Although piers and wharves have lined Coronado’s bayside shoreline over the years, the most famous pier at Coronado was the oceanfront pier that sat adjacent to the iconic Hotel del Coronado for over a third of a century. Hotel guests and people who stayed at Camp Coronado, the famous tent city located south of the hotel, were able to use the pier. Anglers were able to fish for a variety of species from the pier and could also charter deep-sea boats, which would haul them out into deeper waters as well as the Coronado Islands.
The earliest version of that pier appears to have been built around 1888, the same time the hotel opened with its famous cupolas, conical towers, turrets, dormer windows and spacious lawns. The hotel was the world’s largest resort when opened (and would gain everlasting fame as the setting for the Marilyn Monroe comedy Some Like It Hot). That first pier, called the “iron pier” because iron railroad rails were laid across the pilings before the planks were placed on top, was less impressive than the hotel, being only a little over one hundred feet long.
At such a short length it wouldn’t seem to offer much in the way of fishing action but 1891 did see a fish story being reported albeit a short report that didn’t give much information:
Hotel del Coronado Pier Fish
While some hotel waiters were fishing for mackerel at the Coronado pier their lines became entangled about the tail of a five-foot shark. The fish was pulled ashore.—Santa Cruz Sentinel, December 5, 1891
In both 1891 and 1892 sections of the pier were damaged by storms and repaired. In addition, the pier was lengthened to over 400 feet long. Cribs (structures of wood and wire filled with rock and rubble), which acted much like a jetty, were placed alongside the pier as a buffer against the waves.
Apparently the longer length provided more action as seen in the two following reports, one concerning a capture of a giant (black) seabass which at the time were called jewfish.
California Jewfish— Huge Monsters Weighing from One Hundred to Six Hundred Pounds—To Land One of These Means Considerable Hard Work
The land-locked bay of San Diego and the kelp bed at the harbor mouth is a favorite home for the black sea bass, or Jewfish, as it is commonly called. Catching these fish is excellent sport. They weigh from 100 to 600 pounds, and in appearance are much like the small-mouthed black bass of eastern lakes…
The accompanying picture shows a jewfish weighing 356 pounds. This fish owed its death to the lack of nerve. The lucky angler was fishing off the Coronado pier for small fish with a line about as heavy as a Fire Island bluefish line. The jewfish was hooked, and if it had persisted in swimming seaward it would have broken the line like a thread. But it didn’t. After playing it for an hour or so the angler, who proved himself to be very skillful, landed the monster. It was over six feet long, and a truck was needed to carry it. The fish are edible, and find a ready sale in the local markets. —Lebanon Daily News, June 15, 1894
The Hotel del Coronado pier will soon be known as the “fisherman’s heaven.” An unprecedented catch of yellowtail has been in progress throughout the entire week. —San Francisco Call, September 13, 1896
The fishing was good but you still had to deal with Mother Nature and sometimes she can be rough. One of the main themes in the history of the pier is the number of times the pier was damaged necessitating repair or even a rebuilding of the pier. Rock jetties, some built under the pier, some alongside, or some a short distance away usually would also need to be fixed.
Storms, high wind, punishing waves and strong ocean currents were usually the culprit when damage occurred but in California earthquakes are always a possibility. Less common are tidal waves although occasional tsunamis do take place, usually in response to offshore earthquakes, sometimes from earthquakes hundreds or thousand so miles away. An unusual tsunami took place in San Diego and Coronado in 1897 (although most lists of SoCal tsunamis do not show the occurrence). On the other hand, a tsunami that occurred in San Diego on August 7, 1906, one resulting from a local sea quake, apparently did no damage to the pier.
Tidal Wave At Point Loma
San Diego, Cal., Feb. 1.—When the sun went down behind Point Loma last evening it closed one of the most remarkable days, thermally speaking, in the history of this coast, but it was not until today that people realized that there had been anything more unusual than a high tide accompanied by the attendant surf. The facts are that there is no storm to record of yesterday. Old ocean simply raised up with a force that was irresistible and everything movable that stood in the way was removed or washed out of existence; that was all.
The day was ushered in by an unusually low tide. About 10 o’clock the sea turned to come back, and for three hours it rose higher inland until all the sand beaches and even the large rocks above mean high water were completely submerged. At 1 o’clock the surf reached its height. A high road had just been finished across Ballast Point by the California Construction Company, leading to the Government fortifications. This barred the way like a wall. The sea arose and swept across the peninsula for the first time in forty-five years, and the road, which cost the builders $800, was no more.
At the same time another wave lifted the Coronado pier into the air, and threw it back into the billows a wreck. At Rosarito, down the coast thirty miles, a small wharf was washed away.—San Francisco Call, February 2, 1897
Almost immediately plans were made to rebuild the pier although it’s not clear from initial reports if fishing would strictly be from a jetty.
The Coronado Beach company will build a 600-foot jetty to replace the 300-foot pier off the Coronado hotel which was destroyed by the late storms. The new jetty will have a double track, and will also act as a breakwater. —Los Angeles Herald, March 21, 1897
A year later, in July 1898 newspaper ads reported that there was “superior fishing at Hotel del Coronado with a new $60,000 pier just completed.” However, that claim of a new pier would be shown time after time in newspaper ads well into the first part of 1899. The hotel was a big attraction throughout southern California and almost daily ads ran in the Los Angeles newspapers. And, part of the attraction was the fishing, both from the pier and the Sportfishing boats that could run from the longer pier. Luckily, the fishing appeared better than ever.
An Exciting Day’s Fishing
Hotel Del Coronado, July 17.—Saturday will be remembered as a very exciting day among the fishermen… Gen. Webb’s big fight with a shark at the pier was the star attraction. Gen. Webb went to the pier to get a shark or a jewfish. He had a line somewhat smaller but fully as strong as a clothesline, and a hook calculated to land a leviathan if he swallowed it. Along came a big shark and swallowed the live bait, hook and all. There was a slight pause, and then a thrashing, tumbling, tearing, ripping and hustling through the water. The old shark was ugly as sin and mad as Satan. He ripped along the surface and dove into the depths. He leaped out once or twice, his wicked eyes flashing fire. Gen. Webb did not pretend to play the big fellow, but tied the line to the wharf and let him fight against fate. Finally Gen. Webb and four other men got in their work with drag hooks, fastened in the shark’s back and belly, and hauled him upon the pier. The ugly fellow weighed 225 pounds and was six feet long. Gen. Webb cut away the backbone, from which to make a cane, and dumped the carcass into the sea. The shark was of the dogfish variety—a harmless fish, but a homely kind. —Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1898
Transplanting of Mussels
Hotel Del Coronado, July 19.—Commodore Frank Greenhall, Capt. Dunne and “Chappie” Betts made a trip to Point of Rocks, Mex., last Sunday and returned yesterday. They went down for pleasure, but found so many mussels, and such huge ones, that the brought back two big sacks full to be transplanted upon the rocks of Coronado Pier. In most instances mussel transplanting is not a dazzling success, but it is believed it will work in this case, as the job was done skillfully and the distance from Point of Rocks ro the pier is only fifteen miles.
Though the monster rock dumped into the sea to form a breakwater at the pier has been in place only a short time, seaweed and moss has already accumulated upon it, making the spot an ideal one for fish. With mussels also upon the long line of rocks, it will be a very attractive place for fishermen and those who love a mussel roast.
The catch at the pier is hard to be counted because fishermen are proverbially modest as to their own prowess. Catches of pompano are made hourly, of which no count is kept. Kingfish and perch are caught by the score, even by little children. All the small fish are purchased by the hotel… The hotel uses the fish for the table and for its aquarium. —Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1898
Albacore Beginning To Run
Hotel Del Coronado, July 23.—Fishermen are jubilant over the fact that albacore, the gamiest fish in the ocean, are beginning to run in the waters off the hotel… the biggest catch yesterday was a 35-pound albacore… On the pier, a lot of pompano were caught… Kingfish were caught by the score… One man on the pier hauled up two lobsters on little pompano hooks. Capt. Dunne sets traps for lobsters, and rarely fails to catch forty or fifty pounds daily. The lobsters seem to be swarming on the bottom of the sea off the pier. —Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1898
Big Catch Of Fish
A young man returned to San Diego after a day’s fishing at the Coronado ocean pier. Everybody on the ferry looked at him. He carried over one shoulder a beautiful fish five feet long, weighing sixty-five pounds. It was a silver salmon he had caught at the pier and hauled in through the surf. In his other hand he had a string of croakers, numbering about thirty. He carried enough fish to last him a month.
The big silver salmon was lying in wait in the shadow of the rocks of the pier. When the live bait came along he darted out for it like a pike or a pickerel. The hook was none too large, nor the line too strong. The young man, when he discovered what a prize he had, was very much afraid he would break the line, and therefore played the big fish very cautiously. It was seen that it would be impossible to raise him to the gaff without danger of parting the line, so he gradually worked along the pier toward shore. Then, getting off the pier on the beach, he waited for an extra-big wave to come, upon which to land the fish.
When it came he gave an easy, steady pull, which carried the salmon along on the crest of the wave to within twenty feet of shore. Then the young fellow waded in and grabbed the big fish and wrestled with it till he hauled it in. The sight was witnessed by many people, who became greatly excited over the maneuvers of capture.
Twelve small pompano were caught by a man on the pier in fifteen minutes last evening at dusk. Capt. Dunne caught forty small silver salmon in the morning. The growth of seaweed and kelp on the rocks under the pier makes it an ideal place for silver salmon and sea trout. Among a hundred or more fishermen who visited the pier during the day the total results were as follows: Pompano, 40; kingfish, 230; Halibut, 8; silver salmon, 53; flounders, 35; croakers, 90; total 456. —Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1898
It is hard to say what the “silver salmon” actually was. It was not a true silver or coho salmon, they do not reach that size. It could have been a king or Chinook salmon but they are uncommon in southland waters and are rarely found in such shallow water. Given the plethora of names some of the fish were given back in those days, it was probably a white seabass, a fish often called sea trout by fishermen (although sea trout was more common for young white seabass). The reporter may not have had a clue.