The first fish reported caught that day was an 8-inch sunfish (but since sunfish are freshwater fish, it was probably a perch of some type); next in line was a gray shark and then a crab. Not very impressive but a start.
When it opened, this pier promised to be one of the premier piers in the entire state. It was long, providing nearly a mile of railing space, had full facilities, and it jutted out into the Point Loma kelp beds, one of the finest fishing areas in southern California. Anglers had visions of not only the smaller pier species but also larger game fish like barracuda, yellowtail (generally 5-10 pound firecracker size), white seabass and perhaps even a few giant black sea bass. Alas, it still remains just a promise. The fishing here is much like that of the first day, fair to good but generally unexceptional.
Midway out, on both sides of the bait shop, is the best area for the smaller white croaker, queenfish, jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, barracuda, mackerel and white seabass (usually the small, illegal, juvenile fish called sea trout). This area also seems to yield the majority of halibut (spring to summer), guitarfish and bat rays; it was in this area that I once caught a nearly 4-foot-wide California butterfly ray (Gymnura marmorata). Another day I got an uncommon, just barely 6-inch-long deepbody anchovy (Anchoa compressa) that hit a bait rig intended for mackerel. I believe there is a reef on the north side of the pier in this area and that probably explains why a majority of the fish are taken on that side.
Inshore, the foot of the pier is built over a rocky cliff area and, although shallow, its location presents exposure to many of the rocky shore species. Here, if tidal conditions are right, high tide with small breakers, anglers can often catch rubberlip seaperch, blackperch, halfmoon, opaleye, bass and less common pier species such as senorita and blacksmith. Anglers fishing at night might also latch onto a moray eel. This shallow area is also a good area for lobster.
The pier receives a lot of angling pressure (more than 500,000 visitor-days of use per year) but, because of the length of the pier with more than a mile of railing space, it rarely feels crowded. Regulars used to include such characters as Halibut Harry, Bonito Man, Buffalo Kid and Big Mama, but the cast and names change with the times.
Something that doesn't seem to change are the antics of the sea gulls. Never leave your bait unattended because they will quickly swoop down and grab anchovies or similar baits. Best to cut a piece of bait and then put it back into a cooler.
A final important consideration regarding the environment is the behavior on the pier. One visitor to my web site reported that a popular California fishing guide mentioned that it was unsafe to visit this pier at night due to unruly thugs. This was news to me! Although I had spent many a long night on the pier back in the '60s, recent trips had rarely extended beyond 10 p.m. In checking with the local "experts" it is fairly apparent that there were some problems in the mid-'90s due to transients using the pier at night for their motel lodgings. However, tactics changed. The police now use bicycles to patrol the pier (thus not tipping off their arrival), and 24-hour parking has been set up adjacent to the pier which seems to cut down the number of people on the pier at night. Also, and this was a big factor, no alcohol is allowed on the beach or on the pier. Thus it is generally safe to visit the pier at night.
If you're after Pacific mackerel, the most common rigging is a single size 4 or 2 hook baited with a strip of squid or a piece of mackerel. A few feet above the hook is a small splitshot sinker. Next best is a bait rig-type leader (Pescadero, Lucky Lura, and Lucky Joe are three types). The bait rig is also good if Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel) show up. I've heard reports, but never seen them, of a few bullet mackerel (Auxis rachei) being landed at the pier during warm water years. The bait rigs are also good when schools of jacksmelt show up. If you are specifically going after perch, use a small strip of anchovy, fresh mussel, or seaworm on a high/low leader with size 6 hooks.
Some of the biggest sharks and rays are also caught in this area. Best bait is squid or a piece of bloody mackerel fished on the bottom; be sure to use fairly strong (30+) test line and tackle. Shovelnose guitarfish, bat rays, and some of the bigger sharks (like threshers) are common. As is true at almost every pier, the night time hours are the best if you're seeking these denizens of the deep. A reputed hot spot for the shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) is the left branch at the very end of the pier. One angler reported that a right side corner-cast, as far out as you can cast at a 45 degree angle, often produced large shovelnose sharks, many exceeding 30 pounds in size. This is the same spot that produced a number of 2-4 pound sheephead in May of 1998.
Sand bass, calico bass (kelp bass), sculpin (scorpionfish) and halibut are possibilities while fishing on the bottom or at mid-depth levels out at the end of the pier. I also received a report of a 4-foot-long moray eel taken from this area in May of '99 together with a large sheephead and a large reddish-colored fish which remains unidentified. One angler (who specializes on seeking out rockfish and sheephead) reported that he has caught flag, olive, calico and tree rockfish from the end of the pier and twice caught starry rockfish, normally a fairly deep-water species. An occasional cabezon will also enter the catch.
When fishing midway out on the pier, your best bet for the larger species is once again live bait. Halibut will often lay in the depressions between the pilings while eyeing the schools of small queenfish and walleye surfperch up above (and a 38-pound flattie was landed in August of 1998). Catch the queenfish (herring) and walleyes with multi-hook bait rig leaders (size 6 or 8), or make your own snag line (tie 3-4 small hooks directly to your line, about four inches apart). Fish the snag line unbaited, or sweeten it with a small strip of anchovy (or a very small live pinhead anchovy or smelt). A lot of shovelnose guitarfish and bat rays will also be hanging out in these waters feeding on the queenfish (and a 57-pound shovelnose was reported in July of '99).
Some years will also see fairly good runs of sargo in this area; try a high/low rigging baited with pieces of shrimp, ghost shrimp, bloodworms or fresh mussels. The mid-pier area is also where I have caught most of my barracuda. Most of these are caught at night near the lighted areas and usually are caught on either live bait or a gold or silver spoon like a Kastmaster.
Quite often you will find both sides of the pier loaded with anglers in this area, especially both sides of the bait shop and restaurant. Many are whole families fishing for small herring (queenfish) and they will fill buckets with the small but tasty fish. There is not a limit on the fish and it's a good thing for them because at times they will have hundreds of fish.
A short way out on the pier, just past the breaker area, and where the pier surface ends its descent and begins to level off, is a large, green colored wire cage. This area, primarily on the north side, seems to yield a lot of leopard sharks, some of which have been pretty decent in size (including a 57-inch, 36-pound leopard in September 1997). Fish on the bottom using squid, mackerel or similar strong flavored (and smelling) bait. Don't be surprised if you also see a few shovelnose guitarfish, thornback rays, round stingrays and (mostly small) bat rays in this area.
Inshore, try using either fresh mussels or seaworms making sure to keep your hook small, usually size 6 or 8. If the tide is right, you may be able to hook some rubberlip seaperch, blackperch, halfmoon, opaleye, senorita or blacksmith in this shallow area near the rocks on the south side. For some nice size opaleye, try using frozen peas which have been allowed to thaw; place just enough peas on the hook to cover the hook. Fishing on the north side of the pier may yield a few barred surfperch but generally action is slower than at piers built over strictly sandy bottoms.
Sometimes the big 'uns are lost. In August of 1998 an angler lost a HUGE bat ray which most of the locals felt had to be in the 200-pound range. They said the wings appeared to be 8-foot across but even though it was hooked with two separate treble-hook-gaffs, the anglers couldn't get the mammoth fish up onto the pier and eventually it was lost. I've also heard reports, although they're unverified, of an angler catching a diamond stingray (Dasyatis dispterura) which was nearly 5-foot in length and 100 pounds in weight.
The Ocean Beach Pier was the result. The new pier opened on July 2, 1966 and has held up better than most new piers. Nevertheless, sooner or later storms and/or age will do their damage. Several times the pier has been closed by storms and has needed repairs. In 1991 a $1.9 million dollar repair project was completed and then the pier was closed for a couple of winter months in 1998 due to El Nino generated storms and high tides. After the storms subsided and railing were repaired the pier opened once again.