Trap lure).
Some years will also see fairly good runs of sargo in this area; try a high/low rigging baited with pieces of shrimp, ghost shrimp, bloodworms or fresh mussels. Quite often you will find both sides of the pier loaded with anglers in this area, especially both sides of the bait shop and restaurant. Many are whole families fishing for small herring (queenfish) and they will fill buckets with the small but tasty fish. There is not a limit on the fish and it's a good thing for them because at times they will have hundreds of fish.
A short way out on the pier, just past the breaker area, and where the pier surface ends its descent and begins to level off, is a large, green colored wire cage. This area, primarily on the north side, seems to yield a lot of leopard sharks, some of which have been pretty decent in size (including a 57-inch, 36-pound leopard in September 1997). Fish on the bottom using squid, mackerel or similar strong flavored (and smelling) bait. Don't be surprised if you also see a few shovelnose guitarfish, thornback rays, round stingrays and (mostly small) bat rays in this area.
Inshore, try using either fresh mussels or seaworms making sure to keep your hook small, usually size 6 or 8. If the tide is right, you may be able to hook some rubberlip seaperch, blackperch, halfmoon, opaleye, senorita or blacksmith in this shallow area near the rocks on the south side. For some nice-size opaleye, try using frozen peas which have been allowed to thaw; place just enough peas on the hook to cover the hook. Fishing on the north side of the pier may yield a few barred surfperch but generally action is slower than at piers built over strictly sandy bottoms.
Sometimes the big 'uns are lost. In August of 1998 an angler lost a HUGE bat ray which most of the locals felt had to be in the 200-pound range. They said the wings appeared to be 8-foot across but even though it was hooked with two separate treble-hook-gaffs, the anglers couldn't get the mammoth fish up onto the pier and eventually it was lost. I've also heard reports, although they're unverified, of an angler catching a diamond stingray (Dasyatis dispterura) which was nearly 5-foot in length and 100 pounds in weight.
Special Recommendation. Since it is a long way out to the end of the pier, most regulars have constructed carriers on wheels which can hold their rods and reels, tackle box, bait bucket (be sure to bring one here) and any other miscellaneous materials they need.
Special, Special Recommendation. Live bait, especially live anchovies are the best bait by far for most species. But increasingly, as the years go by, less and less live anchovies are available at bait shops. That luckily isn't the case here; most of the time anchovies and/or sardines are available for bait. However, sometimes that isn't the case. What should you do? Usually here, and often at Imperial Beach, Embarcadero Marina, and Shelter Island, anglers will be using drop nets to capture live anchovies and smelt. Most of the time these anglers will be glad to share their live bait, if you ask. Many anglers seem hesitant to ask and then watch enviously as others catch the fish, especially those using the live bait. Not only do I feel it is the best approach for fishing, but I feel it helps bridge the communications gap that sometimes seems to exist among our state's diverse mix of anglers.
Date: September 12, 2000
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
Subject: Ocean Beach Pier Yellowtail
I'm from here in the South Bay. So the piers I fish the most are the Redondo Piers and occasionally Belmont Pier. As you might expect my usual quarry consists of mostly mackerel and some bonito. Anyway, my uncle calls me up and tells me to come down to San Diego again for some pier fishing (I was just there the previous week). So we went down to Ocean Beach Pier. Everyone was catching small mackerel and queenfish. So we decided to target the same species. The water was full of bait! We were there casually catching queenfish and small macs till they swam by--small yellowtail--the same ones I saw the previous week! Yes, YELLOWTAIL--not bonito, not barracuda--YELLOWTAIL. I point them out to my uncle and he casually says, "Looks like yellowtail." What I really find mind-boggling was why wasn't anyone trying fishing for them! As they swam by, the anglers made comments to each other. Everyone was so intent on catching queenfish. Queenfish is delicious, but it's no yellowtail. Coming from the Redondo Piers I was blown away by what I had witnessed two weeks in a row--yellowtail visiting piers. Anyway, I decided to try for them. A pier caught yellowtail of any size is a trophy fish. I tied on a Kroc on ten-pound line with medium tackle. I casted it out a few times and caught a few macs. Then something viciously hits it and breaks it off. I don't think it was a Mac. However, whether it was one of the yellowtail I had seen cruising the pier I don't know. But whatever hit it killed that Kroc.
Date: August 13, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
From: OB Pier Rat
Subject: The OB Space Man
Back in the late 60s and early 70s there was this older guy in OB called the Space Man. He claimed to be in touch with aliens who would arrive in a spaceship and rescue anyone he assigned a “Space Number” to, when California broke off the mainland and sank into the ocean. Anyway, he ran around downtown OB and out on the pier assigning “Space Numbers.” I'll never forget the day I got mine, I was about 10 years old, fishing on the OB pier, and he walked up to me, put his hand on my head, stared at me with wild glaring eyes and hair sticking up and said “You are Pink 99!!” I think I covered the length of the OB pier in record time getting the heck out of there and ran home bawling my head off. My Dad explained to me what the deal was, apparently he was an ex-UCLA professor who partook of the 60's a bit too much... What a character...
Date: September 6, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
From: OB Pier Rat
Subject: OB Pier Labor Day Bonies
Met up with Rod (fishingrod) at 6 AM for a day at OB. We went after live bait with the Sabikis about halfway out first, and were successful at getting a number of small queenfish, sardines, smelt and chovies; of note was that quite a few of the ‘chovies were the deepbody variety. We set up past the bait shop on the south side and were into instant action on the bonito, they were hungry and loved the deepbody ‘chovies we had. We released most of the boneys, but I kept a couple for supper that were deep hooked. Boney action slowed down around noon so we headed inshore. Rod tried his luck with some squid and had quite a few hits. I kept tossing out anchovies under a bobber hoping to hook up with some marauding large fish that appeared to be WSB or yellowtail, but they wanted nothing to do with my dead offerings. We went to assist a fellow who had hooked a large bat ray with my hoop net, but once that Mud Marlin saw that net he lunged for the bottom and snapped off, The guy was using fairly light tackle and did a heck of a job just getting the beast up. Once again the left T was packed with anglers hoping for yellowtail that never showed up, in fact the action was very poor out there, save for a few giant kelpfish. A fun day and great meeting up with ya again Rod!
Date: July 17, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: OB BSB
Saw my first ever black sea bass caught from a pier yesterday... When the lucky guy hooked up, we all thought he had a large bat ray. Hardly any runs and a slow hard steady tug. It was taking awhile so I went back to catching the mighty smelt (sarcasm mood on). I totally missed how they got it up on the pier and only saw it as it hit the deck with a big cheer from the gathered crowd. Some say it was 50plus lbs. but to me it looked more like 25-30 lbs; maybe 36- 40 inches long. To their credit the fisherman and the folks helping him wasted no time getting it back in the water. BUT NO PICTURE!!! As far as I could tell he was using 30-lb mono on a Shimano Baitrunner 4500 or 6500(?) with a quality pole, baited with a whole squid.
Pier Fishing In California Fish Reports
August 1997—Steve, at the Ocean Beach Bait Shop on the pier, says there has been a very good run of Spanish mackerel (mackerel jack) at the pier including some large picture-time fish. Lots of live bait is in the water (herring, sardines, anchovies) and one result has been an increase in the number of halibut landed (up to 26 inches) as well as good-sized sand bass. Several large sharks have also been landed as was a 9-pound black sea bass that was quickly returned to the water.
October 1997—Steve, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, reports that action has been interesting the past few weeks. Leading the list of fish have been smallish-sized yellowtail (6-7 pounds) that have been taken almost daily. Most have been caught on live mackerel and they join a few bonito and the daily dose of mackerel. Mid-pier and mid-depth areas are yielding lots of queenfish while inshore, yellowfin croaker continue to show up in good numbers. Sharks and rays are also active although most have been on the small side lately. Water continues to be rough and dirty from Baja's hurricane Nora.
November 1997—Vicente, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, says fishing has been really good. The main headliner has been bonito which have been making an on again, off again appearance. There continues to be lots of mackerel, queenfish and salema for the bottom fishermen while anglers fishing at night continue to pull in leopard sharks and gray smoothhound sharks. Inshore, the sandy surf area is offering up barred surfperch and yellowfin croakers while anglers fishing the rocky side of the pier are pulling in some sheephead while using fresh mussels for bait. The pier was closed for part of the day on November 1st due to high waves.
June 1998—Bruce, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, reports that the pier is open after a 3 1/2-month closure (about 1,000 feet of the south rail was torn out by the El Nino-storms and the city decided to wait until the storms died down before fixing the railing and reopening the pier). He also said that the fishing is VERY GOOD. Out at the end, anglers are catching mackerel on a variety of live baits including anchovies and sardines, pieces of mackerel, and bait rigs. Sheephead have also made a showing with a number of 2-3 pound fish being caught out at the south corner of the T-end of the pier. That area has a rocky reef that yields quite a few bottom fish. The mid-pier area is yielding up lots of leopard sharks and Bruce said he has already seen four of the tasty sharks that were over 5-foot in length since the shop reopened. Sargo are also making a good appearance with most being caught on fresh mussels. Last, but not least, are a plethora of the smaller species such as walleye surfperch, queenfish, jacksmelt and topsmelt; most of these are caught in the mid-pier area on bait rigs or small pieces of anchovy.
September 1998—Bruce, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, reports that the fishing is WAY GOOD! The biggest news has been on yellowtail and he said he had seen at least seven of the hard fighting fish in the last two days. All were over 10 pounds. There have also been good runs of bonito for the past three weeks. Most of the yellows are hitting on lures—anchovy lures, crippled anchovy lures, and Krocodiles. He says there are also lots and lots of mackerel as well as queenfish and smelt. He's only seen one legal halibut recently but it was a nice 38-pound fish so a few are still around. An angler also lost a HUGE bat ray which most of the locals felt had to be in the 200-pound range. He said the wings appeared to be 8-foot across but although it was hooked with two separate treble-hook-gaffs, the anglers couldn't get it up onto the pier and eventually it was lost. Water temperature has varied from 72 degrees down to 66 degrees.
October 1998—Bruce, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, reports that fishing continues good with lots of variety. Yellowtail are hitting artificial lures at the end of the pier and though most of the fish are firecracker size, 5-6 pound fish, they're a blast (get it) to catch. Most are being caught on leadhead jigs which have a strip of mackerel, 1 1/2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide attached to the hook. Lots of mackerel continue to be caught with lesser numbers of kelp bass and sand bass. Morning fishermen continue to snag queenfish, jacksmelt and sardines with bait rigs while only an occasional, mostly undersized halibut is being landed. Shark fishing remains strong but surprisingly it has been almost all leopard sharks; few if any gray smoothhounds. Inshore, anglers continue to pick up some opaleye by the rocks while using frozen peas, and a few blackperch and rubberlip perch while using mussels. Corbina are falling to mussels and ghost shrimp in the surf area and lately a lot of big mullet have been snagged by anglers watching for them in the surf area.
June 1999—Got two reports from Buckwhip. On the 24th he said, “been out about five times this month. Caught a bunch of mackerel using mackerel and anchovies. At end of the pier, using anchovies on the bottom, I caught about 8 sand bass one day and 6 the other. Some were nice size. Saw a guy using shrimp at the end of pier and he caught like 10 nice size perch in about 2 hours. He also caught a huge red looking fish (not sure what it was). Of course the lobsters are always biting but they aren't in season. Haven't seen anyone catching sharks or rays at night like usual. Other than that though they are hittin' and being caught.” On the 27th he added, “I was there yesterday and people were catching mackerel left and right and I caught a few sand bass. What I wanted to tell you is this guy next to me caught an eel at least 4 foot long. It was crazy. He said it was a ‘morrow eel’. I have never seen anyone catch one before. He caught it using mackerel on a big hook. Nobody there wanted it so he threw it back. I took a picture of it and also a big sheephead that he had caught.”
November 2002—Anchovie reports “Night Fishing on OB Pier is slow with an occasional smelt. Lobster catches are mostly shorts but they’re definitely being caught. One person caught a legal lobster at the south end Sunday night 10/29/02. Watch out for the sea lions they are expert bait stealers and will take full advantage of an unsuspecting fisherman fishing for lobsters. A waitress at the pier cafe reported that black sea bass were being caught at the north end of the pier. (Nice to hear they’re making a come back).”
November 2003—Paul, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, reports good action on bonito and barracuda during the past two weeks. He said the bonies are hitting on bait and lures. If using bait, try cut anchovy fished about ten feet below the surface. If using lures he recommends the following: 5/8 oz. Dorado Special Krocodile; 1-2 oz. Crippled Anchovy—green or blue; Chrome Krocodiles. Ditto for the barries. Inshore a few perch are showing up and a few sharks and guitarfish are hitting on the bottom.
October 2004—Paul at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, reports decent numbers of yellowtail taken from the pier, as many as half a dozen a day, (although it’s beginning to slow). Most are the small 5-pound or so firecracker-size fish and most are taken on Cast-a-Bubbles, Krocodiles or Broken Back Rapalas. More common are mackerel, bonito and the smaller species—croakers, perch, small bass and salema
June 2006—Billy Burns, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, reports a good mix of fish led by BIG bonito in the 5-7 pound range (biggest he’s seen at the pier). The fish are falling mainly to lures including Krocodiles, MegaBaits and splasher rigs. Lots of big 2-3 pound mackerel are also on top so it’s a great time to be there. Only a few halibut have shown recently but some barracuda have also made an appearance along with a few calico (kelp) bass and good numbers of sculpin (scorpionfish). Inshore, some rubberlip perch are making an appearance while buckets of queenfish are taken near the pump station most mornings by the herring (queenfish) fishermen. Scads of shovelnose shark have also shown up and the leopard sharks appear to be spawning with good numbers of the sharks also being taken. Last but not least, a legal-size salmon was taken from the pier on 5/29.
July 2006—Billy Burns, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, reported an amazing day on June 30. He said the water was up to 70 degrees and huge balls of bait, fist smelt and then anchovies, started to show up. The water was an emerald green with pelicans diving into the schools of bait when barracuda showed up. He started throwing artificials at them and starting catching the ‘cudas, most of which were sub-legal but every one in ten or so was legal. He started throwing swim baits in blue w/silver speckles but the fish tore up those baits. He then switched to Rebel Fast Tracks (5 1/2 inch blue w/red bottoms) and was up over 40 fish when I first talked to him that day. Don’t know how many he wound up with (and returned) but he was selling the lures as fast as he was catching the fish and had already run out of the Rebels. He said he was hoping for a return of the bonito that were there last month but largely had disappeared. Mackerel are still around as are quite a few keeper calicos (kelp bass) and quite a few halibut (although most are shorts; there only getting about one keeper-size fish every couple of days).
September 2006—Billy Burns, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, says most people have been concentrating on the bonito with bigger fish starting to show up. The bonies are mainly hitting lures (i.e., MegaBaits and feathers although some are even being taken on Sabiki rigs). He says the mackerel action has changed; it’s now mainly a sunset bite (which has been good). Other than that it’s been a little slow with some corbina and croakers inshore, a few barracuda out toward the bait shack, lots of calico bass (some up to 3-pounds), but only a few halibut (all shorts). He says even the queenfish seem to have left with all the mackerel and bonito in the water. He says there are huge amounts of sardines and smelt in the water and too many spiny lobsters (they’re still not in season). Unusual fish/creatures lately have included a small yellowtail out toward the end, a decent-sized black seabass (returned), and a sea turtle estimated to weigh 50-60 pounds (before it broke the line).
November 2006—Billy Burns, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, says things have slowed although there is still a good mackerel bite—at night—along with some decent lobster action. However, you’re lucky to get one legal bug for every dozen pulled up. He says the bonito come and go while halibut action is slow (although a 44” flattie was taken by Justin Ryan). Queenfish (herring) are still available most days while some days have seen a good bass bite on both calicos and sandies down by the pump shack. Most of the bass are hitting on frozen anchovies.
March 2007—Billy Burns, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, says there’s been a mixture of fish lately. Inshore, some spotfin croaker are showing up along with some barred surfperch. Mid-pier to the end it’s been a mixture—lots of queenfish and lesser numbers of baby barracuda and oddities like a 20” sheephead and a spotted bay bass. As far as the lobsters, it’s been hard due to the winds.
May 2007—Billy Burns, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, says it’s been kind of a strange month with lots and lots of sharks with everything from 6-inch baby leopards to 5-foot-long leopards (along with a wide range of gray smoothhounds and some big bat rays). It’s been fairly dead on croakers inshore but out at the end they’re beginning to see bait balls of sardines and something has been chasing them (so he’s hoping bonito may soon show up even though it’s a little early for them). Mackerel are making an appearance but the action is all at night so unless you are there at the right time you won’t see the macs. Strange fish of the month was the largest sculpin (scorpionfish) Billy has ever seen and it was a hitchhiker fish that grabbed a herring (queenfish) that was hooked by an angler.
June 2007—Billy Burns, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, says fishing isn’t hot but there’s been quite a bit of variety to tempt anglers. Inshore, the yellowfin croaker bite remains strong. Mid-pier there’s lots of herring/queenfish (some pretty good sized), some leopard sharks, and a few halibut (try live queenfish as bait). Just past the bathrooms anglers can find some opaleye (try shrimp) while a few needlefish and even a treefish was caught one day. Highlight of the month was the appearance (just for a day) of Humboldt squid while the high numbers of sardines seem to be attracting quite a few pods of dolphins into the pier area. Last but not least, there’s a good mackerel bite but typically it starts up about sunset and only lasts for a few hours. A few barracuda also show during the evening hours.
September 2007—Billy Burns, at the Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop, says there’s still quite a few bonito around. He says you can almost set your watch by their visit: 6-9 am in the morning and 6-7:30 pm or so in the evening. Between 7:30 and 8 pm the mackerel move in and when that happens the bonito bite turns off. Most of the bonito are small but fish to 4 ½ pounds have been landed. There’s also been a good number of big, 16-22” calicos caught out at the far left corner of the pier. Most are caught on strips of bonito. Billy said there have also been some nice sheephead landed, a 4-foot moray eel, and a huge butterfly ray estimated at 100 pounds (but that’s too high). One hitchhiker yellowtail also was briefly hooked when it grabbed a hooked micro-bonito.
Author’s Note No. 1. I found the following description of the pier in the “Lonely Planet” Guide to Los Angeles & Southern California (2005): “The half-mile long Ocean Beach Pier has all the architectural allure of a freeway ramp.” Well sure, it does sort of look like a freeway ramp if you’re standing at the shoreline approach to the pier on Niagara Avenue. But listen, what other freeway ramp provides bass, bonito, barracuda, and an occasional 7-gill shark? I might prefer an old wooden pier but “ya gots to take what you can get.”
History Note. The town of Ocean Beach was laid out and named in 1887-88 by developers Billy Carlson and Frank Higgins. They built a resort hotel, the Cliff House, subdivided their land into lots, and used promotions such as band concerts and mussel roasts (one reason for the early name “Mussel Beach”) to drum up business. But the site was a long 2-1/2 hour carriage ride from downtown San Diego, too far for most. Eventually the partners rented a locomotive and began the Ocean Beach Railroad. Passengers could take a ferry from downtown San Diego to the Roseville Wharf on Point Loma where they connected by train to the Cliff House. However, an economic downturn stalled growth. Eventually the Cliff House burned down following a fallen chandelier in 1898 and Carlson sold the development to an Eastern financier.
On July 4, 1913 the Wonderland Amusement Park opened at the north end of Ocean Beach on the sand between Voltaire and Abbott Streets. The park had a large roller coaster, roller-skating rink, merry-go-round, dance pavilion and children’s playground; 22,000 lights outlined the buildings. The park was a popular spot to take the family until 1916 when most of the park was washed away by high tides.
For many years’ residents of the area clamored for a fishing pier. Their cries were answered when, in 1915, a bridge was built across the mouth of Mission Bay by the Bay Shore Railroad Company. It was 1,500 feet long and extended from the north end of Bacon Street in Ocean Beach to the tip of the sand dunes that we know today as Mission Beach. Its main purpose was transportation, and soon a “Toonerville Trolley” was installed to haul people from “Wonderland” across the sand dunes—via the bridge. Anglers, however, also flocked to the bridge, a wooden structure with chest high railings and a sidewalk on each side. Over time, it became known as the “Old Fishing Bridge.” There was a bait house at the end of the bridge that sold crawfish (ghost shrimp?), minnows, clams and mussels but fishing for the most part appeared to be only fair. Reports indicate that anglers caught numerous sharks and stingrays while spearfishermen concentrated their efforts on mullet and needlefish (although it would appear to be difficult to spear the skinny little needlefish). The largest catch was undoubtedly a 331-pound sea turtle that was speared one day. The enterprising anglers sold it for $9 or just 3 cents a pound. When the bridge was removed in 1951, local anglers once again began to talk of the need for a pier.
The Ocean Beach Pier was the result. The new pier opened on July 2, 1966 to the scene described above. Luckily, the pier has seemed to withstand the tides of time fairly well although, sooner or later, storms and/or age will do their damage. Several times the pier has been closed by storms and has needed repairs. In 1991 a $1.9 million dollar repair project was completed and then the pier was closed for several winter months in 1998 due to El Niño generated storms and high tides. After the storms subsided and railing were repaired the pier opened once again. The pier was damaged again in March of 2003 and in 2008; both times it was opened within a few months.
As for the rest of Ocean Beach (OB to locals)? By the ‘50s Ocean Beach was a typical So Cal beach town; by the ‘60s surfing became an important feature of the OB cultural life; by the ’70s it had attracted its share of hippies and was called the “Haight-Ashbury” of San Diego; by the ‘80s it seemed to start a slow decline. Today the beach area’s an amalgamation of all those diverse influences and marches to a slightly different drummer than most of the other areas in San Diego. OB reflects, to a degree, a synthesis of Nor Cal hippie populism mixed with So Cal flip-flop casual and it’s an interesting mix.
Date: November 30, 2001
To: Ken Jones
From: Margaret Bateman
I was just browsing and read the story on O.B. Pier—that opened in 1966. I was there full of excitement and awe when it opened. I believed it had been opened for my brother's birthday, which was in two weeks (I was 9 years old and he was going to be 2 yrs. old). I lived on Bacon Street and soon after that moved to Voltaire. But as a small child my friends and I always would go to “our” pier. It was always an adventure to walk or run to the very end...it seemed so very, very far for us. It was so new and amazing to us...we loved it!!!
Author’s Note No. 2. I hesitate to recommend restaurants for the piers but sometimes some deserve a little publicity and such is the case with the OB Pier Café.
Restaurant Review: Ocean Beach Pier Café
San Diego Journals
Reviewed by El Gallo on 8/24/2000.
Halfway Out Ocean Beach Pier, San Diego
Type of Dining: Other
Type of Cuisine: Other
Member Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Price Range: Less than US $10
Attire: Clothing recommended, but not always observed
My favorite place to eat, sip tea, watch the surf, catch the rays and feel the motion of the pier. This is pretty unique—a restaurant out on a West Coast pier--and with the laws now, it's likely to stay pretty unusual. The decor inside is sort of Nautical Kitch, but nice. Fishnets, portholes, a big brass telegraph that kids just love to slam from Full Ahead to Full Astern like in the movies. Heavy wood hatch cover tables. And two sides are windows with the kind of view you don't get anywhere else. Nice shelter on blowy or stormy days. But in San Diego those days are rare--so take a seat at the tables outside—and out here on the pier you are REALLY outside. When big waves hit the bottom of the pier, you don't hear it; you feel it. You are out there poised between earth and sky, a beautiful environment. Look south at the tide pools and all the way to Mexico, or North at the river, Mission Beach, and the beginnings of La Jolla. Watch the surfers, pelicans and gulls. Have a latte. Now, what stupid stuff were you worried about? But this is not just a bait shop with a view—it's a real restaurant and a good one, with unique dishes you will remember and tell friends about. Okay, there are other places where you can get clam chowder in a bowl made of a scooped-out sourdough roll—the OBPC's idea of recycling dishes. But when was the last time you had a lobster taco, or lobster omelet? But there's no need to get exotic—just try the eggs and machaca. If it's busy, you can just order 'to-go' from the outside window and eat walking along the pier, sip coffee out at the deep end. See the gull? Be the gull.
Ocean Beach Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Restrooms, bait and tackle shop, fish cleaning stations, benches and lights. There is free 24-hour parking in a small parking lot near the foot of the pier. The Ocean Beach Pier Café sits next to the bait shop and offers up good eats. You might want to try the mango pancakes or the lobster tacos.
Handicapped Facilities: Access to the pier is from the public parking lot and then up a number of stairs (which are steep) or by a block-long public ramp. There is posted handicapped parking and restrooms. The surface is concrete and the railing is 42 inches high.
Location: 32.74861 N. Latitude, 117.25528 W. Longitude
How To Get There: From the north take I-5 to the Sea World Dr. exit and follow it until it turns off to Sunset Cliffs Blvd. From the south take I- 5 to the Nimitz Blvd. exit, then follow that road to Sunset Cliffs Blvd. Follow Sunset Cliffs Blvd. to Newport Ave., turn right and follow the road to the pier parking lot.
Management: City of San Diego, Parks and Recreation Department.
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