Different piers stick out in your mind for different reasons and this is certainly true of this pier. On one of my visits I wasn’t having much luck (in fact no luck) until I struck up a conversation with a couple of local youth waiting for their father to finish unloading his commercial fishing boat. Did they fish much off the wharf? “Sure,” they replied. Where did they catch most of their fish? “Inshore near the rocks.” So, I moved so that I could try the specific piling which they said was “the spot.” And sure enough, I started to catch fish. First a kelp greenling (sea trout), then a small black rockfish, then a copper rockfish. About then they asked what I was using for bait and I replied that I had some frozen tube worms which I had bought in Eureka. How much had I paid for them? “About three dollars for a one ounce cup” was my reply. Would I like a couple of batches of the worms? “Sure,” I said, “but where do you get them?” Turns out the tires which line the pilings as protection against the boats are full of tube worm colonies. In fact, basically every tire had a mass of the interesting worms and their tube-shaped homes. They brought me two of the strange looking masses and then showed me how to squeeze out the tube worms (it’s sort of like squeezing out tooth paste). Figure out where the dark head is located and squeeze from that point. Soon the 4-12 inch worms pop out from the other end of the tube. Truly interesting and later, when I had time to squeeze out all the worms, I came out with what I guess was $20-$30 worth of the worms. I always say learn from the regulars (the locals) and it proved true once again.
But that wasn’t all. I noticed while fishing the selected piling that there was a large rock near the shoreline with a hole in it. Not just a hole but a perfectly shaped hole approximately 8-10 inches in diameter. Might there be a fish in the hole, perhaps a wolf eel or an octopus? Only one way to see so I carefully dropped my line straight down into the hole. Nothing for a second, then a terrific hit. Unfortunately, whatever had grabbed my bait didn’t let go and I lost my sinker and hook. Soon I had a new sinker, a sharp new hook, and a new piece of bait. Back into the hole went my line. This time there was an almost instantaneous hit and I gave a quick jerk. I thought I had lost my line again but instead a cabezon came shooting out of the hole, fins bristling and mouth gasping—but he was mine and I soon had the medium-sized cabezon up on the dock. However, I release most of the fish I catch and he was no exception. I dropped him back into the water and soon noticed him reenter the hole which apparently was his home. I didn’t have the heart to drop the line in there again.
The pier extends 900 feet out into the harbor and has a L-shaped end. The bottom here is both sand and mud and although there are many pilings, there isn’t much mussel growth. That may be one reason why fishing is generally only fair but I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because there are so many other inviting structures in the bay. There are other pilings and wharfs as well as extensive rocks along the breakwater and around the shoreline. Whaler Island, home of the area’s first wharf and a whaling fleet, sits just south of Citizens Dock. It’s no longer just a small island. It has been connected to the shoreline by a breakwater which forms the southern jetty for the harbor. When piers are built over sandy beach the piers act as fish attractants, much like artificial reefs. Here there is abundant shelter and natural attraction for the fish. As mentioned, the dock gets extensive use from the commercial boats which unload their catch onto the pier. There are at least three fish buyers on the dock and traffic can sometimes be heavy with boats and trucks coming and going. In addition, there is a fuel pump on the dock and yes at times fuel does get into the water. But overall the bay is very unpolluted which is amazing considering the use it receives.
Fishing primarily involves those schooling species which happen to pass by the wharf and a few solitary individuals common to the primarily rocky area. In the summer this means schools of walleye and silver surfperch, shinerperch, jacksmelt, true smelt (surf smelt) and sardines. In the spring, redtail and calico surfperch may enter the harbor and both winter and spring will offer up starry flounder. Late winter and spring will usually see some schools of herring swing by the pier. Year round, an angler may encounter a resident kelp greenling, rock greenling, cabezon, striped seaperch, or any of several types of sculpins. Most of the year, but primarily summer and fall, the angler may catch small-sized black, blue, copper or brown rockfish. At times skates and bat rays are caught and most years will see a few halibut, salmon, and lingcod.
For most of the resident fish, a simple high/low rigging utilizing shrimp, tube worms, or fresh mussels will be productive. Keep the gear light, use a small hook, size 4-8, and fish under the pier, as close to the pilings, as possible. Most commonly you will catch striped seaperch, sea trout (kelp greenling), cabezon or small rockfish.
When schools of smelt, sardines or herring show up, jigging with a size 10-12 Lucky Lura-type bait rig can produce fast results. Generally the best approach is to cast out, then use a quick retrieve but different fish sometimes require a different retrieve so don’t be afraid to experiment. Put a shiny torpedo sinker on the end of your line or use a gold or silver spoon equipped with a hook; sometimes this will hook the fish. For herring especially, the late hours just before dark, and the top of high tide, should be most productive. For jacksmelt, a series of small hooks baited with pieces of worm, and fished under a bobber, tend to yield the best results.
When salmon show, use a whole frozen anchovy or catch a small fish off of the dock (perch or smelt) for live bait. Fish the bait under a large float and keep it 3-4 feet under the top of the water. Since the dock surface is fairly close to the water, you may not even need a sinker. Do try to position yourself so that the current is taking the rigging away from the pier. And see if you can find the “special piling” that the locals fish.
Most of the lingcod are caught on Scampi’s fished with a leadhead jig. Small Pacific halibut are sometimes caught from the dock by people using Scampi tails, frozen sardines, herring, or anchovies.
This is a pier which also sees heavy “crabbing” action. Rock crabs are a goal throughout the year while Dungeness crabs are sought during the winter and spring.
Winters are very wet here and summers cool or even cold; bring some warm-layered clothing with you. Also remember that this is a working wharf so be careful to stay out of the way of the people who are working.
The name Citizen’s Dock is an appropriate name for this pier. Since the earliest settlements, wharfs have been important for coastal towns, and it was no different for Crescent City. Settled in 1852, the city’s first wharf was built just three years later, in 1855, out on the appropriately named Whaler Island. The island and wharf were used by the north Pacific whaling fleet for many years. In 1860, a wharf was built out from the shoreline, only to be destroyed the following year. A third wharf soon followed, one which would be used until the late 1930s. By the mid ‘40s, that wharf was both unusable and unsafe. However, local citizens were unable to get government help (financing) to build a new wharf. Undeterred, the citizens got together and built themselves a new wharf which opened in 1950—Citizens Dock. Of course people in this small town are used to being self-reliant and getting together to accomplish projects; witness the rebuilding accomplished after the huge tidal wave of 1964. Twenty-nine city blocks and most of the structures in the harbor, including Citizen’s Dock, were damaged. The people rebuilt, installed the now-famous tetrapods into the breakwater (which look like giant, 25-ton concrete jacks), and have survived more than ten tidal waves since. The dock was partially rebuilt in 1987 and today is the center of a busy harbor which caters to both commercial and sport fishermen, tourists as well as locals.
Dawn to dusk.
Restrooms, fish cleaning stations, and free parking are all available at the foot of the pier. A boat hoist is available part of the year. Bait and tackle can be purchased one block up the road at Englund Marine Supply. There are a number of restaurants available on the road leading to the dock.
From Highway 101 turn west on Citizens Dock Road and follow it to the dock.
Crescent City Harbor District.