Photo of a Pier on a Sunny Day

Pier Fishing Rigs: The Ultimate Guide (Tips and Tricks)

If pier fishing was the only type of fishing you could ever access, then you’d still be one heck of a lucky angler.

Fish in a barrel?

Saltwater pier fishing certainly has many challenges…

But it’s hard to think of a location and a type of fishing style that has more access to such an incredibly unique diversity of fish species.

And did we mention size…

You’re in for a treat…

The pier is home to many enormous residents and visiting monsters from the sea!

They’ll smoke the heaviest saltwater fishing gear and the most seasoned angler!

What Can You Expect to Catch? 

It would be faster to list the type of species you won’t catch.

We’re pretty sure you won’t hook a brook trout. If by chance you catch one, it’s time to panic because the world’s just turned inside out.

Piers are fish meccas…

Piers are fish meccas…

You’ll find the smallest of baitfish to the ocean’s largest sharks, coastal species, and pelagic species.

From grouper to GT’s, it’s fish paradise, and therefore, an anglers paradise.

Your location will determine the type of species you’ll encounter.

It’s pretty tough to address all the likely species because there are many great piers right around the US coastline

The species you see will differ depending on the state where you’re pier fishing. 

Variety of Fish inside a Steel Bin
Variety of Fish inside a Steel Bin

Here’s a Pier Species Shortlist to Whet Your Appetite

  • Goliath Grouper
  • Massive Tarpon (On everybody’s bucket list)
  • Flounder
  • Giant Black Sea Bass (Like…GIANT)
  • Black Drum
  • Sharks. (Too many to list individually)
  • Sturgeon
  • Atlantic Croaker
  • Black Croaker
  • Big Black Drum
  • Southern Kingfish
  • Striped Bass
  • White Perch
  • Red Fish
  • Black Fish
  • Blue Fish
  • GT’s
  • Yellowtail
  • King Mackerel (Highly sought)
  • Bonito
  • Pacific Mackerel
  • Spanish Mackerel
  • Giant Jack Crevalle (Too awesome for words)
  • Atlantic Croaker

These are just 22 likely customers you could see when pier fishing. And believe it or not, getting marlin and other unique catches from a pier are not unheard of.

It’s not just a fishy tail…It’s true! How about a sailfish?

We guess you’re getting the point. The list above barely scratches the surface.

We still haven’t addressed the fantastic table fish like whiting. And these fish are popular with kids.

By now you’re ready to ditch this article and hit a pier…although you’re in Nevada. Just be patient and finish the article.

The following fishing tips will be critical to your success.

Group of Men Fishing On A Pier
Group of Men Fishing On A Pier

Piers Are Fish Havens

Fish love structure. Most anglers know this.

Natural structures on the water including rocks and reefs, weed beds and wrecks, deep holes and the tiniest depressions in the sand on the seabed. 

And then there are the structures we make, like bridges, sea walls, and yes…piers.

Structures on water draw fish like flowers draw bees. A pier is one heck of a structure. 

Countless massive pylons stretch from shallow water out into the deep sea water for half a mile or more.

Appeal to fish

Tide, wave action and currents interact with the structure. This creates the eddies that shape the seabed, carving troughs, and holes that these sea creatures call home or haven. 

They’re also a popular meeting place for hordes of feeding sea predators that will chew their way through a swimming smorgasbord.

Lots of large fish eating small fish, and huge fish eating large fish.

It’s simple. Pretty well, all fish are innately attracted to structures on water. Therefore, they’re attracted to our massive piers.

Going into specifics

You can go angling in a pier with the most basic fishing kit.

In fact, a handful of terminal tackle and a handline is all you need.

However, if you want access to everything that’s weaving in and out of the pylons, aside from your regular tackle, you’re going to need a few things that you might not have.

First, let’s take a look at the critical peripherals, that is, the things you’ll need aside from rods and reels.

Then we’ll look at several common rod/reel combos that will provide anglers access to the full gamut of pier dwelling species.

Once we’re geared up, we’ll identify a handful of easy pier fishing rigs that help drive your success on the pier, whatever fish you search.

To give you an idea of what you’ll be facing. Check out this video of a Sailfish caught in a pier…

Sailfish Caught While Pier Fishing

Drop Nets and Fly Gaffs 

Whether you’re keeping the fish or releasing it, you’re still going to have to get the fish up on the pier first.

While you can lift panfish with your rods or handline, once they get to a certain size, lifting fish out of the water with only a line becomes fraught. 

Losing a fish is bad enough, but lifting heavy fish will result in a broken line or equipment. Particularly fishing rods.

For that matter, even lifting a smaller class of fish such a huge distance is asking to lose fish. It happens to people on every pier every day. 

Things to consider

Remember, a fish might only weigh 5 pounds, but it’s thrashing with about 20 pounds of belligerence.

It’s easy to lose even the most securely hooked fish when landing it from a pier

There are two main tools for getting your fish up onto the pier. A gaff or fly gaff, and the drop net.

Drop Nets

These nets are available from tackle and bait shops or online, and they’re brilliant. Such an easy concept.

They may be a little tricky to use when the wind and waves are up, but they’re pretty simple to master.

Simply lower the net down to the surface and work your played fish over it.

Now lift!

Depending on the size of the fish, “now lift” might be easier said than done…

Extra Pair of Hands

You may need help from other people to lift it.

Pulling up an 80 pound Goliath Grouper up 25 feet of the pier is hard work.

Check out this video of a drop net in action.

Pulling up a 80 pound Goliath Grouper with a Drop Net

The beauty of these nets is that they can be used for small fish and very sizable fish. 

They’re safe, and offer an acceptable level of protection for fish you intend to release…unlike a gaff. 

This one has a long handle with a hook that releases from the handle that will allow an angler to retrieve the fish by pulling an attached rope – a fly gaff.

This one is more similar to a grappling hook, or a set of trebles on steroids. 

These gaff styles/methods take a reasonable level of skill and you will need practice to use it effectively.

When in the hands of an experienced user, this type of gaff is excellent.

In fact, there’s no better way to land a huge fish from a pier. Remember this is a dangerous bit of kit. When using one, make sure to use it with caution.

Fishing Cart

Fishing carts are one of those essential bits of an angler’s pier fishing kit…that aren’t really essential. 

OK, you don’t need a fancy trolley to lug your gear out onto the pier.

But it sure makes things a heck of a lot easier.

Piers can be long, like…very long. A short one can be a quarter-mile.

By the time you have your tackle box, cooler, live bait tank (high tech custom setup), several rods and reels, a cast net, your regular fishing equipment including terminal tackle, lure, a chair, wet weather gear, etc, etc…

You get the point. It’s a lot for two arms and a humble backpack.

Short of a mule, or other such beasts of burden, a cart, while technically not essential, using it saves a really long onerous walk.

Different Cast Nets Piled Up
Different Cast Nets Piled Up

Cast Nets and Live Bait Tanks

The greatest truism in fishing. There are no better baits than live baits.

If you want to catch a huge fish from a pier, collect live baits.

While you can fish for baits, a lot of time is saved by tossing a cast net.

As we highlighted earlier, piers hold baitfish, and we know they’re there in abundance.

While you can fish for baits, a lot of time is saved by tossing a cast net…

Make sure to take advantage of this by using cast nets. In one throw, you can have enough bait to do you for the session.

Agreed, casting nets from a pier will take a little practice, and sometimes could be difficult if the wind and surf are up. 

Worth the effort

However, this is hands down the best natural bait that can be used for chasing a larger class of fish, so getting bait with this method is totally worth the effort.

What’s more, instead of buying from a bait shop, collecting bait this way will save you a heap of cash as well.

Keep in mind, you will need a cooler for a tank/bucket with a battery-powered aerator to keep your baits alive.

We can’t stress this enough. This is always worth every bit of time and investment.

Combo 1. The Easy Fishing Combo

This is the lightest (yet still capable), approach to pier fishing. It’s ideal for all anglers of all skill levels.

The shorter rod makes casting a breeze on a busy pier.

However, you have enough rod length to keep a smaller class of fish out of the pylons.

The perfect weekend warrior combo.

We’re not catching monsters with this guy, but we’re taking home dinner, and we’re catching our live baits.

Setting up The Easy Fishing Combo

Mount a 5000 spin reel to an 8-foot medium light rod.

Spool up with 20-pound braid line and use a 15-pound fluoro leader. This is for smaller species.

Yes, it sounds like a hefty piece of kit, but your line will be battling the pylons and rocks and whatever type of other line mashing structures beneath the surface.

RECOMMENDATION

Although you could lift your fish to the pier with this outfit, we would always recommend you to use a drop net.

Ideally, you want your leader as long as possible to allow as much protection as possible. Once your brain hit the pylons, you’re in huge trouble.

Man Fishing on a Pier
Man Angling on a Pier

Combo 2. The General Purpose, Up for Anything Pier All-Rounder

You can pretty well do anything with this combo.

If you could only choose one outfit for the party, this would often be the best.

It’s by no means overkill for run-of-the-mill fish. And at the same time, you would have all the stick you need to bait for a larger class of pelagic.

When your Kingfish climbs over the 30-pound mark, you’re in with a shot, but you’re definitely in command in for all targets under the 20-pound mark

Setting Up The General Purpose, Up for Anything Pier All Rounder Combo

Strap an 8000 spin reel to a 12-foot medium heavy surf rod. Spool up with 40-pound braid line and use a 30-pound fluoro leader.

This combo is your general-purpose, you’ll have enough stick to deal with a 20 pound Jack, but you’ll still be good to tackle a smaller class of bluefish or redfish around the 5 to 10-pound mark.

NOTE

It’s important to remember that leaders should be as long as possible without affecting casting performance. The exception is if you want to let your bait/lure to suspend, or not sink.

Remember, fluoro sinks, so make sure to shorten it if you’re casting out and fishing higher in the water column.

Combo 3. I Want Nothing Less than Marlin, Sailfish or Goliath

With this combo you’re fishing with huge live baits and targeting absolute monsters. You’re not playing around here, this is a genuine land-based game.

This is what you need to keep a Goliath out of the pylons and land it. This is what you need to play out a sailfish. This is for breaking records.

Setting Up the I Want Nothing Less than Marlin, Sailfish, or Goliath Combo

Strap an overhead like the Saltiga 50 to an extra heavy 12-foot rod.

It’s got oceans of power and will cast a huge bait a reasonable distance.

Small game reels will suit as well. Spool it up with as much 80-pound braid line as you can fit. Use a 400-pound mono leader, as long as you can.

Clearly, you can tell this is for massive fish around 60 pound and over.

NOTE

Much of the weight in the leader is more about dealing with the pylons. When an 80-pound fish rakes a 50-pound leader over the pylons, it may as well be cotton.

The main reason we recommend the long rod length is so you have a little more chance to keep them out of the pylons in the first place.

Fishing Rod on a Pier
Fishing Rod on a Pier

1. Monster Rig. For the Big Fish and Big Fish Only

This is for the big fish

Run a two to four ounce sinker directly down to 16/0 to 20/0 hook. Hook a huge live bait of two pounds or more and cast it out.

also an ideal bottom fishing rig for chasing huge bottom dwellers…

This is also an ideal bottom fishing rig for chasing huge bottom dwellers such as Goliath Grouper.

You will also attract sharks with this potential bottom rig.

Use rod/reel combo number 3 as outlined above.

2. Floating Rig for Monsters

Use the same rod and reel combo as in rig one, however, use a float rig and cast it as far as you can.

Usually, a lighter bait will be required to get a small distance.

This is a good set-up for huge mackerel.

TIP

Remember that casting this rig will be a challenge, don’t worry too much about distance, usually they’re feeding closer to the pier than you think.

3. Lures From the Pier???

Tie your favorite jig to rod/reel combo number two.Cast the life out of it, or release it straight down in front of you.

Try several depths in the water column, try jigging fast or jigging slow.

It should be noted that jigs (or fishing lures that can be worked vertically) are about the only useful lures for pier fishing. (There are exceptions depending on conditions).

Working lures from the height of a pier kill their action and their position in the water.

TIP

The best tip here is to talk to the tackle and bait shop near the area where you’re fishing and ask them what jig to use for what fish.

They might also include fishing tips that often only locals in the area know.

4. The Best General Purpose Pier Rig

Tie a twin hook paternoster rig to either rod/reel combo one or two. In many respects, this will be your staple set-up. In our opinion, there are no better rigs for bait from a pier.

Use fresh strip baits from those you catch from the cast net, or whole squid or squid heads (if you have large squid).

RECOMMENDATION

Rod/reel combo 2 should be loaded with full squid, using as much as a 7/0 hook. This will be ideal to attract game fish like jacks and big redfish.

Sinker

A two to four ounce sinker should be enough and hook size will often be determined by the mouth of the fish you chase. 4/0 is a good start.

Of course, if you’re chasing a type of fish similar to whiting, reduce the hook size significantly, and change to a long shank hook and worms.

NOTE

In some circumstances, the rig set-up could change slightly. You may use smaller hooks or, you may lose the sinker all together on the live bait rig.

However, the 4 pier fishing rigs mentioned above will be your go-to rigs for just about any type of fish you’re likely to encounter from a pier.

Conditions may and do change fast. Make sure that you’re ready to make adjustments to your rig to suit tide and wind, and target.

The Pier Fishing Wrap

As stated in the introduction, there’s an endless list of fish species you can target from the country’s enormous pier fishing spots.#rigs

You can have a casual fish to catch some dinner or rip out massive live baits for a chance to break a record.

Less is More

Interestingly, the equipment and rig required are reasonably minimal. In fact, as far as pier fishing rigs go, it really doesn’t get any easier.

Remember, you don’t always have to take out the full complement of rods and kit.

Just choose one, there’s a pier fish with your name on it, whichever type of rig you’re using, from whatever pier you fish on.

I’m hoping that some of the fishing tips above will be of help on your next pier fishing trip.

Even to your buddies. Or whomever you want to share this guide. So don’t hesitate to share!

Lastly, always remember…

Keep your rig simple and your bait fresh, and you’ll have oceans of success catching from piers.

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