The South Pier in South Shields is a large pier which, along with the North Pier, protects the Tyne estuary and keeps the River Tyne navigable for commercial shipping and pleasure boats. Construction started in 1854 and was not fully completed until 1895. The pier is made out of rock-faced sandstone and concrete blocks which were taken from the nearby Trow Quarry and transported by rail (remains of the railway track are still visible on the pier today). The pier is approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers) in length. In 2016 the lighthouse at the end of the South Pier and the pier itself were given Grade II listed status by Historic England who stated that the pier “represents an impressive feat of engineering which also has aesthetic and architectural qualities.”
General Information and Directions
Due to its length the pier offers a range of different types of fishing marks and a number of different species can be caught here. The pier is locked overnight and opens at around 8am in the morning and closes at around 8pm at night, although this can be earlier in the winter and in recent years the pier has been locked during the day in good weather for no apparent reason. Many local anglers climb around the gate to fish the pier at night, although this is not advisable and should certainly never be done in bad weather as it can be highly dangerous to fish this venue during these times. There is easily accessible parking at the base of the pier, although there is a charge to park all day and the car park is locked at night. South Shields is easily accessible via the A1 and A194 from the north and south. The postcode for the pier is NE33 2JX for satnav users. Be advised that in summer the pier itself and the surrounding area can get very busy indeed with both mackerel anglers and tourists during the summer months.
Generally, South Shields Pier is a very safe venue to fish. However, the gates will be locked when the weather is bad and overnight when the pier is closed, although some anglers climb around the gates to fish the pier at night. This is not advisable, especially when the weather is bad. Waves as tall as the lighthouse at the end of the pier can smash over the structure in the worst weather – no one wants to be on the pier when that happens. It should also be noted that just because the gates are open it does not necessarily mean the pier is safe to fish. Conditions can change fast, and if the weather takes a turn for the worse the only course of action is to pack up and move off the pier to a safer venue.
A wide range of species can be caught from this mark. Cod are present all year round but, like most UK venues, it is the smaller specimens which stay all year round and the bigger fish only being present in the winter months (from approximately late September to February). Coalfish, flounder and dab are present most of the year round, and summer sees mackerel around in large numbers, especially after a spell of settled weather (this can lead to the pier becoming packed with youngsters and some less than considerate ‘anglers’). Other summer species which can be caught here with some regularity are plaice and silver eels, while pollock will also go for spinners and float fished baits in the warmer months. Bass appear to be becoming slightly more common, but are still not a regular summer catch. Other species which have been caught from Shields Pier on an occasional basis are gurnard, turbot, wrasse and thornback rays, although all of these are rare catches in this part of the world. Because the pier is so long and offers the opportunity to put a bait out a long way from the shore some species associated with very deep water can be caught. Ling have been reported from the end of the pier, and there is a confirmed report of a halibut being caught from this venue in 2009.
Rigs and Bait
Shields Pier has a reputation of being a very snaggy tackle graveyard. While this can be the case (as expalined below) there are a number of marks on the pier which allow anglers to fish over clear ground where tackle losses are minimal. When it comes to rigs there are a number of different approaches that can be taken. When going for winter cod it is often a good idea to use a single hook rig with a size 3/0 hook in a strong pattern such as Mustad Viking or Sakuma 545 Manta as this will be sturdy enough to handle large cod but will also allow the smaller whiting and coalfish (which usually average 1-2lb) to be caught. Some anglers like to use pulley rigs in order to increase the chances of bringing in a big fish, but simple paternosters are popular as well.
Outside of the cod season many anglers target the flatfish which are out in number around this mark. A two hook flapping rig is usually the best option, with size 1 or 1/0 Aberdeen hooks a good choice. Plaice here are usually around the 1lb mark, but there is always the chance of a better fish. Flounder can be out in numbers, and there are also, rockling, codling, dab and whiting to be caught for most of the year. While none of these fish are likely to be massive they still provide plenty of good sport, and the size 1 –1/0 hooks will ideal for the job. With there being some snags around it is also a good idea to incorporate some form of rotten bottom or weal link release when fishing this venue, but remember that tackle losses shouldn’t be too bad if casts are far enough to get past the snaggy ground and land on the clean sand, rigs are retrieved quickly. Some anglers – especially those fishing the end of the pier where snags are most common – forgo modern fishing rigs with swivels, beads, impact shields and crimps, and simply use the most basic rig possible. This gets still gets results and can be a good choice.
Mackerel, small coalfish and greater sandeel can be caught on feather and daylights cast from any mark along the pier, and will also go for spinners as well. In the summer will see almost all of the pier becoming packed with people trying to catch mackerel and many anglers give this venue a miss during these times. However, there is still good fishing to be had if the crowds can be tolerated. In terms of bait fishing, plaice will go for worm and crab baits, and with some luck it may be possible to catch a bass. To catch the pollock that are here try casting a spinner or jelly-type lure and retrieving it at depth. However, some anglers report that float fishing is an effective way of catching this species, and a small sandeel or strip of mackerel belly presented in mid-water can catch a decent-sized pollock or one of the numerous coalfish. It is also possible to have fun with the mackerel fishing, but the best idea is to go light, with freshwater fishing gear or a tiny spinning rod and fish for them one at a time in order to extract maximum sport from this species. The quietest places will be around the start of the pier (Brigade Hut and First Gate), as most of the noisy and troublesome ‘anglers’ are fixated with fishing into the deepest water possible and will fish from the very end of the pier.
In terms of bait most of the mainstream UK sea fishing baits will do the job here. Large winter cod are often taken on either fresh or frozen black lugworm (runnydown), mussels, squid or a combination of these baits as a cocktail. Peeler crab can be deadly for the winter cod, but this needs to be frozen down when it is available in the summer and will be in short supply in the winter months. Summer plaice are taken on peeler crabs, with ragworm and blow lugworm also working well. Ragworm tipped with a strip of bluey or mackerel is a great all round bait for this mark, with all of the species mentioned being caught on this cocktail at one time or another.
Fishing Marks on South Shields Pier
The Brigade Hut – Cast into the estuary (obviously, since there is land behind) at least thirty yards and snags will be cleared and rigs will land on clear sand. There is no railing here to rest a rod on, so rod rests are needed. Summer sees mackerel anglers fishing here and it can get quite busy. Good all round mark for codling, whiting and coalfish in winter, and will also produce the dab, rockling, flatfish and smaller codling in summer. Mackerel can be caught here in summer and as stated above it is always quieter than at the end of the pier. This point of the pier is best fished two or three hours either side of high water, with the highest spring tides being the most productive. Since this part of the pier is before the gate it is always open, and indeed the sheltered fishing it provides means that it can become very busy in winter cod season when the seas are stormy and most other marks are too rough to fish. The Brigade Hut is also an excellent mark to fish for disabled or elderly anglers, or those with mobility issues, as it is only a short distance from the car park, although there are a few steps to negotiate from the car park up to the pier.
The Slab – The slab is a 100 metre stretch of the pier running from just past the brigade hut to up to the first gate. Again this spot involves casting into the estuary, and casting distances of thirty yards will have to be reached to get past the snags. Like the Brigade Hut it is a high tide mark, and similar techniques will catch the same species that the Brigade Hut produces. No railing is present here so a rod rest or tripod is needed.
The First Gate – The first gate (so called because there was once a second gate – the remains of it are still visible further along the pier) is a good fishing mark in itself. Fishing just before or just through the gate provides a railing to rest a rod on. Again, casting here is into the estuary, although it is slightly snaggier than either the Brigade Hut or the Slab and casts may need to be forty to fifty yards or longer to land onto clean ground. The species on offer from this part of the pier are the same as those elsewhere along the pier, although the slightly deeper water improves the chances of a larger winter cod. Like the Brigade Hut and slab, the First Gate is best fished a few hours either side of high water.
The Seats – The seats are another comfortable mark to fish from, although as they involve going through the gate they will not be accessible if the gate is closed. There are several seats to the right as you walk through the gate and continue up the pier, and the first three (and the spaces between them) are all fishable. Fishing from this part of the pier provides the solid stone wall to rest rods on and so a stand or rod rest is not needed. There are few snags around this part of the pier, and a cast of just twenty yards will see no tackle losses – indeed it is often the shorter thirty to forty yard casts that produce the best fish from this part of the pier. Big cod are present here in the winter months, but smaller whiting and coalfish tend to make up most of the catches. Flatfish are also caught here with flounder and dab regular catches and summer plaice also a possibility. Again, high water is necessary as the tide level drops too low on the ebb and rigs become snagged on the wall and rocks at the base of the pier as they are retrieved.
The 44 Mark – Further up the pier the 44 Mark is a classic summer plaice spot. It is so called because the number 44 is (faintly) painted onto the wall here. It is possible to cast into either the estuary or seaward side (although it is the seaward side which produces the best plaice). Since this point of the pier is fairly far out to sea all of the species available here can be caught, including decent winter cod, with night fishing into a choppy sea being the best time to land a bigger fish. Slightly longer casting may be needed here – at least forty to fifty yards to clear the snags. This part of the pier is fishable the whole stage of the tide.
The Blocks – These blocks were left over after the construction of the pier and simply tipped into the sea since transporting them elsewhere would have been too expensive and time-consuming for the Victorian builders of the time. Fishing either side of them can produce good winter cod and summer plaice (some of which can be 2-3lb), as well as the usual whiting, dab and rockling. However, this far up the pier the ground is snaggy and casts of around eighty yards will be needed to clear the rough stuff. Anglers fishing this point and not casting far enough will get snagged every time, and experiences like this lead to people writing off Shields Pier as an unfishable tackle graveyard. If casting distance is an issue it may be better to stick to more forgiving marks on the pier, such as the Brigade Hut or The Seats. Mackerel will also be caught around this point of the pier and surrounding areas, and it is possible to catch decent pollock here, to deeply retrieved lures or float fished baits.
The Round End and the Railings/Wall
Getting to the end of the pier entails a one mile walk, but the fishing here makes it worthwhile. Anywhere along the wall at the end can be fished from, but forget what you have read about long casting not being necessary from a pier – it is here because short casts will always land in snaggy ground. Most anglers fishing from the end cast out as far as they can, and hitting eighty yards will see the clear ground reached. Be advised that if fishing alone the size of the wall in front of you can make it difficult to pull for a break if you get snagged while fishing here. Another option is to cast from the point where the Railings/Wall section (where the metal railings meet the stone wall) and cast across the estuary (as if you were aiming for the lighthouse on the North Pier). Again a long cast is needed to beat the snags but fishing here can be as productive as casting from the very end of the pier. Large cod are present here in winter, especially after rough seas, and whiting, coalfish, various flatfish, and perhaps something a little more unusual such as a ling can also turn up. The end of the pier is generally fished at low tide, with two hours either side of low water the best time. However, on a neap tide the end of the pier is fishable at all stages of the tide, but on a bigger spring tide this part of the pier can only be fished an hour or so either side of low water. The reason for this is that the amount of water flowing into the estuary on a big tide creates a powerful tidal flow as the water rushes in, and it is impossible to hold the seabed, with weights being inevitably dragged into snags. Furthermore, give some thought to how any fish will be landed – it is not safe to use a drop net from the end of the pier as this would require standing on or leaning over the wall, but it is perfectly possible to use one from the railing section. Every year good fish are lost from the end of the pier as anglers have no alternative other than to try and winch big fish directly up and the hook, line or rod give way and the fish escapes.