Surf & Skate

IB Pier fishermen fight off surfers and restaurant

By Mike Madriaga
If you want to fish, you have to be west of the checkered flag,” blared a voice from the PA speaker above us, “there’s also no fishing on the south side of the [Imperial Beach] Pier at this time.”

“There’s nobody even surfing down there,” yelled fisherman Nick Cline, “not even swimmers, and now we are not allowed to fish on the south side?”

The original story was featured in the print edition of the San Diego Reader on June 16, 2020.

“Oh no, he’s yelling at the lifeguard,” said Dell.

“Look at the dogs on the pier and this bicycle,” continued Leonard, Dell’s husband. “Nobody says anything to the dog owners and bicycle riders.”

Cline, Dell, and Leonard have been fishing on the wooden-planked Imperial Beach Pier for years, until it was closed on March 17 to minimize the spread of COVID-19. I spoke to the three, and others on and around the pier on June 13, four days after the pier was reopened to the public.

“They talk to you over the loudspeaker and tell you to move past the no-fishing zone,” Cline explained to me, “where the surfers are down below. The surfers are not even supposed to be within 20 feet of the pier, yet we can’t fish there.”

A No Fishing in the Surf Zone sign stood nearby; it continued: “To prevent swimmers, waders, and surfers from accidentally becoming entangled and possibly hooked when fishing lines are casted or dropped within the surf zone. Fishing is not allowed within the surf zone when recreational swimmers, waders, and surfers are in the ocean closer than 150 feet of the pier.”

“What would’ve happened if you continued fishing?” I asked Cline.

“They’ll either drive their lifeguard truck up, or they will call the police if you refuse to do what they tell you, and you can get a ticket or get arrested.”

Leonard and his wife Dell recounted when their buddy Bill was fishing within the surf zone when it was implemented on the pier “about five years ago.”

“Bill fished in his wheelchair,” Leonard said, “and Bill would put his poles on this side, and surfers would come up here, and grab his lines and pull his poles [away]. The surfer-versus-fisherman thing has been going on here for five years. It all started when they took down the 4-foot by 8-foot signs that read something like “no coming within 100 and a half feet” on both sides of the pier. And look at the surfers shoot underneath the pier. The signs were meant for the surfers to stay away from the pier so they wouldn’t make contact with the fishermen (and their casted fish lines).”

Fonzie was fishing close by to us as we spoke on the east side of the pier’s lifeguard tower.

“This is the only pier where they allow the surfers to be close to the pier,” he said, “in OB and Oceanside, they get citations for surfing that close — and here, the lifeguards won’t cite them.”

I asked a couple of surfers if they knew of the alleged conflicts, and they said “no” or “no comment.”

California’s southernmost pier, three miles west of the I-5 and Coronado Avenue exit, received a four-star average rating on the Yelp app. Many who left five-star reviews were stoked to watch the surfers and boogie boarders down below; others mentioned the Tin Fish restaurant at the end of the 1491-foot pier.

When the pier and the restaurant reopened that Tuesday, Cline was disappointed that he and his buddies were no longer permitted to fish at the end of the pier, on the north side of the restaurant. Three wooden picnic tables were added here during the pier’s near three-month shutdown.

“When you shut off the whole backend of the pier to us, that closes [access to] all the big fish, because they won’t swim into the shallow water,” Cline said.

Ed Kim, the owner of the restaurant, disagrees.

“The first Tuesday when we re-opened was not a good fishing day,” Kim said. “If they are not catching anything there on the side of the pier, they are not going to catch anything out on the end of the pier. But yesterday, they caught a shark right there on the side, and it’s pretty much evenly spread out. A lot of the fishermen liked to lounge out there on a beach chair on the end of the pier, and it’s more of their zone and I kind of get that — I used to deep-sea fish, and it’s fun. [The fishermen and fisherwomen] are good customers that come in for a beer and things like that.”

Cline says he fishes at the circa-1989 pier daily, and he’s a patron at Kim’s restaurant.

“My suggestion to them is if they want to put more seating in, they have all of this excellent foundation underneath the old boat launch area and that’s not being accessed. This whole area on the south side of the restaurant is closed. Why don’t they build the seating area or more restaurants there, and allow us to fish on the end of the pier? Every day, the bottom half is closed to us for the surfers, which is where all the perch and Corvina are.

“The county, or city of IB and Port of San Diego, or whoever is in charge of this area needs to remove the tables [north of] Tin Fish and allow us to fish there again. They keep restricting our fishing more and more, and it is not fair. I’m begging you to please remove the tables.”

“On the flip side of that,” Kim said, “many patrons or citizens of IB also have a voice, and used to say ‘why can’t we sit there and enjoy the sunset and it’s all being occupied by the fishermen.’ ”