If you haven’t done it yet, fishing from a pier can help you land some big fish! The general impression many people have is that folks who fish from a saltwater pier are young, elderly or don’t own or have access to fishing boats. While that may generally be true, there are some savvy saltwater anglers who know that under the right conditions, the best place to consistently catch fish is from a good marine pier.
Important fish species are caught regularly from piers, including flounder, sheepshead, black drum, whiting, pompano and others. Heavyweight tarpon, kingfish, snook, seatrout, even sailfish have been landed from piers, too. And a number of world-record catches have been made from piers, including Walter Maxwell’s 14-foot, 1,780-pound tiger shark near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina that took five hours to land.
What you need
Fishing Rod/Pole: You’ll want a basic conventional spinning rod that is 12 to 50-pound tested. (The pound testing number represents the resistance strength of the pole.) You won’t be catching any marlins out there, so a fairly light pole will do the trick.
Weights/Sinkers: These keep your bait deeper in the water, where the fish dwell. One- or two-ounce weights are the norm.
Bait: Popular types of pier fishing bait include bloodworms, shrimp, squid, anchovies and sardines. These should all be available at your local pier or bait shop. Note: Live bait is ideal so try to find a shop that offers this option.
Hooks: J-hooks—shaped like the letter J—are the standard type of hook used in pier fishing.
Scissors: Anything strong enough to cut through fishing line.
Knife: For cutting your bait into the right size for the hook, and for filleting your catch. These can be found at your local fishing supply store.
Hemostat/Pliers: Perfect for removing the hooks out of your catch.
Tackle Box: A great investment for any first-timer to keep your fishing tools in one place.
Bucket: To put your catches in. (Of course.)
Picnic Chair: When the fish aren’t biting, a chair is a great way to enjoy the scenery.
Key: Some items can be substituted for comparable items lying around the house. You should be able to get everything you need for under $40.
Picking the Pier
Although any pier along the oceanfront or nearby inland waters is likely to produce in the spring, some will be more rewarding than others at certain times and under certain conditions. The first consideration is the species being targeted and the stage of their migration. It’s easy enough to find out from fishing reports, Internet forums, tackle shops and pier personnel, among other sources, how far the fish have moved up the coast and whether they have yet moved into inland waters. These same sources can also advise you on best choices of bait and methods.
While longer piers are favored by most anglers at any time of year, offering more room and access to deeper water, early spring is one time that size won’t matter as much. Bait, and therefore game fish, inhabit shallower water now than they will later in the year when waters warm up, often feeding right up along the beach. Baitfish retreat to the shallows for protection from predators lurking nearby, waiting for the tide to flush out their meals. A shorter pier with inviting nearshore structure and forage will out-produce a longer one that offers fewer amenities.
The fact that game fish and their food sources inhabit shallower water in the spring also makes the warmer shallows of inland waters a good bet. Even a small inland pier strategically located inside the mouth of a river or inlet can put anglers within casting distance of prime fishing spots. Such areas are springtime favorites of many predators that hide along structure and wait for tidal changes to deliver their meals.
Serious pier-anglers will follow the lead of their most successful surf-fishing brethren by learning to read the water and beach within casting distance of the pier. The most effective way to do this is to study the area around your chosen pier during low tide. Periods of new and full moons that cause lower than normal tides offer an excellent opportunity to gather as much information as possible.
The most important types of structure to look for are sandbars that run parallel to the beach and sloughs or troughs that lie between the sandbars and the beach, providing travel routes for predators and prey.
Special attention should be paid to any cuts in the sandbars where water and bait will pass through on a moving tide. These pinpoint prime ambush sites where a rushing tide and rip currents disorient prey, delivering effortless meals to game fish.
The closest — and often most overlooked — structure within range will be right under the pier. Low tide can reveal a lot about what’s happening below the boards and out of the angler’s sight. Look for any holes or pockets in shallow water that are likely to hold bait during a receding tide.
Also, study the configuration of any rocks or other structure, as the deeper side is likely to attract more game fish. The down current side can be especially popular during an incoming tide. A look at the pier’s pilings should tell you which ones will be most productive. Those encrusted with a generous supply of barnacles, mollusks and other delicacies will draw the most dinner guests.
Pier Fishing Tip, Tricks, and more
Watch the Birds – Seagulls and other types of birds that hang around the pier are a great way to see where fish might be. They tend to know local fish movements and patterns at specific times of the day. Who ever thought a seagull could be so useful?
You Don’t Need to Cast – One of the best parts about pier fishing is that you don’t need to cast out far to find fish. They usually like to hang around the pier, so try dropping your line right by the pier and work your way out until you find some fish.
Locate or Create Underwater Structures – Submerged structures near or along a pier can be a great hiding place for fish. Where applicable some anglers will actually sink stuff along a pier and come back weeks later to fish it. Before you try this method, you should first make sure that it’s legal to do it. Secondly, never use anything that can poison or pollute the water. That real Christmas tree might have some use after all.
Artificial Bait Works – Many people will tell you that artificial bait doesn’t work for this style of fishing, but these people just haven’t found the right lure. The Gotcha lure is the type that works exceptionally well.
The Right Live Bait – Choosing the right bait is a vital part to being successful when fishing on a pier. While some standard baits will always work, you’ll want to ask some locals or the local tackle and bait shop what works best on the pier you plan on fishing from. Never introduce live bait that isn’t allowed by law and never dump live bait into the water after you’re done.
Polarized Sunglasses – A good pair of polarized sunglasses will give you a big advantage when pier fishing. It will allow you to see through the water and locate fish.
Look for Cloudy Water – You can usually find fish hanging out where cloudy water meets clear water.
When fishing from a pier you’ll want to follow the simple safety precautions to make sure you have an experience that you’ll never want to forget. First and foremost, always follow all posted rules and regulations for the pier you’re fishing on. Never try to cross or hang over fencing, wire or structures used to prevent access to the water. Never jump into the water near a pier as the waves can bash you into the side and it may be hard to climb back up. Make sure there isn’t any time or date limits that can prevent you from fishing on the pier. Lastly, never leave young children you’re fishing with unattended on the pier.
To rehash – Timing is everything. Pier fishing is different from fishing from a boat because of the timing. On a boat, you go to where the fish are. On a pier, you wait for the fish to come by. This means you have to do a bit of research. Check with fishing reports for the best tides and other pier fishing tips. Chances are, if you see a bunch of anglers out at the pier at a certain time, then that’s the time for you to be there, too. Fishing reports or the folks at the tackle shop might also clue you in on any migrations that might be coming by.
Eventually, you will learn the optimum conditions on the pier. Keep a record of what is going on around you to determine how to fish under the best conditions; water clarity, wind speed and direction, and other weather conditions are important to keep track of. After a while, you’ll learn what makes for a good day of fishing.
The nice thing about pier fishing is the chance to talk with fellow anglers. As opposed to being out on a boat by yourself or with a few friends, you are out among others who share your passion. It is easy to pick up fishing tips from others who have been doing it for a bit longer than you.