Pier fishing has been gaining popularity among saltwater anglers in recent years. There’s something irresistible about the easy access to water that piers provide, without needing a boat.
Learning how to pier fish opens up the fun of catching saltwater species, even to land-locked anglers. From tourists looking for some holiday fishing fun to seasoned veterans wanting to catch a tough fighter like a cobia, pier fishing has something to offer all levels of anglers.
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll walk through the basics of how to effectively fish from piers. We’ll cover the gear you need, bait and rigging techniques, common pier fishing methods, species you can expect to catch, as well as some pier fishing tips to set you up for success.
With the right guidance, pier fishing can be an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding way to spend a day on the water.
Gearing Up for Pier Fishing Success
While pier fishing doesn’t demand the specialist gear that offshore fishing calls for, having the right rod, reel, line, and terminal tackle makes a big difference. Here’s a pier fishing setup that won’t break the bank but will handle everything from small panfish to hard-fighting snook.
Rod and Reel
For an all-purpose pier fishing outfit, a 7-8-foot medium power rod paired with a 4000-5000-size casting reel is ideal. The G.Loomis E6X is actually a great option. I’d recommend pairing it with the Daiwa Tatula, something with a backbone that won’t break the bank. This gives you both lifting power to pull good-sized fish up 20+ feet as well as sensitivity for detecting more tentative bites.
Line and Leader
The main line should be 15-20 lb monofilament or braided line. Make sure the reel holds at least 200+ yards. Add a 2-3-foot section of 20–30-lb fluorocarbon leader for abrasion resistance.
You’ll want to carry a selection of pre-tied bottom rigs, fishfinder rigs, and some three-way swivel rigs in case you need to add some weight. As for hooks, a selection of khale hooks and circle hooks ranging from 1/0 to 5/0 should have you covered. Finally, egg sinkers from 1⁄2 to 2 oz will get your bait down.
A medium or large fishing pier net, a gear bag or bucket to carry everything in, and a fishing belt for storing tools and terminal tackle are also useful pier fishing gear.
Baiting Up for Success
Having a good supply of effective bait is key when pier fishing. Both live and cut bait work very well to catch a variety of fish from piers. Here are some top options:
Live bait: Shrimp and smaller bait fish that can be caught via cast net, like mullet, menhaden, and finger mullet, make excellent live bait on both bottom rigs and free lines. They attract everything from snapper to snook around pier pilings.
Cut bait: Chunks of fresh dead bait fish can also be irresistible on the bottom. Menhaden, blue runners, mullet, mackerel, and sardines that can be netted from the pier make great cut bait.
Artificial Lures: For casting artificials from a pier, small spoons, diving plugs, and jigs will all elicit strikes. Target surface-feeding fish-busting bait schools or fan cast to locate fish.
Best Techniques for Fishing Piers
Pier fishing may look simple enough, just dangling a line from above the water. But there are some techniques that will vastly improve your catch rates. Here are a few effective methods used on piers:
Cast and retrieve: Just like bass fishing, repeatedly casting and working a lure through prime areas around the pilings and overstructure turns up active predators like bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and ladyfish.
Popping Corks: Adding a popping cork 3 feet or so above your baited hooks lets you cast out live shrimp and bait fish away from the pier and cover more water attractively.
Free Lining: Allowing live bait like mullet to swim naturally often elicits crushing strikes from bull redfish and tarpon cruising the shadows by the pilings.
Bottom Fishing: Fishing a baited bottom rig is super productive for snapper, grouper, croaker, and other bottom species attracted by cut bait, shrimp, or squid. This is also called chumming.
Setting Your Hook
The second you feel a pick-up or any line movement, firmly sweep your rod tip up and back to drive that hook point home. Pier fishing often means lifting fish from deep water, so solid hook sets are key.
Most Common Pier Fishing Species
One of the great aspects of saltwater pier fishing is the variety of species you might catch. Typical catches include:
Mangrove, mutton, gray, dog, and lane snapper frequent pier pilings, chasing after the baitfish and crabs that inhabit this area.
Young gags and black grouper will be caught bottom fishing or even mid-water around bait schools.
Big redfish and black drum cruise pier pilings looking for crabs and baitfish prey.
These hard-fighting tackle busters swarm baitfish schools and will hit both cut bait and metals.
Fast-moving and powerful, Spanish mackerel love feeding on glass minnows and other small baitfish attracted by pier lights at night.
When barnacles and fiddler crabs are present on pilings, these hard-fighting convict fish will be biting shrimp and small crabs.
Set out live shrimp or mud minnows on fish finder rigs to pick up these camouflaged bottom dwellers.
Some Takeaway Pier Fishing Tips
To help ensure an enjoyable and successful day of fishing, heed these tips from veteran pier anglers:
Respect other anglers: Be courteous when fishing close by others on the pier and avoid dangerous casts over them.
Watch your step: Pier walkways and planks can be slippery with water and algae. Take care.
Protect your skin: The sun reflects mercilessly off the water, so properly cover up and apply sunscreen.
Obey the rules: Abide by all size and catch limits, only keep what you will use.
Get local insight: Pier regulars know what the hot baits and productive techniques are, so don’t be shy about asking for advice. I like checking out forums like Reddit for information from actual anglers.
Understanding how to fish off a pier can really open the door to some opportunities you may not have thought of. You don’t need to rent or charter a boat to get on the saltwater, and in fact, a lot of piers will even offer the right rods and bait you need to get started.
With the right approach and tactics, any landlocked angler can discover the fun of catching mackerel, snook, or even tarpon from local piers.
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