|Coronado Ferry Landing Pier
I spotted this pier one day from the downtown side of San Diego Bay. I drove across the Coronado Bridge, was unable to find the pier and left it out of the first edition of Pier Fishing in California. Later, I found directions to the pier and could have kicked myself because it is so easy to reach. It sits behind a shopping complex and although completely hidden by the shops, it’s a short, easy walk from the corner of the street.
A good name for this pier would be “Stingray Central.” I have rarely had a trip to the pier when I haven't caught at least one round stingray, and I average more than two of the fish per trip. It doesn't seem to matter what bait I am using on the bottom—bloodworms, ghost shrimp, squid or pieces of fish like mackerel—the small rays will find the bait.
Environment. The pier is small (377 feet long) and although part of it is a boarding area for the ferry, the part that is open for angling yields quite a few fish. The bottom here is primarily sand and mud with several grassy areas around the pier, especially on the shore side of the pier. The pilings themselves are somewhat encrusted with fish attracting mussels. Because of the pier's size, the water depth is fairly shallow but because of the grassy areas quite a few bass—sand bass, spotted bay bass and kelp bass—seem to be caught.
Initially I thought that the pier would yield less mackerel and bonito than piers near deeper water. But I was wrong! The water is plenty deep on the bay side, is often good for mackerel, and is at least fair for bonito during the years when they make an appearance.
The overall mix of fish mirrors, for the most part, that of most piers located in southern California bays: jacksmelt, topsmelt, mackerel, and (some years) bonito on the top; bass, perch, croakers, halibut, turbot, rays and sharks on the bottom. However, the waters in South San Diego Bay are noted for quite a few warm-water, Panamic Province species, fish more common to Baja south. Several bonefish and shortfin corvina have been landed at the pier, a banded guitarfish (Zapteryx exasperata) was caught in August of 2002, a big California butterfly ray (Gymnura marmorata) was landed in September of ’02, and a speckled midshipman (Porichthys myriaster) was taken in May of ’06. Of course the latter is perhaps not that unexpected given the number of Navy personnel in the area. A fish becoming more and more common are giant (black) sea bass and a baby of around 30 pounds was landed (and released) from the pier in May of 2009.
Fishing Tips. Several different approaches can be tried here. First is to buy an umbrella drop net. Attach a few pieces of bread to the net, drop it down into the water, and catch yourself some small smelt or anchovies. Then, using the live bait, fish directly under the pier (or off the far left corner) on the bottom for halibut. Or, try in the grassy areas for barred sand bass, spotted sand bass and kelp bass. Try near the landing dock for bass in both quantity and quality.
During the spring, try fishing in the grassy areas with bloodworms, mussels or ghost shrimp for blackperch, white seaperch, rubberlip perch and sargo. Fishing on the bottom or mid-depth, while using small hooks, size 6 or 8, and pieces of anchovy or mackerel, will sometimes also yield herring (queenfish) or tom cod (white croaker). Salema are also a frequent visitor.
At night this can be a good pier for sharks and rays. Casting out away from the pier and using mackerel or squid as bait, will often result in gray smoothhound sharks, bat rays, and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish). As mentioned, this pier, both day and night, also yields a lot of stingrays. Although I caught one of the larger and less common diamond stingrays (Dasyatis dipterura) in a visit in July of 2007, the vast majority of stingrays will be the smaller-sized round stingrays (called stingers and teacup saucers by some of the PFIC regulars). Handle them with care but return them to the water.
Nocturnal hours will also yield spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, sargo and an occasional China (black) croaker. For these, use a high/low rigging on the bottom and use bloodworms, mussels or ghost shrimp as your bait. Similar riggings and baits will also yield diamond turbot much of the year but remember to keep the hooks small if these are your target.
Another croaker, the shortfin corvina (Cynoscion parvipinnis), is (as mentioned) occasionally taken at the pier. Although recorded north to Huntington Beach, corvina are fairly rare to California waters preferring the warmer waters to the south in Baja. Recent studies seem to show that a population exists in south San Diego Bay. Most shortfins are taken at night, especially during the warmer-water summer months, and both baits and lures (including top-water plugs, Fish Traps, Big Hammers, and Berkley Gulp Minnows in pink or green—among others) are used to capture the toothy croakers.
The shortfin corvina should not be confused with white seabass or corbina, two other croaker species found in these waters. Nor should they be confused with the orangemouth corvina, the large corvina once so common in the Salton Sea. Just to add to the confusion, don’t mix ‘em up with their other giant brethrens—totuava, red drum (channel bass), or black drum, all fellow members of the distinguished croaker clan. And, thinking in ways most strange, I wonder what a tartan of the croaker clan would look like?
Back to fishing. For mackerel or jacksmelt try a multi-hook bait rig. Cast out, let the line sink part way to the bottom and then start a slow but steady retrieve. If the mackerel are wary, put a size 4 or 2 hook on the end of your line and add a split-shot sinker or twist-on sinker three foot above the hook. Keep your bait 6-8 feet under the surface of the water (and you may find that you also need a bobber or float to do it). The key is to get the bait down to the mackerel that like to hang under the schools of smelt. The smelt will attack the bait and nibble it with their small mouths but then the mackerel will rudely barge in and grab it. When the mackerel are around you should have no problem catching a stringer of fish.
If Pacific bonito make a showing, artificial lures seem to offer your best chance for success. A plastic Cast-a-Bubble with a trailing feather (yellow and green are primo) about 3-4 feet behind often yields the best results. Barracuda will also sometimes also show up, generally in the late afternoon or evening hours, and again an artificial lure, a chrome jig like a Kastmaster or Krocodile, often proves best. Rich Reano, the webmaster for the Pier Fishing in California web site, and once a reporter for the pier, says he has even seen barracuda taken here on Salas iron jigs.
This is also a pier that seems to see a lot of California needlefish (Strongylura exilis); prey that are fun but difficult to catch. If you want to seek these, use live bait fished under a bobber or float, and cast just out from the pier. Use a size 6 hook and expect to lose at least a half-dozen baits for every needlefish that you hook. Some also suggest a strip of squid fished much like a lure; cast out and retrieve quickly.
Lures will, of course, also take several other species. Perch will sometimes hit a soft plastic grub, while spotted sand bass, barred sand bass and kelp bass will strike many different types of lures. Favorites include small 3-5 inch Scampis and Scroungers, Haddock Kreepy Krawlers and Berkley Power Sand Worms. Swim baits are also popular as well as more exotic combinations like swim baits with a rattle added and Strike Lites, which are designed to be used at night. One hint is to use freshwater jig heads that have smaller hook diameters since they are sharper. When using artificials around the pier, a good technique is to drop the lure straight down alongside the pier, let the current sweep it under the pier, wait a few seconds and then begin your retrieve. Often the fish will hit it as the lure is descending to the bottom or when you begin the retrieve. Or, you can try a lift and fall technique since you are somewhat limited in the area you can fish. The key is to keep the lure around the structure of the pier, do not work the lure away from the pier.
Both Fish Traps and Big Hammers have also proven effective on halibut with the waters inshore of the pier usually being more productive. Light tackle, by the way, is often the way to go at this pier. Water here is often crystal clear and the fish can be very wary of the heavier lines, especially during the middle of sunny days.
Date: August 9, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Ritchie Reano
Subject: Reporter for Coronado Ferry Landing Pier
Howdy! Great site by the way and I do have your book. I fish the Coronado Ferry Landing Pier almost exclusively. Here's my report.
All around great pier. Varied species. Small pier, no concession or bait stand, but the Ferry Landing has a number of nice places to eat. When the fish aren't biting you can take a walk and shop along the shops in the Ferry Landing.
Halibut seems to be the prize catch at the pier and lately are being produced consistently, average of one keeper per day. Lively smelt is the bait of choice and among the piers in San Diego, Coronado seems to have the biggest smelt population. Smelts are being caught with dip nets or small baited hooks. I recently landed and kept a 23-inch halibut using a 6-inch smelt. Jigs are also catching the flatties. Natural color shad bodies or grubs seem to work the best. Halibut rigs consist of egg sinker and snap swivel, but lately the sliding leader technique described in your book is becoming popular.
Bonito have been seen splashing the waters around the pier. But it seems every time they run by, no one seems to have their Cast-a-Bubble rig ready. I've not seen one landed recently. Mackerel runs are fair to good. Squid strips and fresh mackerel cuts are the bait of choice, but when the macs are finicky, small smelt will entice them to hit.
Yellowfin croaker are scarce and fall mainly to ghost shrimp, with a few taken on small smelt. Sand bass are abundant using live smelt or mackerel cuts. Fishing on the shore side of the pier seems to be the best area to catch them.
Good-size guitarfish are also seen being caught on this pier with squid and mackerel slabs being the bait. Other notable catches... needlenose fish (which seem to be more of an annoyance) and flounder.
Thanks! And keep up the great work with the website. Ritchie Reano
Date: August 31, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Ritchie Reano
Subject: Ferry Landing update
Hi Ken, Just got back from fishing today from the Ferry Landing Pier... Mackerel are visiting the pier in numbers. I'm seeing bucketful's lately. Most anglers are using bait rigs sweetened with squid or mackerel. Best times seemed to be early morning or late afternoon. Smelt still cloud the waters with their abundance. Catching your own bait is a breeze.
Halibut are still hitting consistently. Most are caught on smelt. I landed a 23.5-inch halibut today using a 6-inch smelt on a sliding rig. I was also talking to a father and son team and they caught a 30" halibut about two weeks ago using smelt. In fact, the halibut was so strong that it yanked his pole into the water. Fortunately, the pole floated and a treble gaff was on hand...
Recently, a friend of mine hooked a 4-foot-wingspan ray but it came off while trying to net it. No sign of bonito. Thanks! Ritchie Reano
Date: March 27, 1998
To: Ken Jones
Fishing is getting interesting at the Ferry Landing. During the recent grunion run, quite a few anglers were hooking up with some decent size rays. I only observed the catches during the day. The night fishing must have been even better. Another interesting catch was a nice sized barracuda, although a little short of legal. It was caught using a Salas iron jig fished on the surface. Live bait such as smelt are hard to come by at this time. Most of the smelt near the pier are much too big. Even if there's not a lot of catching going on, it's still a nice place to hang out on a weekend. There are shops and decent eateries only a short walk away. Take care! Sincerely, Rich Reano
Date: December 28, 1999
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Re: Now you got my attention!
I have caught some big Needlefish at Coronado Ferry Landing. You can see them cruising near the surface from this pier. I usually don’t target them, but when I see them I use a cast and retrieve method using a long strip of squid on about 6-pound line. The faster I retrieve my bait, the better luck I get on strikes.
Date: April 15, 2000
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Mark Taylor, LAc.
Subject: Coronado Ferry Landing report
Fished the landing this afternoon between about 4:30 - 8:00 pm, incoming tide. I'm kind of a beginner in these waters so I'm used to getting skunked, and today was no exception. Fished fresh sardines and frozen ‘chovies off the bottom. One good strike, but I didn't set the hook in time. Tried some Fish Traps, plastic grubs and a Kroc for a while, but nothing.
There were about 10 of us on the pier and one guy fishing over near the floating ferry dock was pulling in bass after bass. Every time we looked over this dude was pulling another decent bass out of the water. I'm told he was using dines, live or dead I don't know. He didn't look real friendly so I didn't ask. Two guys near me caught a too short butt, a nice keeper sand bass and what I think was a spotted bass. Same bait/rig as me.
One of these guys next to me must have caught a dozen small foot-long stingrays (or the same one 12 times; you have to wonder, they were identical in size) in an hour, until he decided to stop squandering his ghost shrimp and switch over to dines/chovies.
The rest of us did our best, but...that's how it goes sometimes. I wonder if the place to fish on this particular pier is where that bass-o-matic guy was—over near the floating ferry dock, which forms a right angle with the fishing portion of the pier: Maybe the decent fish like to hang out in all that cover. Tight lines and good luck!
Date: June 30, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Rich Reano
Subject: Coronado Ferry Landing
Fished the Coronado Ferry Landing Pier for an hour from 2:30pm ~ 3:30pm hoping to catch a corvina. There were quite a bit of baitfish around but large ones were nowhere to be seen. No corvina but I did manage this spotted sand bass on a watermelon red/flake zipper worm. Got him out of the water, snapped a picture and back into the water in less than 30 seconds.
Date: August 13, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: In reply to strange people...raver fish...
I was at the pier with my brother one day (this is the Coronado Ferry Landing Pier which is probably visited by interested tourists and weirdos more often than other pier).
Well, one night the last stop of the ferry hits and two girls got off of it. I noticed they were ravers by the way they were dressed. They noticed that we were using light sticks (mackerel) and one girl asks me what we used the light sticks for. I told her they're for “raver fish, the light stick attracts them because they like to dance around it. That's why they call it a raver fish. Then when they see the bait they hit it.” The girl looks at me in awe and says, “that's F***ing amazing!” So I say “yup” and they leave. My brother and I laughed about it the whole night.
raving is a style of dancing. A raver is one who likes to go to raves and dance to quasi-techno-style music. Many like to use light sticks in their hands while they are dancing to give a cool effect to their actions. I posted this story in no intentional offense toward any ravers on this board.
Don't bother me... I'm fishin. <*)))>=<| pEsCaDoR5312
Date: May 25, 2006
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Speckled midshipman
I just saw on Channel 7 News that a speckled midshipman was caught at the Coronado Ferry Landing Pier. They said that they usually live in deep water between Baja and Catalina. The fish looked to be about 7 inches long with huge teeth. Finals are done tomorrow, Ill be fishing all next week!!!
Date: March 28, 2008
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Ferry Landing Pier
I used to fish it back in the 90's. Empty then. I caught the biggest bat ray in my life, (140-lbs+!!!!), and biggest shovelnose, (53-lbs!!!). I used to catch...loads of them. Bay bass, corvina, butt's, calicos, croakers, macks, bonies, barries, needlefish, grunion, lobster, and even a few juvi white sea bass!!!! Don't know how it is now; live in the Bay Area.
Try for butt's at night on an incoming tide, on west end, cast live bait on slider, parallel to shore. Used to be about 1 legal to about 5 short, and FAST action!!!!
For the bats chuck squid on slider and 8/0 live bait hook as far as you can into the middle of the bay, (seems to be an oyster bed starting about 150 ft out), on an in or out tide to about an hour before or after, set your clicker and get ready, won't be long, and you'll catch a bunch!!!
Cast grubs near the dock, (ferry loading platform), bounce 'em and get ready for explosive calico and spotted or sand bass action, (1 out of 3 are 15 inches +!!!) Dive there during the lobster season and find HUGE bugs!! Late summer brings short barracuda with a few just at 28 inches; gotta cast far, off the northwest corner with Kocs or live smelt. Summer brings the bonies and macks, about half of them average, 1/4 of them tiny, the other 1/4 pretty damn big.
Fall full moons find the white seabass cruising by the pilings at high tide; drop a brown bait to them, and, WHAM!!!!! Measure closly, most of these are just short. When winter gets there, get some mussels, ghost shrimp, or sand crabs and fish corvina and croakers on light line, a slider, size 8 or 6 bait hook. Yellowfin, spots, and white croaker are all here. Be ready for perch to though. Used to love this place, a favorite for both fish and solitude.
Date: May 19, 2008
To: PFIC Message Board
Subject: Re: Anyone fish the Ferry Landing Pier lately/shortfin corvina?
I was talking to a very successful (2 halibut and 1 WSB) man there who said that if you fished live bait or a drop shot Fluke bass bait during a grunion run, you were “guaranteed to get corvina.” I'm going to see when the next run is, and will try to fish the Coronado Pier this weekend.
Pier Fishing In California Fish Reports
September 1997—Ritchie Reano reports a mixed bag of fish. Halibut are the “prime time” fish and quite a few are being landed every day. Ritchie has had good luck on the flatties using live smelt (which are abundant) for bait but unfortunately most of the halibut are not legal size. Lots of legal size sand bass are being caught and the mackerel counts have bounced back up after dropping during the first part of the month. Ritchie also reports that there are a lot of bat rays and needlefish around; in fact, they're becoming a nuisance to some fishermen. A run of sargo also seemed to be starting but it has apparently tapered off. Finally, Ritchie caught his first white seabass this month, an 18-inch sub legal size fish. But next time...
October 1997—Ritchie Reano reports “fishing at the pier has been up and down during the month. Some days were dismal with no fish caught. Mackerel still make some good runs by the pier. When they do come by, usually early morning or late afternoon, they come in large numbers. Fish them with the usual bait rigs. A technique that I use is smallish size live smelt fished about 2 feet under a small bobber. In addition to mackerel, you can catch needlefish that provide an exciting aerial display when hooked. The halibut seem to have left the pier. Bass fishing is decent with the best catches at night. In talking with the night fisherman, the shark fishing seems to be quite good.
January 1998—Rich Reano reports “cold and rainy weather has discouraged all but the most diehard pier fisherman this month. Those braving the inclement weather are rewarded with consistent sand bass fishing. The most productive bait seems to be live bait such as smelt. Strips of mackerel or frozen anchovies also seem to work well. Persistent fisherman using live smelt can catch halibut. The keeper-sized halibut, though rare, are still swimming about the pier. Mackerel fishing is hit and miss. Use the basic rigs and baits to catch them when they are around.”
April 1998—Rich Reano reports that things are getting interesting at this small but popular pier. Recently, during grunion runs, the fishing for decent sized rays has been good. In addition, he saw a nice sized barracuda caught by an angler using a Salas iron jig on the surface. Unfortunately live bait is hard to get, some smelt are still around the pier but most are too big to use for bait. Although Rich says fishing is still somewhat slow it is improving and with all the nearby shops and eateries it's always a great place to hang out.
June 1998—Rich Reano reports that the halibut finally have started to show up at the pier. He's seen three fish over 22 inches, two on live smelt and one on a Fish Trap. Mackerel still are sparse, but he's heard of some decent croaker fishing at night by those using ghost shrimp. He mentioned that there are pelagic crabs swimming around the waters of the pier but so far they haven't impacted the fishing
July 2002—Anchovie reports “Coronado Ferry Landing has lots of corvina being caught during the grunion runs and some legal barred bay bass” (sand bass). He also reported quite a few good-sized bat rays and shovelnose guitarfish.
June 2006—Miguel, at the Shelter Island Pier Bait & Tackle Shop, reports good numbers of corvina being taken here at night by people using live bait or on lures. His best success has been on Berkley Gulp Minnows in pink or green. He says Berkley Gulp clams are producing croakers and sargo but says to cut a strip from the clam, don’t use the whole clam. He says ghost shrimp has been the other good bait for both croakers and sargo.
Author’s Note. Oh my, how times have changed. The following discussion details how ghost shrimp (crawfish) were caught in this area back in the 1880s.
“Crawfish-tramping” these days is a lost art. Crawfish were easily obtained by removing your shoes and tramping the mud for a space three or four feet in diameter, bringing them to the surface of the mud and thereby easily providing bait for two or three to fish all day. There were no tin cans or glass in the mud in those days. You would select a place in the mud where the crawfish blowholes abounded; the finest place was on the Coronado of the Bay, from the Coronado Ferry down to Spanish Bight, a long mud-flat beach. We could go over on the ferry and back for a dime, and get more crawfish in half an hour than at the foot of Broadway in two hours. Crawfish-tramping was probably learned from the large fish—large skate, shovel-nose sharks, stingrays, halibut and other flat fish—they would select a spot where there were crawfish and they would flip up and down and bring the crawfish up. At the really low tide you could frequently see the marks where they flipped. Young boys tramped for crawfish, and carried them in little cans covered with wet seaweed, to sell as bait. Crawfish were the best bait for large-mouth, grab-at-whole-bait kind...
—Don M. Stewart, 1966
Frontier Port: A Chapter in San Diego's History
Discussing the fishing in San Diego Bay in the late 1800s
History Note. The pier itself is fairly new having been opened in 1987 at the same time the adjacent shopping center was opened. The center originally was called the Old Ferry Landing to give it historical appeal. In truth, the original ferries between Coronado and San Diego used an Orange Avenue landing located several blocks away from this spot.
When the shopping center began to host a Farmers Market the name was changed to the Ferry Landing Marketplace but eventually that was changed again, to today’s Coronado Ferry Landing.
The old Coronado to San Diego ferry (at Orange Avenue) ran from 1886 until 1969 when the Coronado Bridge was constructed. When the shopping complex and new ferry service were inaugurated in 1987, plans included fishing access at this pier, a pier which has become increasingly popular.
Although piers and wharves have lined much of Coronado's bayside shoreline over the years, the most famous pier at Coronado was probably the oceanfront pier that sat adjacent to the iconic Hotel del Coronado for over a third of a century. That pier, really a number of different piers, was used by hotel guests and people who stayed at Camp Coronado, the famous tent city located south of the hotel. Anglers were able to fish for a variety of surf species from the pier and could also charter deep-sea boats, which would haul them out into deeper waters as well as the Coronado Islands.
The earliest pier appears to have been built around 1888, the same time the hotel opened with its famous cupolas, conical towers, turrets, dormer windows and spacious lawns. The hotel was the world’s largest resort when opened (and would gain everlasting fame as the setting for the Marilyn Monroe comedy Some Like It Hot). That first pier, called the “iron pier” because iron railroad rails were laid across the pilings before the planks were placed on top, was less impressive than the hotel, being only a little over one hundred feet long. In 1891 and 1892 sections of the pier that had been damaged by high waves were repaired, and the pier was lengthened. By 1892 the Hotel del Coronado Pier was reported to be over 400 feet long. Soon, cribs (structures of wood and wire filled with rock and rubble), which acted much like a jetty, were placed alongside the pier as a buffer against the waves. Even so, the longer pier was washed out during the punishing storms of January and February 1905. Yet another pier soon replaced it, and that pier, like its predecessors, had to be periodically rebuilt due to storm damage. However, it appears that damage from storms in 1925 finished off the pier and it was never rebuilt.
Probably the most famous angler to visit the hotel's pier was Zane Grey, the author of what were, at that time, the nation's favorite western novels. In 1906, while on his California honeymoon, he caught a shark from the pier, his first saltwater fish. While his newlywed wife Dolly relaxed and read, Gray spent several days fishing from the hotel’s pier. He quickly became an avid saltwater angler and would go on to become one of the world's greatest big game fishermen, holding 13 all-tackle world records at one time. His big fish would include a world record 1,040-pound blue marlin, world record 1,036-pound tiger shark, world record 758-pound bluefin tuna, world record 618-pound silver marlin (black marlin?), 318-pound yellowfin tuna, 111-pound yellowtail and numerous smaller fish. Yet it all began with a visit to the small pier in Coronado.
Coronado Ferry Landing Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Facilities are somewhat limited on the pier itself: a few benches, lights and bait-cutting platforms. Restrooms are located a short walk from the front of the pier in the shopping center (and are only open during the hours the shopping complex is open). Both free and metered parking is available on First Street and B Avenue (25 cents an hour with a two hour maximum, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M.). Free parking is available at the shopping complex but only for those patronizing the businesses. Bait and tackle is not available but food can be found in many of the shopping establishments.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking spaces and restrooms are located in the shopping complex. The pier surface is wood and the railing is about 40 inches high.
Location: 33.654959222951774 N. Latitude, 118.004150390625 W. Longitude
How To Get There: From San Diego, take the Coronado Bay Bridge (Highway 75) to Coronado. Once over the bridge you are on Third Street. Simply follow it to B Avenue, turn right, and follow it to the front of The Old Ferry Landing — the intersection of First Street and B Avenue. The pier sits behind the shops in the complex.
Management: San Diego Unified Port District.
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