Getting Started

"You get a line and I'll get a pole, we'll go fishin' in the crawdad hole" goes the old refrain  and it is especially applicable here ... believe it or not that's just about all you will need to get started pier fishing.

Pier fishing, by its very nature, is a very laid back pastime not requiring an expensive outlay in tackle.  In fact the competitive approach,  revealed by those who believe that 'the more extensive your toys the greater your joys' , is the very antithesis of pier fishing and strikes at the heart of the 'day at the pier' experience. 

Perhaps that is as it should be since the offering at most piers is a rather  limited selection of species and sizes compared to offshore boating.

So what is it that continues to draw anglers to our piers year after year if it isn't the spectacular catch rate?  The 19th century American naturalist and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau conjectured that 'most men fish all  their lives without realizing that it is not fish they are after'.

The popular bumper sticker - 'the worst day fishing beats the best day working' is a more contemporary statement of the same sentiment ... that there is much more to pier fishing than just catching fish.

Piers are a way of temporarily escaping from our daily routines ... and if the fish cooperate so much the better.  Looking even more closely though you might even find an angler who has his line in the water but no bait on the hook ... guaranteeing an uninterrupted session of necessary and restorative daydreaming.

So, with that in mind, let's get started by selecting the bare minimum of tackle needed to proceed. 

For the beginning pier angler that would consist of a medium weight 7'  fiberglass rod with an inexpensive spinning reel - the 'sale' combos featured in most sporting good stores generally for around $30 - $35. 

Pictured is the Shimano combo that I used for the 2002-2003 reef survey, catching over 535 fish in 114 trips.  Shimano makes a very reliable low end product line for the beginning angler backed by terrific customer service. 

Add to that 150 yards of 12-15 pound monofilament  line, a couple of packs of #4 or #6 pre-tied hooks and a handful of 1 ounce lead sinkers and the basic setup is complete.

The next order of business is tying it all together.  For that begin with what is known as a hi-lo or surf leader by tying an overhand loop in the business end of the fishing line to which you attach one of the lead weights.  Then tie another overhand loop about  1 foot up from the weight and a second loop another foot further up. Moisten the loop ends of 2 pre-tied leaders and slip one through each line loop pulling them snug.

Attach a small piece of bait to each hook and drop the line in the water ... either holding the pole by hand or propping it up against the railing. It is a proven fact that most pier fish cluster directly below you around and between the pilings so there is no need to learn to cast at this point.

That is all there is to it ...  the rest is just simply a refinement on the basic technique and can be learned from fellow anglers or diligent internet searches. 

It is a truism that what makes for a successful angler is simply time on the water ... the more you fish the more you learn and the more productive your subsequent fishing sessions will be. Rather than spoil that learning experience by overloading you with abstract, arcane and unnecessary information I will leave you to your own devices for the time being.  Enjoy!

Various Goleta Pier habitats: 

Inshore:  Refers to area between the breakers and the Angler Center.  This is a sandy habitat that sees croaker, corbina, surfperch, halibut, rays and small sharks. Best area for the beginning angler.

Pilings:  Goleta's pilings sport large colonies of mussel.. This natural food source attracts many different species some of which prey on the mussels (perch) and others (halibut) which prey on the perch. Generally requires the use of shorter rods and light-weight line when fishing tight to the pilings. Wave surge can cause line to become entangled so some caution is needed.

Kelp reef:  Rocky bottom area 30 - 50 yards west of pier and running its entire length. Noted for its surface canopy of brown kelp. The kelp forest below shelters rockfish, bass, lingcod and cabezon. Because of the necessity of long casts and the difficulty of retrieving fish through the sometimes dense canopy this area is only for the more experienced angler.

End of pier:  Often the largest of the sharks as well as many pelagics (mackerel, bonita) are found off the end in the deeper water. For many reasons this is not an area suitable to novice anglers especially at night.  Interesting to watch but best to fish it only after having  gained experience on the tamer sections of the pier. 

Pier Fishing Styles:

Catch and Release (C&R):  Fishing primarily for sport and not for food.  Features the use of techniques and tackle that seeks to increase the survivability of the hooked and released fish.
Subsistence:  Fishing for food.  Most fishing is a mixture of C&R and subsistence.

Cut bait:  Generally refers to packages of frozen squid,  frozen or salted (dried) anchovies, fresh dead or frozen sardines and mackerel.  May be used whole, chunked or cut into strips. 

Live bait:  In the summer and fall large schools of smelt, sardines, anchovies and occasional herring surface near the pier.  Anglers use a multi-hook jig rig, locally called a sabiki, to obtain a supply which is stored in plastic buckets with aerators.  The live bait is rehooked and used to attract the larger predators such as halibut, bass, cabezon and lingcod.

Perching:  Using various techniques anglers obtain a chunk of the mussel colony around a piling.  The individual mussel shells are opened as needed placing small amounts on tiny  #6 or #8 hooks which are dropped to a level with the bottom of the mussel colony in order to attract the various perch species already feeding there.

Plugging:  In recent years the practice of casting and retrieving artificial lures or soft plastic swim baits has become increasing popular.  The frequent success these anglers have is directly related to the amount of exposure their 'bait'  gets ... the more ground they cover the more predators see it.  This style usually requires frequent changes in location as the angler tries to discover the 'hot spots'.

Crabbing:  Crabs can be caught by dropping a hoop net to the bottom with chunks of bait  wired to it.  Because of the multiple rings (hoops) used to support the mesh the net is dish shaped.  When the net is 'pulled' the sides lift up entrapping the enclosed crabs.  Also called hooping especially when the target is lobster.

Snagging:  The practice of dragging a line, consisting of multiple, evenly spaced and unbaited large treble hooks, across the sea bottom in an effort to entangle various bottom feeders such as corbina.  In shallow and clear water  the snagger ties white flags on either side of the group of hooks.  By viewing the area between the flags, like goal posts, the snagger can see the fish crossing and rapidly jerk the hooks into it.

Poaching:  The practice of willfully ignoring the regulations in pursuit of fish or shellfish. Rarely done out of ignorance and usually motivated  by greed accompanied by a complete disregard for the best interests of both the targeted species and their fellow anglers.  Often seen in the company of disreputable business owners seeking to encourage the illegal 'black market' sale of the poached commodity.

Note:  the page is a work in progress ... check back frequently.

Questions or comments? ... email Pierhead
Copyright © 2007 by Boyd Grant.  All Rights Reserved