303 Swfishing

Pier Fishing

Pier fishing is characterized by fishing from a structure that uses stilts or pillars to support a large platform. These stilts, or pilings, serve several purposes in pier fishing. Mainly, they break up or alter the current, creating areas of calm or swirling water. The current will carry food to scavenger fish waiting in the calm spots. Potential food for small fish will attach themselves to the stilts. Because the stilts provide an opportunity for foraging, some species will stay close to the pier, while predators will move in and out with the tide and current.

Choosing where to fish on the pier is important. Simply choosing the end or the middle of the pier is not the most productive approach. If there is a bait shop on the pier, stop and ask what the surf conditions are like and what is biting. Another easy way to assess current conditions is to see where other people are having success. Look for troughs and sand bars and fish in between them. A still current or low tide usually means the only fish biting will be scavenger fish such as sheepshead, catfish and ladyfish.

One benefit of saltwater pier fishing is the variety of potential catch. One can decide whether to go for game fish or bottom feeders. In California, game fish include barracuda, bonito, mackerel, perch, and white sea bass. Bottom dwellers include California halibut, sand bass, and croaker. In the Carolinas, potential catch includes bonito, croaker, halibut, mackerel, mullet, red drum, sand shark, shovel nose shark, and tarpon. Florida has tarpon, snook and redfish. Bluefish and weakfish can be found in New Jersey and King salmon are caught in the Pacific Northwest.

Pier fishing can be a lifetime pursuit. Fishing from piers offers several advantages for both the novice and advanced angler. It is not as physically taxing as other forms of fishing, and it requires minimal gear. Piers are accessible to young and old. It can be a good way for families to fish together and to tutor the beginning angler. Piers are exposed to the sun, so bring sunscreen, a cooler, and something for shade.

Bait and Tackle

Because of the variety of fish found near piers, bait and tackle selection is a matter of personal choice, local conditions, and potential catch. Decide what to catch before buying the rod, reel and line. If going for large fish, bring a pier net.

Reels When fishing from ocean piers, use reels that are made for saltwater conditions. Spinning reels are very popular because of their ease and convenience, and are recommended for beginners. Spinning reels are also good if the pier allows only underhand casting or is crowded. Conventional reels are sometimes difficult to use in these conditions. Bait-casting reels certainly have their place, however, such as when using the new super lines or fishing for some species. All reels should be rinsed gently in fresh water after fishing in salt water to cut down on corrosion. After the reel has dried out from the rinsing, be certain to lubricate it.

Rods There is no overall best rod for pier fishing, and many anglers carry more than one. For general predatory game fish, a medium-action graphite or graphite composite rod, 6.5 to 8 feet in length, works well. If fishing for bottom dwellers, a rod no longer than 6 feet with a long handle for two-hand casting is more practical. The complete pier angler will probably want several rods to accommodate varying conditions and a variety of fish species. Generally speaking, shorter, stout rods are used for situations where little or no casting is required and longer rods with medium to heavy actions are used to propel baits and lures to waters away from the pier structures.

Line Monofilament is the most common type of fishing line used in pier fishing. Abrasion resistant lines should be considered when fishing around pilings, so the line is less likely to break from wear or nicks caused by barnacles, rough pilings or concrete. Low-stretch lines can be advantageous if fishing with a lot of line out. For bottom dwellers, depending on water depth, 100 yards of 8- to 12-pound test line might be adequate for most fish caught around piers. The line requirement for larger game fish, however, would be at least 150 to 200 yards of 15- to 20-pound test. Stronger line is required if fishing for tarpon, larger sea bass or sharks. For the best chance of landing fish from a pier, it is important to match rods, reels and line with your potential catch.

Bait Both bait and artificial baits are used for pier fishing but live or cut baits are the dominant choices. Lures are growing in popularity and are recommended by some anglers if casting from more than 30 feet above the water. Local conditions determine what lures work best. A little research will pay off in catching more fish while spending less money on fishing lures. Go to the piers you will be fishing and observe what bait lures are working for which species of fish.


Techniques may include casting away from the pier, casting close to pier, and using live bait rigs. In pier fishing, finding structure and locations that hold fish are more important than simply casting long distances.

The weight of sinkers tends to be more important than shape, because bait needs to stay in the areas where fish are holding. Pyramid sinkers are considered best by many saltwater anglers for ocean conditions, as they will often sink into the mud or sand, establishing a good hold on the bottom. One effective live bait technique involves attaching the sinker to the end of the fishing line and after the line has been set, attaching a leader with a swap swivel, hook and live bait. The live bait can swim along the length of the line, presenting itself to fish at varying depths. Another common bait rig consists of the main line tied to a three-way swivel, the sinker tied to the second swivel eye with a length of line and the hook and bait secured to the remaining swivel eye with another section of line. This allows the bait to move somewhat more freely, attracting fish to take the bait.

Because of the feeding habits of many fish, angling is often better at night. If the pier is lighted, the structure of the pier will cause a shadow line on both sides of the pier. If fishing at night, expert anglers will use the shadow line to their advantage. On the side of the pier facing the current, game fish will line up inside the shadow line. On the backside of the pier, fish will line up just outside of the shadow line.

Pier fishing is most commonly associated with the seacoasts. Some of the best pier-fishing opportunities exist along the coasts of California, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Washington. Commercial piers may charge either a fee per person or per pole. There is often no fee for children. Many commercial piers will often have bait shops and other services available. Some piers are equipped with lights and are open 24 hours for night fishing. Other similar locations for fishing include bridges and causeways.