Southern California Pier Fishing Approach For November and December


Well-Known Member
As the weather and water temperature cools, how do people change their approach for fishing piers in general or Southern California Piers specifically.

Want to keep fishing but want to make the right adjustments to get the best results.

I live closest to HB, Newport and Balboa but we are thinking of going south like to San Clemente to target Sheepshead or even further south like Oceanside.

I definitely feel like inshore fishing has slowed down but it is hard to tell because we just recently started fishing inshore.

As always any tips would be most appreciated!


Active Member
Good move. Leverage the collective knowledge of those who post on these boards.
Another approach would be to look at past reports from the moths of November and December, to get some ideas.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Here's an article I wrote for the Fish Taco Magazine a few years ago. It might have a few ideas. I should have added that the winter months are the top months for sheephead and sculpin (scorpionfish). Sheephead may show at Ocean Beach, Oceanside, San Clemene, and a few other piers. The sculpin should be available at Oceanside and especially at Nwport and Balboa although the restricted nighttime hours hurt since that's the best time to catch them.

Wintertime At The Piers
By Ken Jones
Fish Taco Chronicles Winter 2016

The other day on my “Pier Fishing In California” website (, I received the following question: “Just wondering what [species] everyone in Southern CA goes for during the colder months.” It’s a question that seems to come up every year as fishing slows and some of the common summertime, warmer-water species seem to have disappeared.

The easy answer is that certain species predominate during the winter months and some species almost seem to disappear. For others there isn’t much change.

As we get closer to the actual winter months there will be an increase in the number of inshore surfperch, especially the small walleye surfperch, but also the bigger barred surfperch and wintertime sometimes sees some of the largest perch. Sabikis or simply a couple of small hooks baited with a piece of bait will yield the walleyes, while bloodworms and fresh mussels are the best baits for the larger barred surfperch (which also like Berkeley sand worms and grubs).

Seaperch will also be available throughout the winter—pileperch, blackperch, white perch, and rubberlip seaperch. Most of these will be found down around the pilings mid-pier to the end with fresh mussels and bloodworms being the optimum baits. The pileperch will generally be cruising around the pilings a few feet down from the top of the water while the others are down toward the bottom. Even though you may lose a few rigs, you need to keep the bait as close to the pilings as possible.

At the same time, the number of inshore croakers will show a decline, especially yellowfin croaker, black croaker and the larger white seabass. So too the small queenfish that often seem to saturate waters under the piers during the summer months. In contrast, small white croakers sometimes are available, especially at the deeper water piers, and sometimes in big numbers. Spotfin croakers may also be available (they were the past two years) but generally in smaller numbers. Luckily the spotfins like bloodworms, fresh mussels and ghost shrimp, so the same baits in the same inshore area may yield a large surfperch or a spotfin croaker.

Mid-pier areas are the ideal habitat for halibut but with the decrease in number of queenfish and anchovies as food around the piers their numbers may show a drop. At the same time, many of the largest halibut reported to “Pier Fishing In California” have been reported during the winter months. A memorable day on large halibut took place during a Super Bowl Sunday in 2000 when eleven keeper-sized halibut were caught, including a 30-pound fish and many sub-legal size fish, at the Port Hueneme Pier. It’s actually somewhat surprising the number of large halibut reported on the piers during the winter months given so few being reported during the summer months when there are so many more anglers.

Mid-pier to the end has also traditionally been the area for the pelagic species—mackerel and bonito (some years), as well as the sharays (sharks and rays).

Some years the mackerel follow bait offshore and some years they are available year round. The last couple of years have seen the latter with mackerel available at many piers throughout the winter months and recent reports from many piers still show a strong number of mackerel. The number of bonito usually drops off during the winter but again the last couple of years has seen some bonito showing up during the winter, especially at some of the longer piers in the San Diego area and at deep water piers (Newport and Redondo) further north.

Another pelagic species, one that does show up in large numbers during the winter months is jacksmelt. Here that means the larger jacksmelt, most from 12-16 inches, and people will fill buckets with the fish because they travel in schools and usually if you catch one you will catch more. They are fun to catch on light tackle (using bait, Sabiki-type bait rigs, or small lures) and some people love to eat them. Jacksmelt will be found at most piers with the largest numbers sometimes showing up at the deep-water piers—Newport, Balboa, Redondo and perhaps Port Hueneme.

The favorite sharays—bat rays, shovelnose guitarfish, leopard sharks and thresher sharks usually show a drop off during the winter even though some fish will continue to be caught. Soaking squid may bring in a bat ray, cut bait seems best for the guitarfish or leppies, and a live mackerel is the ideal bait on a live bait leader for the threshers.

In summary, expect the fishing to be slower but remember several things: (1) Fish are still to be had, especially barred surfperch inshore, walleye surfperch inshore to mid-pier, seaperch mid-pier to the end, Pacific mackerel mid-pier to the end, and sharays but just in not the numbers seen during the summer; (2) Given the warm water we’ve seen the past few years the normal changes may not be as drastic; (3) Fishing although predictable is never a sure thing no matter what all the experts say. If you are an expert you have a much better chance of always catching a fish but experts also have bad days and newbies sometimes have great days when they hardly may know what they are doing. Lastly, in southern California it’s should be enough to be able to go out during a January day when it’s 70 degrees outside, perfectly clear, not as crowded at the beach and pier as during the summer months, and you’re simply enjoying the great outdoors. Catching a fish is almost a bonus.