Last modified: October 20, 2021

Fishing Piers Southern California

Balboa Pier

—Amy R. Spurgeon, Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot, November 17, 1999

<*}}}}}}}}}>< When this 35-pound yellowtail were reported to the PFIC Message Board in 2003 the report generated quite a bit of comment since the angler had falsely reported previous catches (including this report of catching an albacore tuna in Newport Bay). Although the catch was verified it did turn out more than one angler had fought and caught the fish. Still, it was an excellent catch.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — When I discuss the species of fish found at individual piers I use my own anecdotal records going back to 1962, traditionally published reports (DF&G or newspapers), and, most recently, reports submitted to the Pier Fishing in California (PFIC) website. I feel my information is fairly extensive and accurate. Nevertheless, it cannot be as complete as information that is compiled by a person or group who visits a pier on a weekly visit—especially if the visits have taken place as long as mine—nearly five decades. In the case of Balboa and Newport we do have such a record.

Snookie and Bob Anderson, who is part of her group, are both naturalists that, like me, keep detailed records of the fish they catch and see. In 2007 Bob was kind enough to share with me a list of the fish that he and Snookie had seen at the Newport and Balboa piers. The list includes (1) species that he or Snookie personally caught, (2) fish that were caught in the bait nets they use to capture their halibut bait, (3) and fish they have seen others catch. Many times Snookie has had to identify pier-caught fish and by use of her well-thumbed Peterson Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes she’s been able to identify what might be an uncommon or even fairly rare species.

As for the list itself, I think it reflects the fairly unique fauna of the area, one influenced by both the nearby Newport Bay and the deep-water Newport Canyon. Bob’s list includes 87 species. However, a new species as noted on PFIC was caught from the pier in April of ’08, a big skate (Raja binoculata). In addition, there are several species that I have caught at the Newport Pier that are not on the list. KJ species—calico rockfish/1976 & 1977 (Sebastes dallii), olive rockfish/1976 & 1977 (Sebastes serranoides), starry flounder/1962 (Platichthys stellatus), longjaw goby or mudsucker/1962 (Gillichthys mirabilis), silver surfperch/1962 (Hyperprosopon ellipticum), and basketweave cusk-eel/1962 & 2002 (Otophidium scrippsi). Taken together, the total number of species would now be 94.

Lastly, I note with interest the recent change to the listed southern range of sand sole. According to the Resource Inventory of Marine and Estuarine Fish of the West Coast and Alaska (Love, Mecklenburg, Mecklenburg and Thorsteinson, 2005), the southern range for sand sole is the Balboa Pier. This is in contrast to most (older) guides that list the southern range as either Port Hueneme or Redondo Beach. It my belief that the change is due to a 15-inch-long sand sole caught at the Balboa Pier by Snookie on February 3, 2005. She reported the catch later that night to the Pier Fishing in California Message Board and I believe that report led to the change to the southern limit.

Balboa and Newport Pier Fish (From Bob Anderson)

Class Elasmobranchii: Sharks, Rays, and Chimeras

Order Squaliformes

Family Squalidae: Dogfish Sharks

1, Spiny Dogfish—Squalus acanthias

Order Lamniformes

Family Alopiidae: Thresher Sharks

  1. Common Thresher—Alopias vulpinus

Order Carcharhiniformes

Family Triakidae: Houndsharks

  1. Gray Smoothhound—Mustelus californicus
  2. Brown Smoothhound—Mustelus henlei
  3. Leopard Shark—Triakis semifasciata

Family Carcharhinidae: Requiem Sharks

  1. Blue Sharks—Prionace glauca

Order Squatiniformes

Family Squatinidae: Angel Sharks

  1. Pacific Angel Shark—squatina californica

Order Rhinobatiformes

Family Rhinobatidae: Guitarfishes

8 Shovelnose Guitarfish—Rhinobatus productus

Order Rajiformes

Family Rajidae: Skates

  1. California Skate—Raja inorata

Family Platyrhynidae: Thornbacks

  1. Thornback Ray—Platyrhinoidis triseriata

Order Myliobatidiformes

Family Dasyatididae: Stingrays

  1. Diamond Stingray—Dasyatis brevis

Family Urolophidae: Round Stingrays

  1. Round Stingray—Urolophis halleri

Family Gymnuridae: Butterfly Rays

  1. California Butterfly Ray—Gymnura marmorata

Family Myliobatididae: Eagle Rays

  1. Bat Ray—Myliobatis californica

Class Osteoichthys: Bony Fishes

Order Elopiformes

Family Albulidae: Bonefishes

  1. Bonefish—Albula vulpes

Order Clupeiformes

Family Clupeidae: Herrings

  1. Threadfin Shad—Alosa sapidissima
  2. Pacific Sardine—Sardinops sagax

Family Engraulidiae: Anchovies

  1. Deepbody Anchovy—Anchoa compressa
  2. Slough Anchovy—Anchoa delicatissima
  3. Northern Anchovy—Engraulis mordax

Order Salmoniformes

Family Salmonidae: Salmons, Trouts, and Chars

  1. Silver Salmon—Oncorynchus kisutch
  2. King Salmon—Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
  3. Steelhead—Oncorhynchus mykiss

Order Myctophiformes

Family Synodontidae: Lizardfishes

  1. California Lizardfish—Synodus lucioceps

Order Gadiformes

Family Merlucciidae: Merluciid Hakes and relatives

  1. Pacific Hake—Merluccius productus

Order Batrachoidiformes

Family Batrachoididae: Toadfishes

  1. Speckled Midshipman—Porichthys notatus

Order Atheriniformes

Family Belonidae: Needlefish

  1. California needlefish—Strongylura exilis

Family Atherinopsidae: New World Silversides

  1. Topsmelt—Atherinops affinis
  2. Jacksmelt—Atherinopsis californiensis
  3. Grunion—Leuresthes tenuis

Order Gasterosteiformes

Family Sygnathidar: Pipefishes and Seahorses

  1. Bay Pipefish—Syngnathus leptorhynchus

Order Scorpaeniformes

Family Scorpaenidae: Scorpionfishes and Rockfishes

  1. California Scorpionfish—Scorpaena guttata
  2. Chilipepper Rockfish—Sebastes goodei
  3. Bocaccio—Sebastes paucispinis
  4. Treefish—Sebastes serriceps

Family Anoplopomatidae: Sablefish and Skillfishes

  1. Sablefish—Anoploma fimbria

Family Cottidae: Sculpins

  1. Pacific Staghorn Sculpin—Leptocottus armatus
  2. Cabezon—Scorpaenichthys marmoratus

Order Perciformes

Family Moronidae: Striped Bass and Relatives

  1. Striped Bass—Morone saxatilis

Family Polyprinidae: Wreckfishes

  1. Giant (Black) Sea Bass—Stereolepsis gigas

Family Serranidae: Sea Basses and Groupers

  1. Kelp Bass—Paralabrax clathratus
  2. Spotted Sand Bass—Paralabrax maculatofasciatus
  3. Barred Sand Bass—Paralabrax nebulifer

Family Carangidae: Jacks, Amberjacks, and Pompanos

  1. Green Jack—Caranx caballus
  2. Yellowtail—Seriola lalandi
  3. Jack Mackerel—Trachurus symmetricus

Family Haemulidae: Grunts

  1. Sargo—Anisotremus davidsonii
  2. Salema—Xenistius californiensis

Family Sciaenidae: Croakers

  1. White Seabass—Attractoscion nobilis
  2. Black Croaker—Cheilotrema saturnum
  3. White Croaker—Genyonemis lineatus
  4. California Corbina—Menticirrhus undulatus
  5. Spotfin Croaker—Roncador stearnsi
  6. Queenfish—Seriphus politus
  7. Yellowfin Croaker—Umbrina roncador

Family Kyphosidae: Sea Chubs

  1. Opaleye—Girella nigricans
  2. Zebraperch—Hermosilla azurea
  3. Halfmoon—Medialuna californiensis

Family Embiotocidae: Surfperches

  1. Barred Surfperch—Amphisticus argenteus
  2. Shiner Surfperch—Cymatogaster aggregata
  3. Pile Perch—Damalichthys vacca
  4. Black Perch—Embiotica jacksoni
  5. Walleye Surfperch—Hyperprosopon argenteum
  6. Rubberlip Perch—Rhacochilus toxotes

Family Pomocentridae: Damselfishes

  1. Blacksmith—Chromis punctipinnis
  2. Garibaldi—Hypsypops rubicundus

Family Mugilidae: Mullets

  1. Striped Mullet—Mugil cephalus

Family Sphyraenidae: Barracudas

  1. California Barracuda—Sphryaena argentea

Family Labridae: Wrasses

  1. Rock Wrasse—Halichoeres semicinctus
  2. Senorita—Oxyjulis californica
  3. California Sheephead—Semicossyphus pulcher

Family Clinidae: Kelpfishes, Fringeheads, and other Clinids

  1. Sarcastic Fringehead—Neoclinus blanchardi

Family Stichaeidae: Pricklebacks

  1. Monkeyface Prickleback—Cebidichthys violaceus

Family Scombridae: Mackerels and Tunas

  1. Pacific Bonito—Sarda chiliensis
  2. Pacific Mackerel——Scomber japonicus

Family Stromateidae: Butterfishes

  1. California Butterfish—Peprilus simillimus

Family Lobotidae: Tripletails

  1. Tripletail—Lobotes surinnamensis

Order Pleuronectiformes

Family Bothidae: Lefteye Flounders

  1. Pacific Sanddab—Citharichthys sordidus
  2. Speckled Sanddab—Citharichthys stigmaeus
  3. Longfin Sanddab—Citharichthys xanthostigma
  4. Bigmouth Sole—Hippoglossina stomata
  5. California Halibut—Paralichthys californicus

Family Pleuronectidae: Righteye Flounders

  1. Diamond Turbot—Hypsosetta guttulata
  2. C-O Turbot—Pleuronichthys coenosus
  3. Sand Sole—Psettichthys melanostictus

Family Cynoglossidae: Tonguefishes

  1. California Tonguefish—Symphurus atricauda

Order Tetraodentiformes

Family Molidae: Molas

  1. Ocean Sunfish—Mola mola

  Mola Mola are occasionally seen from the pier and sometimes snagged. Since they are basically inedible there’s no reason to hook one.

Snookie’s Pier Fishing In California Fish Reports —

February 1999 — We’ve got a new reporter for the pier, Snookie, who says, in her own words, “I fish Balboa two times a week, every week of the year. I have done so for 55 years. Yes, I’m a fishing addict.” Welcome aboard Snookie! Her first report, on January 19th, said, “today was awful. It’s typical a January. There’s not much in the way of live bait. The fish being caught are small mackerel and sardines. One thornback and one barred surfperch were the catches today. At least the city is replacing the missing pilings from last spring. Once that is done, we will have peace on the pier again. Balboa Pier is one of the best whale watching piers. It has deep surf and they come in to shore regularly. If the fishing isn’t good, the whale watching is.” A later report said much the same—“as to a report from the Balboa Pier this month, it is not going to be encouraging. There have been the usual mackerel and big sardines, but the halibut and the surf fish have been far and few between. If you like thornbacks, there are plenty of those. It’s just that time of year. The live bait situation has been terrible. There have been some smelt in the surf area. They were small schools of a dozen to two dozen. Hard to get them excited about the chum to get them into the net.”

March 1999 — Our reporter, Snookie, filed two reports this month. On the 23rd, she reported that the fishing was “the best since the first of the year. The live bait (smelt) has returned en mass. There are all sizes as well. They were very near shore. All that was caught though was a 20 1/2 inch halibut by Noble, but at least there’s now a chance with the good bait. To have the bait return certainly lifts the spirit and the possibility of catching something. We were graced with the presence of a bat ray that was well over a hundred pounds. He was in about three feet of water just paralleling the shore. What a beautiful sight! A couple weeks ago one fellow caught a bucket of small yellowfin croaker using mussels… We have been getting the small yellowfin croakers too, plus some nice big barred surfperch. Those were hitting the bloodworms. We are seeing lots of corbina in the surf, but we are not having any luck catching them. The ‘snaggers’ caught some when the water was clear enough to see them. We are still watching the whales coming north now. We had a small pod of common dolphins through today with one very small baby. That was very interesting as they stayed around long enough for us to observe the baby. The mackerel fishermen have not been doing well on the end. This will improve soon. I hope by next month I’ll have an interesting report for everyone. March can be an exciting month. With the water the coldest in at least five years we’ll see what happens.” Very interesting was Snookie’s second report where she said, “Here’s one for the books. Thursday, February 18, I caught a bonefish at the Balboa Pier. I was fishing the surf area with bloodworms when I caught him. He is definitely a bonefish (Albula vulpes)… I have the fish in my freezer. None of my fishing friends ever remember a bonefish being caught locally. According to the books they only grow to one and a half feet here.” It was the first bonefish I (KJ) have heard of from the pier and the first she has caught after fishing the pier for 55 years

April 1999 — Our reporter, Snookie, says, “things are beginning to pick up a little—finally. Our bait situation is sometimes iffy, but most of the time we are getting some smelt. My group is spending our time in the surf area because of the grunion being there. Naturally the halibut come to where the good food is. We are getting some undersized halibut fairly regularly but not in any quantity. On the 18th I caught two keepers that were seen by all. Each one won its freedom. One shook the hook loose, and the other shot out of the water and up the pier and around a piling before I could catch up with him. That did let us know that the halibut are here and almost ready to be ours. Our biggest thrill that day was because of the clear water we saw a ‘barndoor’ halibut swim out from under the pier. She must have weighed around thirty or more pounds. She was in about two feet of water just paralleling the shore. We all have plans for her even if she did thumb her nose at us. We know they are territorial, and that she lives here. I and one other person in my group have each hooked her in the last year or two. There are lots of corbina in the surf in the spawning mode but not the biting mode. One morning when I was getting my bait there was a Pacific cutlassfish swimming just under them. I was helping him catch his breakfast. They are a beautiful fish to watch, especially if the sun is shining on them. The weather is still giving us some problems. None of us are crazy about fishing in the winter rains. Apparently the mackerel fishermen aren’t either. They are not doing well with the mackerel as yet.”

August 1999 — Our reporter Snookie, says “up until this week, we had warmer water which was helping the fishing. The small queenfish arrived and the halibut loved it. Of my group I was the only one to catch a keeper (26 inches). Ken, the one you caught while visiting us on the 29th was 27 inches. Another fellow caught a 29-inch halibut last week, and his friend caught a 26-incher July 5th. The smelt for bait have been sporadic. At least when they weren’t here, we could catch queenfish. Today a few sardines showed up. We have also been using walleye perch and shiner perch and deep bodied anchovies. The oddball fish was my 4-pound giant sea bass on a live queenfish. I also caught a 48-inch shovelnose guitarfish. The interesting fish being caught are the sargo with some size to them. Also some beautiful big barred surf perch and corbina. All of these were on mussels and sand crabs. Of course we are catching lots and lots of small halibut up to 21 inches As of Sunday, we have a red tide condition. We had the warm water then it dropped almost 10 degrees. That certainly will contribute to red tide conditions. At least it is still mild. We also lost a piling (shore corner from the sink). No one knows what happened, but it is obvious it was literally ripped out. It had to have been a boat.”

June 2000 — Snookie reports, “We are still having trouble getting this season started. The halibut are there when you can get live bait. The live bait is being elusive most of the time this month, but if you work real hard up by the telephone, it is possible to get some. Don’t throw back the very large ones because the BIG halibut will try for them. I know as I had the use of some 10-inch smelt under the pier close to the surf, and both were hit quite hard. It was a lazy fish, and she didn’t finish her meal. I pulled up shredded smelt. I have had some undersized halibut though. The surfperch, especially walleyes (that are very tasty), are now available. The baits for them are mussel, ghost shrimp, and bloodworms. The yellowfin are there too with the same menu. So far even though the corbina are around and easy to spot, they are not cooperating. I am seeing some baby leopard sharks being caught on the surf rigs, and the large leopards have made their appearances in the surf. Did you know that those 5-foot leopards chase and probably eat corbina? Interesting to watch. This past week we had numerous jellyfish come by in all sizes. Sounds as though we are going to have cold water for a while longer, which by the way is staying around 57 to 59 degrees. Yes, we are still seeing a few Grey whales heading north. The mackerel catching still seems to be on the slow side, but I am not there at night to see if it is better then.”

4 Responses

  1. I’m coming out with my family in Dec. I wanted to do some fishing. Can I rent gear at the pier and do I need a license to fish from the pier?

  2. No, there is no rental equipment at the pier. I think though you might be able to rent tackle nearby at Davey’s Locker. As for a license, no, one is not required as long as you are fishing from the pier.

  3. […] Piers are one of the most romantic spots on earth! If you don't believe me, tag along on a visit to Balboa Pier on almost any summer night. By 10 P.M., darkness has enveloped the pier. But while most fishermen have returned home, life continues on the pier. via […]

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