This used to be a two-sack pier; that was what I learned one day while talking to a pier regular. The regular, a gentleman of a youthful 78 years, and one who fished about 350 days a year, told me the story. “Back in the thirties you needed to bring two gunnysacks with you when you visited the pier because of the barracuda. Back then we called them logs, you know, big fish about 10 or 12 pounds each, and you could only get about five in a sack lengthwise. You fished until you loaded a couple of sacks then you stopped—no sense overdoing it. Of course you might need a little help carrying the sacks off the pier.” How accurate that memory is after 50 years can only be speculated. There is no doubt, however, that fishing can be very good at Oceanside and that it probably was outstanding “back then.”
The pier sits over what was once one of the best sand beaches in southern California—until the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor was built. Unfortunately, currents changed when the upcoast jetty was built and for many years the rocky base of the beach was almost bare of sand. Today the situation seems to have improved; there is more sand, and Pismo clams are even returning, so perhaps the problems have been fixed. The pier seems to be about as productive as when I first fished it in the mid-1960s although quantity is more common than quality. A lot of fish can still be caught but relatively few of the “trophy” fish common in years past. Fish typically caught here are the normal sandy-shore, long-pier variety. Inshore, you will find barred surfperch, corbina, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, sargo, round stingray, guitarfish and thornback rays. Midway out, you can catch white croaker, yellowfin croaker, queenfish, jacksmelt, topsmelt, butterfish, halibut, walleye surfperch, and sand sharks (smoothhound sharks). At 1,942 feet, the pier is long, and out toward the end you may catch any of these fish but also the more pelagic species like bonito, mackerel, barracuda (today, usually a small pencil instead of a log), small white seabass (usually called seatrout), and an occasional small (firecracker size) yellowtail. The end area is typically also the best area for kelp bass, barred sand bass, salema and other rock-frequenting species (including infrequent, but occasional, sheephead). It’s also the best area for the larger sharks (leopards, threshers and blues) as well as the monster bat rays.
This can be an excellent pier for halibut, sand bass, and guitarfish. Live anchovies are best, but the bait shop doesn’t offer them; instead, try to net some bait or snag a smelt, small queenfish, anchovy, or even a baby mac, and use the fish with a live bait rigging. Mid-pier is the best for the guitarfish; for halibut and bass try mid-pier to the end. If live bait (fish-type) isn’t available, try bloodworms, ghost shrimp, cut mackerel or frozen anchovies. The end of the pier can also, at times, be great for bonito and mackerel. Generally the mackerel will hit best on a small strip of squid or a bloody piece of mackerel. The larger bonito (some up to 6-8 pounds), prefer a splasher with an anchovy happily splashing behind, or a cast-a-bubble with a feather trailing behind it. Late summer to fall months will also see some barracuda. Most of the barries show up at night and your best bet to catch them is probably a gold or silver colored spoon like a Kastmaster or Krocodile.
The mid-pier area is a good area for fish besides halibut and guitarfish. It is the best area for a number of the smaller species like herring (queenfish), tom cod (white croaker) and jacksmelt. It yields a lot of yellowfin croaker, some spotfin croakers, sargo, and China (black) croakers, and quite a few smoothhound sharks, thornback rays, and bat rays. Almost all of these can be caught on high/low leaders with the bait deciding the type of fish that will hit. Queenfish and white croaker will strike on small strips of anchovy, jacksmelt prefer worms or a small piece of shrimp, most sharks and rays get all excited and goose bumpy when they smell a bloody piece of mackerel or a delicious piece of calamari (oops, squid).
Inshore, try sand crabs, ghost shrimp, bloodworms or mussels for barred surfperch, corbina, spotfin croaker, and yellowfin croaker; remember to use a fairly small hook, no bigger than a size 4. When fishing around the pilings, try mussels, bloodworms, or ghost shrimp; use a bait holder type hook for the bloodworms and mussels, a kahle-type hook for the ghost shrimp. These baits will be your best bet for most types of perch (although walleye surfperch like a small strip of anchovy). Best time for the barred surfperch is winter to spring while the large croakers prefer the summer to fall months.
If the pier isn’t too crowded, try artificial lures such as scampis for the sand bass, the already mentioned feathers with a cast-a-bubble for the bonito, and multiple-hook outfits for the macs and jacksmelt (although 3-5 mackerel twisting up a Lucky Lura leader isn’t so lucky—it often results in the loss of the $2-3 leader). A few sculpins (California scorpionfish), buckets of salema, and other rock-loving species will be attracted by the rock quarry artificial reef out toward the end of the pier. I say buckets of salema because people literally catch and keep enough of the small fish to fill buckets—although the limit is ten and some of the people are going to face some stiff fines one of these days.
Some unusual fish in recent years have included a deep-water lancetfish and an illegal 143-pound black sea bass in the spring of 1997 (which represents a fine of several thousand dollars). Fish and Game “sting operations” are common on the pier—so don’t even think about breaking the laws (see below).
A lot of small, undersized (and illegal), white seabass are caught on this pier. Please return them to the water and help this species once again become a viable resource. You may also avoid a large fine and the loss of your fishing license!
At one time the Oceanside Pier had its own sportfishing operation. One of the old pier items which I have is an unopened package with a wire barracuda leader. The printing on the package states it is from Art & Bill’s Tackle Store and says, “Save a Boat Ride – Drive to Oceanside. McCullah Bros. Sport Fishing, Oceanside Pier.” For reservations, one simply called Oceanside 4467. I’m not sure of the date of this package, it could have been anywhere from the thirties to the fifties.
Open 24 hours a day.
A parking lot is available near the entrance to the pier and metered parking is available on Pacific Street. Restrooms, bait and tackle, lights, benches, and fish cleaning stations are all found on the pier. Snack bars and a restaurant are found on the pier.
The pier has handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is cement and planking and the rail height is 44 inches. Posted for handicapped.
From I-5 take Mission Blvd. west to Pacific, turn left and follow it to the pier.
City of Oceanside – Public Works Department.