Last modified: August 6, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

L. M. “Pep” Pepper Park Pier — National City

Public Pier — No Fishing License Required

One day I got a letter from John Lopez, an angler who had read the first edition of Pier Fishing In California. It began, “locals call it the 24th Street Pier—you may have omitted it deliberately.” The bad news was that this wasn’t the case; I had simply missed it. The good news was that I got the chance to meet John, the Curator of Aquaria at the Chula Vista Nature Center. Not only is he an interesting person but so was the Nature Center itself, a place later renamed The Living Coast Discovery Center. Unfortunately the Center was predicted to close at the end of 2013 unless it was able to find additional funding—and prospects didn’t look bright. It’s too bad because the Center was a place   that I wholeheartedly recommended visiting.

Environment. This small pier, T-shaped and 162 feet wide at the end, is an interesting pier because of the contrasts, which it presents. The pier is situated where the Sweetwater River (and flood control channel} enters into San Diego Bay. During the rainy season (a few winter months) this can mean waters that are less salty than in other parts of the bay. The result can be a short-term decrease in the number of resident species.

However, the pier also sits adjacent to National City’s marine terminal and due to regular dredging the area offers some of the deepest near-shore waters available to pier anglers. This can mean more species and fish, especially pelagic species like mackerel. Thus at times it can be very slow (less resident species) while at other times it can be very good (marauding pelagic species). My experience at the pier tends to support the hot or cold variations in fish and fishing.

The 5½ acre park with its landscaped picnic areas, barbecue pits, sand filled playground, and grassy areas is an excellent spot to bring a family. Fix up a meal, let the kids play, and finish off the visit with some time on the pier.

The bottom here is mud and there is little growth on the pilings or the shoreline rocks (which often means poor fishing). In contrast, on the other side of the channel sits the Paradise Creek Salt Marsh Education Park and the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. The 316-acre refuge represents the largest remaining salt marsh in San Diego Bay and is populated with a rich assortment of inhabitants (clams, bubble shells, horn snails, and crabs, to name just a few). Since marsh areas such as this are important for the growth of juvenile fish, and since some of these fish wind up as food for larger fish, the marsh area should serve as a fairly productive attractant of fish for anglers.

The park and pier sit down toward the south end of San Diego Bay and the pier tends to get the types of fish associated with most southern California bays. Resident, year-round species include black seaperch, white seaperch, topsmelt, jacksmelt, barred sand bass, spotted sand bass, kelp bass, some croakers, halibut, turbot, sharks, stingrays, guitarfish and bat rays. More seasonal in nature are the pelagics, fish such as mackerel, bonito (some years) and barracuda. Warm-water months will also see a few California needlefish visit these south bay waters.

Fishing Tips. Best bet would be to fish two rods, using one to try on the bottom for resident species, and the second to try on the top for more transitory fish like mackerel and bonito. On the bottom use ghost shrimp, bloodworms, or clams for species such as croakers and turbot. Add anchovies to the mix when you’re seeking bass or halibut. If you want sharks and rays, try one more addition, squid, and make sure you have a little heavier line. Best results on top will come with live anchovies or small smelt, which you will need to catch yourself, or on a variety of lures. Bonito feathers trailing behind a cast-a-bubble seem to be popular for bonito, as are gold spoons and small spinners for a variety of species. Many anglers also try for bay bass using soft plastics, 3-5 inch grubs, swim baits and even spinner baits. Remember to fish the artificials around the pier itself where the bass are found.

Remember to keep your hooks a reasonable size. Try size 8 or 6 hooks if you’re seeking perch or turbot, size 6 or 4 if you’re after croakers or bass, and size 4 or 2 if you want a halibut. Don’t be afraid to go to larger hooks and heavier size line for the sharks, guitarfish and bat rays.

This can also be a good pier to introduce kids to the joy of fishing. It is a small pier, sits near the park, and can provide some type of small fish most of the year. Staghorn sculpin on the bottom, shinerperch mid-depth, and jacksmelt and topsmelt toward the surface; all are small but generally available and all will provide excitement for the youthful angler.

One final note regards round stingrays. A lot of these small rays are caught at local piers and they are of little use to anglers. So, return them to the water. If you’re afraid of the stinger, I recommend the following: grasp the tail by using a pair of needle nose pliers held in one hand and simply cut off the stinger using a sharp knife held in the other hand. Don’t cut off the tail! A new stinger will grow back in about a month and the fish will be none the worse for the experience. (Bat rays and stingrays which have had their stingers removed explains how it is safe for places like the Monterey Aquarium to have petting pools for these creatures. The Chula Vista Nature Center had a similar pool with little stingrays and bat rays happily swimming around, flapping their wings, and seemingly nuzzling up for attention whenever a youngster reaches down to pet the beasts.) John Lopez, by the way, got many of the stingray for his exhibits and petting pool from anglers at the local piers.

A fishing line recycle bin installed bt United Pier and Shore Anglers of California

The Pier Rats Speak

Date: November 23, 1999; To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board; From: Rey; Subject: Pepper Park Pier

I usually fish Embarcadero Pier, but it has been slow lately, so I decided to try something new. I decided to fish Pepper Park Pier. I tried this pier once and that was about a year ago and all I caught was one mack. So I went to Pepper Park. After about an hour and a half, I was unable to get a bite. But some guy using frozen anchovies was consistently catching some undersized spotted bay bass. I asked him if he fishes this pier on a regular basis and he said he does. He explained to me that this is the best pier in San Diego. He explained to me about two weeks ago, he caught a 31-inch halibut using dead sardines. He also explained that there are some huge bass being caught off this pier. He says macks run on a regular basis. He says fishing is best after 6 p.m. This is probably the least fished pier in San Diego.

Posted by tackleman

I have fished it on many occasions with only the bat rays biting and a few smelt here and there. It’s definitely not the best pier in SD. I think it’s the worst to fish on—it’s too small in size and you can’t get out to the channel too well.


<*}}}}}}}}}>< The following derby evoked a nice mention by Ed Zieralski, one of my favorite sports and outdoors writers

Young anglers happily hooked fishing off South Bay pier

More than a year ago, when Catherine Miller of the San Diego Sportfishing Council and officials from the International Game Fish Association organized a youth pier fishing series, they felt it would be only fair to visit different piers.

“We thought it would be great to come to these neat places in the South Bay that people aren’t aware of, places that are open seven days a week and don’t get very crowded,” Miller said during yesterday’s third and final Young Angler Fishing Tournament at Pepper Park Pier in National City.

What Miller and the IGFA didn’t envision was that the little pier fishing tournaments would be adopted by the United Pier and Shore Anglers of California (UPSAC), a group affectionately known as the “pier rats.”

Alyssa Flores and a Pacific mackerel

The adoption by that group, spawned by the work of author Ken Jones and his book, “Pier Fishing in California,” inspired mentions of the pier fishing series on That led to yesterday’s amazing invasion from Los Angeles and even Northern California of both volunteers and one of the winning young anglers.

“My son and I flew here from the Bay Area on Friday just to fish this tournament,” Gilbert Orozco told Miller after his son, Thomas, 6, tied Alyssa Flores, 7, of Chula Vista, for first place. “I read about it on the Web site. Now I’m going to take my boy to Legoland to celebrate.”

By winning, Thomas Orozco and Flores are eligible for next year’s IGFA Junior Angler World Championship. Gilbert Orozco said his son will go, and Jennifer Flores said her daughter, Alyssa, also will go.

Thomas Orozco and a mackerel

Fishing was tough yesterday, except for a run of mackerel that provided some excitement. But it still was a glorious day on the pier for the 70 kids, their parents and the many volunteers Miller and crew assemble for these events.

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