Pier Fishing in California

Resources :: California Fishing Piers

Goleta Pier

On one visit to this pier, I casually mentioned to a fellow angler that I considered this one of the best piers in California. He nodded in agreement, said he had recently moved from the Los Angeles area, and mentioned that he had never seen the consistent action he had gotten at Goleta. Usually something is biting at this pier and, more often than not, there is an opportunity to catch good quality fish such as halibut, corbina, bass and rockfish not to mention some large sharks and rays. My own records show over seventeen fish per trip and more than thirty different species. When combined with easy access and good facilities, there is every reason to include it in a list of the state’s best piers.

Environment

This 1,450-foot-long pier sits on a wide, sandy beach and is part of the Goleta Beach County Park. Just south is the outlet from Atascadero Creek and Goleta Slough, and many days you can see surf anglers wading out from the outlet in pursuit of bass and halibut. Look to the west, and you’ll see the nearby buildings of the University of California-Santa Barbara as well as Goleta Point. The bottom here is mostly sand but the pier is often surrounded by a lush kelp bed and the pier’s pilings are heavily encrusted with mussels. In addition, a pipeline runs parallel to the pier on the right, or west side, an artificial reef of sorts, and it is usually covered by kelp part of the year.

Inshore, the pier is often good for barred surfperch, guitarfish, thornback rays, and halibut, as well as good numbers of large corbina. It’s the only pier where I’ve heard of a black (giant) sea bass being taken in the shallow surf area. The unusual catch, a small, 12-pound juvenile bass was taken in June 2002 (and many more of the protected fish have since been taken from deeper waters of the pier). Further out on the pier, halibut are again a main quarry but there is also often a steady catch of white croakers, jacksmelt, small perch and, depending on the season, pelagics including mackerel, bonito, and barracuda. Some years will even see a smattering of yellowtail or salmon.

The kelp area by the pipeline is most heavily populated by sbr (the local term for small brown rockfish) but is also frequently home to hungry calico bass (kelp bass), grass rockfish and kelp rockfish. Unfortunately, a lot of the bigger fish are lost as they wrap the angler’s lines around the kelp; as usual, the regulars are the ones who best know the proper techniques and baits, and they tend to catch most of the big fish. However, this is one pier where both expert and novice can usually catch some fish.

Recent unusual fish have included a banded guitarfish taken in April of 2003, a 30-inch sheephead taken in June of ‘04, and a small great white shark taken in September of 2000. The young shark, only 5-foot-long, was hauled up onto the pier by way of two crab nets and four strong anglers, and then returned to the water after the hook was removed. Since it is now illegal to capture a great white, it was a wise move.

Fishing Tips

Bring two poles here; use the light one to catch small live bait and a larger pole to catch your dinner. Most regulars here try to catch brown bait, a small queenfish or white croaker, then fish these as bait on the bottom for halibut and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish). If brown bait isn’t available, the regulars will switch to small shinerperch or smelt. Use a slider leader or a sliding sinker with a three-foot leader and bait attached to the end of the line.

To catch brown bait, or if you simply wish to catch a few small fish, do the following. For queenfish, use a Sabiki or Lucky Lura-type bait rig and simply jig, with a slow up-and-down motion, straight down from the pier, being careful not to tangle in the pilings. Generally, the best area for the queenfish is between the shallow surfline and the mid-pier area. For white croaker (tom cod), use a high/low leader baited with number 6 hooks and a small piece of anchovy. Cast the bait out and start to reel in as soon as the sinker hits bottom. The small croakers will usually hit just as the bait nears the bottom or on the retrieve. Of course, you may latch on to a larger fish with this light outfit but if you do, that’s a bonus. The majority of halibut are also taken in this fairly shallow area, because of the queenfish, sardines and other morsels of food they see inhabiting their territory. Since the advent of the pipeline it seems most halibut are taken on the east side of the pier but some halibut will be landed from almost every section of the pier each year.

For large barred surfperch and some really large corbina, fish the surf area on the bottom using live sand crabs, fresh mussels, or bloodworms. Quite often the fish will be in the shallowest water imaginable but you’ve got to put your bait where the fish are holding. Unfortunately, this pier has a population of snaggers that matches that of the corbina and the snaggers will often disrupt the actions of more honorable anglers. Some locals have called for Fish and Game action against the snaggers (since they often illegally sell the fish) but to date there has been no action taken.

As mentioned, for some good-sized calico bass (kelp bass) try by the pipeline on the right side. It sits about fifty feet out from the pier and is usually covered by kelp. Regulars tell me that there are a lot of bass by the pipeline and that they will often hit the bait just as soon as it begins to drop through the kelp canopy (which can often mean a quickly tangled line around the kelp). In addition to the kelp bass (sometimes called checkerboard bass at this pier), anglers will pull in a sizable number of kelp rockfish together with brown rockfish, grass rockfish, gopher rockfish, and a few sand bass, California scorpionfish, and even an occasional cabezon and lingcod. I’ve seen good size schools of sardines hold between the pipeline kelp and the pier as well as thick schools of lizardfish that seemed to cover the bottom in the area I was fishing. Also don’t be surprised if you see anglers fishing in inner tubes on the other side of the kelp, it’s become a favorite area for anglers casting plastics for bass along the edge of the kelp.

Two spots favored by locals are (1) mid-pier, across from the restrooms and (2) at the three-quarter point just past the light. Both of these primarily sandy-bottom areas seem to offer good sport for guitarfish. Another spot, near the crane, is reported to be good for large perch (pileperch and rubberlip perch) but be sure to fish down around the pilings.

The end area, just like on most piers, is generally the home of the pelagics and seems to receive the heaviest pressure from anglers. Most common are Pacific mackerel and when they are running almost any bait and rigging will work. Many people use Sabiki or Lucky Lura-type bait rigs but it’s a good way to see an expensive rigging twisted into a useless mess. Better to simply put a couple of size 4 or 2 hooks on your line and bait with a small piece of mackerel. If the fish are touchy, use a small piece of tapered squid on a size 4 hook at the end of your line with a split-shot sinker up above (if it isn’t too windy). Bonito have made a comeback these past few years and for the boneheads the best rigging seems to be a Cast-a-Bubble or golf ball followed by a splasher feather. Live bait (small Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, or anchovies) fished on a sliding leader, works best for the visiting yellowtail. Barracuda, when they’re around, are usually caught on cut anchovies or cut squid but Kastmasters or Krocodile lures can also be good, especially at night.

Many regulars will be out each night to fish for sharks and the end area is generally the hot spot. Fresh mackerel, sardine or smelt seems the most common bait for the sharks, but squid is usually better for the large bat rays and occasional big skate that show up. Most of the sharks that are caught are smoothhounds or leopard sharks but you’ll also see an occasional swell shark or horn shark and once in a blue moon someone will latch on to one of the larger thresher sharks or blue sharks (a 48” blue was taken in June of 2002). Guitarfish and bat rays are common and batties over a hundred pounds are seen each year.

Do not, repeat, do not, simply cast out your line and let the bait sit on the bottom. Not only is this not the best way to catch fish, but this is also an area which sometimes sees heavy infestations of starfish. The interesting creatures (and here they’re typically the small purple colored starfish) like to grab hold of baits sitting on the bottom. Check your bait often and make sure your hook isn’t encircled by the probing purple foot of a starfish. Also don’t be surprised if you occasionally see a spider crab. Although not as common as at Port Hueneme or Stearns Wharf, their catch is a regular occurrence.

Lastly, be sure to follow the rules! The following story is taken from the web site’s July 1997 Report Page: “A Fish and Game officer, in plain clothes, apparently did a little sting operation at Goleta last week. First he watched the fishing action for a while. Then he put his badge on the front of his shirt and approached an angler. How had he done? No fish was the reply. The officer then asked to see inside the man’s backpack and lo and behold there were three undersized calico bass (kelp bass) and one undersized halibut. The officer wrote out a ticket which the man then proceeded to rip up and throw into the water. He followed that up with a few choice words which cannot be printed in this G-rated site. Ten seconds later the man was handcuffed to a pole, the sheriff was called, and shortly thereafter the man was issued tickets for four illegal fish, polluting the water, and resisting arrest. DUMB, TRULY DUMB!” By the way, sting operations are fairly common at both Goleta and Stearns Wharf.

Author’s Note

It’s rare to gain access to personal fishing logs but one is available for this pier. Boyd Grant, known as Pierhead to those at PFIC, adopted the Goleta Pier as his own in the late 1990s and became its main protector as well as its most vocal advocate. Not only did he set up a group of regulars to keep an eye on the pier but he also developed what I think is the best website for an individual pier (http://pierhead.freeservers.com/home.html). His site includes a photo album, an historical overview, photo essays, helpful links AND a one-year log of his catches from June 2002 to May of 2003. Although every year is different it provides an intriguing look at the life of this one pier and with his permission I present s year in the life of a pier (and pier rat).

June 2002
Total Fish this month: 106
Number of species: 16
Summary: Rockfish continue to be the predominant catch in the kelpline from the 3rd quarter of pier using either anchovy or squid. A few White Seabass ranging from 18-30” caught in surfline early in month. Other unusual catches included a 12# Black Seabass caught on 6/10 at the surfline and a 48” Blue shark caught 6/19 off the end. Did receive an unconfirmed report of 2 Striped Seabass caught 6/2 off the end. Halibut to 30” are beginning to appear but not in the numbers like last year. Fish — staghorn sculpin, Pacific mackerel, white croaker, barred surfperch, blue rockfish, brown rockfish, kelp rockfish, bat ray, thornback ray, shovelnose guitarfish, brown smoothhound, barred sand bass, kelp bass, lingcod, anchovy, shinerperch, jacksmelt.

July 2002
Total Fish this month: 72
Number of species 23
Summary: Rockfish remain the predominant catch in the kelpline on the west side of the pier. Increased species count by fishing pilings as well as kelpline and channel between pier and kelp. Beginning to see some ‘El Nino’ species – Senorita fish and other Rock Wrasse. Halibut are also beginning to be caught regularly as the water warms above 64 degrees. The Corbina are still very active inshore along the surfline as well as a few White Sea Bass in the early mornings. Several large Bat Rays caught towards end of month – one was estimated to be over 100 pounds. Baitfish are still somewhat scarce but Mackerel are showing up with some frequency. Fish— Pacific mackerel, black perch, silver surfperch, black rockfish, blue rockfish, brown rockfish, black & yellow rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, olive rockfish, thornback ray, shovelnose guitarfish, swell shark, barred sand bass, kelp bass, California halibut, California scorpionfish, senorita, mackerel jack, queenfish, jacksmelt, shinerperch, white croaker

August 2002
Total Fish this Month: 49
Number of Species: 18
Summary: Major change this month was a drop in water temperatures during the 3rd week from 65 to 57 degrees. Too soon to tell if it has affected the halibut catch although it doesn’t appear to have made much of a difference so far. Rockfish catch rates were down in the first 2 weeks but seemed to have bounced back – perhaps due to the lower water temperatures? Grey Smoothounds and swell sharks are still being caught as well as the occasional WSB. The corbina are no longer appearing in great numbers (as of the third week) nor are they as easy to catch but baby squid are showing up at nights under the lights. There have been reports of the occasional giant Humboldt squid appearing on the beaches. Fish — staghorn sculpin, white croaker, Pacific mackerel, mackerel jack, silver surfperch, blue rockfish, brown rockfish, black & yellow rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, thornback ray, brown smoothhound, swell shark, barred sand bass, kelp bass, California scorpionfish, giant kelpfish, shinerperch

September 2002
Total Fish this Month: 74
Number of Species: 13
Summary: 9/7/02 – Confirmed 16 pound Striped Bass caught on whole frozen anchovy tossed under the pier. 9/14/02 Large Barred Surfperch (12-16”) being caught on sidewinder crabs near foot of pier. 32” Halibut caught on live smelt midpier eastside. 9/22/02 Several large (25”) Corbina snagged in surf. 9/26/02 1st sandbass in a while. Fish— Pacific mackerel, white croaker, queenfish, Jack mackerel, blue rockfish, brown rockfish, black & yellow rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, yellowtail rockfish, thornback ray, gray smoothhound, kelp bass

October 2002
Total Fish this Month: 79
Number of Species: 10
Summary: 10/1/02 Major red tide conditions – low oxygen content, poor fish bite. Great bioluminescence. 10/13/02 Red tide has disappeared. Water quality downgraded to C on 10/7/02. 10/14/02 Lots of baitfish – sardines, smelt and anchovy. Good run of mackerel. Water upgraded to B. 10/21/02 Water downgraded to C again. Fish—Pacific mackerel, white croaker, black rockfish, blue rockfish, brown rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, yellowtail rockfish, thornback ray, brown smoothhound, gray smoothhound, kelp bass, lizardfish, Pacific sardine

November 2002
Total Fish this Month: 54
Number of Species: 13
Summary: 11/6/02 Some baitfish (jacksmelt and anchovy). Water upgraded to A. Heavy rains began 11/7 and ended 11/9. Mud from run-off appeared 11/11 and gone by 11-14-02. Report of a 20” Lingcod caught in kelp reef. 11/23/02. Many short halibut and a few 25-30” caught in surfline. Recent beach sculpting to create a winter berm has deepened the inshore slope causing steeper waves and more water movement. 11/24/02 Red tide again. 11/30/02 Excellent rockfish bite between 5-9pm … sizes are increasing from last months average of 8” and Grass and Kelp rockfish are replacing the summer’s Brown rockfish. Fish — staghorn sculpin, Pacific mackerel, white croaker, brown rockfish, black & yellow rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, thornback ray, barred sand bass, kelp bass, California scorpionfish, jacksmelt

December 2002
Total Fish this Month: 49
Number of Species: 7
Summary: Under the new DFG regulations effective 1/1/03 rockfishing is closed until 6-30-03. I have had a great year exploring the kelp reef structure and accumulating lots of good data on the rockfish population but now it is time to switch gears – my new emphasis for first half of this coming year will be on the piling structure and associated species like pile and buttermouth perch. I will also explore the wonderful world of Corbina fishing which was outstanding this past year at Goleta. Hopefully I will get a few Sandbass, Calico Bass and Halibut as well as I switch to fishing with live baits jigged up on a Sabiki rig.
Best wishes and good fishing to all in the New Year as we adapt to the new restrictions on our sport. Fish — brown rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, bat ray, thornback ray, cabezon, white croaker, shinerperch.

January 2003
Total Fish this Month: 48
Number of Species: 12
Summary: 1-04-03 Lots of baitfish – small jacksmelt. Large pile perch still being caught on lugworms and small black rock crabs. 1/12/03 Baitfish thinning out. 1/13/03 Baitfish gone. 1/31/03 Baitfish beginning to reappear. Still catching large pile perch and Black perch (Buttermouth) but not as large and not as many as earlier in the month. Very few halibut now but there are still a few corbina at night. Fish— barred surfperch, black perch, walleye surfperch, brown rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, barred sand bass, shovelnose guitarfish, Pacific sardine, jacksmelt, white croaker, shinerperch

February 2003
Total Fish this Month: 20
Number of Species: 11
Summary: 2-1-03 Few baitfish in water. One legal halibut caught off end on mussels (25”, 5#). DFG ‘walked’ the pier today in response to recent complaints regarding multiple-pole violations – remember, only 2 lines allowed per person on public piers. 2-22-03: DFG walked pier again today. No baitfish in water. Several whales in bay – reports of a 50’ whale cruising the kelp reef last week. 2-27-03 Large Barred surfperch beginning spring run – sizes up to 16” and most bearing young – please return fry to water if keeping catch. Still no baitfish. Fish — staghorn sculpin, barred surfperch, walleye surfperch, brown rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, thornback ray, shovelnose guitarfish, barred sand bass, Pacific sanddab, jacksmelt

March 2003
Total Fish this Month: 61
Number of Species: 17
Summary: 3-3-03 Fishing very slow – primarily perch. Some small baitfish beginning to reappear. 1st grunion run (3/4- 3/7/03) did not materialize. 3-10-03 Baitfish back in number – halibut beginning to return …28” caught this weekend midpier on live bait. 3/15/03 Goleta Pier (SB Airport) got 4.74 inches of rain between 1am and 10 am today – most rain of any March storm since 1941. 3-25-03 Rockfish levels returning to Summer/Fall rates -primarily during sunset hours. Water temperatures have dropped from 57 degrees to 52 degrees which is unprecidented … trying to determine if reports are accurate. More halibut being reported caught west side mid-pier. 3/28/03 Top smelt and night smelt in some numbers. Several more reports of a large (4-5’) Leopard shark – no one has managed to bring it in so far. 3/30/03 – water temps still at 52 degrees. Caught a 19” Lingcod and a 16” Monkeyface Prickleback … also saw a 17” Cabezon caught. Fish— black perch, walleye surfperch, brown rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, thornback ray, shovelnose guitarfish, barred sand bass, kelp bass, lingcod, onespot fringehead, speckled midshipman, white croaker, mackerel jack

April 2003
Total Fish this Month: 23
Number of Species: 6
Summary: 4/4/03 Water still extremely cold (52 degrees). No baitfish in water. Very windy past week. 4/7/03 No wind and water temps up to 55 degrees. 4/29/03 Water temps at 54 degrees for past two weeks due to wind? Schools of sardines and small jacksmelt appearing regularly. Caught a 22” Lingcod … 3rd this year and second this month. Also caught a very rare Banded Guitarfish – possibly the northern-most catch of this species as it is not usually found above San Diego. Fish — brown rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, thornback ray, banded guitarfish, lingcod

May 2003
Total Fish this Month: 22
Number of Species: 7
Summary: 5/3/03 Water muddy from recent rain … some baitfish (Jacksmelt) and small perch. 5/7/03 Water temp is the lowest I’ve seen – measured 50 degrees at the pier. Smoothhound sharks beginning to appear – saw the largest one I’ve ever seen – 40+” caught at foot of pier. 5/26/03 Pier closed weekdays for next several weeks for piling repairs. Water temps are back up to 54-56 degrees and many halibut are beginning to be caught. Lots of baitfish – primarily small jacksmelt and sardines. Still a good run of large (14-16”) Barred surfperch. Fish — brown rockfish, grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, olive rockfish, thornback ray, lingcod


History Note

When Juan Cabrillo discovered this spot in 1542, it was the largest city in California. It had a population of over 1,000 Canalino Indians who lived on Mescalitan Island (which today sits under the road leading to UCSB). The term “Goleta” by the way, means “schooner” in Spanish and was used as a name for a land grant in 1846. No one is quite sure however if it is so named because of a wreck here of an American schooner or because a vessel was built here in 1829.

The Goleta Slough and Estuary was used as a deep-water port until the floods of 1860-1861 brought down more than fourteen feet of silt; later a whaling station operated on the beach in the 1880s. Records from 1883 designate More’s Landing as the name for the wharf at Goleta. It was 900-foot-long, 35-foot-wide, and reached out into water that was about 11 feet deep at low tide. Shallow, but sufficient for the boats which used it as a port (mostly for shipping livestock to the islands and farm produce to San Francisco). In addition, over 2,000 tons of asphaltum were sent from the nearby mines (located under today’s UCSB) to San Francisco, as well as to New Orleans’ Vieux Carre (the famous French Quarter). Still later, in the 1890s, it’s recorded as the site of a railroad wharf. Little remains of those early ventures.

No one seems to know when the current pier was actually built but it predates 1954 since that was the year of a major repair and rebuild (as happened again in the 1980s). Evidently the pier was originally only some 600-feet-long since one report says it was lengthened by 800 feet in the ‘80s. There also was a time in the ‘80s when a sportfishing craft, the sixty-five-foot-long Island Fox operated from the pier. Today the only boats that operate from the pier are private craft launched from the mid-pier sling.

Facts

Hours

Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities

Lights and fish-cleaning facilities are located on the pier as is a launch sling for small boats. At the foot of the pier are found restrooms, a restaurant and a snack bar. Free parking is found near the front of the pier.

Handicapped Facilities

Handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is wood (but very uneven and rough in spots) and the rail height is 42 inches. Posted for handicapped.

How To Get There

From Highway 101 take the Hwy. 217/Airport exit. Follow it to Sandspit Rd. and the Goleta Beach Park turnoff. Follow this to the park and the pier.

Management

County Parks Department—Santa Barbara County.