Pier Fishing in California

Resources :: California Fishing Piers

Point Arena Pier

Fishermen are supposed to keep secrets; everyone knows it. The ultimate of course is the secret fishing hole; divulge the location and others will come and ruin the fishing. Sort of the loose lips sink ships situation, to use a wartime analogy. That is sort of how I feel when I publicize the Point Arena Pier. It is small (only 330-feet long) and probably could never handle a huge hoard of people descending onto the pier. Given that, it still deserves attention. Why? Simple! At the right time of the year it is one of the best fishing piers in the state. And, throughout the year it is the best pier to fish if you want to catch rocky-area species like striped seaperch, kelp greenling, rock greenling and cabezon. It is also the best pier to catch lingcod and a fair pier to catch salmon. So, even though there are not huge numbers of fish caught at the pier the fish that are caught are generally good quality fish and many are prize pier specimens.


The pier sits in the Point Arena cove. Point Arena itself juts out to the west (and is in fact the closest point in the continental United States to Hawaii). Offshore is some of the world’s deepest waters in the Mendocino Trench; and the underwater Arena Canyon and Navarro Canyon begin directly out from the Point. The cove itself is 20-100 feet deep, sits southeast of the point and is protected somewhat from northwest winds and storms. The entire cove has a rocky bottom with no sand or gravel, a small stream runs into the ocean to the left of the pier, and there are reefs to both the south and north of the pier. Fish found here are rocky-area species; they include kelp and rock greenling, cabezon and lingcod, striped, white and (a few) calico perch, walleye and silver surfperch, shinerperch, grass, black and blue rockfish, small bocaccio, Pacific tomcod, starry flounder and an occasional salmon. Unusual species include large buffalo sculpin and wolf eels.

Built of concrete and steel, with a surface 25 feet above the water, the pier replaced an older, wooden pier that was destroyed in the monstrous 1983 storms. It is a working pier and room on the pier is shared between the recreational and commercial fishermen, as well as sportsmen who launch their boats from the large sling that sits on the right side of the pier. Initial fears that boats would be unable to be launched from the new sling were found to be unwarranted. Also wrong, were the concerns of some anglers who scoffed at the idea of bringing fish up from such a distance.

Fishing Tips

The main fishing effort here is for striped seaperch, kelp greenling and rock greenling. Both of the latter are usually referred to as seatrout. Bait and tackle are the same for all three—use size 6 hooks with a high-low leader or tie the hooks directly to the line. Best bait is shrimp (small pieces) followed by fresh mussels or pile worms. This same rigging and bait will also attract a variety of rockfish. All of these fish can be caught year round, but perch fishing can be tremendous in the spring when they come into the shallow waters around the pier to spawn. All can be caught anywhere around the pier but inshore to midway out, on the south side, is usually the most productive area. If fishing is slow, cast to the reefs that run parallel to the south side of the pier. The reefs are reachable with a good cast—but also be prepared to lose a lot of tackle.

This is also a good pier for cabezon and there are at least two cabezon holes. The best bait for these fish is live ghost shrimp (but you’ll have to bring your own). The next best baits are small crabs (which you can catch on the shore), mussels or pieces of shrimp. Many fisherman use abalone guts or squid and a few cabezon will be landed on these baits each year. Since these cabezon can weigh upwards of ten pounds, be sure to bring a net or treble-gaff with you to the pier.

During the summer months you will often see schools of small fish in the water. These are generally surf smelt (day smelt) but at times there are also a few night smelt, jacksmelt and even anchovies. These can be caught on a multi-hook leader for live bait or food—although it takes quite a few of the smelt to make a meal. Some years will also see schools of Pacific tomcod or small, juvenile bocaccio invade the waters of the pier; when present, youthful anglers are assured some light tackle action. Also small are the silver and walleye perch which are generally present in the spring through fall months. Best bets for these are small size 6 or 8 hooks baited with small pieces of anchovy and fished mid depth.

For larger fish, you can try live bait for salmon in the fall; every year a few salmon move into the waters of the cove. Live bait can also be used to entice lingcod that like to hang around the pier from the fall to the spring. The best bet would be to catch a walleye or silver surfperch and then use the perch as a live bait for the lings. As already mentioned, be sure to have a net if you’re seeking these larger fish.

Special Recommendations

Make sure you always bring warm clothing with you to this pier. Point Arena is one of the windiest points on the coast. It’s easy to take off a jacket; it’s not easy to put one on if you didn’t bring it. This pier is also very heavily used by both commercial and skiff fishermen. Skiff fishermen use it to launch their boats. Commercials use it to unload their catch of fish, crabs or sea urchins onto the pier and to get supplies, such as ice or gas. This means there are many trucks on the pier, so always be careful to stay out of their way. Also, be careful not to hit anyone as you are casting—remember the underhand cast. The commercial activity also means that boats are often tied to the pier in spots you wish to fish or come into water you are trying to fish; be cautious and remember that without this mostly summertime hazard, there wouldn’t be a pier.

Be sure to bring a net or gaff! One day two of my students, John Gowan and Antonio Soto, decided to visit the pier. Following my suggestions, they had brought shrimp as bait, and both were soon fishing in the shallow waters near the inshore rocks. Almost immediately, Antonio had a savage hit from a large fish. Shortly thereafter, the still feisty fish was hauled to the top of the water. It was a ferocious looking wolf eel, one that was a little over 4-feet-long. John and a large group of people watched the battle but there was a problem, since neither John nor Antonio had brought a pier gaff or a net. There were no shortages of suggestions from the on-lookers but finally the pier attendant offered to help. A small hoist, usually used to lower and bring up dinghies, was fitted with a fish basket, and then it was lowered into the water. After the eel was brought into position above the basket, it was hauled to the top of the pier. On deck, everyone gave congratulations, a few snapped pictures, and Antonio and John thanked the pier attendant for the help. A few hours later John called and asked, “how do I cook this darn thing?” Remember—always bring a net or treble hook gaff with you.

Expect the unexpected. One day in late September, I was fishing with limited success (a few seatrout) when I spotted bait fish breaking the surface of the water. Deciding to catch some live bait, I rigged up a multi-hook leader and cast it out. A couple of turns of the reel handle, a quick jerk, and I was hooked to a SALMON. Since the leader had size 12 hooks, and a light line, I knew my chances of landing the fish was slim but nevertheless I played it carefully and finally got it up next to the wharf. It looked like a silver salmon; about 8 pounds in weight. Unfortunately, the tiny hook, last one on the leader, was just barely caught in the tip of his mouth and about the time he spotted the piling he decided he had given me enough thrills for the day. He made a sharp turn, the hook pulled out, and a salmon dinner became seatrout fillets (which weren’t too bad).

Pay attention to any fish you leave on a stringer in the water. One mid-October day I was fishing at the pier with John, had caught a nice kelp greenling (seatrout), and had put it on the stringer that was dropped into the water. Soon after, John gave an exclamation and ran to the stringer. A large lingcod—in the twenty pound category—had his (her) mouth around that seatrout and was hanging on—much as do the hitchhiker lingcod that grab hooked fish out on the rockcod boats. Although I tried to snag the lingcod with my treble-hook gaff, and almost was able to gaff it on one drop, the fish ultimately got away. Later, after talking to several anglers, I found out that similar incidents had happened a number of times. Since a lot of lingcod hang around this pier, be prepared for the big fish at all times.

Bring binoculars with you. This pier is probably the best in the state to get a good view of a whale. Every year gray whales pass close to the cove while making their annual trips up and down the California coast. Several times I have seen these whales playing right in the cove, swimming around the boats that are anchored near the front of the pier. At times, the whales were within casting distance of the pier. It’s hard to imagine whales in such shallow water but the moderate depth doesn’t seem to bother them.

Don’t waste fish. The springtime run of perch can be amazing but it also can mean a large number of wasted fish. Years ago I was an advisor for the marine biology class at Anderson Valley High School. Every month the students would visit the coast and return specimens that had experienced the pleasure of being in the schools’ tanks for a month. Next, the students would capture new creatures to study. Finally, we would manage a couple of hours of fishing at the pier. We always caught fish and most would be taken back to school. There they would be studied and then either saved for further study or taken home to eat. In retrospect, we took far too many fish. The fishing was simply too easy—especially in the spring. I’ve seen anglers catch perch on every drop of a line, big perch of two or more pounds in size, and then simply give them away or leave some on the pier when they leave. Don’t do it, make sure you only catch and keep what you are going to eat. Let the rest go.

History Note

Prior to the 1860s Point Arena was one of many sites along this stretch of coast which utilized chutes and wire trapeze rigging to load the small coastal schooners with redwood lumber—and other cargo. Most of these ports were so small they were called dog-hole ports—since they supposedly were just big enough to allow a dog to get in and out. Dozens of these were built, and almost any small cove or river outlet was a prime candidate for a chute. Luckily, the captains of these schooners were masters of their art and were able to get out of places like Hard Scratch and Nip-and-Tuck.

However, Point Arena got a real wharf in 1866 and during the 1870s Point Arena became the most active port between San Francisco and Eureka (in fact at one time the cove had two wharves). Steam schooners like the Seafoam, Pomo and Point Arena made regular runs along the Mendocino coast and visited more than a dozen wharves between Point Arena and Eureka. Since then, Point Arena has seen several wharves, testimony to the killer storms (primarily from the south) and waves that periodically thrash the cove. The same destruction was common at most of the other earlier wharves; today the nearest oceanfront pier to the north is at Trinidad, a nautical distance of 131 miles.

Point Arena was first sighted by Ferrer in 1543 and called Cabo de Fortunas. However, by the late 18th century the common name among sailors seems to have been Barra de Arena (sand bar). This eventually became Punta de Arena and still later was Americanized into Point Arena.



Open 24 hours a day.


Restrooms with toilets, coin-operated showers, fish cleaning stations, free parking, some benches, night lighting, boat launching (up to 5 tons and 27 feet ) are all available on or near the pier. Lodging is available at the Wharf Master’s Inn. Food is available at the Galley Restaurant just a few feet from the foot of the pier. Bait and tackle is sometimes available in the shops near the front of the pier.

Handicapped Facilities

Handicapped parking and handicapped restrooms. The pier surface is concrete and the railing is 40 inches high. Not marked for handicapped.

How To Get There

From the south, turn left from Hwy. 1 onto Iverson Ave. —this will turn into Port Road. Simply follow the road to the pier. From the north, turn right onto Port Road. and follow it to the pier.


City of Point Arena.