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Alan Stevens

Mastering The Pier

OK; hands up who have ever watched one of those marine nature programmes on telly and seen a reef full of fish. Keep your hands up if you either dream of, or love wreck fishing. Now imagine the feedback the boat skipper would give you if, when wreck fishing, you cast 100 yards away from the wreck. 

Now; hands up who when fishing a pier, casts away from it as far as you can? Granted, sometimes casting away from a pier helps you reach a channel or other feature and I have been doing this today, but in reality, more often than not, the pier is an oasis full of fish not dissimilar to a wreck or reef. Casting away from it means you can leave the oasis and place your bait in the desert. 

Furthermore; using the pier as a ‘wall’ can capitalise on the many depths the fish are swimming at and will bring unusual species, and methods, into play. And it makes a change from fishing the bottom 2-feet that a long cast gives you from the gradient your bait lays in the water.

The holes, pillars, nooks and crannies the pier possesses are a haven for fish sheltering in the weed that covers the sub surface structure and right now, those lovely little crabs are getting softer. Guess where the bass are going to be feeding.

Granted, piers are notoriously snaggy. Rotten bottom rigs and cheap terminal tackle lessen the pain of lost kit but mastering the art of casting just slightly away from the structure can avoid the worst of the snags whilst still tempting the fish to leave their hiding places to snack on your bait.

I use a 15-ft beach casting continental rod but flick a cast only two or three rod lengths away from the pier. Carp rods would be ideal too of course. The purpose of the long rod is not to cast distance, but to enable the retrieve to be kept away from the pier structure. Using 2-oz heavier weights than you would normally need for the tide prevents drift of the bait into stage and ensures a more straight up and down placing and retrieving of the baits.

The other advantage from using a very long rod is that it enables you to use very long terminal tackle set ups, covering maybe 10 feet of depth. my go to rig is a ‘stretched’ 3-5 wire boom paternoster rig, size 1 or 2 hooks connected by lightweight (10lb) short fluorocarbon snoods. The lightweight fluorocarbon provides movement for the baits and also is first to break should a hook snag, preventing a total loss of terminal tackle. The hooks are most commonly baited with micro bait mackerel or squid top hook, squid, herring or bluey middle hooks and at the seabed crab or worm. Basically, just covering my options with what I think reflects what the fish would be feeding on over that 10-feet depth range. Periodically I jig the rod, especially at slack water just to keep the movement going.

So with this core rod locked and loaded, option for as second rod are many. Depending on conditions I sometimes drop a sliding float loaded with small rag/maddies just out of sight. The clearer the water the deeper I set the bait. Often you get bass, mullet or garfish hunting just below the visible water line. This is a really great tactic at night, when the predatory fish use any light from the pier to hunt at shallow depths. If when fishing bottom at dusk and it goes quiet, try fishing micro baits 12 ft down with a float. Trust me. Float fishing can be a bit tricky when the pier is busy and when the tide is running, but when not, great fun so long as you hang on to your rod.

For my style of pier fishing a drop net is essential. Fishing lightweight snoods risks a break off when lifting fish from the water to pier. In addition to its core purpose, at slack water a weighted and sunk drop net loaded with bait can bring up some real surprises but for me the real delight is the shrimps and prawns which can be a meal themselves or super bait for the float or top hook paternoster. 

If the tide is running, a tactic I developed during 2020 is to use sliders. Baiting it with a whole small bluey, sprat or pouting for example, I simply cast down tide 10-yards and let gravity and tide do its thing. This works really well for dogfish who love to hang around piers for the small fish that we catch and throw back. The slider covers the whole elevation of the water depth as it descends, so in effect you are covering every possibility of fish feeding height.

Another Al, mastering the Thornback caught at Clacton today.

So to conclude; I don’t know why piers have a bad reputation as they can be great. Removing the need to cast long distances means kids can fish as equals too making it the ideal starting point for the youngest family members. Today on Clacton Pier families were having a great time. You don’t get sand in your car like a day on the beach and you can chose your time to go home unlike a boat trip. The pier attracts a wider variety of fish in contrast to a beach and typically has a cafe near to hand to save you from a pot noodle dinner. In terms of equipment, it is also probably the cheapest place to fish. The pier for me is an all round easy but interesting location to have in your arsenal. I love them.

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