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.
A dock is added to the front of the pier each summer season.
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.
During the winter, when the outer dock is moved, and some of the tourist boats are moved, more space is available. From Easter Week well into the fall, space is at a premium. At most about a half dozen anglers can fit in at the end section and even then you have to be very careful to avoid tangling your line.
Catalina, the Magic Isle, and Avalon, have been destination spots since the late 1800s and it’s more popular than ever. Avalon itself only has about 4,000 year-round residents but the Chamber of Commerce has done its job well. The result is that over a million people a year crowd Avalon’s streets and the small town can be crowded most days from spring until the fall, especially during weekends. Restaurants can be crowded, stores can be crowded, the sidewalks are crowded, the bay is crowded (with yachts), and the pier is crowded.
And, given all those fish that are seen in the waters at the end of the pier, a lot of people rent tackle and head out to the end of the pier to catch some fish. It can, at times, be too crowded. Sometimes it’s better to simply leave the pier to the crowds (mostly youngsters) and head out to the Mole. Such is progress. Come back at night and you may have the pier to yourself.
Fish — This pier, as well as the nearby Cabrillo Mole, was the setting for the first “Pier Fishing in California Pier Rat Get Together.” It took place in April of 2002 and attracted an eminent group of dedicated, enthusiastic and intelligent pier anglers from the web site (pierfishing.com). Coming from a plethora of California cities stretching from San Francisco to San Diego, people had a chance to fish together, socialize and put the faces to the names they had seen on the PFIC Message Board.
It was one of the most enjoyable experiencing of my pier-fishing career and led me to designate Avalon as my personal Brigadoon (or perhaps El Dorado), and to give the nod to this small pier as my favorite pier. The gemutlich (warm and congenial) fellowship shared by the pier rats during the limited time we had together provided frabjous (better than fabulous) memories that will last a lifetime.
The Get-Togethers continued and even expanded as United Pier and Shore Anglers of California became a joint sponsor. People came from as far away as Louisiana, and the group’s size continually grew until the 2010s when a combination of Catalina price increases and a slow economy saw a dip in attendance; the decrease led to 2015 being the last gathering.
A prayerful moment!
What I saw at the gatherings encouraged me to make even more visits to Catalina and the visits, at various times of the year, have provided some statistics for the Green Pleasure Pier (GPP) that are pretty interesting.
Pierhead (Boyd Grant) with a scorpionfish
The stats: through 2017, I’ve made 54 trips to the pier and caught neatly three thousand fish. The fish per hour average is 12.8 and the points per hour average (that incorporates both number and and quality of fish) is 26.7. Both are the highest averages for any pier in the state.
Included in the statistics are a decent variety—21 different species (not counting lobsters, spider (sheep) crabs and octopus that were caught). The fish, in the order they were caught: kelp bass, halfmoon, rock wrasse, senorita, shinerperch, opaleye, Pacific mackerel, sheephead, jack mackerel, blacksmith, California scorpionfish, Pacific sardine, garibaldi, jacksmelt, ocean whitefish, island surfperch, black seaperch, salema, northern anchovy, sand bass and largemouth blenny.
Roosterqueen (Rebecca) with a small sheephead
Seen caught by others, or lost, were several additional species including California halibut, Pacific bonito, horn sharks, swell sharks, moray eels, and bat rays. The numbers of fish are somewhat amazing but it’s because most of the fish are fairly small and they are fairly easy to catch if you know what you are doing. And even those with little clue will normally be able to pull in at least a few fish.
Small, generally illegal-size kelp bass (calico bass) are almost inevitably the number one catch on the pier as far as numbers. Unfortunately you will catch 20 undersized fish to every one that approaches or exceeds the 14-inch minimum size (although larger bait yields larger fish).
Baitfish (Adam) with a small kelp bass
Halfmoon, opaleye, rock wrasse, blacksmith, and sheephead are available on the bottom or in the mid-water level; on top are jacksmelt and jack mackerel. Pacific mackerel, Pacific sardines and Pacific bonito also are found near the top but are not resident species and are only available some years.
Infrequently an angler will also spot a white seabass or a yellowtail cruising through the water but they’re rarely caught off the pier, they’re more commonly taken from the deeper water of the nearby Mole. Although not as good a spot as the Mole, a few California moray (eels) may also show up.
Sometimes at night a flying fish will land on the pier
The pier isn’t a great pier for sharays—sharks and rays, but they do show up. Most common are the somewhat strange looking horn sharks with their pig-like snouts and the equally strange swell sharks that can inflate their bodies with air and water until nearly triple in size. Neither is much of a sporting catch but the big ol’ freight train immitatin’ bat rays, aka mud marlins, are another story; a decent-sized battie will give you a fight to remember. Fishing at night yields most of the sharays but few people make the effort to catch the fish.
PFIC member Mahigeer (Hashem Nahid) has provided fish regulations (under plexiglass) to help visitors understand the rules.
Fishing Tips — Pretty much anywhere around the end section of pier can yield good fishing but the secret here is to (1) find an open section free of lines and cable and (2) use bait that will get you the species you are after.
If you’re content with the kelp bass, and they are by far the main fish caught at the pier, almost any bait will work. Pieces of fish work best—anchovy and mackerel, but anchovies, in particular, will quickly be shredded by the smaller fish unless a bass gets it first. Hooks, sizes 8-2, should yield an unending number of small bass while larger hooks (up to 2/0) may keep the various perch and perch-imitating species off your hooks and work for larger bass. Some big bass do hang under the pier but the problem is the ropes and other obstructions. You need to strike quickly and get them out into open water as quickly as possible. Remember their 14-inch minimum size requirement.
Two sea chubs, family Kyphosidae, are found at the pier. The first is opaleye and they are the favorite fish for many anglers.
Here you will often see really big schools of really big opaleye. They’ll swim out from underneath the landing dock, spend a few minutes at the front of the pier, and then swim back under another dock simply to emerge a few minutes later. Tourists on the pier will ooh and awe and ask what those big fish are.
Opaleye caught by Mahigeer (Hashem Nahid)
The opaleye are hard to hook, in fact harder to hook than those out at the Mole. Perhaps it is the crystal-clear water and lack of kelp but they are typically very line shy and hook shy. Most anglers use frozen peas as bait and small hooks (down to size 12-14) fished under a float. Given the water depth you do not need a leader as long as those at the Mole but typically the opaleye will be at mid-water depths. I typically use a high/low rigging and have caught opaleye on frozen peas, fresh mussels, pile worms, bloodworms, ghost shrimp and pieces of market shrimp but true opaleye aficionados typically use peas or green moss. With the exception of the frozen peas and market shrimp that you can buy at local stores, bait will need to be brought from the mainland.
Another opaleye caught by Mahigeer (Hashem Nahid)
The second sea chub is halfmoon, sometimes called the Catalina blue perch. They will be in the same mid-depth regions as the opaleye and can be caught on the same hook under a float approach or a high/low rigging with size 6 hooks. They will take all of the above baits but sometimes will also take small strips of squid. The squid will stay on your hook much better than the other baits but will get far fewer bites; in fact, the fish often just ignore the squid even though the cephalopods are a main bait used by tourists (due to availability).
Two damselfish, family Pomacentridae, are also found at the pier. The first is the beautiful golden and scarlet-hued garibaldi, lovely to watch but illegal to keep. They are almost always found down around the pilings and of course venture out into all the waters around the pier. They almost inevitably join the opaleye, halfmoon, and blacksmith in investigating baits found at mid-water depth, and almost inevitably will also grab bait and be hooked. There isn’t much you can do but make sure you handle them gently and return them as gently to the water as possible.
Adult garibaldi (top) and a young garibaldi showing its blue spots (bottom)
The second damselfish is the blacksmith, one more fish found in the mid-depth region that will often swarm the hooks along with the halfmoon, opaleye, bass and senorita. Like the halfmoon, can be caught on any of the above baits and the same tackle. They are typically smaller in size but another pretty little fish.
The wrasses, family Labridae, are well represented at the pier with three family members. All are interesting fish for a number of reasons: (1) their coloring; (2) the fact they sleep at night; and (3) the fact that two of them, the sheephead and rock wrasse, are also protogynous hermaphrodites, big words that simply means they change their sex as they age, beginning as females and becoming males; the verdict is still out on the señorita.
Rock wrasse are one of my favorite light tackle fish at the pier and the small fish (up to about a half-pound in size) put up a surprisingly rugged little fight. They have small mouths and like to rest on the bottom. I’ve found that casting out a high/low leader with two size 8 or 6 hooks above a small torpedo sinker can be deadly. Bait the hooks with pieces of worm and start a retrieve as soon as the rig hits the bottom. Reel in slowly and the wrasse will follow the rig all the way to the pier. They may strike as the bait is moving along the bottom or hit just as the bait starts to be pulled up; in either case once you develop the feel you’ll be able to know when to strike and pull in the fish. The rock wrasse love lug worms, pile worms, bloodworms and, to a lesser extent, small pieces of market shrimp As mentioned, you will not be able to catch them at night since they will be asleep.
Rock wrasses — male (with stripe) and female
The second wrasse, generally smaller in size, are the dreaded señorita. Dreaded? Señorita are the peskiest bait stealers you’ll encounter and love to strip worms and other soft baits from the small hooks you’re using. But, you need small hooks if you’re seeking these bottom species. The señorita tend to grab the bait in the mid-depth range but they may grab it anywhere from the bottom to the top and it doesn’t seem to matter what you are using for bait, they will find it and attack it.
Señorita — sometimes called cigar fish due to their shape
The third wrasse found at the pier, sheephead, is the largest and one of the favorite fish caught by pier anglers.
A sheephead about ready to undergo the change from female to male. They change color and they develop a hump on their head as they grow larger.
The head of a young sheephead
The sheephead can range from mere youngsters up to fish several pounds in size and I’ve caught as many and as big sheephead at the pier as out at the Mole in deeper water.
Sheephead caught by Ken Jones
A high/low leader with size 4-2 hooks is the most common rigging and the favorite bait is ghost shrimp followed by market shrimp (although I have caught them on almost every bait listed above). The largest sheephead I caught at the pier followed a fairly long cast out on the left side of the pier but I’ve caught them under the pier, in the waters between the pier and landing float, and under floats on both sides of the pier. They move around. Do remember they must be 12-inches in length to keep. As with the other wrasses, they are not caught at night because they are asleep on the ocean floor.
A small sheephead caught by Pierhead (Boyd Grant)
Joining in the fun, typically if fishing on the bottom, will be some other fish such as sculpin (California scorpionfish) and ocean whitefish while an occasional perch may also show, usually a black seaperch. Mid-water depths will often see jacksmelt and jack mackerel while Pacific mackerel and bonito make an occasional appearance.
Blackperch are occasionally caught
A tried and true tradition at Catalina is chumming for fish and several options work well on the pier. One is to use bread or pizza dough. Dampen the bread, break it into small pieces, and form small balls before dropping the chum into the water. Usually it will only be a few moments before smelt will appear. Generally the kinetic excitement of the smelt will act as an attractant for the other species and you will soon have a variety of fish in your spot. A second option is to simply throw some frozen peas into the water. Lastly, small pieces of fish or bait always attract other fish.
GDude (James Liu) and a variety of fish
Larger species are, of course, a possibility. Your best bet in seeking larger fish might be to try a live smelt which you have caught with a small hook (or net). Kelp bass especially like live smelt, and experts say that early morning and late evening hours can produce some of the largest, keeper-size kelp bass. If you’re lucky, a yellowtail, white seabass or halibut might even decide to swim by while your smelt is dancing its sexy little dance. You never know!
• Inshore — Because of the various buildings and floats there isn’t much open space to fish on the inner half of the pier. Nevertheless, a few anglers will find a spot and try the shallower water and it is here that you will have your best chance for a halibut. Instead of bait use a lure, generally a swim bait like a Big Hammer, and cast out with a slow retrieve. Do watch out for cables that can stretch along the bottom of the bay
• Fishing at Night — Nighttime fishing is a special attraction at the pier although it is a story with a mixed story. The beauty and personality of Avalon is enhanced after dark with the hills aglow and the multi-colored lights from homes and businesses reflected on the ocean waters.
As for the fishing, it sees some changes. Several of the bottom species encountered during the day—rock wrasse, senorita, sheephead and blacksmith—just to name a few, are diurnal species that sleep or are fairly dormant at night. You will not see them.
Thus concentrate on the bass and the species that often do show up at night—Pacific mackerel (a crepuscular species that likes to bite best at sunup and sundown but also will bite well into the night), jack mackerel, California scorpionfish aka sculpin (a nocturnal or nighttime species), and sharks and bat rays (nocturnal species).
Big bass will come out from under the pier’s protection at night and bait (anchovies and cut mackerel) as well as artificials will catch them in quantity although perhaps somewhat less numbers than during the day. Scorpionfish will also hit anchovies but prefer a nice strip of squid and are common at night.
Mackerel and other pelagic species will swing in around the pier in pursuit of baitfish. They’re a possibility much of the year but I believe the long, sustained “mac attacks” are more common in the warm-water months.
Bonito make a showing some years — Scott Geerds
The shoreline of Catalina is reported to be the best place in the state to catch another nocturnal species—moray eels, and though the Mole is the best of Avalon’s two piers for the gnarly, sharp-toothed, snake-like creatures, some will also be found at the pier. I’m convinced that some of the morays reside in the cracks and cervices under the pier and although I’ve yet to catch one here, I’m convinced they are available for the taking. If in pursuit, it’s best to fish at night and a fairly heavy outfit is needed because of all the obstructions around the pier. Use squid, piece of baby octopus, a live ghost shrimp, or a piece of market shrimp for bait and be ready to strike if an eel takes the bait. And did I mention the thousand and one obstructions around the pier?
Nighttime is by far the best time to catch the sharays, the sharks and rays. It seems a little strange since it’s fairly common to see large bat rays, many over a hundred pounds in weight, leisurely swimming around the pier during the day. It almost always elicits some excited comments when people see them and to be truthful they are they pretty interesting; they’ll just seem to glide in and out of view for several minutes to a half hour or so and then disappear. But, they always seem to ignore the fishing lines during the day. They save their energy for battles under the moon and stars.
Fairly common at night are horn sharks with their pig-like snouts. Most are small, 5-8 pound fish, but some may approach ten pounds or larger. It’s reported that at Catalina the adults move out into deeper water during the winter, but come into shallower waters during the summer. Milton Love in his book Probably More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes Of The Pacific Coast says “juveniles occur in relatively shallow (sometimes intertidal) waters, frequently on sand near reefs, often sitting in the depressions made by bat rays.” Sounds just like the area around the pier.
Jimbojack with a small horn shark
Which brings up the subject of those bat rays. During the “pier rat” gathering at Avalon in 2002 we fished well into the nights. On Saturday night I left early, around 10:15 P.M., and didn’t see the big bat ray that was spotted cruising the pier by those who had stayed to fish. However, the next morning I was back on the pier at 6 A.M. and a short time later managed to hook something huge (at least it seemed huge) while using my heavier rod baited up with squid. After the initial long run (characteristic of a bat ray) the fish began to sulk on the bottom. Along comes a shore boat and tangles my line on its antenna. The Harbor Master, who was watching the fight, gets him to back up and untangle the line. The fish was still hooked but had, in the meantime, wrapped the line on something—a mooring line from a nearby boat or kelp—I’m not sure. Whatever the obstacle in the water, it prevented me from bringing the fish in and after an additional five or so minutes the fish took off and the line parted. Was it a big white seabass or halibut, or maybe a throwback from Catalina’s piscatorial history, a giant black seabass? I’ll never know but I believe it was one more large bat ray lost to the elements. And, with the number of boats, mooring lines, docks and pilings under and around the pier, it probably will be a miracle if you’re able to land one of these big beasties.
Rita M with a bat ray
Since that visit several PFIC members have fished at night for the big bat rays and several have been caught (although most have been lost). Use fairly heavy equipment, 60-80 pound braid to cut through the kelp, and have a net and friend along to help you if you get the bat ray to the pier.
SteveO fighting a big bat ray in 2009
• Crustaceans — Once the Cabrillo Mole was ruled off limits for catching lobsters, locals and tourists who wanted to drop a hoop net down from shore became pretty limited in locations. The Green Pleasure Pier became the place of choice for most. Luckily, a lot of spiny lobsters (favorite food and sworn enemy of all morays) are taken out at the end of the pier, especially straight down among the pilings at the end and on both sides of the pier.
What experience has shown however is that the first few nights of the lobster season are by far the most productive. A lot of the resident lobsters are quickly removed from the waters and, as the season progresses, more and more of the lobsters head out to deeper waters.
Dolphinrider (Lisa) with a lobster
Remember that is only legal to use hoop nets to take the bugs during the lobster season (the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October through the 15th of March) and they can be a lot of fun but make sure you use legal equipment and only keep legal-size lobsters.
Of course some lobsters will be caught on fishing lines year round but they are simply illegal to keep due to the method of take.
A second crustacean you may encounter at the pier, and sometimes a large-sized one, is a spider (sheep) crab. They’ll sometimes latch onto your line and you’ll wonder why your line feels like it has a heavy rock attached to it. Then you see the ugly-looking beast, covered with pieces of kelp and other assorted objects, and those long claws. Most people have no inclination to eat them (even though people who have managed to clean and prepare the gnarly beasts say they are good eating). Ugly but harmless and best returned to the water.
• Anomalies — There are some resident fish that are almost always at the Green Pleasure Pier and the Mole. There are some seasonal fish, primarily pelagic species that are most prevalent during certain times of the year. And then there are the anomalies, years when something is just different.
As example, Pacific mackerel, one of the most common fish at mainland piers almost every year only showed up in my visits to the GPP in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2011 and 2012. When present they were in large numbers and often led as far as numbers of fish caught but other years they weren’t seen.
Although he’s standing on the Mole, this yellowtail was caught at the Green Pleasure Pier
Jack mackerel are almost always a fish found at the pier but usually only a few are caught. March 2010 saw big numbers of the fish and they led the tallies in numbers of fish. Blacksmith are almost always a resident species but April 2011 saw an explosion of the fish at the pier and more blacksmith were caught than any other fish.
Largemouth blenny were not recorded in California until 2015. Ive caught them at both the Green Pleasure Pier and the Mole.
Shinerperch were a fish almost always seen in the mix over the years. However, I haven’t seen a shinerperch at the pier since 2007.
Sand bass are an uncommon catch
Most trips to the pier will also see an occasional ocean whitefish. That changed dramatically during a trip in June of 2017 that saw a large school of whitefish hanging around the pier’s waters. Roughly twenty hours of fishing over three days saw me catch 60 of the young 10-15-inch fish (the number only surpassed by the number of kelp bass). Hundreds more were caught by other anglers. You just never know.
Ken Jones and an ocean whitefish
• Cephalopods — Although squid are rare to the Green Pleasure Pier, octopus are fairly common.
[For detailed information on riggings and bait see the article on the Cabrillo Mole]
Mike Granat with a small sheephead
Potpourri — Perhaps more than you may want to know about the Green Pleasure Pier
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — My first trip to Catalina, and the Green Pleasure Pier, took place during September of 1966 during my honeymoon. The journey over from the mainland was on the S.S. Catalina a.k.a. the Big White Steamer (though it was trimmed in pink and blue) and it only cost $7.50 for a round-trip ticket. Upon arrival, the large ship docked at the Steamer Pier that used to sit just up the shoreline from the Green Pleasure Pier.
The pleasure pier itself was pretty similar to that seen today although there was far more open space from which a person could catch a fish or two (or twenty). In addition, there was a very long dock out at the end of the pier that apparently was utilized by the island’s various airlines and seaplanes over the years: Catalina Seaplanes/Catalina Golden West Airlines/Catalina Airlines N13CS Grumman G-21 Goose (that usually launched at Pebbly Beach).
On the morning after our arrival, I awoke early and found the newly crowned Mrs. Jones still asleep. What to do? Well, why not go fishing? After all, this was Avalon, one of the most famous fishing spots in California (if not the world). I slipped on some shorts and headed down to the Pleasure Pier where I fished for a half hour or so until the boat rental stand opened up. Soon after I was rowing out to deeper waters in the small skiff from which I proceeded to catch some kelp bass, mackerel, halfmoon, and ocean whitefish.
Prices were a little less in those days
When Mrs. Jones (Pat) woke up, she was not particularly amused albeit she was somewhat used to it (my fishing) by that time. It did however emphasize from an early point that the significant other in our marriage would be my fishing.
It would be eleven long years before we would return to Avalon. This time we would have our six- and seven-year-old children, Kim and Mike, and they would be my fishing buddies on several trips to the pier. We caught lots of fish, and pretty much the same species as today, but the fish per hour and points per hour were roughly a third of what I see today. Either the fishing has improved or I have learned a little about fishing over the years.
The last night of our stay saw a beautiful sunset
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — The golden garibaldi may be Avalon’s favorite fish but I think giant sea bass aka black sea bass would be a pretty close second. Both are protected species and illegal to take and though the garibaldi was never considered an endangered species, the giant bass certainly was before being given protection in 1981.
Story after story in the newspapers of the late 1800s and early 1900s reported on the catch of huge jewfish (giant sea bass) at Catalina and those with the time and money made sure to catch one of the huge fish before heading home. The fish would be weighed on the pleasure pier and a photograph would be taken. Afterwards, some fish were eaten while some were simply left on the beach to rot.
But, the large fish, some as old as 50-75 years, could not multiply fast enough to replenish the earlier numbers. By the 1920s the numbers at Catalina had decreased dramatically and by the ‘80s they were endangered.
Luckily they seem to be making a comeback and the pleasure pier is one of the places where you will sometimes see the fish. The water is crystal clear and when a giant fish comes swimming along, a fish 5-6 feet long and weighing several hundred pounds, it will gain your attention.
But leave them alone. They are illegal to take (or even target) and are best simply viewed as one more treasure of Avalon.
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — What are the odds? In 1999, friends pushed a Matthew Keer into the water from one of the Green Pleasure Pier’s docks as a prank. Turned out to be a sad dunk because he lost his Texas A&M class ring (and I assume he wasn’t too thrilled by the prank). A year later, at the 2000 Avalon Underwater Cleanup Day, California Diving News publisher Dale Sheckler found the ring in the pier’s waters. However, he had trouble reading the inscribed name on the ring and was forced to submit a partial name, as well as year, to the college’s alumni association. A few months later he was contacted by Mr. Keer who gratefully accepted his ring back from Davey Jones’ Locker.
Mahigeer and a sheephead at the pier
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — One of favorite excursions when we visited Avalon with our children was the flying fish boat. The boat was the BlancheW, a 64-foot-long, 35-passenger boat built in 1924. Once loaded with jacketed visitors, it would head out from the Green Pleasure Pier as soon as it was dark and begin a cruise along Catalina’s eastern coast.
It would maintain a distance not far from the island’s shoreline and soon the large spotlight would be turned on, a 40-million candlepower, carbon-arc searchlight that came from a World War I battleship.
The light would be directed toward the shore and soon you would see flying fish taking off and paralleling in flight the direction and speed of the boat. Some would soar for a hundred feet or more, some made short flights before splashing back into the water, and occasionally a flying fish would startle a visitor by landing in the boat.
It was pretty interesting seeing their flight and the trips were, along with the glass bottom boats, one of the “must see” attractions for visitors to Catalina. Over the years the flying fish became one of the symbols of the island.
Then, in 2015, it was announced that the BlanchW, a boat that had carried over a million passengers over the years, would sail no more. The trips were at an end and one more vestige of Avalon’s earlier age was at an end. Too bad!
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Out toward the end of the pier sits the official scale for Avalon, the place where for over a century huge fish—marlin, swordfish, tuna—have been given an official weight. The Sportfishing boats head into the harbor flying the flags of their fish, they dock at the pier, and then a cannon is shot to alert Avalon of the capture of a big fish. Finally, the fish is hoisted up and weighed amidst the admiring view of locals and tourists alike. Soon the questions begin: what was the weight? Where was it caught? How long was the fight? What was the bait? Etc.
Tuna Club Weigh Station
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — A fairly rare shark to Avalon (good thing) is the great white shark. Two were seen swimming around the pleasure pier in September of 2017, one estimated at 8-feet in length, one at 7-feet, and neither juvenile bothered the bathers in the water just a few hundred feet away. No adult fish, as far as I know, have been reported in Avalon waters.
Not so for Catalina Island itself. At Two Harbors, near the other end of the island, a 15-18-foot-long white shark was spotted by divers in August of 2015 in the “Blue Caverns” diving site. Apparently it was the latest of four adults that have been seen at that site since 2011. So, it’s not unreasonable to expect an adult great white to possibly show up in Avalon Bay. Do remember though that it’s illegal to fish for or catch a great white —so don’t even think about it.
Mahigeer means “Fisherman” in Farsi
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — There are few things that bother me at Avalon with the exception of the crowds—and yellow jackets. The nasty, stinging creatures can show up at both the GPP and the Mole and when they do is seems a non-stop job trying to swat them away from the rods and reels without getting stung. They’re meat-eaters and attracted by food in the trashcans as well as bait siting on the bait cutting stations. They also are evidently attracted by the simple smells of fish on a rod and reel. The city has worked hard to control the bugs including hiring bug exterminators and emptying trashcans on a more regular basis but neither provides 100%, guaranteed relief. Today, some of my friends bring along the small yellow jacket traps when they come to Avalon. You can sit up a trap by the bait cutting stations and they will capture four score and more bugs during your stay.
One day I was fighting the yellow jackets at the GPP and muttering under my breath when a local said, “don’t let them bother you, when the yellow jackets show up the marlin will show up.” I’m not too familiar with that assumedly island-saying, but I assume it referenced the seasons since it is true that the yellow jackets are most common during the warmer, summer months, the same time the marlin typically show up. Of course it’s also the time for more tourists and more food to attract the yellow jackets. But, it didn’t provide any solace to the situation, I wasn’t too worried about the marlin catch, I was worried about getting stung by a yellow jacket.
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Every angler has his or her favorite fishing hole. This one’s a real doozy!
The Green Submarine takes up space next to the pier
Real VIP at that old Fishing Hole
Some persons think that newspaper writers are VIPs who are wined and dined and who receive red-carpet treatment everywhere they go. I will admit that there are occasions where I might be called a VIP, but mostly, I, like other reporters and columnists, am just a poor working newspaper man who has been cussed, kicked around and called a liar… There is one place on Catalina Island where I always am a VIP because the people who run it are my friends. They don’t care whether they get any publicity; in fact, they don’t need it.
They are Earl and Rose Cadman, who operate the Fish Market at the end of the Avalon Pier. The place is “The Fishing Hole,” a flush drain-pipe four inches in diameter through the concrete flooring. It’s within two feet of the cutting board where Earl fillets fish for Rose and her helpers to fry and serve to the public.
Nobody on the island works and harder through the summer season than the Cadmans, but there’s always room for me at the fishing hole.
I consider myself a real VIP when I visit the Cadmans’ market. I am not the only VIP who enjoys that privilege, but you have to be a friend to the Cadmans to be invited to sit on a milk or soft drink crate and fish through that four-inch pipe with a hand-line.
Comedian Joey Bishop is a real VIP and he has been invited to be a “Fishing Hole VIP.” As if this writing he is content to buy fish and chips and eat outside the market when he and his wife visit the island in their boat, which is often. William Conrad (Cannon on TV) could be a Fishing Hole VIP, but it’s doubtful that one of those empty crates would hold his weight if he sat down. His son, who has just graduated from the Toyon Boy’s School on Catalina, is a steady customer at the market.
Mary Ellis Carlton, my favorite woman columnist, wrote about the Fishing Hole. I was dressed in white pants and white sport shirt and white shoes, but Earl took care of that in a hurry. He got the soft-drink crate, covered it with a clean towel, and I sat there, while he and a helper took turns baiting my hook with pieces of rockfish fillets, mostly scraps.
One can see hundreds of fish in the clear water beneath the pier. Most of these are Catalina blue perch but occasionally a large fish flashes through the school of blues. The blues can clean your hook of bait almost before it touches the water, so it’s really not easy fishing.
I sat there eating fish and chips and fishing — catching nothing but feeding the blues great quantities of tasty morsels for lunch.
Then suddenly I got a big strike, and that fish whatever it was stirred the water to foam while the blues scattered. You can’t bring a big fish through the four-inch pipe. If a dory is handy and there is somebody to jump into it and row under the pier, sometimes you can retrieve a big fish. In my case, a dory was not handy and the fish broke the hook in half while threshing the water.
We rigged another outfit and I dropped my bait and sinker through the pipe real fast to get away from the blues. Another big strike occurred and this time I brought up a big opaleye. That much I know because we were looking, eye to eye, through the pipe. He was too large to pull through the hole, so I just held him there until he flipped off the hook.
I finally gave up, washed my hands, ate some fried abalone and strolled to the other end of the pier to watch the “flesh” pass in parade. The girls are not topless at Catalina yet, but just give them time.
—Donnell Culpepper, Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram, July 4, 1974
The Golden Years
From the time Avalon’s first wharves and piers were built anglers have found them to be a place to fish and a place to catch fish. Of course the pier fishing was typically over shadowed by the “big game” catches out on the boats but the pier anglers still managed some pretty nice fish. And, they didn’t have to worry about mal de mar—getting seasick.
The following newspaper articles detail some of the wharf and pier fishing trips during the “golden years”—from the 1890s to the 1930s. They reflect the fishing at the older and larger Steamer Wharf and the smaller Pleasure Pier that sat just south of its large neighbor.
Avalon (Santa Catalina) July 17.—The fishing is splendid. Men, women and children were hauling in the yellowtails from the end of the wharf.
—Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1890
Avalon, Aug. 9.—The fishing continues fair. The contingent at the wharf catch yellowtail every day, two being taken yesterday, one 37 and the other 29 pounds in weight. Large number of sheephead are seen about the dock, and a few days ago a halibut was taken, affording fine sport to the wielder of a light rod.
—Los Angeles Herald, August 12, 1894
Avalon, June 9.—The fishing in the bay at Avalon is better this year than ever before. Yesterday the wharf was thronged with successful anglers. It is rarely that the big fish come so close in shore so early in the summer. Yesterday Mrs. Boyce of Los Angeles, who is camping here for the season, caught three fine yellowtail from the end of the wharf. One of them weighed forty pounds and was too heavy to be raised from the water on the hook, so a boat put out to her assistance and hauled the fish ashore. The other two weighed nearly twenty pounds apiece. Mrs. Boyce has been almost jealous of the prowess of Miss Emma Bumiller, a young lady camping with her, who caught her first yellowtail some time ago, but now the tables are turned.
Lee Wilson of Los Angeles caught a big fellow himself from the same place. He (the fish) tipped the scales at forty-two pounds. J. K. Urmstiad caught four yellowtail in the morning, weighing sixty-four pounds.
—Los Angeles Herald, June 10, 1897
Millions of Fish — They Crowd Each Other and Are Caught by Tons
Catalina corr. Los Angeles Herald, Aug. 25. Jewfish up to 300 pounds, yellowtail up to forty, big rock bass, etc. are old stories now, and the three big Jewfish brought in yesterday hardly attracted attention, though something else did.
The present time is known as the yellow-tail season. The barracouda have just retired from the scene and taken to deep water for purposes known to themselves, leaving the field to the gamy amber fish, as the yellow-tail is called by some. The fish looks something like a salmon and when a forty-pounder takes a hook some of Abbey & Imbrey’s best tackle and lots of muscles are wanted or something will give.
The big fish have been very plentiful of late, and this evening they took the town by storm, a school estimated by an expert at several thousand dashing in just south of the dock, forcing a large school of smelt in so that they formed a solid mass of fish three or four feet deep along shore. Into this the big yellow-tails—from three to five feet in length—dashed, cutting them down like knives, devouring them, running them ashore and creating a furor that lasted for nearly an hour.
Every inhabitant of Avalon and the guests of Hotel Metropole who heard the noise and confusion rushed to the beach, and with lines, sticks, and even bare hands, went into the sport. Not a breath of wind disturbed the bay, but the water was covered with whitecaps and waves that ran in every direction, and everywhere the huge forms could be seen scintillating, hurling the water over boats and men and dashing on to shore, to be killed with sticks in the hands of campers.
One lady caught several so large that she had to throw the line to someone on the shore to pull them in for her, but nothing daunted she kept in the fray and took a large number. The culmination of the excitement was the capture of a large part of the school by some Italian fishermen. They put out their nets and surrounded the school, and, while vast numbers—in fact, the greater number escaped, they caught, it is estimated, three tons, which were hurriedly put on a vessel and started for the Los Angeles market. So the Los Angelenos will have the fish, if none the sport.
—San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 1889
Gilbert and Connell Polloreno, two boys, 10 and 8 years of age, respectively, each caught a yellowtail from the wharf Monday afternoon and George N. Fonsman captured two. Yesterday Gilbert Pollioreno landed two more and Cornell caught a three-foot leopard shark.
— Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1898
All Along The Line — Even in the winter season, Catalina Island is prolific of fish stories. The latest is that of a fifty-five-pound boy who caught a thirty-five-pound yellowtail from the wharf at Avalon.
—Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1899
There were a lot of yellowtail about the wharf yesterday afternoon, and several were caught. Gilbert Polloreno captured a twenty-pounder and his brother landed one slightly smaller.
—Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1899
Santa Catalina Island—William Shemwell caught a twenty-five-pound halibut from the wharf yesterday. George Michaels picked up a thirty-pound yellowtail near the wharf this morning.
—Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1900
All sorts of fish were being caught from the wharf this morning and a great crowd of people were attracted thither to see the sport. Ten or a dozen yellowtail were among those taken,
—Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1900
There was lots of fun on the wharf yesterday. The water was full of sardines, and a lot of yellowtail came in after them. The anglers in turn got after the yellowtail, and a round dozen were caught.
—Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1900
Catalina Island — Panic Stricken Sardines
Avalon, April 13.—A large school of yellowtail made a rush on the school of sardines which has been hovering about the wharf here for a week past and drove the small fry almost out of the water. They fled from the big fish and in their efforts to escape many were crowded up on the beach. Three of the yellowtail were caught by anglers from the pier.
—Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1904
Yellowtail By Thousands In Bay Of Avalon — Big School of Fish on Little Harbor, and Fishers Have Exciting Times
The Los Angeles Times say: “I’ve got him!” “I got him!” “Look out there!” “Here they come again!” and with shouts and laughter and all sorts of badinage the Avalon wharf was about the liveliest spot on earth today. The yellowtail have found the whereabouts of the great school of sardines which have been lurking about the wharf for a fortnight and they are after them now in increasing numbers every day. At an early hour this morning a school numbering several hundred made a foray on the little bait fishes and drove them by the hundreds out on the beach, the yellowtail following and gulping down the sardines till they could hold no more. Then the fishers began their work, and in hot haste were rushing hither and thither for their tackle. In a surprisingly short time the wharf was filled with anglers of every description, Chinese, Japanese and Caucasians, from six years of age up to ninety-five. The school of yellowtail would take a run down one side of the wharf and nearly every properly-baited hook would be taken and then the other side would be visited, the sardines scurrying like wild before them. At one time there were seven persons on the wharf fighting fish, besides half a dozen others in boats near by. The spectacle was wildly exciting and spectators and anglers were rushing about screeching and yelling like Indians. More than half a hundred big yellowtail were landed on the wharf and as many more taken by parties in boats. No accurate list of the catches could be procured, but the “high man” was conceded to be William Moore, who scored an even dozen.
—Bakersfield Daily Californian, April 17, 1904
Avalon, May 8.—The fishers on the wharf last night took thirty-eight sharks, embracing a great many varieties, two of them being of the horned species. A skate which was taken along with them was placed in the aquarium. The shark is a nocturnal animal and usually lies by during daylight and sallies out for food at night.
—Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1904
Huge Yellowtail Taken From Wharf At Avalon — Terrific Struggle Is Witnessed By Highly-Excited Crowd
Avalon, Cal., May 21.—W. M. Le Favor of Avalon, while fishing off the wharf yesterday morning, caught a forty-pound yellowtail, which gave him quite a fight. As soon as he hooked the monster it began a series of circles, going in and out amongst the piles, while the many onlookers watched the magnificent struggle for supremacy. Finally the yellowtail cleared the piles and Mr. Le Favor, with the assistance of three other men, succeeded in landing him.
The day before Le Favor succeeded in landing a thirty-two and a half pound yellowtail off the same wharf. Fully 150 people saw the fish weighed. Yellowtail are being caught off the wharf daily.
—Los Angeles Herald, May 22, 1908
Waltonians Do Well Fishing Off Avalon
Avalon, May. 31.—The fishing off Avalon grows better each day and a large number of yellowtail and white sea bass are being taken…
The handline fishermen kept up their efforts from the wharf end. One man took a monster yellowtail by the clothesline, hand-over-hand method the other day. Sportsmen who were nearby pleaded with the man to return the splendid fish to the bay. This the man refused to do, despite the fact that the fish was of no use save for photographic purposes.
A much more sportsmanlike attitude is being taken by many of those who formerly fished only for the fish they caught. The Three-six club’s motto, “More fun, less fish,” seems to be gaining adherents.
—Los Angeles Herald, June 1, 1908
Spears Fly In The Night
Avalon. May 11.—Spearing flying fish is a new sport which is being indulged in nightly around the pleasure pier in the glare of electric lights. Fully 100 people watched the unique sport last night.
—Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1910
Lysle Michel, 9 year old, son of C. F. Michel of Chicago this morning landed a yellowtail with a handline, the fish tipping the scale at 19 ½ pounds. Yesterday the boy fought a fish weighing 30 pounds. It was too large for him to pull it out of the water and twice nearly had him off the wharf. With the help of his father the catch was finally gaffed from a rowboat.
—Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1910
An electric experiment was tried here last evening. Encased in a watertight globe a large power light was submerged several feet under the water at the end of the pleasure pier. Attracted by the brightness, thousands of fish swam to and fro vainly attempting to solve the new problem. Several times Ben, the pet seal, approached the light, loudly barking, but he afterward retired. Yellowtail, barracuda, flying fish and starfish could be seen, their silvery spots flashing through the light rays with remarkable beauty. The invention is by J. Shiebush, electrician for the Santa Catalina Island Company for the purpose of spearing flying fish, a sport recently developed here, the light is of benefit.
—Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1910
Takes Spear To Mermaids — Seal Mistaken For Yellowtail Dives Below
Avalon, June 25.—Spearing flying fish in the full glare of an electric light is a new sport which has recently come into prominence here. Alfred Portense last evening made a record catch from the end of the pleasure pier. In one hour he speared nine fish as they darted to and fro under the pier and around the submerged light. This week several yellowtail and barracuda became victims of the “fork method.”
The spearing is done after sunset. Attached to a five-pronged fork is a short bamboo rod and several feet of stout cord.
Lunging at a large yellowtail last evening, F. B. Hamilton of St. Paul missed the fish and struck a seal. For a time the surrounding water had the appearance of a whirlpool. With a loud snort the injured seal snapped the cord and plunged below, taking with it the spear.
—Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1910
Little Miss Margery Powell, aged ten years, daughter of Captain H. M. Powell, U.S.A., who is commandant of the State University of Arizona, has set the fashion for small girls at Avalon by fishing assiduously off the wharf. This small girl, who had never had a rod in her hand before, has landed fifty-six fish. Early in the morning she starts out and no childish amusement can draw her attention from her fascinating occupation. She is a true little sportswoman, and her father’s own daughter in the enjoyment of fishing and hunting.
—Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1910
Gold Button Yellowtail
Avalon, April 3.—While fishing within several feet from the wharf last evening, Col. N. F. Stearns of Los Angeles brought to gaff a yellowtail weighing forty-four and one-fourth pounds. The fish is the largest catch taken here this season and is the first gold button yellowtail which has been caught for several months. Col. Stearns is second vice-president of the Catalina Tuna Club.
—Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1911
The City of Avalon took over the Avalon Pleasure Pier from the Board of Freeholders… Four white sea bass were caught by angler A. E. Eaton Sunday night. The heaviest weighed 40 lbs.
—Catalina Islander, July 4, 1916
“Today I actually saw swordfish, tuna, albacore, yellowtail, barracuda, mackerel, sardines, smelt and rock bass right from the Avalon pleasure pier. The bay was alive with churning, slashing, feeding yellowtail, barracuda and tuna all day, and the great schools of sardines, smelt and Spanish mackerel were furnishing wonderful sport and a big feed for the larger cannibalistic members of the sea family.”—Avalon Islander.
—Oakland Tribune, December 19, 1917
A grouper shark weighing 285 pounds was caught off the Avalon Pleasure Pier by Captain John Kassar. He had to call for help to land the fish.
— Catalina Islander, December 10, 1918
Editor Catalina Islander,
In response to your request for a true story of the first or largest fish I ever caught in Catalina waters, the following is my effort:
… Coming into the bay, and near the pier, I let my line drop over the side just for the fun of the thing, and it trailed a short distance behind the boat. And then came a strike, which developed into a decisive run, and on reeling in—a ten pound barracuda. Hastily throwing in our lines again, we caught in quick succession five big barracuda, seven big mackerel, and four white sea bass; all in the bay close to the pier. And the next morning I went out on the small pier which juts out from the hotel grounds and dropped a hand line from the end and caught a nine-pound bass.
I can only say, in conclusion, many may go further and fare worse. Best wishes, Alfred Reeves
—Catalina Islander, December 10, 1924
Shark Stories Held Fictions — Man-Eating Variety Absent From Local Waters — Recent Report of Experts is Basis of Statement — Attacks on Swimmers Purely Munchausen Tales
Fishermen merely laugh, but experts and Southland boosters scowl at reports of man-eating sharks and guns to keep them away from the recent Catalina Island swimmers. Because, there are no man-eating sharks or any other ferocious fish in these waters!
At least three of the greatest authorities on California fish say as much. They are Dr. David Starr Jordan, Dr. Barton W. Evermann, curator for the Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park, and Dr. Charles F. Gilbert, recently retired from Leland Stanford University. They recently completed the classification and identification of all game and commercial fish in California waters, after investigations covering years.
Such authority is cited by Roy Beaton, secretary of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce to counteract stories deemed damaging and untrue that swimmers of the Catalina channel are being terrified by the monsters, and guns from escorting boats have been brought into play.
Half a dozen species of sharks thrive here, but of such harmless kinds as the blue, bonito, shovelnose, leopard, dog and hammerhead, according to H. B. Nidever, in charge of Terminal Island laboratories for the California Fish and Game Commission.
Police and hospital records also fail to disclose a single victim ever attacked by anything but stingrays and little octopi, now retreating from the beaches before the advancing hordes of bathers.
Southern Californians are not fooled by such canards, according to Beaton, but the fabrications about man-eating sharks is bad California doctrine for the rest of the world that some day hopes to frolic in the Southland’s waves.
—Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1926
CATALINA FISHING—A few days ago a large school of bait came in close to shore near the pleasure pier and the bath house; some were driven ashore by small barracuda, of which there are a number from 6 to 10 inches long around now. They are fish that hatched out this past summer.
—Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, December 7, 1932
The past week has been a great one for catching white sea bass. The best run since 1929 is on now. They are seen around all the piers, the quarry pier, Toyon Camp pier, at the Isthmus, St. Catherine pier, Casino pier—even around the pleasure pier.
—Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, July 5, 1933
Catalina Fishing—The boys have been having a lot of fun trying to land some of the big yellowtail from the Pleasure Pier. They are around daily. Plenty of little green-back mackerel every morning for the pier fishermen.
—Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, October 25, 1934
Catalina Fishing—Most all summer there has been a small school of three yellowtail around the Pleasure Pier daily. One of the big fellows might be the fish caught by C. R. Martin of Avalon, a light tackle fish of 25 ¼ lbs. That is a catch hard to beat.
—Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, August 8, 1935
Catalina Fishing—The past week finds fishing getting better daily. The yellowtail are being brought in, and now barracuda are arriving to feed. Quite a number are in the catches.
I saw one yellowtail caught from the end of the Pleasure Pier this morning. They have kept a marvelous school of sardines, Spanish mackerel and green back mackerel herded in the bay. They seem to be as thick as you would see the bait in the live bait tank at times. They are last year’s hatch, and are 5 to 8 inches in length. They feed but very little, so they are hard to catch, except the green back mackerel. Boys on the Pleasure Pier and from boats have a lot of fun catching them…
Tuesday evening, May 5, Pat Casey, better known as “Barracuda Jim”, caught and landed the first white sea bass of the season—a beauty of 45 lbs. Time, 15 minutes. He was fishing from the end of the Pleasure Pier when he got the strike. It was dark, but the way the fish ran he knew he had a fine catch. He caught it on a number 15 line. There are quite a few seen along the coast.
—Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, May 14, 1936
Catalina Fishing—The Pleasure Pier is a very interesting place evenings now, as so many are going out after swordfish. Many anglers are getting fish hooked and lost. Many are also being caught these days. Mornings and evenings boys and girls are seen on the pier fishing for the little greenback mackerel. Some rock bass are also being caught. There is a lot of bait in the bay now, as almost every morning the larger fish outside chase the bait in near the pier. The sardines and little mackerel are growing fast. They are this year’s hatch, and each day sees them a little larger in size. The sardines are big enough to be good bait for rock bass.
—Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, August 13, 1936
History of Avalon and the Green Pleasure Pier. The “Magic Isle,” the “Enchanted Isle,” the “Island of Romance,” “Fantasy Island,” or “Beautiful Isle Of The Pacific”— all are simply names bestowed upon one of my favorite places to visit—Santa Catalina Island.
As deserving the names, it’s also an island rich in history with some good times and some hard times, some good events and maybe a few that weren’t so good. But it’s also a fascinating history one that was rarely boring.
Although Catalina had once been populated by the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe, who called the island Pimu or Pimugna, all had died or moved to the mainland by the mid-1800s.
In 1602, the island was rediscovered by Spanish explorer, Viscaino, who landed here on Saint Catherine’s Feast Day (St. Catherine of Alexandria). He named it Santa Catalina Island in her honor.
A German immigrant, Augustus William Timms began to run a sheep herding business on the island in the 1860s. He would bring people over to the island on his boat, the Rosita, for bathing and fishing and the small settlement soon was called Timms Landing by most (although some used the name Dakin’s Cove up until the eventual sale of the island). By 1883 Timms Landing had three buildings and thirty tents.
In any historical sketch of the seaside resorts around the city of Los Angeles, mention of Catalina, the Magic Isle, could hardly be omitted.
While Santa Monica and other beaches on the mainland were easily accessible in the pioneer days, the trip to Catalina was rather a serious matter. There was no daily steamer plying between San Pedro and the island in those early days, nor was there any regular means of communication between the island and the mainland. But the magical attractions of the island were well understood by the scant population of Southern California in those pioneer days.
The way of enjoying the pleasures of island life at that time was to form a party more or less numerous, anywhere from half a dozen to a score. These provided themselves with tents in families or in little cliques of bachelors or bachelor maids, the latter, of course, under a chaperone. These were taken to San Pedro by stage, and from the embarcadero over to the island in a big sailboat or yawl hired for the occasion.
These campers would find a good deal of difficulty in returning to the mainland for provisions, and so a complete outfit was generally taken of canned goods and other non-perishable foods to last for ten days or two weeks, while the party was to remain on the island. California cook stoves and other camp paraphernalia were prominent features in these outfits for camping upon the island.
Of course, there were small boats there, which could be hired to row and fish. There were more wild goats on Catalina at that time than at present, and there were no restrictions about either shooting or fishing.
There was no more ideal camp life in the world than that enjoyed by the few adventurous spirits among the pioneers, who, spurning accessible Santa Monica, crossed the twenty-mile channel, cut themselves off from the world for two or three weeks and lived upon camp rations during the whole of their stay on the island.
The sea easily furnished one-half of the food of the encampment, and it would be hard to conjure up in one’s mind a more tempting and delicious breakfast than that of fish, fresh caught from the salt water, and broiled upon the coals an hour after they came out of the sea.
It is about twenty years since the Banning brothers bought the island from the Lick estate and established means of easy communication between the mainland and the island. Since then Avalon, with its fine hotels and other features of town life, has grown up upon the beautiful bay. But the features of life upon Catalina at the present time do not come within the scope of historical reference.
—A Backward Glance Down The Surf Line,, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1906
In 1887, real estate speculator George R. Shatto bought Catalina Island for $200,000 from the estate of James Lick. Shatto developed the town site (including laying out streets) and his sister, Etta M. Whitney, gave it the name of Avalon, apparently naming it after a mythical island valley in the Tennyson poem Idylls of the King, the paradise where King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table went to heal their wounds. A 1903 edition of Webster’s Dictionary gives the meaning of Avalon as “Beautiful Isle of the Blest,” and “Bright Gem of the Ocean,” so perhaps she was right.
Shatto saw Avalon as a vacation destination and soon set up a steamer service to the mainland. To house the visitors, Shatto built the Metropole Hotel along Avalon’s shoreline, while he also began to sell tiny, inexpensive lots. Tents were erected as vacation cottages on many of these lots and Avalon soon had a tent city (dubbed “Catalina’s White City” by newspapers), a precursor of sorts to those that would be established at Coronado, Long Beach, Redondo and other seaside cities. However, echoing the boom and bust nature of real estate in southern California in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Shatto went broke, defaulted on his loan, and the island was returned to the Lick estate.
In 1892 the Banning brothers of Wilmington (William, Joseph and Hancock) bought the island from the Lick Estate. They continued the work to make Catalina a prime destination spot for tourists. They established the Santa Catalina Island Company in 1894 and began to improve the town. They built a dance pavilion, an aquarium, and enlarged the Steamer Wharf. Twice they enlarged the Hotel Metropole (1893 and 1897). The tent city, located on a tree-less plain, now saw avenues planted with eucalyptus to provide shade. The sewer system was improved and an electric lighting plant established. Within time the tent city had six hundred tents and 175 cottages, all wired for electricity.
How happy the children were to land at the little town of Avalon, and to know that they were to have a month at this beautiful place! They hurried down to the beach and their first choice of amusements was the glass-bottomed boat. These boats have “water-telescopes,” which are only clear glass set in boxed-in places. The glass seems to make the ripples still, so that you can look down, down to the bottom of the ocean, twenty or thirty feet below you. The boatman rowed the children out in the bay, where the water, now green, now blue, was always clear as crystal. On the rocks and sand at the bottom starfish and crabs crawled slowly along or clung to some stone. The purple sea-urchins, queer round-shelled creatures covered with thorny spines, crowded together, and the ugly toad-fish hid in the green and brown seaweeds. Blue, purple, and rainbow-colored jellyfish floated on top of the waters, while gold perch with red and green sunfish swam through the seaweed “like parrots in some hot country’s woods,” Retta thought. In the shallow places on the rocks those curious sea-flowers, the anemones, looked like pink or green cactus blossoms. The children never tired of the water-telescope in all their stay at the island. At night the warm ocean waters seemed on fire, since they are full of very tiny, soft-bodied creatures, each of which gives out a faint, glowing light. Every day the fishermen brought in new and strange fishes. The black sea-bass, heavier than the fisherman himself and longer than he was tall, were wonderful, and they could hardly believe that such big fish were caught with a rod and line.
—Ella M. Sexton, Stories of California, 1903
By 1913 Avalon had a summer population approaching 10,000 people and elaborate plans were in the works to improve and enlarge the facilities even further including a new hotel, the Hotel Saint Catherine.
Improvement was needed since competition for the tourist dollar in SoCal was fierce. Abbot Kinney’s Venice Pier and Fraser’s Million Dollar Pier in nearby Ocean Park had long attracted throngs of people from Los Angeles. In addition, Henry Huntington was now running his electric “red cars” to Redondo Beach where he had built the world’s largest plunge, a huge pavilion, and various attractions along El Paseo (not even counting Redondo’s long-time famous fishing wharves). By 1909 Huntington was attracting a million visitors a year to Redondo Beach, by 1910 two million. Competition was also fierce with Long Beach given its huge Pine Street Pier and Pike Amusement Zone.
The trip to Catalina was longer and more expensive. People wanted better and better attractions and facilities and the Banning’s planned to provide them. Their dreams would end with the huge fire that swept through Avalon on November 29, 1915 destroying much of the town.
Debts related to the fire, as well as a dip in tourism during World War I, meant a decline in revenue for the brothers and in 1919 they sold shares of their holdings to various people. William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum czar, bought the controlling interest.
Wrigley and his family would spend millions of dollars over the next 50 years developing Avalon and Catalina. Additional steamships were added to Avalon’s fleet in the early 1920s (the SS Avalon and SS Catalina), 1929 saw Catalina’s Casino open, and Wrigley brought his baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, each spring to Avalon for their spring training.
In 1932, following the death of his father, Philip K Wrigley took over the Santa Catalina Company and continued to improve the infrastructure of Avalon. Tourism remain a healthy industry excepting the World War II years when Catalina was closed to tourists and used for military training.
In 1975 Philip Wrigley deeded the Wrigley shares in the Santa Catalina Company to the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy. The conservancy maintains about 88 percent of the island outside Avalon and has done so since the mid 1970s.
The Santa Catalina Company still controls most resort properties and operations in the City of Avalon. Included are the Casino Ballroom, Catalina Island Golf Course, the Descanso Beach Club, the country club and the interesting new museum on Metropole Street.
A number of piers have graced Avalon’s Harbor since the late 1800s. Records talk of piers in the bay as early as 1895 and mention a fishing pier in 1905. The Green Pleasure Pier was basically a gift to the city, being sold to Avalon for the princely sum of $5 in 1909. It had originally been built by the Freeholder’s Association, a group of local businessmen, and conceived as an alternative landing spot in opposition to an attempted monopoly by the Banning brothers who had built a pier parallel to the beach in 1905 (and tried to corner most of the tourist business). The other pier was the large Steamer Pier that set near the Hotel Metropole and which eventually was washed out.
[An alternate history says, “In February 1909, the Freeholders Improvement Association of Avalon applied to the War Department to build a pleasure wharf, which the Santa Catalina Island Company would construct and maintain. Permission was granted and the pier was completed in the same year. In 1914, the pier was transferred to the City of Avalon.” I‘m still trying to pinpoint the exact history!]
Apparently the original pleasure pier was destroyed by a winter storm and replaced by today’s Green Pleasure Pier. Whatever its origin, the pier is still the center of beachfront activities. The pier may be best remembered as the site where many of the huge marlin, tuna, swordfish and black sea bass were weighed and photographed during the days when Catalina was the “Mecca” for big game fishermen. Boatman’s lockers set on the pier, as did a weigh station, and the weigh station is still there.
During the ‘20s, and up until nearly WWII, a number of fishing barges operated from the pier. Included were the Earl Wood’s Barge (1925-1931), Samar (1932-34), the Baitwell (1930s), and the Empress (1936-1940).
Fishing Schooner ‘Samar’
Fishing—Dining and Dancing—Open Day and Night
Take Speed Boat on Pleasure Pier. 25c Round Trip
Every Monday night is “Avalon Night”
Special Rate $1.00
Including Transportation, Fishing, Dinner, Dancing, Etc.
—Catalina Islander, August 30, 1934
Tsunami records do report a small pier being washed away at Catalina on April 1, 1946 but it isn’t clear which pier was destroyed.
For many years Wrigley who owned much of the Island also owned the Chicago Cubs and they trained each spring at Catalina. One affect was a change to the Pleasure Pier:
A new 40-foot flagpole has been erected on the pleasure pier for the WIN and LOSE flags for the benefit of Chicago Cubs baseball followers. The usual flags will be displayed, but much larger than before. Little Dave Harris will still be in charge. A baseball team will visit Avalon every week, during the summer season, playing on the Cubs’ training field. Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning games will thrill all fans of this real American game.
—Catalina Islander, May 11, 1939
Catalina—The Catalina Islands are composed of Santa Catalina, San Clement, and San Nicholas, running offshore in the order named. Catalina Island is always spoken of with reverence by members of the salt-water fishing fraternity—as indeed it should be, for this is the birthplace of salt water angling.
Near the east end of Catalina and facing the mainland twenty-two miles south of San Pedro—the seaport of Los Angeles—lies Avalon, the home of the Catalina Tuna Club. While Catalina Island was the birthplace of big-game fishing, the Catalina Tuna Club was the cradle in which the newborn baby was nursed by some of the greatest sportsmen and fishermen who ever lived.
From 1898 until the late twenties Avalon was a fishing town where anglers from all over the world congregated to try their luck with blue- and yellow-fin tuna, striped marlin, broadbill swordfish, dolphin, yellowtail, and black sea bass.
Those were the days before so many fishing places had been developed in other parts of the globe and when there was very little offshore fishing along the Atlantic Coast. Today Catalina waters are fished not only by California’s devotees of the sport but by numerous others who come from miles away to try the angling off this salt-water shrine.
— S. Kip Farrington Jr., Pacific Game Fishing, 1942
Green Pleasure Pier Facts
Hours: The pier is open 24 hours a day.
Facilities: Rental tackle is available on the pier at the Avalon Boat Stand and Joe’s Rent-A-Boat (although much of what they have is geared to boat fishing). Unfortunately both are often closed during the off season months. Some tackle is available at the High Tide Traders on Crescent Avenue near the front of the pier. Bait is sometimes available from Rosie’s Fish Market at the end of the pier and at Joe’s Rent-A-Boat (but again, both are often closed). Bait, mainly shrimp, is available at the Vons grocery store in Avalon. Fish-cleaning stations are non-existent, but lights and restrooms are available on the pier. There’s no parking but you do not need it since all hotels are within walking distance of the pier. Two snack bars are located on the pier.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped restroom facilities; railings are 42 inches high.
Location: 34.14066900185003 N. Latitude, 119.19479370117188W. Longitude
How To Get There: The trick here is to get to Catalina. Ships and helicopters make the journey several times a day from the Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point Harbor. Information is available on all of these by calling the Avalon Chamber of Commerce on the Pleasure Pier (213) 510-1520 or the Visitor’s Information & Service Center (213) 510-2500. Once in Avalon there should be no problem in finding the pier, which is located at the foot of Catalina Avenue.
Management: City of Avalon.