Seal Beach Pier
I've known several people over the years who considered themselves experts at everything, in common vernacular they were know-it-alls. Rarely did their knowledge match their egos. However, I have also known a couple of people whose knowledge and range of interests were astounding. One was Bob, a neighbor of mine back nearly forty years ago when I was just beginning to fish. Bob was a Kramer-like personality (think of Seinfeld) who had a million and one projects going full bore at all times. He was a Renaissance sort of guy and although he never claimed to know-it-all, I certainly thought he was an expert at everything. He probably wasn't, but he did like to tinker and invent and he did have a working knowledge about many, many subjects.

He also had, in the eyes of this naive fifteen-year-old child, a truly amazing workshop. The shop was huge and filled with a variety of objects, most with no discernible purpose in life. I don't think Bob had thrown away any usable parts of any usable contraption for fifty years (and he was about seventy years young at the time I knew him). There were tools, old signs, bottles, Geiger counters, and thousands of similar items. His pride was the skull and horns of a Texas Longhorn (and it was, in truth, interesting). Included in the mélange were a few hundred spiders and at least a like number of spider webs. It wasn't exactly a chemically clean or even clean environment (in fact it would probably be considered a toxic waste site by some today). Nevertheless, amidst this 'junk' was a corner reserved for his fishing equipment. Seven split bamboo rods of various lengths and strengths! A box of reels for everything from surf to deep, deep-sea fishing! And hundreds of lures, hooks, leaders, sinkers and accessories that he had accumulated over the years, all in excellent condition. Bob was a fisherman, a regular at Newport Pier, and one of my early mentors.

One day Bob asked if I would like to go up to the Seal Beach Pier. Since my normal trips were limited by the distance I could travel on my bulky Schwinn bike, it was an offer I quickly accepted. A few nights later, Bob and I were headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway in his old but reliable Dodge truck. The destination was Seal Beach and the pier. The night proved warm, the water was flat, but the fishing was slow (I caught three queenfish in four hours). Nevertheless, we still had a good time at the pier. Then, on the way home, Bob offered up one of his "golden rules," and he had many of these little homilies.

"If you want to catch bonito, fish at the Newport Pier. If you want to catch tom cod, go to the Huntington Beach Pier. If you want to catch herring, go to the Seal Beach Pier." It was a straight forward expression of his belief. But was he right?

My recent trips have shown a continued, though much reduced, catch of bonito at Newport, and a continued, though reduced, catch of tom cod at Huntington Beach. What about Seal Beach? In July of 1990, two hours of jigging with a Lucky Lura leader resulted in 90 fish: 84 herring (queenfish) 3 Pacific mackerel, 2 large sardines, and an unusual four-inch long barracuda. Yes, I guess the queenfish are still present! Of course I shouldn't have been surprised; visits over the years have yielded nearly 17 queenfish per trip and most of these visits were of only two to three hours in length. So maybe Bob was right!

Most of the queenfish are small but mixed in will be an occasional plump, pan-sized fish, a fish big enough to save and eat. However, most of the regulars at the pier fish for the smaller queenies and are most excited when they catch an especially small fish. That fish represents prime halibut bait and that is what the experts (regulars/pier rats) are after. Unfortunately, most of the tasty flatfish today are under the minimum size. Still, halibut are one of the premier fish for pier anglers and Seal Beach seems to offer up quite a few halibut. So Bob was only half right, there are queenfish at this pier but also halibut and many other fish; in fact, it is also one of the best piers for a variety of croakers.

The pier's environment is affected by a variety of factors. Just south of the pier is the entrance to the Anaheim Bay-Huntington Harbor-Bolsa Chica Bay complex. These bay and estuary areas act as breeding grounds for young fish which eventually move out into the waters of Seal Beach and adjacent areas. Just north is the outlet for the San Gabriel River, the inlet to Alamitos Bay and the beginning of San Pedro Bay, a huge, heavily industrial body of water. An immediate impact is seen in the concrete seawall which parallels the pier from the shoreline to about halfway out on the north side of the pier. Because the San Pedro-Long Beach breakwaters changed the local ocean currents, the seawall is necessary to prevent sand from being carried away and the only way to prevent the pilings being undermined. The seawall does make it harder to fish the north side but also provides heavy mussel growth to attract fish and provides very calm water on the south side of the pier. Lastly, in the mid 1960s an artificial quarry rock reef was constructed just out from the pier.

Unfortunately the proximity to San Pedro Bay can also cause a few problems. Because of heavy pollution, some fish in these waters may not be safe to eat in quantity, fish such as tom cod (white croaker). Another result of the closeness to the breakwater is very mild wave action in the surf on most days. This is a good area for corbina and one of the best areas for spotfin croaker, China croaker (black croaker) and sargo. For the most part, the bottom around the pier is sand, pilings have a good growth of mussels, and water is fairly shallow.

Although the pier is long, fishing is very similar on most parts of the pier. Inshore, anglers can expect croakers, surfperch, rays and sharks. Further out on the pier, anglers can expect all of these species with the addition of some smaller perch (especially walleye surfperch), jacksmelt, white croaker, queenfish, halibut, a few bass and diamond turbot, an occasional flurry from pelagic species such as mackerel, barracuda (generally at night) or bonito, and more and bigger sharks.

You may occasionally see long, slender fish cruising near the surface of the water. First impressions are that they are barracuda but usually they turn out to be needlefish that have ventured out from the waters of Alamitos Bay and Anaheim Bay. You can try for these with a bobber and a live fish like smelt, but they are hard to hook. Unusual fish recently have included a 20-pound striped bass in April of 1998 and a cabezon caught out at the end of the pier in May of '99. Another fish you may spot, although they are very hard to hook, are striped mullet. I got several reports of schools of mullet around the inner sections of the pier in the fall of '99. Apparently some of the schools contained hundreds of the 2-3-foot-long fish. Break out the doughballs, light line and tiny hooks if you want to try to catch them (although they're more commonly snagged).

Fishing Tips
There are two distinct fisheries at the pier. From the mid-pier area to the end, use two poles. For the smaller fish, especially queenfish, use a multi-hook Lucky-Lura (or similar) leader with size 6-8 hooks. Drop the leader to the bottom and simply lift up and down; this works better than a jerky motion. If you are not getting any fish, try your leader at different depths. If schools of queenfish are present, they shouldn't be too hard to catch. I say present because the queenfish typically move into these waters by the first of June and stay resident throughout the rest of the summer and fall. During the winter they head out to deeper water. If the queenfish are absent, size 8-12 multi-hook riggings will take a variety of other small fish -- topsmelt, jacksmelt and salema. Sometimes these species like the hooks sweetened with a small piece of shrimp. Use your heavier pole for halibut; use live anchovies or small queenfish rigged on a halibut leader. Cut anchovy on the bottom will also yield some white croakers, sand bass, sharks, and rays depending on your size hooks and bait. If you specifically want sharks or bat rays, try cut squid or a bloody piece of mackerel.

Inshore, fish on the bottom for species like spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, China croaker (black croaker) and corbina. Best baits are fresh mussels, bloodworms, ghost shrimp or sand crabs. Leaders can be either a high/low leader or a sliding bait leader. Early evening are the best hours for all of these large croakers. Squid or anchovy fished on the bottom in the shallower areas will often produce thornback rays or shovelnose guitarfish, especially during night hours. For something a little different try fishing the inshore section on the north side of the pier (between the pier and the seawall) with fresh mussels. You only have a few feet of space to fish so you're generally fishing straight down but it's an area covered with mussels and should yield some seaperch and fish like sargo.

Watch the regulars for the best techniques. One approach used by old-timers is to occasionally throw a piece of stale bread into the water; this acts as an attractant for very small anchovies and smelt. The smaller fish seem to act as attractions for larger fish and stimulate action as the fish compete for the bread crumbs.

Also watch the papers and be ready for the runs of grunion. When the grunion come into shore to perform their nasty deeds, the halibut are usually right behind. Go out to the pier and snag (or net) up some smelt or grunion and then use them as live bait for the halibut. Remember to think like a fish!

Date: June 1, 1999
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
From: Eric
Subject: Seal Beach Pier

I've been to Seal Beach Pier for the past three Saturdays and everytime I have caught huge shovelnose from around 6 pm to 9 pm. The big shovelnose seem to bite well on small whole tomcods that I catch on Lucky Luras baited with either squid or small mackerel strips. Also, when I put the Lucky Lura just below the surface I caught some small smelt and mackerel. Strangely, I also caught a short halibut on the surface; I actually saw it come up for the Lucky Lura. Anyway, if you catch a small tomcod, cut some slits in its side and stomach then hook it through the head on a dropper rig and throw it out as far as you can. If you have a baitcast reel put it in free spool and put the bait clicker on. That way you will not lose your rig like I almost did last week. I also saw a couple of huge surfperch caught near shore; all were caught on bloodworms. I saw an old man also catch a nice sand bass at the end of the pier on a live tomcod.

Author's Note
One visit saw me sharing the railing with "Bill," a youthful 82 years of life. Bill had a million and one stories to tell but this book only has room for a couple. One was his story about a granddaughter and her first yellowtail. According to Bill, all anglers must eat the heart of the first yellowtail they catch. Sure enough, when he took his granddaughter fishing (on a partyboat) she caught her first yellowtail. Ditto several other anglers. Kiddingly, the deckhand cut out the hearts of the fish and offered them to the anglers. No one took up the offer until Bill's granddaughter stepped up, took a swig of coke and gulped down the heart. The older anglers, now embarrassed, were forced to follow. A second tale concerned his use of "Mexican anchovies" to catch big fish like yellowtail. "What," I asked, "is a Mexican anchovy?" "Simple," Bill said, "it's a strip of mackerel cut thin to resemble a large anchovy or sardine. It's cast out , allowed to sink a few feet, and then reeled in very quickly. It kills the fish." The gospel according to Bill!

Author's Note 2
If the pier looks familiar to you, it may be because it is one of the home bases of the TV soap opera "Sunset Beach." The saucy show doesn't seem to reflect the "small town" character of Seal Beach but most local citizens don't seem to mind, they're proud of the attention their town receives. They also don't object to the money the movie company pours into the city's coffers. Although some locals were worried that a mob of curious fans might descend on their city, others pointed out that didn't happen in the past when the area was used for films. Back in the '20s, when Cecil B. DeMille filmed the original silent version of "The Ten Commandments," the local shoreline was used as the site for the parting of the Red Sea. If movie fans didn't invade the beach to see "Moses" surely they wouldn't invade the area for this show. Of course the actresses in "The Ten Commandments" were dressed a little more conservatively than the vixens in the TV show.

History Note
Fishing is only one of the stories of Seal Beach Pier. When first built in 1906, the 1,865 foot pier was the longest pier south of San Francisco. It was the center of the "Jewel City" amusement resort and was one of the many pleasure piers in southern California. Attractions included a roller coaster and fifty huge lamps which projected changing rainbows of light onto the water for nighttime bathing.

But plaques near the front of the pier give evidence of the pier's history and resiliency. One says, Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, 1938, Project No. Calif. 1723-F. It represents a rebuilding that was necessitated by the 1935 storms and accompanying wave damage. Just a year later, in 1939, a hurricane ripped the pier in half. Again, it was soon repaired, at a cost of $110,000. However, these were only two of many repair projects.

The killer storms of 1983 that devastated so many California piers included Seal Beach as one of their victims. Several sections of the pier were torn away and many questioned if the pier would ever be rebuilt. No problemo! An energetic band of local citizens soon rallied around a rebuilding project. Forming a "Save Our Pier" group, the members raised money from both private and public sponsors and got their pier rebuilt, at a cost of $2.3 million. Today, plaques honoring Emily Frazier, Daisy Funk and Joyce Risner, who co-founded the "Save Our Pier" group, as well as various other individuals, businesses and groups that contributed time and money to the effort, are visible on the pier.

Since then a number of additional incidents have closed the pier. On May 15, 1992, an electrical fire (which started in the lifeguard tower on the pier) caused major damage to the pier. Next, just a few months later, the Lander's (or Big Bear) earthquake cracked some of the pier's support pilings. Finally, on May 21, 1994, a natural gas line under the pier was ignited by falling barbecue coals. The new blaze blocked the mid-pier section and trapped about 150 people out at the end of the pier. Although a few panicked, many simply continued to drink their coffee and finish their snacks out at Ruby's Diner, and the majority just kept right on fishing, reeling in the mackerel, and listening to the radio tell about the fire at the pier as they watched the smoke bellow inshore from their position. All were soon evacuated, the pier sat closed for a few months, and then, like the proverbial phoenix, the pier was reopened once again. However, only temporary repairs had been made and so, in May of 1995, the pier was once again closed for a short time to facilitate repairs to the damage caused by the 1992 and 1994 fires and earthquake.

Seal Beach Pier Facts
Hours: 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Facilities: There are long wooden benches designed for anglers, fish-cleaning stations, restrooms, lights, a bait and tackle shop near the end of the pier, and a restaurant/snack bar at the end (Ruby's Diner). There is limited free 1-and 2-hour street parking and $5 beach parking adjacent to the pier.
Handicapped Facilities: Although there is handicapped parking, the restrooms are not equipped for the handicapped. The pier surface is wood and cement and the rail height is 43 inches. Posted for handicapped.
How To Get There: From the Pacific Coast Highway simply take Main St. west and follow it to the pier.
Management: City of Seal Beach.