The end of August ushered in halcyon days for the tradition of fishing from California piers. One of these structures, the longest concrete pier on the West Coast (some say the world), is the Ocean Beach Municipal Pier, a decidedly plebian environment, accessible 24/7, where no fishing license is required and the waning days of summer are marked by continually changing tides, light and anglers.
Built by the city of San Diego, the O.B. Pier officially opened with great fanfare on July 2, 1966. While many anglers today agree that fishing from the O.B. Pier may be fun but not especially bountiful, Pierfishing.com reports that the structure "receives a lot of angling pressure (more than 500,000 visitor-days of use per year)."
The 1,971-foot walk down the smooth T-shaped span that dips, then lightly ascends over the Pacific, can be one mother of a haul from the foot of the pier (extending from Niagara Street) to the top of the T-especially when toting fishing rods and reels, a tackle box and a bait bucket.
Under intense solar heat that has burnt all trace of clouds from a crystal-blue sky, scores of anglers lean against nearly one mile of chest-high railings-the weathered, puce-colored wood stained with fish blood. Other signs of carnage-a scaly tail here, a severed filet there-are eyed by opportunistic seagulls that float as if in suspended animation over surfer-infested swells.
"Caught anything?" is the greeting of choice-universally understood by those speaking Vietnamese, Tagalog, Spanish or English-as pier "rats," many wearing wide-brimmed straw hats or several layers of clothing as protection from the blazing sunlight, make their rounds.
Joggers huff past strolling couples. A shirtless man walks with a large parrot on his shoulder. Another man, displaying a hand-written, pro-Jesus sign, plays an electronic keyboard. Young mothers cuddle infants. A group of children is engrossed in a game that uses bits of seaweed. Pale, water-beaded tourists wearing minimal spandex shuffle by. Seated on a cement bench, a grime-covered man, all front teeth missing, earnestly converses with a younger man, who slumps dejectedly, head in hands.
Despite well-posted warnings, such prohibited behavior as covert beer drinking, overhead casting, dog walking and travel by skateboard are observed.
A man wearing a Vietnam veteran's cap effortlessly navigates a kite in the form of scarlet raptor up through the onshore wind. "If you're inland, you don't get a breeze there," he says, adding that he has indulged his passion for kites at the pier four weekends in a row because "it takes the tensions away."
"What happened to live bait?" one angler asks someone at the bait shop about three-quarters of the way out. A rumor circulates about that commodity, unavailable since a past owner of the café allegedly damaged a pier holding tank for commercial live bait with his car some years back. The angler settles for a pack of frozen anchovies.
A 30-something man supervises 10 children-each with a pole cast into the water-who loudly express excitement at every tug on a line. A sudden spinning sound causes the brood to clamber around the patriarch's fishing pole, now dramatically bent, and shout encouragement as he pulls up yet another bonito, which is thrown still flapping into a bucket full of expired fish. At a nearby sink, a woman cleans the catch-red-tinted water gushing out of a drain down to the seawater.
In the late afternoon, the southern-most end of the T is quiet, except for the sound of waves lapping against pilings and the occasional plane or boat. Some male anglers, stripped down to baggy shorts, torsos baked, continue to monitor poles in response to fish activity in the waters below-a ritual of casting, sensing the bite and reeling in. A strong pull on the line brings other anglers to watch what gets pulled up, kept or tossed back. Oaths greet what was though to be a shark, but turns out to be a hook tangled in kelp.
An alleged sighting of the coveted yellowtail causes great commotion. ("They're over here! Those things are freakin' huge!")
A Department of Fish and Game warden strides along, occasionally searching plastic bags-looking for fishing regulation violations. "There are certain species that you can't take this time of year," he explains. "This pier is notorious for lobsters."
A quartet of college students instruct a young female fishing novice, who is at first anxious that all the fish caught by the group are released. After several failed attempts to successfully reel a fish up, however, her attitude becomes sinister as she watches one fall off her line and mutters, "I hope it swallows that hook and chokes on it."
By 10 p.m., the pier's café has shut for the night and an exodus of sticky humanity lugs their gear off the pier, dispersing the day's temporary community. But a resilient few remain-to see what night waters will bring and, perhaps, greet the dawn.