Piers are one of the most romantic spots on earth! If you don’t believe me, tag along on a visit to Balboa Pier – on almost any summer night. By 10 p.m., darkness has enveloped the pier. But while most fishermen have returned home, life continues on the pier. A slight breeze ruffles the flags, fires burn along the beach, and couples continue to stroll, hand in hand, out to the end of the pier where they might just sneak a quick kiss or two. Such behavior is expected. At the end of the pier, the red neon lights of Ruby’s Diner light the sky, calling like a beacon to the lovers of the night.
Nearshore strollers looking up Main Street see another set of lights. The Balboa Pavilion and its famous cupola are bedecked in a Christmas-like celebration of light. It suggests an earlier age, that of the early 1900s, a time when every large pier seemed to be built with a nearby pavilion. Pleasure at the beach mandated both a fishing pier and a pavilion. But that was in a more innocent and magical time.
The Balboa Pavilion was and still is a sister attraction to the Balboa Pier. Both were built in 1906 and both were designed to attract land buyers to the area. The pavilion would serve as terminus for the famous electric Red Car line of Huntington. Riders, if they were so inclined, could get off the rail cars and proceed directly down Main Street to the pier.
Although just down the peninsula from the Newport Pier, this area has a very different feeling to it dating perhaps back to those early days. The Newport Pier is an angler’s pier while at Balboa, fishing is at times simply a bit player in the life on the pier. Here, there are less anglers and the fishing is usually less intense.But life is no less intense. A look to the south reveals the Newport Jetty and the entrance to the bay. Most days will seem to produce a never-ending parade of sailboats and motor craft, some of which are truly amazing. Up Main Street are the activities and businesses by the pavilion. At the foot of the pier sits Peninsula Park with its lawns and a baseball field, palm trees and even a bandstand where concerts areheld during the summer.
Although fishing may be a secondary preoccupation at the pier, that’s o.k. It gives the fishermen who are present more room to fish. Surprisingly, the fishing can be quite good. In fact, although I hate to admit it, the fishing can be just as good as that at the nearby Newport Pier, the pier where I first began to learn to pier fish.
Like its sister pier that sits just down the beach, Balboa is fairly close to the Newport Submarine Canyon. Although the beach seems even more sharply inclined here than at the Newport Pier, the water is not quite as deep. Still, it is deep enough that you will occasionally see deep-water fish. On one visit I saw what I believe was a ribbonfish (or perhaps a king-of-the-salmon since it seemed at least eight feet long) which swam in and around the pilings for more than 20 minutes. Unfortunately, nothing would entice it to bite. Pilings are heavily covered with mussels but rarely is there much kelp or seaweed around the pier.
More often found are the same fish as seen at most southland piers. The inshore area, along the beach, will produce surf perch, small rays and an occasional croaker or corbina. Midway out is best for halibut, white croaker, queenfish and a few barracuda or bass. The far end is best for bonito, mackerel, jack mackerel, and the larger sharks and rays. Tackle and techniques match that at most southland piers.
Always check out the far end of this 920-foot-long pier when you begin to fish. Because of the water depth, this can be an excellent pier for the pelagics – fish such as bonito, Pacific mackerel, and jack mackerel. Most of the mackerel are landed on Lucky Lura-type bait rigs or on strips of squid fished under a float. Most bonito fall to feathers trailing a cast-a-bubble. This is also the best area for the sharks and rays and many good sized shovelnose guitarfish and bat rays have been landed at the pier. In addition, a few of the larger sharks will be caught, species like thresher sharks and blue sharks; however, I’ve never seen too many smoothhounds or leopard sharks at the pier.
If action at the end is slow, try the mid-pier area. This is usually the best area for halibut, small croakers, sculpin, and perch. The best rigging for the halibut is a sliding leader rigging baited with a whole (small) anchovy , or cut anchovy if the bait is large. Hook the bait through the rear portion of the anchovy and be prepared to let the halibut mouth the bait a while before striking. Many regulars also like to try Scrounger-type lures and I’ve been told that the larger size lures, especially the bright green colored ones, can be deadly on winter halibut, the fish that are often the largest of the year. For smaller fish such as white croakers (tom cod) and queenfish (herring), use a high/low leader with size 4 hooks, and small strips of anchovy as bait. The same rigging can be used for scorpionfish (sculpin), but squid is a better bait and nighttime is the best time for these good eating fish. Use small snag lines (self-made) or the Lucky Lura/Lucky Joe commercial leaders for the smaller perch, queenfish, topsmelt and jacksmelt.
Fish the inshore areas using squid or cut anchovies for better-than-average action on thornback rays, especially at night. Inshore, also try for croakers and perch. I’ve caught quite a few yellowfin croakers here on fresh mussels and bloodworms, and seen several nice corbina and barred surfperch caught by anglers using similar bait or live sand crabs. I’ve also been told that quite a few good sized spotfin croakers have been taken in the surf area; not surprising considering the fact that the nearby Newport Bay is one of the best areas in California for the large croakers.
A 10-pound, 29-inch striped bass was caught off this pier in 1991. It was the first striped bass reported caught on an Orange County pier even though stripers have been planted in Newport Bay since the late 1960s. The bass was caught on a live smelt.
This pier, like the Newport Pier, was targeted for closing unless anglers did a better job keeping the pier clean. Today it is posted as a “Litter Free Zone” and signs indicate a $500 fine for discarding refuse onto or from the pier. PLEASE help the local anglers keep the pier clean by doing the same yourself!
Open from 5 a.m. till midnight.
Restrooms are located near the entrance to the pier. There are lights, some benches, and fish-cleaning stations on the pier. There is a small restaurant out at the end of the pier. There is currently no bait and tackle facilities.
Handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is concrete with a rail height of 36 inches. Posted for handicapped.
From the Pacific Coast Highway take Newport Blvd. which will turn into Balboa Blvd., follow it west to Palm Street. Turn right and follow it to the pier and an adjacent parking lot. Parking spaces can be nearly impossible to find so I recommend the parking lot - cost is $1 an hour with a maximum of $5.
City of Newport Beach