I cut my teeth fishing inside Long Beach Harbor. I was taught how to use visual bearings and line-ups to find hard bottom areas, high relief and even wrecks, and took that knowledge into all the nearshore fishing I do today. I learned how to figure current and wind directions for a specific spot, and set up on that spot so the transom sits perfectly in position to be able to chum and fish effectively. This basic principle is instrumental to fishing just about everywhere one might anchor. Not only did I learn the basic fundamentals here, but I also learned that there are lots of fish to catch in LB Harbor, especially halibut. Boy, are there a lot of halibut.
In the early 1960′s the City of Long Beach decided to clean up all the oil derricks along the coastline and build oil drilling islands off the coast (1/2-1 1/2 miles off the beach). The idea was to construct these islands in a way that not only tapped into one of the biggest oil fields in North America, but make it beautiful as well. Edge rock was barged over from Catalina Islands now closed West Quarry, and that rock was strategically placed in circular shapes to create and outline four separate islands. Then, seabed sand was dredged and pumped into the shapes to create the islands that stand today. Architect Joseph Linesch was hired to design these islands to be both beautiful and functional, and each island was given their names to honor the 1st four astronauts to perish in the US space program. (Grissom, White, Freeman and Chaffee). The islands were completed in 1966, but its the way they were dredged and filled that created the dynamic fishery that exists today.
Obviously the constructing of island barriers with quarry rock from Catalina had its follies, and numerous rocks fell short of their mark. This creates rocky structure we already know makes a fantastic fish haven, and some of these rocks are not on the charts or fished very often. What really contributes to this fishery is the deep areas and high spots created by the dredging process. Dredges sent their suction apparatus down and sucked the mud, sand and rock off the bottom, then pumped it through hoses into each of the islands interiors. As the mud and sand flowed through the dredge hoses, it would create weak spots in that hose for the rock to penetrate and pour out. The high spots you see on the LB Inner Harbor charts are what happened when the rock poured out through holes in the dredge hose and stacked up in piles on the ocean floor. Nothing better than a hard bottom high spot next to a deep dredge hole.
These high spots are out away from the islands, and most are on the numerous charts available to the general public today. They are small, but still easy to find. An amazing amount of halibut live on the tops of these high spots, waiting for bait to wash over for a quick meal. I have in the past anchored on these small spots and fished for halibut, with amazing success. I learned early on that drifting simply does not keep your bait where the fish are long enough to be as effective as anchoring, yet bounce ballers today have great success covering the large flat areas outside of these dredge holes and high spots. Light tackle works best here, along with the baits that are indigenous to the area and the halibuts favorite foods. Smelt, herring and tomcod are favorites, but sardines work well too. Anchovies will get you lots of bites, but a large lizardfish population will frustrate you with small baits. I have had some success with plastics, but nothing compared to live bait when it comes to big halibut.
There are wrecks in here to find and learn, with opportunities for sand and spotted bay bass, halibut, and even some really good lobster for those who are into hoop netting. Up against the Northwest, long side of Island Freeman there is a sunken submarine right up against the middle of the rocks. Its from an old TV show call “Operation Petticoat”, featuring a pink submarine. Hence the common name for the spot, “The Pink Sub.” This gets fished a lot, but some good halibut scores come out of here still, especially in the spring and fall. Another wreck is the “Belmont Wreck”, and this one is even on the charts. I searched extensively for the history of this wreck and found nothing, but what I’ve been told is that it is a small wooden hulled ship that sunk due to a fire. This spot gets fished heavily and bites are few and far between these days. Its a great spot to practice setting up however, and the lobster guys do quite well here at night with hoop nets.
I took a client here a couple years ago for lobster and we did very well, but now there are guys on it every night, so the secret is out big time.
LB Harbor is extremely tide sensitive, and during slack low tide times it can be very hard to get a single bite. Shallow areas and narrow channels get a lot of water movement with the tides, and the openings in the Federal Breakwall are prime spots when the tides are moving in or out. Bass, halibut and even the occasional legal white seabass can be taken here when the water is moving and bait is present. The same afternoon winds that can chase you off the Izors or Horseshoe can be very helpful inside the Harbor, creating drifts along productive rocky areas such as Pier J and the Navy Mole. Again, study the charts to see where quarry rock has tumbled off when the jetty was constructed, or find new ones by metering around on your own.
So take the time and study those Long Beach Harbor charts, its worth your while. For such a small area geographically, you’ll be amazed to find there is a lifetimes worth of knowledge and possibilities in here. You can use it as a backup plan for windy days, or take it to the next level and find some great fishing close to home. We all know the breakwall itself holds millions of calicos and the possibility of a real trophy, but the inside offers as much if not more. One could write a book on how to fish the Long Beach Inner Harbor, and it would be a thick and comprehensive guide. I found it very rewarding and productive to learn it on my own, so I will suggest you do the same. Take the time and explore areas new to you, catch the bait these fish are feeding on, and find out what you’ve been missing all these years.
One final word on eating the fish you catch from the Long Beach Harbor area. Tagging studies on halibut and white seabass have shown that these species migrate often and cover long distances. I have no problem keeping these fish, and feeding them to my family. Bass however are in question, and this is not the cleanest water in the world to fish in. I personally release all bass here and inside other harbors such as Huntington and Alamitos Bay. I don’t have a problem eating the lobsters either. In a world where we drink too many beers and eat double chili cheeseburgers, a few harbor lobsters are not going to be the food that kills us. You can use your own discretion.