If one were a fine connoisseur of piers (instead of wine), a description of this pier might be as follows: a small, easily overlooked, off-the-beaten-path pier; one that offers distinct pleasures and rare opportunity both in species and environment.
Picture the island of Catalina and the harbor of Avalon. Twenty-two miles from Long Beach, it is a short two-hour boat ride and the destination of hundreds of visitors most summer days. Home of glass-bottom boats, sailing, flying-fish excursions, hotels and restaurants, it is an ideal vacation destination.
Nestled at the foot of Catalina Avenue sits a small, 300-foot-long pier, a pier built back in 1920—the “Green Pleasure Pier” of Avalon. Here you can rent boats, tackle, and diving equipment, visit a fish market, or even buy a fishing license. A few people even fish.
Once again, picture a visit. You’ve gotten up early, slipped on some shorts and sandals, and walked down to the pier. It is early and the streets and bay are undisturbed. The water is clear as glass and you can see every rock, piece of kelp, or emergent fish as it arrives. Around you is every imaginable type of boat and, off to the north, you can see the old casino and the coastline of the island. You walk along the railing and look down into the water. Soon you see some halfmoon, and you decide to bait up. You tie two size 8 hooks onto your six-pound test line, attach a half-ounce sinker, then bait up with a small piece of squid. You drop your line into the water, let it settle near the bottom, then watch the fish check out your bait—first a halfmoon, then a rock wrasse, then a hoard of undersized kelp bass. The number of fish continues to grow until two large golden garibaldi and several senorita appear. Here the problem isn’t catching a fish, it’s catching the right fish. By watching your bait and keeping it away from the immature and illegal bass (and the illegal garibaldi), you limit your catch to the halfmoon. After 20 minutes two large opaleye appear, each in the two-to three-pound range. Now, you open your package of frozen peas and bait one of your hooks with the peas. The halfmoon are attracted by the squid, the opaleye by the peas; both seem excited by the presence of the other. Soon you have caught two more halfmoon and one opaleye, but it is getting harder and harder to keep the bass off your hook. You finally switch to peas by themselves, action slows, and it is a wait-and-see game, and you can see the game.
Does it sound interesting? It is! However, most anglers who visit Avalon will never sample the pier action. It is simply too close to excellent boat fishing and scuba diving. Why settle for small game when you are so close to the bigger action? Well, it is ideal for youngsters, you don’t have to worry about seasickness, and it has a charm all of its own. You may, of course, catch one of the bigger fish which roam these waters but as a rule small game is the main game.
The bay bottom here is both sand and rock with lots of kelp and seaweed to provide cover for the fish. The depth around the pier is fairly shallow but the bay itself slopes quickly into deeper depths; remember, Catalina is an island. Within rowing distance is water hundreds of feet deep. Because of location and environment, this is probably the best pier in Southern California to catch rocky-shore species. Among the most common are halfmoon (Catalina blue perch), opaleye, senorita, rock wrasse, blacksmith, garibaldi (a beautiful fish protected by the state for many years), small, generally illegal-size kelp bass (calico bass), grass rockfish, kelp rockfish, California scorpionfish (sculpin), topsmelt and jacksmelt, blackperch, rubberlip seaperch, rainbow seaperch, shinerperch and kelp seaperch. Less common are small California sheephead (Pimelometopon pulchrum) and ocean whitefish (Caulolatilus princeps). Infrequently an angler will also spot a white seabass or a yellowtail cruising through the water but they’re rarely caught off the pier. The pier is probably the best pier in the state from which to catch a California moray eel (Gymnothorax mordax); fish at night using a slightly heavier outfit and squid or octopus as bait.
Anywhere around the pier can yield good fishing but the secret here is to try to use bait that will get you the species you are after. For the large opaleye, bring your own frozen peas or mussels. For most of the perch, mussels or bloodworms are ideal. Halfmoon seem to feed on all of these but also love small strips of squid, and the squid will stay on your hook much better than the other baits considering the tremendous number of small fish that will often swarm around your hook. Most bait that is for sale is frozen bait, so if you want to use fresh mussels or worms, bring it with you from the mainland.
A tried and true tradition at Catalina is chumming for fish and it also works on the pier. If things are slow, try chumming. Take along a few pieces of bread and break them into small pieces. Next squeeze them into balls and drop a few into the water. Usually it will only be a few moments before smelt will appear. Generally the kinetic excitement of the smelt will act as an attractant for the other species and you will soon have a variety of fish in your spot. Continue to chum with an occasional piece of fish or squid and enjoy the action.
Larger species are of course a possibility. Your best bet in seeking larger fish might be to try a live smelt which you have caught with a small hook. Kelp bass, sheephead and sculpin will take live or fresh-dead smelt, and experts say that early morning and late evening hours can produce some of the larger, keeper-size kelp bass. If you’re lucky, a yellowtail, white seabass or halibut might even decide to swim by while your smelt is dancing its sexy little dance. You never know!
The town of Avalon was called Timm’s Landing (although some used the name Dakin’s Cove) up until the time of George R. Shatto, the man who bought Catalina Island (for $200,000) in 1887. Shatto developed the townsite and his sister, Etta M. Whitney, gave it the name of Avalon, apparently naming it after a mythical island valley in the Tennyson poem Idylls of the King. A 1903 edition of Webster’s dictionary gives the meaning of Avalon as “Beautiful Isle of the Blest,” and “Bright Gem of the Ocean,” so perhaps she was right. Shatto saw Avalon as a vacation destination and soon set up a steamer service to the mainland, built a hotel, and began to sell tiny, inexpensive lots. Tents were erected as vacation cottages on many of these lots and Avalon soon had a tent city, similar to those found at most seaside towns in California during those days. However, echoing the boom and bust nature of real estate in southern California in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Shatto went broke.
In 1892 Shatto sold the island to the Banning brothers of Wilmington who continued to work to make Catalina a prime destination spot for tourists. They established the Santa Catalina Island Company in 1894 and built a larger tent city. By 1913 Avalon had a summer population approaching 10,000 people. More elaborate plans (perhaps designed as competition for the Santa Monica, Ocean Park and Venice Amusement Piers) were hurt by a fire which swept through Avalon in 1915. In 1919, the brothers sold their holdings to William Wrigley jr. Since 1972 much of the island has been maintained by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy.
A number of piers have graced Avalon’s Harbor since the late 1800s. Records talk of piers in the bay as early as 1895 and mention a fishing pier in 1905. The Green Pleasure Pier was basically a gift to the city, being sold to Avalon for the princely sum of $5 in 1909. It had originally been built by the Freeholder’s Association, a group of local businessmen, and conceived as an alternative landing spot in opposition to an attempted monopoly by the Banning brothers who had built a pier parallel to the beach in 1905 (and tried to corner most of the tourist business). The other, larger pier, was the Steamer Pier that set near the Hotel Metropole and which eventually was washed out. Although it is still a center of beach front activities, the Green Pleasure Pier may be best remembered as a site where many of the huge marlin, tuna, swordfish and black sea bass were weighed and photographed during the days when Catalina was a Mecca for big game fishermen. Originally boatman’s lockers set on the pier as did a weigh station.
Date: January 28, 1999 To: Ken Jones From: Albert P Subject: Avalon fishing Hi Ken, You’d asked me for a “report” from the Catalina pier.. Late and not much to speak of but here goes: Didn’t catch a thing, but then I only had a few hours to fish in the morning. I did get a few garibaldi nibbles. First off, since most guys were fishing off the wharf where the ferries dock, I thought I’d go there. I saw a guy catch and release a garibaldi (he was fishing for opaleye) but that’s it. Met a local commercial fisherman named Scott who was beached due to weather. He was tossing a few jigs off just to get his line wet. He didn’t get bit but claimed that yellowtail, and the three B’s can be taken there. Also recommended a treble hook cast far out for sheephead. Of note was the glass bottom boat tour which I took later that same day from the Green Pier. This revealed that there are lots of bass (legal ones and smalls) in the area, and scads of opaleye. They seem to follow the boats because people toss fish food through the holes. Of course most of them congregate around Lover’s Cove (off limits) but not far from casting range from the dock. Indeed there are sheephead, bass, opaleye, garibaldi, blacksmith, sargo and other fish. When I go back, I might try live worms off the Green Pier and cut bait (or live) cast as far as possible off the dock, sitting about 18 inches off the bottom. I suspect that one could figure out how to chum the schools in with the fish food. The boat ride really gave me perspective into what swims around in that general area. Thanks for the tips, etc., AP
The pier is generally open 24 hours a day.
Rental tackle is available on the pier at the Avalon Boat Stand and Joe’s Rent-A-Boat (although much of what they have is geared to boat fishing). Some tackle is available at the High Tide Traders near the pier. Bait is available from Rosie’s Fish Market at the end of the pier (usually open at 7 a.m.). Lighting and fish-cleaning stations are non existent, but restrooms are available on the pier. There’s no parking but you do not need it since most motels are within walking distance of the pier.
The trick here is to get to Catalina. Ships and helicopters make the journey several times a day from the Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Newport Beach. Information is available on all of these by calling the Avalon Chamber of Commerce on the Pleasure Pier (213) 510-1520 or the Visitor’s Information & Service Center (213) 510-2500. Once in Avalon there should be no problem in finding the pier which is located at the foot of Catalina Avenue.
City of Avalon.