Thornback Ray — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Additional species of sharays reported from the pier include thornback rays, shovelnose guitarfish, blue sharks and thresher sharks but they’re not a common species. In July of 2004 a longnose skate was reported from the wharf that may have been a California skate; who knows for sure?
Late spring through the fall are also times when Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, sardines and a few white seabass may be in local waters. Most mackerel, jack mackerel and sardines will be caught on multi-hook bait riggings fished at mid-depth or fished near the top with the assistance of a large bobber or Styrofoam float. Jacksmelt can also be caught on these multi-hook riggings but often a few size 8 hooks on a line, baited with small pieces of pile worms, or small strips of squid, will be just as productive. Pacific herring tend to show up in the spring and most will be taken on bait rigs retrieved through the water.
Jacksmelt — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Although I’ve yet to see a white seabass taken during my visits to the pier, the fish are reported from the pier each year. The largest was a monster 45-pound white seabass taken in September of 2000. Local expert Ed Burrell caught a 28-pound white seabass from the wharf in September of 2004. If you want to give the large fish a try, use live bait and fish the early morning or twilight hours. Do remember to return any small, illegal white seabass (called seatrout) to the water. Of course there have been few days like the following:
Saltwater Report — Despite the big salmon news, the Capitola area may actually be the hot spot for this week. Ed Burrell from Capitola Boat and Bait calls it “wide open” As of Wednesday, a huge school of bait was pushed up to the shoreline, followed by a good variety of predators. “I’ve seen 25 white sea bass caught from the wharf today, caught with live anchovies or swim baits,” Burrell said. “Most were undersized, but at least four were legal.” If that’s not enough, Burrell helped net a legal halibut off the wharf and a 25-pound striped bass caught by Larry Roland.
—Allen Bushnell, Fish Rap, Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 14, 2007
Striped Bass — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Salmon are an occasional catch most years while steelhead show up almost every year. Most salmon will be landed April through July on anchovies (fished under a float) or lures out in the deeper waters of the pier. Most of the salmon are king salmon that range up to about 20 pounds in size, most but not all. A 16-pound silver was taken in June of 2003, one day after the same angler had caught a 13 1/4-pound king salmon from the wharf. A 6-pound silver salmon was caught (and released) in December of 2007; it was caught on a Little Cleo lure. (Remember that silver salmon are now illegal to keep.)
Silver Salmon —Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Most steelhead are landed during the late fall to winter months although a few may show up in the spring depending upon the year’s rain patterns. Many of the steelhead are caught on live bait (anchovies, if available), but pile worms, night crawlers, frozen anchovies, strips of squid and lures take a considerable number (Roostertails and Krocodiles seem to be the preferred lure of the local experts although some have also been taken on simple Sabiki rigs). The steelhead, some small 12-14–inch fish, but commonly up to about six pounds in size, often like to school in the fairly shallow, mid-pier waters on the north side of the pier. A nine-pound steelhead was reported in October of 2003.
Steelhead — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Sand Sole — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
As mentioned, staghorn sculpin (bullheads) are common. In fact, they are too common. I had one trip here where I stopped fishing simply because I couldn’t keep them off my line. Although these sculpin are notorious for hitting hooks on the bottom baited with pile worms, that day they seemed to hit any bait and hit it not only on the bottom but at mid-depth. I tried artificial lures for a while but when a sculpin finally hit one of those, I decided it was time to move on. It’s easy to see why one local calls them the vermin of the sea!
Starry Flounder — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Crustaceans, etc. Crabbing is also practiced at the wharf although I do not believe it is as productive as down the road at the Santa Cruz Wharf. Nevertheless, several species including Dungeness, slender crabs, rock crabs and spider crabs are taken down by the pilings.
September 2008 saw anglers landing small squid on Sabiki bait rigs. If you’re a newbie to the pier, and in doubt, consult the folks at the bait and tackle shop on the pier, they’re knowledgeable and ready to help an angler.
Striped Bass — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
The Pier Rats Speak
Date: September 1, 2000; To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board; From: Ken Jones; Subject: Capitola Wharf
Ed, at the Capitola Boat and Bait Shop (on the wharf), reports that some stripers are still being taken from the wharf and they’re reaching good size (including fish up to 25 pounds last week). Not a lot of them but enough to keep it interesting. He says there is a lot of bait in the water (sardines and anchovies) and most of the big fish are falling to live bait that has been taken on bait rigs. It’s slow on kingfish (white croaker) but some halibut are also showing at the pier. Unfortunately most are too short to keep. Quite a few perch are also available but they are small-sized perch – walleys and shiners. Shark fishing has been slow with only a couple of leopard sharks being taken. Most interesting are the reports of barracuda close in near the pier although none have been caught at the pier so far.
Striped Bass —
Date: October 1, 2000; To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board; From: Ken Jones; Subject: Capitola Wharf
Ed at the Capitola Boat and Bait Shop (on the wharf), reports that a 45-pound white seabass was taken from the pier this month and that a few salmon have also been landed. He didn’t have much else news about the pier but that wasn’t bad.
King Salmon — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Date: February 25, 2002; To: PFIC Message Board; From: geckomd; Subject: Capitola Pier Report
Fished Capitola from about 9:30 to 12:30. Action was slow for us but perch were being caught by all of the regulars. They felt so sorry for us that they started giving us their catches!
All in all, it was a great day and the sea was glass-surfaced. Met a couple of the regulars…really nice old-timers, Harry and Dave to name a few, who gladly stopped their fishing to give us tips and the how-to’s and where-to’s to land these perch and other species to be found in the Capitola waters. Met Dan, Ed, and Anna from the bait shop. Really nice people with many photos of trophy fish caught in years past hanging on the walls, who also took the time to share with us their experiences and tips. Dan even invited us to follow him out in the boat to some of his favorite and productive spots.
Bait used was shrimp and motor-oil plastic grubs. However, according to these guardians of the pier, the secret was the green colored, chartreuse, plastic grubs. Apparently, if you were using the green grubs, you were sure to limit out on the perch. Can’t wait for those halibut to start coming in. Capitola, here we come!
Calico Surfperch — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Date: March 22, 2002; To: PFIC Message Board; From: geckomd; Subject: Capitola Pier Report
Fished at Capitola Pier yesterday afternoon from 1:00 – 4:00PM. Non-stop perch action the entire time that we were there. When I left, they were still biting! The three of us averaged about one hook up every 2-3 minutes and this particular school had larger walleye perch with most fish in the 9-10+” range. Believe or not, my arms actually got tired from hauling those fish up the pier, unhooking them, and throwing them back. One of the customers in the restaurant, who was watching us do this for an hour, rushed home to get his gear just so he could join in on the fun! Best action to date! Enjoy!
Walleye Surfperch — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Date: September 29, 2002; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Russ Johnson, Fat Rat; Subject: Capitola Pier Report
There’s been a fair amount of bait in the water, and people are catching halibut and even a few stripers off the pier. There was a 15-lb. striper on 9/16 and a 14-lb. striper on 9/21, but nothing reported since then. Someone caught a 7-lb. salmon on 9/18, and there was also a 10 lb-halibut caught on the 18th. These along with the numerous perch, kingfish, bullheads. All were caught using anchovies or sardines, most off the bottom with a slider rig of some sort. Although one guy told me he saw a big striper caught last weekend using a live anchovy about six feet below a bobber. The weather has fantastic all month. Yesterday was the first chilly day, but today was nice again. I fished Capitola for about three hours this morning, and caught five perch and a bunch of bullheads.”
California Halibut — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
Date: June 19, 2003; To: PFIC Message Board; From: pescare; Subject: Capitola 6/19 – Stripers!
Not me of course, but the other guys… We fished from 3pm to 6pm this afternoon. Pretty good crowd on the pier and the sweet spot just inside the grey gates was a little crowded. I personally saw five stripers landed and heard of one more caught before we got there. Not a single halibut as of 6pm. All stripers were caught on live anchovies of which there were plenty to be caught as needed. The largest was about 17lbs and was hooked on the west/north side right next to the gate on a Carolina rig. The others were in the 7-8lb range and were caught with a mix of Carolina and float rigs. Only saw one picked up on the east/south side today.
I fished with my girls next to the gate on the east/south side and we were as busy and could be with walleye, shiners, anchovies and sardines on Sabiki rigs. I had a line out with live bait the whole time but got no good fish. I did have one bit of excitement when my bobber went under and headed toward shore. My heart was racing until I set the hook and felt that the fish was not a big one. I got it to the surface and just couldn’t believe it. A big fat jacksmelt of about 18″ somehow managed to get my live anchovy and #hook down its throat!
Highlight of the day was not the big fish though. We had been fishing next to a very nice gentleman and having a nice visit and sharing live bait with him. Later on he was joined by his wife who had their two grandchildren in tow, a girl of about 6 and a boy of about 8 years. I learned that neither of them had ever been fishing before so I Okayed it with my girls and lent the grandpa their two rods so the kids could give it a go. The little girl hooked a big walleye within about 15 seconds and just went nuts! She screamed and jumped around and was just loving it. That was followed up by the boy doing the same thing a couple of minutes later. Can’t really say if the kids had the bigger smiles or grandpa did, but it sure felt good to see it. The kids insisted they call their parents right away and grandma got on the cell and made the connection so they could share the excitement. I feel like we made some friends for life even though we’ll likely never see them again.