Dana Point Harbor Fishing Pier
If you're looking for a place to take the kids fishing this would be a great place to start. The pier is located in the absolutely beautiful setting of Dana Harbor and close to the pier sits a park and beach, sailboats, and a variety of shops, restaurants and other outdoor-related activities. It is an attractive pier, well-maintained, and receives considerable use. Although fishing is generally only fair there are times when it is excellent.

Another interesting feature is a replica of Henry Dana's ship, the Pilgrim, which sits just a short distance away from the pier. In addition, just up the street from the Pilgrim is the Orange County Marine Institute, a don't-miss attraction for those interested in the sea. Visit the institute, visit the ship, break for a small lunch, and then take the kids fishing on the pier.

The pier is situated in a small cove near the northwest end of the outer harbor. The water is fairly shallow, the bottom is primarily sand, and there is some growth, but few mussels on the pilings. There is considerable traffic from motor boats and sailboats most weekend days. There is also a small loading dock on the north side of the pier which means you can fish down around the concrete pilings. However, at times boats are unloading onto the dock which makes space a little tight and fishing a little difficult. The shoreline itself is covered by rocks so rock-frequenting species will appear, but overall action is slow.

The most common species here are the typical bay fish: jacksmelt, shinerperch, herring (queenfish), tom cod (white croaker), yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, sargo, opaleye, black seaperch, white seaperch, rubberlip seaperch, pileperch, small kelp bass, spotted sand bass, California halibut, diamond turbot, Pacific mackerel, sharks and rays. As usual, most sharks and rays are caught at night. Nighttime hours will also see a few octopus grab hold of your bait and an occasional moray eel, the sworn enemy of octopus. It seems to make little difference where one fishes, but kids like to fish on the loading platform on the left side of the pier where they are close to the water.

Often you will see fairly large fish jumping in the shallow waters near the adjacent beach. Most of these are mullet, sometimes exceeding three feet in length; unfortunately they are almost impossible to hook. You'll sometimes also see needlefish swimming near the surface and, like the mullet, they are really hard to hook.

Fishing Tips
The best bet here would be to fish in the early morning hours before boat traffic in the harbor is heavy. Try for the larger perch and croakers using ghost shrimp, bloodworms, pieces of market shrimp, or fresh mussels. The most common rigging is a high/low set-up with number 6-4 hooks (perch) or size 4-2 hooks (croakers). On this setup you might also be surprised by an occasional kelp bass, sand bass, diamond turbot or China croaker (black croaker). I suppose you could even be surprised by an 18-foot-long great white shark. I would certainly be surprised by an 18-foot-long great white shark!

If uncrowded, try Scampis, Fish Traps and similar artificial lures for bass and an occasional halibut. Also try live bait with a live bait leader on the bottom for halibut. Smelt, shinerperch and small brown bait (queenfish and white croaker) make excellent live bait for halibut. Fish around the pier for seaperch and opaleye; fish further out for croakers. For the perch, try fresh mussels, bloodworms or ghost shrimp; for the croakers try the same baits or fresh clams. If the macs attack, try a size 4 or 2 hook baited with a small piece of mackerel or a small strip of squid. For kids, a small multi-hook bait rig will often yield good catches of topsmelt, jacksmelt, shinerperch, small walleye surfperch, or queenfish. At times the bait rigs will also hook under-sized calico bass (kelp bass) and bay bass (spotted sand bass); be sure to return any bass that are under the 12" legal size.

Try using squid at night for sharks and rays. Most of the sharks will be gray smoothhounds but a few leopard sharks will also enter the catch along with some shovelnose guitarfish. Bat rays lead the list of rays although round stingrays and thornback rays are also fairly common. Fish for the big batties at night using squid or strips of mackerel; several large 100+ pound bat rays have been landed here. Sculpin (California scorpionfish) is another fish more common at night and shrimp and squid seems to be the top attractants for those tasty fish.

You might also join the kids (as well as learn from them). One day I decided to fish down on the boat ramp along with several young anglers. I fished for an hour and a half using ultra-light tackle, size 8 hooks, and fresh mussels for bait. The result was black seaperch, opaleye, kelp bass, sargo and jacksmelt. Several enticingly large (but illegal) garibaldi and large (but legal) rubberlip seaperch and pileperch circled slowly around the pilings, but all were unwilling to bite. This action is best during the mid-summer to fall months when the pilings have acquired a good growth of attractants around them. When the pilings are bare, the fish are gone.

Author's Note
Two California state record fish are recorded from Dana Point Harbor. One was a 6 lb 9 oz corbina taken on May 23, 1997; the second was a 2 lb 1 oz yellowfin croaker taken on August 3, 1995. Since I've seen larger fish than these taken from several piers, including larger yellowfin croaker by yours truly, I don't imagine these records will last very long.

History Note
All piers see change but few see the changes which this pier, and area, have experienced. An oceanfront "pleasure pier" was one of the many attractions which developers hoped would bring buyers to Dana Point when their $1,150 home sites went on sale in January of 1927. That 304-foot-long wooden pier (some sources say 295 feet), was located in the cove at the base of the cliffs, a cove which sat inside the protective curve of Dana Point, and a cove which eventually gained the name Stillwater Bay. Additional attractions were to include a scenic beach pavilion, a breakwater, a yacht club, and a "Pompeian" bath with heated salt water, but most of these would never be built. However, fisherman were attracted to the area and the words on one brochure -- "The wise birds fish at Dana Point" -- seemed to come true. The pier was a popular and heavily visited site and even included its own sportfishing barge, the Ace I.

However, in 1956 the Orange County Board of Supervisors began to develop Dana Cove as a recreation area. An early necessity was a parking lot for the cove and a dike to protect the lot. Soon, a dike began to be constructed near the shore end of the pier and eventually the pier was severed with the dike running through the innermost section of the pier. The original inshore section now ended at the dike, and the outermost section started at the dike. Development in the cove continued throughout the year. Barbecue and picnic areas, restrooms, and new roads were added. Then, in January of 1957, the old, and by now rotting, pier was demolished.

A new 300-foot-long oceanfront fishing pier was then designed and constructed. At the same time, calls began to be heard for changing the cove into a truly protected harbor. When state and federal backing for the harbor project was gained, it made inevitable an ending for the "oceanfront" pier at the cove. Dredging and expansion during the '60s and '70s turned the harbor into a protected bay and turned the pier into a small bay pier. The pier was shortened at the time of the harbor expansion and then rebuilt in 1988; today it is listed as 150 feet long. It is, in many ways, an inconsequential fishing pier, but it is also popular with many anglers and does offer excellent fishing at times.

The harbor and nearby point are named after the author Richard Henry Dana who visited here in 1835 while he was a sailor on the two-masted ship, the Pilgrim. Earliest maps (by Humboldt) called the small bay "Bahia de San Juan Capistrano."

Dana Point Harbor Fishing Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours.
Facilities: Most of the facilities were rebuilt in the late 1980s and are in excellent condition. Lights, benches, and a fish cleaning table are on the pier. A small snack bar, which usually carries some bait, is located near the entrance to the pier. Restrooms are located across the street. There is free parking near the front of the pier although signs say no parking between 12 midnight and 6 a.m.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is wood and the rail height is 40 inches. Posted for handicapped.
How To Get There: The pier is located in the Dana Cove Park area of Dana Point Harbor. From the Pacific Coast Highway take Green Lantern Road south to the harbor, turn left on Cove Road, and follow it to the pier.
Management: Dana Point Harbor District.