Newport Pier 9/20


Well-Known Member
Got there pretty close to opening around 5:10AM. We were able to get spots at the end of the pier but it was fairly crowded. All morning it was a pretty slow bite. Sporadic mackerel catches. I caught some smelt and we set my girlfriend up to fish a live smelt on a fish finder rig. The end of the pier today had a bad combination of crowded fishermen with enough inexperienced people fishing challenging rigs that tangles and even dangerous casting accidents were happening far too often. The guy next to me was nice enough but twice he smacked himself in the back or shoulder with a 3 ounce torpedo sinker miscasting a 8-10 hook sabiki. When one of those goes awry it is unsettling.

The mackerel were not biting on bigger tackle in the morning. I had no luck getting them to bite a size 14 Hayabusa 4 hook sabiki baited with mackerel. I down sized to a size 6 Hayabusa that I was using to catch smelt and started catching decent sized mackerel and a couple that were big enough to keep.

We retreated inshore as we only setup at the end to catch bonito and there were none in sight all morning.

I find the shortness of this pier and the shallowness of the water limiting when it comes to variety. Hard to avoid the mackerel at the end, hard to avoid smelt anywhere else. We finally downshifted to catching smelt for frying and stopped fishing when we had caught 20 smelt and the two mackerel we had kept from earlier. My sister also caught a small stingray fishing fresh cut mackerel on a fish finder rig.

By the time we were leaving around 1PM the mackerel were starting to run and the folks fishing the end of the pier were filling their buckets with mackerel and larger sized sardines. Still no bonito for anyone.

Interesting catches...the guy fishing just across from us around mid-pier caught two good sized mullet. From what I tell he was fishing a sabiki and he had buckets full other smelt and mackerel. Maybe the mullet got snagged?

Ken Jones

Staff member
Hate to see people fishing with longer than normal Sabikis (in fact I normally only use Sabikis for sardines). Saw a lady trying to cast a long, dozen or so hook bait rig leader at Redondo one day and she was threatening both herself and others. I sometimes think Sabikis have done as much damage as anything to our fisheries (although they've been around in one for or another for decades). Actually it's not the bait rigs it's people that over use them. There is a reason why they are called bait rigs, they are designed to catch bait. Instead people want to load up buckets of mackerel and you wonder how many are actually even used. I have no problem with people keeping them to eat or to use for bait but some of these people are out day after day catching big numbers of mackerel (when they are running).

Ken Jones

Staff member
A section on the Newport Pier and its fish from Pier Fishing In California, 3rd Ed. —

• The Fish

In looking over a decade of fish counts made at the pier by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, one fact stands out for the pier—the predominance of Pacific mackerel. It was the number one caught fish every year and no other species were even close. Most years see some good numbers of jacksmelt and topsmelt, some years see good counts of Pacific sardines, and warm-water years can see good counts of bonito, but all are far behind the counts for mackerel. A variety of other fish species rounds out the fish counts—various species of perch, several species of croaker, and a mix of other fish, everything from lizardfish and mullet to various sharays—sharks and rays.

The fact that it is near deep water probably explains the affinity of mackerel for the pier. It’s much the same as at Redondo Beach with its pier and deep-water submarine canyon; the two piers earn the twin sister (or brother) award for mackerel. When the mackerel are running, and that’s often, the end of the pier will be jammed late into the night with mackerel fisherman filling buckets with the mackerel. Blood will be splashed on the deck, railings will be covered with blood, guts and slime (so much for blood, sweat and tears), the water will be filled with glow lights peppering the surface, and whole families will be filling just about every square inch of space at the end section. Of course the number of people, and the mess, helps explain why the pier frequently receives criticism from visitors unused to the blood and guts.

As for myself, I have kept records of every fishing trip, and every fish caught, since 1962. My personal records for Newport show a 6.81 fish per hour average and 12.2 points per hour average (a figure that tries to account for quantity vs. quality). Both figures would place Newport at a mid-point range in comparison to other Orange County piers. In regard to fish per hour, Newport trails the piers at Huntington Beach, San Clemente and Seal Beach (with Balboa and the small pier in Dana Harbor ranking lower). As far as points per hour, Newport is third following San Clemente and Huntington Beach. All the other piers are lower. The bottom line: somewhat fewer fish per hour but slightly larger-sized fish than some of the other piers.

To a degree the figures reflects a pier where the availability of pelagic species—mackerel, bonito, jacksmelt and sardines, have a large affect on the number of fish caught and quality. It’s something seen at piers similarly located near deep-water, submarine canyons—Redondo Beach, Port Hueneme, Monterey Wharf #2 and nearby Balboa. All have a tendency to have a hot or cold nature dependent upon the pelagic species.

However, the pier’s story is much more than just the mackerel, or the unusual species that sometimes travel up from the depths of the deep-water canyon. The pier also sits just down the shoreline from the entrance to Newport Bay so inshore, bay dwelling forms will also be seen. Nevertheless, by and large, the species reflect the normal mix of SoCal pelagic species and more resident species like the perch, croakers, flatfish and sharays.

• Inshore

Inshore, from the surf area to about a quarter way out on the pier, one can expect to find some barred surfperch, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, and a few corbina. Nighttime hours might also see a few black croaker. Sharays are represented by round stingrays, thornback rays, gray smoothhound sharks, leopard sharks and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish).

A sometimes summertime visitor is mullet that will mull around the pier pilings teasing the anglers up above who are shocked by both their number and size (and often mistaking them for small yellowtail). Eventually the snaggers will get to work snagging the mullies that can be anywhere from the surf area out to mid-pier.

• Midpier

Just past the surf zone to midway out on the pier is the best area for the prized halibut while the mid-pier area itself seems the best for walleye and silver surfperch, pileperch, jacksmelt, topsmelt, Pacific butterfish, queenfish (herring), and white croaker (tomcod). A lot of sharks and rays are also taken in this shallower water area, especially thornback rays, bat rays and shovelnose guitarfish.

• End of pier

The far end is normally best for most of the top-feeding pelagic species—Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel (Spanish mackerel), Pacific sardines, and, some years, bonito (boneheads), and barracuda.

The end is also typically the best for a number of bottom dwellers—sculpin (scorpionfish), sanddabs (both longfin and Pacific), small rockfish, kelp bass and sand bass.

Ditto some large sharks and bat rays (generally at night).

Since the end has the deepest water, and is closest to the submarine canyon, it is also the spot where most of the deep-water species are seen. The far right corner is where I caught most of my hake and sablefish but today, with the pier closed midnight to 5 A.M., the number of deep-water fish (that sometimes travel up in the water zones at night) seems to have been reduced.

• Piling area

Most pilings are heavily encrusted with mussels and barnacles and climbing all over the mussels are a plethora of small species such as crabs and shrimp. Many species stay close to and feed on the creatures of the pilings. Often seen cruising the top water around the pilings, and seemingly almost impossible to hook are large pileperch. Unseen, down near the bottom are blackperch (buttermouth perch), rubberlip perch and an occasional rainbow seaperch; often these will be hanging a foot or so off the bottom. Sculpin, bass, and cabezon also like to hang around the bottoms of the pilings.

• Oddities & Unexpected fish

Unexpected fish, or at least fish uncommon to most southern California piers, are one of the attractions of this pier. The deep-water Newport Submarine Canyon begins (or ends depending upon your point of view) just a few hundred feet southwest of the end of the pier and within 600 feet the water is over 100 feet deep. As a result, fish such as Pacific hake, Pacific sanddab, and longfin sanddab are commonly caught; fish like sablefish are an occasional treat.

In April of '00 a spotted ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei) was reportedly caught at the pier, a fish which is common to inshore areas north of Washington but one which is typically found several hundred feet deep in southern California waters.

In May of ‘01 a triggerfish reported at nearly 10 pounds was added to the list of unusual fish while February of ’05 saw a California skate (Raja inornata) added to the mix after it grabbed a live queenfish.

So many yellow snake eels (Ophichthus zophochir) have been caught in the last decade that it seems to make their “rare” status in the fishery guidebooks out of date. An angler reported catching a “white eel” about three foot long in 2005. No one has a clue as to what eel species the report referred to. Another, more common eel was reported from the end section in 2005—a small foot and a half long moray eel.

In October 1962, I caught a basketweave cusk-eel (Ophidion scrippsae) at the pier, a feat I duplicated in a visit to the pier forty years later in December of 2002.

Given the close proximity to Newport Bay shallow water species also appear. One of the former is bonefish and two of the fish were reported in 2002. A sarcastic fringehead was reported the same year. Fish and Game catch surveys reported several interesting fish—zebra perch (2004), striped mullet (2004), and a sharpnose perch (2006). In the case of the sharpnose perch, it is the only one I’ve seen reported at a pier south of Monterey Bay.

An impressive catch in the summer of ‘99 was a 180-pound black (giant) sea bass. According to the PFIC post the Brobdingnagian (and today illegal) fish was hooked on a live smelt, battled the angler for two and a half hours before being landed, and then was released. (Only question I have is why a 180-pound fish would hit on a smelt bait? A mackerel or something equally big seems more appropriate.) In the earlier days of the pier such fish were a common catch and anglers targeted the big fish with appropriate heavy tackle. Most anglers hooking such a fish today would simply be spooled and left wonderin’— “what the heck was that?”

I have caught nearly 40 species of fish from this pier, everything from the shallow-water cusk-eels to the aforementioned deep-water sablefish and hake. I've even caught a fish that most guidebooks say doesn't exist in the area—a starry flounder. I caught the flounder on July 4, 1962, and it was the only fish I caught that day with the exception of a sculpin (California scorpionfish). Since no one seemed to know what the fish was, I saved it and consulted the various fishing books I had, as well as the reference books at my high school (Newport Harbor High School). All carried the descriptions and drawings that matched my fish but most said that the southern limit for the flounder was Santa Barbara. One lone book showed a “southern” starry flounder whose range was listed as south of Newport. To this day I believe that book was right and that I caught a starry flounder, or perhaps “southern” starry flounder.

My personal records, trips to the pier between 1962 and 2019, also show Pacific mackerel as the number one catch (with white croaker #2 and jacksmelt #3). However, it wasn't always the case. When I first fished the pier in the early '60s, mackerel were not as common as bonito. In fact, it wasn't until my 23rd trip to the pier (Sept. '62) that I caught a mackerel and then it was one lone mackerel. It wasn't until my 33rd trip (Oct '62) that I caught a sizeable number, 18, and it wasn't until the late '70s that the regular big catches of mackerel seemed commonplace. They still come and go and when they are there you should catch big numbers but when they are gone you will not catch them (and you may have the pier largely to yourself).


The pier has never been considered a good pier for bugs, aka spiny lobsters, but it does produce excellent numbers of a related crustacean—large, gnarly-looking spider crabs (sheep crabs).


Some years will also see visits to the pier by the cephalopod family, generally the smaller market squid (Loligo opalescens), but occasionally their larger deep-sea relatives, Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas). While visiting the pier one night in 1976, I saw a tremendous run of Humboldt squid taking place. The giant multi-tentacled creatures exceeded ten pounds in most cases and put up a surprisingly good fight. Unfortunately, I didn't have a squid jig, no one would sell me a jig, and the jigs were basically the only thing working on the squid. I still tried to catch one of the exotic animals by using conventional riggings, but my efforts produced 0 squid, not a one, nada, zilch.

However, for those anglers lucky enough to have the jigs it was an exciting, squidapalooza kind of night as they hauled in squirting ink sack after ink sack until their arms grew weary. The next morning fishermen were selling excess squid and trading for more desirable species of fish, while squid and ink from the squid seemed to carpet the pier.

Similar runs of Humboldt squid took place during the summers of 2002 and 2005, the spring of 2007, and the winter of 2010 (though more limited) resulting in (once again) frenzied crowds, sorrow for those without the coveted squid jigs, and more ink-covered railings and anglers. As mentioned, many runs of the smaller market squid have also taken place (including one in January 2007) although they rarely get much publicity. When you fish on the deep-water end of this pier you just never know what might latch on to your line.
Hate to see people fishing with longer than normal Sabikis ... people want to load up buckets of mackerel and you wonder how many are actually even used. I have no problem with people keeping them to eat or to use for bait but some of these people are out day after day catching big numbers of mackerel (when they are running).
On Balboa, In the last 5 years or so the small Bonito hit ion the sabikis like mackerel and they fill up buckets with tiny Bonito now catching up tp 6 or 7 at a time, saw it again this year. I try to shame them into knowing the 5-fish limit and what they are doing and sometimes, on rare occasions, they stop and leave. Maybe just to put fish in car and go to another pier, but what else can you do. Not enough Enforcement resources.
Fishing in the SF bay I rarely see adherence to the 3 hook rule. Many will just leave it at 6. The most egregious sabiki I've ever seen was something close to 20 or so hooks daisychained in an SF pier...