Last modified: October 20, 2021

Fishing Piers Southern California

Balboa Pier

Date: June 21, 2000; To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board; From: Ken Jones; Subject: Fish Report

I fished Balboa most of Tuesday morning and afternoon. Bright and early tried out at the end; nothing but jacksmelt were around. Didn’t see a single mackerel, or other fish for that matter. Joined Snookie and her charming group about 9:30 and had a delightful time listening to stories and the wisdom accumulated by a group of true experts over many, many years. Also managed to catch five halibut and one queenfish using the small smelt that Snookie provided. Saw one small blacksmith perch, an unusual crab, and a sickly barracuda (dark colored and estimated by myself at 4-5 pounds) that was hanging around the surf area until someone finally snagged it. After looking at the fish, the angler decided to return it to the water where it continued to patrol the shallow water for the next several hours. Thanks again to Snookie and the “gang” at Balboa for a great day.

October 2000 — Snookie reports “it has been a good month at the pier with quite a few keeper halibut caught. The bonito have been showing quite regularly although they are on the small side. I have seen some beautiful sargo near the surf being caught on fresh mussels. I myself have two keeper halibut this month. I released a 20-inch white seabass last week. Have also caught several calicos (kelp bass) near the surf all of which were legals. I did release the calicos. They were not on my menu for that night. Have also caught several shovelnose guitarfish with good size to them. Have seen some very small ones as well. There have been some bigger fish on the surface a few evenings for those that fish the surface on the end. For some reason they were lost bringing them in, but those fishermen who had them are some of the better fishermen, and they said they were on the large size for whatever they were. A few days this month have been very hot at the pier to the point of almost not being bearable. Other times have been much better than inland. For the surface fishing it has been important to have a southeast breeze or wind blowing. We have also had some “big” water conditions from the storms off Baja. That does not help the halibut fishing, but the other fish don’t mind. As of the last two days the yellowfin tuna and the Dorado have been only 3 miles out. Could this be a year they would dare to wander close to our piers? There is certainly a large amount of bait around the pier, and as of yesterday there are sardines as well as little Spanish Jacks.

 March 2001 — Snookie reports “The few times I have been fishing I used bloodworms—fresh and old. I am beginning to catch more barred surfperch with some nice sizes to them. There are birds close to shore diving for bait including the pelicans, but the water is so murky that I can’t see the bait. I am not getting any live bait either. The end of the pier is on again/off again. Nothing is cooperating, especially the weather. With the cold water (down to 52 and 53) we should see the salmon come in. Of course the season does NOT start until April 14th. That will be a Saturday. With March coming up this week we should soon see a good change in our fishing. Now if the weather will allow us to fish. A week ago after a strong wind/storm we had an episode of lots of shells appearing on the beach. They must have covered an area 10 or more feet wide as far up and down the beach as one could see. There were all sizes including some Pismo’s, sand dollars, and scallops, etc. It was spectacular. However, with good things come bad things. The tiny midges came with the empty shells. We have never had a bug infestation like that, that I can remember. They were there the next time I went down too. That was a time a wind was a welcome happening. It blew them away for a while. We found out—THEY BITE!”

September 2001 — Snookie reports “Well, I am back to fishing the pier again. I feel like I have come home. This month has been good for the mackerel fishermen although it is an off and on thing, but that’s the way fishing is. There has been some quite large mackerel in amongst the medium ones. The halibut are there en masse, but they are undersized. For fun they are great though. What little fighters they are. One of my friends, Noble, caught a 26-inch halibut this month in the middle of the pier on a smelt. Another friend, Randy caught a silver salmon about 12 pounds, but he knew better than to land it. He also caught a green jack about 14 inches long. They are not common to the pier, but we occasionally see one. There has been lots of bait, but it has not been easy to catch. They won’t take the snag-line easily, but they have been nettable. There have been afternoons that the sardines have come in thick. Those were easy to catch on the snag-lines. There are also some queenfish of all sizes plus some very small mackerel. Those have all been good baits for those little halibut. I know that there was another large shovelnose caught, but I have not seen any other rays, although my friend Randy had a large ray on last week. He just tightened the line too snap it because it was heading out to sea and he was being too lazy to complete the process of bringing it to the pier. The snaggers have been there regularly and catching some fish. The days have been great on the pier plus the water has been very cooperative with no strong currents. There are still a few jellyfish passing by. This is the time of the year fishing improves.”

 August 2002 — Our reporter, Snookie, reports “I have been taking my grandkids to the pier to learn more about fish and fishing. They love to catch bait, and they are good at it. The bait situation has been very good as far as being there to catch but catching them is not always easy… As to the bait we have had queenfish, anchovies of all sizes, sardines, small mackerel, smelt and grunion, and small walleyed perch and Spanish Jacks. What more could you ask for in bait? As to fish well, I think they are full of bait. Strikes are hard to come by unless you are fishing mackerel farther out. I did get a 12-inch Zebraperch on the snag-line. The halibut have been small although some keepers have been lost. I have seen some thornbacks caught and some yellowfin croaker. One early evening we had a time with the barracuda hitting our bait, but they were also a little undersized, but fat. The jumbo or Humboldt squid were here for a while. Although some were caught off the pier, some were also picked up on the shore while walking. As long as the grunion are still here the squid will most likely keep making appearances. A squid jig is a necessity. These squid are delicious to eat and they make good bait as well. They must be prepared soon after catching to be good. Don’t overcook them or they become tough.”

September 2002 — Our reporter, Snookie, reports, “This month has not been very good. Even the smaller halibut have been tough to come by for me at least. I do know of a few keepers being caught. There have been some good-sized shovelnose guitarfish caught. The yellowfin croakers are the big thing right now. Today there were lots of them in the surf area. Most of them were caught on squid. The squid bait was from the squid catches of the past few weeks. The Humboldt or Jumbo squid have been making nightly appearances for several weeks now, but are almost gone. It was a show in itself to watch as the pier was lined with elbow-to-elbow fishermen waiting for that magic hour when the squid would appear. They ran all the way to the surf following the grunion and other baits farther out. Those were happy people while the squid were there. The mackerel are around but not necessarily plentiful. Perch have been showing in the surf area. Oh yes, the mighty California Lizardfish has made an occasional appearance. The weather has been comfortable even with some big swells showing now. Just remember to not fish under the pier when the swells are big.”

May 2003 — Our reporter Snookie says “Not too much to report this month. The weather has not cooperated at all. Have heard of some keepers being caught. There are some mackerel and some sardines as big as the mackerel. Also saw the lowly lizardfish make its way back into the catches. Guess that is what happens when the water gets cold. The water is consistently the coldest this month that it has been for over nine years (have kept my weather diary that long). The biggy now is the influx of Velella velella a beautiful blue 4-inch hydroid with a sail that is all around the pier area now. It has also been seen in Crystal Cove today. Back in the late 50’s there was a major invasion of these creatures to the extent that you could see them as far as your eyesight would allow you to see. Some old fishermen used to say these meant good fishing ahead. Hope they are right.”

June 2004 — Our reporter Snookie says, “it has been fun this month. We’ve had so many white seabass it has been unreal. Wish they had been bigger though. They did run up to 24 inches. It has been windy and cool but nice to fish. The water is up to the high 60’s, which is warmer than it has been for quite a few years for this time of the year. We are getting keeper halibut now at a fairly consistent rate. Of course we have to weed through the smaller ones first. We’ve had some leopard sharks from babies up to 5 feet. There has been some nice sized bat rays and very large shovelnose guitarfish. The bait has been cooperating most of the time with a catch of smelt, sardines, Spanish jacks, queenfish and perch. The crowds are picking up with Memorial Day and summer coming soon, but there is plenty of room to fish. The tourists that see us catch fish immediately ask where they rent a rod and reel so they can do that too. Sounds easy doesn’t it.”

August 2004 — Our reporter Snookie says “this month at Balboa Pier has been getting more exciting by the day. We have had a run of tiny bonito. The problem with that is that people can’t seem to remember that five is the number of legals when they are under 24 inches fork length. The halibut have been around with some of them quite large such as a 26-pounder and the rumor of a 35-pounder off the end. The yellowfin croakers have been around to participate in our catches. Those are good eating fish. This past week we have had some legal barracudas upward of over 30 inches. They have been running all the way into the surf as well as the little bonito. There were some 1 1/2 pound bonito and a 2 pounder caught last week. The bait has been unbelievable in quantity. We have had smelt of all sizes, a few Spanish jacks, a lot of queenfish and small mackerel. It seems every day about noon the sardines come in all the way to the surf and hug the pier for protection. You really don’t need a bucket. A snag-line on a small rod and your rod to transfer the bait to is about it they are so thick. It is very busy right now because of the summer season and the nice days and as a result it is very noisy as well. It would be nice if the yellowtail would come in, and right now it is a strong possibility. It is fun fishing right now.”

September 2004 — Our reporter Snookie says “It has been repeatedly bonito, bonito, bonito for over a month now. At least they are growing bigger. The biggest so far have been around 24 inches. The water is full of bait being sardines, smelt, small mackerel, and Spanish jacks.  You could say that the water is literally alive with fish all around the pier. We have four resident pinnipeds that included a bull sea lion, a pup sea lion and a female plus one harbor seal. They are eating their share of the bait as well, although we don’t have too much trouble with them so far. There are no halibut because of the bonito around. With an increase in the small Spanish jacks we could see the yellowtail come into the pier in the next month. Oh but that would be fun again.”

October 2004 — Our reporter Snookie says “what a warm month this has been in Balboa. The fishing has been great if you are after bonito. As to the bait there has been an abundance of everything including sardines of various sizes, small mackerel, smelt of various sizes, queenfish occasionally, walleyed perch, and lots of grunion about 8 to 10 inches long and Spanish jacks. The bonito have been hitting almost anything that moves. They are all the way into the surf all day long. This makes it difficult to get the halibut to strike. They don’t like those juvenile acting fish bothering them. There have been quite a few shovelnose guitarfish and thornbacks caught. For a few nights there were Humboldt squid caught. One person caught as many as 14. It does help to know that they squirt ink when you bring them onto the pier. If you aren’t ready, you will look a mess when they get through squirting you.”

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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