Last modified: September 11, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier — Long Beach

Gray Smoothhound Shark

Some itsy bitsy fish are also found out toward the end. Most common are herring (queenfish), topsmelt, small perch and pompano (Pacific butterfish). All can be caught on Sabiki-type bait rigs jigged 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. Ditto sardines, which sometimes show up in good numbers but don’t seem as common as at oceanfront piers. Lastly, some years will also see small to medium-size lizardfish.

An ILLEGAL Giant (Black) Sea Bass 

Potp[ourri — Possibly More Than You Want To Know About The Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Studies done by the Department of Fish and Game between 2004 and 2009 show the pier to have the typical mix of fish for a SoCal sandy-beach pier. Numerically, Pacific sardine led the list followed by white croaker, queenfish, Pacific mackerel, yellowfin croaker, shiner perch, Pacific bonito, topsmelt, walleye surfperch, pileperch, black perch, California corbina, jack mackerel, California halibut, barred sand bass, blacksmith, shovelnose guitarfish, salema, white seaperch, California butterfly ray, spotfin croaker, sargo, California scorpionfish, grass rockfish, rubberlip saeperch, rock wrasse and round stingray. All of these are fish common to the pier and area.

However, due to its size (angling pressure), location, and (perhaps) its proximity to local Fish and Game offices, the pier and adjacent beach areas have also been good ones for recording a variety of uncommon, rare, strange and just plain odd species that have shown up over the years.

One such species is the yellow snake eel (Ophichthus zophochir) whose range is listed from Peru to Berkeley Pier. In July of 1977 a Belmont Pier angler caught a 34 1/2-inch eel. Not only was it an unusual catch, but it was a new record for the species, the previous record being only 32 1/2 inches long. (Yellow snake eels were long considered “rare” in California with less than 20 having been recorded into the ‘70s. However, quite a few have been reported to the PFIC Message Board since 1997. Although most were from SoCal piers, one was caught at the Berkeley Pier.) A second yellow snake eel was reported from Belmont in 2009, a small 13-inch fish that was caught by an angler using squid on a Carolina rigging.

A different type of eel was seen in January of 2010 following a stormy, rainy night at Belmont. PFIC regular Riplee781 reported catching a “weird looking eel fish” that he couldn’t identify. His fishing buddy Jellyfish posted that “it didn’t have a face like a eel. It had a face like a white croaker and the skin was like a white croaker, scaly and sliver in color.” It sounded like a cusk-eel to me and after posting a picture of a basketweave cusk-eel to the site, they confirmed that it was the fish that had been caught. A still unidentified eel was a 4-foot-long specimen reported to the PFIC board in September 2008, a fish taken on anchovies near the surf line.

Sturgeon in Long Beach? Although far from being the largest of their species, two far-from-home green sturgeon were taken at the pier many years ago. As reported by Fitch and Lavenberg in 1971, one sturgeon was 36 inches long and weighed 6.5 pounds while the other was 35 inches long and weighed 5.25 pounds. Since green sturgeon can reach at least 350 pounds in weight, these must have been mere juveniles out exploring the world.

On May 29, 1958 a Pacific thread herring (Opisthomema libertate) was caught from the pier and since no one seemed to know what it was the F&G was called in for identification. A green jack (Caranx caballus) was recorded on November 24, 1957 from Belmont Shore but it isn’t noted if the fish was caught on the pier itself. The ’57 and ’58 catches were during a time of El Niño conditions. Two bonefish were taken early summer 1963.

El Niño undoubtedly also played a part in the catches of unusual fish just a decade ago. A number of threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense) were landed in October 1997. These fish are common to Central America but considered rare in our ocean waters (although they have been reported from the Long Beach Harbor in the past). In addition, deepbody thread herring (Opistlzonemu libertute) were also reported and examined during the same fall month.

A species reported by marine biologist Milton Love is the normally-found-in-freshwater tilipia. He reported that several have been taken from the pier; they apparently are able to live for some time in high salinity waters including saltwater.

In addition to these pier-caught fish are a number of fish that that were taken in the surf near the pier. One of the rarest was a Pacific bigscale pomfret (Taractichthys steindachneri), one of only a handful recorded from the eastern Pacific. As reported by Fitch and Lavenberg in 1968, the fish “was caught barehanded on March 17, 1964, in the surf near the Belmont Shore pier by a Long Beach fisherman, Kevin Desmond. This fish was 678 mm TL, and weighed about 5.5 kg (12 lbs).”

Going even further back in the record books, the first escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) from California was picked up on shore at Long Beach in the spring of 1928. This fish, 734 mm TL, was recorded by Myers in 1932 as Xenogramma carinatum, and apparently represented only the fifth or sixth known specimen from anywhere in the world at the time. The second specimen from California was 610 mm TL and weighed 1835 g. It was picked up in the surf near Marineland of the Pacific’s pier on August 1, 1960 (California Fish and Game, April 1978).

An oddity, although not a rare species, was a fish captured by hand in March of 1998. It seems a Belmont Pier angler spotted a fish that had beached itself on the sand while chasing a school of grunion into the shallow waters. The angler raced down to the beach and grabbed the fish. Turned out to be a 7-pound skipjack tuna (Euthynnus pelamis)! What the normally offshore fish was doing in these inshore waters is anyone’s guess.

Lastly was the strange fish reported by Vernona Fath (Snookie), our Balboa reporter. The fish was one of the mainstays of California pier fishermen, but one with a freaky, oddball twist. In response to a PFIC Message Board thread concerning halibut that were brown on both sides, or white on both sides, she reported: “Yes, I have seen some of these halibut with unusual color patterns. Some have been solid. Others have been patchy. In 1955 there was an albino halibut caught off Belmont Pier. It was almost completely white with the exception of black fins, a black tail and black eyes. Fish apparently don’t have pink eyes as in other albinism cases. This fish was 13 3/4 inches long and weighed less than a pound. It was a healthy specimen. It was also the first halibut with albinism to be caught and seen.” So yes, this pier does yield some unusual critters.

A final fish was the catch of a catalufa in 1975 (see story below).

Rare fish caught at Belmont Pier

Casting a bait and then sitting down and watching the rod tip on Belmont Pier isn’t the most glamorous and exotic fishing along the Pacific Coast, but it’s restful and sometimes productive for perch, an occasional halibut and other species. Then too, you meet interesting people.

Gerald Osier of 221 Grand Ave., who has worked on the pier and still does some parttime work there in the summer months, likes to fish the pier and just loaf. Just recently he caught one of the rarest fishes in the Pacific Ocean. It was small, and there was no way that he could have filleted it and got a dinner for two. So he reported to the department of Fish and Game, and one of the DFG biologists came to take a look and carry the fish back to the laboratories at 350 Golden Shore. The fish was red, looked like a perch, had large blue eyes almost the size of nickels, weighed 11 ounces, and was 9 ½ inches long.

Now Osier has a letter from John Fitch, research director of the State Fisheries Laboratories at Long Beach DFG, saying that the fish is a catalufa, extremely rare. In fact, said Fitch, fewer than 15 had ever been caught either by hook and line or in commercial nets in all the time that he has been with the DFG.

Fitch, in his letter to Osier, said that the largest catalufa that he had ever seen was 13 inches long and weighed two pounds. He also told Osier that the fish was being sent to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. It will be made into a mount and displayed.

This is just one sample of what can happen in pier fishing, which can be fun for individuals or a family except for the fact that all piers now are afflicted with vandalism. What public facilities are not endangered the same way? Belmont Pier is the one remaining public fishing facility in Long Beach and it deserves enough security protection to keep it clean.

Frank Hale’s Seal Beach Pier is another facility that is so close to Long Beach that it really gets more trade from this city than from Orange County. One of the reasons is that Hale has a barge— the only barge in this area— anchored in an area that is virtually in the San Gabriel River channel, where bonito and mackerel like to swim and hunt food.

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