Piers have always been popular with anglers as they offer easy access to deep water and a (usually) safe and stable platform to fish from. Many anglers gain their first fishing experience from pier fishing, often going for summer mackerel, which leads to a lifelong love of angling. Many smaller species of fish are attracted by the shelter offered by the structure of the pier, which in turn attracts bigger predatory fish and can lead to great fishing. There are many different types of pier, ranging from small wooden piers that lend themselves to fishing with light gear to solid stone structures that can extend a mile out to sea and require heavy, rough ground equipment to fish successfully. It pays to do a little research before embarking on a pier fishing session as many piers are locked in bad weather and at night, while others are restricted to members of angling clubs or ban fishing altogether.
Piers and Fish Species
There are hundreds of piers, jetties and breakwaters around the UK meaning that a huge range of species can be caught from piers. The actual species than can be caught depends on the location of the pier itself. Piers built out into vast sandy beaches will offer fish species that live in these kind of environments such as flatfish (flounder, plaice and Dover sole) and rays as well as cod and potentially bass when there is some sea running. On the other extreme solid stone piers built around rocky ground will hold species associated with this type of ground such as pollock, wrasse, coalfish and possibly conger eel, as well as cod and whiting in the winter. The vast majority of piers are popular for fishing for mackerel and garfish in the summer using spinners, daylight and float fished baits. Very long piers can offer anglers the chance to cast into very deep water which can produce unusual species which are not often caught from the shallower water of the shore such as ling and haddock. However, anglers should not get obsessed with going to the very end of the pier and casting out as far as possible – the best fishing from many piers is much closer in due to gullies or other fish holding features which are present there.
Pier Fishing Equipment
These days most anglers use all-round beachcasters for pier fishing, especially of they are fishing a pier which allows casts to land on mixed or sandy ground. However, some anglers fishing particularly snaggy piers with strong tides stepping up to using stronger and more powerful rough ground fishing rods paired up with a fast-retrieve rough ground multiplier reel. The idea of pier rods – stiff fishing rods, usually about 10ft long, which offered short range casting but plenty of strength to winch fish up pier walls have died off in popularity for two main reasons. Firstly, modern all-round beachcasters are so capable that anglers can use them for both pier fishing and beach fishing, negating the need to have a specialist pier rod. Secondly, no fishing rod, not even a can be used like a crane – trying to winch big fish up a pier wall will almost certainly see them either fall off the hook or the rod snap – see the page on Striking, Reeling In and Landing Fish for more information on this topic.
Another method of fishing a pier, in summer at least, is to use light gear. Spinning or lure fishing for summer mackerel is one of the most popular types of fishing in the UK, and as stated in the page on mackerel it is much more fun to fish for this species with light gear such as 7-8ft spinning rods rated to cast 1-2oz, rather than using strings of feathers or daylights on 12ft beachcasters. Due to the deep water around piers float fishing is also popular and can be done using a spinning rod or bass rod rated to cast 2-4oz.
A drop net is an essential piece of equipment for anyone fishing a pier who plans on catching decent sized fish. This is because (as stated above) a fishing rod cannot be used like a crane and relatively modestly sized fish around the 2-3lb mark will put a lot of strain on a fishing rod and reel, and larger fish may either prove impossible to haul up, or will fall of the line as they are pulled upwards and out of the water. Using a drop net allows any larger fish that are hooked to be successfully landed. Read more about using drop nets to land a fish by clicking here.
An additional bonus of many piers and breakwaters is that they have a wall or railings running around the length of the pier which means that anglers do not have to take a rod rest or stand with them. However, many anglers use some kind of clamp or holder to keep their rod lifted off the rails to ensure that the line is not damaged – the Breakaway Boat and Pier Rest and Zebco Rod Rail Holder are both useful in this respect.
Pier Fishing Rigs
There are no specific pier fishing rigs, and anglers should base their choice of rig on the ground they are fishing over and the species they are targeting. Distance is rarely important so the two hook flapping rig is a good all round choice which can catch a variety of species. If fishing for big cod or bass then the rig can be stepped up to a clipped down pennell rig, while anglers going for summer species can use the adjustable float fishing rig. When fishing from piers that are built around snaggy or rough ground anglers have a choice of rigs with rough ground rigs (which include a weak link release) useful to cut down on lost rigs and fish, while pulley rigs are always popular with anglers fishing from piers which are built over rough ground.
Types of Piers
The picture above shows the main types of pier found around Britain. Purfleet Jetty is an example of a small jetty which is usually found within harbours and docks. As jetties can sometimes be quite far inland they generally fish best for smaller estuary species such as flounder, dab and school bass, while summer may see mackerel present. Jetties, particularly those in the south, can be a good venue to catch mullet when the weather is still and calm. Llandudno pier is an example of a promenade style pier that is built going out into a sandy beach and will fish well for flatfish, as well as the other species outlined above, while the solid stone Middleton pier at Hartlepool is the type of pier where anglers may have to step up to stronger rough ground gear due to the snags and strong tides around this area.
Some types of pier – especially promenade style piers – can dry out at low tide, meaning that fishing can only take place around high tide, as the pictures above show.
Pier Fishing: Access, Crowds and Safety
Piers are a great place to go fishing but they are sometimes victims of their own success. In summer piers can become immensely busy with anglers, tourist and members of the public all sharing the limited amount of space which is available. Anglers should always be careful to check that the space behind them is clear before casting on a busy pier, and ensure that safety is always to top priority when fishing in crowded conditions. In winter piers can also get very busy with anglers – especially when the news spreads that the cod are in – and although most anglers are happy fish side by side there can sometimes be issues with crossed lines due to misplaced casts. Anglers should also be aware of lines getting in the way of boats and other vessels sailing past the pier, and of course never cast where their could be a danger of the weight hitting a boat.
Many piers – especially in the south of England – require anglers to pay a charge before they can fish from the pier. This can often be paid on the pier itself but anglers should check because it is sometimes necessary to apply for a permit or pass before the fishing session, and these can sometimes take weeks to arrive. Many of these piers also have restrictions such as no overhead casting, areas which are float fishing only, and many piers have sections where anglers are banned from. Anglers should always be aware of any rules which are in place on piers they are fishing from, and ensure that they adhere to these rules.
Many larger stone piers are free to fish from, with the only restricting being that they are shut when the weather makes it too dangerous to fish from the pier. Although many anglers climb over or around locked gates to fish piers this is not advisable as the gates are locked for safety reasons and in some cases anglers could also be in trouble with the harbour master, pier owners or even police for trespassing. Despite the fact they are widely used by the public and free to access most piers are in fact private property.
While anglers are always disappointed to see a mark they were planning to fish from shut the only alternative is to find a new venue to fish. Many piers can be swamped by large waves in bad weather and lost gear, serious injury and even death could all be the end result for anglers fishing on piers when they shouldn’t be.
Anti Social Behaviour and Piers
Related article: Responsible Sea Angling
The biggest problem with many piers comes in summer when the ‘mackerel bashing’ crowd turn up. Many of these people have no interest in fishing other than catching mackerel in the summer and leave behind litter, beer cans, line and empty rig packets wherever they have been fishing. There have even been reports of some piers become effectively no-go zones for families and anglers as boozed up idiots claim the end of the pier as their own when they go mackerel fishing, while other anglers on other piers cause trouble with casting, littering and cutting bait on seats. There is not much anglers can do other than distance themselves from these groups and make it clear that people behaving like this have nothing to do with genuine anglers. Continual bad behaviour, mess and litter will unfortunately eventually get all anglers banned from piers.
Despite these issues piers offer brilliant fishing and allow anglers access to deep waters and fishing marks far out at sea which would not be accessible any other way. There are hundreds of piers around the UK and many of other smaller jetties and breakwaters, offering plenty of venues and marks for anglers to discover and explore.