Short Trip To Monterey Bay

Ken Jones

Staff member
What had been envisioned as a short trip to the bay with my grandson turned into a solo journey last Friday and Saturday in hopes of some decent fishing (and fish). I was largely disappointed but did manage a few fish.

Friday I headed out in the morning from Fresno with the first stop planned to be at the Santa Cruz Wharf where reports said the “mackerel” were running. I was looking forward to the cooler clime along the coast since Fresno was projected to be around 107 degrees.

I headed up HY 99, took the left turn to Los Banos, stopped for a breakfast sandwich, and then headed out again. In a short time I made a quick stop at the Main Street Market in Santa Nella to pick up some pile worms (great quality worms but very expensive) and then headed on to Santa Cruz via Gilroy and the Watsonville turnoff.

I got to Santa Cruz but was surprised that the car's thermometer was reading 90 degrees for outside. Sure enough, it was hot on the wharf with the sun blazing down and being reflected off the water. Even worse, Tina at the Santa Cruz Boat Rental (on the wharf) said that unfortunately the mackerel run had stopped and the halibut bite had slowed down. But anchovies were available. I hadn’t traveled to Santa Cruz for anchovies!

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As it turned out the usual small species were available but little else. Fishing in the wells out by the end did produce a number of white seaperch (which sort of saved the visit) and a number of small, juvenile rockfish including some blues (common) and a reddish species that I thought was probably a juvenile vermilion (but I wasn’t sure).

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White Seaperch

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Young vermilion or sunset rockfish
Casting out from the pier with a variety of baits (but mainly worms) produced nothing but the Santa Cruz incidentals—speckled sanddab, staghorn sculpin, shinerperch, etc. Live bait on the bottom for halibut produced nothing, didn’t even get a bite on it. I finally gave up, had a bowl of chowder at Stagnaro’s and headed out to the next pier. And did I mention how hot it was? Not as bad as Fresno but still hot.

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Santa Cruz Wharf — 12:00-2:30 p.m.
11 Speckled Sanddab
6 White Seaperch
3 Shinerperch
3 Northern Anchovy
2 Blue Rockfish
2 Rockfish (either vermilion or sunset rockfish according to Milton Love at UCSB).
2 Staghorn Sculpin
All fish caught on a high /low with no. 6 hooks and a one-ounce torpedo sinker.
All fish released.

Ken Jones

Staff member
The next stop was the Capitola Wharf although I didn’t think for a while I would be fishing. The traffic was bad, creeping along, and I didn’t think I would be able to get a parking spot on the road up above the pier—but I did.


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Once again the catch was rather pathetic although fish were present and once again the perch saved the day. I was fishing out at the end with the same rigging and mainly using pileworms for bait (although I tried mussels, cut mackerel and even some sardines from my recent LA trip). Casting out produced nothing but bullheads and shinerperch. Fishing under the pier produced some nice-sized walleye surfperch, a lone white seaperch and two mid-sized brown rockfish.

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Brown Rockfish

Capitola Wharf — 4:05-6:05 p.m.
7 Walleye Surfperch
6 Staghorn Sculpin
3 Shinerperch
2 Brown Rockfish
1 White Seaperch
Bait and rigging: high/low and mainly worms.
All fish released.

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A decent visit but again it wasn’t what I had expected so I headed out after a couple of hours.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Leaving Capitola I headed south toward Monterey. I would stay the night at Seaside and after checking in decided to head down to the Monterey Wharf #2. If fish were biting I would fish, if not I would probably fish it for a while in the morning.

The place was packed with fishermen and almost every bucket was totally empty, nothing was biting on top or the bottom, and almost all were using Sabikis. Even though it was dead, I was able to park out by the end and decided to see if anything was down around the pilings. I gave it one hour, caught a few small bocaccio (which were actually the only fish I saw caught) and decided that was enough. No visit would take place in the morning.

I was impressed by the number of families, of many different ethnic groups, that still filled the pier at 9 p.m. when I left. They were not catching anything but the pier was still packed. I enjoyed seeing the families, young and old, who were out experiencing the great outdoors. I think it's like that most weekend nights (and certainly when the fish are biting) but you wonder the affect of the sheer number of anglers on any resident fish at the pier.

Monterey Wharf #2 — 8-9 p.m.
3 Bocaccio
All released.

I headed back to my hotel where I spent one of the worst nights as far as sleep that I can remember.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Saturday would see a visit to the Monterey Coast Guard Pier. I had heard the pier would not open until 8 a.m. so I took my time, had some coffee and a breakfast sandwich and got there about 7:40. Virtually every parking space was gone in the parking lot with dozens of trucks and boat trailers so fishing must have been good for the boaters.

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I finally found one parking spot, set up my pier cart, and headed out to the locked gate. There a fellow angler announced that a golf cart had just come by with a man who announced they were not going to open the pier due to expected crowding. What? I wasn’t a happy camper at that time. I walked back to my car and unloaded the cart, equipment, rods and reels. Before leaving, I headed over to the restroom to get rid of some coffee and lo and behold when I came out they had opened the gate. Back to my car, set up the pier cart again, and headed out. At that point there were only two of us at the pier.

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I set up two rods. A heavier rod with larger hooks baited with mussels that I cast out by the kelp. The second outfit was my light outfit baited with one hook and a torpedo sinker.

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Black and Yellow Rockfish

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Painted Greenling

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Striped Seaperch

It was still a fairly low tide when I started but the fish were biting— a couple of small blue rockfish, a cabezon, a painted greenling and then a kelp rockfish. I would drop my hook into every decent looking hole, and would manage a fair share of fish. The tide was rising so more holes would eventually emerge. As for the weather, it was in the mid-80s but at least a breeze came up that made it comfortable.

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Kelp Rockfish

I was at least getting a nice mix of fish.

Ken Jones

Staff member
As is usual the waters were packed; in the water were many divers, on top of the water were kayakers and people on surfboards. All seemed to be having a good time. On the pier were a number of anglers but the majority were going fishless, most didn't have the right tackle or bait and most simply cast out past the kelp and then found themsleves latching on to kelp, rocks or broken off fishing line when they retrieved their line. I did see one couple who obviously knew their stuff and were catching some fish.

I was surprised at the amount of fishing line in the kelp. I had heavy line on my heavier rigging and at least half of the time when I pulled it in it would be accompanied by broken line and hooks. I hate to think what the kelp had to look like to divers — and to the fish. It was an amazing amount of line and I placed what I retrieved in the line bins on the pier.

Around one o’clock the waves picked up and it made it harder to fish with more rigs lost to the rocks. The fish bite also slowed with one exception—senorita. I had never caught one of the cigar-shaped fish at the pier before but evidently hit a spot and would wind up with a dozen.

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Gopher Rockfish

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Crevice Kelpfish

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Coralline Sculpin (probable) or possibly a Smoothhead Sculpin according to the experts
All in all it was an interesting day and although there wasn't anything of great size (I was hoping for a large monkeyface eel (prickleback), I did see some nice variety with 11 different species, two of which were new to me at the pier, the blacksmith and the senorita.
Monterey Coast Guard Pier — 8:15 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
12 Senorita
5 Kelp Rockfish
3 Blue Rockfish
2 Cabezon
2 Crevice Kelpfish
1 Painted Greenling
1 Striped Seaperch
1 Blacksmith
1 Gopher Rockfish
1 Black & Yellow Rockfish
1 Sculpin – probably a coralline sculpin
All fish released.

With the waves making it hard to fish the holes, and the long drive home approaching, I finally decided to stop at two o'clock. I packed up and headed up Hwy 1 and was surprised to see the highway jammed and traffic stop and go for about five miles going into Monterey. There wasn’t much problem in my northerly direction. I soon cut over to Hwy 101 and again was surprised to see the traffic heading south. For at least a 20-mile stretch traffic was moving along at about a 20-30 mph clip. Not sure where everyone was headed unless Monterey or Los Angeles.

It had not been a great trip by any means but I had some action and though hot, mid-80s to 90, it was still far cooler than the 111 degrees when I arrived back in Fresno.

Red Fish

Senior Member
Seems like a tough trip as far as the fishing Ken. I haven’t been to Capitola in like 4 years now. SC Wharf is sometimes fun to fish at night. As you mentioned, this time of year can be very crowded; add pandemic unemployed and there you go.
During this season of the year a few years back people were getting king salmon at Capitola Harbor along the Rockwall all the way to the end of the harbor where the boats are parked down 41st Street. Pink worms by Berkeley (or any brand) was the bait. You could throw spinners off the breakwater rockwall too. Don’t know if they stopped the smolt plant?
I always would read the Bayside Marine fishing report for Capitola/SC. Pete Rudy (aka Biggee in the Boat) has hipped me on to those reports.
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Ken Jones

Staff member
It was the proverbial you should have been here a few weeks ago. No pelagic species to be seen (and I realize they come and go) but I didn't even see the normal kingfish. The water was dirty and I think a little red tide may have been taking place. I overheard some people talkiing at the Monterey Wharf who were going over to Marina to watch the "blue waves" later that night — a condition experienced during red tides. But it was good to get out and catch a few fish. I always enjoy variety and the 11 different species at the Monterey Coast Guard Pier was nice to see. I don't follow the boat reports but there must have been some reason for the high number of boats launching next to the pier in Monterey.

Red Fish

Senior Member
It was the proverbial you should have been here a few weeks ago. No pelagic species to be seen (and I realize they come and go) but I didn't even see the normal kingfish. The water was dirty and I think a little red tide may have been taking place. I overheard some people talkiing at the Monterey Wharf who were going over to Marina to watch the "blue waves" later that night — a condition experienced during red tides. But it was good to get out and catch a few fish. I always enjoy variety and the 11 different species at the Monterey Coast Guard Pier was nice to see. I don't follow the boat reports but there must have been some reason for the high number of boats launching next to the pier in Monterey.
I wonder if you checked the daily boat reports for where you fished? Should be some halibut, king salmon, lingcod, regular cod and some albacore way out. If I came out, perhaps we could have split a skiff and gone out to the kelp?

SF Bay is sporadic too with a fish here and a fish there: maybe a halibut; maybe a striper; maybe a salmon; perhaps nothing.

Ken Jones

Staff member
I do take a look at the Capitola Boat & Bait website since Ed normally includes info on the boat catch and pictures of any nice catches from the pier. His boats are doing fine on the uisual rockfish and lingcod and are also pulling in some nice halibut. I don't see much in the way of salmon or white seabass. Perhaps the boats in Monterey were going out in pursuit of tuna?

Ken Jones

Staff member
For those who have never visited Capitola. This old postcard gives a good overhead view of the wharf and the village. The river opens during the winter which gives access for steelhead headed upstream. Before it opens, the steelhead sometimes congregate in the nearby waters and that's when some steelhead are caught at the wharf. Be warned that the village is very popular (beach, restaurants and shops) and very busy, especially on weekends and during the summer.

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Nice to see a report. Great photos and sorry the fishing was disappointing.
You said you caught a potential sunset rockfish juvenile. I took a boat trip and caught a lot of vermillions that did not quite look like the photos in the guide book, and I learned there are "Type 1" and "Type 2" vermillions, with the later nicknamed "sunset rockfish". Has Dr. Love confirmed at any time that sunset RF is indeed a separate species from vermillion?

Ken Jones

Staff member
Apparently biologists are working on the question at this time. They all used to be called vermilion but biologists now feel they are two distinct species. To date, the information given for each is pretty much the same information.
Good fishing and travelogue quality pictures. Thank you for all the work you put in on these pictures. I know how much me and my wife fight over just posting two or three.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Thanks for the nice words. A lot of people on the board have never been to some of these piers so I like to give a feel for the piers when I make my report.