I first heard about the Pier J piers at the end of 2020. Given that I’ve been to the opening of a couple of piers, I was hoping to be one of the first anglers to fish on these small piers when I visited on January 31, 2021. Alas, they were still closed. The word was that they would open on February 10. No fishing that day but some good pictures of Long Beach, the harbor area, and snow capped mountains in the distance.
I couldn’t be there in February but I was making a second trip to the area in March, which would allow a visit. Alas a drive by showed red tape across the front of the pier and a sign indicating it was still closed.
When would it open? For a number of reasons I could not return until October when I finally found the pier open and fished it for the first time. It would be my 129th saltwater fished in California.
The piers are somewhat unique, it isn’t often that a pier sits atop another pier but that is basically the story with these two small mini-piers that sit on Pier J in Long Beach.
Pier J itself is one of eleven large “piers” that make up the Port of Long Beach, the second busiest container port in the United States. Each pier serves as an industrial terminal for different companies. Pier J and its 385-acres houses the Pacific Container Terminal, Basin Six and the Southeast Basin. A constant stream of trucks sometimes seems to follow you in and out of the area.
Given its location, the port has also provided a “scenic” drive that parallels the water on the outermost side of the pier. It’s a long drive with a rocky lined shoreline on one side and the industrial, port area on the other side of the street.
The area offers great views of Long Beach, the shoreline headed east toward Orange County, and of course the San Pedro Bay itself. It is also just a short distance down shore from both the iconic Queen Mary (now a hotel) and the Carnival Cruise Port (in the inverted dome that once protected the “Spruce Goose,” Howard Hugh’s famous plane). A cruise ship is often seen sitting at the port.
The area has been a long time gathering spot for families and anglers with anglers fishing from the rocks, an iffy and sometimes dangerous proposition for some. The two piers, one a main pier to the east that has adjacent bathrooms, and a second pier further west, provide safer platforms for anglers to fish. Platforms may be a more proper name since both piers stick out horizontal to the shoreline and have no pilings.
Environment: The small piers sit near the outer section of the rocky shoreline that protects Pier J close to Queensway Bay and where the Los Angeles River enters the larger San Pedro Bay. In the distance, straight out from the piers, sit the oil islands—Island White, Island Freeman and Island Chaffee all inside the protected waters of the Long Beach Breakwater.
Two environments are presented the angler. The first is to fish close to the rocky shoreline for the rocky shore species while the second is to cast out into the deeper waters that produce more sandy/muddy bottom species along with more pelagics. The water for the most part is relatively protected and calm.
Fish: Casting straight out from the pier mainly yields white croaker (aka tomcod or kingfish), queenfish (aka herring), sargo, halibut, jacksmelt, mackerel and (some months) bonito. At night, anglers may see an occasional barracuda.
Fishing closer to the rocks should yield a variety of bass—kelp (calico) bass, sand bass and spotted bay bass, along with some perch and an occasional opaleye, halfmoon or rockfish.
Sharays are also in these waters. The most common rays are bat rays although some round stingrays and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish) will also make an appearance. The primary sharks that are seen are leopard sharks and gray smoothhounds, although a variety of sharks can make an appearance including horn sharks, swell sharks, dogfish, and even thresher sharks (although few fish for them here).
Fishing Tips: Bait or lures. Most anglers, unless they are specifically fishing for bass, will use bait.
Casting out and using a high/low rigging with a light 2-3 ounce sinker, number 6-4 J hooks, and cut anchovies, cut squid, or saltwater worms should yield the small croakers and sharays if they are around. You can cast out, relax, and sit back to wait for a bite but the better technique is to cast out, let the bait settle to the bottom, and then immediately start a very slow retrieve back to the pier. Fish will often follow the bait almost until it starts to leave the bottom before striking.
Using a little larger Kahle hook or Octopus hook with ghost shrimp can yield all of the above and are excellent for the larger croakers. For the ghost shrimp I usually let them sit on the bottom instead of retrieving them.
A Carolina rigging with a live smelt or ghost shrimp may yield a halibut. Mackerel and jacksmelt may hit on a Sabiki but the same high/low baited with strips of squid or cut mackerel can also be deadly.
Casting inshore along the rocky shoreline with the same high/low rig but baited with worms, mussel, ghost shrimp or even pieces of market shrimp may yield croaker (yellowfin and spotfin), sargo, perch (walleye, blackperch and whiteperch), bass and small rockfish.
Some anglers prefer using lures. Casting straight out from the pier with a Fish Trap lure, Berkeley Gulp Jerk Shads (while color) and Zoom Flukes (white colored) with a drop shot rigging may produce a halibut. Casing closer to the rocks with lures like Big Hammer and Fish Traps will often produce bass, all three varieties.
Prime time for the halibut is May to October, for the large croaker July through August, and for the larger perch December thru April. Sharays can be caught year round but usually are better in the May through October months. White croaker can be common throughout the year, as can the various bass.
Pier J Facts
Hours: Sunup to 11 p.m.
Facilities: There is limited free parking near at the foot of each pier and trashcans close to the front of the piers. There are no benches, no lights, fish cleaning facilities, or cutting boards. Signs indicate no overhead casting, no diving, and no fish cleaning. Four restrooms are available near the front of the larger, easternmost pier.
Handicapped Facilities: None. The pier surface is wood and the railing is approximately 40 inches high.
How To Get There: From I-710 follow the signs saying S. Harbor Scenic Drive. From downtown Long Beach follow Queens Way past the Catalina Landing and on to the Queens Way Bridge over the water and take the S. Harbor Scenic Drive.
Management: City of Long Beach; Department of Parks and Recreation.