ON THE WATERFRONT: Crystal Pier-fishing tips at your fingertips
by Johnny McDonald
Published - 07/03/12 - 05:12 PM | 7500 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print

It’s not much bigger than a walk-in closet, but from 8 a.m. to sundown James Barrick turns his bait-and-tackle shack into a fisherman’s treasure box.

The likable proprietor of hooks, reels, poles and a grand assortment of fish morsels (like sand crabs and mussels) said it’s not a job, but a lifestyle — something he joyously does seven days a week. And these summer months will be the busiest for the 42-year old.

“The shack is about 10-by-12,” Barrick said. “When I bring some of the stuff outside, I have more room to work and talk to my customers, sometimes giving them my spiel.”

For some, the spiel is a 10-minute condensed lesson on the skills of fishing from Pacific Beach’s Crystal Pier when barred and walleye surf perch, yellowfin croaker, guitarfish and halibut begin biting.

“Some perch weigh up to two pounds, croaker up to six pounds and maybe 20 inches long,” he said. “There’s also bat rays and leopard sharks, but we ask [anglers] to throw those back.”

Fishing licenses are not required to fish from the pier, but California Department of Fish and Game regulations are enforced, particularly when it comes to limits.

The 872-foot-long pier is unique with its accompanying hotel. Most of its pilings are old and covered with fish-attracting mussels and heavy growths of kelp, which wraps around the outer end.

The pier has neither rocks nor reefs to attract fish but it is one of the best to fish for sandy-shore species.       

“Experienced anglers drop lines closer to the shore when crashing waves stir up the sand crab. That’s lunch time for the fish,” Barrick said. “I always wondered what it would be like to own a bait-and-tackle shop and the opportunity four years ago came as a surprise. I walked into the hotel office and asked Jim Bostian if anyone was using the shack. He replied, ‘Yeah, do you want to do it?’ The rest is history.” 

Once privately owned, the pier is now operated by the  city of San Diego.

If he’s needed for assistance by customers, he said: “I shut the door real quick to help, maybe assist them in underhand casting.” 

There are no signs restricting overhead casting.

As for the spiel, “It’s a 10-minute lesson I have down to a science, maybe for a kid who has never fished before. They have to learn, too, that not every day is going to be a good day for fishing.”   

The biggest event, by the way, takes place June 21 with the annual kid’s derby, crowded with lines on the pier and lines in the water.                

“When I was in my 20s I thought how neat it would be to own a bait-and-tackle shop,” he said. “Who would have thought that’s where I’d end up? It’s been a blessing.”  

— Johnny McDonald is a longtime writer and columnist for the San Diego Community Newspaper Group. He can be reached at Johnny23@cox.net.

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