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Pier Fishing and Pier Walking in California
1st in a series on the public piers of California
Avila Beach, California’s Central Coast

Thomas Leo Ogren

About 225 miles north of Los Angles is the little coastal town of Avila Beach. Avila is one of the few south-facing beaches on the Central Coast and as a result it is usually warm and sunny.

Pier fishing off the coast of California is free, fun, and if you’re not too fussy, lots of fun. And perhaps best of all, you don’t need to have a fishing license to fish from any of the public piers in California

There are actually three piers at Avila Beach but one of them is an oil company pier, off limits, so it hardly counts.

At the end of the road, just 3 miles from 101, is the Old Port Pier, one of the few wooden piers that you can actually drive your car on all the way to the end. There’s a tiny parking lot out near the end, or at least a place to turn your car around. At the end of the Old Port pier is a restaurant, usually open to 11pm.

In the main parking lot next to the public boat ramp at Old Port Pier you can buy bait and tackle but only during daylight hours.

Just last week I was out fishing on the Old Port Pier and saw this huge raccoon dumpster-diving in the restaurant’s trash.  I knew raccoons were adaptable creatures but still, a pier raccoon? I’m guessing he (she?) lives underneath the pier somewhere.

Fishing off the Old Port Pier is well, not the best usually. During the day it is sometimes fair but for night fishing it is kind of a bust. The only decent light out toward the end of the pier is right next to a very stinky portable outhouse. This makes for a fishing experience not to be easily forgotten-unfortunately.

The long fishing pier off the main beach in Avila Beach, that’s the best one for fishing. As California piers go it is not too high off the water and that’s always a plus. Unlike some of the newer all cement piers, this one is all wood. There are a couple of restrooms out at the end of the pier and the city of Avila Beach does a good job of keeping these clean.

The large sandy beach right next to the pier is clean, has decent newer restrooms, swing sets for the kids, and it always attracts lots of beautiful bikini clad sunbathers in the summer. Not that I notice such things. I’m a fisherman after all.

In the winter months almost no one fishes from any of the Avila Beach piers although fishing for barred surfperch is sometimes pretty decent in winter months, especially from the main pier at the beach. Fish close to the surf with sandcrabs for bait. These you can catch in the wet sand on the beach. The soft-shelled sandcrabs are the best, but when the perch are biting well, any will do. Fishing for surfperch is usually best on an incoming high tide.

The real action on the pier though is from big migratory schools of jacksmelt and mackerel. The hotter the weather, the better the bite. Sometimes on a hot summer day the fishermen will be lined all up and down the pier, casting long strings of tiny mackerel jigs. Each jig line usually has at least six small, feathered hooks and at the end you just tie a weight, or better yet a one-ounce shiny metal lure. When the mackerel, smelt and big sardines are running, everyone catches fish. Lots of them. Most of the mackerel are about a foot long but now and then some really big ones come in, huge, strong fighting, hard-hitting fish.

You can fish for these jacks, mackerel, and jumbo sardines with bait too. The way I prefer is to tie two number four or six hooks on the end of the line, about sixteen inches apart. I don’t use any weight at all and for bait, small hunks of anchovy or better yet, small pieces of mackerel. Mackerel, true cannibals, bite very well on cut mackerel. Mackerel stays on the hook better than anchovy too.

At night the bait out fishes the jigs easily although when the sun’s shining, the jigs are usually the ticket. You cast out as far as you can and try and watch your bait sink down. The strike is often fast and hard. Since it is difficult to cast with so little weight, light lines and trout action type, fresh-water fishing gear is the ticket for success. I did try my ultra light pole one night but the first big mackerel I caught broke me off.

When night fishing it is fun to also bring along an extra pole, perhaps one with a heavier line. Put on a weight, big hook and a chunk of fresh sardine or mackerel on this rig and cast it out far from the pier and let it sit while you mess with the schools of mackerel. Sometimes you’ll be rewarded with a shovel nosed shark, a big leopard shark, a dogfish shark, a fat puffer shark, or even a bat ray. Bring along a camera as these make for a great photo opportunity before you toss them back.

Too many people keep every fish they catch and they proudly display these in their five-gallon plastic buckets. Myself, although I keep an occasional fish or two for bait most of what I catch gets tossed right back in. Catch and release means more fish for all of us. Still, if you have a fish smoker, smoked mackerel is pretty tasty stuff.

Pier fishing is always a good time even if the fish aren’t biting. I love to just be out there feeling the ocean breeze, smelling the saltwater. You never know what you might see off the pier either. Whales are not all that uncommon, pelicans dive headfirst into the ocean constantly, seagulls fly around, stopping now and then to try and steal your cut bait. Sea lions, seals and sea otters are seen all the time, and now and then a school of porpoises will streak past the pier. And hey, if you’re really lucky, you might even see a raccoon.       

Tom Ogren, author of Allergy-Free Gardening, is a die-hard pier fisherman.

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Email:  Thomas Leo Ogren

Thomas Leo Ogren is the author of Allergy-Free Gardening, from Ten Speed Press. His next book, Safe Sex in The Garden, will be published Spring of 2002.


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