Last modified: August 29, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Green Pleasure Pier — Avalon, Catalina Island

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.

Two-spot Octopus

 [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 my favorite Catalina excursions was a night in the mid-70s when my wife and I decided to take the kids on 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.

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