Public Pier — No Fishing License Required
If anyone could be called the “father” of an island, it might be Frederick Holder who wrote numerous books and articles about California and the fishing to be found in its waters. The offshore islands, specifically Catalina Island, were often the main focus of the articles and they helped Catalina and Avalon become the mecca and home for early day saltwater angling. He promoted conservation and ethical angling and founded the world famous “Tuna Club” that still sits on Avalon Bay. He never tired of talking and promoting both Catalina and Avalon. Given that his writings first appeared in the late 1800s, and continued into the new century, they often give a interesting glimpse into a somewhat different world—as seen in the following.
Catalina, west end — Picture courtesy Avalon Chamber of Commerce
The Bay of Avalon is always smooth—a miniature Naples, unlike anything anywhere else. The beach is a perfect crescent about one-third of a mile long, as the crab crawls. At its entrance the water is one hundred and twenty feet deep, and there is good anchorage for yachts and large vessels close inshore, with fifty feet of water…
The town of Avalon is unlike any other place in the world. It stands directly on the crescent-shaped bay, at the mouth of a large cañon, which nearly bisects the island here…
When I first saw this cañon it was a mountain wash, filled with cactus and chaparral. Today it is a grove of stately eucalyptus trees, which shelter the homes of eight or nine thousand people in summer, and many all the year round. The town climbs the hills and cañons, the homes adapting themselves to circumstances and the physical conditions.
Avalon Bay — Catalina — Picture courtesy Avalon Chamber of Commerce
On the front are the large hotels, the Tuna Club, a pavilion for concerts; while up in one of the cañons is a Greek theater where the Santa Catalina band plays all summer.
Avalon is a remarkable town, inasmuch as it is based on angling with rod and reel. Here yearly is held the greatest convocation of sea-anglers in the world, as they come from everywhere. There are varied allurements, such as climate and pastimes, but the one thing upon which Avalon is based is the fishing, and everything is subservient to that. The bay is filled with launches and boats of all kinds, devoted to this sport. There is a fleet of glass-bottomed boats; fleets of rowboats, and yachts of the owners who live on the slopes of neighboring hills overlooking the bay.
The angling interest becomes acute at the south side of the bay, where a long pier leads out into the water—a structure absolutely unique. It is the resort of the professional tuna boatmen. Their stands are arranged along each side, and consist of long boxes, holding rods, reels, and all the paraphernalia of a professional fisherman. Over the stand and seat is the name of the boatman…
Avalon Bay — Picture courtesy Avalon Chamber of Commerce
These stands are the offices of the boatmen, and their fine eight- and ten-horse-power launches are at anchor near by. There are three or four landings from this pier, which are reached by stairs, and having made your engagement, you join your boat here, or at the private dock of the Tuna Club, if you are a member.
At the end of this angling pier are two singular objects. One looks like a gallows, another is a locked scale. On the first, the great game fish—of from twenty to five hundred pounds— are weighed and photographed. In the morning, at noon, and at night this pier is the centre of attraction, as all the fish taken in the tournaments must come in here to be weighed by Vincent Moriche, and other official weighers of the Tuna Club…
On the opposite side of the dock the big glass-bottomed boats, the Empress and Lady Lou, are landing delighted passengers. Up the beach is a large and finely equipped bathhouse, where hundreds bathe daily; and in the centre of the curved beach is the aquarium, where the anglers can study their game before they go out…
Catalina with Pebble Beach to the left and San Clemente Island at the top — Catalina — Picture courtesy Avalon Chamber of Commerce
Avalon possesses a charm that sooner or later involves the visitor who has a love of nature in his make-up.
—Charles Frederick Holder, The Channel Islands Of California, A Book For The Angler, Sportsman, And Tourist, 1910
Catalina, Avalon, and Long Point to the right — Catalina — Picture courtesy Avalon Chamber of Commerce
If one were a fine connoisseur of piers (instead of wine), a description of this pier might be as follows: a small, easily overlooked, off-the-beaten-path pier; one that offers distinct pleasures and rare opportunity both in species and environment.
Picture an arrival at Catalina Island, Avalon, and its harbor. You’ve disembarked from the main landing at the Cabrillo Mole and joined the other passengers heading into town. On the Mole you see a center that sells tickets to various attractions as well as the Catalina Express booth where you can make changes to your ferry schedule (if needed). You leave the Mole and head along the walkway that parallels Pebbly Beach Road and the crescent-shaped bay into the main part of Avalon. You soon pass additional landings (docks) and passengers waiting for return ferry rides.
But there’s more to see and you continue past a number of sights—the memorial to Veterans, a small park and basketball court, and the statue of Ben (the sea lion that became a pet of sorts to the residents of Avalon from 1898 to 1920). Across the road you see a snorkeling center and a place that rents golf carts (cars are prohibited in Avalon). Soon you reach Crescent Avenue, the bay-front street that features restaurants, numerous shops, and some of Avalon’s finest hotels.
Nestled mid-way down the street, at the intersection of Crescent Avenue and Catalina Avenue, sits a small, 300-foot-long pier, a pier that dates back over a century—the “Green Pleasure Pier” of Avalon. It’s the home of glass-bottom boats and the yellow (and red) submarines, semi-submersible faux submarines that provide windows onto a fascinating life under the sea.
It’s a place to rent diving equipment or schedule a dive trip. And, it once was home to the world famous “flying fish” boat trips that, unfortunately, ended in 2016.
It’s also a place for food. Rosie’s Fish Market at the end of the pier sells fresh fish as well as prepared food. Eric’s On The Pier, at the foot of the pier, specializes in buffalo burgers, a nod to the island’s herd of bison. Beer and buffalo, what a combination!
Interested in fishing? It’s the place to rent small skiffs or to be picked up if you’ve chartered a Sportfishing boat. You can get tackle, buy a fishing license, and buy bait (sometimes). It’s also a place where you can fish (if not too crowded) and a license is not required on the pier.
The pier sits almost smack dab at the center of the street and small beach, which is appropriate since it’s the center of activities for those visiting Avalon.
Once again, picture a visit. You’ve gotten up early, slipped on some shorts and sandals, and walked down to the pier. It is early and the streets are empty, the shore boats are tethered to the dock, and the bay is undisturbed. A few people are working in the harbor office out at the end of the Green Pleasure Pier but most people, in the homes and hotels or on the boats in the bay, are asleep. It’s the calm before the dawn.
The sky is clear but darkness rules and you can just make out the dull glow from the millions of light on the mainland to the east. Soon however, the sun begins its orange ascent into the sky and you can better see the wonders of Avalon.
Water at the end of the pier is clear as glass and you can see every rock, rope, piece of kelp, and emergent fish as they arrive.
The bay itself is filled with every imaginable type of boat, or perhaps more accurately yacht, and soon the shore boats will be making their runs to and from those boats as the “boaters” head into local restaurants for breakfast.
Looking north to your left you can see the old casino where the “big bands” played in the ‘30s and ‘40s (and broadcast to a national audience).
Past it, heading off in the distance is the coastline of the island. Straight ahead but slightly to your right is the Cabrillo Mole where your ferry landed and a fishing buddy, one who got up even earlier than you, is fishing for bonito. Past the Mole is Lover’s Cove and Abalone Point.
Sitting placidly on top of the small bait cutting board is a friendly-looking pigeon while atop a nearby light pole sits a sneaky-looking sea gull. It’s probably waiting and hoping to steal some bait.
You walk along the railing and look once more down into the water. Soon you see some halfmoon, and you decide to bait up.
Fishing at the “Skipper’s Corner” — so named by fellow “Pier Rats”
You tie two size 8 hooks onto your six-pound test line, attach a half-ounce sinker, and then bait up with a small piece of squid. You drop your line into the water, let it settle near the bottom, then watch the fish check out your bait—first a halfmoon, then a rock wrasse, then a hoard of under-sized kelp bass. The number of fish continues to grow until two large golden garibaldi and several bait-stealin’ senorita appear.
Here the problem isn’t catching a fish, it’s catching the right fish. By watching your bait, and keeping it away from the immature and illegal bass (and the illegal garibaldi), you hope to limit your catch to the halfmoon. After 20 minutes two large opaleye appear, each in the two-to three-pound range. Now, you open your package of frozen peas, bait one of your hooks with the peas, and move your bait up to a mid-water depth. The halfmoon are attracted by the squid, the opaleye by the peas; both seem excited by the presence of the other. Soon you have caught two halfmoon and an opaleye, but it is getting harder and harder to keep the bass off your hook. You finally switch to peas by themselves, action slows, and it is a wait-and-see game, and you can see the game.
Does it sound interesting? It is! However, most anglers who visit Avalon will never sample the pier action. It is simply too close to excellent boat fishing and scuba diving. Why settle for small game when you are so close to the bigger action? Well, it is ideal for youngsters, you don’t have to worry about seasickness, and it has a charm all of its own. You may, of course, catch one of the bigger fish that roam these waters but as a rule small game is the main game.
Environment — The pier juts out from the small, fairly narrow Crescent Beach in Avalon Harbor. The bay bottom here is both sand and rock with seaweed and other unknown obstructions providing cover for the fish.
The depth around the pier is fairly shallow but the bay itself slopes quickly into deeper depths reaching nearly a hundred feet midway between the Mole and the Casino. Remember, Catalina is an island and the Catalina Channel that separates the island from the mainland is over 3,000 feet deep (and over 5,000 feet deep in a couple of canyons off the southeast tip of the island). Within rowing distance of the pier is water hundreds of feet deep.
Because of location and environment, the pier is one of the best to catch several SoCal species that are fairly uncommon to mainland piers—halfmoon (Catalina blue perch), opaleye, senorita, rock wrasse, blacksmith, garibaldi (a beautiful fish protected by the state for many years), and California sheephead. Less common but a possibility are ocean whitefish (Caulolatilus princeps).
Unfortunately the actual space available for angling has decreased dramatically over the past few years. When I first visited the pier in the ‘60s almost the entire side of the pier was open for angling and it remained that way for many, many years. Now angling space has been lost due to buildings and floating docks reserved for craft of various design (glass bottom boats, submarines, etc.). In addition, a plethora of ropes hang from the end and sides to the various docks. Anglers for the most part are only presented a few feet of space out at the end of the pier and even there the ropes crisscrossing the water can be hazardous.