Last modified: October 5, 2018

Central California Fishing Piers

Seacliff State Beach Pier — Aptos

Settling down for the evening is preceded by several hours of plying the coast in formation in a long, black trail. And if the anchovies are running, there are spectacular feeding frenzies joined by pelicans and sea gulls.

To some, these orgies win hands-down over other California wildlife displays. “They work in spirals like tornadoes. When they’re diving into the water, it sounds like a waterfall,” said George Gray, an ecologist for the Santa Cruz district of the California State Parks. “I see people standing on the edge of the beach in awe. I’ve stood there in awe myself.”

—Maya Suryaraman, San Jose Mercury News, August 6, 2001

Note No. 7. If you happen to visit the Aquarium of the Bay, at Pier 39 in San Francisco, you may see a fish transported from Seacliff State Beach. It’s “Charlie the Swell Shark.” It seems that in 2006 when Charlie’s egg case (aka mermaid’s purse) was found on the beach it was moved to the Visitor Center’s aquarium. As happens, Charlie soon emerged from the case as a healthy 6-inch boy fish and started to do what all young ‘uns do, he started to grow. Eventually he grew to be a strapping 18-inch specimen and that fact, together with the disappearance of another fish in his fairly small, 150-gallon tank, convinced the staff that he needed a new home. Perhaps they could have released Charlie back into the ocean but instead they sold or donated (not sure) Charlie to the San Francisco aquarium in 2008. In September of 2008 the staff had a public “farewell party” for the popular shark before he headed north to his new home. There he was able to join seven other brethren swell sharks. See you in “Frisco” Charlie.

Charlie’s story nearly duplicated that of another swell shark whose egg case was discovered on the same beach in 2005. That shark, named “Riley,” also outgrew the confines of his tank; he was eventually moved to the Long Marine Lab at the UC Santa Cruz Marine Science Campus. Interestingly, both sharks had the same birthday, July 17, the day they emerged from their egg cases.

Note No. 8. The Festival of the Cement Ship is held annually on the first Saturday in June (usually from 11 AM-4 PM). All of the normal activities of such events are present: music, food, games, and crafts, but here you can also do a little kite flying on the beach. It’s a good event but also crowded.

Dolphins, not sharks!

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Great white sharks are becoming almost common to the region but few are actually hooked, especially from piers. But here’s one that was.

Two men report great white shark sightings off Santa Cruz area coast

APTOS — A day after a Capitola man shot video of a great white shark off the Seacliff pier, shark researcher Sean Van Sommeran reported sighting a great white off of Manresa State Beach around noon Friday.

Van Sommeran, who heads the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, said he spotted the 16-foot great white off near the railroad trestle on Manresa in South County. Van Sommeran, working with Specialized Helicopters out of Watsonville, said “It’s a big one.” He believes the shark is a female, which they’ve previously tagged. “It’s pretty routine for this time of year,” Van Sommeran said and definitely not the great white caught on film off Seacliff on Thursday.

Ryan Dunlap was fishing for striped bass on the Seacliff State Beach pier Wednesday, when he noticed something a little larger tugging on his line. Ryan Dunlap, 30, said he managed to lure a 10-foot great white close to the pier with nothing but a foot-long sardine for bait. “I noticed him cruising along in about 4 feet of water and watched him loop around the pier,” Dunlap said. “We saw about 50 to 60 stripers along the surf line before they bailed. About five minutes later the great white showed up.” Dunlap said the shark brushed up against his main line before it began chomping on the sardine, pulling him all the way down the pier. “I didn’t know what to do so I just followed it and kept holding onto my pole,” Dunlap said. “He just kept chomping on my bait and then let go. The bait was all shredded.” Dunlap was unable to capture any video of the shark on Wednesday, but found it again on Thursday. Armed with his digital camera, he took some footage. Dunlap said, he and about 10 others, watched the shark.

Having fished since he was a little kid, Dunlap said he has seen numerous fish and sharks, both common and rare. Last year, at Seacliff, he caught an 8-foot sevengill shark, a predator known to prowl in deep water. Dunlap, an experienced fisherman, said great whites are known to return to the Monterey Bay to feed on the elephant seals at Año Nuevo in the summer, but the last time he saw one was two years ago, when a great white pinned a baby grey whale up against the surf line at Seacliff. Dunlap said he was unable to report the sighting because no rangers were around at the time.

Van Sommeran reported his sighting to State Parks lifeguards Friday, but said he doubted it would result in beach closures. “If they were to close the beach every time they got a report or not, they’d be closed all the time,” he said. State Parks was not immediately available to comment. When asked if it was safe to go in the water, Van Sommeran said given the large number of dolphins and marine mammal traffic, the chances of them stopping and tangling a surfer are “slim.” Van Sommeran, who also viewed Dunlap’s video of the great white at Seacliff, said he believed the shark was part of the white shark family, possibly a salmon shark, but likely a juvenile great white shark of about 6 feet.

“With the Marc Monte fireworks thing coming up there will be a lot of people on the beach,” Dunlap said. “Rangers should at least warn people that the shark was seen.” State Parks officials said Thursday night that they have not received any official notifications about a shark sighting recently. If rangers are not present on site, citizens may call 911 or California Highway Patrol and they will be directed to State Parks.

After a shark sighting at Seacliff in August and evidence of the shark’s aggressive behavior, including a bite out of a dolphin, the beach was closed for a week, and people were kept out of the water. Supervisor Ron Callison said no reports have been made regarding a new sighting, so no new warnings have been issued. “Judging by the large bite size of the dolphin that was bitten, the shark (in August) was determined to be a juvenile great white shark, but we don’t really get a lot of activity there,” Callison said.

—Alia Wilson, Santa Cruz Sentinel, October 2, 2009

<*}}}}}}}}}>< One of the problems that seems fairly persistent at this pier, and it can be a real problem, are the kelp flies and the yellow jackets. At times the flies can drive you crazy and the yellow jackets are not only pesky but also aggressive. I do not know the cause but I imagine the bar-b-queue areas near the front of the pier contribute to the number of yellow jackets and the tremendous amounts of guano on the cement ship may attract the flies. Whatever the cause, it’s a problem that typically is only solved by a good rainstorm that seems to cleanse the pier and the boat, and lessens the numbers of the gnarly beasts.

History Note. The history surrounding the Seacliff Pier and the Aptos area in which it sits is one of the most fascinating along the coast and the story in many ways resembles a three-act play. The play in the first two acts sees a transition in the area from one of large agrarian Mexican rancheros, dominated by the Castro family, to the Americanization and commercialization of the area due in large part to the powerful and rich “Sugar King” Claus Spreckels. The final act is one of transformation into a residential area and, most important for our story, a recreational area famous for its “pier and cement ship.”

Act 1 — The name Aptos itself reflects an Indian village located on the flats where Aptos and Valencia Creeks join. Apparently the village was discovered on December 11, 1774 by Capitan Don Fernando Javier De Rivera Y Moncada, the Governor General of California, and Father Palou, when they passed through the area on a journey to Carmel. They found a village of eleven huts and recorded that the name given by the Indians for their village was a word that sounded like “Awotos.” To the Spanish it translated as “the meeting of the waters.” In 1792 when Franciscan priests established Mission Santa Cruz, began to baptize local Indians, and recorded their addresses, they listed the name of their Indian converts as “Awotos,” although phonetically it came out variously as Aptos, Avtos, or Abtos.

Although initially controlled by Spain, Mexico gained its independence in 1821 and soon the Mexican government controlled the region. Twelve years later, in 1833, Mexico Governor Jose Figuroa granted much of the local land to the family of Jose Joaquin Castro. It deeded 5,500 acres to his third child (of sixteen), “Don” (gentleman) Rafael de Jesus Castro. In 1840 Rafael Castro’s Aptos Rancho was increased to 6,685.9 acres by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado; Rafael Castro’s land now stretched from today’s Cabrillo College to near La Selva Beach, and from the shoreline two to three miles inland (including all of today’s Rio Del Mar). His father Joaquin was granted the 13,000 acre Rancho San Andreas just down the coast while his sister Martina was granted the 1,668 acre Ranch Soquel just up the coast and the 32,702 acre Soquel Augmentation that ran inland. The Castro family owned nearly a quarter of all the land in Santa Cruz County in the 1840s and was prominent throughout much of the 19th century. The family is perhaps best remembered today by the name given to a town that sits just a short distance to the south—Castroville.

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