Saltwater pier and surf fishing are two of the most versatile types of fishing for everyone from beginning anglers and families, to the most seasoned veterans. There are hundreds of public parks and fishing piers located near beaches, boardwalks and ocean shorelines that offer anglers like you the opportunity to cast a line. To get started:

  1. Make sure you have the right saltwater fishing tackle and gear for the conditions and species.
  2. Determine what fishing techniques you will want to use when you get to your perfect fishing spot
  3. For both saltwater pier and surf fishing, check your local tide charts to see if the tide is coming in or out, this will affect the fishes’ feeding patterns
  4. Make sure you have your fishing license and know your state fishing regulations

Saltwater Pier Fishing

A wooden pier designed for pier fishing with fish swimming below it

If you are trying to decide between saltwater pier and surf fishing as a beginning angler, try pier fishing first. Fishing from a pier is a great way to get started, as a limited amount of saltwater fishing tackle is required. It is also exciting and diverse because of the range in water depth covered by many of these structures and the range in species you may catch. One of the most important pier fishing tips to remember is safety first since there are usually several anglers casting and reeling in fish within close range to each other. Make sure you are not casting overhead near another angler to ensure no one gets hurt.

Suggested Saltwater Fishing Tackle for Pier Fishing

  • 6 to 9-foot medium heavy action rod with corrosion resistant spinning reel
  • 10 to 15-pound test braid or monofilament fishing line with 20 to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader line
  • 2/0 to 4/0 size circle hooks (if you choose larger baits, the larger hook size will work better)
  • Assorted pack of sinkers. You may want to buy split-shot and egg sinkers of varying weights, use the heavier sinkers for areas with stronger current
  • Lures such as jigs, soft plastic shrimp, spoons and topwater plugs or live bait such as shrimp
  • A popping cork or float to keep live baits off of the bottom

Saltwater Pier Fishing Spots 

When looking for the best fishing spots along a pier, consider trying the areas below. You may need to try a bit of trial and error if you cannot see below the water if its high tide, or ask another angler who may be fishing there as well.  


Pilings

A long line of pilings where anglers can go pier fishing

Oysters, barnacles and small marine plants live on the pilings and rocks that can be found near fishing piers. All of these organisms provide food for larger game fish. Pilings and rocks also offer fish cover from the sun or protection from larger, predatory fish. Try live lining a live shrimp rigged on a 2/0 circle hook with a popping cork when fishing from a pier near pilings.

Seawalls or Bulkheads

An illustration of an underwater seawall, a great place to cast while pier fishing

Most piers are located near seawalls or bulkheads to help keep the ocean from eroding the shorelines, and for anglers these types of structures often mean good pier fishing because there are plenty of hiding places for bait and fish. When fishing seawalls or bulkheads, drop any of the above baits or lures straight down and jig them or bounce them near the base of the structure.


Saltwater Surf Fishing

A young boy holds a rod and reel while surf fishing

Saltwater pier and surf fishing are very similar in terms of the species you may catch, but they can be different in terms of space, technique and tackle. Fishing from the beach means you have the ability to move along the shoreline by foot, and can even wade into the water in order to get to the areas where baitfish may be located and the larger fish are feeding. Saltwater species such as redfish, snook, striped bass, pompano, flounder and sea trout are a few examples of fish you may find.

TIP: Consider reviewing a topical map to familiarize yourself with what the ocean floor looks like beyond the beach, this will give you a general idea of how to find the best places to drop your line.

Suggested Saltwater Fishing Tackle for Surf Fishing

  • 7 to 12-foot medium to heavy action rod with a heavy-duty spinning reel that is corrosion resistant
  • 17 to 20-pound test line with 30 to 40-pound test leader line (can go up to 50-pound leader line if you have a need to increase the weight of the sinkers you are using due to current or wind)
  • Lures such as jigs, plugs, soft plastics and metal spoons or live bait such as shrimp or crabs
  • A variety of hooks ranging in size from 1/0 to 10/0, depending on species and size of bait used
  • 3 to 8-ounce sinkers (use the heavier sinkers when fishing areas with strong current or tidal movement)
  • Rod holder or sand spike that can hold your rod in place and prevents your reel from coming into contact with the sand

Saltwater Surf Fishing Areas

Once you have your saltwater fishing tackle, head to the beach and look for the below areas. If you are not able to locate them visually, consider looking over a topical map, asking a fellow angler or checking the local fishing reports.

Troughs

Pay attention to where the waves break off of the shore or beach. The area where the waves break is generally where you will find a trough that runs parallel to the beach. It's near these troughs that you will find areas of fast-moving current where the baitfish and crustaceans will most often be found. You can often spot large schools of baitfish near the surface in these areas or see birds several birds flying overhead. Try using a fish finder rig in these areas for species such as flounder, sea trout, bluefish and pompano.

Jetties

Look for jetties or rock formations that extend out into the water and influence the current. Jetties are good places to try surf fishing since the rocks situated below the water are usually home to the baitfish and crustaceans that larger fish like to feed on. Keep a particular eye out for deep holes at the base of the jetty where the water rushes in and carries sand out. Anglers who drop a single hook bottom rigbaited with a chunk of crab, clam or shrimp might pull a blackfish, triggerfish or sheepshead out of the rocks.

Points

An example of surf fishing at the points made by sand formations. Fish are shown dwelling in the holes around the points

Points are natural sand or land formations that protrude out into the ocean and create an area of current where game fish can corral baitfish. The current flowing past a point will create areas of shallow water that borders deep holes. At low tide, you can wade out onto the point and cast beyond the breakers. With the incoming tide, try fishing these holes and bars that may have been exposed during low tide. Be sure to exercise caution when fishing points since swiftly moving currents can push anglers from shallow water into deep water very quickly.

TIP: As a general rule, anglers who wade into the surf should always be aware of tidal conditions and take a fishing buddy along whenever possible for safety reasons.

Inlets

Inlets are reliable places to find fish because there are two colliding bodies of moving water or current. Inlets are often marked by the presence of other notable fishing features such as jetties, bridges, sandbars, sloughs and deep holes. The combination of structure and convergent water creates an ideal scenario for surf fishing. Look for rips, bars or troughs where game fish will usually be waiting for a meal to drift by in the moving current. The fish tend to be stationary, so it's best to use baits with a Carolina rig, or a jig or plug that will move along with the current to provide a natural presentation to the fish.

Always looking for a new fishing challenge? Once you have mastered your saltwater pier and surf fishing skills, it might be a good time to hop aboard a small flats boat and try your luck at backwater or flats fishing.