|Avila Beach Pier
It's back and that's good news for the beach go'ers and anglers who flock to this fairly small, three-block by three-block, beachfront town, a town that was closed for most of 1999 and 2000. Of course, I'm sure it's also fairly good news for the 300 or so residents who saw their town “destroyed in order to save it.” Save it from what? Well, it seems that in 1989 a 400,000-gallon plume of oil was discovered bulging directly underneath the town, oil that came from a series of underground pipes connecting to a large Unocal oil storage facility that set just up the hill from the town (with tanks dating back to 1906). Since the oil threatened the environment, especially that of the beach area and the nearby San Luis Obispo Creek, the verdict was clear—it had to be removed. But sometimes that is easier said than done.
Years of argument and finger pointing eventually led to a multi-million dollar cleanup by the oil company. Much of the town, including basically the entire beach area, was closed off and dug up. The pier of course had to be closed and didn't reopen for more than a year. Luckily, no oil had leaked into the ocean or into San Luis Obispo Creek, at least as far as is known. Luckily too, most of the businesses seem to be back and, as mentioned, the town has once again become a favorite spot for locals and more distant visitors that know of its location.
I say visitors that know of its location because it sort of a Timbuktu, out of the way spot, easily missed by travelers going full speed, north and south, on the Highway 101 trail. The beach area itself offers excellent beach facilities and a microclimate that is warmer than nearby Pismo Beach or Morro Bay (it's often sunny when Pismo is blanketed in fog). The beach is home to sunbathers, boogie boarders, and surfers who converge on the beach hailed at one time as the “safest beach in California” due to its lack of undertows and its low number of drownings.
More than any other beach along the central coast, Avila has the look and feel of a Southern California beach town, albeit a mid-20th century,‘50s beach town; one that hasn't suffered the over development so common to towns to the south. Or, should I say had that feel? A concern of some locals was that the town would lose its Bohemian flavor amid the rebuilding of the town and there has been some change. I still find the town sufficiently old-fashioned although the street along the beach, Front Street, has indeed acquired a somewhat So Cal yuppified, “New Avila” feel to it.
Someone decided to take a perfectly fine, non-descript beach sidewalk and turn it into a fake Mediterranean promenade complete with ocean-themed light poles, benches with starfish, and a tide pool-imitating water fountain. It’s sort of a one-block imitation of Catalina’s Crescent Avenue and some will find it pretty. But I bet it will not age well and it has that sometimes nasty stench of 21st Century cute, a feeling that can be duplicated just about anywhere by rich developers. A retrograde, gnarly, old-time stink bait feeling is what I prefer. But, the bacillus hasn’t spread beyond that single street—so far. In fact, there’s even parking along the beach most days, at least the part of Front Street left to perform its function as a street (place to move from one spot to another; place to park).
By the way, what causes people to miss this area is the fact that they must leave the HWY 101 speedway and wind their way back to the northern portion of San Luis Obispo Bay. The short ten-minute trip is well worth the effort. Once aware of this region, you will come back.
As for the fishing, the number of fish (quantity) is often very high but the big fish (quality) are less frequent. That’s true at most piers but here, perhaps due to the size of the pier, it seems that locals really have an advantage over the casual visitor. You need to know where the fish are and the best techniques and it isn’t a surprise that most of the quality fish (especially halibut and sharks) are taken by locals. However, the chance of fish is always here and that fact, combined with good weather, ambiance around the pier, and rarely crowded conditions on the pier, make it a popular destination venue. In many ways the pier itself reminds me of Newport Pier when I first fished it in the ‘60s. It’s a big old wooden wharf and there is just something about it, especially at night that has the feel of its cousin far to the south.
Oh yes, the fishing. An example of Avila angling action happened to me one July night in 1990. I had arrived late, at nearly 8 P.M., and planned to fish for only an hour or so. I quickly began to catch fish but everything was small: white croaker, speckled sanddab, bocaccio (red snapper), a lone walleye surfperch, and pesky staghorn sculpin. I was just about ready to leave when a resident wandered by. He stopped, lit up a cigarette, and asked how I was doing. I told him the action was fair, nothing spectacular, and that I was going to call it quits. He then said I might want to try nearshore, right under the pier. He said there was a large school of pileperch at that spot and that he had been catching them there every morning for the past week. I didn't have any sand crabs, which he said was the best bait, but I did have some mussels and decided to give it a try.
Soon my bait was under the pier in the surf area and before long, I had a bite. It was a barred surfperch, just over a pound, and plump full of baby fish ready to emerge. Another cast produced another fish; only this one was about a pound and a half. Soon, another fish, a two pounder. This kept up for the half hour or so I fished, and the fish kept getting bigger until I finally had to walk one through the surf and up to the beach before I dared pull it up onto the pier (I was using a light pole with 6-pound test line). The fish were all barred surfperch and most displayed the scrappy fight that characterizes the species. I don't know how many fish I could have caught but I kept only as many as I could use and experienced some great fun.
Environment. Water here, at least until the mid-pier area, is fairly shallow and the bottom is primarily sand and mud. Pilings have a good covering of fish-attracting mussels so the pier itself can, at times, serve as a faux reef attracting fish, mainly perch. Just a short distance up the beach, to the west of the pier, sits San Luis Obispo Creek. The pier sits mid-point in San Luis Obispo Bay, its location provides good protection from the wind and waves, and the waters around the pier are generally fairly calm. However, winter storms can do damage as happened in the El Niño-generated storms of 1983 that broke the pier into several sections. The pier was not restored and reopened until 1988.
The primary fish here is white croaker. Early Department of Fish & Game studies (CA Fish Bulletin #130) showed that Avila had the highest fish-per-angler average of any pier in the central coast area. Of the fish counted, two thirds were white croaker. Next, in order, were jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, shinerperch, calico surfperch, barred surfperch, jack mackerel and silver surfperch. Staghorn sculpin are also numerous, in fact too numerous; I have had several trips where I could hardly keep them off the hooks. Today the mix also includes sardines, a species that has made a good comeback from the times of those early, mid-century studies.
As a rule, fishing is fairly slow or very good. It all depends on if the schooling species have decided to visit the area. When present, anglers can expect excellent fishing. Most years will see good fishing for species such as sardines, Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel), jacksmelt and possibly blue mackerel (Pacific mackerel) but it’s mainly a late spring to fall proposition. And though it seems at times the hotter the weather the better the fishing, that isn’t always true. I spent a couple of hours one uncomfortable afternoon on the adjacent San Luis Pier in 100-degree weather. I was wilting faster than a pear but if the fish had been biting I might have stayed. As it was, I only managed a couple of fish before heading over to the cooler climes of Morro Bay (where I found a nice cool, crisp fog covering the town). But to be fair the warmer weather usually means more fish and more fishermen.
Wintertime sees fewer fish and fewer fishermen. Late winter to spring is the best time for surfperch while a few flounder and sole may also show during the winter months. This is the time for locals to get their perch—barred and calico—and though the numbers may be less than the pelagics, the quality can be good.
A fish occasionally seen in the shallow to mid-pier areas during the late fall to winter months is steelhead trout. Most often the fish are fairly small and most often they are mistakenly hooked on Sabiki-type rigs. Release them and do so with care! An effort is underway to reestablish the steelhead in San Luis Obispo Creek so “pier rats” can do their good deed for the day by helping them survive.
The waters at the end of the pier, which are fairly deep, mainly offer up pelagics and occasionally a salmon. The end waters do offer up some decent shark fishing at night with primarily a mix of dogfish, leopard sharks, and a few puffer sharks (swell sharks). Bat rays and big skates are also common so have strong gear to bring them up to the pier. Some years may also see a few soupfins landed as well as thresher sharks, especially when the sardines and mackerel are around, but Pismo seems better for the threshers.
White sharks are also present as evidenced by the “shark warning” signs along the beach. As the population of sea lions has arisen, so have the visits from “whitey.” A lady who wanted to swim with the sea lions was killed in 2003 (see the story below) and there have been several additional shark sightings since then. It doesn’t mean you should break out the heavy tackle and pursue the “man eaters” (they’re protected) but you should be aware that they might be around. There haven’t been any reports of the big fish endangering “pier rats” but I would be a little weary if I was one of those surfers down by the beach.
Fishing Tips. Although the pier is fairly long at 1,685 feet, I have always had the best results fishing the inshore area of the pier, the first third of the pier. Just outside the breaker area of the surf will often yield the larger barred and calico surfperch and this is the only pier where the recorded catch of calicos was higher than the barred. Some warm-water years will also see schools of queenfish flock into these shallow waters.
A little farther out on the pier yields large numbers of kingfish (white croaker), often one or more on every cast. Unfortunately, small speckled sanddab and bullheads (staghorn sculpin) will often fight to get on to your hook first. During the summer to fall months, this is also a very good area to fish at night for thornback rays and the fewer, but larger, skates and bat rays. Occasionally you may even see a shovelnose shark (guitarfish), a fish more commonly caught south of Point Conception. Down around the pilings will yield walleye surfperch, silver surfperch and an occasional white, black or striped seaperch.
Fishing mid-way to the far end of the pier will yield white croaker and several varieties of flatfish on the bottom—Pacific and speckled sanddab, sand sole, starry flounder and halibut. From the mid-level to the top of the water will be found jacksmelt and Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel), and usually these are caught with bait rigs. Increasingly, huge schools of sardines are returning to these waters and early morning and evening hours can see anglers filling buckets with the small fish. Once again perch can be found down around the pilings and a few pileperch, rainbow seaperch and striped seaperch will be added to the other species. Also joining in the fun, but less common, are cabezon and a few lingcod, which seem to be strange species for the sandy-bottom environment found at this pier. If it’s a cold-water year you may see lizardfish joining in the fun.
Bloodworms, pile worms, sand crabs, ghost shrimp and fresh mussels work best for the larger perch. Worms are best for the jacksmelt, and anchovies (remember, only a small piece) are best for the white croaker. Squid is best for rays and sharks. If schools of bocaccio show up around the pier, and they made an appearance in 1999, remember that you can now keep only one of the small fish—and they must be at least 10 inches long.
Most years will also see Pacific mackerel and when they’re in you can expect to catch a “mess of macs.” The standard rigging used by most is a bait rig, with or without bait. During the sunny part of the day many people simply cast out their unbaited rigs and jig for the mackerel. During the night, or when the fish are demanding to be fed, hooks are usually sweetened by the addition of a small strip of squid or a piece of brethren mackerel. The baited rig is then fished under a balloon or Styrofoam float, whatever will keep the bait just under the surface of the water. Better in my book is simply to use a high/low rig with a torpedo sinker (or shiny spoon) on the bottom of the line. Use size 6-2 hooks (size depending on the mackerel being encountered) and put a small piece of bloody mackerel on each hook. You’ll still catch plenty of fish and meanwhile save some money. Multi-mackerel on a bait rig have a way of twisting the line into an unsalvageable Gordian knot.
Some warm-water years may also see bonito and even barracuda, usually in late August or September. Best for the boneheads is feathers trailed behind a Cast-a-Bubble, jigs, or spoons. Best for the snakes are Krocodile or Kastmaster-type spoons.
An increasingly common technique used by the “locals” is to head over to the nearby Port San Luis Pier, purchase a bucket of live anchovies, and bring them back to fish for halibut. Spring to late-summer is the prime time for the large flatties and some days will see quite a few legal-size halibut being landed by anglers with the proper know-how. If the anchovies aren’t available use a drop net or Sabiki to get shinerperch, small walleyes, small kingfish, small smelt, small mackerel, or small sea lions (just seeing if you’re still awake); all but the latter make excellent halibut bait.
Another fish you might encounter is salmon. A few will be landed each year, usually on a whole anchovy fished under a float, but numbers are rarely sufficient to justify a separate trip to the pier just for them.
Night fishing for sharks and rays is a tradition here. As mentioned, most of the fish caught will be leopard sharks, swell sharks, dogfish or bat rays, but every year will also see a few soupfins and threshers, possibly an angel shark or two, and even an occasional blue shark. Best baits for the sharks seem to be fresh mackerel but freshly caught croakers and perch will also work. Bat rays and skates prefer a big chunk of squid. The threshers prefer a live mackerel on a sliding leader but you can also float out a big, bloody piece of the same to attract them.
One unpleasant scene I’ve witnessed a couple of times at the pier was the bodies of puffer (swell) sharks littering the surface of the pier at the end. Many locals seem to believe the “old wives” tale that returning a swell shark to the sea after capture hurts the fishing. It’s not true and the “puffers” should be returned to the water since they are not good to eat.
Date: January 5, 2000
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Ken A.
Subject: re: Avila Pier reopening
Ken, it should be open by spring...early summer at the latest. They have the beach opened up to the pier and just need to rebuild the shore portion. The locals are fighting now trying to keep the Avila Yacht Club building from going back onto the pier. The locals say it blocks their view for a “private drinking club!”
Date: September 16, 2000
To: Ken Jones
From: Ken A
Subject: Avila Pier Open
Ken, Just thought I'd let you know that they opened the Avila Pier on Friday after being closed since 1997! It was opened with no announcement to the public, much to everyone’s surprise. It closes at sundown until they can get the lighting system completed. Ken A
Date: April 11. 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Was it an eel?
Last night I tried out Avila Beach pier. The first cast in the surf area resulted in a good-sized barred perch, but nothing else for a while after that. So I moved down the pier and noticed lots of commotion at the surface around mid-pier.
A regular shark fisherman (who was just watching tonight) was shining his flashlight onto a huge school of what looked to be mostly anchovies, but a few mackerel and jacksmelt as well. We figured something must be “herding” them to this particular spot, so I dropped a hi/lo set-up with squid down in the middle to see if anything hit. I also tried to snag a few of the anchovies with small Sabiki but, to my surprise, nothing hit the lures.
Then we noticed a large silvery snake-like creature circling around and eating some of the baitfish. I thought it was likely an eel, but thought most eels hide in rocks and come out quickly to eat? (Also, there are no rocks in this area). This was swimming around just like a water snake would. Also, its head was the same size as the rest of it—I thought most eels have larger heads and jaws? Also, in looking at different pictures of many eels last night, not one matched the color of this white/silver one. Any ideas what this might have been? It sure had the baitfish in a frenzy...
I did some more research and the closet thing to what it looked like was what was called a Pacific Snake Eel (see Bajadestinations.com/fishid). It was long (about 6') slender (like a snake) no fins apparent, and virtually all white (or silver—a little hard to tell in the dark). The Pacific Snake Eel meets all the above characteristics except the one I saw in the Fish ID section was a different color. Could I have seen an albino? Or just other colors exist, perhaps... my best guess is an eel, just not a very common species.
Date: July 23, 2003
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Old Pic... (few months) Eddie's Lil Fishy
Here's a pic from a few months ago. I got this one off of Avila Pier.
(In reply to question about picture of approximately 6-foot-long shark)—OK... I wasn't sure what kind of shark it was so I took it by the Harbor Patrol office in Morro Bay and they looked it up for me. It is a soupfin shark and it's supposed to be pretty close to the biggest one ever listed (that's what they told me? anyone know better?) Sadly, I don't know what it weighed I only had a 50 lb scale... and I broke it when I tried. I knew better, just had a stupid moment. I hooked it right after dawn out at the end of Avila Pier. I was using a 10' surf pole with 30-lb Trilene Big Game line. I don't remember what size steel leader I was using, but I know it was about a 7/0 big game hook. I used a sinker slider with a 4 or 5 oz. sinker. I was using an 8 or 9” kingfish cut in half. BTW...It was excellent on the grill... quite a few times.
Date: September 11, 2003
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Re: Avila or San Luis?
My opinion: The atmosphere at Avila is so much nicer and has been very uncrowded since the sharks ran off the tourists. Parking is no problem now and there is a bait shop at the end of the pier, though being there when its open is hit or miss. If your son and daughter-in-law are new to pier fishing then the first impression is very important. I feel that Avila is probably the nicest pier scene I've been to, if only it had a more consistent bite. I too heard of halibut lately from the pier but it never seems to on when I'm there. But the one given at Avila is that you can catch a fish every time... If you take squid on a high-low set up and cast out at the point of the pier where it widens and the little row boats are tied down you will pull up a Ronkie on almost every cast. It gets old when you are hoping for something like a halibut but for first time fishers any catch is a good time.
Port San Luis is also very close but to me it just has such an industrial feel to it. I go there when Avila is dead or when the bait shop is closed because the sport fishing charter about half way out the pier has frozen bait.
Date: August 17, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Avila Pier 8-16-04
Fished Avila Pier from 4pm-10pm with EddieE. Weather was spectacular. Water was a little more stained than usual (not red tide stained). Things were extremely slow until just before dark when the bait finally moved within casting distance. Mostly sardines with a few anchovies mixed in. Those sardines caught us a couple of swell sharks after dark but that was it. Small squid strips yielded bullhead, bocaccio, and the rainbow perch in the pic. All fish released except the bait that was salted and vacuum packed.
The bait shop is finally open out on the pier. They are open until 5pm and their bait is $4 a package (squid, ‘chovies, mussels, shrimp). But the good news is they sell beer! There is some construction going on and it looks like they may be removing the lower level (they have taken away access anyway). Too bad as that was a great spot to get perch from the pilings.
The bait boat was in collecting bait RIGHT next to the pier. Do they really have to be that lazy? Can't they at least go out of the harbor? Last week I was there and the bait was thicker than I have ever seen it. Last night there was only a fraction of what was there. The boat finally caught Eddie's line and spooled him of some expensive braided line (they could have done it several times but we had to reel in quickly each time they rudely passed). They have the whole ocean to net rape. A call to the harbor patrol is in order.
Date: June 7, 2006
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: No fish in Avila
Been fishing in Avila (main pier) daily/nightly for the past few days. No fish. I’ve seen about 6 other fish-goers with no results, except for a couple starfish and 2 jacksmelt. Any thoughts, questions, criticisms? Using shrimp, clams, squid, artificial sand crabs, and plain Sabiki rigs. I’m ready to jump in and look around for any signs of life...desperation. Very nice weather though, the only thing I got this week was a tan. Tizzle
Posted by Ken Jones
I fished the pier on 6/5/06 = 23 fish. Fished from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and was casting right into the shallowest water by the surf using a high/low and pile worms for bait. Results:
14 Barred surfperch
6 Leopard shark
3 Staghorn sculpin
I heard that the people at the end were not catching fish. At Avila, I ALWAYS check out the inshore section first. I've had some great days by the surf area but rarely had much action out at the end unless schools of macs/sardines/jacksmelt happened to be in the area.
Date: June 28, 2007
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Gip of Paso
Subject: Pigeon Poop Parks Pier
I just heard on the news Avila pier and surrounding areas are shut down for swimmers and fishermen, due to high bacteria levels from pigeon dookie. There was also a shark sighted by Avila so the have warnings up for beach enthusiast. I wish I knew what kind and how big of a shark was seen, oh well... [See below]
Date July 8, 2007
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Avila Pier... BIG SKATE landed
Went out around sunset yesterday, and glad to find some baitfish including jack macs, Pacific macs, and a school of anchovies. I also called a weird little fish that I don't know what it is, but the picture is below.
Later on around 9, a couple of fishermen hook something that seems heavy. By the way they were fighting it, it seemed like a crab since they basically DRAGGED the fish to the surface slowly. When I saw the wings I freaked out because it was GIANT. Turns out its a big skate. What do you know Ken, fish of the day! I measured the width to be around 51 inches, and the length was at least 70”. I say at least because they cut off the tail and threw it overboard, saying it was dangerous because of the stinger even though I told them it had no stinger. I would be pretty excited landing it, but afterwards they just turned around and fished more while letting kids play with it. It took 2 gaffs to lift up, and 3 to bring it over the railing. I lifted very hard, and the other man was very strong too, so I can easily say that this skate was over 150 pounds, minimum. Of course that's an estimate, but its no exaggeration. Guess this defeats the old rumor that nothing big is ever landed at Avila.
Date: July 20, 2008
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Avila 7-20 Halibut Trip
Fished from 7:45-12:30 for one keeper (22 ½-incher), which I invited home for a awesome little BBQ. Bait was not easy to make but if you have a tiny Sabiki you could score a few sardines. The keeper was caught on the only small sardine we could catch... besides for the one that was eaten by a stupid thornback, otherwise we were using HUGE sardines. We also had a good hali hit on a lizardfish.... but it dropped it right when I finally got to my rod. Get some!
Date: August 8, 2008
To: PFIC Message Board
From: yosemite steve
Subject: Hot night fishing at Avila
Fished Avila Monday night. 9pm-12pm. Macks, both Spanish and Pacs were available all night with a smattering of smelt joining in. Soaked a whole 10” mack on the bottom for no more than 10 mins before the spool went whizzzzz. Cut my teeth on my first big ray. Est. weighed 85-100-lbs. based on the guesses of the four other fellows on the pier. Others were pulling up small skates and rays all night.
Fished again same time Wed night with good results. Macks again were available all night. A guy across the pier from me started the night off with a nice 36” smoothhound. After soaking macks for a couple hours to no avail moved inshore to the first set of buoys and threw out just mack fillets. Had a couple taps on one line but didn't think anything stuck. As I reeled in my lines to go home, I was actually hooked into a 24” halibut! He just swallowed the bait and sat right there with it for must have been 30 mins. Had to bring him all the way down to the beach to land him with no net. A good week so far with both my first big ray and halibut!
Author's Note No. 1. My most unusual catch at this pier occurred one chilly June night in 1997 when I caught a whelk, a sea snail that decided to nibble on the pile worm I was using for bait. Unfortunately, I hadn't purchased any garlic or wine while passing south through Gilroy. I've never had escargot out at the end of a pier (actually I've never had escargot at all although my daughter has weird tastes and likes the slimy creatures). Whelks seem to be fairly thick on the bottom here as are starfish (oops, sea stars)! I wonder what a whelk and sea star sandwich would taste like? Perhaps you could have different sizes—a papa, momma, and baby star whelkich?
In 2006 another strange beast decided to attach itself to my line, a spiny mole crab about 4-inches long and the largest I have ever seen. What would really be interesting would be to see a barred surfperch that could swallow that crab!
Author’s Note No. 2. Avila Beach is recorded as the southern limit for redtail surfperch—so go get one.
Author’s Note No. 3. August of 2008 saw a PFIC Get Together at the pier with members from throughout the state. It turned out to be a great gathering and included some pretty fair fishing—as seen in the post below.
Date: August 24, 2008
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Gordo Grande
Subject: Mid State Get Together Aftermath...
It’s Sunday night, and I’m still dead tired, but I can’t go to bed without posting a better report. I think our first mid-state get-together was a smashing success, and everyone involved said we have to do it again. Many thanks to Santa who helped with the planning and did quite a bit of scouting ahead of time. Our first surprise of the day was when Santa found out that the police weren’t ticketing parked cars around the pier. We thought we were all in for some long walks from the free parking zones, but it turns out that we were able to park right next to the pier the whole time. It sure saved a lot of wear and tear on our feet.
The next surprise was when I spotted a certain mad Turkish/Iranian strolling the pier, who had surprised us with his attendance. The shock was almost too much for me, and I attempted to leap from the pier in fear, only to be pulled back in by my family members.
We had a great turnout for our inaugural event, although we were disappointed that several people who signed up couldn’t make it. However, that usually happens with GTs to some extent, so we didn’t let it stop us from having a good time. Most of the folks congregated in the mid-pier area, thanks to the advice of our locals, Polishfromthedeep (Karl), Kingfisher (Brian), and his little brother, KingfisherBro (Mathew). These guys knew this pier well, and they were tuned in perfectly to the halibut bite. Polish drew first blood with a legal hali, soon followed by Kingfisher and KingfisherBro. Between the three of them, I think they pulled in 5 halis, four of which were legal.
Their technique was flawless. I’ll let them fill you in on the details, if they think it’s a good idea. It’s up to them to do so, because I wouldn’t want to blow up a good spot by giving away their trade secrets. Suffice it to say, I was grateful for their advice, and used it as best as I could.
As usual for our GTs, we weren’t wanting for good eats. Hashem (aka BananaMan) brought along some cioppino, which he heated up on a propane grill beneath the restaurant at the foot of the pier. Riorust’s pal Ken made some killer ceviche. Kcruise and Mrs. Kcruise contributed greatly in the sandwich department, and Santa brought along a ton of eats as well. Next year I’ll try to remember to bring along a table so we can set it all up on the pier. Please forgive me if I’ve forgotten to mention anyone’s contribution.
These little sea stars provided us with some cheap entertainment. There didn’t seem to be any crabs at this pier, but the sea stars took their place, snatching bait every chance they got. It seemed they would wait for something to hit a bait, and if the bait died these guys would grab on for dear life. Several of us brought up half-eaten mackerels with sea stars wrapped around them. This is Kcruise’s better half, Cindy, showing off one of the little critters.
Of course, the high point of the day for me was catching this beast, [30-pound angel shark] which hit a live mackerel. I was using the same technique that the guys were using to catch all the hali’s. As I was pulling it up I thought it was a ray, because that was the way he was fighting. No headshakes, just a lot of dead weight and an effort to get under the pier. I was able to horse him away from the pier and out of the kelp, where he was expertly netted by Kcruise. Many thanks for the assist, Kel. See, El Gordo actually does catch fish from time to time. Santa was nice enough to clean him for me, because he knew an amateur like me would botch the job. It took him about an hour-and-a-half from start to finish. He and I split the filets, and mine are destined for the vacuum packer in the morning. BTW, I'm happy to report that this beast was hauled in on my G-dude Special, custom wrapped Rainshadow Forecast, 8 ft. 2-piece rod that I won at the Fred Hall Show last year. The reel was a Penn 535 GS spooled with 20 lb. mono.
At the risk of forgetting someone, the attendees were Gordo and family, Santa and Mrs. Santa, I’llcatchanything2 (great to finally meet you Brian), Polishfromthedeep, Kingfisher and Kingfisherbro, Kcruise and family, Huntress and friend, Red and friend, Riorust and pal Ken, Kelpangler and family, and a certain mad Turkish/Iranian.
Posted by kelpangler
Sorry I missed ya polish, but nice to meet the others for the first time like kcruise and family, kingfisher and his bro (showcasing your fishing skills), redfish and his gf, and illcatchanything. Great to see Santa and the SoCal regulars, too. Avila turned out to be a perfect location with its nice beach town atmosphere and picturesque pier. Lots of bait--perfectly sized mackerel on Saturday and plenty of anchovies on Sunday--and a good number of halibut coming over the rail, but I still came away empty-handed. No problem, Hashem kept me entertained. Ross, thanks for taking time out of your own vacation to plan this get-together for us. Looking forward to next time, maybe Monterey?
Author’s Note No. 4. Great white sharks always seem to add a certain element of thrill to a story and this bay has seen a number of the large beasts make visits during the past decade.
(1) Shark Attack
Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo County -- A woman swimming among sea lions in the ocean off the Central Coast town of Avila Beach died Tuesday morning after she was bitten by what authorities believe was a large great white shark. Deborah B. Franzman, 50, was attacked as she swam alone within sight of beachgoers on the Avila Beach pier and of about 30 lifeguards training on the beach.
The shark struck from below, breaching the surface and tearing most of the tissue from Franzman's left thigh. Although no one saw the entire animal, a witness saw a gray fin in the churning water, and authorities said the nature and severity of the attack left little doubt it was a white shark. “The bite was fairly massive,” said Robert Lea, a marine biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game. “The white shark is one of the few animals that could make a bite that large. From the description witnesses gave, everything indicates” it was a white shark.
Should the autopsy slated for today confirm that Franzman was killed by a shark, it would be the first fatal shark attack along the California coastline since 1994. Two men were attacked by white sharks off Bay Area beaches last year, but both survived. Despite the animals' fearsome reputation as relentless predators, attacks by great white sharks—and all sharks, for that matter—are exceedingly rare. There have been 106 shark attacks along the West Coast since the Department of Fish and Game began keeping statistics in 1952. Just 10 have been fatal. All of the deaths occurred in California, and at least nine involved great white sharks, officials said.
Authorities closed the picturesque beach in Avila Beach as well as those in Cayucos, Morro Bay, Oceano and Pismo Beach immediately after the 8:15 a.m. attack. The beaches reopened at midday, drawing hundreds of visitors, but authorities barred people from entering the water until further notice.
Avila Beach is a beach town of 2,300 people in San Luis Obispo County 241 miles south of San Francisco. Franzman lived in the nearby town of Nipomo and was a regular at the beach, officials said. Her teenage son, Alex Franzman, said his mother taught philosophy and ethics at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria. She was a strong athlete who swam in the ocean three or four times weekly. She was often joined by friends, but she swam alone Tuesday when none showed up, he said. Her partner, who declined to comment, watched from shore as Franzman ventured into the sea. Franzman was about 75 yards from shore and 200 yards south of Avila Pier in water roughly 20 feet deep when the attack occurred, officials said. Authorities said she was well within the swimming boundary. As she swam, more than two dozen local lifeguards were training and competing in shows of skill just north of the pier.
SWIMMING WITH SEA LIONS
Witnesses told investigators that Franzman, clad in a wetsuit and fins, was swimming among a pod of sea lions when the mammals suddenly vanished and something large and gray breached the water.
A friend of Franzman's screamed, “A shark's got her! A shark's got her,” bringing five lifeguards dashing off the pier, said Casey Nielsen, head of the San Luis Harbor District, which has jurisdiction over the beach. One grabbed a passer-by's cell phone and called 911. The others dove into the water despite having no rescue gear and little idea what might be waiting for them, Nielsen said. “It was heroism,” he said. “They knew someone was bit, and they went into the water and brought her to shore anyway. My first thought would have been ‘Stay out of the water.’” The four men, who could not be reached for comment, pulled Franzman ashore and loaded her into a pickup truck, where they began cardiopulmonary resuscitation and tried to stop the bleeding. “A bunch of local lifeguards come out and drag her in, and she was bleeding. It was bad,” eyewitness David Abbott, his voice cracking, told KCOY-TV in Santa Maria. Paramedics pronounced Franzman dead at the scene.
SIGNS POINT TO GREAT WHITE
Experts said the attack is typical of the white shark, an “ambush predator” that strikes quickly and from below with a devastating bite. One witness told investigators the animal bit the woman twice, but that could not be confirmed. “It appears she was bitten once primarily in the left leg, but there also is a wound on the right leg,” said Lea of Fish and Game.
Few animals other than the white shark are capable of so large a bite, he said. The bite in all likelihood severed Franzman's femoral artery, contributing to her death, Lea said. Had the bite missed the artery, she might have survived the attack but would have undoubtedly lost her leg, he added. Lea said he will not know for sure it was a white shark until he examines the woman's wounds, which also may shed light on the size of the animal. “We know it's large, and large for a white shark can be anywhere from 12 to 18 feet,” he said. Such an animal could easily top two tons, he said. Sharks do not prey upon humans, Lea said. Instead, researcher believe most attacks are “a case of mistaken identity” in which the animals mistake humans—especially those wearing fins or riding surfboards -- for seals or sea lions, their primary prey.
The most recent California shark attack occurred last year on Thanksgiving Day, when Michael Casey was bitten by a 16-foot white shark while enjoying the surf at Salmon Creek Beach in Sonoma County. Casey, a Santa Rosa deputy city attorney, was bitten at least twice in the legs; the resulting wounds required more than 80 staples to close. Another surfer, Lee Fontan of Bolinas, was bitten four times by a 12- to 14- foot great white on April 30, 2002, near Stinson Beach in Marin County.
—Maria Alicia Gaura, Chuck Squatriglia,
San Francisco Chronicle, August 20, 2003
(2) She died doing what she loved
AVILA BEACH—The fatal injuries Deborah Blanche Franzman suffered while swimming off Avila Beach were inflicted by a 15-to 18-foot great white shark, authorities said Wednesday.
Preliminary findings of an autopsy performed on Franzman, as well as expert analysis of her injuries, conclude she was killed Tuesday morning by an adult great white shark, according to sheriff's Lt. Martin Basti. Basti said Bob Lea, a marine biologist with California Department of Fish & Game, assisted in the autopsy and determined Franzman's injuries were consistent with a great white shark attack. Lea estimated the shark that attacked Franzman, 50, a Hancock College sociology instructor who frequently swam in the ocean, was between 15 and 18 feet in length—the size of a long-bed mini-truck. A great white that size would weigh between 2,700 and 4,000 pounds; the average mini-truck weighs 3,220 pounds.
Witnesses who were on the beach reported Franzman was swimming near a group of feeding sea lions when suddenly the sea lions disappeared, a dorsal fin appeared and the swimmer was pulled under the water. The most severe injury sustained by Franzman was the severing of her left femoral artery caused by a large laceration from a shark bite. Basti wouldn't say how many times Franzman was bitten. He did say a severed femoral artery would have required immediate medical attention, within one to two minutes, for a person to survive the injury. “It's catastrophic and not survivable,” Basti said. Response time was quick, but when lifeguards reached Franzman, she was unresponsive. “She was floating on her stomach when I got to her,” said Avila Beach lifeguard Tim Borland. “She was unconscious. We couldn't see (any wounds) on her body.”
Usually, lifeguards aren't on duty at the beach until 10 a.m., but Tuesday the Port San Luis Harbor District was hosting a Central Coast lifeguard competition at the Avila Beach Pier. Borland, who was first to reach Franzman, and three other lifeguards where on the pier when they heard screams for help from the beach. “We just started running down the beach,” Borland said. “None of us even saw the woman in the water. I was swimming with my head up because we didn't know what we were looking for.” The four lifeguards said they didn't see the attack but knew they were likely in danger when they reached Franzman, who was bleeding profusely. “I don't think any of us believed what was going on (when we reached her),” said Pismo Beach lifeguard Billy Larsen.
After the attack, Avila Beach, Olde Port Beach and Fisherman's Beach were closed to all water activities and remained closed Wednesday. Casey Nielsen, Harbor District operations manager, said unless any new information is developed, such as confirmed shark sightings in the waters, the beaches would reopen today. Port San Luis Harbor District will post warnings that a person was attacked in the water. Pismo Beach and Oceano will have the same warnings signs. Nielsen said when the waters open, people will be urged to swim with caution—don't swim near marine animals that are feeding, swim in groups close to shore and swim where a lifeguard is present.
“This is the creature's home that we're entering,” Nielsen said about ocean swimming. “We're entering their environment and need to be aware of that.” Ocean swimmers are also cautioned to avoid early morning and late afternoon swims. After Labor Day, the Harbor District doesn't staff the beach with lifeguards. Nielsen said he expects to step up lifeguard patrol from now until the Labor Day holiday weekend.
—April Charlton, Santa Maria Times, August 21, 2003
(3) New shark sighting at Avila Beach
AVILA BEACH—An Avila Beach fisherman saw fear in a harbor seal's eyes just before a great white shark chomped its tail inches from his boat Saturday morning. Joe “Chovy” Dearinger was fishing for live bait between the Avila Beach and Unocal piers when he spotted the 18- to 20-foot shark breach as it lunged for the leaping seal 500 yards offshore.
Port San Luis Harbor District closed the waters at Avila Beach, Fishermen's Beach and Olde Port Beach just after the sighting was reported around 10 a.m. Operations Manager Casey Nielsen said the water would remain closed until further notice.
“It takes a lot to get me nervous and I was like, 'Oh my God,'” said Dearinger, a commercial fisherman at Avila Bay for six years. "It took me 15 minutes to calm down." He recounted the sighting while unloading anchovies just off the pier at Port San Luis. Just as Dearinger was about to drop and drag his fishing net by hand, he saw two harbor seals jump out of the 35-foot deep water—an unusual occurrence. Another seal leaped while the great white shark surfaced to grab the tail of its prey. “As the seal hit the water, the shark had its tail section in his mouth,” Dearinger explained. “It was like something you see on National Geographic.”
The fisherman saw the entire shark—including its large teeth gripping the seal and 21/2-foot high dorsal fin—as he stood at the rear of the boat, net in hand. He narrowly missed catching the shark in his net. If the shark had become entangled, it could have rolled the 45-foot boat, Mello Boy, according to boat owner Deke Wells.
In his 15 years of fishing at Avila Bay, Wells has never spotted a great white shark. Neither has partner Dearinger. Wells said the splash created by the seal and shark was so large he believed the culprit was a humpback whale. “That was a big damn splash.”
The fishermen speculated the shark could have been the same that killed Nipomo resident Deborah Blanche Franzman last Tuesday. Besides the shark they saw Saturday, they spied one hours after Franzman was attacked. “He could be coming back to the scene of the crime,” Dearinger said. “He knows there is food.” Both fishermen said an exploding seal and sea lion population is attracting one or more great white sharks to the bay. “We've been saying it was inevitable,” Dearinger said. They believe the food source will cause a shark to stay. “He ain't going anywhere,” Dearinger said.
The fisherman urged closure of all area beaches and suggested a boat patrol between piers. Dearinger also suggested the Port San Luis Harbor Patrol study movement and activity of seals and sea lions.“If you keep an eye on the seals, you'll see a shark,” he said. Just before the shark surfaced Saturday, Dearinger said the seals acted skittish, keeping their heads above water instead of looking down for fish. After the seal attack, the remaining seals scattered.“You can tell when seals are looking for bait and when they are scared,” Wells said.
An ultimate solution could be controlling the seal and sea lion population, said Dearinger. He explained the creatures are now breeding in the bay, as opposed to the wild. The new additions are crowding onto the back of boats and sinking docks, said the fishermen. “There are way too many seals here,” said Wells, who recently fenced off his dock to prevent sleeping seals and sea lions. Still, they attempt to board. Dearinger and Wells will continue fishing for bait in the bay, although they admitted they will pay close attention to the seals and keep their hands in the boat. “We sure as hell will be keeping our eyes open,” Wells said.
—Emily Slater, Santa Maria Times, October 8, 2003
(4) Shark Presence Closes Avila Waters
The waters at Avila Beach, Fisherman's Beach and Olde Port Beach will be closed to human contact until 7 p.m. Monday—just two days before the busy Fourth of July holiday—because of a great white shark sighting, according to Port San Luis Harbor District officials. The water was closed around 7 p.m. Wednesday after the Harbor Patrol was alerted to a credible shark sighting in the port's mooring area; by harbor policy, a credible shark sighting triggers a mandatory five-day closure of the water in San Luis Bay.
A “boater with quite a bit of boating experience” spotted the great white that was estimated to be about 15 feet long, roughly the size of a small pickup with jump seats, said Casey Nielsen, Harbor District operations manager. “The five-day water use restriction is meant to be an opportunity to educate the public about specific ocean hazards,” Nielsen said of the water closure that will include the entire weekend before July Fourth—and which could be extended through the holiday if another shark is seen over the weekend.
While the district's beaches remain open during water closures, signs are posted throughout the port warning the public that a shark has recently been sighted in the bay. People are also expected to voluntarily stay out of the water during closures. “We're still inviting people to come to the beach ...,” Nielsen said, noting that beachgoers can get their feet wet in the surf, but that's it. “We know (the closure) is inconvenient for people.”
If there's another credible shark sighting prior to Monday, the water closure would be extended, per the district's Dangerous Marine Animal Incident Policy, according to Nielsen. The Harbor District adopted the mandatory water closure policy in August 2003 after a Nipomo woman was fatally attacked by a great white shark while swimming near a group of seals off Avila Pier. The last water closure in San Luis Bay was last Labor Day weekend, when the waters were closed for almost two weeks after two sightings were reported within days of each another.
Meanwhile, at Pismo Beach, advisory signs will be posted warning people to enter the water at their own risk; the city can only post warnings, because it doesn't have the authority to close the water as the Harbor District does. Signs warning people of the shark sighting are also expected at Oceano Beach, but they hadn't been posted as of early Thursday afternoon, according to a dispatcher at the Highway 1 ranger station.
—April Charlton, Santa Maria Times, June 29, 2007
History Note. The town is named after Miguel Avila, the grantee in 1839 of Rancho San Miguelito, the site of today's Avila. Avila had become alcalde of San Luis Obispo in 1849 but like many Californios suffered heavy losses during the drought years of the mid-1860s. In 1867 his son, Don Miguel, laid out the town of Avila and began to sell lots to settlers and businessmen.
The first wharf (of sorts) in the area was one built by David Mallagh at a cave roughly a half-mile east of Avila in 1855 (or 1860). Near the “Robbers Cave” was a level rock that jutted out nearly 150 feet into the water forming a natural pier. This had been a favorite fishing spot for the local Indians and became the site for the “wharf.” It was called Cave Landing or Mallagh’s Landing and was a primitive affair. Freight, mainly grain, hides and tallow from inland areas, would be lowered down from the cliff by means of a crane. Ship passengers would be lowered overboard by baskets into a rowboat which would then take them to the landing whence they were hoisted up to the rocks up above. Mallagh would then provide transportation for the passengers to San Luis Obispo via his stagecoach. A rocky trail still leads down to Pirate’s Cove, the sandy beach below the promontory. Today it’s a nudist beach, oops clothing optional beach. Apparently it’s quite popular for those wanting a good view of San Luis Obispo Bay—and nature. Right!
Mallagh’s Landing proved to be too shallow for the larger ships so in 1868 a new wharf, People's Wharf, was built near the site of today's Avila Pier. In 1873 it was purchased by local merchants who extended the wharf into deeper waters able to handle the large ships. Soon steamers were landing several times a week. A narrow-gauge railroad operated from the end of the wharf to a warehouse in Avila Beach. A horse-powered, narrow gauge tramway operated between Avila and Port Harford.
Although the San Luis Obispo Railway Company planned to run lines from San Luis Obispo to Avila, it failed to lay the lines and eventually gave up its right-of-way. In 1876 the link between San Luis Obispo and Avila finally took place with the establishment of the narrow-gauge San Luis Obispo & Santa Maria Valley Railroad (with backing from the Pacific Coast Steamship Company). Once the connection was made to San Luis Obispo, Avila became a shipping competitor of nearby Port Harford, today's Port San Luis. Initially passenger use and farm goods were the main reason for the wharf but eventually, as oil became a larger and larger component of Avila’s life, oil also began to be shipped from the wharf.
Tsunami records note damage to the Avila Wharf on November 22, 1878 but it was soon repaired and was used successfully for many years. In 1882 the narrow-gauge Pacific Coast Railway replaced Avila’s railroad; it would operate until 1942. However, when the standard gauge Southern Pacific Railroad reached San Luis Obispo in 1894 it meant a quicker and less expensive way for farmers to send their goods, as well as a quicker journey fro passengers. Business at the wharf dropped. Further damage to the wharf resulted in reconstruction by the county in 1908.
With the increase in oil production, things would change. By 1910 the Union Oil Company had 205 miles of pipeline running into Avila, (the largest oil pipeline in the world prior to WWI) and it added additional lines into the 1930s. Oil would become the big export from the bay but unfortunately for Avila most of the oil would be shipped from Port Harford (that was now better protected) or from a new pier that had been built by the Pacific Railway Company in 1914 between the Avila Pier and Port Harford.
Between the Great Depression and competition (Southern Pacific and Port Harford), the pier saw a sharp decline in business. Recreation became as important as commercial shipping, a situation even truer today.
On March 1, 1983, the wharf was destroyed by that winter’s nefarious El Niño storm. It would be five long years, in 1988, before the wharf reopened and Avila seemed once again at peace with the world. But NO, just ten years later the plume of oil was discovered under the town and the wharf and the town entered the new millennium in a comatose state. Luckily there was a rebirth and today Avila and its pier is a favorite seaside destination for both locals and tourists. Today, recreation is the key word and things look rosy—although some residents still worry about the possibility of radiation leaks from the nearby Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The road to that plant sits less than a mile down the road.
Avila Beach Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Restrooms and showers are located at the foot of the pier, additional restrooms are at the end of the pier. Fish-cleaning stations, benches, and lights on the pier. Free parking is available at the foot of the pier on Front St. (though marked 3-hour parking, they’re fairly liberal about checking). Avila Bait & Tackle Sits out at the end of the pier and has frozen bait, drinks and snacks. The Avila Beach Grocery and Mercantile is very close to the end of the wharf, and it has a good assortment of groceries,
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking but non-handicapped restrooms. The surface of the pier is wood planking with some of the spaces between the planks fairly wide and perhaps unsafe for wheelchairs. A concrete ramp leads to the pier and the rail height is 44 inches. Not posted for handicapped.
How To Get There: From the south take Hwy. 101 to Avila Beach Dr. and go west; turn left off of Avila Beach Dr. at San Miguel Street and follow it to Front St. and the pier. From the north take Hwy. 101 to San Luis Bay Road and go south; turn right on to Avila Beach Dr.; turn left off of Avila Beach Dr. at San Miguel Street and follow it to Front St. and the pier.
Management: Port San Luis Harbor District.
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