Pier Fishing for Beginners

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I’m not going to beat around the kelp: I love to eat fish. To be frank, that’s what attracted me to fishing. I mean, why buy the cow when I can get the fish for free?

Pier fishing for newbies

Once, a man told Chelsea fishing was just an excuse to sit around and drink beer away from the family. Lucky for me, I don’t drink beer and I pretty much want my kids around all the time. It’s all part of what makes everything I do fun.

Kid pier fishing

Fishing is not something that my family has always done. As a child, friends of my parents invited us out fishing and boating about three times that I can remember. The best memories were on the Columbia River in Washington, where we angled for a prehistoric fish called sturgeon. It was fun getting out on the little boat and watching my fishing line drift off with the current.

But that’s as far as my fishing line goes. I’m now having to start fresh and figure out the details all over again. After a successful camping trip in the Sierras, I learned that I love trout fishing. I also learned that fishing was something I could pick up and pass on to the boys relatively easily…so we could have an excuse to sit around and drink chocolate milk.

Fishing off of the pier

Living in San Diego, I don’t always get a chance to travel with the boys up to the mountains of northern California. What I do have is a number of piers that are easy to fish from and accessible for newcomers and pros alike. Public coastal piers are free to fish from in California, as long as you stick to the fish sizing and quantity rules.

Pier fishing with the familly

Chelsea and I packed up the boys and headed off to Oceanside to sample its fishing opportunities. I quickly learned that there was a distinct trade-off between my newfound type of fishing and trout fishing.

Pier fishing catch

Every hour I saved by driving to the pier as opposed to the mountains was an hour I would spend holding a pole and hoping a fish would be fooled by my squid bait. What’s more, I had no idea what type of fish I would catch.

Pier fishing shop

Unlike the solitude of the mountains, where my only companion was the cool breeze and whisper of pine trees, the pier was busy and bustling with all manner of fisherman. Some had simple poles and some fancy. Some came with a single and others came with eight in hopes of improving their odds. I also learned that a chair was the wise man’s tool here. My biggest takeaway my first-time pier fishing was this: if you’re totally unprepared, go to the pier shop. Smack dab in the middle of the pier was a little shop where they sold bait, buckets to put it in, hooks, sinkers, and even rental poles. We brought our own, but we did take the advice of the knowledgeable seaman who rung us up: “Go allllll the way to the end of the pier. Right-hand side. Mackerel are biting.”

He also gave us a flier identifying the fish generally caught on the pier, and the size and quantity limits for each. On the few docks I’ve spent time on, I’ve found that the very end seems to be where it’s at, and the local guys are chock full of knowledge that they’re happy to share. Beyond that, it’s all a matter of patience and timing. Many fishermen believe that the best time to go is when the water’s changing direction from low tide to high, and that older docks are better for fishing than newer docks because established barnacles lure fish into the area.

Pier fishing community

Being so close to civilization also meant that the boys – as enthusiastic as they were to start – had a nearby diner to reinvigorate their spirits. That’s what chocolate shakes and french fries are for, right? As for me, I got to strike up a conversation with my pier neighbor and learn he was in town from Missouri for a wedding and was hoping to catch a fish from the Pacific Ocean.

Little boys on a dock

And then it hit me. This was a community of sorts, all built around a love and joy derived from fishing. So many different types of people came to the pier to meet up with friends and drop a line…or ten. They would wait and walk back and forth, talking about their personal lives, sports, or the fish they ‘caught’ the day or week before which now seemed to mysteriously elude them. Some would read a book and others would listen to portable radios while they sat in a chair, but every one of them seemed to be part of a larger community that they had pledged allegiance to by rod and pole. And, there I was…waiting for my fish.

Bird on a dock

I managed to catch a special type of fish known to the locals as a “barnacle-covered piling.” I’m not quite sure what this type of fish looks like but I can say it was VERY strong and took not only my bait but my hook and weight as well. Greedy little bugger. Either way, this pier community had me hooked. Next time, however, I will return with a chair for myself and the boys…and a cooler. The smart ones had coolers. With chocolate milk, I’m sure.

If any of you out there are looking to find a sense of community, I encourage you to look no further than fishing. A great place for parents to start is TakeMeFishing.org, where they’ve got a list of friendly spots to go fishing all around cross the country. Prepare to be hooked!

Pier fishing for beginners

Have you been pier fishing? Got any helpful tips?


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