Pier Fishing in California

Resources :: California Fishing Piers

Seacliff State Beach Pier

Only a few piers have truly unique features and this pier is one of them. The end of this wooden 500-foot-long pier connects to the old cement ship Palo Alto, a bad idea turned good. The ship was designed for the U.S. Navy in World War I but was not completed until the war was over. She sat at her dock in Oakland until 1929 when she made her only voyage – to her present spot. The 435-foot-long ship was filled with water, a pier was built from the beach to the ship, and the ship was turned into a floating attraction (although she didn’t really float). A cafe was constructed above deck, the main deck was turned into a dance floor, a heated swimming pool was added and carnival booths lined the back of the ship. Within several years, the company that owned the ship went bankrupt. Later, winter storms damaged the already paralyzed craft. Economically it was a bad idea for the company, but it has turned out to be a bonanza for anglers.


The park and pier sit in a pocket of Monterey Bay known as Soquel Cove, an area noted for its good halibut trolling. The beach itself is long and connects with New Brighton Beach to the north and Rio Del Mar Beach to the south. A short distance south of the pier sits the outlet of Aptos Creek. Pier anglers can encounter two distinct environments depending upon where they fish. The first is the typical sandy-shore environment found under and around the pier, at least from the shore end to the cement ship. In and around the ship itself, an angler is more likely to catch rocky-shore species, at least during certain times of the year. Water depth here is only moderate and fishing, for the most part, is for the smaller species. In the surf area, the angler can expect to catch both barred and calico surfperch. Further out, in deeper water, anglers will catch shinerperch, walleye surfperch, silver surfperch, an infrequent spotfin or sharpnose surfperch, white croaker, starry flounder, sand sole, English sole, jacksmelt, jack mackerel, and some years, small juvenile bocaccio. Most years will also see some king salmon, striped bass and California halibut landed, most commonly in the summer to fall months. Warm water years will also bring species more common to the south: Pacific mackerel, kelp bass, sand bass, and even a few white seabass. Fishing around the cement ship may yield all of these species but may also, depending on the time of the year, yield pileperch, rubberlip seaperch, blackperch, rainbow seaperch, and a few small cabezon and kelp rockfish. For something surprising, a few steelhead will be landed late in the fall most years.

Fishing Tips

Whenever possible, fish the surf area with live sand crabs; if these aren’t available, use pile worms or fresh mussels for bait. Winter is the best time for large barred surfperch, winter and spring for the calico surfperch. Motor oil and root beer colored grubs can also be used for these perch, and since this pier is built close to the water, it’s a good place to try your artificials. However, the surf here is typically only moderate and I haven’t had as much luck with the rubber grubs as at beaches with a heavier surf.

In addition, be cautious of the nearshore bathers and the crowds on the pier. One day I saw a young girl get hooked in the face by the errant actions of an equally young boy. She was simply walking on the pier, he was paying no attention to anything except his friends. Having trouble casting a lure (that was far too light for his tackle), he whirled it about and impaled the young girl with the treble hook of his lure. It was not a pretty sight. In the mid-pier area, fish on the bottom using anchovies for sand sole, starry flounder and kingfish (white croaker). Sole bite best in the spring, the flounder winter to spring, and the croaker summer to fall (although some winters see large concentrations of these kingfish). Use a small piece of anchovy and fish mid-depth for walleye and silver surfperch. Fish near the top of the water and use pile worms for jacksmelt.

From June through August, use a live shiner, smelt (or small mackerel when available) and fish on the bottom for halibut and stripers; fish with the same bait but near the surface for salmon. Artificials can be used for stripers and salmon, but again, the pier can be very crowded so take care to insure that you do not tangle lines or endanger anyone. Some years will also yield a few steelhead during the late fall months; most of these will be landed on worms or small lures. When fishing around the cement ship, or in the holes at the middle of the ship, use pile worms, mussels or small pieces of shrimp and small hooks, size 6 or 8. About half way out on the cement ship, on the north side, there appear to be holes going into the ship. I have seen several very large rubberlip seaperch caught in this area. What often works best is a root beer colored plastic grub bounced up and down just off the bottom. Keep the grub moving and be ready for a hard strike from these large perch. Also, use a fairly heavy drag on your reel and try to keep the perch moving toward you. If you don’t, the fish will often rub the fishing line against the ragged edges of the ship.

The deeper waters will also yield a few sharks (mainly smoothhounds or leopard sharks), bat rays and skates, but none of them seem as common as at other area piers. One problem that can exist is the overabundance of shinerperch and staghorn sculpin. At times it is almost impossible to keep the shinerperch off your hook, especially if you are using small pieces of pileworm. The only alternative is to use larger hooks and a different bait but realize you will catch less of the other smallish fish. Of course when you latch on to that 30-pound halibut, using your live shiner as bait, you will thank the good Lord for their abundance. After all, bait fish like the shiners is what attracts the larger halibut, stripers and salmon.

Author's Note

This is the only pier in the state where I have witnessed a wedding taking place, an event which certainly gives a little variety and added excitement to the typical pier fisherman’s day. The wedding I observed included a small band, flowers, and a navy captain who was acting as the minister. Since the wedding took place on the cement ship I guess it was legal. By the way, conversations with anglers afterward indicated such weddings have occurred several times on the old ship (and it certainly provided some unusual wedding pictures).

No one seems to know when the current pier was actually built but it predates 1954 since that was the year of a major repair (as happened in the 1980s).



Open 24 hours although the entrance station to the park is maintained only during daylight hours, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.


Parking and restrooms are near the front of the pier. On the pier are fish cleaning facilities and a few benches. Bait and tackle (mainly frozen bait) is available at the snack bar near the entrance to the pier; it is open 9-5. Since the pier is located inside the state park, the entrance fee of $6 covers the parking fee. Lodging can be found at the Seacliff Inn, a few blocks away.

Handicapped Facilities

Handicapped parking is available near the pier as is a ramp and handicapped restroom facilities. The pier itself has wood planks and the railing is 42 inches high. Posted for handicapped.

How To Get There

Take Highway 1 to the Rio del Mar Exit; follow Rio del Mar west to the park entrance.


California Department of Parks and Recreation.