Last modified: September 12, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Stearns Wharf — Santa Barbara

Ken—Thought you would get a kick out of this one. Some gal was fishing out by my shop yesterday morning and her line headed out and headed out and headed out. Finally it snapped and a baby gray whale surfaced just past the end of the wharf. It is very late in the season and I thought they had already gone through. This one must have gotten lost. I told the gal that gray whales were out of season. Mike

Mike, An interesting story about the whale. You hear about it happening but it’s pretty rare (although I hooked a killer whale once while fishing from a boat near Carmel).

Mike Katz and a halibut

Date: July 4, 1997; To: Ken Jones; From: Boyd Grant; Subject: Pier of the Month—Stearns Wharf

Thank you for capturing in words so many of my impressions from almost 50 years of fishing that historical pier. My father first fished the wharf with his father before 1920…

By the way—I’m 53—I started fishing the Wharf when I was 5. And yes, I still fish one of the local piers at least once a week. For the past 7-8 years I fished Goleta exclusively trying to recapture the morning when I took 3 10#+ shovelnose sharks off the west side 3/4th of the way out. I was using 20# mono and anchovy cut bait, casting out over the kelp (which follows the outfall line). Apparently they were congregating there (late spring) and for weeks I had been taking 3-4 pounders. I got 13#s of tail meat.

Goleta hasn’t been too hot this year so I went back to the wharf starting 3 weeks ago—my first day (in search of some action … ANY action!) resulted in 16 small (9-11″) calico bass, 2 mackerel, 1 small shovelnose, 2 white croakers and a senorita fish. I’ve been there 4-5 more times since and the calico and mackerel action has been consistent.

That first weekend a woman tourist snagged a baby whale that took out several hundred yards of line before it surfaced and the line broke—maybe it was 15′ long. By the end of the day it had become (for her) a 30′ blue whale. Guess it just goes to show any fish, no matter how big, can always stand some exaggeration.

Date: November 23, 1998; To: Ken Jones; From: Mike Katz Subject: Stearns; Wharf fire

Dear Ken: I don’t know if you saw the news Wednesday and Thursday but as of then there is no more Mike’s Bait & Tackle out on Stearns Wharf. Wednesday evening about 9:20 there was an explosion and fire in the Moby Dick Restaurant and the winds blew the fire onto Santa Barbara Shellfish and my shop. My building collapsed into the ocean and there is nothing left but a big hole in the wharf. The City fathers state that it will take about a year and a half to re-build. The seaward end of the wharf is closed off and will be for some time to come. Mike

Mike, Sorry to hear the news. Was only the end of the pier damaged? Ken

Ken, The fire broke out at the Moby Dick Restaurant and the winds took it to the end of the wharf. Everything else on the wharf is fine but there is no wharf beyond where the restaurant used to be except a gaping hole and a few pilings. Mike

Date: January 13, 2001; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Got Em; Subject: Stearns Wharf, 12 January

Fished Stearns Wharf last night from 2100-0100. Fished right off the end. I was using whole Sardines and chunks of Sardines. The 6 Sand sharks I caught were BIG. I caught 1 decent size Ray. Of course, the best for last. I hooked up to a 4 ½-5 foot shark. When I got him by the surface, next to the wharf, I had a little crowd by me then going ewww and ahhhh and ‘look at him’. Right when he was by the surface, he did his classic roll and twist, SNAP! My rod tip broke and the line broke, just like it was a twig, and then another ahhhh from the crowd. But it was fun. Had a blast last night. The water by the breakers was really dirty, but out towards the end was normal. I might have to crimp up some wire leaders.

She’s happy with her small brown rockfish

Date: October 8, 2002; To: PFIC Message Board; From: donblaze420; Subject: Santa Barbara wharf

I did it fellas. It has been a long 4 years. I finally landed my first keeper Halie! Went out to the Stearns wharf last night at about 6:30 pm. (kinda late I know, especially considering I was in a tube!) Only got about seven casts in total for the night. 1st cast—nothing. 2nd cast—nothing. 3rd cast—BAMM! Hit it right at the surface. I was actually done with my retrieve and had started reeling in faster just to get a couple more cast in before I had to split. It ran on me 4-5 times before I got a glance. HEALTHY looking fish, definitely a legal. Now if only I can land him. Reached back and grabbed my net. Tried to guide him in but took another run when he seen the net. That scared me. Thought he was gone for sure. Finally he decided that the net didn’t’ look so bad after all and swam right in. Cheers from the crowd that had gathered on the wharf watching me. That was cool. Was too big to get in the bag I have attached to my tube, so I kicked in to shore. I got him on a 3′ blue-green-silver flake Fish Trap w/ a 1/2 oz. lead-colored head. Cast from the shore about four or five more times but was so excited I had to get that puppy home. It measured 28 inches, not too big I know, but nonetheless was my first keeper.

Date: April 18, 2003; To: PFIC Message Board; From: pierhead; Subject: Re: Anyone remember how you used to buy live bait…

I sure do, the old bait shop on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara used to have an outside well. The tickets were 5 cents and you scooped them yourself. There used to be an abalone processing plant on the end as well. All the trimmings went into 50 gallon drums which you were free to go through … made a great bait, better than mussels.

Years later I was fishing with my son (10 at the time) at the breakwater across from the live bait receiver. I told him what great bait it made and regretted the fact that you could only get it if you had access to the receiver by boat. He called out to the guy on the receiver to see if there was any way he could get bait to us. He said to tie a $5.00 bill on a line and cast it out to him (no hooks!). We did and he filled a large plastic bag with seawater and bait, tied it back to the line and set it over the side so we could retrieve it. Doubt they would be willing to do that now. Pierhead

Date: June 16, 2003; To: PFIC Message Board; From: OB Pier Rat; Subject: Stearns Wharf thresher

Got to Stearns Wharf about 1:30 PM after catching up on sleep from almost pulling the all-nighter at Ventura. As I was wheeling the gear out this guy comes running in towards me whoopin’ and hollerin’—he had just landed an 8 foot 2 inch Thresher Shark; caught it on macks on the very end. He also had about a 50# bat ray. I stuck around and watched him filet them and I made bait on a few sardines on a Sabiki and headed to Goleta.

Date: April 24, 2004; To: PFIC Message Board; From: pierhead; Subject: Breaking News … exclusive!

World’s largest pier caught bat ray just landed at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara…Report to follow…  Greenrag and I were listening to Fish Talk radio this morning when they interrupted their program to announce that a 203 pound bat ray had just been landed at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara … they were pleading with the lucky local angler, James Elledge, 45, not to release or clean the fish before they got there.

Naturally shortly had their own reporters on the scene. Spoke with Mr. Elledge and learned that this was the largest fish he had caught in his 40 years of fishing. The fight lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes before the fish was gaffed by Ron Maxell and hoisted topside. It was caught on a live bait rig using a 3” smelt. Fortunately the fish ran parallel to the pier and was landed mid-channel off the end.

With the help of the Wharf’s B&T owner, Ray Angel, the fish was carried over to the certified scale at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company where it was weighed and all the appropriate measurements were taken for inclusion in the International Game Fish Association’s

(IGFA)World Record book … possibly the largest Bat Ray ever officially documented as caught on a California Pier.

And was there … the first fishing board to offer complete coverage of this historic event! Pierhead, Proud Supporter of UPSAC

Sevengill shark

Date: June 8, 2006; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Ken Jones; Subject: Hey, nobody wished me a happy birthday! (In reply to: Happy 21st, Ross!)

 The day was Tuesday, the 6th, (anniversary of D Day) and I got to go fishing at Goleta with Santa (Mike Spence) and Pierhead (Boyd), two of my favorite people. Later on I headed over to Stearns Wharf (too many pelicans and people that do not know how to fish around them) and Ventura (amidst a jovial group of drunks out at the end–and I do not say that with any malice intended. One guy kept showing me his “Ugly Stick” and telling me about the 35-pound lobster he had taken in the lights at the end. He was happy, I was happy, everybody be happy. Even caught a few fish (41 for the day). Happiest event was catching a new species—at Goleta—which, when combined with the new pier I fished on Saturday (Stillwater Cove Pier at Pebble Beach) means it is now 122 California piers fished and 122 species. It was a nice birthday present.

Date: June 11, 2007; To: PFIC: Message Board; From: Ken Jones; Subject: Short trip to the southland—

…The next morning Hashem and I headed down to Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara for another couple of hours of fishing. It was still somewhat slow although I did manage a half dozen fair-sized Spanish mackerel, five Pacific mackerel, a couple of sanddabs and a shiner. The main highlight was a guy who hooked a large bat ray and fought it for twenty minutes or so up and down the pier before deciding to cut his line and letting it go at the net.

There was one other highlight of sorts when Hashem decided to cast out a small swimbait using the rod and reel GDude had given him in Catalina. He made a beautiful cast from the east side of the pier where we were standing and thought it amazing that the line kept streaming off his reel. How could he cast that far? When he tightened his line he found that it was headed over his right shoulder toward the southwest corner of the wharf. He ran over to that corner while continuing to reel in line and finally realized a bird had grabbed the swimbait mid-air and was headed out to Hawaii. Luckily the bird wasn’t hooked and finally dropped the lure but Hashem attracted quite a crowd to his bird-flight-fight.

An ill-tempered onespot fringehead

Date: June 12, 2007; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Ken Jones; Subject: The Mysterious World UNDER Stearns Whar

Date: November 16, 2007; To: PFIC Message Board; From: Ken Jones; Subject: New policy at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara.

Frank at the bait shop mentioned to me how he watched a teen yesterday dragging a bat ray down the pier. What? The kid had caught a bat ray and then snagged it with a treble hook gaff. The kid then proceeded to go up and down the side of the pier with the ray on the gaff while a friend filmed it on a cell phone. Frank said it changed his entire way of thinking.

Regulars at the pier, including Frank, have always gaffed bat rays. He said no more. He’s going to limit his equipment to nets, he’s only going to post pictures at his shops where nets are used, and he’s going to try to convince all the regulars to switch. He said he doesn’t know why it took him so long to realize that gaffing them is wrong. I told him that similar conversions have taken place with most of the PFIC regulars. One day you just realize there is a better way to do things. Yesterday was his day.

PS., they caught a bat ray estimated at 150 pounds a few days ago. Frank said it was huge.

Date: January 9, 2010; To: PFIC Message Boad; From: seabass_seeker; Subject: Stearns Wharf crabs 1/09, AM  

Sorry for the late report. The plan was to hit Stearns Wharf for some crabbing with buddies. The second ring of my alarm clock meant that I had overslept; guiltily on purpose. Paying for my somnolent nature on weekends meant hoops in at 9:30am. Without ego, I can say kids on a college budget are some of the most resourceful people. Bait was about $6.00 total for a whole chicken and a pack of squid. The caveat, you must have seabass_seeker’s surgical precision when it comes to butchering the white meat fowl.

Our timing in pulling nets up at perfect 15 minute intervals, rival that of a Swiss watch. The labor did not go unrewarded, as 15 red, rock, and slender members of the genus cancer were invited for lunch.

Mission Accomplished. Short Version: Winter, 9:30am-12:30pm — 5 guys, 3 hoops nets — Squid, Chicken — 15 assorted crabs; red, slender and mostly rock (note on that, red crabs are usually huge, and most slender crabs are too short). Note: Also caught was a Xantus Swimming Crab. Awesome creature, it had a death grip on one of the rock crabs. I’ll try to get a picture.

The Golden Years of Fishing

A Big Fish

Santa Barbara Independent—Captain Larco arrived this morning in his new fishing-boat from a week’s cruise to the different islands that lie in the channel, on a fishing expedition, and while off the east end of Santa Cruz Island yesterday he caught a 300-pound jew-fish… The fish is now on exhibition at Mr. Lardo’s residence on State Street… At certain seasons of the year this variety of fish is frequently caught off and near Stearns’ Wharf and their meat is eagerly sought for. Jo Delaney, last fall, while fishing for sharks at the wharf caught one that weighed 250 pounds.

3 Responses

  1. Awesome write up! Thanks. We just caught a 36 inch halibut off the pier, 6/25/19. Email me for pics

  2. I used to fish Stearns Wharf all the time when I was a kid back in the late 80s / early 90s. I remember it was usually always really good for mackerel, with bonito and barracuda showing up usually in Sept. and Oct. There were also times when truly monster size halibut would show up and hang around the pier for weeks at a time. Other than that the fishing there for other species wasn’t all that great, and the surf area was pretty lifeless, no doubt due to the little 6 inch waves, just an occasional thornback and a corbina might cruise by every once in a while.

  3. […] Fish available at the pier are the normal southern California species with halibut, mackerel, jacksmelt, white croaker (ronkie), sand bass, kelp bass (calico bass), scorpionfish (sculpin), various perch, bat rays, and shovelnose guitarfish (sand sharks) dominating the catch. via […]

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