|Manhattan Beach Pier
The visit which sticks out in my mind when I think of the Manhattan Beach Pier was neither my first, nor my most productive visit. It was simply a typical August morning about a year after the pier had been rebuilt. For once the traffic was minimal, there were no problems finding a parking space, and there wasn't a problem finding a good spot on the pier.
It was 6:45 A.M. and the town was beginning to wake. The sky was calm, a few earlybirds were out for a morning jog, and a couple of young diners were enjoying their morning coffee—or cappuccino. A typical day in Paradise.
After gathering together my tackle, I headed out to the end of the pier. Four anglers were at the end and three seemed to be catching fish. I quickly baited up and soon I had my first fish, a nice-sized mackerel. And, as is usually the case with mackerel, this fish was soon followed by several of his brethren. It looked like it might be a good day.
About that time the solitary angler who wasn't catching fish ambled over. Somewhat of a sad sack, he said it was his first time fishing and wondered if I might take a look at his bait and tackle since he hadn't had a single bite. Although his tackle was o.k., his bait wasn't. Out there at the end of this classy pier, in this classy town, was an angler using cheese and salami for bait. I will admit it was a classy cheese, Gouda I believe, but it wasn't going to catch him any fish. I gave him a couple of mackerel, showed him how to cut the small pieces that their cannibalistic kin were biting on, and watched him start to catch fish.
Visions of myself as an amateur Confucian, teaching someone a skill that would feed him for a lifetime, crossed my mind. About the same time I noticed the three hundred dollar shoes, gold chains, and obviously well tailored and expensive clothing. It was just a little too chichi for a fishing expedition and my Walter Mitty-like visions came to an end. I think it's more likely that he will pay someone else to catch his meals.
Although I've seen some strange baits, and I've got some strange looking lures, including one that supposedly has a scrambled eggs and bacon coloring, this was the first time I've seen cheese and salami used as bait. What really would have been interesting would have been for him to catch a big fish using that cheesy bait—maybe a white seabass, or a small firecracker yellowtail. Imagine the run on local delis by starry-eyed anglers seeking out this hot new bait.
That visit and the unique aspects of this pier itself make it one of my favorites. Visualize driving down Manhattan Beach Drive, the San Francisco-style (it's steep) street that serves as the approach to this pier. There it sits, an old looking pier with an odd, octagonal, Mediterranean-style building out at the end, a building which houses the Round-House Marine Studies Lab. As you draw near you notice its stylish aqua-marine colored railings and strange astrolabe-like light fixtures. Once on the pier you'll also notice the obvious efforts to keep the pier clean. I've used the word too much, but it has a classy feeling to it which reflects the character of the town itself. It also has the feel of an old time pier but it is actually new. Restoration efforts which took place in the early '90s kept as one goal a retention of the old time appearance, much like Pier 7 in San Francisco.
The original pier, dating back to 1920, simply had to be fixed. Old age and decay required extensive repair and in fact made it unsafe by the late 1980s (when a jogger was injured by falling concrete). Citizens banded together and with the help of the Coastal Conservancy made sure it was replaced with a nearly identical copy. Today, the fairly short, 928-foot-long pier has a new life. Although facilities are somewhat limited, it remains one of the most popular spots in town. Fisherman continue to toss out a line, and lovers (or perhaps wannabe lovers) continue to stroll, hand in hand, out to the end of the pier.
Environment. A wide sandy beach, mussel-covered pilings, and an artificial reef made up of 2,000 tons of quarry rock help describe this pier's environment. The sandy beach area yields the normal surf species: barred surfperch, croakers, corbina, small rays and guitarfish (shovelnose shark). The area around the pilings yield pileperch, walleye surfperch, silver surfperch, and other common pier species. Mid-pier, casting away from the pier, yields small tom cod (white croaker) and herring (queenfish), jacksmelt, yellowfin croaker and an occasional halibut Action at the end of the pier is improved by the surrounding artificial reef which is located about 65 feet from the end. Fish at end include bonito, Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, barracuda, an occasional white seabass or even yellowtail, and reef visitors like kelp bass, sand bass and sculpin (scorpionfish).
The human environment, by the way, is sometimes a little misinformed. A visit in July of 1994 occurred on a hot Sunday afternoon, when a parking space was almost impossible to find, and sunbathers and onlookers seemed to cover most of the beach and pier. There I was, calmly reeling in fish out at the end of the pier, when I was approached by a bronzed young beauty (naturally a blond) in a spandex jogging outfit, one who definitely deserved to be in the movies (and yes, I guess I can be sexist at times). She watched for a few moments and then leaned over and asked what I was catching. “Mainly mackerel,” I replied. “Why do you fish?” she asked in her sweet valley voice. “Aren't all of the fish out here polluted, don't they cause cancer?” I then began to patiently explain about the types of fish and the differences between the resident species in Santa Monica Bay (which might be dangerous to eat), and those that migrate in and out of the bay (and are safe to eat). She seemed somewhat appeased until she was joined by a bronzed young man, apparently an escapee from one of the local muscle salons. She relayed to him some of what I had said, but he, in a dumb, bellicose manner, replied that there was no way he was going to eat any fish from these waters. Sticky wicket, end of debate and end of education.
About that time a deafening noise was heard, noise which I initially mistook for someone on the pier playing obnoxiously loud music. But no, it was a boat passing by (several hundred feet away) which had a huge “Save Our Bay” banner and a disc-jockey who, I am sure, was soon to lose his hearing. Between songs, he would ask the people on the beach for help in cleaning up the bay, an act which should be supported by all. What did upset me a little was the attitude of these young people who had bought the pollution headlines but failed to read the fine print. The only way we will save any bay or the ocean is to learn about the problems and work together to correct the causes. Facts and education are needed, not half-truths backed by the aerious science and scare tactics of some groups. But, that is probably asking too much.
I love, by the way, the description given by Lonely Planet (2005): “Manhattan Beach—Brassy SoCal beach with a high flirt factor and hardcore surfers hanging by the pier for, like, totally epic waves,”
Fishing Tips. There's no live bait at this pier so anglers should come equipped with both bait and a variety of lures in case the pelagics are around. In the surf area, sand crabs, bloodworms, mussels, clams, or shrimp, all fished on the bottom, will produce fish. Winter to early spring is the best time for barred surfperch, while summer and fall months will provide the majority of yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker and corbina. A few thornback rays and stingrays will also enter the catch, together with some shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) but I've never really seen too many sharks at this pier.
Midway out, halibut get absolutely giddy if you offer them a lively brown bait (tom cod or queenfish), small sardine, or baby mac, although smelt are often the most common live bait used, and one of the longest lasting. If you can't catch some live bait try a whole or cut anchovy fished on the bottom. Yellowfin croaker will hit fresh mussels or clams and white croaker and queenfish will hit small pieces of anchovy fished at mid-depth. Around the pilings, fish with mussels or bloodworms for pileperch, sargo or salema; use small strips of anchovy for walleye surfperch and silver surfperch.
At the end, fish on the bottom with a whole or cut anchovy for kelp bass and sand bass, try pieces of squid for the sculpin (scorpionfish). Fish with a slider and a small, self-caught fish, for larger species like barracuda or white seabass. For bonito use a splasher and a feather. The white seabass will often show up for a short period in April; the barracuda August-September. The bonito typically show up in the warmer water months in the years they are around but some years will see the boneheads (especially the mico-sized youngsters) making an appearance throughout the year..
As for the mackerel, it doesn’t take a lot of skill to catch “a mess” of fish when they’re running. Personally, I prefer a couple of size 4 hooks rigged up in a high/low fashion with a torpedo sinker at the bottom. Two at a time is enough. However, many anglers like to throw out Lucky Lura-type bait rigs. If the macs are in their attack mode you don’t even need bait. If they’re a little more skittish, attach a small piece of bait (and mackerel is often the best bait) on each hook. Cast out away from the pier and be prepared for a strike as the line settles, or as soon as you begin a retrieve.
Although the shallow waters of the pier are not great for sharks, late evening angling can produce both sharks and rays. Most common are gray smoothhounds, leopard sharks, mid to large-sized bat rays, and the already mentioned shovelnose sharks. Less common, but still a possibility, are the large threshers that sometimes swim by, decide to swat a hapless fish with their large tails, and perhaps, if the angler has prayed to the right gods, even digest said angler's bait for dinner. Once in a blue moon, a hundred pound bat ray (or heck, maybe a two-hundred pounder) will latch onto an angler's line but the majority of the large fish will be lost on the pilings before they can be brought to the surface of the pier.
And then there are the great whites of which a number have been caught from the pier (go figure). Some people say local waters are a nursery ground for the beasts which I would think would not be good news for the surfers who flock to these waters. Nor would the news that a tiger shark, even if just a baby five-feet-long pup, was taken by a surf fisherman at Manhattan Beach in the 1990s. Although rare, tiger sharks occasionally move north during El Niño years and this was supposed to be the farthest north that tiger sharks have been authenticated in California. Tiger sharks are second, only to mighty whitey, in people chomping ability—and recorded attacks on homo sapiens.
Date: February 2, 1999
To: Ken Jones
From: Steve R
Subject: Manhattan Beach Pier Striper
I took my seven-year-old daughter pier fishing the surf area at Manhattan Beach for an hour last Saturday morning (January 30). Surf fishing has been slow lately and I was expecting to catch either nothing or maybe a surfperch or undersized halibut, so I didn't bother to bring my pier gaff. We were using six pound line on a freshwater/saltwater rod with spinning reel, and live ghost shrimp.
After re-baiting the hook for my daughter and dropping the line, I immediately felt a tug to I set the hook and started to reel. Almost immediately (the water was shallow) I had a striped bass lying sideways on the surface. It was probably about 20 inches long.
I decided to walk the fish to the shore, but the pier has large cement pillars every 10 yards and there were about 6-7 of them between me and the shore end of the pier. I tried to hand my rod around them from one hand to the other, going over the pier rail to do so, but I couldn't reach far enough. So I told my daughter I would just try to hand line the fish up and hope for the best. As soon as I had the fish out of the water, it broke off.
The next day I went back with my pier gaff and more ghost shrimp, but (of course) got no striper bites. I did get one nice barred surfperch.
Date: June 5, 2001
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
From: Mola Joe
Subject: White sharks from a pier
I ran across this photo from a few years back that ran on the front page of our local newspaper. If I remember right, two whites were landed out of several hookups over a two or three week period. The sharks were hooked off Manhattan Pier and then the angler moved to the beach to fight and land them. I believe both sharks were released alive. No official weight, but just babies by white shark standards, maybe 200 to 250 pounds. The following year I also remember seeing something about another landed from this pier also. I heard that after the first two, these guys started chumming for them but were told to stop by the local lifeguards. I kind of see their point. It would really hurt the local economy to have some yahoo from Kansas wading in the water and come out with only one leg. Anyway, things have now changed as white sharks are off limits to fishermen.
Posted by gotem
Our buddy the Great White Shark is still on the protected species list, and rightfully so, but don't let the status of them fool you, they ARE making a comeback. We will only see and hear of more 'accidental catches' and 'mistaken identity' attacks within this next generation. Count on it.
Posted by shorepounder
Hey MJ, I was there for one of the catches. I was riding my bike on the strand and decided to walk the Manhattan Pier. Well as I get close to the end there's this guy hooked up to something big. After I watched him for a while I thought he just had a big ray on and left the pier to continue my bike ride. As I was coming back around an hour or so later here's that guy still fighting his fish. So I decided to watch him fight it some more. After a while the fish starts heading towards the beach and goes to just behind the breakers. Then it surfaces and yikes it's a great white around 8 feet. The lifeguard started yelling at everyone to get out of the water and then everyone around started going nuts. Soon there were news crews, crowds, etc. The guy who caught it was a long time regular if I remember right and he looked familiar to me. Two total were landed and I heard the same thing about him being told not to chum anymore. The other thing is that I thought the second shark that was landed was tossed off the end of the pier...if so I doubt it lived after fighting that long, being beached, put into a lifeguard truck, and then dropped off a pier. I hope I'm wrong about it being dropped off the pier.
Posted by Snookie
I happened to save the article about the two great whites off Manhattan Beach Pier. It was Thursday, October 29, 1987. The names of the fishermen that caught them were: David Bird, who assembles telescopes part time and Mike Walker, an unemployed construction worker. One of the sharks was 6 feet, 10 inches and the other was 7 feet, 10 inches. The smaller one weighed about 150 pounds and the other weighed about 250 pounds. The fishermen were fishing for bonito and mackerel from the end of the pier to a point 350 yards offshore. The smaller shark took 90 minutes to land. The bigger shark took more than two hours and ended up a quarter mile down the beach. No, they did not release these two sharks. They sold them for $150 to a wholesale fish market in San Pedro after they cleaned both fish and found the stomachs empty. These two sharks were still just babies. Manhattan Beach seems to be an area of birthing for the great white as well as the tiger shark. Later there was a baby tiger shark caught in the surf by a surf fisherman. No, not a leopard shark—a TIGER Shark.
Posted by shorepounder
Hi Snookie, I guess this has happened a couple of times, because the one I saw caught and the other that I only heard about being caught later the same week occurred in the early 90's. I've always been told that whites use the Santa Monica Bay as a nursery...seems true. Snookie, do you have the dates of the article by any chance?
Posted by Snookie
Dear Shorepounder, The article was in the L.A. Times, October 29, 1987, part II, Page 12, titled, JAWS AND JAWS II PROVE BIG CATCH OF THE DAY AT MANHATTAN BEACH PIER by James Rainey, Times Staff Writer. I have collected shark info since the late 50's, but apparently I missed anything about the ones you know about. Ones the size of the ones mentioned are babies and still on a small fish diet. Their mamas are a different matter though.
Pier Fishing In California Fishing Reports
September 2004—Pete Wilkowski, at Just Fishing By Pete, says some bonito are showing up together with a few halibut. Some sharks and rays are showing at night.
October 2004—A few halibut are still being caught just past the surf line along with some jacksmelt, mackerel and bonito. Pesk21 reported good numbers of sardines and mackerel which, when used as live bait, have yielded some good sized bonito. It’s pretty much a daytime activity though.
July 2005—David, at Purfield’s Pro Tackle, says there has been an all out bonito bite at the pier (although most are small). Pete at Just Fishing By Pete. says he’s gotten reports of halibut showing up. PFIC members report red tide at the pier although Thief of the Sea did see some shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) that had been caught.
September 2005—Pete, at Just Fishing By Pete. says he’s gotten reports of big barred surfperch being in the surf by the pier; it’s unusual for this time of the year. PFIC reports indicate the mackerel are plentiful as well as less numerous halibut, surfperch, lizardfish and leopard sharks.
December 2005—Pete at Just Fishing By Pete. says inshore action on barred surfperch can be excellent. Try lug worms, fresh mussels or plastics for good scores of fish.
May 2006—Pete, at Just Fishing By Pete, says red tide has killed the action.
September 2006—Pete, at Just Fishing By Pete, says the pier is yielding up lots of bonito; that’s the fish of choice.
October 2006—Joe at Paul's Bait and Tackle, says he’s getting reports of lots of corbina in the shallows along with sargo. Buttermouth (black perch) and sand bass down by the pilings and quite a few sharks (either dogfish or smoothhounds) out at the end.
January 2007—Bill, at Paul's Bait and Tackle, says this is the hottest pier is the area with barred surfperch, some croakers, and corbina all showing up inshore. Out at the end anglers are getting some bass, sculpin and even a few cabezon.
August 2007—Pete, at Just Fishing By Pete, says it’s about the same as Hermosa— lots of mackerel along with smaller numbers of barracuda and halibut. Corbina and sharks are available inshore
Author's Note No. 1. A good place to take young children is the Roundhouse Laboratory and Aquarium out at the end of the pier. Although small, the Roundhouse displays several different aquariums including one for sharks, one for lobsters, and one containing Nemo the clownfish. It provides classes for elementary age children and during the summer has several interesting programs. Among the most intriguing are “Sea Slugs & Shark Hugs” and “Sleeping With Sharks.” In the latter, youngsters bring their PJs and spend the night amidst the various creatures of the deep. Doesn't it just sort of make your whole body tingle?
Author's Note No. 2. Manhattan Beach is built on sand and in the early day that meant troublesome sand dunes. To alleviate the problem much of the sand was loaded onto railroad cars and sent away. Some was used in the construction of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum but much more was sent to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. The sand would be transported to San Pedro by the Santa Fe trains and then loaded on barges before beginning their Pacific journey to that famous beach.
Author's Note No. 3. Home to the Beach Boys, surfing competitions, and year-round beach volleyball (courts line the sand), the beach area is almost always crowded, especially during summer days and any warm-weather weekend. Summer weekends, especially those seeing warm weather, are more than crowded. It’s wall-to-wall cars and the parking for the pier goers disappears early in the day. Come early or late. When the world’s oldest and most prestigious volleyball tournament—the Manhattan Beach Open—aka “The Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball” is in town in August, don’t even bother with the early or late rule; just don’t go.
BTW, it should be noted that the pier itself apparently was a favorite fishing venue for Dennis Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys when they were mere mortals living in nearby Hawthorne.
Author’s Note No. 4. The pier has often been seen on screen including the movie version of Starsky and Hutch (2204) and the TV series Veronica Mars and O.C. In the film Tequila Sunrise (1988), Mel Gibson's character lives on the beach near the pier. It’s ironic that a film named after a drink would be filmed at the home of another famous drink—the “Harvey Wallbanger”—that was invented in Manhattan Beach in 1952.
Author's Note No. 5. Although not taken on the pier, a fish captured in the surf shows the strange species that occasionally show up in local waters. From the F&G—“A bigscale pomfret (Taractes longipinnis) was picked up in the surf at Manhattan Beach on October 25, 1958. Length was 25 ½ inches and weight was 24 pounds.”
History Note. In 1888 the Redondo Land Company, in agreement with the Redondo Beach Railroad Company, agreed upon a right of way for a railroad through this area. Soon after the tracks were laid that would connect Redondo Beach and its wharf with Los Angeles. (The Redondo Beach Railroad Company ran narrow gauge passenger trains; the Santa Fe ran wider gauge freight trains).
In 1897 the Potencia Company was incorporated to develop land in the area and that name appeared on the Santa Fe schedule of stops. They proposed a seaside resort with wharves and piers. They originally called the land Potencia (in reference to potential in Spanish), but by 1902 it had become Shore Acres (with a new sign by the tracks).
Just one year later it became Manhattan after a coin flip between two of the town’s biggest developers. George Peck, who was calling his development Shore Acres after the Santa Fe junction sign, and John (Stewart) Merrill who was calling his area Manhattan after his hometown, agreed that a single name would be less confusing in attracting buyers to the area. They flipped a half dollar coin, Merrill won, and the area became Manhattan. Soon after the railroad changed the junction name once again, this time to Manhattan.
Most thereafter referred to the area as Manhattan Beach and that was the official name on the incorporation papers in 1912. However, papers sent to the postal authorities in Washington D.C. apparently only listed the name Manhattan and it wasn’t corrected until 1927.
The city's first pleasure pier was built at the foot of Center Street in 1900. It was 900-foot-long and called the “Old Iron Pier” because it was built from used railroad ties; three rails would be criss-crossed and connected together before being pounded into the sand. Up above was a narrow wooden deck. A feature of the pier, for a time, was a wave machine designed to generate electricity from the action of the waves—the Wright Wave Motor—and it seemed to work. Unfortunately, the narrow pier was destroyed by the winter storms of 1913 and the wave machine lies buried under the sand at the foot of the current pier.
From the earliest days, but especially after the arrival of the Pacific Electric Railway's “Big Red Cars” in 1903, tourism was an important industry to the city. Daily the Pacific Electric offered up the “Balloon Trip” from Los Angels. Cars (hopefully) filled with beach goers would head down to the beach at Santa Monica before visiting the new towns of Venice, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach. The cars ended their littoral route at Redondo Beach before turning inland and returning to LA via Culver City.
Of course every beach city needed a pier to keep the visitors happy but after the 1913 storm there was only sand, waves and broken pilings. So, in 1914 the Manhattan Beach Pier and Beach Association was formed and by 1916 voters had approved $70,000 for a new pier at Center Street and a $20,000 pavilion to be built at Marine Avenue. Two years later, Engineer A.L. Harris proposed a round end to the pier. He felt the round end would lessen damage from the waves. He said, somewhat awkwardly, “it is a feature that hasn't been seen or yet brought out on any other pier along the coast...and it is much stronger against the action of waves...the fewer piles it has the better to get hold of them.”
The contract for a 922-foot-long pier with four sun parlors at the lands end was awarded in 1917 but, for a variety of reasons (including WWI, the rising cost of lumber, and damaging winter storms), the pier wasn't finished until 1920. The grand opening was on July 5, 1920, amid festivities that included a band concert and a parade. Large banners proclaimed “Welcome, Frolic, Happiness and Hail.”
In 1921 a pavilion (roundhouse) at the ocean end of the pier was completed. Architecture included a Spanish tile roof and large gooseneck reflectors to light up the building. The goal was to present a shining symbol of the city whether seen from the shore or from miles out at sea. Its grand opening was July 4, 1922. The pavilion contained a restaurant and a bait and tackle shop.
The Roaring ‘20s seem to have been the time for the capture of big fish from the pier. May 15, 1922 saw the capture of a 351-pound black (giant) sea bass at the pier by C.C. Campus. That pier-record fish was eclipsed the next year when an angler caught a 428-pound bass. It's also reported that a 600-pound bass was caught from the pier in 1929 but I haven't been able to get any more specifics.
In 1928 the pier was extended out 200 feet (at no cost to the city) when a Captain Larsen of Redondo Beach offered to pay for an extension in exchange for the rights to run a shoreboat between the pier and his barge Georgina (which was joined by the Irene in the '30s). On January 9, 1940, the pier suffered major damage during a winter storm; 90 feet of the extension was ripped away. The extension was never repaired and the remaining section was swept away in February of 1941.
In 1946 the pier and adjoining beach were deeded over from the city of Manhattan Beach to the state. During the next four decades the pier would remain a focus of beachfront activity. But the ravages of Mother Nature and old age cannot be denied. In 1956 the pier underwent one reconstruction and then, in 1980 followed storm damage, further work was needed. By the late '80s, the pier was in sad shape and the renovation, already detailed above, would begin. As mentioned, local citizens worked to recreate the feel and look of the 1920 pier including the roundhouse at the end and the unique lights.
Today the pier is perhaps the town’s most important icon, it’s considered to be the oldest standing cement pier on the coast, and it's been declared a state historic landmark (Monument No. 1018, Manhattan Beach State Pier).
Manhattan Beach Pier Facts
Hours: Open 6 A.M. to midnight.
Facilities: Some lights, fish-cleaning stations, benches and restrooms on the pier. Some years there is a bait and tackle shop on the pier and some years there isn't. Currently there is a snack bar out toward the end which also carries a little frozen bait. Metered parking is available on adjacent streets at a cost of $.25 an hour. There is also a beachfront parking lot that costs $.75 an hour and which has a 5-hour maximum time; it is closed from 9:30 P.M. to 4 A.M. As mentioned, parking can be hard to find during the summer, especially on weekends or during hot spells of weather.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking near the pier but non-handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is cement and the rail height is 36 inches. Posted for handicapped.
Location: 33.8835095333168 N. Latitude, 118.41419577598572 W. Longitude.
How To Get There: From Sepulveda Boulevard turn west on Manhattan Beach Drive and follow it to the pier.
Management: County of Los Angeles, Department of Beaches and Harbors.
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