Island Pier |
In the summer of 1963 I moved from Costa Mesa to San Diego. The first place I fished was the Shelter Island Pier and I thought I had entered nirvana (or at least the angler's equivalent of paradise). My first visit produced more than a dozen fish including barracuda, bonito and halibut. My next two trips were similar but also included kelp bass and sand bass. Here I was, fishing on a pier, and catching most of the southern California "gamefish" every visit. Today, looking back at my records, I realize that those first three visits were among the best of my many visits to the pier -- they were exceptional but really didn't reflect an accurate picture of the pier. It is a good fishing pier but not "paradise." I'm still looking for that pier!
Fairly close around the pier seems to be the best area to fish if mackerel show up. The most common method is to simply tie a size 4 or 2 hook to the end of a line, weight it with split-shot or a small twist-on sinker, cast it out and keep it near the top of the water -- much like you would on a boat. If bonito show up, use live bait on a slider rig, or try a feather trailing behind a cast-a-bubble. Barracuda also occasionally put on a show, most often at night, and the key for them is to use a live bait or a small lure like a Kastmaster. However, make sure you keep only legal-size fish. For queenfish and white croaker, fish near the pilings but do not use a whole anchovy -- use a strip of anchovy about two inches long.
During the winter and spring months blackperch and opaleye will also inhabit the area under the pier, especially near the tackle shop. Use a couple of small size 6 or 8 hooks and bait up will fresh mussels or ghost shrimp. Opaleye connoisseurs will also at time try frozen peas for these large perch-like fish.
You may see a few needlefish swim around the pier and you may want to catch them. Be cautioned, the process can be exasperating. They like live bait best (such as a lively small smelt fished under a bobber) but are very hard to hook. Sometimes you can watch what they are doing but even so will be unable to hook them. But they can be fun.
Many anglers, including myself at times, get wrapped up in the world of rods, reels and assorted tackle. Then I remember what I observed during one visit to Shelter Island Pier. On that particular morning, fishing was only fair with a few mackerel and kelp bass filling the buckets. The bait shop was being rebuilt and live bait was unavailable. Then a family of Vietnamese-Americans arrived. They dropped a net over the side and soon they had small smelt and anchovies swimming in their buckets.
For tackle they had simple bamboo rods, about eight feet long, each equipped with a single guide at the tip of the rod. For reels they used spools of line. To cast they swung the rod with their right arm while holding the spool of line with their left hand. Casts were about as good as those by anglers using more expensive tackle. To reel in, they simply wound the line onto the spool -- much like a reel does. They quickly began to out fish the other fishermen, at least until a few people began to borrow bait. The key was the right bait; the tackle, as in many pier situations, was not as important. There are times and places where you need the best tackle you can buy. However, pier fishermen can often get by with the simplest of equipment and to me this is one of the beauties of pier fishing. It allows anyone, regardless of financial status, the chance to go fishing.
This, by the way, was the only place where I saw such tackle used until a visit to the Monterey Wharf #2 a few years later. Using a similar rod and stationary spool, a frail looking, elderly Vietnamese-American angler was making tremendous casts out into the bay. Terminal tackle was a multi-hook leader on which he was hooking one to four jack mackerel (Spanish mackerel) nearly every cast -- while most fishermen were going fishless.
Shelter Island Pier, like many piers, has a number of dedicated regulars, anglers who are out there every day regardless of the conditions. And they know how to fish. One such regular at this pier is a fellow named Dan Hoar whose specialty seems to be sand bass. In February of 1997 he caught a 12-pound sand bass which is evidently the pier record. Of course Mr. Hoar had been landing limits of sand bass EVERY DAY using ghost shrimp and cut mackerel as bait. WATCH THE REGULARS AND LEARN! By the way, the state record for sand bass is 11 pounds, seven ounces. If properly weighed and certified Mr. Hoar's fish would have been a state record for the species.
Author's Note 2
Open from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Restrooms are at the foot of the pier as is free parking. Fish-cleaning stations and lights are on the pier. A bait and tackle shop, snack bar, and tourist shop are located on the pier.
Although there are parking spaces for the handicapped, restrooms are not equipped for the handicapped. The pier surface is wood planking and the rail height is 42 inches. Posted for handicapped.
How To Get There:
Take I-5 or I-8 to Rosecrans (Hwy.209) and go west, turn left at Shelter Island Dr. and follow the road until you see the pier and the entrance to the parking lot.
Management:San Diego Unified Port District.