An Irish Anglers World

Pier Fishing Has Its Place.

More often associated with novice anglers and casual summer mackerel fishers, or viewed only as suitable training grounds for youngsters new to the sport, piers, quays, jetties, pontoons, and harbour walls are fishing locations experienced sea anglers often overlook to their cost. Man made structures, piers can be functional in design and solid in construction, or built as they were in Victorian times with a social dimension in mind (Pleasure Piers) the latter built on a framework of stilts and pilings driven into the seabed. For simplicity relative to this article the various different forms will be included within the catch all term pier.

Pier caught brace of codling and dab from the Beara Peninsula, West Cork, Ireland.

Preliminary research on Irish pier and harbour construction unveiled two prominent names, a Scottish engineer named Alexander Nimmo (1783 – 1832) and an Irish civil engineer called Robert Manning (1816 – 1897). Both interested in drainage and water flow, the pair left their mark on Ireland by overseeing many pier, harbour, river channel, and bridge construction projects to include Dunmore Harbour, Co.Waterford and Cork Harbour improvements, both attributed to Nimmo, while Manning oversaw 100 plus coastal harbour/pier projects and conducted improvement works on the River Shannon. It is very likely, but I cannot say for certain, that two of my favourite pier marks were originally planned and designed by one or other of these two men.

Piers offer the sea angler easy access to deep water and a safe stable platform from which to fish. Irish examples being mostly solid in design they offer fish protection not just within their lee, but also in and around the walls themselves. Fish species associated with piers are flatfish and mullet, attracted by both the shelter provided and human interaction found within harbour confines, and conger eels, especially in working harbours where they seek out crevices within the walls to make a lair. Piers by jutting out and deflecting tidal flow often create localised rips and over falls which concentrate bait fish so providing ambush points for predators such as bass and pollack, while relative to the coastal area and time of year they can also be frequented by codling, whiting, coalfish, and mackerel.

Pier caught winter coalfish.

Considering the variety of species attracted to, the length of season associated with, and the relative ease of access to piers, quays, harbour walls et al, it amazes me that regular sea anglers, especially the more experienced ones, do not visit them more often. A favourite memory is arriving with friend Gerry Mitchell on a God awful late October day in 1990 to fish the south beach in Greystones. Blowing at least force six from a south/south east direction, the point, our chosen venue was exposed and well nigh unfishable. To save the day we opted to fish off the pier, driving on and parking at the near end, a discretionary move prompted by an occasional wave breaking over the sea wall close to where it joined onto the Kish. Setting up two thirds of the way down along we noticed, that where the waves bouncing back off the wall met the incoming waves, about thirty meters out, they surged upwards in a crash of spray and their momentum was lost. Gulls were working this line so it seemed a logical place to cast a bait.

Clipping on three hook flappers baited up with lug and mussel Gerry and I lobbed our rigs into the zone identified. Immediately heavy knocks signalled fish which we found hard to connect with, shortening our snoods to three or four inches and trying again the solid bites now resulted in hook ups with prime hard running coalies. It was like boat fishing in some respects, our rods hooping over due to us fishing so close to the wall. Later as dusk came on the familiar thump thump bite of codling interspersed with the ever present coalfish, I even landed a turbot nudging one and a half pounds, small as the species go but very welcome I can tell you.

Pier fishing in Ireland. Leaning into a good codling.

Now at the time I confess yours truly did suffer from pier snobbery, considering the structures lesser places. Real shore anglers according to my twisted logic fished off beaches and rock platforms, not concrete walls you could drive onto, where after all was the skill in that! Circumstance however intervened on that fateful October evening and in the process reminded me, in a very nice way, that to judge is to ere. Those Greystones pier codling and coalfish were duly noted, harbour walls and piers became a valid shore fishing option from then on.

Methods to use off piers are many and varied depending on the species present, or which specifically the angler wants to target. Unfortunately as for many venues and marks around the country commercial over fishing has reduced both species variety and availability, so limiting modern day opportunity. Looking on the bright side though, depending on which part of Ireland one lives in pier fishing can still score. Mullet are plentiful in a lot of harbours particularly if there is commercial fishing activity with boats regularly unloading. Congers will also avail of the free meals and be present especially if the harbour wall is old and full of cracks.

Sea fishing in Ireland, a fine pier caught conger.

Pollack and bass will hunt close to the walls picking off small bait fish swimming through and around the wrack; while mackerel and maybe garfish will be summer visitors susceptible to a float fished strip of mackerel or spinner run through the layers. Plaice, flounder, and dab are targets if the seabed off shore is clean, and of course as summer progresses through autumn into winter codling will make an appearance closely followed by whiting and coalfish.

When this article is published come November, codling, based on the last two winters, will be swimming close to the south coast alongside whiting and coalfish. A couple of local pier marks I frequent enable an inshore mussel bank to come within casting range, a feature which attracts both adult and juvenile fish across a range of species. Casting lugworm baited hooks from one or other of these two piers between late October and mid January onto this shellfish bank can produce some very good mixed catches. Reasonably sized dab and flounder compliment the more prevalent round fish. Given that the area is an obvious nursery ground due to the numbers of small fish present, a feature of the fishing is to incorporate larger hooks into the trace, 2/0 being the minimum. A side effect of this practice is plenty of false bites, but more importantly few gut hooked babies, every so often though the rod heels over to a good codling or coalie, happy days.

Sea fishing in Ireland, codling from the pier

For general fishing in the past one could purchase pier rods which averaged 10 foot in length, today standard beach casting poles matched to suitable reels loaded with mainline to a shock will suffice. End rigs can vary but in principle a two hook paternoster clipped to a five ounce gripper is a good choice. Snoods can be adjusted according to whether coalfish are present in numbers, if so make them short, other than that snood length should average 18 inches. Lugworm as stated earlier is the number one winter bait, however why not present a cocktail of lug combined with pre prepared frozen mussel, a tip that I learned from bait digger John “Bimbo” O’Toole many years ago, coalfish in particular love this addition. To prepare, gather and shell mussel then picking up two pieces of meat, push them together wrapping fine elastic thread around them tightly so forming a sausage. Continue to make and position each “mussel sausage” separately on a baking tray, when full place in a freezer. After freezing remove and place the wrapped mussel sausages in a Tupperware container then return to the freezer.

To use, take what is required for a fishing session and place in a wide necked thermos flask. Remove a few minutes before baiting up to defrost a little and push around the hook bend. The elastic will keep the bait together and on the hook when casting. On entering the water mussel and lug juices will merge creating a winter shore offering which no self respecting cod or coalfish can resist.

Sea fishing in Ireland, on the pier.

Not sexy but functional, piers offer sea anglers, whatever their level of experience, wonderful opportunities to catch a wide range of species. Yes harbour walls are busy places in summer populated with walkers, mackerel fishers, and harbour tenants, however early morning or late in the evening and on into autumn and winter they can become quiet places, where a thinking sea angler can find quality fishing if they’re prepared to look. Opportunities to target mullet, bass, mackerel, and pollack come to mind, however with the nights closing in I picture a stubby block of a harbour wall, the weather is frosty and still and a lone fisherman wrapped up to combat the cold leans into a purposeful bite. His rod heels over to a sullen head shaking resistance, fish on and it’s a good one, piers they have their place……..

Ashley Hayden © October 2012