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On a Southern California pier, nine-year-old Raymie Boston watches as three fishermen lose their catches to Old Moe, a giant barracuda. The men suggest that whoever catches Old Moe will become an important figure on the pier, prompting Raymie to announce to the pier's manager, Mr. Garber, that he intends to catch the fish. After being warned to be careful by his mother Helen, a Korean War widow who works as a waitress at the pier's café, Raymie sets off to find sand crabs which he trades with Garber for a stronger fishing line. One of the fishermen, Rex Koontz, a cantankerous old man, is always complaining that Raymie gets in his way and tries to persuade Garber to ban him from the pier, but Ike Burrows, who has dated Helen, is impressed by the lad and encourages him to keep fishing. A pleasant old-timer, R. J. Parsons, gives Raymie tips on how to catch corbina to use as bait to land the barracuda, but warns him that Old Moe may just be a legend. One day while watching the men attempt to reel in a shark, Raymie falls into the ocean. After Ike dives in and saves him, Raymie asks Ike not to mention the incident to Helen. A few days later, at the café, Ike invites Helen on a second date but she is hesitant and wonders why he spends so much time at the pier. Although Ike explains that he works as a foreman for a construction company and that work is slow, Helen pleasantly declines his invitation. Later, Parsons tells Ike that Helen is interested only in a relationship with a steady, responsible man. The next day, Koontz offers to trade a corbina he has caught for Raymie's knife, but Raymie refuses, as the knife was his father's. Parsons then decides to help Raymie by trying to catch corbina with his expensive rod and line but suffers a heart attack in the process. After Raymie learns that Parsons has been giving his catch to Ransom, a café worker, to sell, Raymie promises to deliver Old Moe to him. When Raymie visits Parsons, the old man tells him that he is no longer well enough to fish and gives him all of his fishing tackle as a token of their friendship. However, Raymie has no luck in catching corbina and finally is forced to trade his knife for the fish. Later, when Raymie accidentally slaps Koontz in the face with a fish while swinging his rod, Koontz asks Garber to ban the boy from the pier. Alerted that Raymie is going to try to catch Old Moe that day, Parsons arrives in a wheelchair to watch and Raymie hugs him. Just after Garber arrives and tells Raymie that he will have to leave, Old Moe rises to Raymie's bait. Ike and the others help Raymie as he struggles to reel in the six-foot-long fish. Raymie suddenly feels sad, and realizing that Old Moe has become a friend, no longer wants him destroyed. As the fish weakens and Garber is about to shoot it, Raymie disrupts his aim, then uses Ike's knife to cut the line, thereby setting Old Moe free. The men, including Koontz and Garber, begin to understand Raymie's gesture and Ike makes Raymie a present of his knife. Helen then asks Ike for a date.