Pier Fishing in California

Resources :: California Fishing Piers

Port Hueneme Pier

This somewhat out-of-the-way pier is located in the pleasant Port Hueneme Beach Park. It has a weird zigzag shape, is made of wood, and presents, on clear days, a view of the not-too-distant Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands. It is also a very good family pier; I have never visited the pier without there being at least a few children present. It is also the only pier that I have seen where a sizable number of the local anglers (adults and kids) ride their bikes out to the end of the pier to go fishing. Most piers today do not even allow bikes to trespass on their hallowed surfaces. In today’s society, with its dysfunctional families and over regulation, it is nice to see such a user friendly environment. By the way, the correct way to pronounce Port Hueneme is Port Why-NEE’-me.

Environment

The pier is 1,400 feet long, extends out into water that is 22 feet deep, and yields the normal mix of southern California fish. The bottom here is primarily sand, pilings are well covered with mussel, and in the summer there is often a considerable growth of kelp and seaweed around the end of the pier. Inshore, there is some surfperch action but it is not especially good. Further out, in the mid-pier area, anglers cast out for halibut, white croaker, thornbacks and guitarfish, or jig with snag lines for small smelt, perch and queenfish. The end area sees all of these species plus more Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel and sardines. A few bonito and barracuda will be caught every fall, September to November, with the barracuda generally hitting during the evening hours. Spider crabs are a frequent “surprise” catch by anglers and pods of dolphin swimming near the pier are a fairly common sight.

Fishing Tips

Since live bait is not available, most anglers use frozen anchovies, mussels, squid or mackerel when fishing both the inshore and mid-pier areas; all seem to produce. Inshore action will produce a few barred surfperch (especially during the winter months), croakers (especially July-September), and bottomfish like banjo rays (thornback rays), shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) and skates. The perch and croakers prefer fresh mussels or bloodworms while the sharks and rays prefer squid.

Fishing the mid-pier and end area, under the pier and around the pilings, can yield opaleye, halfmoon (blue perch), blackperch (buttermouth), and a few pileperch. For all of these, use fresh mussels, bloodworms or small green crabs (if you can get some off the pilings). Fishing the area between the pilings, while using a multi-hook leader baited with small strips of anchovy, may yield queenfish, walleye surfperch or silver surfperch. This area between the pilings is also often the best area if schools of jacksmelt show up; just be sure to keep your bait near the top of the water or at a mid-depth. Jacksmelt are unpredictable; I’ve always felt the big smelt preferred a small piece of worm but at times they prefer a piece of anchovy or shrimp. Be willing to experiment!

Mid-pier to the end will produce most of the halibut and the bait the regulars most commonly use is a small live bait—smelt, queenfish or sardine. An occasional sea trout (small white seabass) will also hit on these baits; if so, make sure it is legal size.

At the end of the pier use cut anchovy to fish for white croaker, starry flounder (in the winter), and an occasional bass. Shinerperch are far too common, and a nuisance at times, but they can be used as live bait on a sliding rig for the halibut. Small tom cods (white croakers) also make excellent halibut bait as do small jack mackerel and Pacific mackerel. Use artificials when the bonito and barracuda show up; bonito seem to prefer a feather trailing a splasher or cast-a-bubble, while the barracuda sometimes go absolutely giddy over shiny spoons, especially gold spoons like Kastmasters. Some years will also see some yellowtail landed, generally in the warm water months of September or October (although there was an unusual run of yellowtail in January of ‘98).

The smaller pelagic species are one of the most consistent catches at the pier. When the schools are in, Pacific mackerel, jacksmelt, Pacific sardine, and jack mackerel can be caught from most areas of the pier. The standard rigging is a multi-hook bait rig with most of the regulars using the locally produced Filipino jigs (a leader with 6-8 yarn enclosed hooks—sort of like a long Lucky Joe leader). And, I must admit then when I’ve been at the pier they seemed to out fish other multi-hook-type rigs. These Filipino jigs are generally available at the bait shop at the foot of the pier.

This pier, like most, also has its “shark specialists.” Several good sized shovelnose guitarfish and leopard sharks have been landed, as have several humungous (new ‘90s word) bat rays. I haven’t heard of too many other species of sharks being caught. As usual, the sharks like a bloody piece of mackerel or squid, while the bat rays prefer squid. Best results seem to come from the mid-pier area.

This is also an excellent pier for spider crabs. I’ve rarely paid a visit when I didn’t see at least one of the ugly, gnarly creatures. Few people actually seem to use crab nets for the big crabs but they should.

Author’s Note

Everyone seems to know that the prime time to catch halibut is the late spring to mid-summer months. But maybe not all of the halibut have been told. Super Bowl Sunday, January ‘00, saw several of the regulars out at the mostly deserted pier. Since it was a special day, they had brought buckets of live anchovies for bait. They caught some halibut, some more halibut, and then some more halibut. When they finished, they had 11 keeper-size halibut including an impressive 30-pounder (and had released more under-sized flatties). It isn’t supposed to be like that in January!

History Note

The name Hueneme was given to the point in 1856 by James Alden who was in charge of the Coast Survey steamer Active. In 1870, the town was settled and the name was adopted; it apparently is derived from the Chumash Indian village Wene’me or Wene’mu (meaning place of security).

Although Port Hueneme is not one of California’s more visited tourist areas, it is the major deep water port between Los Angles and San Francisco, and does receive considerable visitors, as does the pier. Most probably don’t know (or perhaps even care) that a pier was envisioned for Point Hueneme as early as 1867 and that one has existed here since 1871.

In 1867, Thomas Bard (who held the claim to La Colonia, a Spanish land grant for the area) and Captain W.E. Greenwald of the U.S. Geodetic Survey surveyed the sand dunes and shoreline of the area. They learned of an underwater canyon which had been created by the strong freshwater flow out of an aquifer just east of the point. The 30-foot-deep Hueneme Canyon was the result. The current of freshwater was so strong that ships were actually able to take on freshwater while still at sea! The canyon also reduced the size of the surf near the shore and Beard became convinced that it was an ideal site for a wharf. His immediate plans included a wharf from which local produce should be shipped. His long range plan was a hope that the site could be the terminus for the Atlantic Pacific Railroad. However, it would be four long years before the wharf was built.

When the Port Hueneme Wharf opened in 1871, it was the first major wharf between Santa Cruz and San Pedro. It was also the first wharf built by Bard, Salisbury and Frazer, the company that would soon build most of the area’s wharfs. Their firm constructed Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara (for J.P. Stearns), as well as wharfs at Ventura (for Joseph Wolfson), Santa Cruz Island (for the Santa Cruz Island Company), Gaviota (for Col. W.W. Hollister and Thomas Dibblee), Point Purisma (for the Lompoc Valley Land Company) and Santa Monica (for the Los Angeles and Independent Railway). Unfortunately some of the pilings used at their early wharfs were substandard and thus highly susceptible to the normal enemies of wood pilings, creatures like limnoria and torpedo. This would later be the cause of considerable conflict and questions when the pier at Ventura suffered early damage, while the pier of their trading rival at Port Hueneme remained standing.

Hueneme’s pier opened first, a structure 900-foot-long. But even deeper water was needed so the wharf was soon lengthened to 1,426 feet; out to where the water was twenty- two-feet-deep. The wharf quickly became a regular stop for ships like the “Kalorama,” “Alcatraz,” “Coos Bay” and “Bonito.” By 1887, Hueneme and its wharf had become an important locale for trade. During the harvest season, the two warehouses out on the 40-foot-wide end of the wharf would be loaded with crops bound for larger cities and the coastal schooners would be kept busy plying California’s water highway. For a time, the wharf was the leading shipping point between San Pedro and San Francisco.

However, in 1898, the railroad reached the area and chose to locate in Oxnard. The result was less trade for the wharf, a decrease in activity at Hueneme, and a shift in development (and growth) to nearby Oxnard. Although Port Hueneme itself and its Hueneme Beach Resort (later called Horsewood’s) would regain some favor as a tourist destination in the ‘20s, the wharf never regained its commercial success. The original wharf became instead a recreational resource, a favorite place to fish for both young and old alike. The variety of fish was good and the piers proximity to a deepwater canyon brought in some of the larger species including black sea bass (famous Hollywood director Arthur Kovalovsky caught two of the giant bass from the pier). Then, in 1939, the wharf was hit by a double whammy. First the wharf was damaged during a winter storm and then it was cut in half by a barge that had broken loose from its moorings. The life of the original wharf was at an end.

In 1956, a new outfall sewer was built together with a fishing pier which provided support and protection for the sewer pipes. That pier quickly became the home for local fishermen. Unfortunately, when the Army Corp. of Engineers began to pump sand for the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard one result was a widening of the beach at Hueneme. Soon the pier sat over sand, not over water, which made it just a little hard to fish (or at least to catch fish). Pier fishermen tried to move down to the commercial wharf in the nearby harbor but soon that area was declared off limits to fishermen. Needing a place to fish, residents petitioned for a renovation and extension of the existing pier. In 1967, voters approved a $85,000 bond to finance the city’s one-fourth cost of the pier (one fourth also came from the county and one half from the State Wildlife Conservation Board).

Construction soon began on a 1,000 foot extension and renovation of the old pier. The present, odd-shaped pier is the result of that work. The pier heads straight out from the beach, turns left for 50 feet, then heads straight out again to the end which used to terminate in a wide T-shaped platform. Many years ago the left corner of the T was lost (so the pier then resembled an L), and then, in the El Nino winter of 1998, the right corner was lost to the waves. After sitting in a shortened form for over a year, the end of the pier was repaired, a new, somewhat octagonal shaped end was added, and it reopened in April in ‘99. Why the strange shape at the shore-end? Because the pier follows a seawall which was constructed to prevent the periodic erosion of the beach. Whatever the shape, the pier opened in 1968 and quickly became a favorite for local anglers.

The city of Port Hueneme may be best known today as the headquarters for the USNCBC, home of the Navy’s “Pacific Seabees.”

Facts

Hours

Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities

There are lights, benches, and fish-cleaning stations on the pier. Very clean restrooms, a snack bar, and a bait and tackle stand, are located at the entrance to the pier. A parking lot is located near the front of the pier; the cost is $.50 a half hour or $3.00 all day.

Handicapped Facilities

Handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is wood and the rail height is 42 inches. Posted for handicapped.

How To Get There

From Highway 1 take Hueneme Rd. west until it turns into Port. At Ventura Rd turn left and follow it to Surfside Dr. Turn left again and follow it to the park.

Management

City of Port Hueneme—Public Works Department.