Fishing Piers Southern California

The Old Ferry Landing — Coronado

Public Pier — No Fishing License Required

I spotted this pier one day from the downtown side of San Diego Bay. I drove across the Coronado Bridge, was unable to find the pier and left it out of the first edition of my book. Later, I found directions to the pier and could have kicked myself because it is so easy to reach. It sits behind the Old Ferry Landing shopping complex and although completely hidden from view from the street, is a short, easy walk from the corner of the street.

Environment. The pier is small (377 feet long) and although part of it is a boarding area for the ferry, the part that is open for angling yields quite a few fish. Bottom here is primarily sand and mud with several grassy areas around the pier. The pilings themselves are encrusted with mussels. Because of the pier’s size, the water depth is fairly shallow but because of the grassy areas a lot of sand bass seem to be caught. Initially I thought that the shallow water conditions would yield less mackerel and bonito than some piers; but happily for local anglers, I was wrong. The pier is often good for mackerel and at least fair for bonito. The overall mix of fish mirrors that found at most bay piers: jacksmelt, topsmelt, mackerel, and bonito on the top; bass, perch, croakers, rays and sharks on the bottom.

Fishing Tips. Several different approaches can be tried here. First is to buy an umbrella drop net. Attach a few pieces of bread to the net, drop it down into the water, and catch yourself some small smelt or anchovies. Then, using the live bait, fish directly under the pier (or off the far left corner) on the bottom for halibut. Or, try in the grassy areas for barred sand bass, spotted sand bass and kelp bass. During the spring, try fishing in these grassy areas with bloodworms, mussels or ghost shrimp for blackperch, white seaperch, rubberlip perch and sargo. Fishing on the bottom or mid-depth, while using small hooks, size 6 or 8, and pieces of anchovy or mackerel, will sometimes also yield herring (queenfish) or tom cod (white croaker). However, salema will be the more frequent result.

At night this can be a fairly good pier for sharks and rays. Casting out away from the pier and using mackerel or squid as bait, will often result in gray smoothhound sharks, bat rays and shovelnose sharks (guitarfish). This pier, both day and night, also yields a lot of the smaller sized round stingrays. Handle them with care but return them to the water.

Rich Reano, Webmaster for Pier Fishing in California, and a small gray smoothhound shark

Nocturnal hours will also yield spotfin croaker, yellowfin croaker, sargo and an occasional China (black) croaker. For these, use a high/low rigging on the bottom and use bloodworms, mussels or ghost shrimp as your bait. Similar riggings and baits will also yield diamond turbot much of the year but remember to keep the hooks small if these are your target.

For mackerel or jacksmelt try a multi-hook rigging. Cast out, let the line sink part way to the bottom and then start a slow but steady retrieve. If the mackerel are wary, put a size 6 or 4 hook on the end of your line and add a split-shot sinker or twist-on sinker three foot above the hook. Keep your bait 6-8 feet under the surface of the water (and you may find that you also need a bobber or float to do it). The key is to get down to the mackerel which like to hang under the schools of smelt. The smelt will attack the bait and nibble it with their small mouths but then the mackerel with barge in and grab it. When the mackerel are around you should have no problem catching a stringer of fish.

This is also a pier which seems to see a lot of needlefish; prey which are fun but difficult to catch. If you want to seek these, use a live bait fished under a bobber or float, and cast just out from the pier. Use a size 6 hook and expect to lose at least a half dozen baits for every needlefish which you hook.

You might also try artificial lures. Perch will sometimes hit a soft plastic grub, while spotted sand bass, barred sand bass and kelp bass will strike many different types of lures.

Favorites include small 3-5 inch Scampis and Scroungers, Haddock Kreepy Krawlers and Berkeley Power Sand Worms. Swim baits are also popular as well as more exotic combinations like swim baits with a rattle added and Strike Lites which are designed to be used at night. One hint is to use freshwater jig heads which have smaller hook diameters — they are sharper. When using artificals around the pier, a good technique is to drop the lure straight down alongside the pier, let the current sweep it under the pier, wait a few seconds and then begin your retrieve. Often the fish will hit it as the lure is descending to the bottom or when you begin the retrieve. Or, you can try a lift and fall technique since you are somewhat limited in the area you can fish. The key is to keep the lure around the structure of the pier, do not work the lure away from the pier.

Light tackle, by the way, is often the way to go at this pier. Water here is frequently crystal clear and the fish can be very wary of the heavier lines, especially during the middle of sunny days. You may also pull in an occasional halibut while using such artificial lures.

Note. If you see an energetic young lady sitting on the rail, helping the kids, providing bait or fish to those without, or rescuing pigeons that fall into the water, you’ve seen the person I dubbed the “mom” at the pier. Her name is Shari and most days she’s out at the pier fishing. I watched her perform a variety of tasks during visits in 1998 and finally had to introduce myself and thank her for the help she provided the other anglers. Fishing is only part of the pier experience, the interaction and good will between the pier rats gives value to the pier and creates a family. Every pier needs a “mom” and luckily many do indeed have people like Shari, although few are as quite as lively. She’s a nice person, and her behavior and actions at the pier should be emulated by others.

History Note. The pier itself is fairly new having been opened in 1987. The name comes from the fact that it is built on the site of the landing for the old Coronado to San Diego ferry. That ferry ran from 1886 until 1969 when the Coronado Bridge was constructed. When a shopping complex and new ferry service were inaugurated in 1987, plans included fishing access at this pier, a pier which has become increasingly popular.

Although piers and wharves have lined much of Coronado’s bayside shoreline over the years, the most famous pier at Coronado was probably the oceanfront pier which sat adjacent to the Coronado Hotel for over a third of a century. That pier (really a number of different piers) was used by hotel guests and people who stayed at Camp Coronado, the famous tent city located south of the hotel. Anglers were able to fish for a variety of surf species from the pier and could also charter deep sea boats which would haul them out into deeper waters (as well as the Coronado Islands).

The earliest pier appears to have been built around 1888 and was called the “iron pier” because iron railroad rails were laid across the pilings before the planks were placed on top. That pier was apparently only a little over one hundred feet long. In 1891 and 1892 sections of the pier which had been damaged by high waves were repaired, and the pier was lengthened. By 1892, the Coronado Pier was reported as over 400 feet long. Soon, cribs (structures of wood and wire filled with rock and rubble), which acted much like a jetty, were placed alongside the pier as a buffer against the waves. Even so, the longer pier was washed out during the punishing storms of January and February 1905. It was soon replaced by yet another pier, and that pier, like its predecessors, had to be periodically rebuilt due to storm damage. However, it appears that damage from storms in 1925 finished off the pier and it was never rebuilt.

The Old Ferry Landing Pier Facts

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Facilities: Facilities are somewhat limited on the pier itself: a few benches, lights and bait-cutting platforms. Restrooms are located a short walk from the front of the pier in the shopping center (and are only open during the hours the shopping complex is open). Both free and metered parking is available on First Street and B Avenue (25 cents an hour with a two hour maximum, 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.). Free parking is available at the shopping complex but only for those patronizing the businesses. Bait and tackle is not available but food can be found in many of the shopping establishments.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking spaces and restrooms are located in the shopping complex. The pier surface is wood and the railing is about 40 inches high.

How To Get There: From San Diego, take the Coronado Bay Bridge (Highway 75) to Coronado. Once over the bridge you are on Third Street. Simply follow it to B Avenue, turn right, and follow it to the front of The Old Ferry Landing – the intersection of First Street and B Avenue. The pier sits behind the shops in the complex. Management: San Diego Unified Port District.

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