A revised article on the Huntington Beach Pier...

Ken Jones

Staff member
one that is designed for the newbie angler. It may still have too much material. I could really use some feedback on whether you think this approach is better or worse than the usual article.
Huntington Beach Pier

Public Pier — No fishing license required

325 Pacific Coast Highway 1856 Feet Long
Huntington Beach, CA 92648 3 Fish Cleaning Stations
Hours: 5 A.M. – 12 P.M. 6 Restrooms on pier
Parking lot adjacent to pier Posted for Handicapped; 30-inch railing height

Ken Jones Pier Rating

8.06 Fish per Hour —1st among Orange County piers
13.70 Weighted Points Per Hour — 2nd among Orange County piers
52 Fish species reported from the pier — 5th among Orange County piers

Notable — Two state record fish were caught at the pier, a 181-pound bat ray caught
in 1978 by Bradley A. Dew and a 5-lb, 8-oz. jack mackerel (aka Spanish mackerel)
caught on September 1, 1988 by Joe Bairian.​

The Pier and Aquatic Environment

This is a huge pier, the tenth longest in the state and, according to some records, tied for the seventh most visited pier. Although huge, and thus presenting ample water and fishing space to test, the pier remains basically a SoCal sandy-shore pier with similar species. This reflects the sandy-shore conditions at the pier itself as well as areas to the south and north of the pier. The pier sits on the Huntington City Beach while to the south is Huntington State Beach and to the north is Bolsa Chica State Beach. The sandy beaches run for more than eight miles contiguously and are some of the widest in southern California! Offshore is the region known as the Huntington Flats, a sandy-bottom area known for sand bass and halibut.

There are very few nearby rocky areas (although an artificial, quarry-rock reef was built in local waters back in 1987), and the water is not as deep as at the piers on the Newport Peninsula (Newport and Balboa), but the pier produces fish.

Although noted for sandy-shore species, pelagic, open ocean species, do show up, primarily Pacific mackerel, Pacific bonito, Pacific sardine, jacksmelt and sharks. Unfortunately the pilings, once heavily encrusted with fish attracting mussels and barnacles, are now often bare of such creatures due to city efforts to keep the pilings clean, lean and mean (to lessen damage from winter storms).

Planning your trip to the pier (or)
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Pi.. Poor Performance

Short Version:
Appropriate clothing for the weather, rod/reel for each person fishing, some small size 8-4 hooks, a few Sabiki bait rigs, some small 1-2 ounce torpedo sinkers, a couple of baits (worms, mussels, shrimp or squid), pliers, a small bucket, and some inexpensive hand towels aka rags. These are the basic necessities. Although this version is short, and the next one is longer, I always suggest using the KISS approach—Keep It Short and Simple (as possible).

Long Version: Clothing: (1) Match the clothes to the time you are visiting the pier and the expected conditions (both temperatures and wind). Day is different than night and summer is different than winter. For much of the year in SoCal, daytime requires little more than shorts and a T-shirt or light shirt. I recommend layered clothing that can be adjusted to the actual conditions. (2) Wear clothing that can survive a little dirt, grime, and possibly blood stains.

(1) Sun screen, at least SPF 50 but the stronger the better. (2) A baseball cap with extension to cover the back of your neck or a sombrero-type hat; something to give your face and neck protection from the sun. (3) A crushable hat or ski cap if fishing at night. (4) Polarized sunglasses. (5) A hand warmer. Only needed during the winter or very windy conditions. (6) A flashlight and/or a headlamp if you intend to fish at night. (7) A camera to memorialize the large fish and big smiles.

Food and Drinks: (1) Snacks, i.e., Power Bars/Clif Bar energy snacks. (2) Bottled water or soft drinks. (3) A thermos full of hot coffee or cocoa if planning to fish at night.

Fishing Equipment/Rods and Reels: Have a rod and reel for each person fishing.

Terminal Tackle: (1) Have at least two sinkers for every person fishing. Use torpedo sinkers if fishing straight down around the pilings or in areas with kelp. Use pyramid sinkers if casting out in sandy areas with little kelp. (2) If using Sabiki bait rigs bring two for each person. (3) If using hooks bring at least four for every person when using a high/low rig. Bring small size 6 or 4 baitholder hooks for the perch-like species; size 4 or 2 for croaker and bass; size 2-2/0 for larger fish.

Miscellaneous items: (1) A sharp bait knife to cut the bait and a sharp fillet knife if planning to fillet the fish. (2) Zip-Lock bags or baggies for fish fillets. (3) Needle-nose pliers for removing hooks and cutting line. (3) Nail clippers for trimming line. (4) Tape measure for making sure the fish is legal size. (4) Hand towels aka rags. Buy cheap ones at the Dollar Store, bring several, and throw dirty ones away at the end of each day if a little too smelly. (5) Huntington, like many piers, has slippery, metal railings and you need something to keep your rod from slipping on those railing. Without buying expensive rod holders, two of the simplest approaches are to use inexpensive towels (see above) tied around the railing or the inexpensive Sumo Tackle Universal Rod Holder (made with hard rubber and a Velcro Strap) and sold at some tackle shops and on-line. (6) Hand cleaner or a baggie of baking soda. It can be used to wash the fish smell off of hands (to a degree). (7) Have some type of tackle box or container to hold the various tackle items. (8) Some people like to carry a small bucket with a rope to get fresh seawater to keep live baitfish in and/or to wash their hands. Empty, it can be used to carry all the miscellaneous “stuff” that will not fit in the normal “tackle” container(s).

Bait: Have (at least) a couple of types of bait and a small ice chest/bait cooler (with ice or a small ice pack) to keep bait fresh. This can also be used later to bring fish fillets home. Recommended baits: (1) Live saltwater worms (pile worms, bloodworms, lugworms), (2) Anchovies, sardines, or mackerel. Good as cut bait for several species, (3) Shrimp (pieces), (4) Squid if fishing at night or for sharks and rays. See below for a more detailed explanation on which baits to use for which fish. Elastic thread can be useful if the bait is not staying on the hook

License: Only needed if fishing on a private, non-public pier and then only needed if 16 years or older. Not needed on this pier.

$$: Have cash or credit cards for the parking fees and other costs that may arise during the day.

Expectations: I often say the key to fishing is patience and persistence. Long time successful anglers have put in the time to learn what works and what doesn’t, and those regulars (10% of the anglers) catch 90% of the fish. Nevertheless, there is always an element of luck in fishing. Sometimes the fish are there, sometimes they aren’t. If they are there the regulars should catch fish while newbies might catch fish. Studying this guide will not guarantee fish but should provide enough clues to catch some fish.

Fishing Areas

Successful pier fisherman study and know that most piers have several distinct areas: inshore, mid-pier, far end, and piling area. Each offer up somewhat different species (with some overlap) and each can call for different baits and techniques.

Inshore, shallow water area, tideline to about the rest room area—the realm of croaker and perch.

Inshore is the premier area for barred surfperch, spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, corbina, and (sometimes) sargo. Most days will see anglers with clumps of mussels seeking out the croakers and perch and much of the time having success. Numerous round stingrays are also caught inshore as are thornbacks (good ‘ol throw-em-backs) and some guitarfish but it’s the croakers and perch that make this a prime territory for fish.

The excellent inshore fishing can make the area one of the most crowded on the pier for anglers but the human environment here also includes surfers, surfers and more surfers, and it can create hazards uncommon at most piers.

Given the numbers, it’s perhaps inevitable that there will be occasional conflicts between anglers and SWAs (Surfers With Attitudes). Rules do stipulate that surfers must stay a certain distance from the pier, rules that should help prevent surfer-angler conflicts. Rules also say that surfers are not supposed to “shoot the pier” (surf between the pilings) but it happens and it’s almost a rite of passage. Given that the space between inshore pilings was lengthened when the pier was rebuilt in the early ’90s, lengthened (in part we are told) to provide more room to “shoot the pier,” it seems like the city itself is inviting surfers to ignore and break the rules.

One day (at the old pier) I witnessed several surfers surfing through the pilings and one angler repeatedly being forced to move his line. After shouting at the surfers, and receiving only a one-finger reply, the angler decided to retaliate. He tied a sinker weighing at least five or six ounces directly on to the end of his line. The next time the surfers headed in toward the pilings our noble but impetuous and emotional fisherman aimed and let the sinker fly. Luckily, for both he and one surfer, he missed. But he didn’t miss by much—less than a foot. By this time, calmer heads prevailed and Macho Man realized the danger of his action. He moved. Don’t try such knuckleheaded acts or allow a buddy to try it. Such actions only produce losers, no winners. However, also don’t be afraid to complain to the lifeguards on the pier since they are supposed to keep the surfers away from the pier.

Several varieties of the family Sciaenidae (croakers aka snorers) lead the hit parade here. Family members include yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, corbina and even a few black croaker (generally after dark). This area is also good for the croaker-like sargo. All will fall for mussels (especially fresh mussels), bloodworms, lugworms, ghost shrimp, and pieces of market shrimp or razor clams fished on the bottom.

Knowledgeable local anglers will invest some time and effort to dig up sand crabs down near the water’s edge. The crabs represent 90% of a barred surfperch diet and are superior bait for both barred surfperch and corbina.

The corbina will be in the shallowest water; the other species can range from the surf to out past the lifeguard tower. Best croaker action (especially for yellowfins) is during the mid-summer to fall months, but the same location, baits and riggings will yield barred surfperch during the winter months. The pier is noted for large spotfins, with the pier’s bait shop reporting fish up to 9 ½ pounds although most of the largest are in the 6-8 pound range. Yellowfins are smaller, generally ranging to about 2 pounds in size (although a 28-inch yellowfin was reported in March 2015 which, if accurate, would have been a new state record).

Some years their croaker cousins, white seabass, will join these croakers but most of those fish will be the juvenile sea trout, misnamed and illegal (under 28-inches in length). A large run of the white seabass took place at the pier in October 2006, another in December 2009. Sargo too are common although they tend to be a little further out on the pier.

Most anglers simply use a high/low leader and size 4 or 2 hooks for the perch and croakers. Given the action of the waves in this area, one needs to be able to hold bottom and not have the line swept to the beach or onto other lines. A 3-5 ounce pyramid sinker (the best) should usually hold the line in place. Claw sinkers, dollar sinkers and bulldozer-type sinkers may also be employed but are not as good as the pyramid sinkers.

Some like to use Carolina-type rigging but the problem with the rig in this inshore area is that the egg sinkers typically used for the rigging do not hold bottom. They are great further out on the pier in water less affected by the waves but less effective here.

A lot of small round stingrays, thornback rays, shovelnose sharks (guitarfish), gray smoothhound sharks and leopard sharks are also taken in the shallower water, from the surf zone out to the mid-pier region. As usual, the best bait for the rays and sharks seems to be squid or a bloody piece of mackerel (although live mackerel and other small live fish are good bait for the bigger sharks), sardine or anchovy.

Although the larger sharks are more common out at the end, an unusual run of thresher sharks did take place in the inshore surf area in September 1998—approximately 40 fish being spotted. The threshers would come up and slap baits with their tails, some were snagged, and according to the bait shop four of the 30-80 pound fish were eventually landed.

Mid-pier area—restroom area to where the pier widens—the realm of halibut and a variety of other species.

The mid-pier is ideal for flatfish—California halibut, sole (I caught a nice-sized fantail sole here one day), and diamond turbot. Other species include Pacific butterfish(aka pompano), white croaker (aka tom cod), queenfish (aka herring), barred sand bass, kelp bass, jacksmelt, California scorpionfish (aka sculpin), mackerel, some bonito, and sharks and rays (mostly thornback rays and shovelnose guitarfish).

Amidst this variety of species, one of the most common had always been white croaker (tom cod), although the numbers have seemed to be going down for years. Most tommies are caught on cut anchovy or small strips of anchovy and often they will strike as the bait is settling down into the water. A slow retrieve will also often entice the fish to hit.

Queenfish, often called herring, are usually found spring to fall and typically are schooling under the pier in mid-water depths from mid-pier to about where the pier widens at the end. They can be caught on bait rigs with small hooks or on high/low rigs using small hooks (size 6-8). Strips of anchovy are the best bait with strips of mackerel, seaworms or small pieces of shrimp also sometimes working. Simply drop your bait to the bottom, reel up a few turns, and stop to see if you have a bite. If no bites, reel up a few more turns. Try different depths until you find the school and then gently raise and lower your rigging until a fish hits.

The same technique works for the pretty little salema, striped, orange-colored fish that are often mistaken for a type of bass. They often schools in the same area and depth. They will hit almost any bait as long as you’re fishing with small hooks and at mid-depth levels (in fact they’re sometimes mixed in with the queenfish.

Jacksmelt and topsmelt are usually around the pier most of the year but the larger jacksmelt are especially common during the winter months. Both species prefer the top water areas and both are most commonly caught on multi-hook Sabiki or Lucky Lura bait rigs fished near the top of the water. Many anglers fish for the larger jacksmelt with a float that keeps the bait rig in the appropriate area for the fish, just a few feet below the surface of water. Typically, the jacksmelt like the hook sweetened with some bait—small pieces of anchovy, pieces of shrimp, saltwater worms, etc. Some people simply use a high/low rig with small hooks, size 8-4, but again the key is keeping the bait just a few feet under the top of the water. The topsmelt can simply be snagged with small hook bait rigs or size 10-12 unbaited hooks. The topsmelt are almost always at or near the top of the water.

Some years the sardines show up, some years they don’t, and when present can be found almost anywhere along the pier from shallow to deeper water. Most commonly they are taken on Sabiki-type bait rigs with small hooks although some people simply tie on 4-6 small hooks, size 10-8 and cast them out bare. Throw out your rigging, let your line sink, and retrieve your line with a fairly fast retrieve and an occasional jerk on the rod.

A final schooling species is walleye surfperch, often caught year round but sometimes especially common in winter and early spring. For these, use a high/low or a Sabiki-type bait rig, and small hooks size 8-6 baited with small anchovy strips, sea worms, small pieces of shrimp, or small pieces of mussel. Drop to the bottom, pull up a few turns and wait for a bite. If there are no bites continue to pull up and check the water depths until you find the fish.

Barred sand bass and occasionally kelp (calico) bass can also show up. They are generally caught on cut anchovies or live small smelt fished at mid-depth levels.

Halibut are generally the most prized sportfish in this mid-pier area. The halibut, being ambush predators, prefer live bait fished on the bottom, i.e., a small smelt, mackerel, shinerperch or walleye surfperch, or small white croaker and queenfish (both collectively known as brown bait). The halibut also will hit a moving lure. Many artificial lures will work with proven lures including Big Hammers, AA sized Cotee Lures (white and blue, white and green, clear silver and blue, or clear silver and green), pearl white-colored Zoom Flukes (or white-colored Berkley Gulp Jerk Shads), and Berkley Power Sand Worms with a drop shot rig. For good or bad, what's available at the local tackle store sometimes determines the lure used.

If seeking halibut when using live bait or artificial lures, use a Carolina-rigging. Using this rig, a fish does not feel a weight and is more likely to take the bait and hook. Simply take an egg sinker (that has a hole through the middle of it) and run your line through the sinker. Next, tie a snap-swivel to the end of your line (after adding a couple of red beads above the snap-swivel to help attract fish and protect the knot from abrasion). Next attach the leader (usually 24-36 inches in length) to the snap, add the bait or lure and be ready to cast. I prefer to use Fluorocarbon leaders. In addition, if using live bait you might want to hook the bait under the bait fish (given the halibut swim up and ambush the bait from below).

Do remember that the halibut like to lay in the troughs between the pilings waiting for baitfish to make an appearance. In response, many halibut anglers like to troll their bait or lures between those pilings. Just keep a careful watch on your line.

The same Carolina rigging can be used for surfperch, croakers, bass and other small fish, or even for the sharays (sharks and rays). Simply adjust the size sinkers and hooks you are using.

Do remember the grunion runs! Halibut will often follow the grunion into the shallow waters and provide some hot fishing if you can time it right. By the way, the halibut also reach a pretty good size with a 37” fish being caught in January of '02, a 37 ½-incher in May of the same year, a 49-inch fish in October 2004 (on a live sardine), a 36-inch fish in October 2007, and 37-inch and 38-inch hallies in September of 2008. A 39-inch fish was reported in April of 2019. Undoubtedly many more large halibut have been caught and never reported.

Another favorite fish in the mid-pier area are the shovelnose guitarfish given that they reach a good size and put up a decent fight. They can be caught on the high/low riggings or on the Carolina rigs but use a little bigger hooks, size 2-2/0 and make sure you have a little heavier line, 20+pound test preferable. They are less discriminating than halibut although they also like live bait. Generally the shovelnose prefer anchovies or pieces of squid. Other sharks and rays will take the same baits using the same rigging.

End area—the widest section of the pier—the realm of the pelagic species and the larger sharays—sharks and rays.

The pelagic, open ocean species are most common at the end. This is true with both Pacific and Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel) and especially true with the larger bonito and barracuda. It’s also true when and if yellowtail make a showing in the fall. The end area is also the best area for the larger sharks and rays and though both can also be caught in shallower areas, most of the largest sharks and rays seem to be caught at the end.

The Pacific mackerel is one of the most common pier fish in SoCal and can be found almost any time of the year although summer and fall are often key times. Typically the mackerel will be found mid-pier to the end. The most commonly used rigs are bait rigs, Sabiki or Lucky Lura, and Sabiki rigs with green colored feathers and size 6 to 10 (Japanese-size) hooks are the favorites for mackerel enthusiasts.

The mackerel will typically be at the top or near the top of the water and sometimes the macs are in a “mac attack” mode and will hit almost anything including bare hooks. Cast out your unbaited Sabiki rig, let it sink a few feet under the surface, and reel in the line with a medium-quick, herky-jerky motion. If no bites occur then you can add some bait to your hooks. The best bait is small pieces of mackerel or strips of squid on each hook making sure the piece only covers the hook and that the sharp pointed end of the hook is outside the fish. Cast out and slowly reel in the line. If the macs are in the right mood, a mackerel or several mackerel may be hooked on every cast.

Personally I prefer to use a high/low rig with a couple of size 6 or 4 hooks. Too often a Sabiki comes in with 3-6 squirming and twisting mackerel in the rig and often that means a tangled mess and loss of leader. Two at a time is enough for me and I see no sense in losing bait rigs if I can avoid it, they cost too much money.

If the mackerel are in a light-biting mode, switch from the bait rig or a high/low to a single American size 4 hook on your line with a split-shot or twist-on sinker a few feet up the line. This rigging is a little harder to use here than at piers close to the water but works fine if the wind and current aren't too strong.

One final note on mackerel: they are a noted crepuscular species meaning that they are often most active during the “twilight” periods at sunrise and sunset. Frequently if I arrive at a pier period later than intended, say 9 or 10 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. the fishing will be slow but the anglers will say “you should have been here at daybreak, the mackerel were going crazy.” Often the regulars will not even still be fishing. They loaded up early on the mackerel and went home. I’ve always said fish 6-8 a.m. and 6-8 p.m. (depending upon sunset) are great “mackerel times.”

At the same time mackerel will also often show a good bite at night. That’s when the regulars break out and attach a “glow stick” to their Sabiki rigs. They feel it helps attract the mackerel and it also allows them to see and follow their own lines better and avoid tangles.

For the “Strike Master” fish, bonito, try a splasher rig that simulates the sound of baitfish. Basically the rig is a bonito feather trailing several feet behind a “splasher”—a bonito-ball or a cast-a-bubble. Some anglers will try a small lure instead of the bonito feather while other anglers skip the entire splasher idea altogether and just use a lure, i.e., a MegaBait, Major Craft Jigpara jig, Coltsniper jigs, a Kastmaster with a bucktail teaser, or Krocodile lures with a blue mackerel color being a favorite. Don’t be afraid to try what you have although the bonito can be picky.

Summertime to fall can also see some barracuda enter the picture, especially at night. The best rigging for the barracuda is usually a 1 1/2-2 1/2-ounce silver or gold colored spoon, i.e., Kastmaster or Krocodile although Assault and Deception jigs have also proven deadly.

The pier has long been a pier noted for large sharays and it remains true today. Most are caught at night, during the nocturnal hours, although large thresher sharks are increasingly popular and most common during the day. For the threshers, anglers try to capture a live mackerel and use a sliding leader with a float keep the bait near the surface. The threshers will come up, often hit the bait first with their tail, and then engulf the bait and the fight is on. Threshers to over nine feet in length have been caught but the majority are mere babies in the six-foot-long class. Threshers that size are legal to keep but most anglers feel they should be released to fight another day

Several runs of thresher sharks have also taken place, most out toward the end of the pier. August ’99 saw a run lasting for several weeks with some days seeing ten or more of the six-foot-long sharks being hooked on the live bait (mackerel or sardines) using sliding leader riggings. A long cast from the pier followed by sliding the bait down to the water produced lively looking bait that attracted the long-tailed sharks.

A similar though shorter run of the threshers took place in May ’09 with a 125-pound fish being the largest that was actually landed. Unfortunately one pier visitor wasn’t too happy to see a thresher on the pier and actually called the Humane Society with complaint. His complaint was ignored. That same year, 2009, saw a one-day, mini-run in August when twelve threshers were hooked with four landed. Interestingly it was the same day as an earthquake in Baja. Waters around the pier were filled with sea lions, dolphins, and, apparently, threshers. Some speculated that the assemblage of sea creatures was due to the earthquake to the south; I’m guessing there was probably simply a good number of baitfish in the area. But who knows? Just a few days before that scene an 8-foot-long thresher had been landed, two weeks later a 9-footer was landed.

In September 2011, the bait shop reported another run of threshers with as many as ten being landed in a single day. Similar runs took place in June and July of 2017 and August 2019.

A visit I made to the pier one morning in July 2020 saw eight large threshers laying on the pier out at the very end. I don’t know how many more were caught that day but it was an impressive number of fish.

Nights will see anglers trying for sharks and rays, especially the larger leopard sharks (to 4-5 feet in length) and the “Big Mama” bat rays (the largest bat rays are all female). Most seem to be taken out toward the end of the pier and (in my visits) most often at the northwest corner. Since many rays exceeding 100 pounds in size (including a 123-pounder by Robert Gerber in March of '99), have been taken here, remember to bring strong ropes and a hoop net with you to the pier. Although pier gaffs were once common, only use them if you intend to keep and use the fish.

Bat rays, by the way, can also make some fairly interesting runs at piers. A big run occurred at Huntington Beach in April of ‘99 when a number of the batties were caught. One angler alone, Greg Taite, caught 12 bat rays over 50 pounds in one five-hour period, two of which weighed about one hundred pounds each. A few days later he returned and in a short time hooked and landed a bat ray estimated to weigh 125 pounds. He used 40/50 pound test line, a 5/0 hook, and the same bait for all—squid.

Large bat rays have been reported frequently by the bait shop. One, estimated at 150-pounds, was taken in May 2011. One estimated by locals to be over 200-pounds was taken the first week of December of 2009. The huge fish required the combined strength of seven anglers to haul it up to the pier where a picture was taken. However, with the bait and tackle shop being remodeled, and closed, the ray was never weighed. If the locals were right, it would have been a new state record bat ray. Another 200-pound bat ray was reportedly taken in May of 2014 while a hundred pounder was reported in September 2015. Don’t know if they were record fish but there certainly are some big bat rays taken at the pier each year.

We don’t know if those reports were accurate (guesstimates?). However, as mentioned earlier, we do know that the official state (and world) record for a bat ray was caught at the pier. It was a fish that weighed 181 pounds 0 ounces. It was caught at the pier on July 24, 1978 by Bradley A. Dew, a senior at Huntington Beach High School. Records indicate it was 23 pounds over the prior record and, according to the Dept. of Fish and Game, the fish had a 5 1/2-foot-wingspan, a 3-inch-long stinger, and the width across the bat ray’s eyes was an even ten inches.

Many other sharks have made appearances at the pier. A short run of soupfin sharks took place in August of 2002 when several were landed, the largest one a six-foot-long, 65-pound fish. November 2016 saw the catch of an 80-pound soupfin. A six-foot-long 7-gill shark estimated at 80-pounds was reported in July 2016. A single hammerhead shark was caught in June of 2004, a fish estimated to weigh 50-60 pounds. A 35-pound, 39-inch horn shark was taken in June 2005 while July 2018 saw a report of another large horn shark. A 5-foot-long blue shark estimated to weigh 75 pounds was take in July of 2005. Spiny dogfish show up every year.

The great white shark (who gained fame in the movie Jaws!) has shown up in increasing numbers in recent years. This species is ILLEGAL to take! The first Great White reported to PFIC was one taken in August of 2011. When the young angler posted the picture on YouTube of the landing and subsequent parade around the pier with the small, 5-foot-long, bloodied fish, it was sure to attract the attention of the Fish and Game who tracked him down. Since then several great whites have been taken at the pier, usually to adverse publicity and charges and expensive fines! September 2016, saw the report of an estimated 250-pound great white grabbing a piece of bonito, but that shark broke off after reaching the top of the water. March 2017, saw the capture of a great white shark that was hooked, fought, treble-hook gaffed and brought up to the pier. After a long time on top, and a lot of photos, it was returned to the water where it probably died. November 2020 saw a great white shark hooked out at the end but as soon as the angler saw what he had hooked the line was cut per instructions. (Bravo!)

The Piling areas—The realm of perch and other rock frequenting species.

Down around the pilings (especially when they still contain mussels), fishermen try for pileperch, rubberlip seaperch, kelp (calico) bass, barred sand bass, halfmoon, opaleye, and even an occasional cabezon or small rockfish.

The bait for all is generally either fresh mussels or a seaworm—bloodworms or lugworms. Locals sometimes go under the pier at the shore end and try to find some small sidewinder crabs on the exposed pilings; they make great bait, especially for the large pileperch and rubberlip seaperch.

Summers can also see schools of large mullet hanging down under the pier. The mullet, being vegetarians, may take frozen peas or moss but most are snagged.

Crustaceans. Given the sandy-shore environment at the pier, it isn’t known as a good pier for crustaceans, either crabs or spiny lobsters. However, a large 10-12 pound lobster was taken in September 2003. An even larger “bug” was taken in 2013 when a 17-pounder was captured by a diver who was diving down around the pilings at night.

• Cephalopods. Although not as common as at deep-water piers like Newport and Balboa, occasional flurries of action will be seen from the large Humboldt squid (August 2002, May 2007), squid reaching 4 feet in length.

Quick Tips on Where to fish
If a group of anglers is in one area that usually means fish are being caught in that area. Although you do not want to ever crowd into the space of an existing angler or fishing group, you can still fish close by. Most anglers respect and appreciate fellow anglers that are friendly and show some courtesy. Ask if it’s ok to fish in the area and usually most will accommodate the request. Of course if you have a family with multiple people it may be harder to do. Also, never be afraid to ask questions (but do not over do it). Many, many experienced anglers (but not all) enjoy sharing their expertise with newbies. The key to this sharing of information is how you approach the people. Don’t barge in and try to grab a spot or start casting over lines, be humble and willing to listen to advice. (2) I’ve always found fishing by a fish cleaning station to be a productive area (assuming someone is not already there). The discarded pieces of fish being dropped into the water act as a chum to attract other fish. (3) Try to stay out of the wind or at least keep it to your back. It’s a matter of both comfort and it’s difficult to cast into the wind. (4) Watch the direction of the currents to make sure they will not carry your line into the pilings. (5) Consider the pilings when setting up. Generally you want to be between the pilings so that when you underhand cast you do not hit or tangle up with a piling. Also look for any piping that can catch your rig during a cast. If you are going to be fishing straight down for piling fish (and not really casting) then it’s OK to set up over a piling.

Newbie Advice and the “Skunk Buster” Rig

For new anglers, and especially for young anglers, the beginning emphasis should simply be on catching a few fish. It often doesn’t matter the size or species, the desire is simply for some action and it’s amazing how exciting it can be for a person, young or old, to catch their first fish. Keep it simple!

The easiest way to insure a catch is by using one of the six-hook, Sabiki-type “bait rigs” available at virtually every tackle shop. Simply tie your line to one end of these rigs and attach a (torpedo) sinker at the other end and you’re ready to go.

At Huntington, use these rigs mid-pier to the end and you will be primarily targeting the smaller schooling species. Small to medium-size fish include Pacific mackerel, queenfish, jacksmelt, surfperch and the larger sardines. Small fish include smaller versions of the above together with topsmelt, small perch, i.e., walleye surfperch, and anchovies. A few other species may also decide to grab a hook, especially when using bait, but these are the main targets.

Buy several packages with different size hooks. A main concern is matching the hook size you’re using with the fish you are trying to catch since different size fish hit best on size appropriate hooks. Thus larger mackerel will best on larger hooks while small sardines may hit better on smaller hooks. For the medium-size fish a size 6 to size 8 or 10 (Sabiki/Japanese size hook) should work best. For the smaller species size 4 or 6 will work. Unfortunately there seems to be variance between manufacturers on these Japanese hook sizes and they don’t match U.S. hook sizes. It makes it a little more difficult if you’re a new angler. A bait and tackle shop can recommend the best size Sabikis while chain stores are much more iffy on advice. The key is appropriate sized smaller hooks for the smaller fish.

Secondly, buy some bait for the Sabikis even though, depending on the fish and the bite, you may find bare Sabiki hooks can sometimes work as well as baited hooks. Be flexible.

Read the techniques mentioned for Pacific mackerel, queenfish, sardines, jacksmelt, topsmelt and walleye surfperch and concentrate on those fish. Once the techniques of using a bait rig is understood, the catches should increase and other techniques can be learned.

Pier Rules

Follow all state and local laws/regulations pertaining to fishing! Important state laws include size and number limitations for fish, species that are illegal to keep, and using only two rods at a time on public piers. Greater in depth information can be found at the CA Dept. Fish and Wildlife website: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Sport-Fishing. In particular, look at section 27.60 and sections 27.85-28.62. Local regulations are often posted on the piers.

Pier Etiquette

(1) Be careful not to cross other lines when casting; it’s one of the first rules learned by pier anglers. If it does happen by mistake apologize and try again. If you just can’t seem to avoid crossing lines don’t be afraid to ask for advice/help. Most (not all) anglers are willing to offer up some advice. (2) Do not touch anyone’s fish or equipment without permission. (3) Watch your language. Swearing may be part of your normal language but it can offend many, especially those with youngsters. (4) If using a radio keep the volume down and choose non-offensive songs. You may prefer rap but many of the songs contain age-inappropriate language. The goal is to be a welcomed member of the “Pier Rat” fraternity so why not do whatever you can to be a good member in their eyes? (5) Try to keep the pier environment and waters around the pier as clean as possible. Dispose of trash in trash containers, make sure there are no lines or discarded tackle on the pier, clean up bait from the surface of piers as well as the railings, and don’t throw pollutants (of any type) into the waters adjacent to the pier. Always try to leave the pier as clean or cleaner than when you arrived.

The Human Environment

Given its location, smack dab at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Main Street, it’s perhaps not surprising that the pier offers an eclectic southern California mix of fishing and non-fishing sights.

Today the city is known as “Surf City, U.S.A,” that’s what the town and locals like to call Huntington Beach (and the city went to court battling Santa Cruz for the use of the name). It’s appropriate given the steady stream of surfers to the local waters and sunbathers to the local beaches. The pier itself serves as the focal point for these beachfront activities. Surfing competitions, band concerts, professional volleyball tournaments, you name it, the pier is home to these and many more activities. It’s also home to the thousands of anglers (“pier rats”) who visit the pier each month, many on a daily basis.

The area has panache, an energy that has developed over the years. When I first visited Huntington Beach (way, way back in the early ‘60s), a look up PCH to the north presented oil well after oil well clogging the shoreline area. Looking south on PCH presented a typical old-fashioned, beach town.

In those days most of the people you encountered were locals or people escaping the high inland temperatures. There were tourists but nothing like the numbers seen today. Today, looking north, one sees a mix of businesses and homes. Looking south one sees large, upscale and expensive resort hotels. Publicity and good lodging means tourists, more crowding, and money to be made.

The changes have produced a new and more diverse population as well as new sights for visitors. On the street corners, and at the entrance to the pier, you can see all manner of people, young and old, local and visitor. Locals have seen it all before and are usually headed to the beach or pier—workers, surfers, anglers, and young people on skateboards (all ages and skill levels); you may even see a skateboarding dog! Visitors and tourists are ready for the beach and enjoying the sea breezes and the sights. It’s a mix of races and cultures, a hundred and one different languages and dialects, and different clothes, everything from modest to anything but.

The sheer number of people, especially high on weekends or any summer day, often attracts by the afternoon a mix of colorfully attired street performers. A person showing off large, colorful birds may be a few yards away from a motionless mime who in turn is a few yards away from a musician belting out tunes; all are hoping the tourists will drop a coin or bill into their tip jar. The scene changes daily and sometimes hourly and is somewhat reminiscent of Venice to the north although cleaner and the surfer dudes and dudettes provide a distinctive flavor for the area.

By late afternoon and into the evening the scene can be exciting (for some) and crazy (for others). There always seems to be a mix of tanned SoCal yuppies with their expensive cars and hot rodders displaying their ‘50s and ‘60s vehicles. Proudly cruising PCH after sunset in your envy-worthy car is a decades old tradition.

The “pier rats” can seem out of place in the mélange but the traditional (and often good) nighttime fishing for sharks and rays still sees warmly clothed anglers headed out to the pier.

Huntington Beach Pier Facts

Hours: The pier is open 5 A.M. till midnight.

Facilities: Lights, restrooms and a fish cleaning station are located on the pier. Parking is available adjacent to the pier for $1.50 an hour (or $15 for the day) and there is some metered parking on nearby streets ($1.00 an hour with a six-hour maximum length of time).

Handicapped Facilities: The pier surface is cement with a 30-inch rail height and posted for handicapped. Handicapped restrooms are available mid pier.

Location: 33.654959222951774 N. Latitude, 118.004150390625 W. Longitude

How To Get There: Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) to Huntington Beach and the pier. It is located at the end of Main Street.

Management: City of Huntington Beach.