Don't believe everything you read (except in this book). On a visit to Hearst Castle I had read that the fishing at Cayucos was generally poor—and so, I avoided it for years. I would drive right by the town as I headed north to San Simeon, or south to Morro Bay. Boy, was I wrong! Surprisingly, it took a trip on a boat to teach me the fallacy of my belief. In late July of 1988 I had stopped at Morro Bay for a little twilight fishing on the party boat “Mallard.” I experienced some excellent fishing on the boat, but what intrigued me the most was the story of the deckhand who claimed that dozens of large halibut were being caught daily off of the nearby Cayucos Pier. And though he said it was the local regulars with “know how” who were catching the fish, I figured my experience, and “know how” just might yield me a fish or two.
The next morning I was out on the pier! The deckhand was right, but that was only part of the story. Anglers fishing near the surf were catching large surfperch, both barred and calico, in quantities large enough to fill buckets. Halfway out on the pier, the fishermen were catching small bocaccio two to three at a time, as well as walleye and silver surfperch. At the far end, anglers were catching shinerperch (and some anchovies) and then using them as live bait for halibut. Lying on the pier were several halibut, each of near gunny sack-length. Evidently the halibut were spawning around the pier and anglers with the proper technique and gear were having the kind of action more common out on the boats. I was lucky enough to catch a few of each of these; unfortunately, I could only stay a brief time. I do not know how many more days the halibut continued to spawn in the shallow waters around the pier. I do know the deckhand had said the halibut had been biting for over a week. By the way, the deckhand managed to avoid working on the boat that next morning—he was out on the end of the pier just for the halibut.
Environment. The pier is located near the north end of Estero Bay with the shoreline cutting due west to the right of the pier. To the south, a sandy beach (mostly Morro Strand State Beach) runs all the way to Morro Rock and most mornings will see a combination of beach strollers, joggers and even horses on the sand. To the north of the pier sits a small creek and soon tide pools, rocks, and bluffs begin to be the predominate features all the way to San Simeon.
The bottom around the pier is mostly sand but there are some large rocks near by. Most years can also see a fairly good growth of kelp around the pilings, especially late spring into the fall months. A not unwelcome fact is the location itself; the juxtaposition of southward facing beach and inland canyons seems to provide a mechanism that allows the fog to burn off faster than areas to the north and south. In fact, it can sometimes be downright cold in Morro Bay while it’s shirtsleeve weather at Cayucos; sometimes but not always. The town itself is another old-fashioned California beach town, a somewhat bigger brother to Avila.
Although the rustic and narrow pier is 953-foot-long, this is primarily a shallow-water pier with most of the species common to such environments. The inshore surf area is dominated by the larger surfperch—barred surfperch and calico surfperch. Joining that duo are an occasional starry flounder or sand sole, a few skates, and in the spring time some of the larger perch (blackperch and striped seaperch) down around the pilings. Anglers may also encounter a few species generally considered more common to the south. Thornback rays (throw-‘em-backs) are a regular catch at the pier (sometimes becoming a nuisance) while lesser numbers of shovelnose guitarfish are also taken. These will be found just past the surf line out to the mid-pier area. Some warm-water years may also see large concentrations of queenfish.
The mid-pier area generally sees the largest concentrations of the smaller perch—walleye, silver, spotfin, and, of course, shinerperch. The end spots will yield all of these, but also more pelagics such as Pacific and jack mackerel, Pacific sardine, Pacific herring (some years), bonito and barracuda, the last two only in warm-water years, and then normally in the fall. Best action for the halibut, and smaller flatfish such as sole and sanddab, seems to be at the end of the pier.
White croakers (kingfish) are generally present 365 days of the year, although 366 days during leap year. Ditto to an almost equal degree the little staghorn sculpin (bullheads) that will grab hold of a bait all out of proportion to their size. At times vast concentrations of jacksmelt will also add spice to the local mix.
The schools of baby bocaccio (snapper) that used to be as predictable in the summertime as sunshine in the valley, and usually landed six at a time on the old “Lucky Joe” bait rigs, are now an occasional visitor. Some years will still see the small, bronzed “big mouths” but the limit is now one (with a ten-inch minimum length).
Fishing down around the pilings, especially when there is a good growth of kelp, will sometimes yield a number of bottom species more common to rocky areas. In the springtime you might see an occasional blackperch or striped seaperch, while summer and fall will yield up a few pileperch, cabezon and lingcod, as well as a variety of rockfish—grass, kelp, brown and black-and-yellow.
The pier is a noted place for sharks, rays and skates with most caught out toward the end, usually at night. It’s a regular July-August happening when large schools of dogfish follow the even larger schools of sardines and mackerel into the pier’s waters. Cayucos also sees quite a few species of sharks that are relatively uncommon to piers—soupfins, horn sharks, angel sharks and even sevengill sharks (including a reported 180-pounder in November of 1998). It is also one of the very few piers where swell (puffer) sharks are a common catch. Isn't that just swell?
Fishing Tips. Fishing here tends to be very good or very bad. The best advice is to call ahead if in doubt. Best bait for the nearshore barred and calico surfperch is live sand crabs, fresh mussels, bloodworms, pile worms or small pieces of shrimp. I prefer a simple hi/lo rigging while many prefer a sliding leader, Carolin-rig approach. The surfperch can also be taken on grubs and the increasingly common Berkeley Gulp worms.
Farther out, small strips of anchovy seem to work best on the walleye surfperch, silver surfperch and spotfin surfperch, although sea worms fished near the top can yield jacksmelt, and pieces of anchovy or squid can yield white croaker and, at times, a few queenfish. The smallish Pacific butterfish also visit the pier some years. Best bait for these seems to be small pieces of mussel fished on size 6-8 hooks a few feet under the surface of the water.
Flatfish such as flounder, sanddabs, and sole will usually strike a worm-baited hook or a small strip of anchovy fished near the bottom, especially if cast out and slowly retrieved. The larger halibut prefer live bait, which you will have to catch yourself. Although there are times you can use a bait rig or net to get some anchovies, sometimes you may need to settle for small brown bait (white croakers) which seemingly are always available. Many times you will also see good concentrations of shinerperch and small walleye surfperch. These are normally found in the depressions between the pilings out toward the end of the pier, and both are good halibut bait. (For some reason most of the walleye surfperch I've seen at Cayucos are on the small side.)
Most pilings here have a good growth of mussels and fishing under the pier, near the pilings, using mussels for bait, will occasionally yield a blackperch, striped seaperch or rubberlip seaperch. Less frequently caught are pileperch and rainbow seaperch. If schools of immature bocaccio are present (assuming their numbers increase and the limit is raised) bait rigs such as Sabikis will be the standard rigging. Fish mid-pier, drop your line to the bottom, and then start a slow retrieve. Usually you will have fish on your line by mid-depth.
Multi-hook bait rigs will also work well when schools of sardines or Pacific herring swing by the pier and sometimes they're deadly on jacksmelt, mackerel and jack mackerel. For the sardines and herring use size 12 or 14 hooks; for the jack mackerel use size 8-6 hooks; for the Pacific mackerel use size 6-2 hooks. Generally a long cast with an erratic retrieve will yield up the fish if present. When the fish are thick bare hooks are often all you need; when they’re a little more persnickety you can put on a small piece of squid or, for the mackerel, a small piece of mackerel.
A number of steelhead have also been reported from the pier. All were small (8-14”) and most were taken on Sabiki bait rigs (one was taken on a grub). The majority were caught near the end of the pier with the exception of one that was taken inshore down by the pilings. November was the time for all; apparently while waiting for the nearby creek to open they decided to make a visit to the pier. All were released.
Like many piers along this stretch of coast, Cayucos sees an active shark fishery at night. Most anglers use heavy gear, and the most common bait is a freshly caught small fish (sardine, mackerel, smelt, white croaker, perch, small rockfish) that is either cut in part diagonally for bait or given several diagonal cuts in the skin to allow blood to attract the sharks. A fairly common technique is to chum with cans of generic cat food (which are cheaper than the advertised brands). Holes are punched in the cans and then the cans are lowered into the water (20 feet from the surface of the pier) using a mesh bag on the end of a rope.
Most commonly caught “sharks” are spiny dogfish, leopard sharks (a 36-pound, 51-inch leopard was reported in February of '99), and brown smoothhounds, although the same baits, rigs and times will also see several cousins of sharks—bat rays, skates (usually big skates), thornback rays and shovelnose guitarfish. And, the big skates do get big as seen in the 25-square-foot, 100+-pound big skate caught in July of 2004. Twenty-five square foot? The skate measured roughly five feet long and five feet wide so in my book that’s twenty-five square feet.
One night, in April of 1991, I witnessed a large 100+pound bat ray being landed on the pier. Unfortunately, it was a Pyrrhic victory of sorts due to the careless manner in which the big ray was handled. Bounced on the pier, tail cut off, deeply imbedded hook cut from the mouth, all actions seemed destined to insure the demise of the creature. This was true even though the victor of the fight “released the fish to fight another day.” That statement was somewhat of a misnomer. What it meant was that the angler and his buddies managed to hoist the large creature up to the railing (after dropping it twice), pushed it over the side, and then watched it slam into the piling before slowly drifting away. Although bat rays are really tough, in this case an obsequy (funeral rite) would have been appropriate.
Fairly rare, but interesting, was a “run” of soupfin sharks that invaded the pier's waters for over a week near the start of 1997. Most of the fish that were caught were small but one was a 65-pound fish that measured nearly five-and-a-half-feet in length. That may have been a record soupfin for the pier at the time but the action wasn't over. March saw a good run of shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) that are far more common in the late-fall, warm-water months, and then in April, a 43-inch-long, 30-pound angel shark was caught. Most years seem to be like that; there is something new almost every month. By the way, Wayne Davis, the angler who caught the angel shark as well as many of the other large sharks at the pier (see the sevengill shark story below), caught an 8-foot-long, 85-pound thresher shark in June of '00. Another angel shark, this time a 65-pound fish, was reported in August of 2004. By the way, a nearly identical soupfin to the 1997 fish was caught in June of ’08. It too was five-and-a-half-feet in length.
If you find yourself at the pier during a run of bocaccio remember that they now have severe restrictions on their take; just let them go. At such times you will also often catch small illegal-sized lingcod. Please handle them with care and return them to the water unharmed. The same can be said about undersized halibut; let them grow to become legal-size fish.
One final tip at the pier is to always bring a jacket with you. Even though Cayucos is noted for better weather than other nearby areas, it is still common to get a strong breeze in the afternoon and often these can be bone-chillin’ type winds, so be prepared. The good news is that most of the tourists desert the pier when the winds come up so you may have the whole pier to yourself and that’s good—at least if you’re the solitary type.
Date: August 19, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Dennis Herndon
Subject: Cayucos Pier Update
Hello Ken, I have been fishing Cayucos Pier pretty much on a daily basis for the past 3-4 weeks and would like to offer this report. Lots of bait has been in the water. Mostly anchovies, some sardines. The shearwaters, pelicans and terns have been diving like crazy. Also there have been a family of porpoise working the area and have been attracting a lot of lookie-loos out onto the pier. Mackerel have been almost non-existent. There have been at least one halibut caught each day. Most are just legal. One fish at 28 inches was landed last week. Many anglers are catching the anchovies with mackerel rigs and keeping them live for halibut bait. Jacksmelt and kingfish are plentiful.
There have been a lot of thresher sharks jumping and one angler today hooked one in the tail. The fish was about 4-foot-long. It did manage to get away after about a 5-minute fight. I have counted at least 30 threshers jumping in the past few days. Some are well over 6 feet long. Some are right at the pier, well within casting distance. I have been fishing for them for 2 days now and have had no luck. I have been using a slider rig with a balloon to keep it on top and have tried live anchovies, mackerel, small jack smelt and small queenfish. I have tried a 25-lb mono leader and I have tried a 40-lb plastic coated wire leader. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Dennis' Fishing Page
Date: December 13, 1998
To: Ken Jones
From: Dennis Herndon
Subject: Cayucos Seven Gill
Wayne is a friend of mine and the person that caught the 180-lb sevengill shark at Cayucos last month. It took him over an hour to land. He caught the fish on a fresh sardine. He was using 40-lb mono and NO wire leader. It took six guys to lift the fish onto the pier and they had three rope gaffs in the fish. One of the gaffs, if you can believe it, went into the shark’s mouth. The shark was 7 1/2 feet long. Wayne told me that he hooked a big thresher the day before. When he caught this fish he found the hook that he was using the day before in its mouth. I have included a picture for you it you would like to put it on your site.
Dennis' Fishing Page
Date: August 2, 2000
To: Ken Jones
Subject: Cayucos Pier
Hi Ken, This is Wayne from Cayucos. Fishing has finally picked up, the sharks are plentiful at night and the baitfish are runnin’ but it’s hit and miss. The grunion run last night brought the sharks in and everyone was catchin’ them; we had eight of them before the night was over, largest being 5 foot, smallest being 3 1/2 foot. Squid was the best bet on bait. There hasn't been any legal halibut yet! I've landed 2 shorty's but there’s been so much bait in the water you couldn't force feed a halibut any bait. But we’re still trying; now that the bait has thinned out maybe we'll have better luck with the halibut. Shinerperch (punkin seeds) are the best bait now. If you know the right spots you can catch 'em pretty easy. Now if the whales would stay away there might not be all the lookydoos and they wouldn’t be upsetting your poles while your fishing. It’s bad enough with the halibut being finicky anyway. Thanks a lot, Wayne
Date: September 15, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Cayucos & Morro 9/14
Went to Cayucos Pier from about 9pm-11 deciding to just work with my squid and that one mackerel. Threw out chunks of that mackerel and got a hard hit within 10 minutes. After the initial hit it just felt like pulling dead weight (and a lot of it). Got it to the surface to see that it was yet another swell shark. This one was definitely the largest one I have hooked yet. It must have filled up with water because it was way too heavy to hand over hand up on 12-lb test. After trying to remove the knots in my rope on my crab hoop I had to watch him come right off and swim away. Oh well I guess that's a clean release. Would have liked to get a picture and a tape to it though. I think it was well over 3 feet long and most that I have read say they only get to be 3 feet. The pier was very fogged in, visibility was low and there were a bunch of anglers crowding under the lights. Also caught a few white croakers, bullheads and jacksmelt with squid strips on Sabiki. Most everyone was shark fishing but I did not see another one caught while I was there.
Date: November 26, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Cayucos Pier 11/26 Report -- Steelhead Surprise!!!
Fished Cayucos pier 9:30-12:30. Low/incoming tide. Had some pile worms left over from my San Luis Res. trip on the weekend and wanted to use them before they dried out so decided to go perch fishing. When I arrived there were only 2 other anglers, they were catching perch and jacksmelt one after another on what looked like mussels or clams. I caught a small smelt right away on my bare Sabiki and threw it out on a sliding live bait rig hoping for a halibut. Not even a bite on that rod all morning. I baited my Sabiki with cut pile worm and put it down in the pilings for perch. I caught several barred surfperch this way and several jacksmelt (some very large ones). I was hooking up every minute or so when suddenly I was pulling up what looked to be 3 VERY large smelt at once. I got the line out of the water and noticed the one on the bottom wasn't a smelt. My first thought was that it was a huge white croaker when I saw the pink on its sides, I got it closer and thought maybe its a small white sea bass. I got it on the pier and to my surprise it was a Steelhead! It was just a small one but it was a steelhead nonetheless! It was about 14” long maybe 2-lbs. It lost a lot of scales when it hit the planks so I wanted to get it back in the water right away. I don't know if it was schooling with the smelt or what but it took the pile worm and they all 3 hit at the same time. I fished for another hour or two hoping for another only bigger. I was fishing just opposite the fish cleaning station.
25+ Jacksmelt (some very large ones included)
7 barred surfperch
1 walleye surfperch
All released unharmed.
Date: August 25, 2003
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Cayucos Pier 8/23
August 23, 10am to 2pm, Cayucos Pier; Custom rod of unknown origin and unknown components, 7 ft long; Pfluger Oceanic reel; 20-lb line, unknown brand (borrowed rig); Trolley Rig, 3 oz flat sinker, 3” Silver Perch for bait
I finally made it back to the Central Coast this past weekend. After much time had been spent planning my short stay to include as much fishing as possible while still accommodating my wife’s desires and our friends who were invited along, I only got to go out once on Saturday. However, the quality of the trip made up for the lack of quantity...
While our wives went shopping, my friend and I spent some time on the Cayucos Pier. We started out about mid-pier with a couple of Sabiki rigs to try and make some bait. We used bare rigs at first and soon progressed to baiting the hooks with squid, chicken livers, and some cooked bacon that my friend snagged from the breakfast dishes as we left the house. We weren’t catching anything, just like most of the other people on the pier. One lady was catching some shiners, though, but not very many.
After awhile, we decided to try the end of the pier. My friend’s Bacon-Sabiki started getting hits right away. He pulled in some little fish (less than 3” long) that looked like some kind of bass, but it was difficult to tell. He also brought up a small silver perch that he wasn’t interested in keeping. He gave it to me and I had visions of pulling in a halibut—just like Eddie did the other day. So I made up a trolly rig like I saw in Ken’s book and let that little fish go to do his thing. While I was waiting, I used my light rod to jig around the pilings. My friend kept pulling up little fish with his Sabiki and wouldn’t switch to a bigger rig because he said he was having too much fun with the little guys. After a while, I noticed that my rod tip quickly dipped just a little, twice. I figured it was the perch swimming around and went back to jigging. About 20 minutes later, I decided to check on the little guy and picked up my rod. Wow! It felt heavier than a 3-inch perch! I thought I was hooked in some kelp, or maybe on a piling. I cranked a little and hauled back on the rod, and then I felt something alive on the end of my line—and it was kind of heavy! It didn’t run and didn’t fight much, so I just hauled and reeled. I looked over the railing and there was this ugly face looking back at me with lobate fins spread out on either side and two eyes sitting on top of the head. A big rockfish! My first though was that I had hooked a Cabezon.
Well, here I was with no net, no gaff; and my rod was bent double. So I handed my rod to my partner and pulled this fish up hand over hand until he was safe on the deck. Man, he was ugly! And look, he’s blue—I had a Lingcod! My, what big teeth he had! I had to step on his lower jaw with the toe of my shoe in his mouth to keep him still enough to measure. While being measured, he started chewing on my foot—that was a weird sensation. 24-1/2 inches—long enough to keep. I considered throwing him back, but decided that he would taste great on the grill. So, now two nice-sized fillets are waiting in the frig for dinner tonight!
Date: May 27, 2004
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Dazzlin' Dan
On a vacation couple years ago, I was fishing off the end of Cayucos Pier. About 9 AM, this white bearded guy in his 60s drives out to the end of the pier in a golf cart, takes out a rod, sticks a big fish head on a huge treble hook and casts it way out. I generally like to pick up fishing tips from local regulars, so I asked him if he was fishing for sharks and if he fished this pier often. He told me that he was disabled and semi-retired, and fished the pier the same four days each week.
I asked him what was the biggest shark he had seen caught at the pier. He told me that he had caught a 7 1⁄2-footer, but that he had seen an 8 1/2 footer caught, and launched into a series of Cayucos “big shark” stories. Now I have seen my share of threshers caught at Pacifica and leopards in the Bay, but I was skeptical about all these monster shark stories. However, I kept listening politely because who can begrudge an old fisherman his stories? I noticed that he didn’t have a net, and I asked him how he got such large sharks up on the pier. He showed me his pier gaff. Then he told another story about how he was having trouble gaffing this 7-foot shark, so his buddy jumped off the pier, grabbed the pier gaff with one hand and the shark with the other, and manually gaffed the shark. This was too much for me—I started to feel insulted that he expected me to believe this, and I backed out of the conversation.
Then he said he was featured in Sunset Magazine, and pulled a scrapbook out of his golf cart. The scrapbook indeed contained an article about Cayucos Pier and referenced a pier rat named “Dazzlin’ Dan.” Then he turned a page in the scrapbook and showed me a photo of him on Cayucos Pier with a 7 1⁄2-foot shark. There was another photo of an 8-foot shark on the pier. Then he showed me a photo with another big shark and his (wet) buddy who had jumped in after it. Picture after picture of very impressive sharks on the pier – enough to back up his tales. Ya never know.
Date: February 5, 2005
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Perchin' the Yuke
Fished Cayucos Pier from about 3-5:30pm Thursday. Midway through a small incoming. Went looking to get some grubbing in without getting wet. I set up just outside the surf zone and worked a Carolina'd grub from the sand back out to me on the North Side (South had a bunch of surfers out). I stuck with small Kalin's Perch Power's scented with shrimp oil and on the other outfit a Sabiki tipped with cut mackerel. The grub caught fish immediately but the mackerel at the edge of the surf ended up producing much better fish (numbers and size). I also tried cut shrimp which caught a couple of fish too but they definitely liked the blood bait better. Most fish were small, a few were pushing 1-lb.
After the perch bite tapered I moved out to deeper water. The bottom from just outside the breakers to as far as I could cast off the end must have been covered in little sanddabs. Unfortunately most are the speckled variety and few were over 5”. They would hit any small hook baited with anything near the bottom (they'd hit it before it even got down). I quickly got bored releasing these little things and went home. Don't the bullheads know that Cayucos Pier is their territory? Do they realize that a bunch of little dabs are stealing their (annoying) thunder? A regular at the pier said he caught a few sharks the night before. There must be a regular sanddab buffet for any predators lurking. Maybe I'll give it a whirl tonight to see for myself.
4 BSP on grubs
13 BSP on cut mack
2 big walleyes (shrimp and mack)
ALL fish released.
Date: June 20, 2005
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Cayucos Pier
In hopes of finding some shark action I took the stroll out onto the pier about 5pm. There was one other family group that was spread out over the last half of the left side. Most of their rods were out for the big boys but they reported some perch and croakers on the bait catching outfits. I threw a Sabiki tipped with mackerel pieces and couldn't keep it in the water. No smelt or mackerel, just a white hot croaker bite. Just before dark I gave up on the small stuff and went with two bigger rods. One was set up for anything that might come along, the other a bit smaller (17-lb test) to keep those lil guys fun. The little rod (Slydo, 24” 30-lb wire, 2/0 lightwire circle baited with a squid head) got bent first. I was surprised by the little skate in the pic. My second of the year at Cayucos (fairly rare around here). The angler next to me reported catching some bigger ones recently at Avila Pier.
Went on to have steady, even if not stellar, action. Most came on my bigger rod using Offshore Angler 5/0 wide gap circles and golfball sized chunks of mackerel. The swell sharks were out in force along with the thornbacks. No dogs or leopards like I saw on the weekend. As usual the swell sharks provided the tourists and other fisherman something to gawk at. Luckily I didn't have to burp any!
The family next to me was getting frustrated. Every time I got one on they'd chime in "Not again!" I suggested they lose the squid and go with fishy baits and before I left they had started to catch thornbacks at least. I decided to let them have my hot corner and left about 10:30.
~20 white croaker (mackerel tipped Sabiki, even some 12”ers!!)
4 swell sharks (up to 30”, on mackerel)
2 thornbacks (mackerel)
1 (small) Big? skate (squid head)
All fish released.
Most fish came between 8pm and 9:30pm. Fishy baits work best. Weather was cold and windy upon arrival but calmed at dark like it’s supposed to and was a nice evening after that. Moon was full, sky was clear. High tide was about 9:30pm and was almost a +7!!! Great Cayucos tides and a classic Cayucos Summer evening (well would have been with a dogshark or two).
Date: April 22, 2006
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Cayucos is actually pretty hot right now....
To start this story, let me give you some background. On Tues. night of this last week, my friends and I went out to Cayucos to do some fishing since we hadn’t been there in a while. There were a bunch of people fishing there and within 5 minutes of us fishing, we caught two small spiny dogfish. The rest of the night was fun and we caught about 15 small dogfish between us. A gentleman at the end actually caught about a 4-foot shark that we helped land. It was fun so we decided to go back last night... and wow. We got there around 8pm and the night started of with my roommate catching the biggest thornback I have ever seen. That’s not that impressive, but it was an indication of the night to come. An hour later or so, my pole almost goes flying off the end of the pier. A 15 minute battle later, and with the help of those on the pier, I landed a 50-60-lb bat ray! That is my first successful landing of one. I was using 65-lb spectra that I had just bought that day. Boy was I glad I did. An hour or so after that, my roommates pole literally flies off the end of the pier, and we see in make its way into the ocean blue with something on the end of it. I made 3 desperate attempts to snag his line or pole with my rig, and on the third time, I got it. I fought his fish for about 5 minutes with my rig on his pole. Eventually we got a pier gaff and snagged his rod in the water once it was close enough, and then he finished off the battle for 15 minutes longer. With the help of some fellow Cal Poly students (thanks guys if you read this) we landed a 56-inch guitarfish! Now this is the first one I have seen alive and it was a monster. I didn’t think that they got any further north than Pismo either. Anyway, it weighed almost just as much as the bat ray. Not wanting to end the night yet, we stayed till 3am and about an hour or two before we actually left, I caught what I came to catch, my first shark of any significant size. The dogfish tipped the tape at just over 37 inches and was a decent fight. So, for all of you wondering what is going on at Cayucos, here is just a taste. All I can say is get out there and chance it...we did and boy did it pay off!!
-two ten foot poles: one with 65lb spectra and the other with store spooled 20lb test.
-squid and whole sardines for bait
-wire leader and 6/0 circles
-50-60lb bat ray with 3ft. wingspan
-56 inch shovelnose
-37.5 inch spiny dogfish
Authors Note No. 1. Cayucos Beach, adjacent to the pier, is the northernmost beach in California with grunion runs. If you're staying in the area during the appropriate times (nighttime high tides which occur during the spring and summer, and which follow the first three to four nights after the full and the dark of the moon), go down to the beach and see if you can catch some of the elusive smelt with your hands. And no, they really are not the ocean equivalent of snipe, they're just little sex-crazed fish that have a thing for the beach.
Authors Note No. 2. For years a local sight was Snowflake, a harbor seal that seemed to have adopted the pier (or at least the water around the pier) as his residence. He was a popular attraction for tourists and truth be told most anglers also looked forward to Snowflake sticking his speckled head up above the water as though checking out the action on the pier.
Of course he wasn’t always welcome (for example, when he infrequently decided to steal a fish from an angler's line). When the anglers decided they had enough of Snowflake for the day they would shake a yellow towel at him. That was the signal for him to leave the area. Sounds like a story that an expatriate from Pittsburgh might have invented—you know, all those Pittsburgh Steeler fans waving their yellow “terrible towels.” But I haven’t seen Snowflake in my last few trips to the pier. Hope he simply found a new love and vacated the premises for some better digs.
Authors Note No. 3. One of my favorite visits to the pier was a less than stellar (fish wise) visit in July of 2008. Having heard that the pier was yielding up sardines for bait, and numerous sharks (dogfish) for sport, I made an early morning visit to the pier. Unfortunately, for me, most of the shark action was occurring during the nocturnal, midnight to three hours, and I would fail to catch a shark on this visit. But there had been action as evidenced by the odor at the end of the pier: an effluvium connoting death. Dried blood from the previous night’s shark fest splotched the surface of the pier while blood, guts, and squid slime coated the top of the rails.
To make matters even worse, I failed in my mission to replenish my bait cooler with sardines. The sardines were there, but 300-400 yards out from the pier. That was where several pods of dolphin, hundreds of cormorants, and several phalanx of pelicans were attacking shoals of unseen fish. Most impressive were the pelicans that were doing their dive bomb routines almost straight down into the water after their prey. Each splash of the big birds would elicit comment from the tourists watching nature’s show and it was indeed a pretty impressive display. Numerous seals were also in attendance but the dolphins and pterodactyl-imitating pelicans stole the show. The spectacle lasted for the nearly three hour time I was there and became one of those just wish moments... as in just wish I had a movie camera with me.
Luckily, the anodyne scene served as a soothing balm for the somewhat desultory catch that I recorded, one made up mainly of small spotfin surfperch, mid-sized jack mackerel, and a lone giant jacksmelt (one of the largest I have ever seen).
Authors Note No. 4. I’ve heard some anglers call the town Yucos and thought they simply were shortening the town’s name. But, I’ve only heard the pseudonym used when the fishing was—yucky. Just wondering... is it only a fisherman thing?
Authors Note No. 5. Although Cayucos has long prided itself on its small town charm and atmosphere, its California-style joie de vivre and beach-town Weltanschauung carry a price. Rare is the home that is any longer affordable for the average citizen. To make matters worse, Cayucos has been discovered. When a national magazine, in this case Men’s Journal, can rate it as one of its 25 favorite “hideouts and secret spots,” it no longer qualifies as a hideout or as a secret spot.
Authors Note No. 6. Long noted as an excellent pier from which to catch sharks, Great Whites are not one of the species landed at the pier. Nor do locals care to see them around. But...
Great white shark spotted near Cayucos Pier
Posting warning signs and advising beach-goers to swim with caution, Cal Fire officials combed a beach near the Cayucos Pier on Sunday afternoon after confirming what they say was a credible shark sighting earlier in the day.
The reported 16-foot great white shark was circling under the pier around 1:50 p.m., according to Cal Fire Capt. Chad Britton. Britton would not say who reported the sighting, only that the person has made credible sightings in the past. “We’re trying to bring everyone onto shore and let people know they’re swimming at their own risk,” Britton said.
Cal Fire officials did not say how long the advisory would be in effect. It was the fourth shark sighting deemed credible this year. The last sighting was off Cambria’s Moonstone Beach on July 6.
Most waters within San Luis Obispo County adopted shark sighting notification policies after a shark killed Deborah Franzman of Nipomo off Avila Beach in August 2003. The Port San Luis Harbor District adopted a policy that allows it to close Avila Beach and other waters under its jurisdiction for five days after a sighting is deemed to be credible. Other local communities—Pismo Beach, Morro Bay and Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area—keep their waters open but post signs warning swimmers of the potential danger.
By 4 p.m., pods of surfers, bodyboarders and kayakers lingered in the water near the beach. Curtis Brumit, who had been surfing about 1.5 miles away from the pier, came out of the water after hearing about the shark sighting. Brumit said he saw a couple of dolphins while surfing last week, but today’s seal sightings made him think twice about staying in the water. Sitting on the beach with dripping blond hair and a semi-dry wet suit, John Foster, 6, of Cayucos, said the sighting didn’t alarm him. He was part of a group of bodyboarders that included his mother closer to the pier. The group paddled to shore after being told about the sighting but went back in after scanning the water for about 45 minutes.
Despite the recent sightings, shark attacks are uncommon. According to the International Shark Attack File—a project at the Florida Museum of Natural History that tracks shark attack statistics—the odds of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 11.5 million and the likelihood of being killed are less than 1 in 264.1 million.
—Sona Patel, San Luis Obispo Tribune, Oct. 01, 2007
Shark seen circling surfer in Cayucos
State Parks officials have posted warning signs south of the Cayucos Pier after several beach-goers reported spotting a great white shark—and seeing it circle a paddling surfer.
It was the second time in a week that signs were posted to warn would-be swimmers that a shark had been spotted in the waters off Cayucos. The first sighting, on Sunday, was at the Cayucos Pier. The second took place Wednesday at nearby Old Creek. “My guess is that it would be the same (shark) that was at the Cayucos Pier, which is three-quarters of a mile north,” said Ray Smith, supervising park ranger for the coastal section from Montaña de Oro to the Estero Bluffs park.
Surfer Chris Kelley of Cambria reported being chased by the shark at Old Creek. Rangers interviewed five or six people who confirmed seeing a shark in the surf line, Smith said. Kelley was surfing with his friend when he saw something break the surface of the water. “My biggest feeling wasn’t fear; it was confusion,” Kelley said. “It was more like a big rock that wasn’t supposed to be moving.” Kelley paddled into shore as people were yelling, “Shark! Shark!” Witnesses on the beach said they saw the shark circle Kelley’s board several times as he paddled in, but Kelley didn’t notice. Witnesses told Kelley they thought the shark could have been 15 feet or longer. After he got in safely, Kelley and his friend walked down the beach, urging people to get out of the water.
According to State Parks guidelines, signs warning people to swim with caution will stay posted for five days. Marine biologists say it is common for great white sharks to congregate along the California coast during the late summer and fall, as they follow seals, which in turn are tracking schools of small fish.
—David Sneed, San Luis Obispo Tribune, Oct. 05, 2007
Did You Know? The Cayucos Pier can be seen in the 1959 movie The Monster of Piedras Blancas?
Did You Know? The Cayucos Pier is often a good place to spot whales? While gray whales are the most common cetaceans seen from the pier, humpback whales are also visitors to Estero Bay, especially in the late summer months.
History Note. The name Cayucos (pronounced Ki-YOO-cos) apparently derives from the Spanish word cayuco, which means a fishing canoe. It was a Spanish rendering of the Eskimo word kayak and apparently referred to the bidarkas of the Aleuts who were employed in hunting sea otter along the California coast. The town was laid out and named in 1875.
That same year saw the construction of a deep-water, 940-foot-long pier by Captain James Cass, a pier that quickly became a regular stop for ships of the Pacific Steamship Company. Damage to the wharf was recorded from tsunamis on November 22, 1878 (from a Southern California earthquake) and March 28, 1964 (from the Alaska earthquake).
A Fish and Game bulletin in 1953 recorded: “The coast of San Luis Obispo County was famous for its abalones and a colony of Japanese dried them at Cayucos till 1915 when a state law prohibited drying. A fish cannery near the base of the pier opened in 1916 for the canning of sardines and abalones although there had been some canning of abalone here as early as 1905. The plant closed in 1920 chiefly because of the rough water at this unprotected pier. Fishing boats could unload only in fair weather and could find shelter only at Morro Bay. Now there are no facilities for handling commercial fish other than the pier as a fair-weather landing spot. The fish landings at Cayucos have averaged 12,000 pounds per year for the past 20 years. The species have been abalone, rockfish, smelt, and lingcod. Two or three small boats have had headquarters here but abalone diving has been the chief activity.”
That same report indicated that there were four party boats operating from the pier in 1952 and that the pier was heavily used by anglers. The current pier replaced that original pier and was built on the same site.
Cayucos Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day year round.
Facilities: Benches, lights, and fish cleaning stations are found on the pier. Adequate free parking is found near the foot of the pier along with restrooms and showers. If the kids get bored, the beach also has a nice collection of playground equipment. Near the entrance to the pier is the Tidepool, an excellent source for bait, tackle, and refreshments.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking but non-handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is wood planking with a rail height of 39 inches. Not posted for handicapped.
How To Get There: Take Highway 1 to either Ocean Boulevard, which is the main street and will take you past the pier, or take the Cayucos Drive exit which will take you straight to the pier.
Management: San Luis Obispo County.
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