Last modified: September 12, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Stearns Wharf — Santa Barbara

San Francisco Chronicle, April 22, 1887


The Santa Barbara Press says: “A monster jewfish called at this port yesterday afternoon, and hundreds gazed upon the creature as it languidly swam around at the wharf. The water was unusually clear and while the fish remained near the bottom it could be plainly observed. It is believed the fish weighed close to 500 pounds.”

Oxnard Courier, April 10, 1914

Jewfish Weighing 485 Lbs. Caught At Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, June 20.—Joe Foxen broke all local records when he landed a jewfish weighing 485 pounds at the local wharf this morning. Foxen had a strike within fifteen minutes after the big fish had been reported, and half an hour later hauled it to the shallow water, where it was killed with a club.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 21, 1919

Santa Barbara Man Shows New Fish Trap

R. A. Hendricks, of Santa Barbara, who recently invented a new kind of fish trap, was a visitor at Hueneme beach yesterday, and used his trap to advantage from the pier.

Mr. Hendricks has been working on the trap a good many days and has just recently perfected it. The trap will or should be especially interesting to the fishermen who always has bad luck, because with it he is sure to come home with a good sized mess at all times.

The trap works something like a ordinary bear trap, but the springs are in the hinge and there are two rows of barbed hooks with the barbs taken off. When the trap is set those hooks are bent back and fastened with a lever which holds the bait, and when the fish touches the bait it closes and seldom does the fish get away. The trap has a signal and it is easy to tell when the trap is set off.

Mr. Hendricks did not only rid the bed of the ocean near the pier of those pesky sea spiders that eat the bait off one’s hook or tangle themselves in the lines but he caught a nice variety, including pile perch, skelpin and butterfly bass. His traps are also good for skunks, rats and other land pests.

Mr. Hendricks also showed a tackle which he intends to use for Jewfish, consisting of some 400 feet of very large line like a quarter inch rope, with cow-chain on the end with large hooks fastened to it.

The Oxnard Daily Courier, November 27, 1922

Giant Sea Bass Landed After Long BattleBiggest Fish of the Year

R. A. Hendricks brought in the biggest fish of the year late yesterday afternoon, when he landed a 453-pound black sea bass at Stearns Wharf after a hard fight that lasted nearly two hours. He was fishing on the side of the wharf opposite the pile driver when the big fish struck. He played the fish from the wharf until he had broken one of the handles on his reel and was nearly exhausted.

He said this morning that the fish made forty to fifty runs out to the end of his 150 yards of line. Each time the fish apparently tired and allowed himself to be towed back to the wharf by the fisherman. Finally Mr. Hendricks jumped into a rowboat that was alongside the wharf. The fish was tied to the boat and the fight continued. Several times the big fish was worked in alongside of the boat, but would suddenly break away for another run. A small .22- caliber rifle was brought into play as the fish came alongside of the boat for the final time and five shots stopped the fight.

The fish was hauled up the stairs to the wharf and then brought to J. L. Hendricks’ store on Estado. Many Santa Barbara fishermen saw the huge fish this morning. It measured seven feet three inches from tip to tip and two feet across the tail.

Santa Barbara Daily News, October 23, 1925 — (Four months after an earthquake leveled much of the town)

Potpourri — Possibly more than you may want to know about Stearns Wharf

<*}}}}}}}}}><  I received an e-mail message in 2005 asking if I happened to know the number of planks on Stearns Wharf? I had no clue but we had an interesting mathematical thread on the PFIC Message Board speculating on the number of planks. Soon after, the staff at, a local paper in Santa Barbara walked the pier and reported the following:

November 22, 2005 — Hook, Link, and Ed

Yesterday the dedicated staff of was Gone Fishin’. We walked down all 2,027 planks of Stearns Wharf to check up on the angler activity going on at the end of the pier. You could say we were taking a poll of poles—counting the number of fishing poles dangling their hooks into the water in hopes of getting a bite and a tug on the line. We were counting fisher-people, as well. We’re getting kind of tired of saying this, but once again it was a beautiful day. The clouds began circling in the late morning. By 3:30 in the afternoon, when we arrived at the wharf, the clouds had gathered themselves nicely into picture-perfect patterns, a great background for photographs. It was warm, too. We don’t know much about the ideal conditions for catching fish, but these were definitely the ideal conditions for going fishing.

At the end of the wharf we met Frank, the owner of the bait shop. He sells everything one needs to cast a baited hook off the pier and into the ocean. He also rents fishing poles for $5/hr, bait included. Shortly after we got there, a group of two girls and a separate group of two guys arrived to put their own poles in the water. The dedicated staff recognized the girls as some of Santa Barbara’s finest water polo players, just back from a triumphant third place finish in the prestigious Speedo Cup tournament in St. Louis, Missouri.

As the dedicated staff headed back toward shore, Frank and the four kids were actively fishing. We were told they catch fish all the time, but we didn’t see any fish being pulled out of the water when we were there. But then again, it didn’t seem like anyone was very concerned.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — I always love variety when I visit a pier. My best day at this pier in regard to variety was on June 28, 1995 when I took ten different species—white croaker, Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, walleye surfperch, white seaperch, barred surfperch, sand bass, California scorpionfish, speckled sanddab, and queenfish. I also managed one crab and two starfish that day.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< A couple of establishments on the wharf have been used for movies/TV. The Moby Dick Restaurant was used for a scene in a 1966 Batman episode where Batman tries to dispose of an explosive on the wharf. In the movie version of My Favorite Martian, Uncle Martin is found gorging himself at the Great Pacific Ice Cream Factory.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Because of the pier’s location, extending south from the shoreline’s east-west orientation, it’s possible to get up early and watch the sun rise over the ocean on one side of the pier. Later that night you can watch the sun set over the ocean on the other side of the pier. Neat, right?

Special Recommendation. One of the favorite tourist attractions on the pier are the Pelecanus occidentalis, the all too numerous brown pelicans that someone once said looked like a cross between a dinosaur and a ballet dancer. They sit there on the pier; waddle around, and trick you into thinking they are docile albeit dorky little playthings just waiting for a “Kodak Moment.” Don’t be fooled! They can also be aggressive, in fact overly aggressive. That fact was brought back to me on a visit in June of ‘98. Whenever I would catch a fish the big birds would hurry over hoping for a handout. Unfortunately for them I was returning most of the fish to the water. However, when I caught a large 17” mackerel I had to wrestle and actually push away several birds as I attempted to unhook the squirming fish. I’m not sure what they thought they would do with the mackerel since it was too big for them (I think)—it wouldn’t even fit in my cooler. Be careful not to leave bait out on the pier, either the pelicans or equally aggressive sea gulls will pull a disappearing act with your bait. Pelicans, by the way, have made the news since I first wrote the above words. The following article describes their plight and what some activists would like to do to pier fishing at the wharf. Help solve the problem by properly disposing of lines and hooks. And, don’t feed the birds

 Brown pelicans in peril — Activists would like to see ban on wharf fishing

As more and more California brown pelicans become entangled in hooks and line at the waterfront, some activists say fishing on Stearns Wharf should be banned.

Volunteers for the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, a nonprofit group, say they have been called to the harbor twice a week this summer to rescue pelicans wound up in fishing lines, with hooks lodged in their pouches, legs and wings. California brown pelicans have been on the federal endangered species list since 1970.

On Thursday, one of the birds, an adult female, died a day after she was rescued. She had been found at the Sea Landing jetty, mangled by four different fishing lines and hooks. One of her legs had been deeply cut by a line and the wound was infected and swollen, volunteers said. It was the 20th pelican the network had disentangled from fishing gear this year.

“Fishing is just doing so much damage to the birds,” said June Taylor, a Goleta resident who heads 21 volunteers in the network’s seabird program. “This last year, it’s been really bad. I feel like fishing off the pier should be disallowed. All of my volunteers feel this way.” Often, Ms. Taylor said, the pelicans will swoop down to grab the fishing bait in mid-air, hook and all, as the line is being cast into the water. “They’re attracted to the piers,” she said. “A lot of people are just so careless.” Hundreds of people fish off Stearns Wharf every week, catching mackerel, smelt, perch, barracuda, halibut and calico bass.

In an effort to protect pelicans, harbor officials have installed barrels on the wharf for the disposal of used hooks and line. They perform regular “sweeps” to remove dangling fishing lines—three times per week on the wharf and once a week or every two weeks below it, at water level. Next month, the city plans to erect signs in English and Spanish urging the public to recycle their hooks and line, said Mick Kronman, the harbor operations manager. Mr. Kronman noted that $250,000 of the money to rebuild the end of the wharf after the recent fire came from the Fish and Game Wildlife Conservation Board, with the stipulation that the wharf be used only for sportfishing and other recreational activities having to do with wildlife. “I think closing down the wharf might be a bit extreme,” Mr. Kronman said. “A more prudent course might be to pursue education.”

Fishing off Stearns Wharf Thursday, Raul Diaz said a ban would result in the loss of a relaxing and enjoyable pastime for many people, but he understood why some would want to bar fishing. “A lot of people cut their lines and leave it here on the pier or throw it in the water,” he said. As he spoke he pointed to a pelican hobbling around the pier. He said the bird only had one leg and most likely had gotten tangled in some fishing line. At the very least, he said, something should be done to monitor anglers to make sure they clean up after themselves.

Last week, the state Department of Fish and Game and the city of Santa Cruz imposed a temporary ban on fishing along two-thirds of the Santa Cruz pier to protect pelicans. Large schools of anchovies have attracted flocks of the birds there; more than 100 pelicans have become entangled in fishing line, state officials said. Twenty of those birds have died or been euthanized as a result of their injuries.

Santa Cruz and Fish and Game officials are patrolling the wharf daily, telling anglers to cast away from pelican feeding areas and how to release a hooked bird. Animal rescue workers are asking for a total fishing ban at the pier at least through next week, when the anchovy run is expected to be over.

On the Santa Barbara waterfront, the Wildlife Care Network continues to respond to emergency calls to save pelicans. Thursday, a volunteer was called to the Mission Creek bridge at the waterfront to capture a pelican less than a year old that was trailing a fishing line about 10 feet long. The line was wound around one wing, but not tightly enough to prevent the bird from flying. Seemingly aware of the volunteer with the big blue net perched on the banks, the pelican stayed out of reach and finally flew away.

In addition to pelicans, volunteers say they find grebes, cormorants and many seagulls wrapped up in fishing gear at the harbor. In recent months, several pelicans on the South Coast also have been injured by vandals. Diane Cannon, president of the wildlife network, praised the city for what it has done so far. “The city has been very helpful in working with us to put up signs,” she said. “They’ve been very supportive. It should make a real difference. Not having any fishing would make the biggest difference, but it’s not a realistic option.”

Melinda Burns, Santa Barbara News-Press, September 7, 2001

History Note. The name Santa Barbara was applied to the offshore channel by Vizcaino on December 4, 1602, the day of the Roman maiden who was beheaded by her father because she became a Christian. Later the name was applied to the presidio, then to the mission, and finally to the city and county.

As is true at most coastal towns, the growth in the mid-1800s was accompanied by a certain amount of peril. The “schooners, the brigantines, the sloops-of-war, the square-rigged clipper ships,” and later the side-wheelers, were forced to anchor outside the kelp and unload their passengers and cargo by way of small boats—lighters—through the surf. As recorded, during “southeasters, every ship rode the swells beyond the kelp with slip-chains on her cables, ready if there came a blow, to fly at a moment’s warning and ride out the storm in the lee of Santa Rosa Island.” A wharf/pier was needed.

The first pier built in Santa Barbara was one that was built by the “La Compañia del Muelle de Santa Barbara”—the Santa Barbara Wharf Company. The company was composed of a polyglot group of local entrepreneurs— Samuel Brinkerhoff, New York physician; J.F. Maguire, exiled Irish patriot; “Dr.” P.B. Shaw, English gentleman, Luis Burton, Tennessee fur-trapper and Rocky Mountain pioneer; Isaac J. Sparks, Yankee trapper and seaman, and Martin M. Kimberly, sea captain. They received permission to build a wharf from the city council on September 18, 1865


Before the coming of the railroads in comparatively recent times, the sea furnished the most comfortable and convenient roadway to Santa Barbara’s door. The eyes of those whose memory runs back to sixty years light at the mention of the “Orizaba,” the “Pacific,” and other passenger steamers which touched regularly at the port…

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 […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *