The Mid Atlantic region is home to scores of saltwater fishing piers. Some of the area’s best fishing piers are located along the Atlantic Coast. Fishing piers are also found on the Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, North Carolina sounds, and rivers.
Each pier has its own variety of species. The diversity of fish available at a given pier tends to vary considerably by season. Although catches can happen at any time, summer and fall are the most productive periods for most Mid Atlantic fishing piers.
From New Jersey to North Carolina, ocean piers experience seasonal runs of fish. Spot and croaker are often the most abundant species, especially during the summer season. Atlantic piers also attract striped bass, bluefish, flounder, Spanish mackerel, swelling toads, pigfish, spadefish, triggerfish, tautog, black sea bass, and others.
Some Atlantic Coast piers are visited by larger game fish such as cobia, king mackerel, amberjack, jack crevelle, and numerous species of sharks. In rare cases, even pelagic species such as mahi mahi and false albacore visit ocean piers.
Many of the Mid Atlantic region’s best fishing piers are located on bays or sounds. These piers are more likely to be visited by spot, croaker, striped bass, weakfish, flounder, and other inshore species.
River piers tend to have their own unique range of fish species. Depending on location, salinity, season, and other factors, river piers might feature fishing for striped bass, white perch, spot, croakers, channel catfish, white catfish, shad, herring, or other species.
Most pier fishing requires only basic rod and reel outfits and simple tackle. Medium action spinning or baitcasting outfits work well in most situations. Other pier fishing equipment includes one or more coolers, tackle box, rags, bucket, bait board, knife, pliers, and tape measure. To transport all this equipment, a buggy, wagon, or fishing cart is often a good idea.
Basic Pier Fishing Rigs
Several rigs are useful when pier fishing. The most common by far is the standard two hook “top and bottom” rig. Top and bottom rigs work well when fishing straight down for casting outward over smooth bottoms. One important advantage of the top and bottom rig is its versatility. The rig allows anglers to fish twin hooks and baits or to combine different hook sizes and baits in order to tempt multiple fish species at once.
The Carolina rig is another rig that works well for pier fishing. With Carolina style leaders, the weight is located above a single hook. The main advantages of the Carolina rig is that the setup is more streamlined and the bait tends to exhibit a more natural movement.
Carolina rigs are used with live baits as well as cut baits and can be fished on the bottom or at mid-depth. They work exceptionally well when strong currents exist or when fish are suspended off the bottom.
Sabiki rigs are sometimes used for pier fishing. These setups consist of a light leader rigged with multiple small hooks. Each hook is dressed with synthetic materials in order to resemble shrimp or tiny baitfish. Sabiki rigs can be jigged as-is or tipped with tiny pieces of bait. Although these rigs are prone to tangling, they are extremely effective for catching baitfish.
Artificial lures are popular for pier fishing. For most piers, only basic lures are required. Among the most common are bucktail jigs, jig-soft plastic combos, metal jigs, spoons, swimming plugs, and surface poppers.
Pier Fishing Rigs – Beyond the Basics
Occasionally, floats, balloons, bobbers, or popping corks are used for pier fishing. Float fishing is useful when fishing live baits for larger species. Floats are also used for spadefish and triggerfish. Float fishing often requires a large inventory of equipment as different baits require a specific size or type of float.
One of the most complex rigs for pier fishing is the two-rod setup that is used on North Carolina fishing piers. This specialized system is used for catching king mackerel, cobia, amberjacks, sharks, and other large gamefish.
The heart of the system is a large rod called a “Hatteras heaver”. The sole purpose of the heaver rod is to act as a rigging line. Simple but stout rods are paired with heavy reels and line. A special sinker is used which is equipped with wire arms. Once the anchor-type sinker has been casted and dug in, the line is brought tight.
A second rod is rigged with a circle or live bait hook and baited with a live fish. A special release clip is used to connect the live bait line to the rigger line. As line is payed out from the live bait rod, the release clip slides down the rigger line. The bait is usually lowered just until it reaches the surface of the water.
When a fish strikes, the clip releases, allowing the angler to fight the fish. An additional release clip is added each time a bait is changed. At the end of the day, the rigger line is hauled in, at which time the release clips can be recovered.