Looks, whether for women, men, or piers, can be deceiving. When first built, the expectations for this pier were high. It reminds me of the Ocean Beach Pier in San Diego which was seen as sort of a second coming if you listened to the talk of the fishermen at the time. Poking out into the Point Loma kelp beds, anglers expected to haul in the same fish as the sportfishing boats – at a fraction of the cost. It never happened. Expectations were never THAT high at this pier but anglers (including myself) certainly expected it to be a bonanza of a pier. So far, it’s hasn’t happened!
Time has proven the pier to be excellent for crabs but generally only fair for fishing unless you happen to visit when a school of fish is present. Even so, the view is absolutely breath taking (when it isn’t raining or foggy) and it’s satisfying to simply cast out a line and contemplate the beauty of the angler’s world. After all, catching the fish is only one aspect of pier fishing!
This 900-foot-long pier is located at the west end of the bay near the main entrance into the harbor and is the most northern pier in the state. The bottom here is mud and sand, but it sits relatively close to the breakwater so it is adjacent to a rocky shoreline. In addition, several fairly good size rocks sit in the water near the front of the pier. The combination of conditions would seem to make it an excellent area for both sand and rock seeking species, and make it a first stop for many fish entering the bay. However, the rocky shore species such as greenling and cabezon seem to stick to the rocky areas and the surf species like redtail surfperch seem to prefer the coastal beaches. It’s not exactly a dead zone because some fish and lots of crabs are caught, but there do not seem to be a lot of attractants for fish. Even the pilings are void of the mussels which help transform many piers into virtual artificial reefs. There are barnacles on the pilings but little else. What the pier seems to need is an artificial reef similar to those that have been installed at many piers to the south.
For much of the year the predominate fish will be small to medium size perch such as silver surfperch and walleye surfperch. Small hooks (size 4-8) baited with pieces of tube worms, shrimp, or clams take most of the fish. If schools are thick, you can try bait rigs like Lucky Lura (size 8-12), but they do not normally seem to take as many fish as at other piers. Redtail and calico surfperch may make an appearance, especially around late May or June, and if they do the best bait will be sand crabs which you have brought from nearby beaches. Next best baits would be pieces of clams, shrimp or tube worms. A standard high/low leader with number 4 or 2 hooks will prove adequate for these perch. A few other perch species, especially white seaperch and striped seaperch may occasionally show up and the same baits and riggings will work with them.
Jacksmelt have proven to be a fairly common species and the typical rigging of 3-4 small size 8 hooks fished under a bobber seems to be the standard gear. Most anglers use small pieces of shrimp but I think pieces of tube worms make a better bait. Although the large smelt may be caught whenever a school swings past the pier, the prime times seem to be at night, just as it is getting dark. Since the darkness can make it hard to see your bobber, buy one that is luminescent or buy a small hook-on glow light.
Flatfish have also proven common, something which was to be expected given the sand and mud bottom around the pier. Most common are small to very small sanddabs which will latch on to bottom baits and hooks intended for larger fish. Unfortunately, most of these are too small to keep. However, a few eating size sanddabs and sole may be included. Quite a few starry flounder enter the bay and anglers with know how can also catch a few of these tasty fish. Best rigging is a sliding leader rigging which offers no resistance when picked up by the flounder. Bait with a strip of anchovy, a piece or shrimp, clam or tube worm. Although I haven’t seen any anglers use them here, I think live ghost shrimp would prove to be a sure fire bait for the bottom flatfish. You can’t buy them locally but I would think they would be available in the mud flats of the bay if locals acquired some ghost shrimp pumps.
Halibut have proven to be the game fish ‘de jour for most of the pier anglers. Each year a few California halibut are landed with some up to about 26 inches. I haven’t heard of any Pacific halibut being caught but some of the young of the species should enter the bay and young of the species can be as large as medium sized California halibut. For both of these species, a sliding leader baited with a small live bait would be best. This probably means a live shinerperch or a small walleye or silver surfperch (and you might need to go over to the Citizen’s Dock) to catch the bait. Sometimes schools of anchovies, smelt, herring or sardines may also swarm around the pier. Be sure you have some of the bait riggings with you so that you can snag some of the fish for live bait.
This pier has lights so it can be fished at night. This should improve your chances for skates, bat rays, or sharks if you wish to fish for them. I’ve heard tale of a blue shark landed at the pier and a couple of leopard sharks and brown smoothhounds (sand sharks) but the numbers are surprisingly low.
In these northern waters you may also see an occasional school of true tom cod as well as small rockfish (black, brown and copper). You may even see juvenile sablefish enter the bay. The numbers of these fish are small overall but they can provide a little variety and action for the anglers. Some years also see fairly good numbers of jack mackerel enter the bay and for some reason most of these are good size fish, often exceeding two feet in length. Most are caught on bait rigs and generally it is the late summer to fall months that see most of these pelagic critters.
Finally, be prepared to share space with the Crabbers. This pier has proven to be a top notch spot for Dungeness crabs and at times this can be to the detriment of anglers. One night I visited the pier for a little potpourri fishing and was startled to see crab pots tied every 7-10 feet around the entire end of the pier, in fact the outer 1/3 of the pier. There must have been at least 50-60 crab pots out there and if you wanted to fish a spot you had to do so amidst the pots and the ropes to the pots as well as the families that were crabbing and having a little social gathering. Every few minutes a pot would be pulled in and then tossed back out (generally as far as the person could throw it); it was a loud and disturbing racket which didn’t help the fishing – and I blamed my lack of success at least in part to the din of the Crabbers. But they were catching crabs and certainly had as much right to the pier as I did. The Dungeness crab season is basically December through July and I wonder if certain sections couldn’t be reserved for the Crabbers and others for fishermen, at least for those months?
Open 24 hours a day.
Limited free parking at the foot of the pier, night lights, and a few trash cans. There used to be a fish cleaning station out at the end of the pier but all that remains is the capped water outlet – “vandals took the handles” and everything else. At this time there is a small bait and tackle shop at the foot of the pier and several portable toilets.
None with the exception of ramps leading up to the curb. The pier’s surface is wood planks and the pier’s railing is approximately 40 inches high.
Take Highway 101 to Front Street, go west on Front Street to B Street, go south (left) on B Street to the pier.
Crescent City Harbor District.