Deep water, shelter and tide rips – concrete piers and breakwaters have it all..
Many of Britain’s stanchion piers were built for recreational purposes, but most concrete piers, jetties and breakwaters are there for more serious reasons. They are often positioned on stretches of exposed coastline to provide working boats with shelter from the tide and winter storms. In many cases they form the outer defences of a harbour. These concrete piers, while offering a different set of challenges to stanchion piers, are nevertheless similar in providing superb fishing platforms.
Think before you fish
Concrete piers share some features with rocky coastlines, harbours and stanchion piers, but in some respects they are unique. Before setting out to fish from one, it’s worth considering what particular sorts of features are present, the conditions you are most likely to encounter and the tackle required to meet them.
This type of pier often extends into deep water so that low water reconnaissance trips aren’t of great value. However, with a little careful thought it’s still possible to build up a fairly accurate picture of the shape of the sea bed and the fish to be found on it.
Many such piers and breakwaters are built on a base of boulders or concrete blocks. This makes the bottom of the wall a mass of nooks and crannies. On some breakwaters these blocks are piled up along the base to protect the wall from the battering of the waves. The numerous holes these provide are home to an enormous number of shellfish, crustaceans and small fish. Such a food supply is bound to attract the predators.
To provide the desired area of calmer water for boats, concrete piers are often built across the tide. As the tide can’t pass through the solid pier, it is forced along the side, creating a strong rip. It’s worth remembering that though some species feed while the tide is running at its strongest, others stay hidden, coming out only as the tide eases. By asking local anglers you can often avoid wasting a lot of time going for fish that aren’t feeding – or that aren’t there.
There are underwater features on both sides of the pier which are attractive to fish. Those below the low water mark can be hard to find, but watch where the top local anglers fish; this usually gives a clue to the most productive areas. It’s also worth keeping your own notes of fish and catches — before long a pattern emerges. Note that the species present may well vary with the season, so a summer hotspot can be very quiet in winter.
Two sides to the story
Both the outside of a concrete pier or breakwater, subjected to the full force of the tide, and the inside, which is often a harbour, can offer superb sport.
The more sheltered side where fishing boats load and off-load is often home to big shoals of mullet browsing on weed or picking at pieces of discarded fish. These areas are also favoured by conger and bass, especially after dark when it’s quiet. That’s usually when the bigger fish move around most confidently.
Casting away from the pier into the sheltered side can produce big bags of flatfish, particularly where the quieter water has left areas of sand or mud. Flounders usually prefer peeler crab, though lugworm is often more effective for plaice and dabs.
The seaward side has its own problems and rewards. The base of the wall is usually very snaggy, so you must be prepared to lose tackle. Coalfish (in those parts of the coast where they are present) and pollack tend to live in and around the obstructions. Mussel and peeler crab are two of the top baits for coalie. Ragworm nicked through the head, live sandeel and other baits which move attractively are often highly effective for pollack.
Bass sometimes creep along the base looking for an unwary pouting. Where mackerel are caught in great numbers, some anglers head and gut their fish immediately and throw the unwanted bits into the water. This creates a superb groundbait trail, attracting big and small fish alike.
Further out from the seaward side different species are more common. Unlike bass, pollack and conger, fish such as cod and whiting often give the wall a wide berth, lying in wait for the tide to bring them food. Mackerel strip and mackerel/lug cocktails usually account for much of the whiting, while often the cod seem to prefer a juicy hookful of lugworm or a lugworm/squid cocktail.
In the summer time
During the summer months float fishing can often provide good sport and, when mackerel are the quarry, an excellent source of bait. Mackerel and garfish are more common in the tide run, and can be taken by drifting a floatfished mackerel strip downtide from the end of the pier. The line where the fiercer tide from the seaward side meets the slacker water can be especially prolific.
Float fishing can also be effective for horse mackerel, pollack and coalfish in the sheltered area. A rubby dubby bag filled with minced fish and bran can encourage that shy species — the mullet — to lose its inhibitions. The sheltered corners where the mullet feed may be home to big conger and bass too, but obviously you need bigger baits and stronger tackle to deal with these heavyweights.
There is no such thing as a hard and fast rule which applies to every sea fishing venue, but then that’s what makes the good days so satisfying. You can improve the odds however, by using whatever clues are available. If you’re careful about where and how you fish, you may find that breakwaters, concrete piers and harbour walls provide better and more varied sport than almost any other shore mark.