A Trip to the Southland and Eleven Piers

Ken Jones

Staff member
Another Trip South — Last week I headed down to San Diego to begin the YouTube experiment — and to do some pier fishing!

Day One, Thursday, saw me traveling the old familiar route from Fresno down Hwy 99 (Golden State Highway) to just north of Wheeler Ridge where the Hwy 99 meets I-5. Up the Grapevine, then past Fort Tejon, and eventually Pyramid Lake before dropping down into Castiac and the (somewhat) start of the journey through Los Angeles and what seems like a billion and one cars. For once it was pretty smooth sailing through LA and Orange County.

I stopped at Hogan’s Bait and Tackle in Dana Point (34320 Pacific Coast Highway) for some lugworms and salted anchovies before heading down to Oceanside. There was a lot of talk with customers about the oil spill, specifically that all the people who had set out their lobster traps were supposed to bring them in unless they were south of Dana Point. Fishing in the harbor was somehow still open in a couple of spots but the small pier was closed. I asked if the San Clemente Pier was still open and they said so far.

Next up was Oceanside. There I made a short visit to the Small Craft Harbor to view its small and now closed (for reconstruction) pier. An ironic sign about fishing sits by the pier. Next up was a quick visit to Pappy’s Liquor (601 N. Cleveland) to see if they had some bloodworms but they were out.


The Oceanside Harbor Pier


A somewhat ironic sign given the closure.


I needed to make one final stop before San Diego. In Carlsbad, I shared some fish talk over a cup of coffee with friend and Oceanside Pier reporter Bill Litchfield, and then visited with my son for a while before heading on down to San Diego. I still had a few hours of sunlight and could have gone fishing but instead simply checked into my motel.

Day Two, Friday, saw me visit a few piers.

Shelter Island Pier — The day was a little damp and drizzly at times which probably accounted for the fairly small crowd at the pier. I started out by walking around the pier checking out the buckets and asking how the fishing was. Given my pier cart, which I think lends a certain amount of credibility as far as knowledge; I was able to talk angler to angler. I mentioned the web site to several people and hopefully made several new friends and PFIC viewers.


Shelter Island and a mackerel fisherman

Two little old (not old) ladies were special. They weren’t having much luck so I offered up a couple of subtle suggestions and mentioned PFIC. One said "you know a lot about fishing" and I said, "well, I am old and have a lot of experience." She says “KEN, you’re not old, we are all just rejuvenated teenagers.” We laughed a lot and had a good time.
Another group was two families from Utah who were teaching three youngsters how to fish. The kids held the rods while the adults offered encouragement. Nice talks with them and they left as newly appointed pier rats.


I finally decided to fish! Most people were fishing for mackerel and most were fishing cut strips of squid with a single hook under a float or using Sabikis. But, the action was slow, just a mackerel now and then and I didn’t want mackerel.
I started off fishing a high/low baited with lug worms by the float at the right end of the pier. Forty minutes of fishing produced ten kelp bass, none of legal size (although there have to be some bigger ones there). Given that the tide was high, I then moved inshore and used the same light tackle rig to fish by the rocks. In an hour and twenty minutes I managed three mid-size opaleye and two little and still unidentified sculpin (waiting for an ID from Milton Love at the UCSB Love Lab). I also set up the medium rod mid-pier where the eelgrass beds are located (usually a good area for some sargo, bass and other species) but did not receive a single bite.

Result: 2 hours fishing —
10 Kelp Bass
3 Opaleye
2 Unidentified Sculpin

The next destination was the Ferry Landing Pier in Coronado. Along the way I made a quick stop at Squidco (3518 Barnett Ave.) where I picked up some bloodworms, ghost shrimp, and squid, and then headed to Coronado.

Ferry Landing Pier, Coronado — The sun had finally made a welcomed appearance but I would find an almost empty pier and a strong outgoing current that would make fishing a little tough.
However, even before I was able to set up my rods, I noticed an angler was fighting a fish at the end of the small pier. I walked over and watched it being netted and it was an uncommon Banded Guitarfish, a species I have never caught. I talked with the angler, Cody Goodwin for a few minutes and it turned he had caught it using a live smelt for bait. He was a semi-regular angler at the pier (once a regular but now living inland). He told me stories of many fish at the pier and shared a picture of a six-foot-long, 72-pound soupfin shark he had caught two weeks previously at the pier.


Banded Guitarfish caught by Cody Goodwin


I finally started to fish and first tried under and around the floating landing using bloodworms and the high/low. Kelp bass are often found under the landing and a cast that drops your bait right at the edge can produce bass. Not this time, no bites and a current going right to left (outgoing) that made it very hard to hold the bottom near the landing using my light tackle. After absolutely zero luck, not even a nibble, I decided to try the ghost shrimp, one rod fishing the waters inshore of the pier and the other casting out from the pier. Again the action was very slow so I tried some cut mackerel and cut squid. After only a few fish, I decided to make it a short visit.

Results: 1.75 Hours fishing
2 Round Stingray (almost every trip to this pier sees round stingrays, in fact an average of 1.08 round stingrays per trip).
1 Pacific Mackerel

I decided on one more visit, to the Embarcadero Marina Pier.

Embarcadero Marina Pier — The pier was fairly deserted when I arrived (about eight people), typically a bad sign, and I would find the same strong current I had seen at the Ferry Landing Pier. Considering that the piers site almost exactly opposite each other, the Ferry Landing on the west side of the bay, and the Embarcadero pier sits on the east side, the current could have been predicted.
Nevertheless, I set up shop with two rods, both using high/lows with a variety of baits—worms, ghost shrimp, salted anchovies, and squid. Again the fishing was very slow, only two fish, although that was two more than the other anglers on the pier combined.
The main entertainment wasn’t the fishing but the technicians setting up for a concert at the adjacent and really beautiful “Randy Shell” that sits next to the Embarcadero Marina Park South. A gorgeous place for outdoor concerts and home to the San Diego Symphony, and a concert was happening that night. Next to the parking lot a hoard of workers were waiting for people to show up while technicians kept doing sound checks on various speakers (I guess). I did not want to stay for the crowd that would be showing up but I was thinking how cool to be fishing while listening to an adjacent concert just next door to the pier. Similar to what they used to have at the Burton Chace Park Pier in Marina Del Rey but on a much larger and much nicer scale.

Results: 2.00 Hours fishing
1 Kelp Bass
1 Pacific Mackerel

Day Three, Saturday, would see my webmaster, Rich Reano, and myself meeting up at the Shelter Island pier for our first attempt at making a YouTube video. We would film several things: Me talking about myself and PFIC, looking inside my pier cart (what’s in the bait cooler, the tackle box, and my misc. box), the environment and fishing zones of the Shelter Island Pier, the fish at the pier, and simply talking to anglers. Rich had an afternoon appointment so by the time we were done talking about those things we decided to call it a day and have some brunch.
Rich and I had some really good food at the pier’s “Fathom Bistro and discussed the next day’s filming. Rich would head off to his appointment while I decided to give the Ocean Beach Pier a visit before meeting up with my son for dinner.

Ocean Beach Pier — What the heck? Little did I know that Ocean Beach was having an Oktoberfest Festival and that thousands would be crowded into the area meaning that parking was basically a nightmare. I wound up paying mucho bucks at a private lot—que será, será (whatever will be, will be).
The pier is the longest concrete pier in America and though not crowded still had about 80 people on the pier when I arrived. What the anglers didn’t have, as far as I could see, was a single fish. Not a single fish and NOT a good sign.
After taking pictures of the end section, which is closed off, (and no one knows if or when reconstruction will take place), I set up just to the right of the restrooms. Up above were a couple of pelicans keeping notice of the action.
The funny things about the pelicans was the reaction to the birds by a group of volleyball players from Portland State that were in town for games against the University of San Diego. Two of the ladies, I imagine around 20 years of age, were absolutely petrified by the birds. They kept saying the birds were watching them and they refused to come near the restrooms because they were afraid the birds would attack them. Adults afraid of pelicans? Had they never seen pelicans in Oregon? I assured them they were safe but to no avail.


The end section (one of the best areas to fish) is closed



Da Birds

I too was fishless at the pier for a while. Different baits, high/low and Carolina riggings, and casts to different areas. Finally, while slowly reeling in my lighter rig (a slow retrieve often attracts fish), I had a couple of nibbles. I had small, size 6 hooks on that rig so baited it up with bloodworms and dropped it about six feet under the surface. The first fish was a small topsmelt followed by two grunion and then a large jacksmelt. However, dropping it a few feet further down would soon produce a white seaperch and eventually two good-sized jack mackerel (Spanish mackerel). Nothing to write home about, or to keep, but at least something was down in that dark-looking water. But the fish did not warrant a long visit. Surprisingly, while checking buckets on leaving the pier, I again did not see a single fish. Things were just really dead.

Results: 2.00 Hours fishing
2 Jack mackerel
2 California Grunion
2 Topsmelt
1 Jacksmelt
1 White Seaperch

Continued below — Why consecutive posts/replies? Because a post can only have ten pictures so the post is broken up into several smaller posts.
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Ken Jones

Staff member
Day Four, Sunday, would see me meeting up with Rich at the Imperial Beach Pier. The format with the video was a little different and mainly focused on the pier itself along with a recap of fishing zones and fish to be caught in each. We also discussed the problems at the pier: (1) the harbor district's willingness to close off the inner section of the pier at various times due to surfers, (2) the district’s agreement to let the restaurant at the end close off the end section of the pier to anglers, and (3) the occasional closure of local waters due to sewage runoff in the Tijuana River that sits just down the shore from the pier.

We took our time and talked to and filmed many anglers who, when we arrived, were catching sardines and smelt. I really didn’t want either, and don’t like using a Sabiki, but we thought eventually we needed film of me fishing. So a Sabiki was affixed to my line. Unfortunately by the time I decided to fish almost all the sardine anglers had left, as apparently had all the sardines. A smelt was caught and I decided that was enough fishing for the day (nothing like filming an angler fishing but not catching fish).

Results: 30 Minutes fishing
1 Topsmelt

We called it as day and walked across the street from the pier to the Brigantine Seafood Restaurant where brunch was being serve d and I had the best breakfast I have had in ages—coconut-macadamia crusted French toast, two eggs, and six big and perfectly cooked pieces of bacon. I was a little surprised how good the service and food was considering it’s a chain restaurant (and I will be back).

Rich had to go, and would be editing the film at home, but my day wasn’t over. I wanted to visit two more south bay piers, two that rarely see good fishing (at least the last few trips) but still warrant visits.

Bayside Park Pier/Chula Vista — This pier has a great little park area and nice views of the bay but fishing is generally a little slow. It was the same this day, probably one reason why only two other anglers were fishing (and they managed one mackerel).


Bayside Park Pier — Chula Vista

Here I again tried a variety of baits—ghost shrimp, worms, and salted anchovies but the only one that produced a fish was bloodworms. The worms produced one lone black croaker. It was a beautiful day to just relax but a group of teenagers were sitting a short distance away and the music that was blaring was perhaps the most profane I have ever heard. The so-called singer was telling what he was going to do to a girl and what she was going to do to him in graphic detail and about the foulest-mouthed language possible. The boys were laughing while the adult sitting with them didn't seem to even pay attention. I may be old fashioned, and yes I know adults were unhappy with the music played by my generation, but I don't see how it could get much worse.


Black Croaker

Results: One hour fishing
1 Black Croaker

Next up would be the “Pep” Pepper pier in National City, just a few miles north on I-5.

“Pep” Pepper Pier — Another nice park and one that was crowded with large families having parties. The pier itself had a half dozen anglers with Sabikis and I saw two mackerel that had been caught but I wanted something on the bottom. Unfortunately, a variety of baits produced exactly zero bites and no fish. I did have some nice conversations with the angler on the pier and hopefully convinced a few to visit PFIC. For some reason I didn't take any pictures.

Results: One hour fishing
0 Fish

My three days in San Diego were now at an end. We had filmed at two piers and I had fished at seven piers. Though the fishing was very slow it was my first opportunity to fish in several months due to my shoulder and it was really good to get out and see that I could still fish (with only moderate pain).

Day Five would prove a dud. I had planned to leave San Diego very early and fish the San Clemente Pier before heading to a business appointment in Newport Beach where I would be staying the night. However, in checking the news, I found out they had extended the ban on fishing due to the oil spill. The ban now extended further south, down to San Clemente, and the pier was now closed. I would be close to four piers—San Clemente, Dana Harbor, Newport and Balboa and all would be closed. Sometimes life is bitching; sometimes it’s a bitch.

I would stop and have a nice visit with my son in Carlsbad and then have a beautiful drive along the Pacific Coast Highway between Dana Point and Newport Beach. The drive, passing through Laguna Beach, by Crystal Cove State Park, and through Corona Del Mar is always a beautiful drive so it was good for the soul even if the fishing was missing. As I neared the bay in Newport Beach, I looked up and saw the shiny white tower on the hill above the bay, the white tower of Newport Harbor High School that I attended for one year.



In Newport Beach I would have a business lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, the Crab Cooker, just across the street from the Newport Pier. I’ve eaten there for over 50 years and was missing it recently since it was closed for over a year for a total rebuild. It’s now open and as good as ever (although the prices have gone way up).


The Crab Cooker Restaurant


I then visited a couple of the local beaches, including the one by the Newport Pier. Every beach seemed to have a plethora of people dressed in green, yellow and orange vests picking up oil.



I retired early to my motel, took a drive by my old high school, and did a little writing.

Continued below —


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Ken Jones

Staff member
Day Six would see a visit to a new pier (for me), Pier J in Long Beach, and a visit to a pier I have boycotted the last few years, the Manhattan Beach Pier.

Pier J — Long Beach — The tiny pier was supposed to open at the start of the year and I made two visits early in the year only to find orange tape across the front of the pier. This time it was open.
The weather was great, just a very slight breeze, the sun was out, and the water looked amazingly clean for the area. The rocks looked very fishy, some kelp was growing by the pier, and I was pretty sure I would catch some fish, i.e., perch, sargo, croaker, etc.



The pier is found just a short distance downshore from the Queen Mary Hotel (see the red smokestacks) and the Long Beach Cruise Terminal, the white, egg-shaped building that once housed Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose" airplane. It is now the home for the Carnival Cruise ships.


There are no pilings, the pier just extends out from the shoreline.



I did catch some fish but none by the rocks or kelp, all were caught by casting out from the pier, as far as I could cast with my shoulder. None of the main fish were big although they were good-sized for the species—white croaker (aka tomcod or kingfish) and queenfish (aka as herring). Two smaller species also entered the mix, a kelp rockfish and a lizardfish (first I had seen in several years). All fish were caught on high/lows with two croaker and the rockfish hitting on worms while the rest were caught on either strips of squid or pieces of the salted anchovies. The ghost shrimp produced nothing nor did cut strips of mackerel. The key seemed to be a cast followed by a very slow retrieve; almost all of the fish hit on a retrieve. I had the small pier to myself while down the rocky shoreline about a half dozen anglers were fishing. A pleasant visit and now I have to write an article for a new pier.


White Croaker




Kelp Rockfish

Results: Three hours fishing
11 White Croaker
1 Queenfish
1 Kelp Rockfish
1 California Lizardfish

Continued below —

Ken Jones

Staff member
I was staying in Manhattan Beach so headed there next. After checking into my motel I headed to the pier.

Manhattan Beach Pier — Unfortunately the beautiful morning conditions had been replaced by a strong, cold wind and a tide and current that were rough. In addition, there just weren’t many bites or fish. I first tried the area where the end section begins and where many times I have found fish under the pier by the pilings. Not this time. I then moved out a little further but the waves were breaking at the corner. I finally moved out to the end where it was very windy but at least I found a few fish—queenfish and jack mackerel. Although bundled in my coat, I was cold and my shoulder was hurting so I made a fairly short visit.


Manhattan Beach Pier sign — dumb in regard to several mandates





Results: 1.75 hours fishing
2 Queenfish
1 Jack Mackerel

Next up was a return to my motel and a long, hot shower. I would meet up with Mahigeer/Hashem and his wife at “Old Tony’s On The Pier” for dinner. It, of course, is on the pier, in this case the Redondo Beach Pier. Both Mahigeer and myself would have the delicious cioppino that contained lots of pieces of fish, mussels, clams, shrimp and crab. It’s one of the few restaurants (in my opinion) where the cioppino matches that of Stagnaro’s on the Santa Cruz Wharf. It is yet one more restaurant that’s on my list of good “on or close to pier” restaurants. We would all leave stuffed to the gills.

The final day, Day Seven, would see a morning visit to the Redondo Beach Pier. Although arriving at seven I would find the end corner already occupied by the usual mackerel fishermen, all with big rods and Sabikis with anywhere from 6-10 hooks (it’s a tradition).


It was a beautiful morning with little wind and little current and I decided no matter the fishing it was to be a great day. I didn’t want mackerel and didn’t want to be casting a Sabiki with my shoulder, so I set up on the old Monstad section of the pier, the one that still has a nod to history with its rough wooden planks and benches. I’ve caught some nice fish in this area but not this day. Once again I tried a variety of baits, the last of my ghost shrimp and worms, pieces of salted anchovy and cut mackerel, and strips of squid. Nothing really was biting although a couple of sanddab hit on slowly retrieved worms.

I noticed, somewhat surprisingly, that the mackerel fishermen were not catching mackerel and seemingly doing more talking than fishing. Then a guy with ten hooks pulled in a plethora of small bonito. I wanted to see if he was following the rules so walked over and said, "wow, you got your limit of bonito in one cast." He sheepishly replied, "yes, but on ten hooks" and seemed to stop fishing. [The limit for bonito is ten but only five can be under 24 inches.] Soon after another angler duplicated the feat. It was not steady action but every few minutes an angler would pull in a few bonito. I continued to watch and it seemed the anglers were following the rules although some continued fishing hoping for mackerel; they released the over the limit bonito (but it's hard to say how many survived).


I finally decided I should join in the action and put a Sabiki with green colored feathers (supposedly the best for mackerel) on my line. I walked out to the end and cast out but didn’t have a hit. The same on a second cast and then, on the third cast, they hit, five bonito, and I pulled in my limit. I normally do not keep small bonito but had use of these so hauled them to my cooler before the pelican that was eying all the fish could grab one. If the mackerel were biting I might have continued with the Sabiki (since they make great bait) but all anyone was getting was bonito and I already had my limit. So back to fishing the bottom with no further bites.

I did almost see a fight. A strange looking guy walked by and started yelling at the anglers to quit taking the small bonito. They're too small, you'll kill the population taking the small ones, you're breaking the rules, etc. He finally said to one angler who was probably in his late '20s, "why aren't you somewhere working instead of out here fishing?" That prompted a heated response that could have escalated but cooler heads stepped in and urged the guy to leave. I too have doubts about keeping the small bonito but it's legal. Apparently the Fish and Wildlife Department feels the population is sufficient for such a policy or they would change it (and the factors that go into the mix are complex).

A final note. On the way out I talked to some regulars sitting at the far left end of the Monstad section of the pier. They were fishing for halibut using live smelt as bait. One guy had caught a 25-inch halibut that morning while the day before another had caught a 28-inch halbut. Apparently four keepers in the previous three days for the three guys. The crowd was out at the end but these guys were catching the better fish.

Results: 2.50 hours fishing
5 Pacific Bonito
2 Speckled Sanddab

Meanwhile, I was taking some pictures of the birds on the roof above the coffee shop and a photographer who visits the pier daily (we exchanged cards) was taking a picture of me taking a picture.


Taking a picture of the birds up on the roof of the coffee shop



My visit would be fairly short but by the time I loaded up my car and headed back to Fresno I was satisfied. I had proven I could fish with the shoulder and still catch a few fish even when the overall fishing on the piers was very slow. Such is life, they’re not always biting! I would have a smooth ride back except for a couple of stretches of slow traffic in LA but I’ve made enough trips to and through LA to know what to expect. I was back in Fresno by mid-afternoon and began cleaning the equipment and putting everything in its proper place.

I am going to have the shoulder operation done after the first of the year and hoping that perhaps I can get in another couple of trips before the operation since I will be unable to fish for several months after the operation. We’ll see, perhaps another visit to the southland, perhaps to Catalina to shoot some YouTube video?
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Ken Jones

Staff member
As for the YouTube videos, Rich is editing what we shot and hopefully they will make some sense. We'll post them asap.

Ken Jones

Staff member
I was glad to see the Crab Cooker back in business and the food was good as always but they have raised their prices substantially, perhaps due to the rebuild, perhaps simply due to today's inflation.


Well-Known Member
Awesome report Ken as always! Nice to see that you were able to get some fishing in given the obstacles that were created by the oil spill! Glad to get a chance to see you while you were down!

Ken Jones

Staff member
You're right about seafood being one of the more expensive items at restaurants. However, the Crab Cooker always prided itself on serving good seafood at prices typically below most seafood restaurants. That may still be true but as said the prices have gone up substantially. I will certainly still go there but people shouldn't expect a "cheap" meal.