Last modified: August 29, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Green Pleasure Pier — Avalon, Catalina Island

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.

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