Pier Fishing Tips: Useful Guide to Catching More Fish

Pier fishing is a great method for catching fish!

In this article, we’ll cover some of the top pier fishing tips so you can catch more fish.

Various species can be fished from a pier. As well as being a fun activity, pier fishing is easy on the wallet.

Pier Fishing Tips Use Multiple Rods
Pier Fishing Tip: Use multiple rods to increase your chances of a fish biting while you wait.

When pier fishing, you do not have to worry about the expense of a boat. Another advantage of this is not having to hook up and tow your boat or rent one.

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In many areas, pier fishing doesn’t require a fishing license. This makes it easy to introduce those who are new to the practice without having them cough up the money for a day or year license.

Let’s jump into why pier fishing is fun and how you can catch more fish with these pier fishing tips!

What is Pier Fishing?

Many people do not realize just how many species of fish move up and down the coastline and through waterways within easy reach of anglers on a pier or bridge.

Vintage photo of people pier fishing
Vintage photo of people pier fishing.

Pier fishing has been a productive pastime for ages. Piers range greatly in height and length, depending on where you are and the tide. Also, water depth can be greatly varied.

You are casting your bait from a pier, much in the same way as you would from a boat. Keep in mind many piers have rules against overhead casting for safety, or zones marked off for different purposes.

The difference between pier fishing and surf fishing is that from a pier you can get further out into the water and from a higher point. This makes casting distance into deeper water much easier to achieve.

Pier fishing is not complicated and can be very exciting. All you need are a few basic items, that we will cover next.

Pier Fishing Tip: Where to Pier Fish

There are many prime locations to pier fish from the east coast to the west coast. Depending on your location or where you plan to be going, there are plenty of options.

Other factors to consider when thinking of location is the time of year and the species of fish you are going after.

Probably one of the most common piers, that most everyone has heard of is the Santa Monica Pier. This pier, first built in 1909, has been in many movies and images Hollywood has projected to the world.

Pier Fishing Fish Species

At any given time you can expect to find anglers of all ages fishing from this pier, often with great success. Fishermen typically catch mackerel, smelt, white croaker, queenfish, and various skates.

Florida has some great pier fishing that can also offer great success. Other great locations are California, Louisiana, and Mississippi, just to name a few.

The side of the pier facing into the current and tide is the best side to fish on the bottom, with the downcurrrent side being far more suited for fishing surface fish like mackerel.

Best Sinkers for Piers

On this up-tide side, the scent from your bait will be swept into and along where the fish will detect it. The tide will hold your sinker firmly on the seabed, rather than getting under and dislodging it as it would on the down-tide side, particularly when using claw or pyramid sinker types. These types of sinkers use the current pulling on your line to help anchor them.

Using a round style of weight will cause it to roll down current, tangling int he pilings under the pier if you aren’t careful. This same idea can be used to feed line out on the down current side of the pier, literally rolling a sinker a LONG way out and away from the area often fished surrounding the pier.

This can cause an outrageous amount of line twists though.

Pier Fishing Tip: Best Time to Pier Fish

The stages of the tide can make a lot of difference in the best time to pier fish. Most of the time fishing is best two hours before high tide and two hours after high tide.

Dawn and dusk are often key times for fish feeding on baitfish too, especially the period before dawn and that first hour or two after sunset. If you can get the timing right, the correct tide at dawn and dusk can be absolute lights out fishing, depending on the layout around the pier and the intended target.

Pier Fishing Tips Aerial Drone Shot
Pier Fishing Tip: Watch the daylight, tide, and fish migration pattern to increase your catch probability, knowing your intended target can be vital. Often the pier has a tackle shop with employees willing to share some insight if you buy a pack of weights or a couple of hooks, this information can be vital if you are unfamiliar with the area.

Light is another factor when it comes to pier fishing. Low light conditions are good times because fish seem to be less cautious, coming into shallow water in easier reach of the angler. Keep this in mind, dawn and dusk are peak times for pier fishing.

Pier Fishing Gear

  • Weights/sinkers: To keep your bait deep in the water and to keep it from moving to fast depending on the currents.
  • Bait and lures: Popular types of pier fishing bait include bloodworms, shrimp, squid, anchovies, and sardines. Often sabikis are used from piers everywhere for a wide variety of bait and food fish species.
  • Hooks: J hooks are the most commonly used when pier fishing.
  • Pliers or scissors: Anything strong enough to cut through the fishing line.
  • Fishing knife: For cutting your bait into the right size for the hook, and for filleting your catch.
  • Fishing pliers: Perfect for removing the hooks out of your catch.
  • Tacklebox: To keep your hooks, sinkers, bobbers, and etc. organized.
  • Bucket, or better yet, a small cooler: To put your catches in.
  • Picnic chair: To make your trip more comfortable while waiting for the catch of the day to come by.

Heavier tackle is definitely a good idea when pier fishing. Not only may you have a strike from a large fish, but you may also have to lift the full weight of the fish from the water to the pier. If targeting panfish, lighter gear can be very enjoyable to use, however.

Pier Gear Options

Reels can be either baitcaster, conventional or traditional spinning reel, However, whichever the choice it needs to be strong.  If the reel you choose is not resistant to saltwater, be prepared for frequent replacement, even with washing the reel every time you head out.

This is not the time to skimp on rod length. Your rod needs to be long enough to reach out from the pier to sense strike direction and be able to keep the fish from tangling in pilings below. It also has to be short enough to be manageable.

If you’re just getting started, try out the Ugly Stick saltwater combo. These rods are durable and the reel should hold up until you’re comfortable with pier fishing. Then you can upgrade if you wish.

Ugly Stik Saltwater Spinning Combo Black, 7-Feet
  • Spinning rod and reel combo
  • Two-piece spinning rod
  • Graphite spinning reel with ball bearing

Fish will instinctively try to take shelter under the structure and/or around pilings. This can take some hard fighting to keep the fish from tangling and breaking off.

Fishing Line for Pier Fishing

Fishing lines between 20lb and 30lb are a good choice. Mono line, not braid, as you will need a bit of stretch to absorb your fish’s attempts to shake itself free, and have less propensity to hang up on the pier or structure below.

Lighter line is great if you are fishing for panfish, smaller mackerel (not king mackerel, those are a different thing), whiting, croakers, perch or perch type fish, grunts, etc. If toothy creatures are around, heavy leaders may be necessary, including wire leaders.

It can be quite a distance from your parking space to the pier where you will be fishing from. A fishing cart that can carry all your gear makes getting to the fishing faster and easier, or you can downscale to make carrying things easier, this will reduce your potential targets though.

The Berkley Fishing Cart can handle this job effortlessly. This cart Supports up to 200 pounds and offers plenty of space for rods, a 48-quart cooler, chairs, and other essential fishing equipment.

Berkley Collapsible, Wheeled Fishing Cart Grey, Regular
  • Collapsible design with adjustable handle for easy storage
  • Supports up to 200 pounds and offers plenty of space for...
  • 6 removable rod holders, hook and loop straps, and a fabric...

Pier Fishing Tip: Landing Your Catch

After you have a fish hooked, you have to get it up on the pier. This can be challenging.

If you have a drop net, this can lower the risk of your fish getting free. If you don’t have a net, you will have to bring the fish up and over the rail. This is where many fish get free, breaking off when the anglers attempt to hoist them the distance between the water and the pier.

Some anglers make a hoop net out of an old bicycle rim to help them land heavier fish from piers farther from the water as a cheap and easy solution. Crab hoops are another great option widely used (usually a bit larger across as well).

If it is a particularly large fish and it is lip hooked, it can pull the hook out from the bodyweight of the fish, break the leader, or break the mainline.

A heavy mono-leader that reaches from the water to the pier, with a couple of turns on the reel, can help avoid line breakage.

Regulations and Requirements for Pier Fishing

Each state has its own requirements when it comes to a fishing license, permits, and day passes.

As a general rule, public-owned waterways require a fishing license as well as needing to follow all statewide regulations. Some states have rules by region as well.

It is a good idea to check the conservation page of the state you plan to fish in to get the latest updates.

Pier Fishing Tips Old Man
Pier Fishing Tip: Strike up a conversation with those fishing around you. You can usually hear some amazing stories, especially from war vets and pier regulars.

Trash and debris are a big problem in many public fishing areas. It is important to have something to keep paper, plastic, and other debris collected it. This helps keep it out of the water as well as keeping the pier clean and looking. Piers are a huge boon to the local economy and fishing culture, it is in all our interest to keep these areas clean and attractive.

Being courteous to other anglers is a practice in good sportsmanship. Be aware of where you cast and the distance you are from others, on some piers this becomes a challenge at times, keep your cool and remember those other fishermen have the right to be there too.

What NOT to Do

It is a knee-jerk reaction to seeing someone catching fish and want to cast in the same area. This, however, is an example of what NOT to do, instead, watch the technique of the person, paying attention to the details that make the difference between a casual angler and a pier veteran. Asking for advice can be great too if they seem approachable.

A few minutes of conversation or close attention can make the difference between one or two fish, and a full fish fry the next day.

Safety is a big factor when pier fishing. Railings are there for a reason, to protect you from falling in. It is not a good idea to sit on or hang over railings. Some states can issue fines for this.  Jumping off piers is also universally illegal and dangerous. Most piers are simply too shallow of water to make any sort of diving safe, especially from a platform that high off the water.

Children should be supervised especially close when fishing from piers. A child’s natural desire to want to climb can prove catastrophic if they accidentally go over the railing. For piers without a railing, a life vest might not be a bad idea, especially if you or the young ones can’t swim. This could take a day from tragic to just a funny story.

Insider Advice

Pier fishing is a great way to spend time with the family or just get out to yourself and enjoy a relaxing day on the water.

One of the major advantages to pier fishing is, you do not need special gear, a boat, or any large expense to enjoy a day of great fishing.

Many piers you visit actually offer the ability to rent the gear you need for a day of fishing at a relatively low fee. These shops are especially handy if you are not in a position to carry your own gear with you.

Going to the pier at night can be a very unforgettable experience. The atmosphere is completely different from the daytime. There can actually be better fishing at night as well, though some piers have an undesirable element at night, use common sense.

Piers to Fish

Some of the more popular piers to visit are the San Diego Ocean Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Ventura Pier, and Monterey wharf in California. Sebastian Inlet and Sunshine Skyway are great piers in Florida. A few others include the Casino pier in New Jersey, the Apache Pier in Myrtle Beach and the Galveston Pier.

You can catch many of the same species of fish by pier fishing as you can by boat. Larger fish will feed around piers and close to the shoreline, particularly around dawn and dusk.

We strongly urge you to go out and enjoy a day of pier fishing. If you have never tried it, you will see what you have been missing. If you have tried it, you know exactly what we are talking about.

Let us know your favorite pier to fish in the comments below!

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Johnny Harvill

Johanes Godoy

Sushmita Lo

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Articles » Techniques » Pier Fishing » Pier Fishing Tips: Useful Guide to Catching More Fish


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