Ed, Michael Jackson, Bonito, Great Whites, a rat, and the Oceanside Pier and Bait Shop

Ken Jones

Staff member
This is a recent article I wrote for Fish Taco Chronicles —

Ed and the Oceanside Pier Bait Shop

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Michael Jackson was a star at the pier, a unique star, but still a star. Michael showed up one day in the winter of 2018 as an injured bird. Bird? Yes, Michael, you see, was a pelican. He showed up at the pier with a torn pouch (it can be tough dive bombing from a high altitude, sometimes as high as 40 feet or so, into the sea in pursuit of fish—as pelicans are known to do). The bird, obviously injured, and looking awful thin, landed next to the bait shop, and then, when people were busy, strolled right into the shop.

Ed Gonsalves, the owner of the shop, ushered him out but worried about the bird so he called a number of different animal agencies for help and advice. Unfortunately, no one offered much help and advice differed. Ed fretted. Ed decided he could at least try to feed the starving bird and he managed to get a few anchovies down his throat.

Birds of course learn fast—and know a sucker when they see one. The bird kept showing up, kept walking into the shop, and grabbing bait whenever available. At that time there was a shortage of anchovies and they were expensive so Ed put out the word that some small fish to feed the pelican would be appreciated. The regulars responded with more than enough fish to feed the bird until it was healthy and the feeding stopped.

Since the bird liked to bob and weave, and dance around the bait shop, he finally acquired a name—Michael Jackson, and became a star at the pier.

Every day Michael would be sitting atop the railing by the bait shop and every day the tourists would go ooh and awe and want pictures with Michael. Ed’s main problem was making sure the people didn’t get too close to Michael since innocent looking pelicans, even Michael, can be known to peck a person with their bill. But some people are knuckleheads and think a selfie while huddled up against a pelican would make a great picture.


Michael Jackson and his female attracting toes

Ed didn’t mind the fun. He was trying to help Michael while giving the tourists memories to take home. Ed though may have gone a little too far when he decided to paint Michael’s toenails pink. Michael didn’t seem to mind and tourists loved it. Ed would tell them that it was pelican breeding season and he wanted to give Michael an edge up when Michael was out there seeking a little female companionship. One day one of the regulars brought down some glitter but to date it’s still sitting on the shelf.

The story reflects life at what has long been one of the best and busiest pier bait and tackle shops along the entire coast. The shop is open from early morning to past midnight (before the pandemic) and the crowds at night often exceeded those during the day. The shop is efficient, Ed knows what the anglers need and tourists want, and he works long hours to provide the service and merchandise.

One morning on a visit I watched a big rat as it zig-zaged up the pier and then stopped. It eyed two young, bikini-clad Madonnas, and then headed straight toward them. Slightly before its arrival, one of the girls looked down, screamed and pointed at the attacking rat. Her screams attracted even more attention from the tourists on the pier. The rat quickly turned around and scurried back to the bait shop where it entered its box. Ed put the controls down and acted as though nothing had ever happened. The locals sitting in their chairs by the shop had watched the entire incident and politely, for Ed’s sake, tried to stifle their laughs. The regulars had seen the rat before.

And then there’s that huge jar of dill pickles on the counter of the bait shop. Whenever Ed saw someone eyeing the pickles he would toggle the switch and a yodeling pickle would yodel its lungs off. But it’s not all fun and games, it’s hard work. Ed always said if you are going to work long, hard hours why not have a little fun along the way.

Unfortunately his days at the pier are numbered; he’s retiring and going to spend some time touring the country. It’s hoped that the new owner will continue the efficient operation at the pier—and maybe some of the fun.

I call the piers for a monthly pier report on my Pier Fishing In California web site and I remember the first report from Ed way back in October 2008. “Action inshore on perch and croakers is slow while anglers at the end are taking 12-13-inch mini-bonito on splashers while those fishing the bottom are landing a few sheephead. As for the lobster opener, the pier saw a lot of hoopsters but very few legal-size lobsters.” The report was only the first of over a hundred that he would give me in the intervening 12 years.

One thing that always impressed me was his devotion to improving the ethical angling on the pier whether it is for everyday fish or the illegal, protected species like giant sea bass and white sharks that would show up from time to time. There was never a doubt as to his commitment to improving the environment of the pier.

There was though obvious frustration when dealing with the state and city on many issues. He would report illegal activities taking place to the Department of Fish & Wildlife, sometimes repeatedly making a report, but rarely did he see wardens until it was too late.

He would complain that surfers were surfing in unsafe spots by anglers lines or fighting with anglers (to no avail) or that various fixes needed to be made it to the pier but the city’s responses were generally tepid at best.

We had many long discussions on those attempts to improve the environment for anglers, the fish, and the overall pier.

We also put together a couple of BIG kid’s fishing derbies at the pier where Ed, together with UPSAC, United Pier and Shore Anglers of California (where I was president), and the IGFA (International Game Fish Association) provided gear, meals and prizes to hundred of kids. Unfortunately the derbies outgrew the city’s facilities and we had to stop them after a few years. But, we tried.

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Ed and Pam at the 2010 Kids Fishing Derby

One thing Ed bugged me about for several months was some sort of handout to give to the anglers that showed the various species. He would continually see shorts being caught (especially small, under-sized kelp bass) and kept and continually told the people not to do it but many simply ignored his advice. Calls to the DF&W went unheeded. Finally he produced such a handout and gave it to all the local and as many newbies as possible.

A couple of recent incidents have proved to me that his efforts to achieve ethical angling at the pier have worked—at least for many. When I heard he was leaving I made a trip to the pier in early July 2020 after the pier reopened. Naturally I went fishing one morning and I found the end of the pier crowded with anglers’ once again catching mini-bonito. I always cringe when I see this because the small boneheads are too easy too catch and only five are allowed under 24 inches. It’s a rule I’ve seen broken far too many times. However, and somewhat to my amazement, I began to wonder if people were actually following the rule when I saw many bonito being returned to the water (there was a bonito and mackerel bite). I mentioned the rule to an adjacent angler who said “oh yes, only five under 24-inches.” When I left I thought it was perhaps the first time in all my years that I had seen anglers religiously following that rule—and I am sure it is mainly due to Ed.

A second incident came via a report of a great white being released at the end of the pier. Bill, one of the workers at the bait shop explained that the anglers work as a team. One will one climb down the ladder to the fish—mainly giant (black) sea bass or great white sharks. There they try to remove the hook or at least cut the leader near the mouth of the fish and then let it go before climbing back up the ladder. He said they even did that with a hammerhead shark hooked a couple of years ago. Once again it’s not something you see at every pier and I think it’s due to Ed’s leadership on the issue.

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The shop is always busy, day and night

In summary, it will be hard to see Ed leave. A great bait and tackle shop (even if small), a place that brings warmth and fun to the pier, and an owner who has made a difference to the anglers and angling on the pier.

Ed said he has saved two copies of my Pier Fishing In California book, one for the new owner and one for himself. He plans to travel up the coast using my book as a travel guide to visit all those piers he has always read about but never visited. I said I hope to see him along the way.