Provided by Tim Broom, Half Hitch Destin
The possibilities on the pier are endless. Even as the seasons change we have something going on at the pier almost year round.
I grew up pier fishing as a child. My mom dropped me off on her way to work every morning during the summer around 5am and picked me up late afternoon on her way home. The old timers had a choice, either teach us to fish or we were going to make their life miserable all summer as me and three friends fished every day. I look back at the knowledge they passed on to us and there is no way to put a value on it.
We had fun and made memories, and that knowledge took us through the years growing up to where we are today. The four of us that grew up fishing on the pier ended up becoming first mates on charter boats and then on to become charter captains, myself I ended up in the retail fishing tackle business and teacher/seminar speaker on fishing techniques. Today I hope to pass on the knowledge that will make you proficient pier fisherman teaching you the times to fish, type of gear needed, techniques to catch various species and other secrets.
Rods and Reels
You’re going to need at least three rods and reels.
First, you need a 6ft to 6.5ft medium light spinning rod and reel spooled with 10lb mono or 20lb braided line. This will be used for jigging pompano, spanish, whiting and other small game fish and for using a sabiki rig to catch bait.
Second, you need a 7ft medium spinning rod and reel spooled with 15lb mono or 30lb braided line. This will be used for throwing larger lures and baits for spanish, bonita and other assorted medium gamefish.
Third, you need a 8-9ft medium heavy spinning rod and reel spooled with 20lb mono or 50lb braid. This will be used for large lures, live baits and plugs. This outfit will catch king mackerel, cobia, tarpon, tuna and other larger pelagic species.
Having a good pier cart can make your day at the pier. With a good pier cart, you’ll be able to carry all the gear you need for the day, a cooler to store your catch, some cool drinks, sandwiches, and snacks.
Things you will need:
- Fully equipped tackle box
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and rain gear
- Rod storage
- Pier gaff and pier net
- Bait bucket
- Cooler with plenty of ice
- Fishing stool
- Camera and cell phone
- Fishing towel and flashlight for night fishing
Species and when we catch them
- January: Redfish, Sheepshead, Flounder, Pompano, Winter Bonito
- February: Redfish, Sheepshead, Winter Bonito
- March: Redfish, Pompano, Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel, Cobia, Bonito, Sheepshead
- April: Cobia, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Pompano, Redfish, Blackfin Tuna, Whiting, Redfish
- May: Cobia, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Pompano, Redfish, Bonito, Hardtails, Ladyfish
- June: King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Tarpon, Bonito, Redfish, Hardtails, Ladyfish
- July: King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Tarpon, Bonito, Redfish, Hardtails, Ladyfish
- August: King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Tarpon, Bonito, Redfish, Whiting, Hardtails, Ladyfish
- September: King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Bonito, Redfish, Whiting, Blackfin Tuna, Sailfish, Hardtails, Ladyfish, Bluefish
- October: King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Bonito, Redfish, Pompano, Whiting, Sailfish, Blackfin Tuna, flounder, Redfish, Bluefish, Hardtails, Ladyfish
- November: King Mackerel, Bonito, Blackfin Tuna, Redfish, Flounder, Whiting, Bonito
- December: Redfish, Flounder, Sheepshead, Winter Bonito
Live Bait Fish
The majority of live bait you'll use at the pier are found from March to November: Cigar Minnows, Herring, LY’s, Threadfin Herring, Hardtail. Here's a link to our Panhandle Bait Chart.
Catching Live Bait
Catching live bait is one of the most important parts of pier fishing. When you walk on the pier you will see schools of minnows. You can catch these with ease by using a sabiki rig. The rig has 6-8 flies with a swivel at the top to attach your line and snap at the bottom for a weight. Bounce the rig in the middle of the schools of bait. It is best to catch them as you need them. You can catch 3 or 4 and put them into a bait bucket with a rope that you can hang over the side of the pier into the water. Frozen baits will work but not nearly as well as live baits. You will be able to catch cigar minnows, herring, LYs, threadfin herring and hardtails.
The proper technique to fish these live baits at the pier is drifting the live baits off the end of the pier. You will want to cast up wind and let the bait drift down wind and down current. Then reel up and repeat. Do not use a weight or float on this rig. This method will produce king mackerel, bonito, cobia, blackfin tuna, spanish mackerel, sailfish, tarpon and other gamefish in season.
Kings are one of the most sought after species that are caught at the pier. In the old days we rarely caught kings until April, but over the last few years we have been have good runs starting in May and running well into November.
The proper rig for drifting live baits is an 18in, 40lb braided wire leader with a #2 bronze treble hook. Hook the live baits between the eyes. This will keep the bait alive the longest and will cast the best.
There are a variety of lures that work well. Yo-zuri top water plugs, large rattle traps, spoons and 6in Berkley swimbaits. Rig all of these with 40lb braided wire.
King mackerel are one of the most exciting fish to catch from the pier. They have speed and power, and are one of the species almost anyone can catch.
Cobia are one of the most prized species caught from the pier. They generally show up in early March to early May and are caught throwing cobia jigs or live eels.
Anglers line the east side of the pier from the sandbar out to the end looking to the east for the cobia that are migrating from the east to the west. You need a good pair of polarized sunglasses and a hat with a dark under brim to cut glare. We catch the cobia by spot casting at them, it is rare that you catch one that you do not see first.
The anglers play a game called First Cast. They will be looking for the cobia, once they spot one they yell “First Cast!” and point out the fish. The angler can wait and let the fish get as close as they want so they can make a good cast and presentation of the lure. No one else should cast until such a time that the cobia is no longer working the original anglers lure. If the fish is not hooked and turns away at this time he becomes a free fish and anyone else is free to throw and give it a shot.
Spanish are for sure the most popular of all the species caught at the pier, they tend to be plentiful and easy to catch even for the novice angler. The spanish show up mid-march and run off-and-on through the rest of the year through November. The best months are March, April, May, September and October.
The most common lures are Gotcha Lures, spoons, straw Rrigs, white jigs and swimbaits. All the lures need to be rigged on a 50lb mono leader. Spanish have a mouth full of teeth and can bit the lure right off. Remember these teeth when de-hooking a spanish as they can bite back.
Pompano are a favored species because of their table fare. Grilled pompano is about as good as it gets. They have a firm flesh, very white meat, light flavor and just enough oil and fat content to keep them from getting dry when grilled.
Most are caught throwing pink, orange or chartreuse jigs bouncing them along the bottom in the shallows between the surf line and the sand bar.
Another method is bottom fishing with a 2 hook mono bottom rigs and a 2-3oz lead using sand fleas, fresh peeled shrimp or Fishbites.
Pompano are most abundant in March, April and May but can be caught fall and winter depending on weather conditions and water temps.
One of my favorite eating fish of all time. Not real big, but real good. Catch them on small pieces of shrimp on a Carolina rig fishing the the surf line.
Caught mostly in spring, late summer and fall but can be caught year round when conditions are right.
Sheepshead are mostly caught in the winter months. Use a Carolina rig with a live fiddler crab, live shrimp or sand flea. The sheepshead swim around the pilings looking for crabs and shrimp so you need to fish right next to the piling working your bait slowly up and down the water column. Stop moving the bait for periods of time as sheepshead are very picky and slow to bite. Excess movement of the bait will cause them not to bite. Good fried or grilled.
Tarpon are one of the most exciting species to catch from the pier. Their long runs, aerial display and power are second to none. Tarpon can show up as early as late May and last well into September. The main run is late June to early August.
Only in the last few years have there been the sheer number of tarpon that we are catching now. When I was a kid in the late 70’s, and all the way until now, if someone told me they caught three in a season I could believe that, if the said they caught five I would be skeptical. Anyone claiming more than five I would call a story.
That has changed. This year alone 2015 several anglers have confirmed photo documents hooking and catching more than 50 in a season.
This is due to several factors, climate change, increasing numbers of tarpon and more so than anything Berkeley 6in power baits. These large heavy swimbaits are the ticket, since we discovered these in 2011 or so as being the ultimate bait tarpon catch numbers are over the top. Rig on a 60lb fluorocarbon leader about 18in long.
Some are caught using live minnows caught at the pier fishing on a 18-24 inch 60lb fluorocarbon leader with a 7/0 Owner Mutu Light hook.
Bonita run off and on all year, we have summer bonita and winter bonita.
Summer bonita are generally caught using live cigar minnows or live herring fished on straight 15lb mono no leader and a Mustad 2/0 bronze short shank hook. The best days are in summer just before a weather front when it is rough and kicked up.
Winter bonita are generally caught with white jigs and white jerk baits rigged on a white 5/8oz jig head. In the winter the bonita bite best on those very cold slick calm north wind days. Bonita will be working small schools of glass minnows and running in and out from the pier and up and down the beach. No need to wear your self casting jigs until they get close enough. Look for the small white birds diving as they also indicate the presence of bonita when the are not busting on the surface.
Reds again are one of those species that run off and on all year. Reds are limited to 2 per person between 18 and 27 inches, but many that we catch are well over the slot and we call these bull reds. These are fun to catch, but are catch and release only.
Most of the legal size reds are caught on live shrimp, sand fleas or small live minnows caught at the pier. More times than not the legal reds are caught in the surf line or the trough between the surf line and the sand bar.
You’ll see and catch bull reds in this same area and, especially in winter or spring, catch bull reds at the end of the pier on big live baits, spoons, and larger casting plugs.
If you catch a red and are not sure if it’s in the slot or not, use a pier net to get it up and not a pier gaff in case it has to be released. Do not just drop the redfish over the side. Put it back in the net and lower it to the water for release. Dropping them over the side is like throwing you off a two story building and many times injures or kills the fish. We all need to do our part to protect our fisheries for our kids and their kids.
Jacks are caught in the spring during March, April and May. Many times they travel in large schools and you can see them chasing bait towards the pier from several hundred yards away. We see more of them in the shallows and on the sand bar, but they can be seen anywhere along the pier.
Some are caught on live minnow but most are caught on large pink, orange, or white buck tail jigs. Large plugs such as Rapala or Yo-Zuri brands work well as do the Berkeley 6in swim baits.
Jack Cravelle are not rated very high on the dinner list, so most people net them with a pier net and release using the same method as we do redfish by lowering them back to the water with the net and not just dumping them over the side of the pier.
We catch a few blackfin tuna in May/April. The majority of them are caught in the Fall starting with the full moon in August and through November. Blackfin are on and off depending on the year; some years much better than others.
Most are caught on live cigar minnows or live herring using 60lb fluorocarbon leader and a 1/0 Mustad 4x treble hook. they can be caught free lining live baits from the end of the pier or spot casting when the tuna are chasing schools of live baits and busting the surface eating baits.
Blackfin tuna are excellent eating, it you bleed them immediately upon catching and icing them down it is hard to tell the difference in them and yellowfin.
Sailfish are most often caught while trying to catch king mackerel in the fall. It is very hard to say “I am going to the pier and target a sailfish.” Most years they catch a couple and I have seen years they catch 10 or 12.
Being able to say you have caught a sailfish from the pier is a rare thing. They are fun to catch, beautiful fish and put on magnificent aerial displays.
Flounder are mostly caught October, November and December.
The best rig is a 24in 20lb mono Carolina rig with 1-2oz egg lead. Bull minnows are the preferred bait, but live shrimp, Berkley gulp and strip baits made from fish bellies will work.
Fish along the length of the pier not out from the pier. Normally the lee side or down wind side of the pier is best.
Hardtails and Ladyfish
Hardtails and Ladyfish are mainstays of summer fisherman. They are fun and easy to catch, normally always around the pier from mid-May to mid-October. They readily take spoons, Gotcha lures, jigs, and straw rigs. While they do not have teeth, they do have raspy sandpaper-like teeth so it is best to us a 50lb mono leader.
Some people will eat the hardtails. The ladyfish make good cut bait but not much for anything else. If you do not plan to use them as cut bait please release them alive so we continue to have a good population. They are great fun for kids and they fight good and bite really well.
Bluefish are mostly caught in Fall from mid-September to mid-November.
You need a 60lb mono leader if you are going to throw Gotcha lures, spoons or jigs. If using live or cut bait, a 40lb wire leader is best. Bluefish have a mouth full of teeth, be very carful when de-hooking them.
Bluefish are fair eating, best smoked and ok fried.