Last modified: November 30, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Oceanside Pier

Golf and hoop-netting, an outdoorsman’s daily double, for sure.  Golfing done, Spencer said they arrived at the Oceanside Pier at 6 p.m. and started fishing the windward side of the pier. “We were the only ones with hoop nets, and I was beginning to think the Oceanside Pier wasn’t the right place to hoop-net for lobsters,” Spencer said.

He turned to his boys after a few hours of not getting anything and asked them, “Would you guys rather be home with your new X-Box games, or would you rather be out here on the pier fishing and not catching anything?” They chose being on the pier over playing video games. This was more fun, and besides, it was quality time outside with dad. “That made me feel pretty good,” Spencer said. “I’m from Northern California. I grew up in the foothills of Yosemite, out in the country. My kids are city kids, but they have the same interests I have. They love being outdoors.”

Shortly after their talk, Spencer switched to the leeward side of the pier, and the change produced two short lobsters, each about 1/4-inch short, just after 10 p.m. They sent them back like good sportsmen. Another pick of the net produced a giant spider crab, about a 6- or 7-pounder, Spencer said. He was about to throw it back, but a man told him to keep it because it was very good eating.

“It looked nasty, but he said it was good,” Spencer said. “I cooked it later, and it not only looked nasty, it tasted nasty. Next time, it’s going back into the water.” The spider crab provided a thrill to Spencer and his boys, and since it was getting close to midnight, Spencer felt it was time to go.

But then Spencer heard the cry of, “C’mon dad, one more pull, one more pull before we go.” “One more pull” to a hoop-netter is what “one more cast” is to a fisherman, what “one more shot” is to a bird hunter. Spencer gave in. They made a set, left it for a while and made one more pull.

“It was the last pull of the night,” Spencer said. And what a pull. As the net came up, Spencer and his boys couldn’t believe their eyes. There in the net was what Spencer later called the “mutant lobster.” He never weighed the giant crustacean, but, including its antennae, the giant bug was at least 46 inches long, nearly as tall as his boys, who are 56 inches tall. He estimated it at 15 pounds.

California spiny lobsters have been known to go as high as 25 to 30 pounds. Biologists figure a lobster that big could be anywhere from 50 to 150 years old.

“I have a friend who dives, and he’s saying it’s a minimum of 15 pounds,” Spencer said. “I wish now I would have taken it to a supermarket or somewhere and weighed it,”

Spencer and his boys celebrated the next day with a lobster feast. “You know how people say the big old lobsters are tough and not good eating,” Spencer said. “That’s not so. This lobster was tender and sweet. Really god eating.”

Looking back, Spencer said he likely would have quit around 9 p.m. had the boys chosen to go home to play video games. “It was all because they wanted to stay,” Spencer said. “It was our day out. And what a fantastic day.”

Ed Zieralski, Outdoors, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 20, 2002

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Fish surveys done by the California Department of Fish and Game between 2004 and 2009 give, I think, a somewhat fair representation of the species to be found at the pier. However, the 26 species do not include several species common to the pier. What’s missing, I think, are night surveys that would have shown an increased number of sharks and rays being caught. The species in the survey, listed numerically — Pacific sardine, Pacific bonito (all from one warm-water year), Pacific mackerel, queenfish, white croaker, topsmelt, walleye surfperch, jacksmelt, yellowfin croaker, barred surfperch, spotfin croaker, Mexican scad, salema, California corbina, shovelnose guitarfish, shiner perch, California halibut, white seabass, barred sand bass, sargo, jack mackerel, black croaker, California scorpionfish, halfmoon, California lizardfish and deepbody anchovy.

Pictures courtesy of my son Mike

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — At one time the Oceanside Pier had its own Sportfishing operation. One of the old pier items that I have is an unopened package with a wire barracuda leader. The printing on the package states it is from Art & Bill’s Tackle Store and says, “Save a Boat Ride—Drive to Oceanside. McCullah Bros. Sport Fishing, Oceanside Pier.” For reservations, one simply called Oceanside 4467. I’m not sure of the date of this package, it could have been anywhere from the thirties to the fifties. As for the McCullah Bros., they’re remembered fondly in the area.

THE WAY WE WERE — McCullahs changed face of Sportfishing

 OCEANSIDE – Fifty-five years ago, two brothers from Newport Beach changed the future of local fishermen.  Ray and Carl McCullah gave thousands of anglers new ways to fish in the Pacific when they brought two barges and several boats down the coast to Oceanside.

The McCullahs were known as two of the best fishing operators in Southern California, according to the Oceanside Daily Blade-Tribune, the local newspaper at the time. They signed a contract with Mayor Henry Witman and City Clerk John Landes, on behalf of the city of Oceanside, in January 1950.

Their company, McCullah Bros. Sport Fishing, began operating in April of that year from the Oceanside pier.

That’s where the adventure began, recalled Joel Hughes, 71, who owned the company from 1959 to 1965 with his stepfather, Ray McCullah, and his mother, Betty McCullah. The only way to board the boats, docked next to the pier, was to jump from the landing.

“You had to judge the swell. Some people found that very exciting,” said Hughes, who noted there was no harbor at Oceanside until 1963. Thousands of people came from all over Southern California to fish on the McCullahs’ boats. Visitors included Hollywood actors, such as Ray McDonald, Frank Ferguson and Lon Chaney, Hughes recalled.

“We had a following,” he said. “We made hundreds of close friends, many we’re still in touch with.”

Some fishermen learned of the McCullahs’ operation through their motto, painted on the sides of their boats: “Save a boat ride – Drive to Oceanside. McCullah Bros. Sport Fishing, Oceanside Pier. For reservations call Oceanside 4467.”

The McCullahs and Hughes were at the pier every day, tending to their boats, bait and tackle shop and restaurant, which opened on the pier in 1951. They also hosted the popular Win, Place and Show Derby. An angler could bet $1 that he or she would catch the biggest fish, such as a 10-pound bass or a 25-pound yellowtail. When there wasn’t a winner, the derby’s pot continued to grow. Occasionally, an angler won thousands of dollars, Hughes said.

The community camaraderie built by the McCullahs was evident when disaster struck in April 1951. A storm damaged two boats and two barges from the brothers’ fleet, temporarily shutting down the sportfishing operation, according to a report in the Oceanside Daily Blade-Tribune.

As the McCullahs advocated the need for a harbor to prevent future disasters, the townspeople and clubs, such as the Lady Anglers, donated money. The business recovered and saw many changes during the following years, recalled Hughes, who lives in Carlsbad with his wife, Dorothy. The company moved to the small craft harbor in 1963 and was sold to Pierpoint Landing of Long Beach in 1965.

Yet some things never changed. “When there’s a lot of fish, there’s no bait. When there’s a lot of bait, there’s no fish,” Hughes said.

— Amy Horton, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 17, 2005

Pictures courtesy of my son Mike

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Sounds like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” And anyway, who ever heard of a fisherman telling whoppers?

Life Dream of Fisherman Who Almost Gave Up Hope but Didn’t

A year ago Charles (Chuck) Martin of Oceanside was reveling in his fame as a teller of fish stories. Now Chuck is bemoaning that same reputation. He says that once a fellow gets a reputation for telling whoppers no-body will believe he’s in earnest, even when he says it’s a nice day.

Among the fishermen well known on the Oceanside Pier is a gentleman who for years has been spending his summers in Oceanside. He comes from an inland town, and the dream of his life has been to catch a huge sea fish. Of course, there are places where one may be photographed with stock, stuffed fish, but that fisherman was too high-minded for such tricks. Summer after summer he returned to Oceanside, cherishing a secret hunch that the moment of achievement was at hand. But each autumn, as he sadly packed up to go home, he had to sigh and say: “Next year—maybe.”

So his eight-second anniversary arrived, and his dream was no nearer realization than it had been when he was a boy of 60.

He was no deep-sea fisherman. From a barge or from a sea-going launch he might have caught a big fish. Be he was a landlubber who would not venture farther from terra firma than the end of the Oceanside Pier. There he could feel that he was only knee deep in the ocean, and when a big wave burst on the knees of the pier with an ardor which made it tremble he could rejoice in the knowledge that its thousand sturdy legs were braced in solid earth.

He had about given up his lifetime dream. But it was something to be fishing at 82, so he went out again to celebrate his birthday. He went to the extreme end of the pier and let out enough line to carry his hook out beyond competition. And then suddenly he pole began to bend like a reed in a tornado.

He seized it with a shout. For a moment it looked as if he would either have to let go or be carried off the pier. But he hadn’t been fishing for thirty years for nothing. He knew how to play a fish. Other fishermen rushed to his assistance, but he waved them away—with his head, for his hands were busy. And at last he landed his prize—a jewfish weighing 202 pounds.

Chuck Martin was inspired. Of course he wrote the event up for the Oceanside Blade-Tribune. But all the readers of that excellent paper remembered Chuck’s series of “whoppers” and thought it was just one more. So he wrote a magazine story about it. But what chance has a man who has written a whole book of whoppers when he tries to write a true story? It was the impossibility of all Chuck’s whoppers which made them amusing. So the editors sent it back. “Are you losing your imagination?” they wrote. “This isn’t nearly as preposterous as the stories you’ve given us before.

Then Chuck accompanied his story with photographs of his elderly friend and the fish, towering half a head taller. But the editors knew that on the Long Beach pier there is, or used to be, a place where one could be photographed with stock fish which, before they were stuffed, weighed a ton or more.

So Chuck has a darned good fish story on his hands—one with a lot of real heart interest in it—perhaps the best fish story he ever wrote. And he can’t do anything with it because he has too good a reputation for whoppers.

—The Leeside o’ L. A. by Lee Shippley, Los Angeles Times, August 24, 1934

Did You Know? Two major surf competitions take place adjacent to the pier in June—the West Coast Pro-Am and the National Scholastic Surf Association—and parking can be pretty gnarly. If you plan to fish the per on those weekends (check the newspapers for dates) get there early.

Did You Know? The Oceanside Pier is seen in the movie Bring It On? Or that it is seen regularly in the television series “Animal Kingdom?” My son has worked as an extra on several of the episodes which gives him a chance to be in Oceanside and to take the pictures attributed to him.

Picture taken by son Mike

Oceanside Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: A parking lot is available near the entrance to the pier and metered parking is available on Pacific Street. Restrooms and the Oceanside Pier Bait & Tackle shop are located mid-pier. Lights, benches, and fish cleaning stations are found throughout the pier. Snacks can be purchased at the bait and tackle shop while a Ruby’s Diner with its ‘50s themed food and servers covers much of the end of the pier.

Attractions: The Junior Seau Pier Amphitheatre and Junior Seau Beach Community Center (Beach Recreation Center) are located near the front of the pier. The amphitheater hosts a plethora of events while the recreation center includes a gymnasium, stage and kitchen. Not too far from the pier (312 Pier View Way) is the California Surf Museum, a neat place to visit if you’ve ever had a question about surfing. The cost is $3 adults, $1 students/seniors/military. Two events that start near the pier and can lead to virtually no parking being available are: (1) the Beach Soccer Championship, the largest on the west coast. It takes place the first weekend after Mother’s day in May; (2) Race Across America. Annually held in the second week in June, the 3,000-mile bicycle race is considered the world’s toughest sporting event.  Many other events are also held on the beach and pier and give reason why this is one of the most visited piers in the state.

Handicapped Facilities: The pier hashandicapped parking and restrooms. The pier surface is cement and planking and the rail height is 44 inches. Posted for handicapped.

Location: 33.19278 N. Latitude, 117.38583 W. Longitude

 How To Get There: From I-5 take Mission Blvd. west to Pacific, turn right and follow it to the pier.

Management: City of Oceanside, Public Works Department.


2 Responses

  1. Always  enjoy reading your articles Mr. Jones. I’ve been visiting Oceanside pier for close to 40 
    years, and  enjoy your guide book  for many years. Enjoyed some quiet fishing  after midnight fishing 
    there– it’s too crowded at daytime! I had no idea that there was a proposal to close it down at night! 
    Yes, you’re right– it’s not a cheap place to visit anymore, but it’s still beautiful! Thank you very much,
    and good fishing! With respects– Haik Goomroyan from Las Vegas.

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