Fall is the time for pier fishing as anglers flock to the beaches to get in on the annual runs of fish like bluefish, flounder, speckled trout, pompano, spot and red drum. It can be great fun to pull fish up onto the pier planks, and you’ll catch more if you remember a few simple fall pier fishing tips.
Use fresh bait.
Piers are always willing to sell you bait but most of it will be previously frozen. If you are going to use shrimp, squid, mullet or other cut bait then you need to buy or gather your bait ahead of time. The best place to find really fresh shrimp and mullet is the local seafood market, although roadside stands and grocery stores are also possibilities.
Fresh bait has two big advantages when pier fishing. First, it is much tougher for bait stealing fish to tear off the hook than bait that has been previously frozen, meaning the extra money you spend buying fresh bait you will actually save in keeping it on the hook.
Second, fresh bait leaks the important juices necessary to get the attention of roving fish and will always attract more bites. Fish will hold onto fresh bait longer as well. Fresh is always better when pier fishing.
Fish shallow and deep.
For some reason most people who go up on an ocean fishing pier migrate to the middle of the pier to fish. But usually the best action can be found in the shallow water (which is fine territory for flounder and pompano) just in or outside the whitewater foam of the surf or in the deeper areas where predators like bluefish and Spanish mackerel run.
Many fish are feeding on sand fleas and small crabs and will be found close to the whitewater wash of the surf. Flounder are thin can go into extremely shallow water and pompano actually turn themselves sideways to get into the shallows and attack sand fleas. Thus, fishing the frothy surf can bring great rewards when pier fishing.
At the same time, big baitfish schools of mullet and pogies roam around the deeper water areas, and if you are casting plugs for bluefish or Spanish mackerel you need to be where the larger predators will be roaming.
Some of the best pier fishing baits in the fall are fresh cut shrimp and chunks of bloody, fresh cut mullet.
Tie your own rigs.
When fish are running really well the leader and rig you are using won’t matter. But in times when bites are hard to come by you will usually see local pier anglers doing better, and the main reason is that they tie their own rigs without a bunch of snaps and swivel s that will turn wary species off. Fish that are known to be “leader” or “hardware” shy include flounder, speckled trout, whiting (sea mullet), pompano, spot (at times) and red drum.
You can tie your own simple pier fishing fishfinder or double-bottom rigs, or if you are “know-challenged” you can buy some pre-made from companies like Sea Striker that don’t use all the snaps and swivels. No matter what, avoid wire leaders for any species except big bluefish or sharks. Wire bottom leaders are often sold at piers alongside monofilament rigs and they definitely cut down on the strikes you get. For most pier fish you don’t need to have wire to avoid being cut off.
Use underhand lob casts.
Fall fishing conditions on the pier can get crowded, and the best way to cast is to swing your rig under the pier and lob it out straight in front of you. This will pay off in less time spent unhooking tangles with other anglers. If you rear back and cast away upwards (and into the wind) you have a lot less control of where your rig is going and the likelihood that you’ll become entangled with another angler’s rig is far greater.
Most fish are not way out anyway but instead a short distance from the pier. Underhanded lob cast allow you to pinpoint where you put your bait and hit the same spot after you have begun to catch fish.
Dress in layers and bring sunscreen.
Although it may be chilly in the morning when you begin pier fishing, fall days can become quite sunny. Make sure you dress in layers so that you can shed clothing as needed and don’t let the morning chill or wind fool you-the sun can still give you an angry burn even in the fall. Bring the sunscreen when pier fishing and apply it when you need it.