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.
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).
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!
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.
Beach Pier Facts