A Serendipitous Search For Fish and Some Good Time For The Soul...

Ken Jones

Staff member
For what is now nearly four decades, I have made fishing trips up and down the coast. For the past decade an additional east-west trip was required to reach the coastal routes, a trip from Fresno to (usually) Paso Robles. Over the years I’ve begun to divide what can be a long trip down into shorter trips. Thus I view the roughly two-hour trip along HY 41 to HY 101 as an hour’s trip to Kelleman City (55 miles) and a separate hour's trip to Paso Robles (53 more miles). It’s roughly another hour to Pismo Beach and so on. For me, it seems to make the trips seem shorter.

Saturday I once again headed over to the coast. I was on my way to attend another friend’s passing — Santa (Mike Spence). I planned to stay the night in San Luis Obispo and do some fishing Saturday night/Sunday morning. Like most trips, there’s a combination of sights (if you open your eyes) and thoughts along the way and this trip was no different. The first hour from Fresno to Kettleman City is, for the most part, pretty boring. There’s not much to see although the farmland, crops and signs can attract attention. So too the spot where you cross over the Kings River and almost always see a few anglers fishing the banks. But, for the most part, it is an unremarkable drive and it’s hard to imagine those long ago days when the HUGE Tulare Lake once existed and the road and farms would have been under water.

From Kettleman City you pass through the Kettleman Hills and the Kettleman Plains, an area that always reminds me of the old west (especially when tumbleweeds are plastered to the fences along the road). For much of the year it’s mile after mile of nothing except fairly flat, dry plains parched brown from lack of water and you wonder how the cattle and sheep survived living on those plains in the 1800s. This time, the land was as green as Ireland and just past Bitterwater Road, I noticed fields of purple lupine and an occasional California poppy. It’s amazing what a little rain will do.

As usual (and it shows my age) I was listening to some Dylan and his harmonica was wailing on the “Drifter’s Escape.” Just as the closing lyrics referenced a bolt of lightening striking the courthouse, and the drifter escaping, rain started to splatter my windshield and the rain would accompany me to the coast.

Soon I passed through the HY 41 and HY 46 intersection where the actor James Dean met his death (so of course today called the James Dean Memorial Junction). Within a couple of miles I zipped by Cholame (with its small monument to James Dean). Next stop would be Paso Robles and Highway 101. Ironically, Dylan was singing the story of “Blind Willie McTell,” seeing the ghosts of slavery ships and hearing the undertaker’s bell. It seemed appropriate.

Once you reach HY 101 you’re in CenCal territory, the so-called “Magic Kingdom” part of California's coast to some, and you have options to reach the coast. A few miles down the road from Paso Robles you can take HY 46 over to the coast, a route I take if I want to start my fishing trip at the San Simeon Pier. Another ten miles or so and you reach Atascadero and a turnoff to Morro Bay. It’s where I head if I want to start at the Cayucos Pier or the piers in Morro Bay. Continue down HY 101 and eventually you pass by the turnoff to Avila (and its piers) and soon you’re in Pismo Beach (42 miles from Paso Robles).


This card announced the get together and celebration for Mike Spence (Santa)

This day I was headed to the get together for Mike Spence at Lopez Lake and just before reaching HY 101 the rain stopped and the sun emerged — a good sign for the get together. Ten miles or so past Pismo Beach you’re at Arroyo Grande. A left turn, a short drive through downtown, and ten more miles on Lopez Drive and you’re at the attractive and popular lake.


There was a large gathering of people because Mike was a popular man with a large family and many, many friends from the area. I heard many reminisces from friends, enjoyed meeting his sons and brothers who all seemed to be outdoorsmen, and especially enjoyed hearing the stories from the park rangers. Over the years if something at the park needed fixing Mike was called and there are still signs throughout the park of his handiwork.


In addition, the rangers mentioned the fishing clinics Mike put on for the kids. He did this for years (at his own expense) and the rangers said the numbers were well over a thousand kids, probably close to two thousand. (Of course with UPSAC he had also been the main coordinator for the Avila Kids Derbies.)


Not surprisingly, his wife Cheryl and his sons had set out about 50 rods and reels along with tackle boxes and equipment. They asked everyone to take home a rod in Mike’s memory. It was very evident the importance that fishing was in Mike’s life.


The rain started anew, I didn’t know many people, and since I am not really much of a chit chat person I left after a couple of hours. But the memories of Mike and the love shown toward him by the gathering will remain.

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Ken Jones

Staff member
Given that it was mid afternoon, I decided I could stop and do a little fishing at Pismo Beach or Port San Luis. Soon after I was at Pismo Beach but I couldn’t find a single parking space near the pier (yes, the town was crowded even on a mid-March weekend). Not feeling like fighting the crowd or hauling my gear a great distance, I headed over to Port San Luis. There, I was able to grab one of the free, two-hour parking spaces out at the end (where there’s only about a dozen spaces).


Looking from the end of Port San Luis (Harford Pier) toward the SLO Pier that sits between the Avila Pier and Port San Luis.

I set up my gear, baited up, and waited but the wind was howling. It reminded me of a summer’s night at the Berkeley Pier, one of those nights where it is cold and the wind sometimes makes the bite hard to detect (unless it’s a big fish). I didn’t have a bite nor did anyone else that I could see.


A nearby angler was trying for jacksmelt using this as a float.

I was joined by a single sea otter that darted in and among the pilings and floated on the top of the water for the cell phone photographing tourists (and I too took some pictures). But no fish.



Given the pain in my eye that’s been bothering me (from recent cataract surgery) I decided to make a quick exit after an hour. I headed to the motel in San Luis Obispo where I put some drops in the eye, rested in the dark room, and contemplated the time I was wasting not being on a pier.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Sunday morning I headed to Morro Bay where I wanted to fish the South T-Pier. I planned on buying some fresh bait but the Sportfishing site near the pier was undergoing construction and the landing wasn’t open.


Nevertheless, I still had my frozen mussels, shrimp, and misc. baits in the cooler.


Arriving at the pier I was greeted by a small sign on the railing “Shhh... Sea otter nursery zone...respect our naps please.” There always seem to be otters in the area when I am fishing the pier and Sunday there were about 18, many being young sea otter pups.


Looking down toward the rocks on the shoreline I was greeted by a heron, standing motionless in search of fish.


It was time to fish and I rigged up. But then I made a dumb mistake. Each night/morning when I am traveling on my fishing trips I cover up the bait in the cooler with fresh ice. I had done the same this trip but had also covered up my bait knife (that I usually am careful to place on the top). I hadn’t done so and when I reached my hand into the ice in search of the knife I sliced through the end of my middle finger. I didn’t think it was a big deal, although it hurt, but the problem was I couldn’t get it to stop bleeding. I had a few napkins that were soon soaked in blood. Next I cut a small (and old) bait towel that I had into strips and tried wrapping the finger with them. Again they quickly were soaked with blood. Time was a wasting fighting the blood instead of a fish. About this time another fisherman noticed my plight, came over, and offered some bandages, which I accepted. Soon after the blood flow seemed controlled and I began to fish — with little success.


Given the lack of bites I decided to take a few pictures of the otters, which were indeed kind of cute. Then I struck up a conversation with the angler who had provided the bandages. He was a (mainly) hunting guide from Wyoming who had decided to get away from the snow for a week and return to Morro Bay where he grew up.


Like me he had been a teacher at one time, had served many duties (as had I) and was now content to spend his time in the outdoors. We had a long discussion that included the fact that he had read an article I wrote about fishing the Morro Bay piers. We discussed PFIC, the book and website, UPSAC, and some of my stories. He discussed fishing in many areas including Alaska and what it was like living in Wyoming instead of California. He couldn’t believe the difference between the two states but said he would never again live in California with its crowds and high prices.


He even invited me to join him in Wyoming to enjoy some fishing in his state. He showed me some pictures of BIG trout that he and his son had caught while drifting down the rivers by his home. Sound like a plan!


Between the bloody finger exercise, the otters, and the interesting conversation, I had done a lousy job of fishing and only caught one fish, a mid-sized grass rockfish. Hard to believe but my attention had strayed from fishing. Luckily, the dark sunglasses I was wearing were helping the eyes.


The Great American Fish Company sits next to the pier.

Ken Jones

Staff member
I finally decided to head north. Just a short distance north of Morro Bay is Cayucos and its pier but my sights were set a little further north. Traffic was light as I passed the booming town of Harmony (population 18) and the town I used to want to retire to — Cambria. Twenty minutes more and I was at my first stop, San Simeon village, where I stopped to see how the action was on the San Simeon Pier. It turned out the fishing was slow and I didn't feel like further slow action. I took a few pictures, grabbed a soft drink at Sebastian's and headed north.




Sebastian's sits just down the road from the pier.


The old schoolhouse.


Hearst Castle sits across the road and up the hill from the pier.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Piedras Blancas is six miles north of San Simeon and Hearst Castle and much of the year you can see elephant seals. The big bulls are most in evidence in the winter months but this time of year still sees a lot of females and pups.


Sure enough, the elephant seals were in attendance —along with a lot of people taking pictures of the seals. I hiked the trail along the bluffs, took a lot of pictures, and just enjoyed the day.









It felt good to be out and I hated to leave the coast but I finally needed to head back to Fresno. I now retraced my route south, at least to the turnoff for Paso Robles, and then continued that 20 mile or so stretch to HY 101/HY 41 and the road home.

As far as the fishing trip, it was somewhat of a bummer. But, I had enjoyed the fine company at the get together for Mike Spence, enjoyed my stops along the coast seeing the otters and elephant seals, and enjoyed my limited amount of time fishing. Even a bloody finger and sore eyes couldn’t stop my enjoyment of getting into the great outdoors along that stretch of coast. I’ll be back and next time the fish better be ready.
Just saw your post saying you would be in Morro Bay on Sunday. Ooops, sorry I missed you. Really enjoyed your post. Appreciate all the work you put in with all the pictures - taking them is easy but processing and posting takes a lot of time and effort. Thank you for the Central Coast travelogue.

Ken Jones

Staff member
I actually didn’t even look at the rods. I told Cheryl I already have more rods than I need. Am hoping there wasn’t an UPSAC rod there. However, in her garage are three boxes of UPSAC rods/reels that we used at the Avila derbies. I couldn’t get them that day but we need to get them.

Red Fish

Senior Member
I actually didn’t even look at the rods. I told Cheryl I already have more rods than I need. Am hoping there wasn’t an UPSAC rod there. However, in her garage are three boxes of UPSAC rods/reels that we used at the Avila derbies. I couldn’t get them that day but we need to get them.
You can see an UPSAC rod in the photo on the left.

Ken Jones

Staff member
I don't see it but you could be right. But it doesn't really seem to matter at this point. If you fished with James you probably have one of his rods and now someone new can enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Red Fish

Senior Member
I don't see it but you could be right. But it doesn't really seem to matter at this point. If you fished with James you probably have one of his rods and now someone new can enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Well. I believe you told me you left your GDude/UPSAC edition when you pulled off like at Avila one time. There's your replacement in the photo. Gdude always said, 'fish the rods, don't let them collect dust!' Not a direct quote from James but the idea. I have caught some of my best catches with "that rod" once I started using it more often. Halbut, it hangs over the rail nicely in a rod holder at 10' and with the Spirex baitrunner on it, have on it, hooks halibut very nicely. It has been a great rod for salmon to just about 40#. Out of all the Shimano's/Phenix Hans has, I still see him use the GDude rods for general California pierfishing of stripers and Cali Hali. Throw lures pretty decently too including salmon spinners.
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