Last modified: August 24, 2019

Fishing Piers Southern California

Point Mugu Pier — Gone But Not Forgotten

The [Oxnard] district boasts the Southlands leading fishing center—Point Mugu Fish Camp—which is the haven for surf, pier and deep sea fishing. Almost daily, parties of fishermen leave the piers at the harbor and at Point Mugu. The channel between here and the islands long has been the favorite winters for fisherman. —Oxnard Press-Courier, Oxnard, California, July 2, 1940

Once again repairs were quickly made to the camp and by July 1940, the new 361-foot-long pier was finished, a new “all-electric” restaurant was built, and things seemed to return to normal. Several movies would even be filmed on the site.

Famed Movie Setting—The Point Mugu Fish Resort not only is well known to fisherman of the Southland, but is well known, too, to the movieland. Above is the area when it was used as the setting for the Philippine Islands during the Spanish-American war. —Oxnard Press-Courier, Oxnard, California, July 2, 1940

However, on December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked, war was declared, and soon after the Navy decided it needed the land for a new base. The “Point Mugu Fish Camp,” one of the best fishing resorts in Southern California, would pass into history.  

As for the pier itself, it seemed to almost have a Phoenix-like life being repaired, refurbished and rebuilt time after time. It’s a story common to all oceanfront piers. Nevertheless the storms of the early ‘80s did considerable damage and the 1993 storm was the final blow. The pier is simply gone but not forgotten.

Fish: As far as fish from the pier, the largest I have been able to track down (besides the   giant sea bass and halibut mentioned above) was a 41-pound white seabass taken from the pier in August of 1959 by Charles Leonard, a chief aviation machinist’s mate at Point Mugu Naval Air Station. As recorded by the local paper, “Chief Leonard said he lured the ‘big fellow’ with live bait, but withheld the type of bait as his trade secret.”

Another interesting note, sent to my kenjonesfishing.com blog was from Stuart Fanning who said, “1978’ish, a Humboldt squid run covered the entire walking surface of that pier. The most amazing thing ever! There was no room for another fisherman on the rails. I was 10 years old with my family; dad was a CB stationed there.”

Not too far offshore is located the submarine, deep-water canyon usually simply called the Mugu Trench, a canyon that can funnel deep-water fish into the inshore area and perhaps it helps explain both the invasion of the Humboldt squid and the variety of fish taken at the pier. One notable fish was a louvar (Luvarus imperialis) that was caught on the Point Mugu Beach April 24, 1939. The 13 3/4-pound fish was one of only a handful of louver that has ever been seen in California.

Additional Notes:  Eventually the site would be given official designation as a historic site. 

POINT MUGU — Where once there were fishermen, now there are warriors.

At the Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station north of Malibu, archeologists have spent the last week unearthing the remains of a once-thriving fishing village founded by a Japanese businessman at the turn of the century.

During its heyday in the 1930s, the Mugu Fish Camp just off Pacific Coast Highway was a popular playground for movie executives from Hollywood, who cruised up the coastal highway to hunt waterfowl at Mugu Lagoon, fish off a 200-foot wooden pier and luxuriate in a Japanese-style communal bath. “I think at the time it was like going to Vegas,” said base archaeologist Steve Schwartz, the man who instigated the dig. “If you were a big shot, that’s what you did. And it’s been totally forgotten.”

The fish camp had been forgotten until the brutal winter storms of 1995 broke through a massive sea wall built by the Navy 30 years ago, pummeling the beach-side buildings that had been constructed on top of the site. The military planned to tear down the buildings and remove what remains of the sea wall.

That gave Schwartz an idea. He had seen plenty of photographs of the old fishing village–black and white images of wooden cabins, the tackle store, the concrete bait tanks that lined the entry to the pier. But he wanted to see what lay under the Navy’s former laundry. Armed with a $175,000 Navy grant and the help of a San Diego firm that specializes in historical research and archaeological digs, Schwartz is getting just what he wanted.

“So the first thing we did was find the bait tanks,” Schwartz said with satisfaction, leading a tour of the sandy site, where the concrete foundations of three tanks stand exposed in a neat row, a fourth crumbling into the sand. The bottoms still have traces of the original bluish-gray paint. When the fish camp was booming, sportsmen could pick up tackle and sundries at the little store on the other side of the pier, then mosey over to the tanks to select their bait. A trained seal lived in a fifth tank, now lost to time and the sea.

Schwartz said Japanese businessman Frank Kubota founded the village, building the store, cafe, six wooden cabins and a series of tent cabins along the beach. The date of the construction is uncertain, but Schwartz said the first photographs he has seen of Kubota’s village are from 1912. Kubota also built a bridge across the marshy, wildlife-filled lagoon as an entryway to the camp from the Pacific Coast Highway. It was a toll bridge, costing 25 cents to walk across and a $1 to drive across.

From what Schwartz has learned, Kubota went to jail for bootlegging at some point in the 1930s, turning over operation of the fish camp to Walter and Marguerite Welton. In 1939, Kubota sold the camp and returned to Japan, taking with him the profits from his business and leaving behind its remnants for archaeologists to find decades later.

In a week of digging, archaeologists have turned up sake bottles, rice bowls, pieces of the hurricane lamps that lighted the camp at night, whiskey bottles and an alarm clock caked with rust and missing its face. On Wednesday, the diggers came upon a real find–the remains of the communal Japanese bath. Brushing away years of accumulated sand, they found pipes for hot and cold water. Schwartz believes the concrete foundation was once capped by a redwood tub. Tired fisherman would lounge in the tub, probably sipping sake or whiskey. “Pretty relaxing after a day of gutting fish,” Schwartz said.

The entire fish camp had to be rebuilt after a storm of hurricane intensity hit the coast in September 1939, killing 28 passengers on a pleasure boat as it attempted to return to the camp from a trip to Anacapa Island.

During World War II, after the devastation from the storm and the rebuilding effort, the Navy took over to build a base. The fish camp’s cafe became a mess hall and the cabins were used for storage. Bit by bit, most of the camp was built over, until only the pier and cabins remained. The pier was damaged by storms in 1988 and capsized last year in the same storms that destroyed all but one of the cabins.

When the dig is completed in another week, the Navy plans to establish a museum in that last cabin, now relocated to a safe spot across the road. The archaeologists are videotaping the dig and photographing everything they find. With the ocean always advancing, Navy officials say there is little point in trying to preserve the unearthed foundations except on film. “They’re not going to last,” Schwartz said. “They’re already beginning to be washed out.” But this time, he said he hopes that the fishing village won’t be forgotten. —Mary F. Pols, Line to the Past, Los Angeles Times. July 26, 1996

Point Mugu to be honored with historic site designation

How times have changed since the Mugu Fish Camp and pier at Point Mugu was a serene recreational destination for Ventura County residents and people from the inland areas of Southern California. To be sure, the drone of propeller-driven airplanes probably prompted a quick look from visitors, but the thunderous roar of supersonic jets was still well beyond their imagination. So, no doubt, was the thought that the area would one day be called a historic site. That designation will come this afternoon.

Built about 1929-30 on a sand spit between the ocean and Mugu Lagoon, the camp offered local fishing from the pier and deep-water fishing from chartered boats. Eventually, the area grew to include tent cabins, small houses, a store and cafe. Movies such as “The Real Glory” with Gary Cooper and “A Yank in the RAF” with Tyrone Power were shot near the lagoon.

And then, on Dec. 7, 1941, America was pulled into World War II. The military cocked its covetous eye at the land and coastal possibilities offered by Mugu and, slowly, everything began to change. By 1942, a military camp was taking shape on some 4,000 acres of beach and tidal marshlands around the lagoon. Army anti-aircraft batteries and Seabees began training there, the Seabees building the first runway, 5,000 feet long, with metal Marsden mats.

Loons, American versions of the German V-1 rockets, were test-fired at the base. A dirt knoll was built on the beach that had a Loon launch pad, catapult and operations building. In 1946, President Truman approved the building of the Naval Air Missile Test Center at Point Mugu. Three years later, the Naval Air Station was established to provide the test center with logistical and operational support. Since then, the base has undergone several organizational overhauls and testing has evolved with developing technology, but the mission has been steadfast: to put the best weapons possible in the Navy’s arsenal. —John Mitchell, The Ventura County Star, November 14, 2003

• At one time many studio artists from Los Angeles would escape to the Fish Camp at Point Mugu for a relaxing weekend. One result was the adoption of Mugu as the name for a famous cartoon character — the nearsighted, Mr. Magoo (same pronunciation but different spelling).

4 Responses

  1. Great History of the pier. I spent many hours on the pier from 1972-1976 and times after.

  2. Thanks for the memories. I fished that pier as a young’n with my family during the mid to late 70’s.
    Lots of croaker and mack with the occasional bonito. Squid too.
    My father would send a hoop net down and bring up rock crab, spider crab and LOBSTER!

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