Goleta Pier
On one visit to this pier, I casually mentioned to a fellow angler that I considered this one of the best piers in California. He nodded in agreement, said he had recently moved from the Los Angeles area, and mentioned that he had never seen the consistent action he had gotten at Goleta. Usually something is biting at this pier and, more often than not, there is an opportunity to catch good quality fish such as halibut, corbina, bass and rockfish not to mention the occasional bonito or barracuda. My own records show over a dozen fish per trip average and one halibut every six trips. When combined with easy access and good facilities, there is every reason to include it in a list of the state's best piers.

This 1,450-foot-long pier sits on a wide, sandy beach and is part of the Goleta Beach County Park. Just south is the outlet from Atascadero Creek and Goleta Slough, and many days you can see surf anglers wading out from the outlet in pursuit of bass and halibut. Look to the west, and you'll see the nearby buildings of the University of California-Santa Barbara as well as Goleta Point. The bottom here is mostly sand but the pier is often surrounded by a lush kelp bed and the pier's pilings are heavily encrusted with mussels. In addition, a pipeline runs parallel to the pier on the right, or west side, and it is usually covered by kelp part of the year.

Inshore, the pier is one of the best for barred surfperch, guitarfish, thornback rays, and halibut, as well as quite a few corbina. It's the only pier where I've heard of a black (giant) sea bass being taken in the shallow surf area. The unusual catch, a small, 12-pound juvenile bass was taken in June 2002. Further out on the pier, halibut are again a main quarry but there is also usually a steady catch of white croakers, jacksmelt, small perch and, depending on the season, pelagics including mackerel, bonito, barracuda and even a few yellowtail or salmon (some years). The kelp area by the pipeline is frequently home to hungry calico bass (kelp bass) and kelp rockfish, but a lot are lost as they wrap the angler's lines around the kelp. As usual, the regulars are the ones who best know the proper techniques and baits, and they tend to catch most of the big fish. However, this is one pier where both expert and novice can usually catch some fish.

Fishing Tips
Bring two poles here; use the light one to catch small live bait and a larger pole to catch your dinner. Most regulars here try to catch brown bait, a small queenfish or white croaker, then fish these as bait on the bottom for halibut and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish). If brown bait isn't available, the regulars will switch to small shinerperch or smelt. Use a slider leader or a sliding sinker with a three-foot leader and bait attached to the end of the line.
To catch brown bait, or if you simply wish to catch a few small fish, do the following. For queenfish, use a Lucky Lura or similar type snag line and simply jig, with a slow up-and-down motion, straight down from the pier, being careful not to tangle in the pilings. Generally the best area for the queenfish is between the shallow surfline and the mid-pier area. For white croaker (tom cod), use a high/low leader baited with number 6 hooks and a small piece of anchovy. Cast the bait out and start to reel in as soon as the sinker hits bottom. The small croakers will usually hit just as the bait nears the bottom or on the retrieve. Of course, you may latch on to a larger fish with this light outfit but if you do, that's a bonus. The majority of halibut are also taken in this fairly shallow area, because of the queenfish and other morsels of food they see inhabiting their territory. However, halibut will be landed from almost every section of the pier each year.
For large barred surfperch and some really large corbina, fish the surf area on the bottom using live sand crabs, fresh mussels, or bloodworms. Quite often the fish will be in the shallowest water imaginable but you've got to put your bait where the fish are holding.

For some good-sized calico bass (kelp bass) try by the pipeline on the right side. It sits about thirty feet out from the pier and is usually covered by kelp. Regulars tell me that there are a lot of bass by the pipeline and that they will often hit the bait just as soon as it begins to drop through the kelp canopy (which can often mean a quickly tangled line around the kelp). In addition to the kelp bass, anglers will pull in a sizable number of kelp rockfish together with brown rockfish, gopher rockfish, and a few sand bass, California scorpionfish, and even an occasional cabezon and lingcod. I've also seen good schools of sardines hold between the pipeline kelp and the pier as well as thick schools of lizardfish which seemed to cover the bottom in the area I was fishing. Also don't be surprised if you see anglers fishing in inner tubes on the other side of the kelp, it's become a favorite area for anglers casting plastics for bass along the edge of the kelp.

Two spots favored by locals are (1) mid-pier, across from the restrooms and (2) at the three-quarter point just past the light. Both of these primarily sandy-bottom areas seem to offer good sport for guitarfish. Another spot, near the crane, is reported to be good for large perch (pileperch and rubberlip perch) but be sure to fish down around the pilings.

The end area, just like on most piers, seems to receive the heaviest pressure from anglers. When the mackerel are running almost anything may work, especially a small spoon or a number 4 Lucky Lura rigging. Most bonito seem to be caught on feather jigs, as do most yellowtail, but live bait (small Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, or anchovies) fished on a sliding leader, works best for the larger yellowtail. Barracuda, when they're around, are usually caught on cut anchovies or cut squid but Kastmasters or Krocodile lures can also be good, especially at night.

Many regulars will be out each night to fish for sharks and the end area is generally the hot spot. Fresh mackerel or smelt seems the most common bait for the sharks, but squid is usually better for the large bat rays and occasional big skate that show up. Most of the sharks that are caught are smoothhounds or leopard sharks but you'll also see an occasional swell shark or horn shark and once in a blue moon someone will latch on to one of the larger thresher sharks or blue sharks (a 48" blue was taken in June of 2002). Guitarfish and bat rays are also common and batties over a hundred pounds are seen each year.

Although extremely rare, a great white shark was taken from the pier in September of 2000. The fish, a youngster only 5-foot-long, was hauled up onto the pier by way of two crab nets and four strong anglers, and then returned to the water after the hook was removed. Since it is now illegal to capture a great white, it was a wise move.

Do not, repeat, do not, simply cast out your line and let the bait sit on the bottom. Not only is this not the best way to catch fish, but this is also an area which sometimes sees heavy infestations of starfish. The interesting creatures (and here they're typically the small purple colored starfish) like to grab hold of baits sitting on the bottom. Check your bait often and make sure your hook isn't encircled by the probing purple foot of a starfish. Also don't be surprised if you occasionally see a spider crab. Although not as common as at Port Hueneme or Stearns Wharf, their catch is a regular occurrence.

Lastly, be sure to follow the rules! The following story is taken from the web site's July 1997 Report Page: "A Fish and Game officer, in plain clothes, apparently did a little sting operation at Goleta last week. First he watched the fishing action for a while. Then he put his badge on the front of his shirt and approached an angler. How had he done? No fish was the reply. The officer then asked to see inside the man's backpack and lo and behold there were three undersized calico bass (kelp bass) and one undersized halibut. The officer wrote out a ticket which the man then proceeded to rip up and throw into the water. He followed that up with a few choice words which cannot be printed in this G-rated site. Ten seconds later the man was handcuffed to a pole, the sheriff was called, and shortly thereafter the man was issued tickets for four illegal fish, polluting the water, and resisting arrest. DUMB, TRULY DUMB!" By the way, sting operations are fairly common at both Goleta and Stearns Wharf.

E-Mail Notes

Date: September 20, 1997
To: Ken Jones
From: Boyd Grant
Subject: Report

Ken - Good news! The halibut are finally biting at Goleta and Gaviota. I've caught 15 since mid-August ... landed a 4-pounder at Goleta last Tues. evening (after losing a 10 lb+ at Santa Barbara on Sunday because I didn't bring my net). The biggest one caught at Goleta (two weeks ago -- not by me, unfortunately) was 28" and there were unverified rumors of another over 20 lbs! All are caught mid-pier. One of the rangers at Gaviota told me that Ron (another staff member?) landed a 34" Halibut fishing from the end of the pier using a whole (8-10") live mackerel two Sundays ago.

I've had great success dragging the bottom less than 20' from the piers -- I use frozen anchovies snout-hooked to a 2/0 live bait hook tied to the end of 20# test and weighted down with a small split-shot (1/4" - how do you measure split-shot?). I cast to either side and let the bait settle to the bottom... then I bring it up several times and let it settle back down before finally dragging it very slowly (4-6" per second). I hold the pole balanced in my hand and have to be extremely alert to when the bait is picked up -- if it meets with some resistance I stop dragging and wait for the line to start pulling away before I set the hook. Works like a charm! But it is such an intensive effort that I usually only fish the hour before and after the tidal high. The advantage here is that (unlike still fishing with dead bait where, if you catch one at all, they swallow it all the way down making it somewhat difficult to extract from a short without severely injuring the fish) it generally produces a fish hooked through the side of the mouth which can be released without hardly any damage at all.

But the biggest thrill of all was a 6-lb, 24" white sea bass (at first I thought it was a giant croaker)! I have never landed a harder fighting fish in my life ... it was really heart-breaking having to return it but I didn't think that even standing on it could stretch it to the legal 28" (even though there were several people who had suggested it). In the future I am going to arm myself with a Polaroid so that I can at least capture them on film.

The El Niño is producing some interesting effects here -- one night I caught a 12" octopus and a 16" mackerel. The young lady next to me caught a 10" Pacific lobster. Shark fishing appears to be picking up as well, on Tuesday I helped land two 4' smoothhounds and I have caught 5-6 30" shovelnoses. My brother caught a 16"- 3.5# kelp bass at Gaviota and I continue to catch at least several legals each trip to Goleta.


Date: January 10, 1998
To: Ken Jones
From: Robert K
Subject: Great site!!

Surfing the web for months, I had failed to search for a site on pier fishing. It had never crossed my mind to find pier fishing info. on the web until today. Me and my buddy, who told me to search for this site, fish anywhere and anytime we get a chance. We have fished just about every pier in so. Ca. and a few in central and no. Ca. but we usually stick to the ones that we've had our best luck on (Gaviota, Goleta, Port Hueneme, and Malibu when it was open.). I used to have to look in ten different newsletters and magazines to get a report on the ocean and try to apply it to what the pier would be like. Now, I can see updates on my favorite piers quick and easy. I also keep a copy of your book rolled up in my tackle box when I go fishing.

I am primarily a shark and ray fisherman when I go to the pier (for fun, not for keeps) and I have concluded that Goleta Pier is one of the best piers around. There's nothing like a bat ray going for its initial run or a shovelnose digging its nose into the ground trying to resist your pull. On Goleta you can have it all. We always fish far out even though large halibut are often caught in the shallows. We always cast one line out into the kelp which grows on the pipeline which parallels the pier about 30 yards out. Here we almost always catch a few kelp rockfish and other types including occasional sand bass, calico bass, and scorpionfish. When the fishing is slow we fish mid-pier by the crane for perch which can run pretty big at times. At the end we catch mackerel and smelt for bait during the day and at night we put them to use for sharks. My best catch on Goleta was a 4-foot by 4-foot big skate which is not very common in so. Ca. It broke my little hand scale which measured up to 50 lbs. My buddies best catch was a shovelnose shark which was little over 6 feet and also tipped my hand scale over the max. It was the biggest guitarfish I had ever seen. One local told us to get it checked out to see if it might have been close to a record fish. However we had no cooler and live over an hour away from the pier so we decided to take a few pics and let someone else get the chance to catch it.

Keep up the good work, Robert and Demetri -- "pier rats"

Date: January 10, 1998
To: Boyd Grant
From: Ken Jones
Subject: Goleta Pier


Thought you might like to read the attached message since it concerns your favorite pier -- Goleta. What do you think? Also, if you would like to contact him let me know and I can check with him to see if he wants to give his address out.

Best wishes, Ken,


Thanks for passing Robert's message on to me -- sounds like he knows the Goleta Pier pretty good.

I agree with his descriptions of the hot spots.

The pipeline is to the west of the pier (on the right going out looking directly across to UCSB). The two best places on that side are mid-point across from the restrooms and at the three-quarter point next to the light. My all-time best was at that point one late morning in 1989. Within two hours I had caught three 10# shovel-noses.

But the trick is to cast out as far beyond the kelp as possible (I think there is substantial sandy bottom there). I use a 10' surf rod and 3-4 oz of sinker. Not easy to do because you're casting directly into the prevailing winds. But when the wind permits and the sea is glassy then it's almost a sure thing.

A lot of kelp bass just above the pipeline -- bait gets nailed just as it starts dropping through the canopy but it's hard to keep them from wrapping themselves in the stalks. Took a 3# calico there last spring.

Was at Goleta for 4 hours last Monday -- five 12" thornbacks. Felt like I was fishing in a nursery. For the last two trips out, on practically my first cast, something big has picked it up and then started to slowly move parallel to the pier until the line snapped (had the drag set too tight - 20# test.) Didn't act like it was hooked or anything -- rather like it was just moving on anyway. Didn't see any seals in the area -- wonder what it might have been.

Later, Boyd

Date: April 6, 1999
To: Ken Jones
From: David S
Subject: May Pier Report - Goleta

Hi Ken! I'm having a blast, catching fish and dreaming up new rigs. Here's a little report while it's fresh in my mind. I'll try to add a couple more to be merged at the end of the month:

The kids had been catching about 20 silver perch (walleyes) per hour on Lucky Lura jigs. Mostly from the second-quarter of the pier. Enough that the warden came out (after the wife and kids had gone home) to count up my fish. He wasn't satisfied when I showed him my 17 keepers. He had been watching us for hours with his binoculars and said, "There's no way you threw back all those fish, I was watching you the whole time." He accused my wife of taking a bunch when she left. I laughed, "they didn't even carry their own poles back, let alone any stinky fish to be cleaned!" Anyway, that seems to have slowed down a little. Now I'm seeing lots of good sized barred surfperch (2-3 lbs.) being pulled in from behind the surf. Typical high-low leaders with medium sinkers and, what else, fresh mussel! Took a trip to the end of the pier at sunset last night to see lots of angler action. The most impressive was some 11-year-old kid pulling in 9"-12" mackerel -- three at a time!!! We caught a few of our own along with 6 white croaker, all ranging 9"-11". We used squid on snag lines with enough sinker to cast out but keep off the bottom as we retrieved. Interesting note, nothing was being pulled off the west (kelp) side of the pier.

Date: June 30, 1999
To: Ken Jones
From: David Strong
Subject: Monthly Report

Hi Ken, Here's your monthly Goleta Pier Report: Halibut seems to be on everyone's mind. The bite has been good and from what I hear, many have been caught. I only wish I could speak from experience! All of the anglers are working the bottom in search of the tasty flat stealth and they are catching plenty... shovelnose shark?!? You got it! Mixed in with some thornback rays and other bottom undesirables. I've caught plenty of flat rays/sharks myself this month and even saw a fellow angler pull up two on one line. Common size is 18 to 24 inches. I hooked into one that was about 4 feet, but lost it in the pilings when I had a (gag) tourist hang onto my rod while I went for the landing net. Note to self: never hand off my rod to anyone! Early in the month we had one of those 'clear water days.' Visibility was a good 6 to 8 feet down -- just like an aquarium. I spotted a barely legal halibut, a 4-foot Leopard Shark and tons of huge Perch (1-3 pounds!) picking at the pilings below. Anglers were frantically dropping lines in their midst's, but the fish wouldn't have any of it. I guess they got to be that big by sticking to the pilings for food, not trusting the
easy pickings jiggling curiously just a few feet away. Before I make a joke about fish in schools, I'll just stop here...

Date: October 8, 1999
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
From: Kanamit
Subject: Goleta Pier

Bait: A nice abundance of decent sized Pacific mackerel. But once again the bait rigs weren't working. Fly-lining pieces of squid was the key. People were really getting upset around me because I was catching them left and right and no one was getting anything. I even showed them my rig when they asked but for some reason they wouldn't part with their 18-hook rigs. I brought along my tiny 4.5-ft. ultra light G. Loomis with 4-lb. test which made the mackerel a lot of fun to catch.

Sharks and Rays: Didn't see a single shovelnose but lots of thornbacks. Caught 1 smoothhound, 3 swell sharks, and who knows how many thornbacks. At midnight I finally caught my first ray in quite a while. I caught it on a rod I just got finished building -- what a way to break in a new rod. The ray had a 52-inch wingspan and was caught on 20-lb. test using squid for bait. It took four of us to hoist it up the pier -- I need a larger rope for my net. The ray was released in good shape.

Date: April 20, 2000
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
From: Mike Gray
Subject: In reply to question by Leapin' Bass

Me and my buddies Scott, Matt, and Glenn, saw a mako tear through a school of mackerel in March of this year. This mako was estimated around 6 foot, a juvenile. Potential to be caught? Yes, when they are around. Scott caught a juvenile 4 years ago and released him. They are a rare site, of course, but potential is there, even though limited. Matt caught a baby blue around 5 foot last year on a summer night. My co-worker John got a thresher last year as well as in the summer. The thresher was caught in the morning around 8:30 am. Tasted so good. All of us fish for sharks until we are the last one's on the pier. I am trying to earn my stripes. I've got a way to go.

Date: May 24, 2000
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
From: pat papa
Subject: Goleta Pier

Fished Goleta Pier from 5-10 PM. The bait fish (mackerel, smelt and sardines) were more than plentiful. For about two hours there were so many on the surface it was as if it was raining. I have never seen anything like it. The largest concentration of bait was from the middle to the end of the pier. Fished plastics towards the front of the pier for a few minutes without any hits, however someone next to me said they had gotten three halibut all of them short but returned safely. After catching some bait we targeted sharks at the end of the pier. What a night. We caught two large shovelnose, both over 45" and a couple of smoothhound sharks. All fish were returned unharmed (barbless hooks).

Posted by cojo_reef on May 25, 2000

I know all too well about the mackerel at Goleta. Congratulations. Goleta for me has been hit/miss the last three weeks. Did you catch your sharks on the right corner of the end of the pier or just straight out? That seems to be the best spot at the end of the pier. About 50 yards off the end of the pier is a horseshoe shape U that drops off into deeper water. This is the spot that holds sharks, rays, and skates (bait stealers). Just off the right side of the end an oil pipe is just on the ledge of this horse shoe and makes a deep drop off. On the end of the pier-right corner side, I have seen caught and have caught species from shovelnose shark, smoothhound shark, rays, puffer shark, leopard shark, cabezon, kelp bass, octopus, and huge spider crabs. This one little area holds so many species. When they come in or out to feed they always seem to visit this same spot. Have you noticed this too? You must have caught your sharks from 7:00 PM-9:00 PM. Am I right?

Posted by pat papa on May 25, 2000

We fished to the right at the end and also straight out and caught the shovelnose in both locations. It was nice because there was nobody at the end which is unusual. I agree that this seems to be the hot spot. Last year we would fish Goleta 2-3 times a week but it was usually so crowded that we would fish at the second or third bench from the end. We usually got less fish but would usually get a couple. I would rather catch one or two and not be elbow to elbow. Where do you fish for leopard sharks? I have heard that its better fishing closer to the surf using sand crabs but have not tried it. I have only seen one caught from Goleta between the portacrapper and the crane. It was huge, probably 4-5' with large girth. What an amazing fish. As a side note, when I was talking to that guy that caught the leopard shark he said that he had seen a large shark surface which was about 10-12'. I guess that is not so common.

In terms of the time period, from what I remember last year, we got most of our bites were after 9 PM till about 11 PM, but you are right this time all fish were caught by 8 PM. Last year we started later in the summer, around the end of July, so maybe the time period has something to do with being later into the summer.

Posted by Leapin Bass on May 25, 2000

I've only seen one leopard caught at Goleta also but it was off the left end -- caught by my cousin at about 2:00 am. It was a nice one (about 5 ft.). I hear a lot about leopard sharks being caught there but I believe a lot of them are swell sharks. I have caught quite a few when I used to surf fish with bait (now I only use plastics because it's much more fun and you catch more halibut). You're probably right about the leopards being in shallower water.

In September of 1984 two blues came close to the pier. One was about 6 ft. and one was about 9 ft. (they looked more like 10 and 13 ft. - everything always looks bigger in the water!) I had the big one on for about 10 minutes until he chewed through the rope I used as a leader (didn't have wire).

A half an hour after dark until around midnight on a rising tide has always been the best time for me.

Went out there for the first time this year last Thursday night... started trying to catch some bait and only got one tiny jack mackerel. Fished under the last light on the right hand side (secret spot!?). There were people on the end of the pier but I didn't really care, I've been fishing at Goleta Pier since the early 80's and haven't really noticed the end being any better for sharks and rays than anywhere else toward the end. What I like about the end more than anything is that it's more difficult for other people to cast over your line. Because of the pipe and to avoid getting snagged in the kelp I typically fish off the left side for sharks and rays. Fished the left side near the last fish cleaning station with the mackerel on my lighter stick (15 lb.) and squid on the heavier (20 lb.). Got one bat ray (40-50 lb. range) and a couple of thornbacks all on the squid. The people on the end got 3 thornbacks for 4 guys.

The only other fish I saw was a tiny swell shark that they swore was a leopard shark (this happens all the time).

History Notes
When Juan Cabrillo discovered this spot in 1542, it was the largest city in California. It had a population of over 1,000 Canalino Indians who lived on Mescalitan Island (which today sits under the road leading to UCSB). The term "Goleta" by the way, means "schooner" in Spanish and was used as a name for a land grant in 1846. No one is quite sure however if it is so named because of a wreck here of an American schooner or because a vessel was built here in 1829.
The Goleta Slough and Estuary was used as a deep-water port until the floods of 1860-1861 brought down more than fourteen feet of silt; later a whaling station operated on the beach in the 1880s. Records from 1883 designate More's Landing as the name for the wharf at Goleta. It was 900-foot-long, 35-foot-wide, and reached out into water that was about 11 feet deep at low tide. Shallow, but sufficient for the boats which used it as a port (mostly for shipping livestock to the islands and farm produce to San Francisco). In addition, over 2,000 tons of asphaltum were sent from the nearby mines (located under today's UCSB) to San Francisco, as well as to New Orleans' Vieux Carre (the famous French Quarter). Still later, in the 1890s, it's recorded as the site of a railroad wharf. Little remains of those early ventures.
No one seems to know when the current pier was actually built but it predates 1954 since that was the year of a major repair and rebuild (as happened again in the 1980s). Evidently the pier was originally only some 600-feet-long since one report says it was lengthened by 800 feet in the '80s. There also was a time in the '80s when a sportfishing craft, the sixty-five-foot-long Island Fox operated from the pier. Today the only boats that operate from the pier are private craft launched from the mid-pier sling.

Goleta Pier Facts
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Lights and fish-cleaning facilities are located on the pier as is a launch sling for small boats. At the foot of the pier, restrooms, a small restaurant and snack bar, and, in some years, a bait and tackle shop are located. Free parking is found near the front of the pier.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is wood and the rail height is 42 inches. Posted for handicapped.
How To Get There: From Highway 101 take the Hwy. 217/Airport exit. Follow it to Sandspit Rd. and the Goleta Beach Park turnoff. Follow this to the park and the pier.
Management: County Parks Department -- Santa Barbara County.