Last modified: July 6, 2023

Fishing Piers Southern California

Ocean Beach Pier (2)

Public Pier — No fishing license required

A new article on the pier is shown below. However, it should be noted that this pier is slated to be demolished and rebuilt at some point. The decision to rebuild the Ocean Beach Pier was approved by the City of San Diego and the long planning process has started.

(1) Some excellent information on the Ocean Beach Pier Project

(2) Some excellent videos including the April 1 meeting.

(3) OB Pier Foundation — Additional articles

Some Basics: Location: 5091 N. Niagara Ave.  San Diego, CA — Length: 1971 Feet Long — 3 Fish Cleaning Stations — Hours: Open 24 Hours — One restroom on the pier — Free parking lot adjacent to pier — Concrete deck with 42-inch high railing — Walking on Water Cafe

Ken Jones Pier Rating

4.02 Fish per Hour 7th among San Diego County piers.

8.29 Weighted Points Per Hour — 6th among San Diego County piers and

69 Fish species reported from the pier — 1st among San Diego County piers & 1st among California’s piers.

Notable — (1) The Ocean Beach Pier is reported to be the longest concrete fishing pier in the world and it certainly is the longest on the West Coast. (2) PFIC records and reports show the pier to have the most diverse population of species (69) of any pier in the state. (3) The pier has officially been designated as a “San Diego Historic Resource.”

Looking shoreward

At 1,971 feet the Ocean Beach Pier is one of California’s most iconic piers. The width is a standard 20 feet most of the length but it has a T-shaped end extending 360 feet to the south and 193 feet to the north. The size and location attract people, both anglers and sightseers, and according to some records it is tied for seventh among the most visited piers in the state.

            When it opened the pier promised to be one of the premier piers in the entire state. Its length provided nearly a mile of railing space, it had full facilities, and it jutted out into the Point Loma kelp beds, long considered one of the finest fishing areas in southern California. Anglers had visions of not only the smaller pier species but also larger game fish like barracuda, yellowtail (generally 5-10 pound firecracker size), white seabass and perhaps even a few giant (black) sea bass.

It got a lot of publicity and in response the official opening day, Saturday, July 2, 1966, saw 7,000 people crowd the pier. The first fish reported caught that day was an 8-inch sunfish (but since sunfish are freshwater fish, it was probably a perch of some type); next in line were a gray shark and then a crab. Not too impressive, but a start. Alas, although there are occasional glimpses of that early promise, most of the days the fish and fishing is much like that found at other piers—fair to good but generally unexceptional.

            Personal experience would seem to substantiate those thoughts. My first visit was a little over a month later, on August 6, 1966, and produced nothing but queenfish, even if a lot of queenfish. Several additional trips that year produced nothing but more small fry—white croakers, jacksmelt, walleye surfperch, jack mackerel and queenfish. Better results were obtained at the nearby Crystal Pier in PB (Pacific Beach) and so it was there that I would typically go unless at night when OB was open and Crystal was closed.      Eventually (in 1967 and 1968) the larger fish did show up—halibut, bonito, shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) and barracuda, in fact quite a few barracuda. So, there are larger fish to be found at the pier but be realistic and do not expect to have the fishing match the size of the pier.

            I wasn’t alone in those early disappointing catches. Apparently soon after opening anglers began to complain that they weren’t getting bites. In response, the president of the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Chuck Bahde, arranged for flattened junkyard cars to be dumped into the water by the pier. The cars became artificial reefs, improved the habitat, and evidently helped the fishing. I’m not sure where those cars were placed but I imagine all have long since rusted away.  

Given the pier’s length it presents several different environments. Inshore waters present a contrast in environments, at least at the foot of the pier.

North of the pier is Ocean Beach Park, a typical sandy-shore beach. Those inshore sands attract typical SoCal sandy-shore species.

Adjoining the pier to the south is the Ocean Beach City Beach and Sunset Cliffs Park. Both are primarily intertidal, rocky shoreline areas. They attract more rocky shore species.

Inshore rocks to the south
Inshore sandy shoreline to the north

Once past the inshore area, the bottom for the most part is sand or sand and mud and presents the same species common to most SoCal sandy-shore piers.

The nearly 2,000 foot length does allow anglers to reach deeper water, 20+ feet deep at the end, and to reach the beginnings of the Point Loma Kelp Beds which, as mentioned, were expected to provide some of the best pier fishing in the state. The kelp beds represent a dense, underwater algae kelp forest environment that acts as an attractant for many fish. However, here are pluses and minuses.

Although the kelp can attract fish, the giant stalks and lateral branchlets can also easily tangle with lines and it’s rarely fun bringing in ten or more pounds of seaweed. It’s also very vexing when a large (or small) fish that you’ve hooked on your line decides to entangle itself among the seaweed or circles a section of kelp. Anglers can then try to “wait” the fish out, or use braid fishing line in hopes of cutting the line, but there are no guarantees.  A totally different problem confronts anglers at other times—the normally thick kelp can see decrease during both wild winter storms and warm water El Nino years. The storms can rip out large pieces of the kelp and even uproot some of the giant kelp. More damaging is the warm water! The giant kelp can actually die off from the warmer water and when the kelp decreases the kelp-resident species may move on.  I’ve seen years when you could hardly fish because the seaweed was so thick and other years when the water was basically barren of the kelp. So the kelp bed is a mixed blessing.

Some history.

Something that doesn’t seem to change though is the antics of the sea gulls. Never leave your bait unattended because the robber gulls will quickly swoop down and grab anchovies or similar baits. Best to cut a piece of bait and then put the rest of the bait into a cooler.

Planning your trip to the pier (or)Proper Prior Planning Prevents Pi.. Poor Performance

Short Version: Appropriate clothing for the weather, rod/reel for each person fishing, some small size 8-4 hooks, a few Sabiki bait rigs, some small 1-2 ounce torpedo sinkers, a couple of baits (worms, mussels, shrimp or squid), pliers, a small bucket, and some inexpensive hand towels aka rags. These are the basic necessities. Although this version is short, and the next one is longer, I always suggest using the KISS approach—Keep It Short and Simple (as possible).

Long Version: Clothing: (1) Match the clothes to the time you are visiting the pier and the expected conditions (both temperatures and wind). Day is different than night and summer is different than winter. For much of the year in San Diego, daytime requires little more than shorts and a T-shirt or light shirt. But the wind can come up, the “June Gloom” of early summer can block the sun, and even rain makes an occasional appearance. I recommend layered clothing that can be adjusted to the actual conditions. (2) Wear clothing that can survive a little dirt, grime, and possibly blood stains.

Miscellaneous: (1) Sun screen, at least SPF 50 but the stronger the better. (2) A baseball cap with extension to cover the back of your neck or a sombrero-type hat; something to give your face and neck protection from the sun. (3) A crushable hat or ski cap if fishing at night. (4) Polarized sunglasses. (5) A hand warmer. Only needed during the winter or very windy conditions. (6) A flashlight and/or a headlamp if you intend to fish at night. (7) A camera to memorialize the large fish and big smiles.

Food and Drinks: (1) Snacks, i.e., Power Bars/Clif Bar energy snacks. (2) Bottled water or soft drinks. (3) A thermos full of hot coffee or cocoa if planning to fish at night.

Fishing Equipment/Rods and Reels: Have a rod and reel for each person fishing.

Terminal Tackle:(1) Have at least two sinkers for every person fishing. Use torpedo sinkers if fishing straight down around the pilings or in areas with kelp. Use pyramid sinkers if casting out in sandy areas with little kelp.  (2) If using Sabiki bait rigs bring two for each person. (3) If using hooks bring at least four for every person when using a high/low rig. Bring small size 6 or 4 baitholder hooks for the perch-like species; size 4 or 2 for croaker and bass; size 2-2/0 for larger fish.

Miscellaneous Equipment: (1) A sharp bait knife to cut the bait and a sharp fillet knife if planning to fillet the fish. (2) Zip-Lock bags or baggies for fish fillets. (3) Needle-nose pliers for removing hooks and cutting line. (3) Nail clippers for trimming line. (4) Tape measure for making sure the fish is legal size. (4) Hand towels aka rags. Buy cheap ones at the Dollar Store, bring several, and throw dirty ones away at the end of each day if a little too smelly. (5) Hand cleaner or a baggie of baking soda. It can be used to wash the fish smell off of hands (to a degree). (6) Have some type of tackle box or container to hold the various tackle items. (7) Some people like to carry a small bucket with a rope to get fresh seawater to keep live baitfish in and/or to wash their hands. Empty, it can be used to carry all the miscellaneous “stuff” that will not fit in the normal “tackle” container(s).

Bait: Have (at least) a couple of types of bait and a small ice chest/bait cooler (with ice or a small ice pack) to keep bait fresh. This can also be used later to bring fish fillets home. Recommended baits: (1) Live saltwater worms (pile worms, bloodworms, lugworms), (2) Anchovies, sardines, or mackerel. Good as cut bait for several species, (3) Shrimp (pieces), (4) Squid if fishing at night or for sharks and rays. See below for a more detailed explanation on which baits to use for which fish. Elastic thread can be useful if the bait is not staying on the hook

License: Only needed if fishing on a private, non-public pier and then only needed if 16 years or older. Not needed on this public pier.

$$: Have cash or credit cards for the parking fees and other costs that may arise during the day. 

Expectations: I often say the key to fishing is patience and persistence. Long time successful anglers have put in the time to learn what works and what doesn’t, and those regulars (10% of the anglers) catch 90% of the fish. Nevertheless, there is always an element of luck in fishing. Sometimes the fish are there, sometimes they aren’t. If they are there the regulars should catch fish while newbies might catch fish. Studying this guide will not guarantee fish but should provide enough clues to catch some fish.

Fishing Areas

Successful pier fisherman study and know that most piers have several distinct areas: inshore, mid-pier, far end, and piling area. Each offer up somewhat different species (with some overlap) and each can call for different baits and techniques.    

Inshore, shallow water area, tideline out a short distance.

            Unlike most piers, the shoreline here sees two distinct environments and the shallow water angler is given two choices.

            Fishing the northern side, the sandy shore beach area presents the normal SoCal surf species—surfperch (mainly barred and walleye), corbina, and both yellowfin and spotfin croaker. A few sharks (gray smoothhound and leopard) and rays (primarily round stingrays and thornbacks) round out the action. Use high/low riggings or a Carolina rigging with size 6 or 4 hooks, and sand crabs, fresh mussels, or sea worms (bloodworms or lugworms) as bait for the perch and croakers. For the sharays, use the same rigging but larger size 4-2/0 hooks, and oily/smelly fish (pieces of mackerel, sardines, or anchovies).    

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