Fishing off Stanchion piers

Piers are a familiar coastal sight, and everyone’s fished one at some time, perhaps with less success than they might have.

The seaside pier is where many anglers first wet a line, and yet, despite the undoubted advantages a pier offers, a large number of fishermen don’t catch very much. This is sometimes because there aren’t many fish about, but equally the fisherman should not fall into the trap of believing that a pier is just one great big fish-holding area. There are problems as well as advantages in this unique fishing environment.

Deciding where to fish on a pier can be difficult, especially on the longer ones like Southend, which stretches well over a mile out to sea. The fishing can vary considerably over such a distance — remember that the species at the pier head may be very different from those found nearer the shore. This is not to say that fishing in the deeper water of the head is always better – sometimes the reverse is true.

The species available depend on the time of year and the geographical location of the pier. (The species you find at Morecambe are often different from those at Southend, even at the same time of year.) Asking at the local tackle shop is a good way to find out which fish are about, though your informer may be less inclined to give details of the exact hot spots. This is where a look at the sea bed at low tide can provide a host of clues. t

Reading the sea bed

All Britain’s really long iron piers are built in relatively shallow water, so a large expanse of sea bed is exposed at low tide. Any variation or feature on the sea bed is usually attractive to fish, so note their location in relation to the pier. Gullies are natural pathways for fish to follow, and often provide sport when other areas are unproductive. In shallow sandy areas, fish move up gullies as the tide begins to flood, only moving out when the water on either side is deep enough.

Similarly, fish drop back into these channels on the ebb tide as the lack of water pushes them off the shallower areas. Flounders in particular leave it to the last minute before moving into the deeper water of the gully, but many other species use the same tactics. This concen- trates the fish in quite a small area and a carefully positioned bait can produce, even when the mud or sand is exposed on either side.

Mussel beds and patches of rock or weed are also noted fish-holding areas. They provide sanctuary for many crustaceans and small fish, and are an obvious patrolling point for hungry predators. Areas worked over by baitdiggers attract fish as the tide floods and the recently turned mud or sand colours the water. Fish follow this trail of coloured water to its source, intercepting food items washed out by the tide. The pier stanchions (supports) themselves are well worth considering. The tide often scours depressions in the sand around their bases and these can shelter whole communities of crabs, shrimps and small fish. Barnacles, mussels and weed all grow on the supports, attracting baitfish and the fish that prey on them. Some species patrol under the supports. At times, a flowing trace dropped underneath the pier from the uptide side allows a bait to rest there, where it can intercept these patrolling fish.

The pier head is usually in deeper water and so offers a different set of possibilities from the rest of the pier. Even at low tide the sea bed is probably not exposed but you can often still locate likely fish haunts. There is usually some debris around the outside of most pier heads, and although this makes tackle losses inevitable in these areas, you can also catch a lot of fish. Often the bowels of the pier are a mass of discarded ironwork and rubble which has accumulated over the years. Once again this provides shelter for small fish and therefore attracts the bigger species.

Some piers have a solid or partially solid head which breaks the tidal flow and creates areas of slack water in which the less energetic species, like mullet, gather. Occasionally these quiet corners may even produce a surprise conger.

Night fishing

Where night fishing is allowed it’s worth remembering that some species are attracted to the pier lights. If you get the chance, it’s the quiet approach that pays dividends and a freelined sandeel or small fish can produce good results. You can take horse mackerel, bass and sometimes coalfish or pollack in this way.

Some species, however, steer clear of the pier extension and it may be necessary to cast as far away from it as possible. Each particular pier has its own hot spots and favoured methods but, in general, it is better to cast straight into the tide with a breakaway lead rather than directly downtide. It tends to help good bait presentation, and anyway it’s a lot easier to bring in a big cod using the tide to help you than it is having to drag one back against it.

There are always places which produce on a pier, though these usually vary with time of year, state of the tide and the weather. It’s up to you to find them.