Pier Fishing Tips for Beginners
Jul 23, 2020 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Fishing from a pier is one of the best experiences an angler can have. Topped only by an outing on a fishing charter, pier fishing can put you in the thick of some truly epic angling grounds. As good as that sounds, there’s a lot more to this angling approach than dropping a line and waiting for the fish to bite. To make your job a little easier, we decided to write up a list of some essential pier fishing tips and tricks.

senior angler fishing from a pier

Fishing piers come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common – they all attract fish. In this guide, we’ll go over some proven pier fishing tactics that will land these fish straight in your bucket. We’ll also cover the best times to wet the line, as well as pier fishing gear, and more. Let’s get into it!

When to Fish from a Pier

If there’s one thing a newbie pier angler could do to maximize their fishing success, it’s knowing when to drop the line. Let’s face it: all the skills and gear in the world will mean little if you’re trying when the fish aren’t there. So, when do you fish from a pier?

three anglers pier fishing at sunset

Generally speaking, the best time to fish from a pier is either early morning or sundown. This is when moving tides attract a lot of baitfish to the area, which in turn, brings out the big and hungry of the fish world, too.

There are a couple of exceptions, mind you. If you’re fishing in a colder region and it’s winter, fish won’t be nearly as active at dawn and dusk as they will be during the day. If that’s the case, try wetting the line when the sun is at its height.

a sitting pier angler with a fish on

In some warmer locales, you can even fish after sundown. In fact, certain species are especially active during this time. Pro tip: light and heat attract baitfish, so either bring your own source of light, or take advantage of the pier’s own lighting. And one last thing: before setting out, make sure to check if your pier is open during nighttime. 

Where to Find Fish from a Pier

Alright, you know when to expect fish, but what about actually finding them? Turns out, things are a lot simpler than they seem. With a few tricks, you’ll know where to throw your line every single time.

A man enjoying a relaxing day of fishing from a pier alone

Pier rats like to say “the biggest biters are at the end of the pier.” And it’s true, deeper waters typically host larger fish. Typically. Depending on the structure your pier is located on, fish may choose to gather closer to the shore. Look for drop-offs, rock formations, or any other underwater structure. This is where fish often come either to hide or feed. 

But that’s not all. Sometimes, when predator fish are hunting, they come up higher in the water to chase prey. You may not be able to see them when they’re doing this, but guess who can? Birds. Birds are your natural fish-finders, so if you see them circling around a specific spot, it’s time to put that reel to work.

Which Bait to Choose

Choosing the right bait often comes down to where you’re fishing and what you want to catch. Instead of blowing a ton of money on the most expensive bait out there, take some time to learn which critters are naturally found at your pier. This is what your fish is most likely to react to.

Most piers have their own bait and tackle shops. Here, you’ll typically find everything from bloodworms, shrimp and squid, to anchovies and sardines. Bigger piers will offer various types of lures, too. Always be sure to ask what’s been working lately before buying. 

a close up of an angler baiting a fishing hook with live bait

And if you don’t want to spend money on bait, you can always catch your own.

Know the Rules

A wooden fishing pier in Outer Banks, with a bench and several rods

Pier fishing is a lot of fun, but it requires a bit of homework. To ensure that your day on the water goes without a snag, make sure you can answer these questions:

  • Do you need a fishing license? Most public fishing piers in the country allow you to fish without a license, but not all.
  • Does the pier require an entrance fee or a fishing fee? Sometimes, you’ll need to pay both.
  • What are the pier’s working hours? For most piers, you can find the information online.
  • What are the size and bag limits for the species you want to catch? You can find this information through your state’s official fisheries department. For example, these are the official fisheries websites for Florida, Texas, and California.
  • Are there any gear restrictions? Some piers allow only a certain number of rods (the limit is two in most cases).
A view of multicolored chairs lining Cocoa Beach fishing pier

And then there are those unwritten rules. If you’ve ever shared a fishing spot with another fisher, you know the importance of angler etiquette. Nowhere is this more important than on a fishing pier. Here are a few pointers to put you in the right mindset:

anglers fishing from a pier
  • Always allow fellow anglers enough space to cast a rod comfortably. Even if you recognize a more productive spot, always make sure that anglers around you have enough elbow room. And never cast over somebody.
  • Species like Kingfish can easily have you running up and down the pier in a fight. Whoever hooks a fish like this should have the advantage when moving around. If you happen to be the lucky guy with a King on, it’s ok to ask people to move. Same goes if they happen to hook one: bring the line in, and enjoy the show.
  • Don’t leave your catch or your gear unattended on the deck. The last thing you want is someone slipping and hurting themselves.
  • Clean your spot after you’re done fishing.

Pier Fishing Rods and Tackle

Your fishing outfit should depend on the size of the fish you’re targeting. You can get by with a lighter setup if you’re chasing Panfish, but for anything larger, a medium to medium-heavy outfit is a must. Stout, short rods in the 6–7 foot range work well if you’re dropping baits straight down. If you prefer to cast far out, something like a 9–10 foot rod will serve you much better.

Unless you’re after a record-breaker, your line should be somewhere in the 20–40 lb test range. These lines won’t just cover most of the species you’ll find around a pier, they will allow you to cast decently far, as well as to retrieve your line faster than a heavier one. If you’re unsure which type of line to use, check out our guide on the topic.

a red fishing line on a rod

Using a sinker is important when you’re fishing from a pier. If you’re fishing sandy bottoms, a pointy pyramid sinker is the best choice. However, if you’re throwing your bait around rocky structure, a bowling-pin-shaped bank sinker is the preferred option.

Other Pier Fishing Gear

Oftentimes you’ll see pier fishers wheeling in ridiculous amounts of fishing gear. Granted, strolling down the pier with a cart is a lot easier than hauling the equipment in your hands. The thing is, you don’t need a whole lot of gear to make the day count. Let’s go over some key items you’ll want to have.

pier fishing gear with an angler leaning on the railing of the pier and the sea in the background
  • Bucket: This one’s pretty obvious. If you intend on keeping the fish you catch, you’re going to need a bucket. 
  • Drop net or gaff: Most states won’t allow you to haul your catch from the water with your rod. To bring your fish up to the deck, you’ll need to use a drop net or a gaff. Keep in mind that gaffs will seriously injure fish, so only use them if you intend to keep your catch. If you’re practicing catch and release, bring your fish up with a drop net, remove the hook, and lower it back down as soon as you can.
  • Pliers: To safely remove a hook from a fish’s mouth, nothing works like a pair of pliers. Hopefully, that’s all you’ll need them for, and not those dreaded line tangles.
  • Filleting knife: Most fishing piers have a fish cleaning station. If you’re bringing fish home for dinner, it’s best that you clean and fillet them right on the spot.
  • Polarized sunglasses: A good pair of polarized sunglasses can be the difference between a full and an empty bucket. Polarized lenses eliminate glare off the surface of the water, allowing you to spot a fish much more easily. Not to mention that they’ll save you a headache from all the squinting.
  • Picnic chair: As much as we’d like it to be, pier fishing action isn’t non-stop. For those (hopefully brief) moments when the fish aren’t biting, it’s good to have a place to sit.
a pier angler adjusting his fishing gear

An Awesome Way to Fish

Pier fishing is convenient, affordable, and most importantly, a lot of fun. With heaps of fish to enjoy and a host of like-minded anglers to keep you company, fishing from a pier really is the dream. 

an angler fishing from a pier on a river

The greatest thing about it is that every fishing pier is different, meaning that you can spend a lifetime exploring what each one has to offer. Heck, even if you fish one pier until the end of your days, you’ll still learn something new every time out. However you choose to do it, we hope that these pier fishing tips will help set you on the right path.

All you have to do now is throw a line, and let the magic happen!

a couple of anglers sitting and drinking on a small fishing pier

So there you have it. What are some of your favorite pier fishing tactics? Any pier fishing tips we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments below.

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