DOWN THE PIER a few feet, and barely visible, are a group of boys trying their luck with something less than the best equipment. One of the boys, Steve Sciacca, of Oxnard, gives up his pole for a warm blanket and a little rest on one of the benches nearby.
To “Grandpa” and the others, catching fish is “not all that’s important. They shrug off a comment about the red tide and the brown water. “Grandpa” Freiberg, says, sort of under his breath, “you can still-catch ’em in that.” The early-morning meeting at the end of the Port Hueneme fishing pier; foggy or clear, good fishing-or-bad, is a time to be alone” with the fog, salt air, and your fishing gear.
—Ted Nauman, PC, The Weekly Magazine of Ventura County, August 1, 1971
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — My absolute worst trip to the pier took place in October of 2008 during a time of strong, strong SoCal winds. I had the pier to myself and soon found out why when I could barely keep the rigging from my light pole in the water. One ounce of weight wasn’t going to hold bottom and even the heavier rod with a heavier sinker was shaking so much that it made fishing near impossible. In addition, many of the pilings were new and devoid of any fish attracting mussels. I tried the end, I tried mid-pier, and I tried inshore. I tried under the pier and away from the pier—all with not the slightest response. Not even a nibble (although I’m not sure that I could have detected a nibble). When the wind gods cranked up the velocity to an even greater pitch, and increased their efforts to take away my hat, I decided to leave. It was a great picture-taking day if you wanted to see the offshore islands but it certainly was not a day to catch a fish. While that day’s winds were unusual, the pier does have a reputation for wind. For whatever geographic reason, the pier can often be windy while the piers not too far away at Ventura and Santa Barbara are calm.
An empty pier
<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Interesting studies were done in conjunction with plans for the “Hueneme Outfall Replacement Project.” The outfall, designed to be located offshore between the Port of Port Hueneme and the pier, would see up to 19.1 million gallons of effluent released per day into the area’s seawater. Three studies of the area’s fish were cited: (1) Kolpack and Straughan (1972) concluded that in water depths of from 20 to 100 feet, speckled sanddab (Citharichthys stigmaeus) and the curlfin sole (Pleuronichthys decurrens) were most common species. (2) The City of Oxnard in 1980 said the nearshore bottom fish were primarily flatfish (speckled sanddab, hornyhead turbot [P. verticalis], and California tonguefish [Symphurus atricauda]). (3) An Aquatic Bioassay & Consulting report in 2005 based upon samples from locations at and south of the Oxnard Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge said the fish were dominated by speckled and Pacific sanddabs (C. stigmaeus and C. sordidus) and English sole (Parophrys vetulus). Other than the two types of sand dabs, I haven’t seen any of the other species caught at the pier.
History Note. The name Hueneme was given to the point in 1856 by James Alden who was in charge of the Coast Survey steamer Active. In 1870 the town was settled and the name was adopted; it apparently is derived from the Chumash Indian village Wene’me or Wene’mu (meaning place of security or resting place).
Although Port Hueneme is not one of California’s more visited tourist areas, it is the major deep-water port between Los Angles and San Francisco, and does receive considerable visitors, as does the pier. Most probably don’t know (or perhaps even care) that a pier was envisioned for Point Hueneme as early as 1867 and that one has existed here since 1871.
In 1867 Thomas Bard (who held the claim to La Colonia, a Spanish land grant for the area) and Captain W.E. Greenwald of the U.S. Geodetic Survey surveyed the sand dunes and shoreline of the area. They learned of an underwater canyon that had been created by the strong freshwater flow out of an aquifer just east of the point. The 30-foot-deep Hueneme Canyon was the result. The current of freshwater was so strong that ships were actually able to take on freshwater while still at sea! The canyon also reduced the size of the surf near the shore and Beard became convinced that it was an ideal site for a wharf. His immediate plans included a wharf from which local produce should be shipped. His long-range plan was a hope that the site could be the terminus for the Atlantic Pacific Railroad. However, it would be four long years before the wharf was built.
In May of 1871 construction began on a wharf under the direction of Bard’s Hueneme Wharf and Lighter Company. By August of that year the Port Hueneme Wharf (sometimes called Bard’s Wharf) was completed. The wharf was a structure 900-foot-long that reached water that was 18-feet deep. It was the first major wharf between Santa Cruz and San Pedro.
It was also the first wharf built by Bard, Salisbury and Frazer, the company that would soon build most of the area’s wharves. Their firm constructed Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara (for J.P. Stearns), as well as wharfs at Ventura (for Joseph Wolfson), Santa Cruz Island (for the Santa Cruz Island Company), Gaviota (for Col. W.W. Hollister and Thomas Dibblee), Point Purisma (for the Lompoc Valley Land Company) and Santa Monica (for the Los Angeles and Independent Railway).
Unfortunately some of the pilings used at their early wharves were substandard and thus highly susceptible to the normal enemies of wood pilings, creatures like limnoria and torpedo. This would later be the cause of considerable conflict and questions when the pier at Ventura suffered early damage, while the pier of its trading rival at Port Hueneme remained standing.
Although Bard’s Hueneme’s pier had opened first, and seemed to avoid the construction problems found at rival wharves, it was soon evident that even deeper water was needed for some of the larger ships. Soon after the wharf was lengthened to 1,426 feet where the water was twenty-two-feet-deep. The wharf quickly became a regular stop for ships like the Kalorama, Alcatraz, Coos Bay and Bonito.
By 1887 Hueneme and its wharf had become an important locale for trade. During the harvest season, the two warehouses out on the 40-foot-wide end of the wharf would be loaded with crops bound for larger cities and the coastal schooners would be kept busy plying California’s water highway. During the fiscal year ending March 31, 1888, 236 ships visited the wharf—169 steamers, 23 schooners and 44 steam schooners. For a time, the wharf was the leading shipping point between San Pedro and San Francisco.
By 1895 the wharf had apparently been lengthened to 1500-feet to accommodate even larger ships. However, in 1898 the railroad reached the area and chose to locate in Oxnard. The result was less trade for the wharf, a decrease in activity at Hueneme, and a shift in development (and growth) to nearby Oxnard.
Hueneme Boom Is Booming
Things are doing at Hueneme. Geo. E. Hart, real estate promoter, has taken possession of the old wharf office and will completely overhaul and renovate the same, after which it will be used as a real estate office in addition to the original one. A skating rink, with a maple floor, 60×110 feet, will grace the east warehouse. It is rumored that a hotel will be built—sometime—perhaps—but not this year at any rate. The Hueneme Wharf Company will henceforth be known simply as the Wharf Company. Plans and specifications have been submitted for a pleasure pier, which it is alleged, will be built in the near future. —The Oxnard Courier, July 13, 1906
Although Port Hueneme itself and its Hueneme Beach Resort (later called Horsewood’s) would regain some favor as a tourist destination in the “teens” and ’20s, the wharf never regained its commercial success (even though a sardine cannery took over one of the pier warehouses from 1929-1931).
The original wharf became instead a recreational resource, a favorite place to fish for both young and old alike. The variety of fish was good and the piers proximity to a deepwater canyon brought in some of the larger species including black sea bass (famous Hollywood director Arthur Kovalovsky caught two of the giant bass from the pier).
Season’s 1st Jewfish Caught At Hueneme
The first jewfish of the year, weighing nearly 300 pounds, was caught yesterday off the Hueneme pier by Ramon Solis, of this city. Solis was fishing for halibut using a half mackerel for bait and just ordinary fishing tackle. After a stiff 45 minute fight Solis landed the large fish. —Oxnard Daily Courier, June 11, 1934
HUENEME. Me ‘n Paul grew up there. It isn’t “there” any more. There s a town by that name. Well, almost. Like a palimpsest “Hueneme” disappeared—“written over,” dredged, buried, redesigned, obliterated. It’s been going on for over fifty years as it became “Port” Hueneme… It was HUENEME, the “resting place.” A long and wide beach and dunes facing gigantic waves, wayward boats, rip tides, man-eating sharks and big seals to grab and hold you under-a resting place? Yes, and a dilapidated old wharf to dive from, dodge overhead casters, and try to keep from stepping on ugly barbed fish hooks-a resting place… If it were a day when the fish were biting, we’d have to pause over the buckets for a look. Perch, wall-eyes, sand dabs, pumpkin seeds and smelt didn’t mean anything, but halibut, bass, cod or barracuda did. The expiring shovel-nose sharks—ugly creatures—were cause for moments of interest as were the sting-rays still flipping their tails to remind us what they once were. Occasionally we were spectators to the exciting moments a fisherman was engaged in a long match with a thresher shark. This was a colorful and dramatic event, a bit sad, too. Threshers could be almost thirty feet long and they had beautiful colors, a mix of purple, blue and green. What a fight they put up. Often we saw them rise briefly above the surface of the water their long colorful tails flashing in the sunlight. The fisherman always seemed to win but to us it just seemed wrong to take one of those beautiful creatures out of their watery home to lie in sunlight on the top of an old weather beaten wharf. Not many people ate sharks in those days. —Ted Moranda, Me ‘n Paul and Old Hueneme
In 1939 the wharf was hit by a double whammy. First the wharf was damaged by the horrific winter storm that damaged so many piers along the coast. Then, it was cut in half by a barge that had broken loose from its moorings. The life of the original wharf was at an end. Luckily for the city, it had started construction of a harbor and port area. The port was officially completed July 4, 1940.
In 1956 a new outfall sewer was built together with a fishing pier that provided support and protection for the sewer pipes. That pier quickly became the home for local fishermen. Unfortunately, when the Army Corp. of Engineers began to pump sand for the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard one result was a widening of the beach at Hueneme. Soon the pier sat over sand, not over water, which made it just a little hard to fish (or at least to catch fish). Pier fishermen tried to move down to the commercial wharf in the nearby harbor but soon that area was declared off limits to fishermen.
Needing a place to fish, residents petitioned for a renovation and extension of the existing pier. In 1967 voters approved an $85,000 bond to finance the city’s one-fourth cost of the pier (one fourth also came from the county and one half from the State Wildlife Conservation Board). Construction soon began on a 1,000-foot extension and renovation of the old pier. The present, odd-shaped pier is the result of that work. The pier heads straight out from the beach, turns left for 50 feet, then heads straight out again to the end which used to terminate in a wide T-shaped platform. Why the mazy shape at the shore-end of the pier? Because the pier follows a seawall which was constructed to prevent the periodic erosion of the beach
Now that the clamor and excitement of the long Labor Day holiday has died away to only a whisper, a review of fishing action brings forth one thing very vividly—three types of fishing were on the deep sea menu—Albacore—bass, barracuda, bonito and—pier fishing at the nearly completed Port Hueneme Pier. While official completion of the pier is not expected another several weeks, anglers in the Port Hueneme area have been enjoying fishing over the weekends when workmen were off the job. A good throng was on hand for the holiday fishing—and wound up making angling history. They scored a catch Sunday, which brought back memories of the old days at Point Mugu. All the pier fishermen did was to land (on dead bait) 25 king and silver salmon, good numbers of small calico bass, some halibut and fair amounts of bonito. Size of the salmon scaled up to 18 pounds. —Jack Adams, Rod and Reel, The News (Van Nuys), September 3, 1968
But Mother Nature likes to present a challenge now and then. In 1995 the left corner of the T was lost (so the pier then resembled an L), and then, in the El Niño winter of 1998, the right corner was lost to the waves. After sitting in a shortened I-shaped form for over a year, the pier was repaired, given a new, somewhat octagonal shaped end, and reopened in April in ’99. However, additional damage to the pier necessitated one more closure of part of the pier in 2002. $385,000 was spent in replacing pilings and the pier reopened in February of 2003.
However, officials now decided they needed plans that would, hopefully, provide longer-lasting solutions to the chronic damage. Soon after, nearly a million dollars was allocated in a Phase II restoration project “intended to improve storm survivability, extend the life of the structure and maintain safe public access to the pier.” The money came from three different agencies: the Coastal Conservancy—$200,000, the City of Port Hueneme—$385,000, and the Wildlife Conservation Board—$400,000. Included in the work was the replacement of 35 pilings that had been weakened by winter storms and organisms over the years. Today the pier appears to be in perhaps its best shape since its original opening.
Nevertheless, the city seems to have ongoing budget problems and often this affects the pier. An example was the call in 2017 to possibly close the pier at night. The rest rooms at the foot of the pier had been kept open 24 hours a day but it was costly both to maintain the restrooms at all hours and costly in terms of damage to the restrooms. Should the pier be closed if restrooms were not available? The city council decided to see if there was additional money available — somewhere — and for the immediate time kept the pier open 24 hours a day.