The South Pier in South Shields is a large pier which, along with the North Pier, protects the Tyne estuary from bad weather and keeps the River Tyne navigable for commercial shipping and pleasure boats. Construction of the pier started in 1854 but 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 tracks are still present 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
The pier is locked shut overnight and opens at around 8am and closes anytime between the late afternoon and sometime in the evening (exact hours are difficult to verify and are liable to change). The pier will also be closed during bad weather, although in recent years it has been closed for a multitude of different reasons including the need to carry out maintenance and repair work, the supposed inability to social distance on the pier (due to the coronavirus pandemic) and because of the large amount of litter generated by people using the pier. In the past local anglers have been known to climb around the gate to access the pier when it is closed, although this is not advisable and anyone doing so will be putting their safety at risk and leaving themselves open to potential prosecution for trespassing on the pier. It should also be noted that as the first quarter of the pier can be accessed without passing through the gate, so this section of the pier can still be fished even if the gate is locked. There is no charge to access the pier.
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.
A wide range of species can be caught from this mark. Cod are present all year round but it is the bigger fish which are present from late September to March, and smaller codling which make up catches in the summer months. Coalfish, flounder and dab are present all year round, and summer sees mackerel arrive in large numbers, especially after a spell of settled weather (this can lead to the pier becoming packed with 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, meaning there is a chance of catching very rare species such as ling and Atlantic wolffish.
Rigs and Bait
Anglers fishing for large cod in the winter generally use pulley rigs or simple single hook paternoster rigs. The hook size used is generally 3/0 or 4/0 in a strong pattern such as Mustad Viking 79515 or Sakuma 545 Manta. For anglers targeting smaller species such as flounder, plaice and whiting a simple two hook flapping rig is a good choice. Use size 1/0 or 2/0 hooks in a strong pattern so that they can handle any larger fish which may take the bait. South Shields Pier has something of a reputation for being snaggy with some anglers complaining that they lose a large amount of terminal tackle when they fish here. While some points of this pier do contain a lot of snags (see below) from many points of this pier it is simply a case of needing to cast far enough to get past the snags and then reeling in fast so that the rig and weight are clear of snags during the retrieve. Anglers can also incorporate a weak link release (rotten bottom) into their rigs as a way of cutting down on lost tackle when fishing this venue.
In terms of bait, frozen black lugworm (runnydown), mussels, squid or a combination of these baits as a cocktail are popular for targeting winter cod. Peeler crab will also be extremely effective if a supply has been frozen during the summer months for use in the winter. Peeler crabs will also account for plaice, while ragworm or lugworm tipped with a strip of mackerel is a good choice for all-round fishing from this mark.
Lure and Float Fishing
In the summer South Shields Pier is extremely popular with anglers using spinners, feathers and daylights to catch mackerel while small coalfish and greater sandeels can also be caught on these types of lures. Pollock and larger coalfish can also be caught on larger spinners and soft plastic lures fished at depth. Float fishing is an effective way of catching pollock, coalfish and mackerel and a small sandeel or strip of mackerel belly presented in mid-water can account for the better fish. However, the end of the pier can become extremely busy during the summer months with anglers fishing almost shoulder to shoulder and at times fishing can become difficult due to the number of people present.
Fishing Marks on South Shields Pier
While anglers can fish from any point of the pier there are a number of recognised fishing marks on the pier where anglers have worked out the best methods to use and stages of the tide.
The most commonly fished marks and points on the pier are listed below, along with advice on the fishing methods, bait and stage of the tide at which they fish best.
The Brigade Hut
At this point on the pier anglers will be casting into the estuary (obviously, since there is land behind) and casts of just thirty yards or so will see the snags cleared and the rigs landing on clean ground. There is no railing here to rest a rod on, so rod a rod rest or tripods is needed. This is a 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 from this point of the pier in the summer months, although it is not as popular for lure fishing as the marks further towards the end of the pier. The Brigade Hut is best fished two or three hours either side of high tide, with the bigger 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 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 is a section 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 to forty 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 remnants of which 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 slightly 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 tide.
The seats are another comfortable mark to fish from, although as they involve going through the gate they will not be accessible if the pier 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, casting from the seaward side of the pier into the open sea. 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 in the spring and early summer. 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 good spring and 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 that produces the best plaice). Since this point of the pier is fairly far out to sea a wide range of species can be caught, including decent winter cod, especially if anglers are fishing just after a spell of bad weather which has stirred up the seabed. Slightly longer casting may be needed here – at least forty to fifty yards to clear the snags. This part of the pier is fishable at any stage of the tide.
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 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 rough and casts of around eighty yards will be needed to clear the snags. 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 fish some of the 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 End of the Pier
Fishing from the end of the pier can be productive but forget what you have read about long casting not being necessary from a pier – it is here because short casts will always land on snaggy ground. Most anglers fishing from the end (known as the Round End) and cast out as far as they can – reaching distances of eighty yards will see the clear ground reached. Large cod are present here in winter, especially after rough seas, as are whiting, coalfish, flounder and plaice. The point where the railings and wall meet (also known as the Small Wall) can also be a good mark to fish from. The end of the pier fishes best a few hours either side of low water. The reason for this is that the amount of water flowing between the piers as the tide comes in 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. Anglers should also give some thought to how any fish caught at the end of the pier will be landed. A drop net is safe to use from some of the sections with railing but it is not safe to lean over the wall at the very end of the pier to use a drop net. 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.