Last modified: September 3, 2018

Fishing Piers Northern California

Del Norte Street Pier — Eureka

Public Pier — No Fishing License Required

It was at this small pier that I witnessed one of the most unusual if not fulsome sights that I have seen on a California Pier. I had arrived early one morning in July of 1997 to try for some perch—or whatever else might be frequenting the area that day. I quickly noticed that there was a fairly strong current heading off towards the bay’s inlet. I also noticed a fairly heavy rope tied to the corner of the pier that trailed off into the current. Wondering if someone had left a crab trap, and wanting to remove the rope before it became an entanglement to my fishing lines, I began to haul the rope into the pier. It was heavy, much too heavy for a crab trap. Slowly the rope came in and then I saw it, the object at the end of the line. It was the carcass of a small lamb. The lifeless body was whole but the throat had been cut, as had been the gut area. My immediate guess was that it had been bled and used to attract sharks by someone the previous night. Subsequent talks with local anglers indicated that I was probably right. It seemed like an extravagant waste but I’ll never know the details. I do know the revulsion I felt that morning. What a way to start off a fishing trip.

Environment. The 250-foot-long pier extends out from the end of a 350-foot-long, solid-fill causeway or jetty. Adjacent, inshore, to the side of the causeway, is located the 45-acre Eureka Marsh, aka Palco Marsh, site of considerable discussion (as in what’s going to happen to it?).

Low tide

The causeway allows the pier to extend out into water much deeper than shore-based anglers could normally reach. However, the water is still very shallow much of the way out on the pier. During low tide, rocks along the causeway actually poke out of the water.

In fact, even out about three quarters of the way, water will still be only a few feet deep. At the end, the water is deeper and this area generally yields the best results.

Shoreline — High tide

Shoreline — low tide

The bay bottom here is mud with considerable eelgrass—again, about three quarters of the way out on the pier.

Eel grass

Pilings show only light growth but the pier was built on the site of an older pier and there are many older wooden pilings which are fairly heavily covered with barnacles. As a result, it sometimes is a good pier for perch, especially pileperch and white seaperch. Nearshore, to the south along the side of the causeway, is a shallow-water mudflat area. To the north of the causeway are the remains of an extensive wharf area (or at least the pilings from the wharf). This pier is also the closest to the entrance to Humboldt Bay. Because of this, the Fish and Game Department predicted when it was built that it would yield a greater variety of fish than other piers in the area.

That prediction may still prove to be correct, but so far I’ve seen little in the way of steady action at the pier. In addition, the pier is vulnerable to heavy tidal action (which, to a degree, is true at almost all piers along the Eureka waterfront). When combined with extensive nearby beds of grass it produces a twofold problem. Anglers may have a hard time holding bottom unless they’re using fairly heavy tackle (6+ ounce sinker) and they may have real problems with grass getting on the line. The exception would be slack periods of tide, both high tide and low tide.

Fish and Fishing Tips. A review of the pier’s species reads like a conspectus of most of the Humboldt Bay piers. The primary fish caught (at least during the day) are several varieties of perch. Predominate are pileperch, redtail surfperch, and white seaperch (split-tail perch). All of these will be landed year-round with the pileperch dominating late fall to winter and the redtail surfperch and the white seaperch more common spring to summer. All three are best landed by fishing near the bottom, around the pilings, using a high/low leader, and size 6 or 4 hooks baited with tubeworms, small live rock crabs (caught around the rocks by the jetty), small pieces of market shrimp, ghost shrimp or crab backs.

Spring to fall will yield lots of walleye surfperch and silver surfperch. Both of these are best caught on a modified snagline-like affair; simply tie several size 8 or size 6 hooks to your line and bait with small pieces of bait. For the walleye a small strip of anchovy works best, silvers will take anchovy but also like tubeworms and small pieces of shrimp. Walleye are best caught near the bottom, silver surfperch midway to the top. Spring and summer should also yield the larger redtail surfperch with tubeworms, small pieces of shrimp and ghost shrimp being the best producers.

A couple of small ‘uns are far too common and not surprisingly it’s shinerperch and staghorn sculpin (bullheads). Small hooks baited with pile worms or pieces of tubeworms will almost inevitably attract the pesky bait stealers, sculpin on the bottom, shiners from the bottom up to mid-water depths. There’s not much use in these waters for the bullheads but the shiners can be used as live halibut bait. By the way, mixed in with the staghorn sculpin will occasionally be one of those big, old, ugly buffalo sculpin that don’t seem much good for anything since they’re generally too small to eat and too big to use as bait.

Because of the strong currents and the nearby rocks, jacksmelt find this area to their liking. For these, use a series of small size 8 hooks; each baited with a small piece of tubeworm. Fish just under the top of the water with a float or bobber.

Nighttime is shark time! The deeper waters have proven to be the home for big sharks and rays and an attractant for the anglers who pursue this larger game. Some nights will see as many as a dozen rods set out waiting for the sharks. A few of the sharks landed will be leopard sharks, but more will be sand sharks (brown smoothhounds) or spiny dogfish, fish ranging from two to four feet in length. This is the only spot where I have heard a dogfish called a spinarola but it makes sense given the way they like to spin and roll around the line. It also makes a good case for using a wire leader if you are seeking these fish.

Local anglers also talk of large cow sharks (sevengill sharks) being caught fairly frequently in the bay between the spring and summer months although far more are caught out on the boats than from the pier. The shark fishermen also catch some truly huge bat rays (stingrays) and skates but it seems to me that most of the locals I’ve talked to do not appreciate the action they get from these fighting machines. They’re just seen as trash fish for the more desirable sharks. As mentioned, nighttime is the prime time for all of these and squid seems the best bait given the plethora of crabs in these waters. Place your hook a couple of feet off the bottom and bring a gaff or net to get the “monsters” onto the pier. Another bait often used by locals (see below) is the small eels that often can be found under shoreline rocks; the eels are supposed to be excellent bait for leopard sharks. Do not string up a lamb for bait.

Less important but still good possibilities are a number of other species: starry flounder, rock and sand sole, sanddabs, Pacific tomcod, black rockfish (black cod) and rock frequenting species such as kelp greenling (seatrout), lingcod, cabezon, and both copper and brown rockfish.

A baby cabezon

Less frequent, but fish which show up at times, are steelhead trout, California and Pacific halibut, and a very few green sturgeon (which are now illegal to take).  Although high concentrations of both herring and anchovies have been detected in this area, and bait rigs can sometimes fill up buckets with the baitfish, they have not proven to be the salmon attractants that many expected. Some salmon have been landed from the pier but not in as high a number as I would have expected. Another fish, which should show up at times, especially in the summer, is sablefish, but catches to date have been minimal.

A small Pacific mackerel — an uncommon species this far north

Crustaceans. Some times there are more people casting out their hoop nets for crabs than there are people fishing. It makes sense since it is an excellent area to catch crabs, a reliable spot to net red (rock) crabs, rock crabs, and Dungeness crabs. Check the latest regulation booklet for dates on when the Dungeness crab season is open (it can change year to year).

The Pier Rats Speak

Date: April 30, 2000; To: Ken Jones; From: Chris H; Subject: Del Norte St. Pier

Recently only Leopard sharks have been taken at night with live bait. (Small eels you find under the rocks at low tide seem to work best). A few small perch have also been showing.

Date: October 7, 2001; To: Pier Fishing In California Message Board; From: spud_boy; Subject: Eureka! (my short trip north…long story)

… We decided to hit the Del Norte Street Pier, which looked promising. It’s just around the corner from the Motel 6 where I was staying, and there’s an indoor flea market right nearby where a guy has a bait and tackle booth. According to one local, if you get there at low tide, there are lots of clams to be had for bait at the shore where the pier starts. He catches perch with ‘em.

We didn’t see anything caught there, and didn’t have any success with the Hair Raisers or Fish Traps I had with me. The bait fisherman weren’t doing any better. The current was really swift too, and still an inbound tide. There were reports of halibut coming in, but not easily accessed from shore.

Date: February 3, 2003; To: PFIC Message Board; From: phishergirl; Subject: Re: Eureka tips or ideas anyone?

Del Norte St pier in Eureka can yield some huge bat rays, but usually you have to deal with a pretty motley group of druggies.

Date: August 15, 2008; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Ken Jones; Subject: Quick Trip To The North Country

 This past week I took a long needed trip up to the Redwood Empire and the North Coast piers. Not much to report although it provided some needed “soul food”

Monday 8/11—Eureka upon arrival was in the mid-60s, overcast and cool—the way I like it. I made a short stop at Bucksport for some back-up sinkers, checked into the motel, and headed over to the Del Norte St. Pier.

This pier has frankly been disappointing over the years and my first, short, stop was much the same. The tide was ripping at the front of the pier and with it came gobs and gobs of grass. I tried to hold bottom at the end but finally gave up and moved closer inshore to try for perch (or whatever). Unfortunately it was whatever as nothing but shinerperch made an appearance. I finally decided to move to another pier until there was a change in tide.

Del Norte St. Pier—6-7 PM; 11 Shinerperch; All fish released.

After fishing at the Commercial St. Dock for an hour and half I headed back to Del Norte. Upon arrival back, I found the tide had slackened but it was still fairly strong and still full of salad. Nevertheless I joined about a half dozen friendly anglers out near the end and began the shark vigil. Unfortunately I only managed one shark, a three-foot-long dogfish (on cut mackerel), one of four sharks taken by the assembled fishermen.

Of interest to me was the catch of one angler who was using a throw net to get live bait. Included in his catch were three small eels. Unfortunately I did not get a good look at them but it stirred my interest (always looking for a new species) and so around eleven I took my light pole into the shallows where the netter had been throwing his net and cast out a high/low with size 6 hooks and pieces of pile worm. I didn’t catch any eels but was witness to an amazing site. The water in that area was now shallow, no more than 3-4 feet in depth, well lit from the lights, and fairly free of grass, and whenever you would bring in a line it would be followed by fish. Turned out it was baby lingcod about 6-8 inches in length. I really wanted to catch one of those eels but after several multiple hookups with the tiny, illegal lingcod I decided to stop before one was hurt.

Del Norte St. Pier—9-11:45 PM; 11 Lingcod; 3 Staghorn Sculpin; 1 Spiny Dogfish; All fish released.

Tuesday 8/12—Today I was headed north but decided to make one more short stop at Del Norte hoping for one of those eels. Alas it was just bullheads and another lingcod. Time to stop.

Del Norte St. Pier —7:15-7:45 AM; 5 Staghorn Sculpin; 1 Lingcod; All fish released.

Wednesday 8/13—I decided to try once again for some sharks but this time the end area was crowded with anglers upon my arrival. So, I decided to use the light pole and drop in a high/low just down from the end. I caught a nice keeper-size grass rockfish but again there were too many small fish and I decided to call it a night.

Del Norte St. Pier — 9:15-10:30 PM; 3 Lingcod; 3 Shinerperch; 1 Grass Rockfish; Lingcod/shinerperch released

Looking back what was most amazing during these visits was the sight of all those ravenous baby lingcod chasing the bait in the well-lit waters at night. Amazing!

Potpourri — Perhaps more than you want to know about the Del Norte Street Pier

<*}}}}}}}}}>< The park at the foot of the walkway out to the pier, as well as the open space area along the shoreline, have become one of Eureka’s main homes for homeless and druggies. As a result, the area is now rife with crime and occasional danger. The problem is mainly a drug problem (tweekers abound) and the unpredictability caused by those drugs—but it’s a huge problem. You’ll almost inevitably share the pier with members of the group. And though I’ve never had any problems, I’ve been told by locals to always stay alert. Keep your eyes on your equipment (tackle, food chests, whatever) since things seem to have a habit of walking away from the pier.

It’s usually not too hard to watch things while you’re on the pier (excepting times when you’re distracted while fighting a big fish) but it’s a lot harder keeping your eye on things in your car.

It’s best to always be vigilant, especially at night, but eventually you begin to wonder if there isn’t a safer place to practice your fishing skills. For me it’s meant far fewer trips to the pier during the past few years, especially if I am alone, and more time at the other places to fish in Eureka.

Tis a shame given the lack of public piers in Eureka and the money spent by the city and Wildlife Conservation Board to build the pier in the first place.

But, it’s an unfortunate reflection on Eureka, which has seemed to get more and more depressing over the past couple of decades. The weather itself can be depressing (since sunshine sometimes seems a rare commodity) but the true depression is the number of people, mostly fairly young people, who seem to hang out at every corner and fast food joint begging for a handout. Highway 101 (Broadway), the main street that runs right through the middle of town, at times seems to be “drug central” or perhaps “panhandle central” and I have friends who say they no longer will even stop in Eureka.

The town has high unemployment, a huge drug problem, and a high crime rate. Humboldt County, its redwood forests, and beautiful coastline, has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world but, in my opinion, the beauty has been marred by its drug culture. The region’s status as the drug capital of California, and the laissez-faire attitude toward the drugs by many if not most locals, almost invites problems.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — You just never know what you’re going to see when you visit a pier.  A visit to this pier in 2015 saw the Coast Guard practicing some search and rescue techniques.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Some interesting information from the booklet prepared for the committee working on the Marine Life Protection Act.

Humboldt Bay: Humboldt Bay is a marine embayment located along the central coast of Humboldt County. Humboldt Bay is the second-largest estuary in California, after San Francisco Bay, and consists of Arcata (North) Bay at its north end, Central Bay, and South Bay. The Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge is located in South Bay. The bay encompasses an area of nearly 30 square miles and contains a number of diverse habitats, including tidal flats, salt marsh, and eelgrass beds. Approximately 40% of the known eelgrass in the state occurs in Humboldt Bay (Schlosser et al. 2009). Eelgrass beds in South Bay are denser than those of Arcata Bay (Barnhart et al. 1992; Tennant 2006), contain 78%-95% of the total eelgrass biomass in the bay (Harding and Butler 1979), and are recognized as one of the most important locations of eelgrass growth on the entire U.S. west coast (Phillips 1984)…

At least 110 species of fish have been reported from Humboldt Bay, including many commercially important species that spawn within the bay and several species of salmonids that spawn in the tributaries (Gotshall 1980; Barnhart et al. 1992). At least six fish species listed as threatened or endangered inhabit Humboldt Bay and its tributaries, including Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, steelhead, longfin smelt, and the tidewater goby (Emmett et al. 1991; Moyle et al. 1995; DFG 2009b). Humboldt Bay also serves as an important nursery area for a variety of fish and invertebrate species, including English sole, Pacific herring, lingcod, Dungeness crab, rock crabs, some surfperches, and some rockfishes (Barnhart et al. 1992). Other large fish species, such as bat rays and green sturgeon, can reach high abundances within Humboldt Bay, particularly during the summer months (Moyle et al. 1995; Gray et al. 1997).

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Yikes!

Humboldt Baykeeper in the News — Simpson To Remove Contaminated Soil

EUREKA – The Simpson Timber Co. will be removing tons of sediment contaminated with dioxin from the foot of Del Norte Street a part of a settlement of a 2006 lawsuit filed by Humboldt Baykeeper and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics.

The lawsuit came after tests were conducted near the site of a former Simpson plywood mill, where the company commonly sprayed plywood with the now-banned wood preservative pentachlorophenol in the 1960s, revealed the presence of dioxin, according to joint news release from Humboldt Baykeeper and CATS. Dioxin is an accidental byproduct of pentachlorophenol, according to Patty Clary of CATS. The tests revealed the presence of dioxin at levels “tens of thousands of times higher than Environmental Protection Agency standards,” according to the news release.

”Under the settlement, Simpson is required to dig up contaminated sediment in the ditch, which is adjacent to Humboldt Bay’s only public fishing pier, and haul it to a licensed disposal site,” the news release stated. “The company also must restore the ditch as a functioning wetland and install a network of groundwater-monitoring wells to ensure that residual subsurface contamination doesn’t leave the site. In addition, a Humboldt Bay Wetlands Restoration Fund will be established at the Humboldt Area Foundation for restoration projects designed to offset environmental damage caused as a result of the contamination.”

Clary said the settlement was finalized Tuesday following months of negotiation with Simpson Timber Co. Dave McEntee, vice president of operational services and external affairs for Simpson Timber Co., said the plan is to have the contaminated soil removed by the end of summer. ”We’re hoping to get after it as soon as we can,” McEntee said.

He estimated that some 2,500 cubic yards of soil would be removed from the site, but the total may be more or less. The soil in the area will be tested prior to excavation to make sure the area excavated has all the contaminants of concern, he said. The soil removal is expected to cost more than $500,000, McEntee said. ”It will depend on the actual volume we excavate,” he said. “We’ve been working on this site for several years … this is a continuation of the effort to make sure the property is cleaned up.”

Eureka Times-Standard, February 21, 2008

 History Note. In 1989 the Wildlife Conservation Board allocated $290,539 to be matched with funds from the City of Eureka (and other agencies) to reconstruct a fishing pier at this site. An eight-foot-wide pier with wooden handrails, water, lights, fish cleaning sink, benches and trash containers were planned. Additional improvements included work to the riprap shoreline, paving a walkway on the causeway and repaving Del Norte Street. The pier opened in October of 1991. It was the first fishing pier built by the City of Eureka in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Board and many hoped it would not be the last.

Today the railings are metal and the fish cleaning sink, water, trash containers and benches are history. However the lights remain so it continues to be a good pier from which to fish for sharks at night — in a group.  Cars left unattended in the far distant parking lot and any tackle left unattended while your fishing is at risk.

Del Norte Street Fishing Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Few! Lights are found on the pier. A free parking lot, chemical toilets and a small park area with picnic tables are found near the front of the pier.

Handicapped Facilities: None. The pier’s surface is concrete and the pier’s railing is approximately 40 inches high.

How To Get There: Take Highway 101 to the south end of Eureka, turn west on Del Norte Street and follow it to the pier.

Management: Eureka City Parks Department.

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