About Martin

Martin Zeralko has been around San Diego fishing, both freshwater and saltwater, for over 30 years. He has fished everything from half-day trips to multi-day trips out of San Diego. On the freshwater side, he has fished every San Diego lake and knows which ones are worth visiting and at what time for the best action. When he's not fishing, he's thinking about fishing or trying to figure out a way to go fishing.

Catfish Night Fishing 2015 Season in San Diego County

Catfish Night Fishing in San Diego County
Catfish Night Fishing in San Diego County

Summer at the lakes in San Diego means night fishing for some catfish. Photo courtesy of Lake Jennings

One of my earlier experiences fishing for catfish at night actually was at the Colorado River. We tied up to some tule branches along the shore and fished from a pontoon boat. We used goldfish on heavy gear and I caught a flathead catfish that was longer than my leg and weighed over 35 pounds.

Some San Diego Lakes have similar-sized catfish, making it a very interesting place to fish at night for catfish. Largemouth bass also are known to bite at night, so there’s that option, too. Instead of using a chunk of stinkbait or mackerel dipped in stinkbait, which is done for catfish, anglers throw large plastic worms and baits to try to fool bass. There’s nothing like the explosion of a fish jumping in the darkness during a night fishing adventure.

Unfortunately, the San Diego lakes that have turned out blue catfish over 100 pounds don’t offer night fishing, except for special tournaments. But there are plenty of other options in the county to catch catfish at night.

Lake Jennings

Jennings is another good lake for night fishing. It’s open every Friday and Saturday night in the summer to night fishing. The lake is stocked periodically in the summer with channel catfish. And there are lots of holdovers, particularly some giant blue catfish that might make things interesting if your line starts peeling off your reel. You just might catch a giant blue catfish as long as your leg.

Lake Jennings’ Night Fishing is open Friday 4:00 PM to midnight and Saturday, 6:00 AM to midnight. There are boat rentals and you do need a California fishing license here.

Where: 10108 Bass Road, Lakeside, CA 92040
Phone: 619.390.1623
When: Friday & Saturday – May 22 – September 7, 2015
Time: Friday – 6:00 PM to Midnight. Saturday: 6:00 AM to Midnight
> Find out more about Lake Jennings

Santee Lakes

For a fishing-friendly atmosphere, quality fishing and easy access, I have to go with Santee Lakes in Santee as the top spot to fish for catfish at night. There are seven lakes, and Lakes 6 and 7 are open year-round to night fishing provided you camp there. And it’s a great place to camp. It’s on the edge of suburban Santee, but it’s secluded enough that anglers and campers get a great experience there. Santee’s other lakes, 1 through 4, have special nights during the summer when they’re open to insomniacs. Fishing is permitted from 5:00 PM to 11:30 PM on Lakes 1, 2, 3 and 4. Anglers must have a lantern. It’s shoreline fishing only here, and you don’t need a state fishing license at Santee, only a lake permit.

Where: 9310 Fanita Pkwy, Santee, CA 92071
Phone: 619.596.3141
June 4 & 18, July 16 & 30, August 13 & 27
Time: 5:00 to 11:30 PM
> Find out more about Santee Lakes

Dixon Lakes

Dixon Lake in Escondido is my next best bet for night fishing. No fishing license is required here, either, just a lake permit. The lake’s night fishing program starts late July following a stocking of 1,000 pounds of channel catfish. Night fishing will be offered every Thursday and Friday night. Boat rentals start at 5:00 PM and must be back to the dock by 10:45 PM. Shoreline fishing is available until 11:45 PM. Call the ranger station for more details at (760) 839-4680.

Where: 1700 La Honda Dr, Escondido, CA 92027
Phone: 760.839.4680
When: Thursday & Friday Late July through Late August
Time: Boats: 5:00 to 10:45 PM. Shoreline until 11:45 PM
> Find out more about Lake Dixon

Lake Poway

Lake Poway is another catfish option in the summer months. The lake’s night fishing program starts June 19 and will be permitted every Friday-Saturday night through August 15. There are boat rentals and plenty of good shoreline to fish. The lake’s popular Adventure Series Family Campouts includes overnight camping for a family and the family’s choice of a rental boat for night fishing or a guided hike with a ranger around the Lake’s Loop Trail. No fishing license required here, but fishing permits necessary.

Where: 14644 Lake Poway Road, Poway, CA 92064
Phone: 858.668.4772
When: Friday & Saturday – June 19 – August 15, 2015
Time: Boats – 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM. Shore Fishing: 6:00 AM to 11:30 PM
> Find out more Lake Poway

Lake Henshaw

Farther north at the base of Palomar Mountain, Lake Henshaw offers night fishing every Friday and Saturday night until 10:00 PM. It’s a bit of a drive, but chances are you’ll have an area of shoreline to yourself here and all the catfish you can fry.

Where: Lake Henshaw Resort – 26439 Highway 76, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070
Phone: 760.782.3501
When: Friday-Saturday starting June 5, 2015
> Find out more about Lake Henshaw

Night Fishing Gear Recommendations

In terms of gear, you don’t have to get fancy for catfish. Best bet for catfish is to use a medium-action 6- to 7-foot rod with a spinning reel loaded with 8- to 10-pound test line and a sliding sinker to keep the catfish from detecting the weight when it picks up the bait. Best baits include cut mackerel or sardines or anchovies, and the more stink bait you rub on the bait the better. Catfish can detect smelly baits and will gobble them up in a hurry. But be sure to let them run with the bait before setting the hook. Give them time to ingest the bait and then hook them.

One of the great things about catching catfish is eating them later. They taste great in a beer batter.

> Fish, Stay and Play in San Diego – An Angler’s Paradise


Lake Barrett Takes You Back in Time for a Simpler Way of Fishing

Fishing Lake Barrett
Fishing Lake Barrett

Discover a simpler way of fishing at San Diego’s Lake Barrett

It can be said that fishing Lake Barrett is like going back in time in San Diego County to a simpler way of fishing when there were no high-powered bass boats zipping across our suburban and rural lakes.

The ride in alone through an old Western ranch is worth the trip. Be on the lookout for mule deer, bobcats, maybe even wild turkeys or a mountain lion. It’s a wild place that likely will stay that way, considering the current move to preserve as much undeveloped land as possible.

Barrett, the most rural of all San Diego City-owned lakes, was closed for over three decades when it was reopened in 1994. Poachers had their way with the remote lake for all those years it was closed, but the City of San Diego decided to reopen it for very primitive, catch-and-release fishing with barbless hooks for all species in the lake. Barrett is said to hold the only significant remaining population of Northern-strain black bass in San Diego County, if not California. The Florida-strain black bass, introduced here in 1960, have hybridized and taken over the bass population at other lakes, but the Northerns have held on here.

Lake Barrett Reservations are a Must

But to fish Barrett you first have to get a reservation, and that can be tough, especially early in the season that runs from May through September. Reservations are handled by Ticketmaster every second Tuesday of the month at 7:00 PM. You must call 800.745.3000 or get on-line to make a reservation. The fee is $80 and that covers up to four anglers and the cost of the rental boat. Each angler also must buy a $20 fishing permit.

> Make your Lake Barrett Reservations

Motor Boats on Lake Barrett

Low-powered motorboats (8 horsepower) are rented there by the city, and float tubes, canoes and kayaks are permitted, making the lake the most treasured fishing experience in the county. Anglers may bring their own motors, but the maximum is 25 horsepower. They also may bring their own trolling motors, a good tool for fishing some areas of Barrett.

Fishing Experience on Lake Barrett

So what about the fishing experience? Is it worth all this? Yes, even though you have to take in your own supplies like water and food (there is no concession), the step back in time is worth it. There are times during the early part of the season when anglers catch and release over 50 fish an outing. Some even more than that if an angler has exceptional skills. Other times of the year you’ll average 20 to 30 fish an outing.

I fished this lake recently with Corey Sanden, the MC Swimbait maker who is an avid saltwater fisherman. He specializes in catching calico bass in nearshore waters. But Sanden loves Barrett as well. He convinced me to cast big, artificial  frogs most of the day, and we had a great time watching these Northern-strain bucketmouths inhale the large imitation frogs. We even hooked big bullfrogs that were being territorial about their areas.

Take a variety of crankbaits, plastic baits and even topwater lures because you never know what these fish will want. Most of the time they want whatever you cast.

That’s Barrett, and that’s why it’s a special place to fish. There are no crowds, no highways, roads or homes around the lake. What you get is the peaceful sounds of uninterrupted nature, with grebes, ducks, geese, crows and quail providing the background music to a trip back in time in San Diego County.

> Discover More Fishing Experiences in San Diego


Birding in San Diego – Some of the Best Places to Birdwatch

Great Blue Heron - Famosa Slough Point Loma - Birding in San Diego
Great Blue Heron - Famosa Slough Point Loma - Birding in San Diego

See a Great Blue Heron while Birding in San Diego.

With most of California’s wetlands gone and developed, birding enthusiasts should know those wetlands remain here in the San Diego County region serve as the last refuge for many of the Western Flyway’s migrating birds on the way in or back from farther south.

That makes San Diego one of the premier destinations for birders from all over the world. As many as 480 bird species have been identified in San Diego County. In addition to this hot spot for birding, the Colorado River and the Salton Sea to the east also are prime bird-watching areas and within a day trip of San Diego.

From the shoreline along the coast to the mountains and into the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, birding areas are becoming more and more popular. In addition to the migratory route, our local mountains have become nesting areas for bald eagles, golden eagles and many other raptors. A bald eagle’s nest along Route 79 near Lake Henshaw a few years back attracted thousands of visitors who pulled off to get glimpses of the eaglets in the nest.

At Lake Miramar, a great horned owl’s nest also drew birders daily to see the progress of the owl chicks.

Each year in February the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge hosts the San Diego Bird Festival that features field trips to the three coastal San Diego National Wildlife Refuges. This is a great opportunity to join hundreds of other birders on guided trips to areas that hold rare birds like pied-billed grebes and black-vented shearwaters.

Birding Near Downtown

San Diego’s Mile of Birds

The San Diego flood channel, often called “San Diego’s Mile Of Birds,” attracts blue-winged teal, ruddy ducks, osprey, gulls, terns, black brant, and cormorants. The flood channel has plenty of access for hiking or biking.

Fomosa Slough

In Point Loma, at West Point Loma Boulevard and Famosa Boulevard, the Fomosa Slough is a small tidal marsh that has walking trails, benches and very good birding for waterfowl, shorebirds and other migrating species.

Cabrillo National Monument

Also in Point Loma (1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive), the 144-acre Cabrillo National Monument features an interpretive center, lighthouse and great views of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The area’s tidepools and protected sage scrub habitat are home to many birds such as the wrentit, western scrub jay, California towhee and many more. Pelicans can be seen soaring above the shoreline. Seagulls and other shore birds dot the sand and rocks.

Shelter Island

Shelter Island is another great place to observe some of the rare species that frequent the area in the winter. Loons, grebes and ducks will raft in some areas of North San Diego Bay. At the western end, surf scooters, bufflehead, auklets and murres often can be spotted.

Northern Wildlife Preserve and Kendall Frost Marsh

At the Northern Wildlife Preserve and Kendall Frost Marsh in Mission Bay (Crown Point Shores Drive at Lamont), check for skimmers, clapper rails, brant and even the large-billed savannah sparrow. There’s 16 acres of salt marshes and open water that is home to two endangered species, the light-footed clapper rail and Belding’s savannah sparrow. In addition to those birds, there often are swallows, grebes, pelicans and herons. There’s an observation platform to set up for better birding.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Farther up the coast off La Jolla (Coast Boulevard off of Prospect Street), the area’s rocky shoreline north of La Jolla cove holds shorebirds like gulls and terns. And the Torrey Pines State Reserve is a great place to visit to see the ancient Torrey pine. Look for peregrine falcons, osprey, swifts, thrashers, woodpeckers and wrentits.

Birding in San Diego’s South Bay

Tijuana Estuary and South Bay Refuge

At Imperial Beach (Fifth Street and Iris), the Tijuana Estuary and South Bay Refuge, maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, features an interpretive center and 2,500 acres of coastal wetlands. Over 370 species of birds have been documented here, and 320 of them are migratory. In addition to the rare Belding’s savannah sparrow there are the American peregrine falcon, white pelicans, egrets, plovers, sandpipers, jaegers, ospreys, short-eared owls, clapper rails and blue herons.

Dairy Mart Ponds Ecological Reserve

The Dairy Mart Ponds Ecological Reserve (take Interstate 5 South to Dairy Mart Road south) has freshwater ponds that were left by an old salt mining plant. Scan this area for the blue grosbeak, the common moorhen, white pelicans and common yellowthroats.

Birding in San Diego’s East County

If you don’t mind traveling farther inland, the Mission Trails Regional Park, all of the inland lakes like Lake Murray, Miramar, Lower and Upper Otay, Jennings, El Capitan and others offer great hiking and bird-watching.

If you visit Julian, be sure and stop by the Birdwatcher store in town. The store has lots of great birding information, feeders, gifts and books.


Farmers Insurance Open Returns to San Diego on January 21-27, 2013, with Tiger Woods

Farmers Insurance Open Final Hole

Of course you want to see Tiger Woods play in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course.

But would you like a chance to see one of the greatest golfers of all time as he rehearses for a seventh win in the tournament, eighth overall at Torrey Pines counting his amazing victory in the 2008 U.S. Open?

Free Entry to the Farmers Insurance Open on Monday and Tuesday

Farmers Insurance Open Final Hole

Catch the action of the Farmers Insurance Open. Photo courtesy of Stan Badz.

To do that, you’ll have to get up very early Tuesday morning and head to Torrey Pines. The best thing about this deal is it’s free. The Century Club of San Diego, a non-profit group of volunteers that hosts the PGA Tour event each year, and tournament sponsor Farmers Insurance have thrown open the gates to the public on Monday and Tuesday. The real tournament action runs Thursday through Sunday, and there’s a Pro-Am on the North and South courses on Wednesday. You have to pay to get in those days. But there’s no charge on Monday and Tuesday.

Of the two days, Tuesday is by far the best bet. Most players will be out practicing on the North and South sides of the driving range, working on their putting on the putting green or on the course for practice rounds.

Woods’ tradition at Torrey is to arrive just before sunrise on Tuesdays and play either the North or South course. Very few people know Woods’ schedule at these events, but since he hasn’t played Torrey Pines since 2011, the call here is that he’ll be out there on the No. 1 tee on one of those courses on Tuesday of tournament week. The No. 1 tees for both courses are between the Pro Shop and the Pacific Ocean. The first shot off both courses is toward the Pacific Ocean.

More Notable Farmers Insurance Open Contenders

Farmers Insurance Open - Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler in Round Three at the 2012 Farmers Insurance Open. Photo courtesy of Stan Badz.

In addition to Woods, this year’s Farmers Insurance Open has a great field with returning champion Brandt Snedeker  and other past champions like homegrown Phil Mickelson (three-time champ, but hasn’t won since the South Course was redesigned for the 2002 season and 2008 U.S. Open), Bubba Watson, who won last year’s Masters Tournament, John Daly and Nick Watney.

With Woods approaching 40, there’s a whole slew of younger players who watched him and learned from him when they were youngsters and now want to beat him on the golf course. Players like Murrieta’s Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, who won the PGA Tour’s first event this year in Hawaii, and others will be at Torrey Pines trying to start a string of Farmers Open wins of their own.

It’s an exciting time at a golf course that serves as one of three San Diego municipal complexes, with Balboa Park Golf Course and Mission Bay Golf Course being the other two. There are very few PGA Tour stops that the average golfer can walk on and play, but Torrey North and South are two of them.

Farmers Insurance Open Information

Where: 11480 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037 (map)
When: January 21-27, 2013
Cost: Free – $1200

> Play More Golf at Over 90 San Diego’s Golf Courses


Surf Fishing San Diego County’s Beaches

Man with his catch after surf fishing
Man with his catch after surf fishing

Catch dinner right on the shores of San Diego

One of the great things about surf fishing in San Diego County is that you’ll likely have the beach to yourself. That sounds crazy in a place that has nearly 4 million people and more in the summer months, but if you plan it right, you’ll have the beach to yourself as you try to fool a long list of ocean fish prowling near shore.

I like to fish an incoming tide early in the morning or late in the day toward sundown if I can time that right. Fewer people, more fish. Check the tides and go from there. It’s also a good idea to scan the beach you intend to fish at low tide to see where the holes or any structure are and where fish might hold when the tide rolls in.

What’s great about fishing the surf is you never know what you’ll catch. The list includes barred surfperch, walleye surfperch, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker, corbina, halibut, bat rays, leopard sharks and shovelnose guitarfish.

Surf Fishing Spots

My first experience surf fishing in San Diego was years ago when I was talked into venturing to Black’s Beach. It was a nude beach then, still is, but the fishing down there has always been exceptional. Yes, there are distractions, but remember, the fishing is good. We used heavy gear and shucked mussels that we pried away from the nearby rocks for bait. We caught barred surfperch and corbina. I hooked my first California halibut, but it got off my line just as I was about to beach it. Halibut must be 22 inches long to be kept, and this one qualified by the looks of it. That’s my story, anyway.

Some of my favorite beaches include Coronado, the Silver Strand and Imperial Beach, Mission Beach (south at the Jetty or near the Roller Coaster early in the morning), Torrey Pines State Park and the Oceanside area.

Surf Fishing Gear

There are many ways to go about surf fishing, but I’ve narrowed it to three.

Heavy Gear

You can use heavier, conventional gear and go with a rod holder and just kick back and wait for something to bite and get your reel screaming. Heavier gear like a 9-foot rod and Abu 5000 reel will allow you to make a cast far enough beyond the breakers to catch some really big beach dwellers like a halibut, shark or white seabass.

Light Gear

A second way, and this is really the most fun, is to take the equivalent of light gear for freshwater bass and walk the shoreline looking for finning or darting corbina in the shadows. I prefer that way, more of a stalk and find and then cast. You don’t need much to fish the surf this way. I like to use a 7- to 10-foot rod, a good, solid saltwater resistant spinning reel with 6- to 10-pound test and a small bait hook to hold a sand crab that I dig out of the surf, or mussels, squid, ghost shrimp or blood worms. Artificial baits like Berkley Gulp baits work well, too. The motor oil with red flake grub is the standard. And hard lures like Kastmasters or Krocadiles can land some bigger fish like a halibut, striped bass or even a cruising shark or two.

Fly Fishing Gear

A third way it to use fly fishing gear, a method that has gained in popularity in recent years. One group sponsored a One Fly Tournament in which all the fly fishermen entered in the tournament picked one fly, but as soon as that fly broke off or was lost, the angler had to quit fishing.

A 5- or 6-weight rod is all you need in the surf here, and I’ve known some fly fishermen who drop down to a 4-weight. You’ll need a good, anodized reel with a sealed drag to prevent saltwater damage to the reel. The reel should be able to hold 100 yards of backing. A fast-sinking, integrated shooting head such as a Rio Striper 26DC will get the fly down in the rough surf line. Use 6- to 8-pound test monofilament with three, to four feet of fluorocarbon line, of similar pound-test, for leader. Any fly with red or orange will work, but some of the best include a red Clouser, a Rootbeer Surf Rat or a Solis Foxy Crab, Piconi Power Red or Piconi Power Orange, Corbina Candy, Darter Perch and a Swimming Sand Crab. Be sure and include a stripping basket for the line to make things easier walking the beach. Polarized glasses, a good beach hat, waders (in the winter) and some good sunscreen will complete the outfitting.

Surf Fishing Resources

Recent ocean closures ordered by the Marine Life Protection Act have shut off some beach areas to fishing, so be sure and check the regulations. Also, you need a fishing license and an Ocean Enhancement Stamp to fish Southern California waters.

A couple of resources include or check Peter Piconi’s shop, SoCal Fly Fishing Outfitters in Liberty Station in Point Loma.

> Discover more great fishing spots in San Diego

Where’s your favorite place for surf fishing in San Diego?


Golf Courses Carved out of the San Diego Landscape

Salt Creek Golf Club

It might be the hunter and gatherer in me, something to do with getting in touch with nature and tying into those natural forces whenever I’m fishing or hunting, but that’s the feeling I get when I enter one of these golf courses carved out of San Diego’s natural landscape.

Barona Creek Golf Course

Barona Creek Golf Course

Escape into the Barona Creek Golf Course

I know. It’s a strange thing to compare hunting and fishing to golf, but anyone who hunts, fishes and golfs, will tell you the reason they do them is to unplug from work, stress, whatever, and get outside for a few hours without having to think about anything but the nature around them. For me, at Barona, it starts with the mystical Native American music in the pro shop. It gets me every time. Then I look out at the first tee, with the giant California live oak that guards the green, smack dab in the middle of the fairway, the creek on the right with native grasses lining it, and it’s time to put the war paint on. I try to linger in that pro shop a while just to get more and more into the mood to play this incredible golf course.

There’s a reason golf magazines like Golfweek and Golf Digest consistently name Barona as one of the top public courses in California. It has five sets of tees, from easy to championship, with plenty of manageable tees in between.

The championship tees (7,088 yards, 140 slope) were played by the Nationwide Tour for its championship in 2007 and recommended for skilled golfers only. But golfers of all levels will enjoy this course’s middle tees (silver at 6,321 yards, 132 slope, 70.4 rating).

What makes this course so unique is how Todd Eckenrode, the course architect, blended each hole into this magnificent slice of California wild, a stretch of ranchland that once was hunted by Native Americans and settlers. He placed 100 bunkers in some very strategic places that catch your eye from the tee and on approaches to the green. Hit it a bit wayward, and you’re dealing with native grasses, maybe a rattlesnake or two, so be careful.

Location: 1932 Wildcat Road, Lakeside, CA
Green Fees: Monday-Friday – $120, Weekends – $160
Toll Free Phone: 888.722.7662
Phone: 619.387.7018

Mt. Woodson Golf Club

Ledges - Hole #3 Mt. Woodson Golf Club

Hole #3 – Ledges – Mt. Woodson Golf Club

If you’re looking for the best deal inland and a chance to play a unique course tucked into giant, whale-sized boulders and an oak forest, Mt. Woodson is the spot. Just 33 miles from Downtown San Diego, Mt. Woodson in Ramona offers a Lowest Rate Guaranteed green fee, so look for the best deal possible here for green fees.

The names on some of these holes are an indication of what to expect. There’s the par 5, 520-yard 14th hole called “Let Loose,” along with “Windinface,” “The Cradle,” “The Plunge” and “The Lookout.” You get away from it all on this course, and be ready for the cart ride over the trestle bridge that spans one of the course’s many canyons. Think jungle safari in a golf cart.

Woodson is a golfer-friendly course if you leave your driver in the bag on most holes. It’s a short course, with some drivable holes with the driver. It’s just 5,764 yards from the blue tees. It’s 5,399 yards from the white tees and 4,229 yards from the reds.

Location: 16422 N. Woodson Drive, Ramona, CA 92065 (map)
Green Fees: Monday-Friday – $55, Weekends – $65
Phone: 760.788.3555

Salt Creek Golf Club

Salt Creek Golf Club

Wander the natural landscape at Salt Creek Golf Club

Of these three courses, I’d rate Salt Creek Golf Club in Chula Vista as the most fun to play. It’s challenging, tough, but fair because course architect Cary Bickler custom-designed the course for the average golfer. There are no tricked-up greens or impossible bunkering.

Every hole is a different adventure, and the scenery is spectacular, with views of the Pacific Ocean, Mexico’s Coronado Islands, and the San Diego Wildlife Refuge, a stretch of land that will never see any development.

New owners Bill McWethy and Fred Grand will pour close to $1.5 million into course improvements included a new clubhouse with a wrap-around deck, new golf carts, an all grass hitting area driving range and a new practice area. New tees have been added to give this course some challenging tee shots, some new risk-reward options.

Green fees are very reasonable and the new owners are trying to re-introduce players to this great spot, so look for good deals for a while.

Location: 525 Hunte Parkway, Chula Vista, CA 91914 (map)
Green Fees: $25-$38
Phone: 619.656.2373

> Find the perfect golf course in San Diego

Where’s your favorite place to escape for a round of 18 in San Diego?


Hikes with a View – Get Outdoors and See San Diego

Hiking trough La Jolla's Torrey Pines State Park

San Diego’s diverse terrain offers plenty of wonderful and challenging hiking trails. These trails listed below offer something event better, rewarding hikes with a view.

Cowles Mountain

360 Panorama of Cowles Mountain

360 Panorama of Cowles Mountain. Via Wikipedia

There is no place in the San Diego city limits with a better 360-degree view. Where else can you, on a clear, sunny day, see the Cuyamaca Mountains to the east, Tijuana to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, including the outline of San Clemente Island and Catalina Island? You feel like you can reach out and touch Downtown, Point Loma and the Coronado Islands. It’s that spectacular!

There are two ways to attack Cowles (pronounced like kohl’s) Mountain, and know this: at just over three miles roundtrip (1.5 uphill for a 950-foot elevation gain), it is a workout. The staging and parking area off Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive gets the most traffic and can be a parade of all sizes, shapes and forms on weekends. But the fire road off Cowles Mountain Boulevard and Boulder Lake is the best way to go if you want a more secluded hike. Rather than the sharp switchbacks on the south side (Golfcrest) the fire road offers a steady, winding climb to the top. At 1,593 feet, it’s the highest point in the city and the rising jewel of the Mission Trails Regional Park.

Warning: Always be aware that rattlers could be on the trail, especially the lesser-used fire road, at any point.

For more information on Cowles Mountain, check the Mission Trails Regional Park website,

Shelter Island Shoreline Park

Shelter Island Shoreline Park

Enjoy views of the bay along Shelter Island Shoreline Park

For a more relaxing hike that at times will flood the senses with Naval warships, sailboats, fishing boats and craft of every kind, try a walk along Shelter Island. The pier, launch ramp and promenade combine to create the mile-long Shelter Island Shoreline Park. It spans the length of the bay along Shelter Island and is a great place to relax, hike or even ride a bike.

Park near the Shelter Island Pier and start there with a walk out onto the pier. There’s good fishing there, too, if that’s a diversion you choose to do. From the pier, you can see the incredible San Diego skyline to the east. This walk is good any time of day or night. At Christmas time you can time it for the Parade of Lights, when the local sport fishing captains decorate their boats with holiday lights and sail along the Island.

As you walk east of the pier, stop along the launch ramp area to see boats of all sizes launching or coming back from fishing or boating trips. The Outboard Boating Club is there at the launch ramp. If someone is outside, ask them about that club’s storied history of power boating and commodores.

Los Peñasquitos Canyon

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Waterfall

Explore San Diego’s inland areas with a hike to Los Peñasquitos Canyon’s tranquil waterfall.

Head inland to hike one of the city’s more interesting and scenic canyons, the Los Peñasquitos Canyon hike. It’s about six miles roundtrip to the waterfall and is both family- and dog-friendly. This trail is frequented by mountain bikers, too, so beware of that. You have the option of staying on the main trail or taking a one-track side trail that eventually will hook up to the main trail. Los Peñasquitos Canyon is well worth the trip if you want to really get a look at an undeveloped canyon in the heart of the city.

Park at the junction of Mercy and Black Mountain Road, where parking is $3, or park in the back of Canyonside Community Park for free.

The Beach Trail at Torrey Pines State Park Reserve

Hiking trough La Jolla's Torrey Pines State Park

Enjoy ocean views on a hike through Torrey Pines

The Beach Trail at Torrey Pines State Park Reserve is an incredible hike that starts in the parking lot of the Torrey Pines Golf Course and then weaves along the old highway (built-in 1910 and paved in 1915) that once connected San Diego to Los Angeles. You can also park in the reserve at the top for a fee, but the best way it to get a spot in the golf course parking lot and go north to the old road. You’ll see signs identifying all the trails. There are several options, but the Beach Trail will take you down to the water’s edge for some great beach hikes north (including the area’s nude beach, Black’s) and south. Along the way there are views from Red Butte, Razor Point and Yucca Point. Check them out and look out into the Pacific for breaching, spouting or porpoising whales or surfing dolphins.

Other Great San Diego Hikes with a View

The Calm Waters of Lake Murray

Enjoy a leisurely hike next to the calm waters of Lake Murray

Lake Murray and Lake Miramar both have trails that rim their shorelines offering great lake views and good workouts.

Lake Miramar’s trail (really a perimeter road that is used by cars, bikes, rollerbladers and families with strollers, so beware) goes all the way around the lake, crossing the reservoir for a 5-mile hike. Miramar is in the Scripps Ranch area of the city. It’s off Scripps Ranch Drive (92131)

Lake Murray’s trail ends at the dam, so you have to double back for the 5-mile trek. Murray is at the base of Cowles Mountain in the La Mesa/San Carlos area. It can be accessed off Lake Murray Boulevard (5549 Kiowa Drive, La Mesa, CA, 91942).

There’s good parking at both lakes, especially during the week. On weekends, it’s pretty crowded, so get there early.


A Guide to Local San Diego Freshwater Fishing Guides

Lake Jennings
Lake Jennings

Lake Jennings

I’ve been the San Diego area for a few decades and I’ve fished local lakes since I first arrived here, but I wouldn’t think twice about hiring local freshwater fishing guides to put me on fish at these very tough fisheries.

San Diego lakes hold some of the heaviest largemouth bass in the world, but knowing how to fish them and where to catch them can be very challenging to someone who doesn’t know the lakes. There also are giant blue catfish in some lakes and even sturgeon at Lake Cuyamaca. None of the guides listed below mention sturgeon as a target fish, but you might be able to convince them to go try for one at the mountain lake.

Bottom line is that San Diego has a handful of good freshwater fishing guides who can take the guesswork out of fishing these lakes. Most of them offer the latest in fishing gear and lures and know all the latest techniques to catch bass or any fish you might want to target.

A Few Freshwater Fishing Guides in San Diego

  • James Nelson offers both saltwater and freshwater trips. He has a 24-foot Triton and Mercury Optimax motor that can make trips across lakes in no time. As a tournament fisherman, he always knows what’s biting and where. Whatever deal you work out with Nelson will be a fair one. Call him at 619.395.0799 or check
  • Gabe Bolivar was Rookie of the Year on the FLW Tour, a professional bass fishing circuit, and now runs Gabe Bolivar’s Bucketmouth Adventures. He offers half and full day trips with up to two anglers. If you’re up for it, Gabe also has a two-day special. Call him at 760.842.7934 or contact him at
  • Alan Clowers has 25 years experience fishing local lakes and saltwater. For saltwater trips he offers his 20-foot Ranger boat and a lot of local knowledge fishing these lakes. Call him at 619.800.3474 or go online at
  • Bill Schaefer also is a combination freshwater and saltwater guide. He knows the local lakes well and has vast experience fishing them. Check his website at or call him at 858.277.8087 for rates and reservations.
  • Tom Lowery also is a tournament angler who knows San Diego lakes well. Call 858.922.9933 for rates and reservations.

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7 Pier Fishing Spots in San Diego

Family Pier Fishing under a Blue San Diego Sky
Family Pier Fishing under a Blue San Diego Sky

Pier Fishing in San Diego is Amazing!

Scrape away the years and years of fishing experiences from most old salts and you’ll probably find a pier or barge fisherman under all those tales of whoppers and the ones that got away.

Pier fishing is how many fishermen started out. It’s a blue-collar way to enjoy the sport. Anglers don’t need a fishing license to fish a public pier, so there’s that, but it’s also a great place to take kids because there’s always something for them to do.

San Diego is blessed with some of the best fishing piers in the state, including two that are nearly 2,000 feet long.

Pier Fishing Gear

Let’s start with the gear you’ll need. It’s better to keep it simple for the walk from your vehicle to where you plan to fish on the pier. Some of the avid pier rats have carts to carry all their gear, but to get started, you can get away with a good, medium-action to stout 7- to 9-foot rod, a saltwater spinning reel (bit larger than your lake model, with the reel loaded with at least 20- to 25-pound test line or a second outfit with 10- to 15-pound line for fishing closer to shore), bait in the form of frozen squid, bloodworms, mussels, sardines or anchovies, terminal tackle should include an assortment of saltwater hooks 9 (size 2-8)  and sinkers (1 to 4 ounces). Lures are good, too, with jigs and spoons being the best options. Be sure and pack sunscreen, a good hat, sunglasses and wear comfortable shoes or Crocs. Other essentials include pliers, a fillet knife and a cooler with drinks and snacks, especially for piers with no food for sale.

Here’s a rundown on San Diego’s fishing piers and some tips for fishing them. In the summer, these piers can offer really good fishing when the grunion are running around the full moon. The beach-spawning grunion attract bigger fish like halibut, bass and other fish, and that means good action for inshore fishermen.

Imperial Beach Pier

Surfer in front of Imperial Beach Pier in San Diego's South Bay

Imperial Beach Pier

Imperial Beach Pier, San Diego’s southernmost pier, extends out 1,491 feet into water 20 feet or more deep. As with most San Diego piers, the closer to shore you are the lighter gear you want to use for inshore fish like barred surfperch, California corbina or yellowfin croaker. Halibut can lurk there, especially on nights when grunion are running. Sand bass also may be biting, too. At the end of the pier, anglers target bonito, mackerel and small barracuda, with an occasional yellowtail or white seabass.

Amenities: Restaurant, Restrooms, Fish-cleaning stations
 To reach the pier, take I-5 south to Palm Avenue (Highway 75); follow Palm Avenue to where it divides with Highway 75, stay on Palm Avenue to Seacoast Drive, turn right to the pier.
Hours: 24/7

Coronado Ferry Landing Pier

The Coronado Ferry Landing Pier is one of the area’s secret fishing spots. It’s tucked behind the Old Ferry Landing Shopping Complex over on Coronado Island, so many don’t know it’s there. It’s only 377 feet long, but can be an excellent fishing spot for sand bass, spotted bay bass, mackerel and bonito. There’s also good action for perch, croakers, rays and sharks. You’ll need lighter tackle here because the water is very clear and shallow. There’s no bait or food for sale on the pier, but the shopping center has some options. The restrooms are a short walk from the pier.

Amenities: Restaurants, shops and bathrooms with walking distance
To reach it, take the Coronado Bridge over to Coronado. Once there, you’re on 3rd Street, follow it to B Avenue, turn right and follow it to the front of the Old Ferry Landing at the intersection of B Avenue and First Street. The pier is behind the shops.
Hours: 24/7

Embarcadero Marina Park Pier

Embarcadero Marina Park Pier is another of the lesser-known fishing spots, but it can be very good. It’s southwest of the San Diego Convention Center and stretches out just 95 feet, but it has a T-shaped end and is 300 feet wide. There’s an artificial reef nearby that draws some quality fish like schools of bonito, mackerel, jack mackerel and small barracuda. But there’s usually always good fishing for calico bass, sand bass and spotted bay bass.

Directions: Take I-5 to the Market Street exit, follow Market Street west to Harbor Drive, turn left on Harbor Drive and go to 8th Avenue, turn right onto Convention Way. Follow that a short block to 5th Avenue and the pier.

Ocean Beach Pier

Ocean Beach Pier

Ocean Beach Pier

The Ocean Beach Pier is the longest pier in San Diego County at 1,971 feet. It’s a great place to fish and sight-see. There’s a stocked bait and tackle store and the Ocean Beach Pier Café offers good chow all day long. The T-shaped design gives this pier nearly one mile of railing for anglers, so fishing options are many. Most go to the end of the T to fish the deeper water for bass, perch, mackerel and even California spiny lobster (but only in-season, October to March).

Amenities: Restaurant: Pier Café, Bait and Tackle Shop
Take I-5 north of San Diego to the Sea World Drive exit. Follow Sea World Drive to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, take Sunset Cliffs Boulevard to Newport Avenue, turn right on Newport Avenue and follow it to the end and the pier parking lot.
Hours: 24/7

Crystal Pier

Crystal Pier is one of the great spots in San Diego because it offers stay-on-the-pier and over-the-ocean cottages and some good fishing off Pacific Beach. It’s a private pier at night, but anglers may fish it during the day, and the fishing can be very good for barred surfperch, corbina, walleye surfperch, shovelnose guitarfish and even an occasional halibut. There’s also fair fishing for sand bass and calico bass at the end of the pier, mostly. It’s a great lobster spot, too, and a tradition for some on the opening night of lobster season. The Crystal Pier Hotel offers great lodging, but make sure you make your reservations well ahead of time.

Amenities: Crystal Pier Hotel
Take I-5 to Garnet Avenue and follow Garnet to the foot of the pier.
Hours: 7:00 AM to 7 PM for visitors, 24 hours for motel guests.

Shelter Island Pier

Shelter Island Pier is located near the most vibrant fishing community in San Diego. The Marlin Club is down the street, the Shelter Island Launch Ramp is east of the pier and the boardwalk is a great place to take a nice, long walk along the waterfront. It’s also a short drive from the San Diego-based sport fleet, four landings landings that offer every kind of fishing trip, from half-day to multi-day runs into Mexican waters. There are lots of quality restaurants like Fiddler’s Green. But here on the pier, you’ll see the fleet’s sport boats and private boats, and even a Navy ship or two, cruise by as you relax on the 200-foot pier with a T-shaped end that stretches 500 feet. There is lots of room to fish for mackerel, yellowfin croaker, calico and sand bass and an occasional halibut. Also lots of shovelnose sharks and bat rays.

Amenities: Restaurant, Bait and Tackle Shop
Take I-5 or I-8 to Rosecrans (Highway 209) and go west, turn left at Shelter Island Drive and follow the road until you see the pier and entrance to the parking lot on the left.
Hours: 6:00 AM to 10:30 PM

Oceanside Pier

Picnic Area in front of Oceanside Pier

Oceanside Pier

Oceanside Pier is another of the area’s top tourist spots, located near a thriving harbor and marina area, a very active beach and surfing spot and even has a restaurant at the end of the pier, Ruby’s Diner, where you can enjoy a cold drink and a killer burger over the water. There’s also a very good bait and tackle shop. The pier is 1,942 feet long and offers a wide range of fish, from the inshore species like corbina, perch and croaker to the more pelagic species like bonito, mackerel, barracuda and even an occasional white seabass or yellowtail. Halibut also show here, so be ready.

Amenities: Restaurant: Ruby’s Diner, Bait and Tackle Shop
To reach the pier take I-5 to Mission Boulevard, go west to Pacific and turn left. Follow it to the pier.
Hours: 24/7

Tell us in the comments below, which pier is your favorite fishing pier?


Take the Kids Fishing in San Diego

Kids fishing at the docks
Kids fishing at the docks

Spend a day with the kids fishing.

With kids spending more and more time in front of Smart phones or desk computers and less time in the outdoors, organizations throughout the country have taken on the task of getting more kids involved outside.

One of them is the Take Me Fishing movement at, an excellent source for parents seeking guidance on how to get their kids into fishing.

Those who have tried know it’s not easy prying their sweaty little palms away from their mobile phones or computer games, but maybe, just maybe, the tug of a fish on the other end of the line will hook a kid for a lifetime of great fishing experiences.

What I’ve learned about taking kids fishing is that you have to take them somewhere where they’ll catch fish or at least get lots of bites and action. There’s never a guarantee in fishing. It’s not called catching, but there are ways to ensure that they’ll at least get into some biting fish.

My best bets are a lake or pond when bluegill are biting or a sport boat when there’s good action on smaller fish like mackerel, bass or bonito hitting.

A few years ago I took golf writer Tod Leonard out from the U-T San Diego newspaper. His son, Casey, was new to fishing. We went to San Diego Bay with fishing guide Jeff Stock, and it was a very successful trip. Casey outfished us all, knowing just the right time to set the hook and start reeling. Tod and Casey had a fishing memory of a lifetime. And that’s what you want when you take a youngster fishing.

San Diego Bay can be a great place to take a kid. So can places like Lake Murray and Santee Lakes. Keep it simple. Use light gear, not kiddy stuff, but good light gear like a spinning rod and reel. Lower Otay Lake has a very healthy population of bluegill, and they can be found close to the shoreline in the summer months. recommends keeping kids busy with other activities when the fish aren’t biting. Try and teach them about the nearby environment they’re in by pointing out birds or other animals around them. Teach them knots or the difference in lures that they’ll use and why they use them. If you’re on a boat, teach them nautical terms such as the boat’s stern, port side, starboard and bow. Teach them how to cast. There is no more valuable skill an angler can have than making a great cast. Work with them closely on this and then let them try on their own.

It’s not easy these days getting a young boy or girl to give up the instant gratification they get from computer games and switch to fishing, a pastime that often requires patience, but it’s worth a try. The best thing you’ll hear later is, “Gee, Dad, when are we going fishing again?”

> Find More Family Friendly Travel Guides for San Diego