A trip to Santa Cruz — Day One

Ken Jones

Staff member
I had the opportunity to attend a fisheries conference at Santa Cruz this week (Tuesday through Thursday) and really enjoyed it. At the same time I figured I would stop at a few piers along the way up and back.

Monday, Sept. 17 — Headed up to Santa Cruz from Fresno.

(1) Seacliff Pier. In about three hours time I was at my first stop, the pier at Seacliff State Beach in Aptos. When I got there I noticed that the pier was virtually empty of anglers — which is always a bad sign. But, it is what it is. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been able to find any live bait, i.e., pile worms, and was forced to use some frozen bait I had brought from home (shrimp, mussel and squid). I didn’t expect to catch much and I achieved that expectation. The high/low, with a one-ounce torpedo sinker and size 6 hooks produced one small shiner perch, a fish that was soon transformed into live bait for a halibut. Unfortunately the halibut forgot to read the playbook — or perhaps he read the playbook on how not to be caught. That one small perch would be my lone fish at the pier but I still (mostly) enjoyed the visit. (A) As I arrived at the pier I noticed an angler at the end who seemed to have a fish on his rod but he wasn’t having much success getting it in. I walked over and it turned out he had a small bat ray on his line but had no clue on how he was going to get it up onto the pier. I carry a hoop net with me so lowered it down and netted the fish for him. I removed the hook and since he did not want the fish we put it back into the net and lowered it back to the water. It wasn’t my fish but I felt we had done a good deed.


(B) Although there were only four anglers on the pier, a number soon reduced to two, several people were on the pier. Humpback whales were seemingly all around the pier and would be seen just about every minute. People were pretty jazzed up about seeing the whales and some of the whales were pretty close to the pier. Given the slow fishing it provided some diversion for my time at the pier. (C) I had a nice long talk with a young couple from Austria who were interested in the whales but also the fishing and I soon gave them a mini-dissertation about pier fishing in California. Unfortunately the perch I had caught, and that now was being used for live bait, did not provide the hoped for halibut so it was all talk with little action. Some days are like that.


(D) What wasn’t good was the pier itself. The winter storm of 2016 has turned the cement ship on its side and in so doing also damaged part of the pilings. As a result, the small pier has been reduced into an even smaller pier. The last third or so of the pier is now blocked off and the pier and cement ship are covered with birds. An interesting sight but not an interesting odor. To make it even worse, there were a couple million or so kelp flies that provided an even worse environment (unless you like flies).




Between the flies, foul smell, and poor fishing there was a lot not to like. Thank God for the whales and tourists with all the questions — I never have a problem answering their questions. But one hour was enough and I decided to move on to Capitola. (E) On the way out I ran into a local who said the state says the pier needs to be fixed but doesn’t know where they are going to get the money to fix it. Ahh! A few minutes later while listening to the radio I hear Governor Brown announce that the state will build and launch its own satellite into space. Evidently there is enough money for space ventures but not enough money to fix existing infrastructure such as the pier at Seacliff (or the pier at Gaviota).

(2) Capitola Wharf. It’s only a short ten-minute or so drive from Aptos to Capitola but Capitola’s a totally different environment and has a far different feel than the beach at Seacliff. Luckily there were some parking spaces up the hill from the pier and I was soon headed down to the pier. Once again the fishing was slow. The usual high/low with a one-ounce torpedo sinker and size 6 hooks produced a few fish— 4 white croaker, 4 shiner perch, 4 staghorn sculpin, 1 white seaperch and 1 walleye surfperch. I had hoped to Sabiki up some live anchovies but they were too far out from the pier I did rig up the second rod for halibut but a live shiner failed to catch a halibut. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my visit. The weather was good and I was able to answer some questions from both tourists and a nearby angler who apparently was a newbie. He caught a small spider (sheep) crab but had no idea what to do with it. I showed him where the meat was on spider crabs (or lack of meat on the fairly small crab) and eventually he released it to grow and be caught again some day. I also showed him how to rig up for some fish and though the fish that day were small he still managed a few fish, which he hadn’t done until our talk. After an hour and a half I moved on to Santa Cruz.



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Ken Jones

Staff member
Day One continued —

(3) I always enjoy Santa Cruz and hoped for a few hours fishing time but received an email from the conference that said they hoped people would arrive somewhat early and enjoy a drink or two while getting to know the group. Since I also needed dinner, I gave myself an hour for fishing and an hour for dinner and check-in at the hotel. I decided to drop my lighter rig down into the “wells” at the end and was rewarded with a few fish but nothing worth keeping—5 small blue rockfish, 1 walleye surfperch and 1 white seaperch.


However, when I went to Stagnaro’s restaurant for dinner I was pleased to find they have a Monday night special—cioppino for only $12.50. That’s a great price and it was excellent cioppino— fish, clams, mussels, crab and more. After dinner I headed over to Hotel Paradox where we had our rooms and meetings.

I checked in, made it to my room, tried to make sure I didn’t smell like fish, and headed down for a drink. I did have that drink, did get a chance to meet some new people, but still left early in order to get a good night’s sleep. I had only fished a few hours during the day but enjoyed visiting three piers, made note of changes, and had a chance to at least talk a bit about fishing. All in all a good day.

Next up, a short report on the conference itself.

Red Fish

Senior Member
Thanks for the report Ken. I have not been to Capitola or Santa Cruz all last season and this season. Sea Cliff, I have only been one time and really didn’t like it.

Capitola is my favorite of the three although I have yet to get a halibut, striper, or possible WSB. I have only seen a striped bass caught there once in the less than a hand full of times I visit there in a year’s time.

In the past I have enjoyed the times sabiki fishing for mackerel and sardines when they were in. I have even cast netted bait there.
My only return off the live bait has been bat rays off the end right side.

Perhaps one day I may catch a halibut closer to the Surfline as that seems to be effective area at some beach piers. Maybe even a striper at the right time of year.
I can see the possibility of a thresher maybe during the mackerel runs there (as I think I say in your book).

Sometimes, you can leave with a limit of bullheads that are good for bay fisherman for striper.

Ken Jones

Staff member
It was pretty slow ther day I was there although one of the workers at the boat rental pulled in a small halibut using a live sardine (although I'm not sure where he got the sardine). There were anchovies in the area but they were far out from the pier. The bait shop said they've been pulling in an occasional halibut and occasional striped bass but apparently no mackerel have been seen for a while.

As for Seacliff, I'm going to have to revise that article. It doesn't seem to offer much now although a local I talked to said there was a run of striped bass a month or so ago.