Fishing Piers Southern California

Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier — Long Beach

Public Pier — No Fishing License Required

My first visit to this pier took place on a sultry summer night in the mid-1970s. I was visiting southern California with my family, shepherding my wife and kids to the “must see” tourist spots during the day, and making short excursions to the local piers during the morning and evening hours. Much to my surprise, anglers at this pier were using drop-lights to fish. These lights consisted of a heavy electrical cord with a plug at one end and a light with a reflector at the other end. Fishermen would plug their lights into the electrical outlets located on the pier’s overhead lights. They would then lower their cords and lights down so that the drop-lights were just above the surface of the water. Inevitably, small fish such as anchovies and smelt were attracted to the lights and would swarm near the top of the water. Every so often a larger fish would approach, the small fish would scatter and disappear, and then, a few moments later, fish would reappear. Anglers, using light lines and small baits, were catching their share of the larger fish.

One couple allowed me to share their light and I quickly caught a small sand bass followed by several tom cod (white croaker) and mid-sized queenfish. I didn’t have a drop-light but vowed that when I returned, I would bring one with me. Unfortunately, I waited too long, the electrical outlets were removed in the ’80s (due, the authorities said, to the fact that the outlets encouraged all-night camping and fires which the campers set to keep warm).

Even without drop-lights, I’ve generally caught some type of fish whenever I’ve visited the pier. The pier receives heavy use from anglers and, with the exception or “red tide” occurrences, almost always yields some fish.

Environment. The 1,620-foot-long, T-shaped pier sits inside the protected waters of the Long Beach-San Pedro breakwaters; the result is a very moderate surf and a wide sandy beach. Further out and around the end of the pier the bottom is sand and mud. This area usually shows little growth of seaweed or kelp, but does have a fairly heavy growth of mussels on the pilings. In addition, concrete rubble was placed among the pilings during the construction of the pier (in 1967) to act as an artificial reef. The pier has above-average surf fishing yielding corbina, spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, barred surfperch, round stingray, thornback rays and guitarfish (shovelnose sharks). Midway out on the concrete pier is the best area for halibut and sand bass, as well as the smaller walleye surfperch, jacksmelt and tom cod (white croaker). This mid-pier area will also yield good numbers of croakers but not in the numbers of the inshore area. The end area is best for the pelagics such as mackerel and bonito as well as most sharks. The areas near the bait shop and the boat landing seem best for sargo and herring (queenfish). A negative aspect of the pier is fairly common red tide conditions (when fish will be virtually absent); at least a third of my visits in the past ten years have seen the pier surrounded, or nearly surrounded, by red tide.

An interesting visual attraction is the group of islands which sit a short distance offshore from the pier. Island Chaffee, Island White and Island Freeman are artificial islands containing oil drilling equipment. However, the islands are sheathed in pastel colored, modernistic walls which cloak their industrial activity. Society wants the oil but doesn’t want to see the activity which produces it.

Fishing Tips. Try the inshore areas for large croakers using sand crabs, fresh mussels, ghost shrimp, or bloodworms. Early morning hours, or just before dusk, seem the best times, and be prepared for some action. I personally think it may be one of the best piers in the state for corbina (and I have seen as many as thirty corbina caught in just a few hours of early morning angling — by eight anglers). Although anglers will debate the topic endlessly, two of the best riggings will be size 4-2 baitholder hooks used with sand crabs or bloodworms, and size 2 -1/0 Kahle hooks covered with fresh mussels or ghost shrimp. I tend to go with the smaller hooks but it depends on the type of bait you are using and the fish you are seeking.

Fish the mid-pier area using a Lucky Lura/Lucky Joe outfit for jacksmelt, topsmelt, walleye surfperch or queenfish. If you catch a small queenfish, or even a smelt or small mackerel, remember that they make excellent halibut baits. Put the small fish on a live bait leader, sit back, and watch your pole for the light mouthings of the toothy halibut. Pay attention and be ready. The top spot for the halibut seems to be around the black asphalt section near the middle of the pier.

Out near the end, close to the bait shop, is sometimes a good area for bass (both sand bass and kelp bass) as well as perch. Most of the bass seem to hit on anchovies, squid or lures. Anglers fishing down around the mussel-covered pilings with mussels (surprise) are sometimes rewarded with good sized buttermouth perch (blackperch), rubberlip perch or pileperch. Some years also see good runs of sargo (generally May to July). The scrappy grunts, up to about three pounds in weight, love fresh mussels, get positively giddy over live ghost shrimp, and seem to hit best on the bottom near the pilings in the early evening or night hours.

Fish the outer wings of the pier for pelagics such as bonito and mackerel, as well as barracuda and sharks. Use live anchovies when they’re available (generally in the summer months) for the macs, the boneheads and the pencils. Unfortunately, most months see a lack of live anchovies. Plan #2! For the mackerel, fish with strips of squid or pieces of mackerel under a splitshot sinker. Bonito splashers will work for the bonito, as will feathers trailing behind a cast-a-bubble. Spoons, generally gold colored, when cast at night, may yield a few barracuda during the summer to fall months. For the sharks, jig up some live bait (especially Pacific mackerel or jack mackerel) and then fish them on a live bait, sliding leader.

Horn Shark caught in 2005

Most of the sharks will be gray sharks (gray smoothhounds), shovelnose sharks (shovelnose guitarfish), leopards (leopard sharks), or pinback sharks (spiny dogfish) but occasionally there will be a large thresher mixed into the action. Less common will be blue sharks and sometimes even a bonito shark (mako shark). Once every thirty years you’ll also hear of someone latching onto a hammerhead shark and once every thousand years an intrepid angler may hook a white “maneater” shark (why do they only eat men?); most of the latter are still missing in action. If you’re satisfied with the smaller sharks, cut mackerel and squid fished on the bottom will yield small smoothies (gray and brown smoothhounds), thornback rays, and bat rays. If seeking out the monsters, be sure to bring a treble-hook gaff, strong line, and a couple of strong friends to hoist your prize up to the pier.

Gray Smoothhound Shark

Some itsy bitsy fish are also found out at the end. Most common are herring (queenfish), topsmelt, small perch and pompano (Pacific butterfish). All can be caught on Lucky Lura-type leaders fished at mid-depth range, although the pompano are true Epicureans and prefer to have their hooks sweetened by a delicious but small piece of fresh mussel. I’ve also seen a few salema here but not in the numbers found at other county piers.

An ILLEGAL Giant (Black) Sea Bass 

<*}}}}}}}}}><   An interesting catch occurred in July of 1977 when a Belmont Shore’s angler caught a 34 1/2 inch yellow snake eel (Ophichthus zophochir). The eel is considered rare in California. Although the listed range is from Peru to Berkeley Pier, less than 20 have been seen in California. Not only was it an unusual catch, but it was the largest such eel ever seen — the previous record being only 32 1/2 inches. Another interesting catch from this pier, although many years ago, was a 36 inch, 6 1/2 pound green sturgeon.

Special Recommendation. Because of elevated levels of DDT and PCB, the Cal OEHHA recommends that no more than one meal of locally caught surfperch be consumed every two weeks.

History Note. Belmont Pier was built in 1968 alongside the older Grand Avenue Pier, a pier which was also called the Belmont Heights Pier by some, and the Devil’s Gate Pier by most; a name which referred to the geologic formation (a natural bridge) which in those days extended seaward from the low bluffs at 39th Place. That pier opened on Christmas Eve 1915 and was seen as a gift by the Long Beach municipality to the residents of the Belmont section, an area which in those days was far from the center of action. The pier was 975-foot-long and had a maximum width of 112 feet in the middle and a minimum width of twenty-five feet. Ornamental lights illuminated the pier and in the middle were two pergolas. Newspapers reported that 3,000 to 4,000 people visited the pier the first two days it was open and that 500 to 600 automobiles drove out to the end on the smooth concrete surface. In 1951 the pier was renovated and given a 300-foot extension. But by the 1960s, the older pier was in poor condition and the decision was made to build a new pier. One week after the new pier opened, the demolition of the old pier began (and plans included placing part of the rubble from the older pier around the new pilings, thus acting as an artificial reef).

On Sunday, February 19, 1967, the new 1,450-foot-long Belmont Pier opened and the local newspaper’s headline read “Throngs Hail Opening of New Pier.” The story reported that free live bait was given out all day long and recorded the initial catches at the new pier. The first fish officially caught was by an eleven-year-old girl, Rosemary Rodriguez, who caught a sand bass. Brian Williams, a four-year-old angler was the youngest to catch a fish — a bullhead. The oldest was 82-year-old Albert Parbst who caught a perch. The largest fish of the day was a 2-pound, 8-ounce bonito caught by 16-year-old Maureen Younger.

Among the piers amenities in those days were a sportfishing fleet which operated from the 336-foot, y-crossing at the seaward end. The Islander operated as a water taxi out to a fishing barge, the Queen of the Sea operated as a half-day boat, and the Hurricane operated as a three-quarter day boat.

Belmont Shores Pier Facts

Hours: Open one hour before sunrise to midnight. This cuts into the night fishing; however, the midnight closing was a necessity due to vandalism and people using the pier for a home.
Facilities: Lights, some benches, fish-cleaning stations, restrooms, and a bait and tackle/snack shop all on the pier. There is a parking lot near the foot of the pier ($.50 an hour with a 10 hour limit, but no parking 6:30-7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays) and both free and metered parking on adjacent streets.
Handicapped Facilities: n/a
How To Get There: From the north take I-405 to the Lakewood Boulevard turnoff, then go south to 7th Street, turn west (right) until you come to Ximeno Ave. and then turn left. Follow it to Livingston Dr. and go west. You will see signs by Ocean Ave. and Termino Ave. indicating the pier. From the south take the Pacific Coast Highway to 2nd. Street (Westminister becomes 2nd. Street when it crosses PCH), go west, follow to Livingston Dr. Follow it to signs by Ocean Ave. and Termino Ave. indicating the pier and parking lot.
Management: City Of Long Beach.

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