The visit which sticks out in my mind when I think of the Manhattan Beach Pier was neither my first, nor my most productive visit. It was simply a typical August morning about a year after the pier had been rebuilt. For once the traffic was minimal, there were no problems finding a parking space, and there wasn't a problem finding a good spot on the pier.
It was 6:45 a.m. and the town was beginning to wake. The sky was calm, a few earlybirds were out for a morning jog, and a couple of young diners were enjoying their morning coffee -- or cappachino. A typical day in Paradise.
After gathering together my tackle, I headed out to the end of the pier. Four anglers were at the end and three seemed to be catching fish. I quickly baited up and soon I had my first fish, a nice sized mackerel. And, as is usually the case with mackerel, this fish was soon followed by several of his brethren. It looked like it might be a good day.
About that time the solitary angler who wasn't catching fish ambled over. He said it was his first time fishing and wondered if I might take a look at his bait and tackle since he hadn't had a single bite. Although his tackle was o.k., his bait wasn't. Out there at the end of this classy pier, in this classy town, was an angler using cheese and salami for bait. I will admit it was a classy cheese, Gouda I believe, but it wasn't going to catch him any fish. I gave him a couple of mackerel, showed him how to cut the small pieces that their cannibalistic kin were biting on, and watched him start to catch fish.
Visions of myself as an amateur Confucian, teaching someone a skill that would feed him for a lifetime, crossed my mind. About the same time I noticed the three hundred dollar shoes, gold chains, and obviously well tailored, and expensive clothing. I think it's more likely that he will pay someone else to catch his meal.
Although I've seen some strange bait, and I've got some strange looking lures myself, including one that supposedly has a scrambled eggs and bacon coloring, this was a first for cheese and salami. What really would have been interesting would have been for him to catch a big fish using that bait -- maybe a white seabass, or a small firecracker yellowtail. Imagine the run on local delis by starry-eyed anglers seeking out this hot new bait.
That visit and the unique aspects of this pier itself make it one of my favorites. Visualize driving down Manhattan Beach Drive, the San Francisco-style (it's steep) street that serves as the approach to this pier. There it sits, an old looking pier with an odd, octagonal, Mediterranean-style building out at the end, a building which houses the Round-House Marine Studies Lab. As you draw near you notice its stylish aqua-marine colored railings and strange astrolabe-like light fixtures. Once on the pier you'll also notice the obvious efforts to keep the pier clean. I've used the word too much, but it has a classy feeling to it which reflects the character of the town itself. It also has the feel of an old time pier but it is actually new. Restoration efforts which took place in the early '90s kept as one goal a retention of the old time appearance, much like Pier 7 in San Francisco.
The original pier, dating back to 1920, simply had to be fixed. Old age and decay required extensive repair and in fact made it unsafe by the late 1980s (when a jogger was injured by falling concrete). Citizens banded together and (with the help of the Coastal Conservancy) made sure it was replaced with a nearly identical copy. Today, the fairly short, 928-foot-long pier has a new life. Although facilities are somewhat limited, it remains one of the most popular spots in town. Fisherman continue to toss out a line, and lovers (or perhaps wannabe lovers) continue to stroll, hand in hand, out to the end of the pier.
The human environment, by the way, is sometimes a little misinformed. A visit in July of 1994 occurred on a hot Sunday afternoon, when a parking space was almost impossible to find, and bathers and lookers seemed to cover most of the beach and pier. There I was, calmly reeling in fish out at the end of the pier, when I was approached by a bronzed young beauty (naturally a blond) in a spandex jogging outfit, one who definitely deserved to be in the movies (and yes, I guess I can be sexist at times). She watched for a few moments and then leaned over and asked what I was catching. "Mainly mackerel," I replied. "Why do you fish?" she asked in her sweet valley voice. "Aren't all of the fish out here polluted, don't they cause cancer?" I then began to patiently explain about the types of fish and the differences between the resident species in Santa Monica Bay (which might be dangerous to eat), and those that migrate in and out of the bay (and are safe to eat). She seemed somewhat appeased until she was joined by a bronzed young man, apparently an escapee from one of the local muscle salons. She relayed to him some of what I had said, but he, in a bellicose manner, replied that there was no way he was going to eat any fish from these waters. End of debate and education.
About that time a deafening noise was heard, noise which I initially mistook for someone on the pier playing obnoxiously loud music. But no, it was a boat passing by (several hundred feet away) which had a huge "Save Our Bay" banner and a disc-jockey who, I am sure, was soon to loose his hearing. Between songs, he would ask the people on the beach for help in cleaning up the bay, an act which should be supported by all. What did upset me a little was the attitude of these young people who had bought the pollution headlines but failed to read the fine print. The only way we will save any bay or even the ocean is to learn about the problems and work together to correct the causes. Facts and education are needed, not half-truths backed by the scare tactics of some groups. But, that is probably asking too much.
Midway out, halibut get absolutely giddy if you offer them a lively brown bait (tom cod or queenfish), or a baby mac. If you can't catch some live bait try a whole or cut anchovy fished on the bottom. Yellowfin croaker will hit fresh mussels or clams and white croaker and queenfish will hit small pieces of anchovy fished at mid-depth. Around the pilings, fish with mussels or bloodworms for pileperch, sargo or salema; use small strips of anchovy for walleye surfperch and silver surfperch. At the end, fish on the bottom with a whole or cut anchovy for kelp bass and sand bass. Fish with a slider and a small, self-caught fish, for larger species like barracuda or white sea bass. For bonito use a splasher and a feather.
For some practically non-stop action (when the mackerel are around), use a Lucky-Lura-type bait rig with number 4 hooks and fish out toward the end of the pier. Put a small piece of mackerel on each hook, cast out, and be prepared for a strike as the line settles, or as soon as you begin a retrieve. This technique has produced more than a dozen mackerel per hour during my recent visits.
Although the shallow waters of the pier are not great for sharks, late evening angling can produce a few sharks. Most common are gray smoothhounds, leopard sharks and the already mentioned shovelnose sharks. Once in a blue moon, a hundred pound bat ray (or heck, maybe a two-hundred pounder) will latch onto an angler's line but the majority of the large fish will be lost on the pilings before they can be brought to the surface of the pier.
The city's first pleasure pier was built at the foot of Center Street in 1900. It was 900-foot-long and called the "Old Iron Pier" because it was built from used railroad ties which were criss- crossed and then pounded into the sand. A feature of the pier, for a time, was a wave machine designed to generate electricity from the action of the waves -- and it worked. Unfortunately, the narrow pier was destroyed by the winter storms of 1913.
From the earliest days, and especially after the arrival of the Pacific Electric Railway's "Big Red Cars" in 1903, tourism was an important industry to the city. Every beach city needed a pier but after the storm there were none. So, in 1914, the Manhattan Beach Pier and Beach Association was formed and by 1916, voters had approved $70,000 for a new pier at Center Street and a $20,000 pavilion to be built at Marine Avenue. Two years later, a round end to the pier was proposed by Engineer A.L. Harris. He felt the round end would lessen damage from the waves. He said, somewhat awkwardly, "it is a feature that hasn't been seen or yet brought out on any other pier along the coast...and it is much stronger against the action of waves...the fewer piles it has the better to get hold of them." The contract for a 922-foot-long pier with four sun parlors at the lands end was awarded in 1917 but, for a variety of reasons (including WWI, the rising cost of lumber, and damaging winter storms), the pier wasn't finished until 1920. The grand opening was on July 5, 1920, amid festivities which included a band concert and a parade. Large banners proclaimed "Welcome, Frolic, Happiness and Hail."
In 1921, a pavilion at the ocean end of the pier was completed. Architecture included a Spanish tile roof and large gooseneck reflectors to light up the building. The goal was to present a shining symbol of the city whether seen from the shore or from miles out at sea. Its grand opening was July 4, 1922. The pavilion contained a restaurant and a bait and tackle shop.
In 1928, the pier was extended out 200 feet (at no cost to the city) when a Captain Larsen of Redondo Beach offered to pay for an extension in exchange for the rights to run a shoreboat between the pier and his barge Georgina. On January 9, 1940, 90 feet of the extension were ripped away during a winter storm. The extension was never repaired and the remaining section was swept away in February of 1941.
In 1946, the pier and adjoining beach were deeded over from the city of Manhattan Beach to the state. During the next four decades the pier would remain a focus of beachfront activity. But Mother Nature and old age cannot be denied. By the '80s, the pier was in sad shape and the renovation, already detailed above, would begin.
Beach Pier Facts