Have you ever visited a new city, maybe on vacation with the family or an extended business trip, and wished you knew where to go fishing? Sure, you could head to the beach and search for a likely location. Or, you could follow the crowd and just go where you see others. Either may work. Both could lead to wasting the little time you have with nothing to show for it. But there is another option – the local fishing pier.
Many anglers see fishing piers as the tourist trap of fishing. A place where out of towners flock because they do not know where else to go. They are not wrong. Plenty of this occurs but that does not mean that they do not offer excellent opportunities for any angler, regardless of experience, to catch plenty of species and even meet new friends.
What piers offer
The fishing pier offers a spot to cast a line, but there is also so much more to be had. For those without access to a boat, it provides the chance to get further from shore. Even a few hundred feet can provide the opportunity to fish for new species and a different habitat. Second, they are safer than the slippery rocks of a jetty or unfamiliar crash tides. Third, is the habitat of the pier itself. Piers are havens for baitfish and, therefore, attract a wide range of gamefish who feed on these baitfish. Finally, the pier offers an instant fishing community. Locals, regular visitors, and even those who manage the pier are a wealth of local knowledge and most are eager to share this knowledge with newcomers.
What to look for
Not all piers are fishing piers. And not all fishing piers are worth the trip. Here are some things that you should look for when deciding which pier to visit.
Location – the best fishing piers are located where the fish are naturally found. Ideally, there should be a channel, tributary, migration path, or spawning area nearby. This will allow anglers to fish naturally occurring populations and, eventually, the baitfish that populate the pier will draw fish even closer.
Height – both high and low piers can be productive, but I prefer medium height. This allows for good visibility, allowing me to see feeding birds, schools of baitfish, and feeding predators. It also makes it easier to land bigger fish and leads to less interference from high winds.
Length – as with height, piers of all lengths can produce big fish. However, some do work better than others. If fishing a bay or estuary I look for a pier that will allow anglers to get away from shore and close to a natural target such as bridges, channels, or flats otherwise inaccessible. If fishing the shore, I look at overall length, something that will get me as far from shore as possible but also allow me to fish all the other points in between.
Amenities – having a bait shop on site is almost a given, you do not want to hike it back to shore if you run out of your favorite bait or lose your last lead. Access to bathrooms or benches will make the day a whole lot more comfortable. Even little things such as a sink to rinse your hands, a cleaning station, or a snack shop can make or break the overall experience.
Being well kept – finally, you want a pier that is well maintained. It does not need to be painted every season, but it should be safe and structurally sound. Avoid those with missing safety railings, broken deck boards, or hazards such as nails and debris.
What to bring
It can be intimidating to show up at a pier for the first time. Where do you stand? What side should you fish? What should you bring? After all, you want to be successful, and you do not want to be “that guy” – the one who does not know what they are doing. The best advice is to start with the basics and build on that foundation, adding equipment during subsequent visits. Let’s look at what you should have and a few items that will make the trip a little bit better.
Rod & Reel – For the time being you can use whatever you already have. In most cases, a strong saltwater combo is best, but even freshwater gear will get you started. Eventually, you will probably want a specialized rod & reel for your pier visits. A rod that is sturdy enough to handle not only the species you are likely to encounter but also hold them securely while being lifted to the deck. The reel should match your rod but otherwise, any type of reel will work. You will find others using spinning reels, bait casters, and everything in-between.
Bait and tackle – live bait is always the best option, although not always the easiest to manage. For this reason, it is recommended you also have an assortment of jigs, spoons, topwaters, and other locally popular lures on hand. If you are using bait, get it locally. Almost every pier will have a well-supplied bait shop nearby. This is not only a convenient location, it also offers the opportunity to get bait that is caught locally, maybe even from the pier you will be fishing. Success is always higher when you offer fish what they are naturally feeding on.
You will also want a healthy supply of rigs, hooks, leads, leader material, etc. Getting snagged is always a hazard at a pier, either on local obstructions or the pier itself. There is also the possibility of breaking off when trying to lift large fish to the deck. And, of course, if the pier is busy you have to be prepared for tangles with nearby anglers.
Drop net – one of the hardest parts of pier fishing is getting your catch out of the water and safely to the deck. Even a small fish can seem like it weighs a ton when being lifted 10 or 20 feet in the air. A drop net tied to a long line can be a lifesaver and the difference between a new trophy and a fish story.
Fishing cart – one of the first things you will notice when you visit your first piers is the number of carts present. Carrying multiple rods, tackle, a cooler, chair, etc. the length of a good size fishing pier can be exhausting. Having a cart not only makes this task easier but also allows you to bring everything you will need without making multiple trips.
Fishing license – almost every jurisdiction requires a fishing license, either one you purchase or a free saltwater permit. Be sure to check with local authorities before fishing to determine what the licensing requirements are.
There are a few items that are optional but having them on hand will make your trip more comfortable. This would include a folding chair, umbrella, sunscreen, cooler, and some drinks & snacks. Modern anglers might also want a well-charged cell phone to take pictures or pass the time between bites.
Conclusion Now that you know what a fishing pier can offer, and what you need to get started, it’s time to find your next “favorite spot.” Most piers can be found with a quick Google search, which will also allow you to see how the facility is rated by past users and hours of operation. So, next time you are looking for a new place to fish in a new town check out the local fishing pier.