Last modified: October 26, 2018

Central California Fishing Piers

Pismo Beach Pier

Grover Beach surfer Mike Schwartz, who regularly surfs in the area, said he was surfing off the north side of the Pismo Beach Pier on Tuesday evening when he saw a giant fish — about 6 to 7 feet — that appeared to be a shark.

When he got out, a girl visiting from Oklahoma showed him photos she had taken of the shark.

“I just spotted it swimming by,” Schwartz said. “After looking at the photos, it wasn’t a thresher, which have those elongated, pointy tails. It had the characteristics of a juvenile great white shark.”

In online discussions, surfers recently have blamed fishermen for chummingto attract sharks off the Pismo Beach Pier.

Using the handle “inhabitoryresidue,” Schwartz recently wrotein an online discussion: “I have witnessed fisherman discussing and rigging their rods expressly for catching ‘the shark.’ ”

Schwartz continued, “Do you put a 2-inch circle hook through the middle of a 10-inch smelt to fish for halibut off the pier?? I think not. Whether these actions could lead to a surfer being attacked is debatable, but the fact that they are trying to catch ‘the shark’ is not.”

An Instagram post by “dave.morgan_” added, “Maybe some police signage on jail time if anyone injured due to chumming. Could squeeze in something about hooking surfers as well.”

In another Instagram post, Walt Cerny, who goes by “stillfrothy,” urged the city of Pismo Beachto “please monitor that for all of our safety. Not cool!!!”

De la Torre, who fishes for perch, mackerel and smelt, said that he has witnessed some chumming taking place. But he said it was infrequent, and he hasn’t heard of anyone fishing for great whites.

“I have seen people going for the threshers,” De la Torre said. “Sometimes they use a big hook and rope and just haul the thing up.”

Schwartz said that he heard of a catch that was likely a great white.

“I wasn’t there, but I heard from a credible source — I won’t give out any names — that some fishermen off the Pismo Beach Pier recently hauled in a shark that appeared to be a juvenile great white,” Schwartz said. “They gaffed it and used a crab net to get it up on the pier.”

Under state Department of Fish and Wildliferegulations, it’s illegal to fish for great whites unless the catch was incidental; even then, fishermen are supposed to release them immediately.

“People aren’t supposed to be targeting great whites for fishing,” said Carrie Wilson, a Fish and Wildlife marine biologist.

Chumming is legal, Wilson said, but added that wardens do frequent the area to make sure illegal behavior isn’t going on.

Wilson said people who see illegal fishing behavior are asked to report it to the department’s Cal Tip line at 888-334-2258.

Despite the sightings and fears about the type of fishing taking place, some surfers say they won’t be deterred from riding waves.

“There’s so much food for sharks in the form of wildlife around here that some chumming probably won’t make a difference to attracting sharks,” said Tim Kelley, a Morro Bay resident who surfed by the Pismo Beach Pier on Friday. “I have noticed fewer surfers in the water of late, however, especially in Morro Bay, where the attack took place last year. I try to surf a little closer to other people.”

—Nick Wilson, San Luis Obispo Tribune, July 8, 2016

After surfers and paragliders continued to report large shark sightings from Cayucos to Morro Bay, video evidence of a large shark swimming next to the Pismo Beach Pier surfaced on social media Saturday.

A video taken by Arroyo Grande teen Joel Bishop shows what appears to be a great white shark swimming just off the pier at the popular Pismo Beach.

Longtime local surfer Walt Cerny shared the video on his Instagram page. “More sightings in 3 last weeks than I can recall in the last 30 years,” Cerny wrote.

Andy McKay, who owns Surfside Donuts in Pismo Beach with his wife Carin, shared another video taken Saturday that shows a similar sized shark that also appears to be a great white. McKay said he was walking with his wife shortly after 8 a.m. when they saw the shark a little more than three-quarters of the way out on the Pismo Beach Pier. He estimated the shark to be about 8 feet long.

A juvenile great white shark was caught and released early Saturday afternoon at the Pismo Beach Pier, according to Todd Tognazzini, patrol lieutenant at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fish and Wildlife received a call from the Pismo Beach Police Department at 12:50 p.m. Saturday with a report that a juvenile great white shark measuring about 4 1/2 feet long had been caught.

The shark had already been released by the time authorities from Fish and Wildlife arrived on scene, but they were able to review video footage of the capture to ensure that the shark had been properly released.

It is legal to catch great white sharks as long as the animal is both caught and released properly; the shark must be uninjured and released immediately, Tognazzini said.

This is the second reported incident of a great white shark being caught off the Pismo Beach Pier recently. Authorities are seeking information regarding a juvenile great white shark that was caught a couple weeks ago that may have been injured before being released, Tognazzini said.

According to information the department has received, the shark may have been caught using a gaff hook — a very large hook used to land fish. The hook can often harm fish, and it’s illegal to use a gaff hook on fish that are illegal to catch.

It appears as though the great white shark was possibly gaffed and then brought onto the pier where photos were taken with it, Tognazzini said. It appears that the shark was not immediately released.

Authorities are offering a reward for information about the incident. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the anonymous CalTIPnumber at 888-334-2258.

Travis Gibson and Danielle Ames, San Luis Obispo Tribune, July 10, 2016

Great white shark caught illegally on Pismo Beach Pier; Wardens seek man in photos

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has released photos of a man they’re seeking in connection with the illegal capture of a great white shark on the Pismo Beach Pier.

One of the photos shows the man posing with the juvenile shark while bending its snout upward for photos.

Great White Shark (Photo courtesy California Dept. Fish & Wildlife)

The shark, which was said to have been gaffed and hauled onto the pier, was caught June 22 at about 6 p.m. The DFW is asking for the public’s help in identifying the man.

“You are not supposed to pose with the animals,” DFW spokesman Todd Tognazzini told the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Great white sharks have been protected in California waters since 1994. While it’s not illegal to hook them, incidentally, anglers are supposed to release white sharks as soon as they’ve made an identification.

Anglers who are unsure whether they’ve hooked a white shark are supposed to cut the line. White sharks cannot be gaffed and landed.

The illegal capture of a white shark can result in a misdemeanor charge with a maximum fine of $1,000, or up to six months in jail.

Great White Shark (Photo courtesy California Dept. Fish & Wildlife)

*Tuesday night update: The angler referred to in this story turned himself in after being identified by citizens who saw his photograph in the news.—Pete Thomas, Grind TV, July 12, 2016

History Note. The first local pier/wharf was built here in 1881. It was built by a group of San Francisco businessmen led by the Merherin brothers (from nearby Arroyo Grande). Their wharf was 1,600-foot-long, twenty-seven feet above the low water mark, and was primarily used as the shipping point for south county agriculture. The original cost was only $14,613 (compared to the more than one million dollars spent to restore the pier in the 1980s). Near the entrance to the wharf set two warehouses and a small, handcar track for moving cargo led out to the end of the wharf. In 1882 thirty-eight vessels loaded at the wharf and business would continue steady until the mid-1890s when the pier suffered damage.

Interestingly, it was not until ten years after the wharf was built, in 1891, that the town of Pismo officially came into existence (derived from the Chumash Indian word pismu, the naturally occurring asphaltum tar that seeps through fissures in the ground and sea floor). The town’s character was changed forever when the Southern Pacific Railroad built a line from San Luis Obispo to Ellwood in Santa Barbara County. The railroad brought hoards of visitors to the beach and Pismo became a tourist destination. By 1895 hotels were flourishing and the “Tent City” with its $8.00 a week rates was built to handle the excess of tourists. Located where today’s Boardwalk Plaza Mall sits, the “Tent City” would last until the late 1920s. 1895 also saw a dance pavilion built at the foot of the pier; it too would last until the 1920s. The influx of summer visitors caused the city fathers to change the town’s name to Pismo Beach in 1904.

Advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1908

“Port Harford is the well-protected harbour of San Luis.  A short rail line and the Camino Real run to it.  A little way south is Pizmo Beach, which is an extraordinary floor of hard-packed sand extending for 20 miles between long rocky arms… In winter it is as lonely as it is vast and sonorous with the boom of the surf. But summer finds it alive with throngs who dwell for the most part in tents and cottages, and consume with limitless appetite the fine-flavoured clams of this strand. Over the firm shining track, many fast motor-races are run.—Ruth Kedzie Wood, The Tourist’s California, 1915

An advertisement in the Bakersfield Californian — March 14, 1924

A new, longer and wider wharf was built in 1924 but, like most wharves and piers, suffered sporadic damage from the elements. 500 feet at the end of the wharf was lost in a storm shortly after it was built. Additional damage took place in 1952.

Heavy Seas Damage Pier At Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo Co., March 15.—County employees today worked in rain and wind to salvage materials from the wreckage caused to the 1,200 foot pier during the storm last night and early this morning. The damage to the pier was estimated at more than $25,000.

Chief of Police Amos Dana reported that about 150 feet of the portion of the pier which extends farthest into the water was knocked down by a heavy sea whipped by high winds. Crews were busy with trucks picking up huge pilings which had been knocked out from under the pier and cast up on the beach. The pier broke off just beyond the bait concession house, Dana said, and no one was on it at the time.

Fresno Bee-Republican, March 16, 1952

Repairs were made and fishermen continued to catch fish: “There is one item from Pismo Beach: Pier fishermen have been taking a fair number of salmon.” — Fresno Bee-Republican, October 4, 1968

That storm was mild compared to the El Niño storms of 1983 that necessitated a total rebuild, work that was started in 1985. Money came from the City of Pismo Beach, the Wildlife Conservation Board, the Coastal Conservancy, and FEMA. The pier reopened in 1988 and seemed one of the best built and most visited piers along the central coast until 2016 when the city decided the pier needed rehabilitation.

The pier reopened on October 20, 2018 far ahead of schedule and under budget (which seems unheard of today). The beautiful new pier was quickly engulfed by visitors, locals and anglers ready to wet a line after their forced absence.

During reconstruction the sea gulls and pelicans had the pier for their home. Of course there was no bait or hooked fish to steal for food.

Sunset at Pismo

Pismo Beach Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

3 Responses

  1. Is the Pismo beach pier open this month, March 2019?

    Is there a local store where I can rent fishing poles, reels, bait for pier fishing?

  2. The recent renovation has been completed and the Pismo pier again open all year. Rods, tackle and bait are available at the shop which is located at the base of the pier. The shop is open on weekends and most weekdays. However, at times it does not open until 11:00 AM.

  3. What type of fish are people catching? What type of bait are the using? Is the pier close to the camping area? 

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