Shore anglers, drawn to piers like dogs to a lamp post, will find these pier fishing tips invaluable. Many such anglers use a pier purely as a opportunity to cast their bait into even deeper water and in doing so, are completely missing the point.
Piers come in two varieties, the first of which is the solid type with concrete or masonry walls.
The other is the familiar open lattice type, supported on stilt-like piles driven deep into the seabed.
The relevance of this for pier fishermen is that the open type allows to the tide to flow through it relatively unimpeded, and the solid type prevents it from doing so. Each type presents us with unique opportunities ...
As in all forms of inshore fishing, time and tide are highly significant, so let's start our pier fishing tips accordingly.
Two things affect a fish's feeding patterns more than any other:~
So for the very best chance of making a good catch from the pier is to find a day when high water occurs at dusk or dawn, and plan your fishing session around that essential piece of data.
All anglers, that's boat anglers and shore anglers alike should have a set of tide tables for their local fishing area. They are cheap, cheap, cheap - and so valuable ...
Let's say you want to plan a pier fishing session or two for the coming month - August in this example, at the port of Falmouth in Cornwall.
OK, I know there isn't a pier at Falmouth but, hey, give us a break ...
The first thing to do is to mark the tides where high water falls around dawn or dusk. Here, I've highlighted these in yellow.
Next identify the periods of spring tides, as encircled here. They occur every 14 days or so, with the corresponding neap tides midway in between.
Spring tides occur when the sun, moon and earth are in line, and the sun and moon's gravitational forces work in unison to create the maximum tides on earth.
Spring tides always occur a day or two after a full moon and a new moon, and these are usually shown by a blacked-in circle (for a full moon) and an empty circle (new moon) as shown here on the 10th and 24th August.
If one or more of your dusk/dawn tides falls within a spring tide range, your chances of a good catch are probably at their highest. The early morning high tides on 25th and 26th August look promising ...
Irrespective of what type of pier your fishing from, most often than not there's no need to cast at all - fish are always attracted to structures of any kind and chances are the fish will be directly below your rod tip.
In the case of a stilted pier, the tide will have gouged out depressions around the pier piles which will have joined up into a gully running up each side of the pier along its whole length. And it's here that most of the food particles end up, attracting crabs, sandeels, shrimps, pouting and other small baitfish - all of keen interest to the conger, bass, codling and flatfish that take up residence to take advantage of this well-stocked larder.
A solid pier will stop the tide in its tracks (well, not exactly - even Neptune couldn't do that), what I mean is that it will change its direction and cause it to flow, often very powerfully, along the wall. The turbulence at the foot of the wall will gouge out a gully in much the same way as the one found along stilted piles. Yes, another well-stocked larder.
So although the end of the pier will fish well at times, you're likely to do much better fishing in the gully halfway along it.
Many anglers favour the downtide side, as it holds your terminal tackle away from the pier, removing any chance of it being swept under it. Convenient yes, but will fishing this side improve your chances of a good catch? No. The side facing into the tide is the one to fish. On this uptide side, scent from your bait will be swept into and along the gully where the fish will detect it - and the tide will hold your sinker firmly on the seabed, rather that getting under and dislodging it as it would on the downtide side.
When the tide is flowing strongly against a solid pier, there will often be an eddy created at the end of the pier on the downtide side. Providing there's not too many pier fishermen already at it, this will be a great spot to explore with float tackle. Expect mackerel to take an interest ...
Having hooked your fish you've now got to get him up onto the pier.
A Drop Net
Having hooked your fish you've now got to get him up onto the pier.
One solution is to use a drop net, but if you don't have one you'll have to crank him vertically up and over the pier rail - and it's here that many a pier-caught fish regains its freedom, particularly if it's a good-sized one.
Another solution? Use a heavy mono leader, long enough to reach from the sea surface whilst having a few turns already on your reel - and hope that your hook holds.
Don't buy the special mono leader line for this - that's intentionally low-stretch for surf casting use - ordinary, stretchy nylon monofilament line is what you want. But a drop net is far safer ...
We call it 'groundbaiting' here in the UK. You over there in the USA call it 'chumming'. Either way, it can make a real difference to your catch rate when pier fishing.
All you need is a mesh bag, enough cord to enable the bag to reach from the seabed when tied to the pier rail, a lead weight (or a large pebble) to keep the bag in position - and some chum.
The whole idea behind chumming (hey, I'm turning into an American!) is to create an oily slick and trail of food particles back to the chum bag, which is of course close to your baited hook. So the chum is best made up from mashed fish - oily ones like mackerel are best, crushed shore crabs, fish guts and heads from an earlier catch, bread and pilchard oil all mixed up into a paste. Doesn't that look inviting? You could almost take a bite out of it yourself.
The holes in the mesh bag shouldn't be so large to allow the chum to wash out of it too quickly, or too small to prevent the small free samples from escaping either. I'll leave you to decide what 'just right' is. Lower the whole shebang close to the seabed near your baited hook and await developments. Shouldn't be too long to wait, but give it a jiggle now and again to get things moving.
More than a few pier anglers' final view of their rod and reel has been of it cartwheeling over the pier rail and vanishing forever into the depths below, leaving them brooding mournfully over the size of the fish that stole it.
One way of reducing the chance of this happening is to make sure there's not more than about a third of the rod length projecting over the rail.
And many a pier rod has been damaged (particularly the rod rings) as it slides sideways off the rail in a gust of wind, or a moment of carelessness.
This rather neat (and cheap) device shown here secures the rod to the pier rail, eliminating the risk of both loss and damage. Wonderful stuff, Velcro ...
Piers, jetties and breakwaters are wonderful places for saltwater fishing - probably second only in terms of results to getting out on a boat - and these few pier fishing tips should help you get the most out of these productive structures.
In the USA
In the UK
Downrigger ~ The cranelike device incorporating a line-counter reel often seen on the sterns of sport-fishing boats, which lowers a trolling weight on a wire line to a pre-determined depth. The trolling line is attached just above the weight, which gets the lure down to depths that would otherwise be unachievable.