Catching Saltwater Fish at Public Fishing Piers

By Ken Schultz

Aug 04, 2020

You can catch diverse saltwater species at public fishing piers, some of which are not as well known as others; here’s advice on methods, locations, tides, and more

There are all kinds of public fishing piers along our coasts where you can catch saltwater fish, as well as crabs and possibly bait. These are good venues for introducing youngsters to fishing. Some of the smallest and simplest are merely extensions of docks used for boat access, but others are more elaborate, being long and occasionally wide structures built on pilings and extending well out into the water.

Look for Lesser Known Piers

Many of the larger public fishing piers are well known and easy to find, but there are others that are smaller, not well advertised, known mostly to locals, and yet offering pier fishing for diverse species, as well as the ability to spread out for social distancing reasons.

A case in point for the latter is the public fishing pier at the northern end of Anna Maria Island in southwest Florida. Despite spending much time in Florida over the years I’d never heard of the small yet obviously popular Rod and Reel Pier there until last winter, while vacationing nearby. If you’re looking for any public fishing spots in an area that you’re visiting, always check with a local bait and tackle shop and ask about public fishing piers (as well as time and tide to fish).

Bottom Fishing

The most common activity at public fishing piers is bottom fishing, using some form of bait to catch fish species that hang out on the bottom around or near the pier structure (like flounder, spot, croaker, and catfish) or species that are more likely to be moving through the area (like striped bass, mackerel, snappers, and seatrout). Repetitive casting with lures, especially jigs and swimming plugs, is also possible, but sometimes hindered by crowds or location.

Best Pier Spots and Tides

Where to fish on a pier is sometimes an important consideration, and many regulars are fond of the pier end, which is usually where the water is deepest. Keep an eye on others fishing on a pier to get a sense of what places may be best, as they are not the same at every pier.

Tide direction is often a factor on where to be. Fishing on the side of a pier where the direction of the tide is going away from you is often best. When the tide changes direction, you may need to change which side of the pier you’re on accordingly.

Most saltwater fishing is best when there’s a moving tide, and some piers have little or no water when the tide is low, making that a poor time to be pier fishing. Before and after high tide is generally preferred.

Do You Need a License?

At some facilities, such as a state-licensed public pier that charges an entrance fee, you are not required to have a saltwater recreational fishing license. But in places without such an arrangement you will need to have a saltwater fishing license (short-term or annual) issued by the state where the pier is located. Make sure to get this beforehand.

Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is