The upper and lower decks are open to anglers
Click here to view LIDAR maps of the seabed either side of Deal Pier
This community website is regularly updated so click to refresh the page to see the latest content
North Toll House
Deal CT14 6HZ
(t) 01304 373104 Open daily from 7am to 6pm (satnav) 51.223707, 1.404842
Pier fishing tips for beginners (Graeme Pullen)
Click here to learn how to fish on snaggy marks
Assembling a mackerel feather rig
A Deal Fisherman's Tale (Laurie Philp)
Drone's eye view of Deal Pier before the 2018 'makeover'
Note the original (1957) red ashphalt, mahogany benches and glazed shelters
which were replaced during the 'makeover'
Sea Angler Magazine: Mailbox
Issue 505: 8 May - 4 June 2014, page 36
Deal Pier: Chart
Deal Pier (length 1,026 ft) is a popular place to fish with benches lining its length as well as a number of shelters and disabled access. According to local anglers, fishing for mackerel, garfish, mullet, pollack and sole is popular in summer. In winter, whiting and codling tend to make up the bulk of catches. The two most popular marks to fish Deal Pier are:
- the lower deck at the south and north corners and
- the upper deck between the 2nd and 3rd shelters (facing south towards Dover) fishing into the flood tide.
Because the Pier can be "snaggy", popular rigs are pulley and standard Pennells. However, the sea bed surrounding the Pier is occasionally dragged following which the seabed is considerably less snaggy. If concerned about losing end tackle try some of these fishing methods:
- feathering down the sides of the pier
- spinning with a baited (flounder) spoon, mackerel-spinner or other artificial lure
- float fishing
- fly fishing
or use a rotten bottom rig weighted with one or more hagstones of a size suitable for the tide-flow.
The Illustrated London Evening News (1864)
Opening of the new pier at Deal
Stations des poissons dans les ports de mer (1866)
A review, in date order of publication, of historical and recent sources for fishing from Deal Pier …
"Angling in Salt Water: A Practical Work on Sea Fishing with Rod and Line from the Shore, Piers, Jetties, Rocks and from Boats" (1887) John Bickerdyke at page 51
Pier-head, harbour, and shore fishing are all peculiarly adapted to those persons who, when in boats on the restless ocean, are wont to render a votive, albeit unwilling, offering to the sea god.
"Angling in Salt Water: A Practical Work on Sea Fishing with Rod and Line from the Shore, Piers, Jetties, Rocks and from Boats" (1887) John Bickerdyke at pages 36, 50 & 51
It must be acknowledged that, as a general rule, the quantity of fish taken from these places is not great … It must be remembered that fish which frequent harbours and haunt the piles of piers are fished for a great deal, and get shy, like, but not to the same extent as, their harassed fresh-water brethren. Fine tackle, therefore, is very advisable, and the importance of ground-baiting can hardly be overrated.
When about to fish from a pier-head, or, indeed, anywhere else, the first thing to do is to make some inquiries of local anglers, the pier master, old salts, or the fishmonger, and obtain some idea of the fish which are likely to be caught … Some of the following fish may nearly always be expected: Bass, from April until cold weather sets in, rock-fish, pout, whiting, mackerel, coal-fish, pollack, horse-mackerel, grey mullet, red mullet (rarely), codlings, smelts, congers, flounders, plaice, dabs, chad (small sea bream), and cod. There are also two prickly little fish, whose spines inflict nasty wounds - the long-spined bullhead and the dragonet. They are not unlike miller's thumbs. They may be known by their ugliness and ferocious appearance … If the angler can discover the nature of the bottom where he is fishing, he can in general form a good idea of the fish he may expect and the best baits to use. A very simple arrangement, used by sailors, and shown in section on page 36 , can be used where the water is so deep that the bottom is not visible at dead low water. It is simply a cone-shaped lead plummet, varying in size according to the depth of water to be sounded, in the bottom of which is a hollow space containing tallow; the cord passes through the ring on the top. This weight is let down to the bottom, and, on being hauled up again, whatever is sticking to the tallow - sand, mud, fragments of seaweed, shells, &c - tells the angler of what the bottom is composed.
… among the best (baits) are sand-eels, ragworms, mussels, lugs, herrings, sprats, pilchards (entrails or body), strips of mackerel skin, and shrimps, alive for pollack and the lesser flat fish, peeled but not boiled for most other fish. Ground-baiting … is all-important for success … In grey-mullet fishing, some of these are merely thrown on the surface; but more commonly the mixture is placed in a weighted net … and sunk within a foot of the bottom, as close as possible to the spot where the baits are dangling ready for the fish to seize them. A judicious shake now and again, given to the cord to which the net is attached, sets loose some of the bait, which the fish seize. In placing the ground-bait net, the angler should note carefully the set of the tide, and place his tackle so that whatever is washed out of the net is carried past his hooks. The ground-bait not only attracts fish, but it induces them to take the bait on the hook, under the belief that it is one of those harmless fragments which have come out of the net.
 At page 36: The plummet illustrated in section in Fig. 47 is used for taking the depth and one other purpose. On its lower surface a hole (B) is scooped, in which tallow may be placed. The nature of the bottom is then easily discovered. The hook is put through the ring and into a piece of cork (A) let into the lead. Such a plummet should weigh about half a pound.
"Sea-Fishing on the English Coast" (1891) Frederick George Aflalo at pages 117 & 122 to 126
The South-east Coast
From an angler's point of view, this commences south of the Thames and extends to Eastbourne. The fishing at this south-east corner is very good indeed, including, as it does, Deal, Dover, and Hastings, while in the size and quantity of its fish, it closely resembles the south-west coast, which is, however, superior. It is very well adapted for fishing, there being, as one advances to the westward, a very suitable combination of rock and sand, in which large bass, mullet, mackerel, pollack, and conger, are all abundant. It presents varied fishing at all times of the year, the best months being, perhaps, July, August, and October.
Deal (3 hours from Charing Cross ; 3rd return, 8 days, 11s.)
This is, perhaps, the best spot for angling on the south-east coast, as indeed one could guess, without going there, from the repeated advice in the Fishing Gazette from Mr. Sachs and others, to go there. Mr. Sachs is well known at Deal, and it is to him that I am indebted, not alone for the idea of originally trying Deal, but also for some very practical advice on Deal Pier a few summers ago. The best months are July and October - January; the former for pout and pollack, the latter for whiting and cod.
There are but few places where the pier affords better fishing than boats, but Deal is certainly an example. The length of the pier, 1000ft., allows the angler to fish very deep water, and the strength of the "race" that sweeps round from St. Margaret's, brings many large fish under shelter on the north of the pier. The charges on the pier are 1d entrance, or 3d on and off all day, and each rod also pays a tax of 5d per diem. There is, in the season, a kind of depot at the end of it, where all the best baits can be had fresh every day. The pier master, Mr. Lawrence, was always a good friend to anglers, and often procured for me bait that was otherwise inaccessible.
For angling purposes, I found the Antwerp Hotel (Mr. G. Ottaway) very comfortable, and as it is just at the entrance to the pier, much time is saved in getting backwards and forwards.
The tackle shop is Frost's (ironmonger), in High Street. I have already mentioned his sea-paternoster. It is customary with the Deal amateurs to leave their rods in charge of the man at the turnstile for weeks, without taking them to pieces. This is surprising, considering what well-known amateurs visit Deal, and it is a piece of sheer laziness that I cannot recommend.
The fish caught here in the summer are pollack, pout, and plaice. The best tackle is the paternoster or the leger. Heavy leads* are required, as the tide is strong. The best summer baits are ragworms or cockles, the former being sometimes rather hard to procure. The capture of lobsters on a hook is by no means uncommon, and in past fishing papers I find no less than seven cases.
* Some of the Deal amateurs, headed, I believe, by Mr. Sachs, esteem a light lead a great advantage. This requires some skill on the part of the fisherman to feel a tender bite, and distinguish it from the motion of the lead dragging the sand.
In November there are plenty of cod and whiting, and the baits are fresh sprats or lugworm. The sprats (which cost about 1½d. for twenty-five) must be very fresh, and, to ensure this, they should be purchased direct from the smacks.
The best part of the pier, as a rule, is either at the end facing Ramsgate, or else facing Walmer, about half-way along the stage; this, of course, depending on the direction of the tide at the time.
Although the cod-fishing from Deal Pier is very good up to the middle of November and often later, yet towards the end of the year the best catches are invariably from boats, the fish generally retiring into deeper water before they disappear altogether.
Deal Pier has some big scores in anglers' diaries; I was never very lucky there myself, but have seen some very fine fish landed, and have read of many more. In Fishing for January, 1889, there is mention of a single rod taking 100lb of fish, including a 16lb pollack. In 1884, a cod weighing 14lb was taken on a hand-line, and in 1885 Mr. Sachs' rod accounted for one weighing 11lb. This gentleman also mentions a lady having taken three lobsters (one of 3lb), and an angler catching a 3lb plaice. So much for Deal Pier.
There is also some fishing to be had from boats. I recollect the position of a swim that in August, 1887, yielded a good many pout and flat fish. Unfortunately, though, I omitted to put the marks down in my diary - a piece of carelessness of which I am thoroughly ashamed. An idea of its approximate position, however, can be formed by a glance at Fig. 63. The boat's head was kept due east from the pier-head till about half as far out again as the length of the pier, and then turned straight for Ramsgate. The swim was about 200 yards from the pier-head. Boats also take parties out to the Goodwin Sands in smooth weather (charge 10s), where large numbers of pouting, as well as skate and other flat fish, are taken with lug and mussel. A favourite spot is Trinity Bay, where there is, at high water, nearly 60ft of water.
At the back of the Goodwins is some very deep water, much frequented by French trawlers, which often knock up against our Ramsgate boats. In fact, Deal affords every kind of fishing.
I have omitted to mention spinning from the pier for pollack with the piece of parchment (Fig. 48), as well as throw-out lines from shore, which is, I am told, not so good as formerly. Marsh is a good boatman.
"The Sea and the Rod" (1892) Charles Thomas Paske & Frederick George Aflalo at page 96
There is also some good cod-fishing during the late autumn from Deal Pier, the favourite bait being sprats or lugworm, and the best tackle, as usual, the "paternoster". Pieces of squid and herring form at times a deadly variation in the baits, the oleaginous nature of the latter being especially attractive - the fish being first slit open and then carefully boned and cut diagonally.
"Hints and Wrinkles on Sea Fishing" (1894) "Ichthyosaurus" (A. Baines & Frederick George Aflalo) at pages 82, 83 & 87 to 91
Sea Sickness &c
Where there is an old wooden or stone pier well encrusted, give it preference over the newer, more comely structure of bright metalwork.
The chief south coast piers from which there is any fishing during July and August are as follows: Deal Pier, pollack and flat fish; Dover Admiralty, bass, pollack and mullet; Promenade, pouting …
Some piers are not open for Sunday fishing later than eight in the morning; on others it is altogether forbidden. Sunday tickets for the Dover Promenade Pier are sold by the boatmen, no money being taken at the turnstiles.
Natural History and Sport
Pollack which with bass and mackerel constitute the sea fisherman's "game fish", feed at the surface during the warm July and August evenings; in October they still take artificial baits at mid-water or lower; in the early part of the year they are caught with paternoster tackle, sand eel or rockworm being a killing bait.
But even in neighbouring localities a slight difference in conditions will entirely alter the habits of fish. Take the pollack, for instance, immediately north and south of the S. Foreland. At Deal, they are always under the end of the pier all the summer through, and may be taken with ragworm. You might rail along east and west of the pier all day and all night and very probably catch not one in a week. At Dover, on the other hand, they are not confined to any one spot, but hunt all over the rocks and are caught at the surface, or deeper down, anywhere between Shakespeare Cliff and the Cornhill.
Sea Fishing near London
There are a great many seaside towns within reasonable distance of London; and it is nowadays quite easy to leave town after breakfast, enjoy several hours of sea fishing and return the same evening with a good basket of fresher fish than might even be sold at Sweeting's - no disparagement to that admirable establishment. 
… But there are ten times as many places where one can get the whole tides fishing, and only sleep the one night away; and these, being within eighty miles of town, are well adapted to the requirements of a summer holiday.
Kent - The coast of this county extends from the south bank of the Thames estuary as far as just beyond Dungeness. It has some fishing stations of great importance reached by the S.E.R. and L.C. & D.R. trains;  and the aforementioned Sea Anglers' Society are therefore to be congratulated at having so soon obtained concessions from both these companies.
There are half a dozen places at which I have taken large fish; Sheerness, Herne Bay, Margate, Ramsgate, Deal and Dover, bass and pollack in the summer, cod and whiting between November and January.
The first two are the least important, though some good bass are generally taken in August at Sheerness, and Herne Bay gives some very fine dabs.
At Margate they use skate's liver for the bass.
The Broadstairs anglers fish off the "Falls", a couple of miles off, where they get plenty of silver whiting.
Deal is one of the chief sea-fishing places near town. Messrs. Laidlaw, of the pier, have recognised this and the result is a daily tax imposed on each rod. One sometimes makes a good catch of cod and whiting, but more often the catch is dear at three pence.
The tackle used is a paternoster with a light lead from the west stage, and the lead is allowed to drag over the sand. From the east stage, however, a heavier lead is advisable as there are rocks a little way out and if the lead gets among them it generally prefers to stay there. The pollack, which do not run above a couple of pounds, are caught under the steps with ragworm for bait. It must be procured from Dover, from either Mr. Pilling (No 6 Middle Row), or a Belgian, who lives at 65 Oxenden Street. The pier master will generally allow the tins to be addressed to him at the pier, which makes it convenient.
Lugworm and cockles are for sale at the pier head in summer; in winter one may find some at Mr. Hanger's (North Star), but his visitors and regular customers, of course, get the preference.
The boat fishing here is really good, especially when the breeze is north, and a party take a lugger out to the Goodwins and slay large cod, and maybe a skate or two. In the winter, too, you may catch cod within a couple of hundred yards of the shore. The best time is from an hour before dawn till about nine. The White Buoy is a favourite swim. Dick Philpott, who was for years in charge of the bait stall on the pier, has of late come into some boats, for which he finds plenty of custom.
Dover is another favourite station. Personally, I prefer it to Deal, as there is more going on if the fishing is slack. Deal is the slowest place on the whole coast. At Dover the angler has a chance of a good basket of bass or mullet in August, pollack in September or cod in November. The bass are caught at the end of the Admiralty, fresh herring be the best bait obtainable. The mullet are fished for from the west of the same pier; where they are caught I don't know, certainly not there. The pollack are caught by railing along the Mole Rock, or off Shakespeare Cliff, just in the twilight of summer evenings, especially when there is any phosphorescence on the water. They take the white and red rubber eels mounted with small spinners. They also take rockworm just inside the Admiralty beyond the Calais boat but they are smaller than those taken by railing.
The best cod fishing is from boats either westward off the buoy, or eastward about a mile out and opposite the Cornhill. Lugworm, sprat and the beards of Channel oysters are the most favoured baits. The jetties at the east end of the parade are also good spots for summer pollack fishing, but only of an evening.
Folkestone has much the same fishing as Dover, though the pollack are scarce. Bass, on the other hand, are rather more numerous.
We pass the extraordinary shingle bank at Dungeness and Romney Marsh, with its flocks of sheep, and we soon arrive at the frontier of Sussex (S.E.R. and L.B. & S.C.R.), the chief port of which is Rye. Rye Bay yields the trawlers a rich harvest, but the amateur's headquarters had better be at Hastings …
 Editor's note: Sweetings Restaurant in the City of London: 39 Queen Victoria Street, London EC4N 4SF, first opened for business in 1889.
 Editor's note: The London, Chatham and Dover Railway (L.C.D.R.) was a railway company in south-eastern England created on 1 August 1859, when the East Kent Railway was given Parliamentary approval to change its name. Its lines ran through London and northern and eastern Kent to form a significant part of the Greater London commuter network. The company existed until 31 December 1922 when its assets were merged with those of other companies to form the Southern Railway as a result of the grouping determined by the Railways Act 1921. The South Eastern Railway (S.E.R.) was a railway company in south-eastern England from 1836 until 1922. The company was formed to construct a route from London to Dover. Branch lines were later opened to Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Canterbury and other places in Kent. The S.E.R. absorbed or leased other railways, some older than itself, including the London and Greenwich Railway and the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway. Most of the company's routes were in Kent, eastern Sussex and the London suburbs, with a long cross-country route from Redhill in Surrey to Reading, Berkshire. Much of the company's early history saw attempts at expansion and feuding with its neighbours; the London Brighton and South Coast Railway in the west and the L.C.D.R. to the north-east. However, in 1899 the S.E.R. agreed with the L.C.D.R. to share operation of the two railways, work them as a single system (marketed as the South Eastern and Chatham Railway) and pool receipts: but it was not a full amalgamation. The S.E.R. and L.C.D.R. remained separate companies until becoming constituents of the Southern Railway on 1 January 1923.
"The Badminton Library: Modern Sea Fishing" (1895) John Bickerdyke at page 337
The best pollacking is enjoyed during the early autumn, but a quantity of small fish are caught during the summer … About pier heads and suchlike places there frequently lurk a few pollack, and those who would catch them must rise early, before the water has been disturbed by boats, steamers, and paternosters, and let a single hook baited with a live pollack worm hooked through the head the line being weighted with a half-ounce pipe lead down among the fish, which, if not feeding very bravely, will often be tempted, particularly if a slight sink and draw motion is given to the bait. A few pollack are caught from Deal Pier in this manner during the early spring and summer.
"Practical Letters to Young Sea Fishers" (1898) John Bickerdyke at pages 9, 142, 143, 145 & 146
The autumn and winter fishing for whiting in the Downs, off Deal and Ramsgate, is first rate. From Deal Pier it is very fair.
… we may try our fortune on the pier, where we may expect to get small pollack, pouting, a few flat fish, and, if on the east coast, codling. In some places we shall get whiting in autumn and winter. In fact, there are much the same fish … as being caught from the shore.
We are now fishing immediately under the point of the rod, and the paternoster is again the best tackle. If, owing to piers, piles, and so forth, there is a number of eddying currents, we may find our hook links being continually twisted round the upright portion of the gut, and in this case it may be advisable to use a wire boom of some kind to keep them out … But these additions to the tackle should not be used unless they are absolutely necessary.
In some places better sport will be obtained twenty or thirty yards from the pier head than immediately under the point of the rod, and then, unless the bottom is foul, the paternoster with the single link bearing two hooks is an excellent form of tackle, as it can be cast out a considerable distance. But of one is fishing particularly for bass, the ledger is to be preferred for the reasons already given.
From the pier, as from the shore, one may throw out from the reel … and here, as at all times in sea fishing, the angler should ascertain the tides during which the fish come inshore and feed best. Night fishing from piers is often successful, and the little bell dodge  (see page 68) should be borne in mind.
I have said that whiting are not often caught inshore, but one place occurs to me where a large number are captured. The Downs simply swarm with whiting in the autumn months, and during spring tides these are found close to the pier head. If the tide suits, the best time to catch them is in the dusk of early morning. An angler may catch two to three dozen before six o'clock, while during the rest of the day his bag my consist of only half a dozen.
Small pollack are often found round about pier heads, and for them, so long as we fish under the point of the rod, there is no other tackle required than a pipe lead of about half an ounce strung on the running line, and beneath it a yard and a half of single gut. At the end of the gut is a single hook, on which is placed a couple of rag worms caught through the head. Failing these, a small sand eel, alive for preference, may be used, or a strip of mackerel skin. Grey mullet sometimes take these rag worms, and so do bass. The bait should be kept in motion.
If there is a strong current running off the head of the pier we may use a very lightly leaded drift-line, either worked by hand or from the rod … letting the tide carry it out as far as possible.
If it is desirable to fish at any considerable distance from the pier, then it becomes necessary to add a float to the pipe lead and length of gut. I have often heard sea fishermen say that they never could find any use for a float in the sea, but there are many situations in which it is most useful for surface and mid-water swimming fish, or even for fishing on the bottom where the water is shallow. I have often caught mackerel by its assistance.
 (at page 68) "On some pier-heads a good deal of fishing is done at night, the angler frequently using a couple of rods. It becomes tedious to hold one of these while waiting for a bite, and it has become a common custom to attach a little bell to the end of the rod, which rings and gives a warning if a fish has gone off with the bait. The best form of bell for the purpose is that known as the sleigh bell, rather larger than those commonly attached to the collars of lap dogs and pet cats. On windy nights the fisherman is often glad to put down his rod and retire to some sheltered nook, and this the addition of a bell to his gear enables him to do."
"Sea Fish" (1898) Frederick George Aflalo at pages 102, 126, 127, 129, 139 & 140
On the whole, it must be admitted that the majority of our piers offer so little in the way of sport as to make it scarce worth the trouble of putting a rod together; though in some few cases - that, for instance, of Deal pier in the fall of the year - really good sport may be obtained in this way, which is sure for the rest to commend itself to those who suffer in small boats, or who object to the constant expense of their hire …
… The best time for pier-fishing is, for those who have the energy, between dawn and breakfast-time.
… one pound is above the average weight of pier pollack. These fish will often be attracted by a moving bait in preference to one which is at rest; and it is for this reason that success often crowns the efforts of those anglers who, on the Deal or Eastbourne piers, work a parchment bait, an article that bears about as much resemblance as the average salmon-fly to anything living or dead, with rod and line, up-and-down fashion, just before sunset. The best bait for these pier fish, however, is unquestionably the rock worm; when that is not obtainable the ragworm is a good substitute, but on no account to be reckoned the equal of the other. The very best rock-worms I have ever used come from the chalk-beds at Dover, or rather a mile or two west, just beyond Shakespeare Cliff. Never very cheap, the average price that rules even on the spot is scarcely ever less than four pence a score, and the normal supply is as a rule disposed of by previous arrangement to regular customers. The best way for the stranger will be to seek out a loafer in the narrow old streets near the Lord Walden, where loafers are as thick as thieves, and offer sixpence a score, making it quite plain at the outset (and whether it be strictly true or not) that he knows the smaller rag-worm perfectly well (NB it is called the mudworm at Dover) and will have none of it.
To obviate … vexatious breakages, it is a good plan when throwing out tackle for the first time in unknown waters, to try the ground first with a stone made fast to the extremity of the line by a strand of weak string. Throw this out as if it were the leger, and as soon as the stone has reached the bottom, drag it slowly over the ground to the pier; if there are any obstructions, the stone will catch in them and the line may be released from the weaker string with a sharp pull.
Cod … This large and important fish is caught from Deal pier between October and Christmas, when, unless the water is too thick, anglers are to be seen almost any fine day either at the end or half way along, their rods projecting from the upper deck. The favourite tackle is the paternoster, some local fishermen being in favour of a light lead only, which drags on the sand. I believe this is a method much used by Mr. Sachs, the veteran of Deal pier. Lug-worm or mussel are always good baits, but sprat or fresh herring will answer as well, indeed few fish are more catholic in their tastes. Cod show but little fight. There is a stately assertion of strength in any fish over 5lbs, but after this first move, the cod soon turns up the game, coming to the gaff like a lost anchor. Codling and silver whiting are also caught on the same tackle and baits and at the same season, but the hooks may be a size smaller.
From the pier … many a good day's fishing may with a little attention to detail be had for a few pence. On a few piers indeed, as at Deal … a trifling charge is made for each rod or line, but it is so small as to cause no one inconvenience and yet keep the pothunter away.
The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 17 January 1899 at page 7
Winter Sea Angling at Deal
"Sarcelle" writes, on the above subject in the Field. He says …
A pleasant Channel crossing, after a glimpse on this side of our new Viceroy on his way to the glories of his Indian realm, was the prelude to my being deposited, on the night of Dec. 15, with two stout sea-rods among my impedimenta, at the door of Ned Hanger's snug little inn, the "North Star" at the north end of the delightfully marine and fishy town of Deal, where I received the warmest of welcomes from the gallant lifeboat coxswain, and immediately found myself at home among new friends.
Just across the road stood the lifeboat in which my host had done such good work, while other craft of all sizes and rigs lined the crest of the steep bank of shiny shingle, at whose base the lap and scrape of the surf made soothing lullaby, for the expectant sea-angler. In the taproom were pictures and photographs of wrecks and storms, lifeboat adventures, men-of-war in fierce gales, while the cosy snuggery behind the busy bar possessed, among its varied adornments, sundry suggestive specimens of stout sea-tackle. The said taproom and bar were frequented during the evening by relays of honest, sturdy, kind-hearted, genial Deal boatmen and fishermen, some of the best types of their class I have ever met, cheering contrasts to the loafing land sharks one meets at some fashionable watering places.
Sport had been fair, I learned, two well-known amateurs in a boat having that day secured five score of whiting, and nine codlings and cod, biggest 16 lb.; lugworm would be procurable in the morning, but sprats were scarce, my host's own net having only brought in a couple, while other boats had very small catches; but this was likely to improve, and chances of cod would be concomitant.
Next morning, after a passing survey of my most novel and congenial marine surroundings, I made a late start for the pier, with some lug, which had been dug some distance to the north, and five sprats which my host had saved for me. Three pence for a day ticket and the same for each rod or line used are the modest charges, and the partly-sheltered end of the pier is a pleasant haunt and lounge for many a well-known member of the B.S.A.S., and many a skilful local hand at the pastime, with friends and promenaders frequently coming to exchange greetings and see how sport is going. The spacious saloon above affords varied attractions in the summer season, and a comfortable bar was found useful during my wintry stay.
Down below, among the mussel and barnacle-covered and weed-fringed maze of strong iron posts and girders, Teddy, the well-known attendant, his own line put on the chance of a codling, was busy catching, in nets baited with fish offal, numerous hermit crabs, for sale to anglers whose supply of lug or sprat might run short, or who might like to try a change.
The views of gay Ramsgate shining across the bay to the north, the long sea-front, lines of stout boats, and fine buildings of Deal, with Dover cliffs in the grey distance, numerous sailing ships at anchor in the Downs, and big steamers passing up and down Channel, were pleasant, but sport was slow; it was, for the pier-head, the one blank morning of the season, while from the upper structure only two small codling and a whiting were caught.
The flood-tide does not generally fish well here; fish take better on "the slack of the flood", beginning about an hour and a half after high water. Returning to the scene after a hearty lunch, I found much more company, rod-men almost shoulder to shoulder, and fish coming on, of which I soon began to get my share, securing about a dozen and a half of whiting and pouting in a short afternoon. The whiting averaged fully double the size of the small specimens generally caught on Calais piers, and I saw one of quite 1½ lb. The tackle used was rather heavy; thick, twisted gut paternosters, mostly with brass swivels and booms: I preferred single gut, and the fine French spreaders of twisted white wire which stand out so truly at right angles, as inducing more bites and missing fewer, but my Deal friends often fish far into the evening, and are liable to hook large cod and a casual conger; they care not to fish too fine.
Things were rather more promising next morning; a well-known pier frequenter and chronicler was gradually collecting a nice string of plump dabs, one of which was about 1½ lb., while others were getting a whiting here and a pouting there and depositing them in great wooden pails, to be hired from the above-mentioned Teddy for a penny a day.
I had a nice little lot by lunch time, after which W., a new arrival, induced me to join him in an afternoon boat cruise with Will Baker, one of the good Deal fishermen. We went a mile or so to N., off the forlorn wreck of a foreign steamer. Sea smooth, water rather clear, fish not over plentiful, but we were never long without bites, missing a great many whiting and pouting through using rather large hooks and baits. Our afternoon's take was three score and two of these kinds, one codling slipping off alongside the boat; the big cod had apparently followed the sprats in another part, of the bay, whereof the boats made fair takes in the evening.
Thirty or more boats were out on Sunday, and takes moderate. I heard of no large cod, though a few were taken by the spratters while drifting in the evening, and I was offered one of about 18 lb. for two shillings. I was amused to see how the fishermen sold their own little catches, laid on boards or on the smooth shingle of the sea front, and to hear how cod and big whiting followed the nets to tear out the imprisoned sprats, and how the big cod often got rolled up in the nets and caught.
Next day W. and I fished the pier, doing next to nothing in the morning, but getting fairly well among the whiting in, late afternoon and early evening; we had over two score of whiting and pouting between us. Codling were conspicuous by their absence. On the Tuesday I was dubious about going afloat; there was a hard northerly wind blowing and a rather heavy swell breaking on the shingly beach, but the eager and hardy W. persuaded me, and we set off with Baker about 8.30 a.m., and were soon having a bitterly cold buffeting with winds and waves beating up to windward.
Swathed in many thick garments, it was not quite so bad when we were anchored, and turned our backs to the freezing blast, especially when the fish began to bite, and when we noticed outward-bound ships getting up moderate canvas to run before the strong favouring breeze, and a big steamer coming into the Downs to land her pilot, and the trim cutter of the Missions to Seamen beating her way out to the lonely men on Gull Lightship with good cheer for Christmas, and when we gathered a whole crowd of clamorous, dark-eyed grey and white kittiwake gulls round us, and laughed to see how swiftly they picked up spare sprats we threw them. Five Brent geese swung past us almost within range as we heaved and tossed in the strong wind that, as our good boatman said, was stiffening every minute, and soon after noontide, after disposing of our lunch with wolfish appetites, we deemed it prudent to run for the shore, lest we should have difficulty in landing.
Our joint take, in about three hours, was 69 fish, 35 to W. and 34 to me; but I had nine codling to his five, and once thought. I had really hooked one of the big chaps we were always talking of, till a four-pounder came up on the bottom hook, with one! of about 1½ lb on the top one. Getting near shore, with lots of willing hands to help us, we waited for "a smooth", and the boat was run up the beach in grand style; not like a larger craft in the afternoon, which essaying to sail on shore, I saw covered by a smother of white water, everybody and everything on board drenched and the boat half-filled.
We tried the pier in the afternoon, but the water had become thick as pea soup; there was absolutely nothing doing, and it was so atrociously cold that I gave it up at five o'clock, and enjoyed a walk through the bright town, with its many blue and red jackets of sailors and soldiers, its gaily lighted shops bright with good Christmas cheer - toys, crackers, and all kinds of delights for young and old. The indefatigable W. stuck to it till seven, getting only one small whiting, but seeing a conger of about 8 lb. caught. Going, after dinner in search of a man named Williams, who keeps a supply of lugworms, in a by-street near, we saw a lucky, local hurrying home with a 17 lb. cod, which he had just caught on the pier.
The big black lugs were dispensed to W. by a polite lady, at the price of fourpence per score for small, and sixpence for big ones. They have to be caught at a distance, and fourpence per score is the usual price. Sprats are only about sixpence per hundred. Charges for small boat and man are eight shillings per day, including bait - very reasonable when divided between two anglers; larger boats are to be hired by a party at a pound to thirty shillings. Deal must he a very pleasant place for a summer holiday, but the fishing is poor then, the cod and whiting fishing being winter sport.
I left on the 21st; W. got afloat with a new-comer, and their take, though numerically small, included cod of about 9 lb. and 11 lb. Both cod and conger of 20 lb. and over are occasionally caught on the rods. I had fallen on a very poor time, yet in my four days' fishing had landed 54 fish from the pier and 57 from boat. I enjoyed a most refreshing holiday, and would not want snugger or more home-like quarters than those where I spent my pleasant, but too few, December days at Deal.
"Dover as a Sea-Angling Centre" (1900) Deputy Surgeon-General Charles Thomas Paske at pages 46 & 47
The Promenade Pier … A fee of 2d. per line, and entrance the same, entitles the angler to fish there all day if so inclined; but leaving, and afterwards returning, subjects him to another admission payment. This somewhat vexatious proceeding might be done away with by substituting the plan in vogue at Deal, where 6d. entitles the ticket-holder to go off and on whenever so disposed. This may be considered as mere hair-splitting, nevertheless, such seeming trifles often make all the difference between convenience or otherwise.
Daily Express, Wednesday 7th November 1900
Immense numbers of silver whiting are now to be met with off Deal, and sea-anglers have made some exceptionally large baskets. Two rods upon one occasion accounted for 440 whiting, one rod and a hand-line took 380, and in two hours a couple of anglers caught 74. In one night it is estimated that over 1,000 whiting were caught from Deal Pier. One ½ lb. whiting secured from a boat between two and three miles out had eight partially-digested small fry in its inside, and when pulled in was found to have taken two pieces of sprat and to have been hooked twice.
Daily Express, Tuesday 16th August 1904
What to do at the Seaside
The Growth of South-Eastern Resorts
Places for Anglers
Deal is an excellent centre for deep-sea fishing. The British Sea Anglers' Society have an active branch here. Mr. E. Hanger is the local secretary. There is good bathing from the machines on the foreshore. Mixed bathing is not allowed, although at Kingsdown, a mile or so along the front, bathing en famille from tents takes place. Sea excursions are run daily to neighbouring coast towns, and across Channel once or twice a week in the season. Private apartments can be obtained for as little as 30s. a week.
Deal Pier (postally used 1905)
"Practical Sea-Fishing" (1905) P. L. Haslope at page 145
Chapter XI: Rod and Hand-Line Fishing From Rocks and Piers
… As a rule there is a greater variety of fish to be met with from piers or breakwaters than from rocks, with more likelihood of sport. Rocks, however, are less frequented, and therefore offer special attractions to the solitary angler. The best time for all rock and pier fishing is from low water to about half flood during the spring tides. The whole of the flood-tide can, however, be fished with success, but the ebb, except in special localities, yields poor sport.
"The Salt of My Life" (1905) Frederick George Aflalo at pages 5, 13, 19, 21, 52, 53 & 54
The sport is a development of comparatively recent date. Twenty years ago, anyone who unpacked a rod on a pier was almost as certain of drawing a crowd as if he had produced a performing bear. Today, a score of rods wave unnoticed from the piers at Deal, Brighton, Plymouth and a hundred other resorts east and west, while the old-fashioned throw-out line is less in evidence every year.
I have done that winter-fishing with the maddest; blown on my fingers before daybreak on Deal pier and knocked the rime off my sea-boots in many a boat that cleaved wintery seas …
To night-fishing and fishing in winter time let me here add a third recantation, pier-fishing. A few piers contrive, by charging a high entrance or fishing fee, to exclude all but anglers from the stages. On the Prince of Wales' Pier, at Dover, for instance, the charge for fishing is one shilling a day, higher, I believe, than on any other in the Kingdom. At Folkestone Harbour, the proprietary railway company charges fourpence to anyone wishing to fish from the splendid pier that has lately been built at great cost. Such charges look high, but they are really beneficial to the angler, since they keep the crowd at a distance, and the crowd is the chief drawback of pier-fishing: Fifteen or twenty years ago I spent many happy days under various piers, often alone with the plosh of the water against the limpet-covered piles.
Now and again, it must be admitted, one hears of better catches on piers than in boats, but these are the exception. Nevertheless, a cod weighing 18lb and a lobster of 8 lb are a proud record for one week, and these go to the credit of Deal … Sometimes, too, piers yield most unexpected booty, and those who angle from such structures must expect anything from a crab to a victim of shipwreck …
Of late years the coast of Kent, thanks chiefly to the popularity of Deal with London anglers, has assumed great importance in the annals of the sport. Odd days of luck I have had there, as well as at Margate, Ramsgate, Dover and Folkestone, but the county has not treated me as well as some further west …
From Deal Pier I have done both summer and winter fishing, though I never, as already stated, took part in those monster competitions, which have brought a little fame and fortune to that ancient town. No useful purpose can be served by criticising, from a purely personal, and perhaps eccentric, standpoint functions which afford much harmless amusement. I simply do not like them, but the reason why, I cannot tell. I cannot, however, let the opportunity pass of criticising what has always seemed to me an extraordinary condition of the weigh-in. It is that dogfish are not allowed to count. Why not ? Surely, the test of skill is not the capture of fishes that are best to eat; and, if it were, I fancy that dogfish have far more admirers than, for instance, pollack. It is not possible for the most skilful fisherman to prevent a dogfish seizing his bait, and when it does so it requires just as much patience and adroitness to play and kill it as any other fish of the same size. The unfairness of such a regulation is that a competitor's boat may, through no fault of either his or his boatman's, be anchored over a shoal of dogfish, and he may waste half his day playing and unhooking the vermin without getting any nearer his goal. As I have already owned to taking no personal interest in these functions, such dispassionate criticism may be regarded as gratuitous, but the condition seems to me likely to operate unequally, and on that ground alone I have ventured to take exception to it. That crabs and mussels should be excluded seems equitable, since it would be possible by leaving a large bait lying on the rocks to catch quantities of the former, and a bare hook, with no bait at all, would, skilfully manipulated, dredge pounds of the latter. But to shut out the dogfish which takes a bait in the same way as other kinds that count, seems to me an arbitrary rule calling for at any rate explanation.
The Daily Express, Friday 19 January 1906 at page 6
Fair Sea Anglers
Nothing is more striking than the way ladies generally have taken to the sport of sea angling. Only a few years ago one rarely saw a man - and never a woman - fishing with rod and line on our piers and now, at nearly every seaside resort on our coast, ladies are to be seen fishing side by side with the men - aye, and frequently beating them at their own sport!
At Deal, so enthusiastic are the sportswomen that the formulation of a ladies sea-fishing club is discussed in connection with the Deal and District Anglers Association.
Should such a branch association of lady anglers be formed, it will follow the example set by Great Yarmouth, where a ladies' sea angling club has already been formed, and is the only one of its kind yet in existence.
The great stride that sea angling has made is well instanced in this as in the formation of a National Council of Sea Anglers, and the great increase in the institution of clubs, societies, and associations round our coasts.
The heavy seas have prevented boat fishing recently, but several very excellent days' sport have been had upon the pier.
The Daily Express, Saturday 20 October 1906
Sea Angling Competitions
One of the principal events of the sea angling season will be a competition to be held on Deal Pier today and tomorrow under the auspices of the Deal and Walmer Angling Association.
The competition will be open to all members and affiliated members of the association, and will begin at 9 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m.
Prizes will be given for the heaviest weight of fish taken, the largest specimen fish and the greatest quantity of any individual kind.
Lord George Hamilton has presented a challenge cup value £15 15s. to be fished for by members of the association. It will be known as the Deal Castle Cup, and is to be held for one year. It carries with it gold and silver medals, and when won three times in succession becomes the property of the fortunate angler.
The Daily Express, Monday 22 October 1906
Triumphant Woman Angler
Miss Allison Wolff carried off all the honours at the two days' pier angling competition of the Deal and Walmer Angling Association which began on Saturday. She caught the largest cod, the heaviest flatfish and the largest pout. There were fifty competitors, seventeen of them being women. The fish were shy and the catches were very light. Miss Wolff's total catch for the two days weighed only 5 lbs. 11 ozs.
The Daily Express, Thursday 1 August 1907
Sea Angling for the Holidays
Prospects of Sport for the Amateur Fisherman at Deal
Although the weather during last month has been anything but kind, and the sea has not yielded up its usual complement of finny prey, yet the prospects for August holidays, especially on the east coast, are better than they have been.
The steady increase in the popularity of sea angling has never been more marked than it is at present, and local preparations are going busily forward to deal with an anticipated "rush" of enthusiastic anglers - men and women, for the latter have taken roost kindly to the sport in towns where only a few years ago the average amateur fisherman was represented by a hopeful little boy and a piece of string.
Nowadays the sport of sea angling numbers its votaries by hundreds of thousands, and annually some hundred of thousands, and annually some hundred of tons of fish are taken out of the sea by rod anglers alone. Men and women not only go to the seaside to lounge on the front or parade the pier, but to fish, and thus get the full benefit of both the muscular exercise and the fine life-giving sea air.
Deal, being one of the first angling stations in England, naturally comes in for a large share of this attention.
Nor are visitors this August likely to be disappointed; for among the fish which may be taken are mackerel and there is no more delightful sport than mackerel spinning from a boat, bass (from the Kingsdown Rocks), cod (which are already "coming in", and afford one of the finest specimen fish caught on the coast), conger (out by the Bank Buoy), eels, dabs, flounders (towards Pegwell Bay), herrings, skate (10 to 16 pounders), whiting and whiting cole or pout, generally in great numbers, with an occasional sole, a fine turbot, pollack, and plaice, to say nothing of crabs and lobsters, which, although they play havoc with one's bait, nevertheless afford compensations when caught.
Nor need the sport prove an expensive one. A half-guinea rod, a sea-winch, a hundred yards or so of good stout line, with a few odd leads from 4 ozs. to lO ozs., and, roughly, the equipment is complete.
Bait - lug worms, mackerel, herring, etc - costs but a few pence a day, and if one wishes to dispense with the expense of a boat, there is always the pier or some rock or groyne from which, at high tide, fishing can be successfully carried on.
Very good sport can invariably be had at Deal from the beach, either from near Sandown Castle or towards Walmer.
This year sea-fishing competitions will be well to the front, and the arrangements for the forthcoming festival indicate that the policy of "Forward", which has been the watchword of the Deal and Walmer Angling Association since its inception, has been well maintained. Of these the principal events take place in September, October, and November.
Good Summer Sport
Some surprise may be expressed that these festivals are not set earlier in the season, but the reason why they are held on this part of the coast somewhat later than those of many angling associations is that the finest cod, whiting, etc., are generally more abundant in October and November, though it is true much good sport may be had throughout the summer, especially among the mackerel, pollack, and flatfish.
Moreover, the fine seaworthy boats and the magnificent seamanship of the famous Deal and Walmer boatmen render the sea angler less dependent on the weather than at other resorts, and act as a continual guarantee for both the safely and comfort of the deep-sea angler.
The splendid fish caught on these occasions (some of the cod taken last year scaled nearly 30 lbs.) prove not only the value of these fine fishing-grounds, but also the wisdom of the committee in fixing these competitions in conformity with the natural features of the sport. The great success which attended the ladies' angling competitions of last year has naturally resulted in a similar fixture being held this Season.
The Daily Express, Friday 27 September 1907 at page 2
Women Sea Anglers
Small Baskets at the Deal Competition
Fifty women of all ages, sizes, and degrees of beauty took part yesterday in the Ladies' Sea Angling Competition at Deal, which was organised by Mrs. Percy Edgar. There would have been more entries, but the number was limited to fifty on account of alterations which are being carried out on the pier.
The youngest competitor was a blue-eyed maiden of eighteen, and the oldest a severe looking matron of fifty. There was a great variety of costumes. Some of the ladies wore regular fishing costume, with sou'wester and oilskins, while others wore open-work blouses and short walking skirts. Some wore motor veils and dust coats.
The ladies fished patiently from 10.20 a.m. Until 4 p.m., in spite of the fact that the sport was rather poor, and they were the butt of a running fire of sarcastic remarks from the crowd of spectators. When a fish was landed a cheer went up from the crowd assembled on the pier.
The first prize in the codling class was won by Miss Edith Turner with a basket of 4 lbs. 6 ozs. Miss Sexton won the first prize in the pollack class with 3 lbs. 5 ozs. and Miss Puckeridge won the prize for flat fish.
Lady George Hamilton presented the prizes.
Photographs of scenes at the Deal competition will be found on page 7.
The Daily Mirror, 25 September 1908 at page 14
Sporting News Items
The following were the winners in the ladies' sea-angling competition at Deal yesterday: Miss Band (heaviest weight), Mrs. Goodwin (heaviest weight of whiting), Miss B. Walker (heaviest catch of cod), Miss Todd (heaviest weight of flat fish) and Mrs Hyde (greatest number of flat fish).
The Daily Express, Saturday 23 October 1909 at page 2
Cult of the Rod and Line
Boisterous, weather has prevailed of late along the south coast, and on many occasions the boats have been unable to go afloat.
The piers, however, have done very well, and those anglers have been rewarded with excellent baskets of cod, congers, pouting, and flatfish.
Codling are now plentiful at Deal, and in two days members of the local angling society secured over 400 lb. of these fish.
Mrs. Rowe, fishing in the ladies' pier competition at Deal, killed a conger of 8½ lb …
"Sea Fishing" (1911) Charles Owen Minchin at pages 144, 145 & 206 to 209
In fishing from Deal Pier it is the practice to use a short roach-rod, because that is found to be handiest for dropping the line into the confined spaces of the ironwork in such a way that the bait may drift under the lower tier of the girders, where the fishes lurk. The bait used there is either a ragworm or a small doubled slip of parchment cut into the shape of a fish. This lure, which, appropriately enough, was devised by a clever lawyer, seems to answer extremely well - better by far than the regulation soleskin of the tackle-shops. At Deal no float is needed, and the bait is worked on the "sink and draw" method. At most piers, however, it is better to use a longer rod with float-tackle, the float being a "traveller" sufficiently large to carry a single pipe-lead, which should be fixed on the long gut trace at about 3ft from the hook. The trace should be … not less than 6ft in length, and the hook should be of the "tied" and not the "eyed" kind, because the former is easier to bait with two ragworms, which are more attractive to the fish than a single one. Pierce one worm below the head and push it up till it is on the gut just above the hook, and then put the point of the hook through below the head of the other worm so that they dangle side by side.
Fishing from Rocks, Piers and Beaches
… The most popular fishing resorts are without question the promenade piers which run out from the shore at short intervals all round most of our eastern and southern coasts. A typical pier of this kind is that at Deal, in Kent, but it is rather longer than usual (nearly 400 yds) and the T is in fairly deep water so that the common local fishes, cod and whiting, pass and repass with every flow and ebb of tide, though generally more abundant at the spring tides (which fall due there about midday and midnight) than at the neaps. A great many fairly large cod have been taken from Deal Pier, and those of from 8lbs to 10lbs are quite common in good seasons; and, though the whiting which come round the pier are usually small, they are occasionally plentiful enough. On favourable days there are sufficient fish to provide full bags for half a dozen to a dozen anglers, but when divided among eighty rods, which is no very unusual number, there are not many to go round, and most of the fishermen must consequently depart "in ballast".
As the tide runs pretty strongly and all the fishing is on the bottom (except for a very few minute pollack among the iron girders) and as it is desirable to cast a 6oz or 8oz lead well out from the pier, short strong rods of 7ft to 9ft are always used, and those fishermen who can cast the farthest and thus get well away from the ruck do much the best.
A large ring-net is kept handy for the public benefit, and there are always obliging bystanders who know how to slip it under a fish too heavy to be hauled up by the trace alone.
When whiting are feeding a paternoster with "revolving" booms (which generally jam and do not revolve) is the most effectual tackle, but for cod, codling and flat-fishes three hooks trailing below the lead are better because they lie snugly on the bottom where those classes of fishes feed.
At Lowestoft the style of fishing is much the same as at Deal, but the fishing season, for whiting at all events, comes rather earlier in the year and the crowd is consequently even greater, for Lowestoft Pier in September or October is balmy in comparison with Deal on a bleak December morning, with the wind in the north-west carrying flakes of snow mingled with drifts of icy rain.
In consequence of the throngs on these two popular resorts it is impossible in casting out to use the underhand slinging throw usually adopted by pike-anglers, and an overhand cast of some kind has to be practised. The usual method is to turn the back to the sea and hold the right hand below the reel, with the forefinger along the rim so as to restrain it until the swing is made, while the left hand grasps the rod midway between the reel and the first ring. In delivering the cast the rod is brought right upwards and over the shoulder and the reel released when the rod begins to come below the perpendicular, and the caster turns sharply on his left heel so that he faces the sea before the lead falls. Great accuracy in direction is attainable by this method, and overruns or "back lashes" as the Americans call them, are unknown to the experts.
The Daily Mirror, Friday 13 January 1911
Passenger Steamer's Peril in Gale
Deal Lifeboat in Trouble
In going to the assistance of the brigantine Sela, of Faversham, which had been in collision with a steamer in the Downs, the Deal lifeboat Charles Dibdin yesterday nearly capsized in the tremendous sea, the crew clinging to one side of the boat.
She was righted, however, by splendid handling, and made for the vessel, to which she rendered assistance.
Later in the morning the Brazilian ketch Flores, of Maceio, dragged her anchor, and, just touching Deal Pier, drifted southward. The Walmer lifeboat was launched, but owing to the wind was unable lo roach the schooner, which went ashore between Deal Castle and Walmer lifeboat house.
The rocket apparatus was brought up by the coastguards, but they had only got three men ashore when the schooner's cable broke, and the vessel swung round, rendering the apparatus useless.
The skipper and mate threw a line over the side, and tried to climb down, but their, rescue was effected, thanks to a plucky action by Coastguardman Coates, who, supported by his comrades, waded waist-deep into the water, caught hold of the end of the line, and helped the two men ashore.
A huge amount of shipping took shelter in the Channel between Dover and Folkestone, while in the Naval Harbour dozens of sailing vessels sought refuge.
A Danish three-master - the Marthing - ran into the Admiralty Pier, forced her bowsprit into a new electric crane, and knocked the back out of the engine-room. Before a harbour tug had dragged her clear the heavy seas had lifted the ship with the impaled crane repeatedly, thereby seriously damaging the crane.
The Daily Express, Friday 27 October 1911
Izaak Waltons in Skirts
Seven Hours' Ordeal on a Pier
Deal, Thursday, October 26th.
The wettest place in England today was undoubtedly Deal Pier, where three-and-fifty ladies fished all day in the annual sea-angling competition.
At least, there were fifty-three ladies until one timid competitor caught a peculiarly repulsive dogfish, and abandoned her rod and her chances in feminine horror.
Then there were fifty-two, and they, clad in gleaming black oilskins and sou'westers, braved seven long hours of the rain and wind-swept day. The gallants whose knightly duty it was to impale nasty red worms on fishhooks made an early flight before that riot of rain, but, with chilled hands grasping their rods, the drenched but doughty ladies kept their posts.
By twelve o'clock curls had become dank, dripping tresses. One o'clock brought a kindly steward of ceremonies down the thin black line to wring out the fringes of rain-soaked skirts, but still the anglers watched their wind-blown lines, fishing for fame and a pair of silver-backed hairbrushes.
Mrs. Percy Edgar, who organised the competition, was ahead early in the day by the capture of a big cod and, encouraged by this success, she went home and changed her clothes.
Mrs. Edgar looked an easy winner until about three o'clock in the afternoon. Then Mrs. Rose landed another corpulent cod, and promptly wrapped it in a wet cloth so that it would not lose any weight by getting dry.
An experienced angler, this Mrs. Rose. "I would not let any one breathe on that fish" she confided to me, "for fear they might blow a scale off it. It all counts in the weighing in."
So all through the day the oil-skinned anglers re-baited their hooks and cast their lines, while sheets of rain smote the boards, and the. waves thundered among the ironwork of the pier-head. At four o'clock the rain ceased, and at half-past four a whistle sounded, and the lines were drawn in.
Then, carrying their precious catches, the anglers gathered in the pavilion where they made a group that looked like Mr. George Edwardes' idea of a musical comedy lifeboat crew - a laughing crowd of young women in shining oilskins, their wet hair tumbling out from big sou'westers over wet, rain-beaten faces.
The weighing in was a solemn affair, but in the end Mrs Edgar scored a very popular victory. She only caught one fish, but it weighed four pounds five and a half ounces.
So Mrs Edgar wins the pair of hair brushes and Mrs Rose, whose fish weighed 3 lbs 12½ ozs., carries off the fishing-rod which is the second prize.
The total weight of fish caught was 21¼ lbs., which works out at less than half a pound of fish per angler.
Women's Fishing Championship
Women anglers competing on Deal Pier for the deep sea fishing championship of the United Kingdom
The Daily Mirror, Friday 1 September 1916
Sir D. Haig's Daughters as Anglers
The two little daughters of Sir Douglas Haig, Alexandra and Victoria, took part in the fourth annual angling competition for juveniles from Deal Pier yesterday. Among the spectators were Lady Douglas Haig, Lady Loreburn and Lady George Hamilton.
The Daily Mirror, Friday 13 October 1916
The ninth annual ladies' sea angling competition was held from Deal Pier yesterday.
A number of convalescent soldiers assisted in various ways.
The Daily Mirror, Friday 31 August 1917
Baby as Fisherman
Youngest Competitor Who Angled from Perambulator
A novel feature of the children's fifth annual angling competition from Deal Pier, yesterday, was that the youngest "fisherman", Ethel Holworthy, aged two years and four months, dangled the line from a perambulator.
The first prize for girls, a silver wristlet watch, given by the Countess Beauchamp, was won by Florence Arnold, with a weight of 1 lb. 10½ oz. while William Belahoyde, with a weight of 2 lb. 7¼ oz. carried off the boys' first prize, a silver hunter watch given by Lady George Hamilton.
During the match Lord and Lady Hamilton visited the Pier and chatted with the children.
The Kent Messenger, Saturday 15 June 1918
While fishing from Deal Pier Mr. Philcox, a member of the London Police Force, caught a codfish weighing 20 lbs. It is the largest fish caught from the Pier this season.
The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 27 August 1918
Wounded Anglers Competition
One hundred and fifty wounded sailors and soldiers took part in an angling competition on Thursday from Deal Pier, arranged by Deal and Walmer Angling Association. Among the competitors were a number of Canadians and Australians, and several men who took part in the attack on Zeebrugge. Some were maimed and fished from bath chairs. Thirty were successful in catching fish. The first prize, a silver wristlet watch, given by Lady Haig, was won by Pte. Lyon. At the close of the competition the men were entertained to tea and a concert, after which the prizes were distributed by Brigadier General Parsons.
"Angling in Rivers, Lakes & Sea" (1920) Walter Matthew Gallichan ("Geoffrey Mortimer") at page 101
Angling in the Sea
Where to go
The question "where to go" must be determined by the kind of fish that you wish to catch, as well as by the season of the year. Deal is a popular resort of the London fisherman, who pursue their recreation from the pier and in boats. The fish are codling, dab, plaice, whiting, pollack, and conger. October is the best month for fishing from Deal pier. There is good whiting fishing off Dover in the autumn.
"Modern Sea Angling" (1921) Francis Dyke Holcombe at page 251
Another well known pier is that at Deal, where the fishing is of the same general character as that at Lowestoft, namely, cod, codling and whiting, and sometimes dabs … The fishing from Deal pier in 1919, by the way, was on the whole remarkably disappointing, and it is a curious illustration of the glorious uncertainty of all angling, both fresh and salt, that although sprats were unusually plentiful at Deal in November and December of that year the codling taken from the pier there were both scarce and small, any fish over 2lb being distinctly a rarity. Here also, as at Lowestoft and many other places round our coast, baby whiting have been a perfect pest to pier anglers recently …
In all pier fishing of course the angling is done in fairly shallow water, and in consequence it will often be found that the best fishing is at night, especially if the water be clear … Long casting is usually conducive to success, and it will often happen that, other things being equal, the angler who can out cast his neighbours stands the best chance of getting fish …
The Daily Mirror, Monday 17 September 1923
Girl's Rough Sea Swim
14-Year-Old Athlete Makes Trip From Dover to Deal in 3½ Hours
In a rough sea, Miss Ivy Martin, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Mr. Francis A. Martin, a Dover licensed victualler, swam from the Admiralty Pier, Dover, to Deal Pier yesterday in three hours and twenty minutes.
The Daily Mirror, Saturday 14 February 1925
Angling for Charity.
Competitors in the novel angling contest on Deal Pier.
The winner received the combined entrance fees and had the honour of handing them to the war memorial hospital.
Unhappily they did not get the weather they deserved.
The Daily Mirror, Monday 28 December 1927
Great Channel Gale
Boat Services Cancelled for the First Time for Twelve Years
For the first time for more than twelve years all cross-Channel services connected with the Southern Railway, except one special boat which took 200 passengers from Dover and Folkestone to Boulogne, were cancelled yesterday owing to the great gale raging in the Channel.
No boats arrived at Folkestone from Boulogne or at Dover from Ostend. The Ostend boat remained at Dover.
No Continental expresses arrived at Victoria from either Dover or Folkestone, a thing which has not happened for years.
Deal Pier which, since its erection over fifty years ago has weathered some terrific gales, suffered to such an extent that it was temporarily closed.
At Kingsdown heavy falls of cliff occurred.
The steamer Indier, of Antwerp, struck the southern breakwater when attempting to enter Dover Harbour, and her bows were damaged.
The motor vessel David M., reported bound for London with a cargo of bricks, was driven ashore off Birchington. The crew were landed.
The Daily Express, Friday 23 August 1929
Excitement was intense on Deal Pier yesterday during an angling competition for boys and girls.
Parents were present in force to watch the skill of their children.
"Sea Fishing Simplified" (1929) Francis Dyke Holcombe & A. Fraser-Brunner at pages 43 & 44
Pier and Shore Fishing
Pier fishing nowadays is remarkably popular; indeed, there are few piers on the English coast that are not crowded with fishermen during the holiday months. The angler from a pier gets plenty of fresh air, and his sport costs him little. There are sometimes, however, more fishermen than fish; while one is usually assured of a good "gallery" which is apt to be a little disconcerting if anything should happen to go wrong in casting out the line.
The prospects of Pier Fishermen are nevertheless much more favourable than those of their fresh-water brethren, since the harvest of the sea is unlimited, both as to quantity and size - whereas that of the river is strictly defined.
If you try it, you should use … Wadham's paternoster or flowing trace, pattern 1. Bait with lugworm, mussel or small strips of mackerel or herring. The lead should be from 4 oz to 6 oz and it is usually an advantage to cast the baits as far from the pier as possible.
(Deal) Pier Fishing (page 29)
"Wadham's Invisible" Sea Paternoster
The Daily Express, Monday 25 August 1930
Two long-distance swims, one by an Indian student, and the other by a thirteen-year-old Ramsgate girl, will be undertaken tomorrow. The Indian, Ahmed Shah, of Osmania University, Hyderabad, will attempt to swim the twenty miles from Dover to Ramsgate as a preliminary to a cross-Channel swim.
The girl, Florrie Proctor, will set out to swim from Deal Pier to Ramsgate. She has already won a number of swimming trophies.
The Daily Mirror, Wednesday 27 August 1930
Young followers of Izaak Walton busy on Deal Pier yesterday.
They are seen taking part in a children's angling competition which drew 270 entries.
The Daily Mirror, Wednesday 27 August 1930
Child anglers at Deal
One-fifth of an ounce of fish per child was the average catch made in the annual fishing competition for boys and girls on Deal Pier.
The Daily Mirror, Friday 16 September 1932
Mrs. Miller, meteorological officer, taking the temperature of the water from Deal Pier.
She has done this daily for years. A women's angling competition was held yesterday.
The Daily Mirror, Friday 10 August 1934
The Daily Mirror, Monday 26 November 1934
Eighty-eight anglers fished continuously for six hours from the Deal Pier (Kent) and established a new low record for the world. They caught six fish - total weight 4 lb. 2 oz.
The Daily Express, Monday 26 August 1935
Crowd Cheer Boy Hero
Sea Rescue Drama
Holiday makers on the beach near Deal Pier this afternoon cheered Harry Pitcher, fourteen-year-old son of a boatman, when he rescued a boy from drowning.
The boy grabbed Harry so tightly that he nearly pulled him under; and Harry's father and a Marine, John Gilbert, helped him to get the boy, Toni Cox, aged eight, son of a collier, up on the beach.
As Harry walked away in his dripping clothes be was loudly applauded by crowds of visitors.
The Daily Express, Monday 2 December 1935
The Daily Express, Tuesday 3 December 1935
One Fish - Angler Wins Four Prizes
A cod weighing 7 lbs. 13 ozs., caught from Deal Pier, Kent, yesterday, won four prizes, in the closing day of the Deal and Walmer Angling Association's Festival, for Mr. Edward H. Shuttleworth, of Deal.
Mr. Shuttleworth received the cup for the heaviest cod, another for the heaviest fish of the festival, another for the heaviest one-day's take, and the National Federation of Sea Anglers' bronze medal.
The Daily Mirror, Wednesday 15 January 1936
Couple whose Luck won't go Wrong - Fish, £1,500 and 40 Prizes
A married couple are the envy of all the anglers here - and you will envy them, too, when you hear their story. They are Mr. and Mrs. George Belsham, of Brighton, and while fishing from Deal Pier they have caught twenty-eight plump codlings, eleven dogfish and numerous whitings and dabs.
Other fishermen have had no luck at all. All this has happened in a week.
A Mr. Alfred Winchcombe did manage to catch a flat fish weighing 1 1b. 5½ oz., but then, you see, the Belshams were not on the Pier. "We are treating ourselves to a fishing holiday at Deal", said Mr. Belsham to me as we sat at the end of Deal Pier.
"Not only have we had plenty of luck with the fish but we have had a jolly fine windfall in another kind of sport - football pools. In one week last December my wife and I won £1,656 14s. 7d. But that's not all. During the last eighteen months, while fishing at Brighton and Deal, we have won seven silver challenge cups and thirty-three other prizes."
We adjourned to the Pier buffet and celebrated. When we came back Mr. Belsham had two fish on his line.
I'm Sure it was two … I saw two.
The Daily Express, Monday 13 July 1936
The Daily Mirror, Monday 17 August 1936
250 Child Fishers Sure to Have a 'Bite'
Two hundred and fifty toddlers will invade Deal Pier tomorrow to fish.
It is the twenty-third annual open sea angling competition for girls and boys from five to fifteen years.
There is a prize for every child, whether they get fish or not.
All the children are bound "to have a bite". Three or four bushels of apples, hundreds of buns and cakes will disappear somehow.
The Daily Express, Monday 17th August 1936
Two hundred and fifty children, aged five to fifteen, will take charge of Deal Pier today for their annual open sea angling competition. Training has been serious, but - catch or no catch - there is a prize for every one.
The Daily Mirror, Wednesday 26 May 1937
The Daily Express, Friday 28 May 1937
Swimmer Saves Alsatian
Daily Express Correspondent
Bathers on the beach opposite Walmer Castle today saw an Alsatian wolfhound swimming wildly out to sea. The dog swam a mile, then turned inshore.
Mrs. Ethel Kellingley, of Deal, snatched up a large bathing towel, dived in, swam to the dog, lassoed it with the towel, and brought it ashore in a strong flood tide still struggling and snapping.
The dog was taken to the police station. Police refused to keep it until it had been "doped" by a veterinary surgeon.
Later, the dog was claimed by Mr. Donald Robinson, of Deal. He had taken the dog - its name was Rex - down to the beach to see if it could swim.
The Daily Express, Wednesday 8 September 1937
Long-Distance Swimmer at 53
Mrs Ethel Kellingley, of Deal, is fifty-three. Yesterday she swam breaststroke from Dover's eastern breakwater to Deal Pier - ten miles - in two and three quarter hours.
Last May, at Walmer, she swam after a mad Alsatian wolfhound, "lassoed" it with a bathing towel and brought it ashore.
"Modern Sea Fishing" (1937) Eric Cooper at pages 57, 58 & 59
Harbour, Pier and Estuary Fishing
There will always be days when the boat angler will be unable to get afloat, or the shore angler to fish in comfort. On such days there is often a chance of getting a really good fish from the pier.
It is not suggested that all piers will provide good fishing; from many of them you will be lucky to get more than crabs and weed.
The angler who is a stranger to pier fishing should not conclude that the farthest point from the shore is necessarily the best for the fishing, nor that, as with harbour fishing, the greater the distance he can cast his bait, the greater his bag.
If bass or mullet are being tried for, they will be close in, feeding around the wood or iron piles.
It is as well to consult someone who knows the conditions before casting out your tackle. Round many of our piers there are patches of very foul ground, delighted in by the local tackle dealer, but avoided by the resident angler as the plague.
For pier casting the rod must be fairly powerful, one which will be capable of lifting your fish - and it may be a good one - from the water to the deck. Some piers fortunately provide anglers with a net for this purpose.
From a crowded pier, the direct overhead cast should be made in preference to the side swing: not only on account of the danger from flying hooks, but to lessen the possibility of fouling the lines of near-by anglers.
The Daily Express, Saturday 13 August 1938
Swims 10 Miles at 55
Mrs. Ethel Maud Kellingley, of Deal, walked unaided up the granite steps in Ramsgate harbour yesterday afternoon, and sweeping off her goggles and helmet revealed a head of wavy grey hair.
Mrs. Kellingley is fifty-five.
She had swum the ten miles from Walmer lifeboat station in 3 hours 5 mins. Last year she swam from Dover to Deal Pier in 2¾ hours.
Her husband, Billie Kellingley. swimming coach and trainer of many Channel swimmers, says his wife's next long-distance swim will be somewhere around the Goodwin Sands.
The Daily Mirror, Tuesday 8 August 1939
Saved by Sinking Boat
With his boat rapidly filling with water, Harry Pitcher, a Deal boatman, yesterday rowed a quarter of a mile to rescue two girls, Lise Fliegel, a Viennese, aged ten, and ten-year-old Lucy Reite, who were in difficulties near Deal Pier.
So hurried was his launch that his boat had no plug in it. By the time he reached the shore with the two girls the boat was more than half-full of water.
When Pitcher first saw the two girls both were exhausted, and one was trying to hold the other up.
He rowed out at top speed. The bigger girl had just enough strength to hang on to the boat while he pulled the younger girl on board.
The Daily Express, Tuesday 11 June 1946
Skilled handling of the motorboat Arcadia saved two fishermen whose waterlogged boat, the Ann, was trapped in the wreckage of Deal Pier.
The Ann became unmanageable in the gale, dragged her anchors, and was driven broadside on among the twisted girders of the Pier. Motor boats put off to the rescue through heavy shore breakers.
The Arcadia, the first ,to reach the Ann, was steered alongside the sinking boat, and the occupants, Mr, E. Cartledge and Mr. J. Fowler, were dragged on board.
The Daily Express, Friday 26 August 1949
Mrs. Ethel Kellingley, aged 68, of Deal, Kent, celebrated her 72nd birthday yesterday by swimming between Brighton's two piers, and back - 1½ miles in 57 minutes.
"Approach to Angling in Fresh and Sea-Water" (1950) E. Marshall-Hardy and Lieut. N. Vaughan Olver, R.N.V.S.R. at pages 196 to 199
Section IV: Sea Fishing from Jetty, Pier or Shore
Fishing on a Sandy Shore
… Oddly enough long casting is seldom an advantage when fishing from the shore or a pier. But you will find that anglers are very competitive in this matter. A sees B make a prodigious cast and immediately attempts to emulate him - don't do it! You are just as likely to catch a fish near to, as far from the pier. And when fishing from the shore, if you can cast your bait just beyond the breakers it is usually all that is necessary; because the fish are foraging in the disturbed water. Sheep which seem always to regard the pasture just beyond the barbed wire as preferable, lose a lot of wool; and anglers who try to cast too far lose a lot of tackle.
When you have learned to cast a double-handed-side-swing, practice the overhead.
Very often when fishing from a pier you will find not only that you are one of a serried rank of anglers, but that you have an audience, composed all too often of people who do not realise that fish-hooks in the pants are painful and may be dangerous, not to speak of the disadvantage of being clubbed with a four ounce lead weight. The overhead cast shown in Fig. 127 is the most compact and useful when pier-fishing. Here again the principles of control are identical with those for any other cast. The illustration will I hope, make the movements clear.
… Having cast, tighten up your line on the lead and holding the rod comfortably under your arm (with the point up keep the line taut), hook your finger under the line between the reel and the first ring. This will enable you to detect delicate bites.
The bites of various species are typical and varied; small fiat fish give a tremulous nibble, school-bass two quick tugs, and so on. But it is not within the scope of this book to go deeply into these differences. You must fish and learn from experience. The best method is, "when in doubt, strike".
If you feel a suspicious movement of the line which passes over your finger, raise the rod point smartly stepping back a pace simultaneously, and if the fish is hooked you know what to do, be it a dab or a large bass.
From your reading of this section you may be under the mistaken impression that one has only to chose a fishing mark with knowledge and intelligence, to guarantee a catch. Of course this is not true, indeed angling would lose much of its fascination if this were possible.
Sea-angling can be a slow game, so when the fish are not feeding the rod-rest can be used. There is usually a convenient support on a pier or a jetty. A bell is clipped to the rod, just below the top ring, and this will sound when a bite jerks the rod top. I advise you, however, to hold the rod as soon as fish appear to be interested in your bait, for you will be able to detect many small nibbles which are not strong enough to agitate the bell. You will also be ready to strike and keep in contact with the fish, which is most important.
From half flow to ebb tide, is the time to fish - after that you can "pack up".
"The Technique of Sea Fishing" (1953) W. E. Davies at pages 55 to 57
Chapter V: Rock, Pier and Beach Fishing
From the Pier
In fishing from piers and jetties one can expect to be a little crowded for space and the only possible way of securing a good position is to be up early. Many anglers use a couple of rods, one for float work and the other for ledgering or fishing the paternoster. For my part one is sufficient as with two you are bound to divide your attention, often at the moment when your concentration is most needed.
Around most piers and jetties there is always a good depth of water which is inhabited by quite a few fish. They are constantly on the watch for their enemies or any movement between themselves and the light. They would, therefore, be more likely to see a bait that is above them than one that is on the bottom. Of course on occasions most fish that reside inshore around piers and jetties often go "grubbing" among the foundations for food and it is then that a ledger will be found quite good. These occasions normally coincide with very low water.
At high water and also when the tide is on the turn the fish mostly keep off the bottom. Float fishing with a light paternoster is just the thing, for should you have fished deep without success you can rise the baits a foot at a time until you are rewarded. This is done by shortening the weight tackle and for this purpose strong nylon is most suitable, but taking it all round it is one of those things with which experiments must be made.
The use of heavy weights is often very unsatisfactory as it puts too much of a strain on rods and when a fish is hooked there is little sport because of the weight. In boat fishing such weights are a necessity due to the depths one has to go, but this is not the case when fishing from piers and jetties. It is rare that long casts are needed as the fish invariably congregate around the pier.
The feeding habits of fish are very unpredictable. Some days they will strike every kind of natural bait and artificial you may offer them and on the other hand, there are days they will look upon the most choice bait with disgust. To be able to take fish constantly under all conditions is a feat that very few expert anglers accomplish.
There are three major periods during a day to catch fish and while early morning and later afternoon are excellent, an hour before and, up to the top of high tide is considered one of the very best times. Skate, conger, bass, mackerel and mullet have all been taken by pier fishermen in the south and west, but on the east coast anglers have quite a lot of sport with whiting, gurnard, pollack and coalfish.
"Salt-Water Angling" (1956) Michael Kennedy at pages 241 & 242
Chapter Six: Ground-Fishing
Anglers seem to gravitate inevitably towards the end of piers. A pier jutting far out into the sea is, undoubtedly, often a good spot for fishing, as the stonework of which it is built, or the wooden or iron piles on which it is supported, shelter many small forms of marine life on which fish feed. The ends of piers sheltering deep-water harbours, too, command the entrance to the harbour, and anglers fishing from them can put their baits in the track of fish passing in and out of the harbour.
But the popularity of piers as angling stations is often out of all proportion to the sport to be had from them; and even where pier fishing is really good, anglers, crowded shoulder to shoulder, and constantly getting their lines entangled, sometimes wonder if it is worth while. But this is by the way.
Where tides are slack, and it is possible to play a fish of any size around to steps or a slip-way, where it can be landed - or where a drop net can be used to land fish - comparatively light tackle may be used for pier fishing. Where, however, tides are strong or overcrowding makes it necessary to haul a fish - unless it is a real record-breaker - up on to the pier, heavy tackle is needed, even if only small fish are to be expected … American-style surf tackle can also be employed; but for pier as distinct from open shore fishing, a rod with a shorter butt (say 18-20 in) and a shorter tip (say 5ft - 6ft) will be found more convenient. Paternoster tackle is best in the long run, and either a monofilament or a brass wire paternoster may be used; the former is preferable, as it is less conspicuous.
Billet and wrasse are probably the fish most commonly taken from piers in summer. Where there is a good deal of rock and weed along the foot of the pier, fair-sized pollack are often caught; and if the sea bed in the vicinity is sandy, flatfish and gurnard may also be taken. The crevices in the base of a pier are a favourite haunt of congers. Codling are taken from piers in many places and, in winter, cod often come within reach of the pier angler; while on winter nights, quite good sport may often be had with whiting. Poor cod and pouting are frequently taken but, as a rule, the pouting that frequent piers are small fish, seldom exceeding ½ lb. Mackerel, mullet and, sometimes, bass are also taken from deep water piers but not, as a rule, by bottom anglers.
"The Modern Sea Angler" (1958) Hugh Stoker at pages 48 to 51
Pier and Jetty Fishing
… Indeed, this inability to cast is probably the reason behind that angling mystery known as beginner's luck, which so often forms a subject for discussion among pier fishermen. Certainly, it is a fact that the 'expert' who casts his tackle 50 yards or more from the very end of the pier, so that it shall lie in even deeper water, is rarely the angler who obtains the biggest catch. This is because fish in the vicinity of a pier or jetty are nearly always to be found lurking within the protective shadow cast by the structure, where they browse upon the vegetable or animal growths which flourish on the piles and masonry.
Sometimes beside a pier, and almost always near a jetty or harbour wall, there are spots which are specially favoured by certain kinds of fish. Usually these 'lies', as they are called, are patches of fairly still water on the fringe of a tidal eddy; for it is into such places that the currents waft drifting scraps of food, which act as a sort of natural ground-bait. These specially rewarding angling spots are apt to shift with the fluctuations of the tides, which on most parts of the coast follow a fairly simple rhythm, flowing for several hours in one direction, and then ebbing for an equivalent length of time in a reverse direction after a brief intervening spell of slack water.
No hard-and-fast rules can be laid down on this very important sea-angling subject, however, as every stretch of coastline possesses its own tidal peculiarities. It is a simple enough matter, of course, to make oneself conversant with the times of high and low water, but this data by itself is of little use to the visiting pier angler, and it is always advisable to obtain more detailed information from a knowledgeable source, such as the local tackle dealer, harbour-master, or fellow anglers possessing a more intimate knowledge of the district. At the same time, inquiries should be made as to the nature of the sea bed, and careful note made of any patches of rocky ground where bottom tackle is likely to be lost …
… Few fishermen consciously think of their rod as a tool. Yet that is precisely what it is; and, as is the case with most tools, there is a right way to handle it - and any number of wrong ways!
Whether fishing from the beach, pier, rocks, harbour wall, or boat, a rod should be held at an angle of about 15-30 degrees above the horizontal. A drooping rod, its tip pointing downwards towards the water, does not allow a bite to be felt so delicately, and is excusable only when float tackle is being allowed to drift away on tide, wind, or current. A rod-rest may be used for certain kinds of float fishing without too much loss of efficiency, but when bottom fishing, tight-lining in mid-water, or drift-lining, it is better to maintain contact with the rod all the time.
Possibly the greatest test of a good rod technique comes immediately after a fish has mouthed the bait. By means of the vibrations running through the rod and his finger-tips, the angler must guess at the nature of the fish that has paid him a visit, and reach a split-second decision on his plan of campaign. The hook must be driven home - that much he knows. But shall the strike be quick or delayed? Gentle or hard? Or would it perhaps be best to make no strike at all, allowing the fish - he hopes - to hook itself?
For the experienced angler the answer comes instinctively, but the novice needs some sort of rough-and-ready guide. It is, of course, dangerous to generalize when discussing any angling subject, but as a rule a fish that sucks and pulls cautiously at the bait should be given plenty of scope before any attempt is made to drive the hook home; a fish that snatches suddenly and fiercely may be treated to a strike that is short and sharp, and a fish that makes a run for it should, for the first crucial seconds, be restrained but not stopped. There are, of course, borderline cases, and when in doubt over a sizeable fish that wants to go places it is not a bad plan to let it have its head for a while, and then send the barb home by 'reining in'.
However, special problems are likely to arise when a fish has been hooked from a pier. Flat-fish do not cause much trouble as a rule, but a lively bass or mackerel is always liable to head in among the girders. When this happens, the chances are that both fish and bottom tackle will be lost. Some pier anglers, in order to reduce this hazard to a minimum, use a very heavy rod and line, so that the moment a fish is hooked it can be hoisted out of the water. Regarded purely as a means of catching fish, this method may be efficient enough, but it is crane-driving rather than angling.
Even if the fish is kept clear of the piles, there still remains the difficulty of reeling it up to the deck of the pier, which may be 20 feet or more above the level of the water. An insecurely hooked fish is likely to fall back into the sea during this process, because its weight naturally increases as it is drawn out of the water. Sometimes it is possible to guide the fish to a flight of steps leading down to the water, so that by descending and reeling in at the same time, it becomes a fairly straight-forward matter of netting or gaffing the fish in the orthodox manner. More often than not, however, the rods and lines of other anglers will prevent such tactics being put into effect, and if a really large fish has been hooked it will then be necessary to use a hooped drop-net …
Next, a word or two about ground-baiting. This is always useful when pier fishing, and entails very little additional effort. A weighted net bag containing fish offal and crushed crabs is lowered into the water so that it lies at the same depth as the baited hooks, and 2 or 3 yards away from them. Every so often the net is jogged up and down in order to allow some of the bait to float clear of the meshes, care being taken to see that the net is so positioned in the flow of tide that the scent of the bait and the released food-scraps drift past the fishing-tackle. When fishing from a crowded pier this latter precaution is particularly important, as carelessly positioned ground-bait can actually attract fish away from one's own hooks to those of a neighbouring angler …
The Daily Express, Tuesday 20 November 1962
"Angles on Sea Angling" (1963) Captain S. Norton-Bracy at pages 7, 8, 9 & 11
Fishing from Pier and Beach
Skill in casting can help to improve your 'luck' when there are other anglers about.
When you are fishing from a pier, or from a beach where there are a lot of other anglers, the farther out you can cast the more likely you are to catch fish. The continual bump of weights hitting the bottom, close in to the pier, and the jangling of paternoster booms, are enough to scare away any worthwhile fish. So try to out-cast all the other anglers.
There is no doubt that most beach or pier fishermen could, with the right equipment, increase their casting distance by 25 per cent. What you need is better stance, and this calls for correctly-balanced tackle. With multiplyer or fixed-spool reels, anyone can reach a minimum of 100 yards. You will find heavy rods tiring: the ideal is a glass-fibre rod of 12 feet to 13 feet. The line should be 16lb to 27lb breaking-strain nylon. A 4oz weight is heavy enough to take the line out without causing it to over-run.
When you get a "bird's-nest", the reel is revolving faster than the line is running out and the result is a tangle. How does it happen ? The most frequent mistake when casting is to use too much effort. A smooth 180-degree cast is enough to get your weight to its maximum distance without the worry of an over-run. Make sure that the line is free from knots and the spool is filled to capacity. Keep these rules - and you will still occasionally face the "bird's-nest" nightmare. But not so often.
The standard casting method is used with a beachcaster rod and multiplier reel.
For the beginner, or for casting short distances into the "fish zone", a straight over-the-head cast is the most suitable casting method. Ensure before casting that:
- the line is running freely through the rod eyes
- when using a fixed spool reel, the bail arm is open.
There are plenty of cod in the sea - let's go after them. While the peak time for cod is between October and March, I took the biggest cod I ever caught in April … In the winter cod leave their northern feeding grounds and gather in great numbers down the east coast, right round to Eastbourne in the south. Two particularly good places for cod fishing are Deal and Dungeness, both in Kent.
"Sea Fishing" (1964) Harvey Torbett at pages 72, 73 & 74
The Basic Skills of Fishing
The Underhand Cast
This is simply a pendulum swing, with the rod-tip acting as a moving fulcrum. The rod is held roughly parallel with the water with the line extended for a rod length. The bait or weight is then held in the free hand and any slack line is taken up on the reel.
When the bait is released the rod-tip is lifted smartly and the tackle swings freely outwards. As the tackle approaches the end of its swing, line is released from the reel and runs freely through the rings as the tackle sails out at a tangent, alighting in the water with very little splash or commotion. This cast is especially suitable for fishing close inshore and when the sea is calm. It can be very accurate in placing the bait where it is wanted.
Underhand Casting from a Pier
The same technique is now modified to obtain a considerable advantage from the actual height of the pier. The angler takes up a stance at a point where he can extend line to within a few feet of the water's surface, avoiding being too close to pier stanchions beneath. He may now have twenty feet of line out and he then swings the tackle under the pier or jetty allowing it to swing outward again. He can repeat the swing several times to gain momentum, each time lifting his rod-tip to add to the power of the swing. Finally he releases the reel-line as the swing reaches its zenith, when the tackle sails off for a considerable distance before striking the water and settling into position. If the full advantage of the cast is to be obtained the angler should pay out line freely as the tackle settles in the water, taking up slack afterwards.
The Side Cast
This gives a more powerful movement and can be performed "backhand" or "forehand" as in tennis, according to the space available. The bait is dangled three or four feet from the rod-tip with the rod held horizontally in front of the angler. The rod is then swung laterally to one side, as desired, and during this "backcast" the tackle swings behind also, pulling at the rod-tip, and bringing its leverage into play. At this point the rod is brought smartly forward in an arc, the tackle swinging swiftly in a circle about the rod-tip. Line is released when the tackle is pointing in the desired direction, and the rod "follows through", to complete the cast.
"The Art of Sea Fishing" (1964) Laurie Robinson at pages 73 to 76
Shore - Rock - Pier - Night Fishing
Many anglers think that long casting is essential on a pier. This is a long way from being correct. This may be so to some extent in the solid type of stone pier, but on one that the water runs straight through the structure, more fish, often the larger ones, will be taken quite close in to the side. This is because the fish come in to the vicinity of the pier to nose about and feed on the many growths that are found there. A twenty to thirty yards cast should be all that is necessary in most cases. When fishing from a high pier fairly strong tackle is a must; you have to lift your fish a considerable distance and, unless the hook is big and the tackle stout, a heavy fish is likely to break away.
One of the problems of pier fishing is the landing of the hooked fish and, if this happens to be a big fish, lifting it twenty feet or so is no easy matter. There are two alternatives: either to bring the fish to the surface of the water and draw it gently along until you come to some steps that you can go down and lift the fish out by the gills, or to use what is known as a "drop net". This is a large hoop about thirty-six inches in diameter to which is attached a pocket or pouch of netting with rather a small mesh and the whole is held by three short ropes that are attached to a rope for lowering purposes. The net is lowered down the side of the pier, the hooked fish brought to the surface and drawn slowly over the drop net. The net is then hauled up carefully. It is advisable not to reel the line in as this is carried out. Some piers provide these for the use of anglers, and if this is so on your pier, it is useful to know where they are to be found.
For those who prefer to fish close to the side of the pier, the float is the answer. Your bait is away from the hordes of crabs that seem to prowl round the underneath parts of these structures, and you can fish very close and with care even between the piles themselves, places that often hold some big fish. Remember that the float used from the pier should be smaller and lighter than that used from the rocks, as it is just lowered into the water. As for rock fishing, it should be of the sliding variety. This enables you to fish at any depth you wish, and the depth you fish at will be a matter of trial and error until you find the depth at which the fish are feeding.
The majority of bottom fishers use the paternoster or leger type of terminal tackle, and the weight used will be determined, to some extent, by the force of the current. At times a spinning-bait can be successfully employed, while a set of feathers can be used when fish like mackerel or pollack are swimming close to the surface near the piles.
Baits for pier fishing include ragworm, lugworm, mussels, sandeels, shrimps and strips of herring or mackerel, though here again you should find out from the locals what type of bait is most successful at a particular time of the year.
… unfortunately, from the angler's point of view, piers are very popular places, certainly during the holiday season, when fishing can be difficult. The best time, therefore, to fish these is early morning or late at night, though out of season the angler generally finds he has the pier more or less to himself. Pier fishing is usually most successful in the flood tide, that is from low water to high, with the last two hours before high probably best, though the first two hours of the ebb sometimes give good returns. Many piers fish well during the hours of darkness and this is particularly true in winter on the east coast.
There are many piers around the coast that offer first class facilities for this type of fishing. Naturally, some are better than others, but at most there is every possibility of taking fish of some kind or other. The south-east and south coasts of England abound with excellent pier fishing and places like Deal give heavy takes of codling and other fish at times from the pier head. The codling fishing is best during the winter months.
Pier, Rod and Reel
The ideal rod for the pier should be shorter than that used for the beach and rock edges, about eight feet in length, while the reel can be of the centre-pin or multiplier type, one that holds about one hundred and fifty yards of thrity-six lbs BS line …
Over the years I have done a considerable amount of pier fishing, mainly out of season, early in the morning or late at night, and with fair success. It is quite an interesting side of sea angling. It is reasonably clean, usually quite safe and, to the timid type of sea angler, an ideal way of getting full enjoyment from the sport. There is no doubt that piers have provided the training ground for many of our successful sea anglers of today.
"Tackle Sea Angling this Way" (1964) John Michaelson at page 53
5. Angling from Piers and Rocks
Fishing far off is generally sensible practice if the bottom is sandy and you are after flatfish. But conditions may make a side cast impossible. In the case of bass and, where they are found, pollack, there is no advantage in a long cast. There fish are generally more likely to be found underneath the decks, attracted by the seaweed. Experienced anglers seek them inside the girders rather than far out in the open sea, although if the pier makes it possible to cast just behind the surf this is a good place to try. A hooked bass cannot be allowed to run or it will almost certainly wrap the line round a girder. It must be held firmly and kept away by extending the rod as far as possible.
"Sea Fishing" (1965) Gordon Turnill at pages 44, 45 & 60
Where to Fish
Fishing from Piers and Harbour Walls
Pier and harbour fishing are perhaps the least strenuous and the most comfortable methods open to the sea angler. He is seldom far from shelter when cold and rain make life unpleasant. On many piers he can sit under cover in comparative comfort, his rod propped in a near-by corner. Electric light shining on the white rod tip enables bites to be easily observed after dark, or the sound of a tiny spring-mounted bell clipped to the rod tip will rouse him should he doze off! Cups of tea and light snacks are often available, with bait and tackle salesmen ready to meet his requirements. Brother anglers are usually present to give advice or help in the landing of a big fish, or sorting out tangled lines and tackle.
It may be that at times the pier becomes overcrowded, and fishing a hazardous occupation. Wild casting by the inexperienced can be really dangerous. Heavy leads and sharp hooks are capable of inflicting serious injury. Anglers of this kind should be given a wide berth, if good advice on safe casting methods is disregarded. Much practice in casting is necessary before attempting to fish from piers, or other confined locations, where other anglers and members of the public stand near by. There are two safe ways to cast, and one or other of these should be used. For casting short distances the tackle can be swung pendulum fashion under the pier at points where girders do not interfere, and when released at the right moment on a forward swing will travel a fair distance before reaching the water. For long casting the overhead method is used, but considerable practice is needed to become proficient. The rod is brought back until directly behind the angler with his body turned towards the tackle which hangs two or three feet below the rod tip (with fixed-spool reels the line is held by finger pressure, with multipliers the thumb is used. Centre-pin reels are controlled by either fingers or thumb).
To make a cast the rod is punched smoothly forward over the shoulder, making full use of the springy action of the rod. The reel spool or line is released just after the rod tip passes the vertical, and if the timing is correct the tackle will fly out straight and true in the required direction. In most of the revolving spool reels some measure of thumb or finger control may be required to prevent overrunning of the line during the cast. Casts made by swinging the rod sideways are dangerous, and should not be attempted.
Terminal tackles may be paternoster, flowing trace, or running ledger, with leads of sufficient weight to hold bottom, and one or more hooks as fancied. Float fishing and spinning are also effective at times.
Any of the baits recommended in shore and rock fishing may be tried. There are usually favourite places on most piers, and the pier master is often helpful in recommending the most likely spots and the best methods and baits to use …
… Pier anglers sometimes bring along a large round iron hoop, across which is stretched a fairly fine-meshed net. The middle of the net is baited with a rich smelling bloater or other fishy attraction, and the lot lowered by strong cord to rest on the bottom. It is surprising what a variety of small, and sometimes quite large sea creatures, are attracted by the bait and caught as the net is quickly raised from the sea bed. Prawns, shrimps, crabs, lobsters, and flat fish all fall victims to the hoop net on occasion.
"Feathering for Sea Fish" (1966) Fredrick William Holiday (aka "Ted Holiday") at pages 38 to 46
Feathering: General Considerations
Feathering from Piers
… Wherein lies the value of a pier ? It is really very simple. Pelagic sea fish stream in shore on the making tide in search of food. Imagine for a moment the featureless underwater expanse of level sands and shell-grit. They are in fact water-covered deserts and contain little to support life. There is nothing here to hold or interest the fish and they sweep along with the tide. Suppose, however, that you drive a few hundred piles into the sea-bed to carry a pier. Fairly soon they are covered with weed; and in the weed there will soon be shrimps, prawns, sea-slaters, crab larvae and much besides. The piles in fact have created an artificial larder or "mark". Naturally, the incoming fish make a beeline for the spot.
… The angler has decided to give feathering a trial from his local pier. What sort of feathers should he use, when should he use them and how should they be fished?
As a start I would suggest using single hook lures with a tinsel body and a streamer wing of white hackles. Three on the trace is plenty for a preliminary trial and a 4oz lead should be ample in order to take them down in everything barring a spring tidal stream.
The angler should lower his feathers from the uptide side of the pier. This is important and Fig. 12 shows why. The fish are feeding close into the piles. This means that if the angler fishes from the downtide side of the staging his lures will be swept many yards from the fish. The distance of course will depend on the size of lead in use and the speed of the tide. By fishing from the uptide side he can place his lures right amongst the fish.
Since your feathers are going to fish down and under the pier one must take precautions against becoming snagged. A couple of old coachbolts on a handline are useful for finding where the snags are and where they are not. Once you have found a clear spot don't be tempted to shift.
With some piers you can't fish in this way due to cross-staging and structural ironwork. There are several possible solutions here. You can fish from the end of the pier itself or if you can fish from the downtide side using a heavier lead which will keep the feathers nearer the piles. However - and I repeat - the feathers must fish near the piles.
This is not a theory dreamed up; it is based on observed fact. More than once I have been in a boat moored … 100 yards or so above our oil-piers. Combing the water with our lures we proved conclusively that the fish were feeding within a yard or two of the piles themselves. All the intervening water was barren. Yet it is only common sense when you think about it. Guests at a dinner-party don't stand 50 yards from their plates!
Now a bit about the way to fish the lures. Allow the lead to touch bottom, raise it a couple of feet, then lower it again. Don't jerk the lead. The movement is smooth and rhythmical and rather like fishing a minnow dip-and-draw for trout. Keep the feathers in quiet see-saw motion without any jerking or snatching.
If this doesn't produce results then reel the lead a yard or so from the bottom and continue working the lures. It is impossible to be sure at what level the fish will be feeding and at the start - especially at an unknown venue - it is largely a case of trial and error.
If still nothing happens you can have a ten minute rest while you watch your fellow-anglers catching crabs and whiting of about 3 inches in length. They probably think you are a lunatic to be pinning your hopes on a bit of feather and tinsel. But you are grinning at them for rushing to buy expensive boxes of lugworm half of which they will dump in the sea before they leave.
… If the pier you usually fish is of the shallow type don't be too disappointed if you fail to get offers to your feathers when the tide is low and the sunshine bright. Use ordinary bait-fishing methods for a while till the tide builds up and the sky clouds over; then try again with feathers. At some stage in the tide, provided the fish are there, you are nearly bound to get results.
Piers - Species Caught by Feathering
The species one is most likely to catch from piers using the feathering method varies with the geographic location of the pier and the season. In summer, mackerel and bass figure prominently in the catches from south coast piers; in the north one would expect mackerel and coalfish. In winter most of the fish in your bag at the end of the day will be codling, whiting and pouting.
One of the fallacies which has grown up in sea-angling is to regard codling and cod as bottom-feeders, invariably and entirely … On occasion I have seen cod with sizable bass struck in their gullets. Like most pelagic fish they are active predators.
On the east coast the codling come in on the currents generated by northerly gales. Moving south towards the Channel they feed heavily on brit, fish fry and small whiting as well as browsing on crabs, prawns and worms.
How wrong anglers are to wed themselves to a bait-rod when, in point of fact, they should be feathering. When codling are chasing brit yards from the bottom it is a pretty silly exercies to sit over a lugworm anchored to the sand … Piers are a great comfort to shoals of brit beset by hungry codling. The piles are a great comfort to shoals of brit beset by hungry codling. The piles and the masses of streaming weed do offer a sort of shelter. Codling feeding in this manner will have no hesitation in taking feathers if these are fished at the appropriate level.
Whiting also are brit-feeders as well as being cannibals to boot. This being so, they will take feathered lures readily. It is here that we encounter another advantage offered by this method of fishing. Whiting shoals are frequently harassed by packs of spur-dogs and lesser spotted dogfish … Very seldom indeed do you hook dogfish on feathers but you catch plenty of whiting and this, to me at least, is a great point in favour of the method.
Big whiting like a good depth of water - say 8 fathoms or more. The shoals come sweeping in on the tide looking for what they can devour. Often this turns out to be a small whiting (which have been shoaling round the piles of the pier at low water feeding on small crustaceans and other fare). The cannibals adopt shock tactics, diving into the shoals of babies from all angles. While this is going on the feathers will do well. Then the shoals of young whiting scatter and flee into the broad waters of the sea and their predatory elders cruise on looking for another compact group at the next pier. Thus the sport tends to fluctuate according to what is happening under water.
Whiting come best on the feed in late afternoon especially when this is the time of a making tide. Since they are largely a winter fish and the actinic value of the light is poor late in the year there is much to be said for using bright lures, especially in deepish water. Double hook feathers with plenty of tinsel and yellow fluorescent chenille is a good recipe.
"Sea Fishing" (1969) Clive Gammon at pages 5, 6 & 7
… pier fishing rarely provides the best sport, though this comment must be qualified by recalling that there are exceptions. Deal pier can be magnificent for winter cod …
… long-casting from piers is often a mistake. It is much better to fish as closely as possible to the pier itself. Unfortunately - and this is one of the basic drawbacks of pier fishing - there is usually a lot of overcrowding. But you can fish in the early morning - or through the night when this is allowed.
One of the most effective pier-fishing methods is float fishing. In the early morning especially, quite large bass and pollack may visit the pier, and a float worked amongst the piles, with sand eel, ragworm or small live fish for bait, can account for good fish. Tackle must be stout: holding fish of ten pounds - not an unreasonable expectation - from a mass of ironwork necessitates this. A short boat-rod, with a single-action reel loaded with fifteen pounds (breaking strain) monofilament is perfect if you can fish close to the water from the lower deck of the pier. If you fish from a vantage point high above the water, a beach-casting rod will be better, as it will give you more control.
From the higher level you will need a drop-net for fish of any size. (Never, never try hauling a big fish up the side of a pier. The line, or your rod-top, will break) …
Mullet provide splendid sport for the pier float-fisherman at times - but these fish are not to be caught when holiday crowds are about. Much finer tackle is needed, too, though the fish are big and strong.
Mackerel and garfish are other possibilities for the float-fishing method. Here there must be an exception to the rule, and the float tackle must be streamed away on the tide.
Spinning will take mackerel, pollack and bass, but here again you need room to cast, and a platform close to the water.
Bottom fishing with a natural bait comes into its own in the autumn and winter, with the arrival of cod and whiting shoals. Lugworm, sprat or herring are suitable baits to be fished in the tidal currents.
"Sea Fishing for Beginners" (1970) Maurice Wiggin at pages 39, 40 & 62 to 77
The Tools of the Trade
Pier and Jetty
… it is always a mistake to fish too far out from the piers, anyway, since that is where fish congregate to get at the food hidden in the growth on the piers - and other fish come to get them.
Pier and Jetty Fishing
… Not the most productive place, as a general rule, in terms of fish caught. But there are exceptions even to that rule, as indeed there are exceptions to every rule - that's one of the things fishing teaches us more surely than any other. Deal Pier produces some very fine specimen cod every winter … And all piers produce fish … high summer and the pinnacle of the holiday season are not just the best times to fish.
But when a making tide - an incoming tide - coincides with early morning, or evening, then even the most popular pier can produce good sport. And in the off season you can sometimes have it almost to yourself. On some piers you may fish at night, on others you are not permitted to. If there is one thing you dare say about fishing without fear of instant flat contradiction, it is that night fishing is more likely to produce good catches (other things being equal) than day fishing.
Overhead casting is prohibited on many piers, for the sake of the casual passer-by who does not greatly fancy being impaled by a flying great hook adorned with segments of worm, or stunned by half a pound of lead. You can quite see the point of this prohibition. But wherever you go on piers, you see anglers doing their level best to get their bait as far away from the pier as they possibly can. A human aspiration, but so misguided. The beauty of pier fishing - some curmudgeonly parties will say its only attraction - is that it cuts out the need for casting altogether.
For consider: what is a pier? Look at it at low water. Take a cruise around it in a little boat. Climb down the lattice-work and rub your nose in the underwater construction. What do you see? Why, you see an abundance, an infinitude of fish food, all clinging to the piles! Why go further? The piles and girders are sure to be heavily festooned with weedy marine growths; and the weedy growths are heavily infested with marine life, a teeming population of small organisms on which small fish love to prey; and apart from the infested weed growths, the piles and girders and beams are sure to be encrusted with molluscs. Molluscs, my friend - luscious crackly stuff that costs you good money at the fishmonger's, when you can get it - lovely stuff like mussels. All this goodly grub attracts small fish - and small fish attract big fish. One of the cardinal rules of fishing for predatory fish is this - get among the small fish, if you can - for they are bait for the big fish.
Now you will see why there is no need to get your bait away from the pier. The fish are literally under your feet! Just lower away, vertically. There are exceptions to this, and we shall come to them in a minute, but by and large, just lower away.
Lower away what? Your float tackle, your paternoster, your flowing leger. Lovely terms, their origins lost in the mists of antiquity.
A paternoster rig is perhaps the basic terminal tackle for the static pier fisher. In essence, it simply means that your weight is tied right at the very end of your line, so that it goes down to the sea bed, touching it first. Now just a little way above that lump of lead you fix something called a boom, which stands out roughly at right angles to the vertical line, and on the end of which you tie your hook.
That is the basic principle of the paternoster … There is nothing to stop you having two booms and two traces if you wish.
Fishing the paternoster is simplicity itself. You simply let the weight take the line off the reel, controlling its run with a finger or thumb, until you feel the weight hit the bottom. You then put the check on the reel, rest the rod against the railing, and wait until something bends the rod tip … take a bit of the reel line in your fingers and wait for a pluck at it. Your fingers are quite the most sensitive instruments you are likely to acquire.
The leger tackle is a variation of this static procedure. In this case your line is threaded through the weight - or through the brass ring which protrudes from the weight. The hook is duly tied on to the end of the line. Now the weight is "stopped" about a yard or even two yards from the weight - some simply clip a half-moon lead over the line to act as a stop, some I've seen even using split shot, but that needs a deal of pinching on if it is to hold its place. In fact, it is far better to use a swivel as the stop. In this case you tie your hook to one end of a piece of monofilament about a yard long, and a swivel to the other end. You then pass your reel line through the weight and tie it to the top eye of the swivel.
The leger has this advantage over the paternoster - when a fish takes hold, it can move away without much resistance. With a paternoster, the moment it takes your bait it must feel the anchoring power of that lump of lead. With the leger it has at any rate a few feet of slack before the line, running through the eye of the weight, tautens up against the reel check. I personally have a notion that the leger is a more sensitive rig than the paternoster and a better method of hooking fish.
… If you find yourself suffering from the attentions of beastly little bait-robbing crabs, take that cork out of your pocket … and slip it on the trace a few inches above the hook … The cork will keep your lure just nicely up out of the reach of the crabs, and you have a quite effective rig working for you now.
… if there is a lower stage of the pier to which you have the right of access, bringing you down much nearer to the surface of the water, then you can profitably indulge in float fishing and a variation of drift-lining, both of which are more sensitive and more productive, on the whole. And more fun.
True, you can use both these methods from the top level of a high pier. It's just that they don't work quite so easily, you have to work harder at it, you are not so closely in touch with your gear and therefore with your bait. But it can be done.
There are several valid variations of float fishing from a pier. At least three. You can combine float fishing with legering and with the paternoster, and you can float fish almost as if you were fishing in the canal at home.
To involve a float in your legering or paternostering will almost or quite certainly mean the use of a sliding float. Obviously, if the depth of water is greater than the length of your rod, and it surely will be, then you can't fix your float at the appropriate depth on the line and chuck it out. What you do is fix a stop on your reel line at the appropriate distance from the bottom or terminal tackle - a distance slightly greater than the depth of the water, and that you have to estimate, if you haven't surveyed the ground earlier, by dropping in a plummet - a weight tied to the end of the line. This stop is a bit of nylon, or valve rubber, about a quarter of an inch long, tied in to the line with a clove hitch. In the old days it used to be a bristle. Your line then passes through the middle of the sliding float, or through top and bottom rings which stand off at right angles from the body of the float. You heave the whole load over the side, the weight runs to the bottom, the float slides up the line till it reaches the stop. And stops. Easy.
Using a sliding float with a paternoster, make sure that the paternoster is free to run. Ensure this desirable state of affairs as follows. Tie your weight to one eye of a swivel, by a bit of monofilament about a yard long, at most. Pass the reel line through the other, or top, eye of the swivel and tie it immediately to one eye of another swivel. To the remaining eye of this second swivel, tie the hook trace - a good yard long, more if you fancy it streaming away in the current. Now, when a fish takes hold of your bait, he can run with the line - and your float will be the first to know.
I make a bit of a thing of this because with the standard brass-wire paternoster rig which I mentioned a little while ago, though certainly it ensures that your hook trace stands out well away from your reel line, it does mean that the fish gets no free run - he is up against the resistance of the weight as he moves with the bait.
Similarly with the float-leger method, make sure that on taking the bait the fish is free to move away before he comes up against a lot of resistance. The float must be the first to know - otherwise you might as well not bother with a float. But of course there is another way of float fishing, a very free and ancient and exciting way. And that is simply to fish your float in what is called 'mid water', meaning anywhere between a foot off the bottom and a foot from the top. The reel line goes straight down through the float rings (exactly as in freshwater fishing) to the hook, and various weights as may be found necessary are nipped on the line a little way above the hook. You can of course incorporate a swivel between float and hook, and in fact it is a fairly good idea, if only because it helps to cut out some of the dreaded line twist when you have a fish fighting at the end of the line. And a swivel is a very convenient place on which to hang clip-on leads. All true: but don't forget, will you, that every swivel means two knots, and every knot means a weakening of the manufacturer's stated breaking strain of the line. Not that this often matters: 80 per cent of stated breaking strain is more than enough, in most cases. But tie a really careful double- or treble-half-blood every time.
This 'mid-water' float fishing is terrific, and I much prefer it to leger or paternoster, if only because you've got something to look at apart from the rod tip, it's lively and pretty and less static. But - you mustn't forget that the float will wander in the current, or tide, and while this may be exactly what you want it to do, it may not please your neighbours over-much if they happen to have their gear anchored firmly, and vertically, to the bottom, and you get caught up in it. This is another reason why free-ranging mid water float fishing, like drift-lining, is best done from the lower levels of the pier, if you can get there without getting either arrested or severely injured, or even drowned.
Near slack water, which means the odd half-hour at most when the tide is pretty well full and reluctant to turn and start all over again, in calm weather you can float fish happily right in close to the pier. Experiment with with various depths - start shallow, with the float only a yard or so above the hook, and, if you get no response, move the float up a little at a time until you are fishing on the sea bed. This is the only state of tide which allows you to fish the float almost as you would in a lake or canal. At other times the movement of the tide will sweep your float gear along, and either you will have to cast continually out away from the pier, fishing a short stretch as it returns, then casting out again, or, taking the opposite stance, you will be able to stream your float gear in the current, out and away from the pier.
This is just what you want to do when the mackerel shoals come inshore and create their usual wild excitement.
True, they are among the best of fish, both for eating and for the sport they provide - if you use appropriate tackle. Yet I cannot quite understand why the cry goes up 'the mackerel are in', while other summer fish seem not to provoke the same excitement. The garfish, that long-snouted, thin bodied, streamlined fighter which is usually or at least often around when the mackerel appear, is if possible an even finer fighter, dashing and leaping like a rainbow or sea trout. Many people seem to believe that the garfish is inedible, probably because of those funny bones, which do turn green when the fish is steamed or boiled; but in fact the flesh is very good eating, as despised foreigners know quite well. It is less oily than the mackerel's, but no less palatable.
Float fishing in this mode, swimming the bait at all sorts of depths from two feet to quite near the bottom, will serve to catch mackerel and garfish when they are swimming around off the pier. Drift-lining comes into its own in the same circumstances. For this you need nothing but a swivel about a yard from your hook, and a lead clipped on to the top eye of the swivel, or a half-moon lead folded over the line to nip that top eye tightly. You merely drop the bait and weight into the water, at your feet almost, and let the current take it away. It will sink, of course, but not too far. You keep in constant touch with it by stopping the reel every few moments - when you clamp down on the reel, the weight and bait naturally rise in the water, an undulant swaying movement which adds greatly to its attractiveness, making it all so natural and lazy. I may say that this trick of trapping the reel every so often pays well when you are drifting the float, too - every time you stop the line being taken off the reel, up comes the bait to search a new layer of water. Then you release it and off it goes again, steadily but slowly sinking until you brake again.
Either with the float, or merely with the drifting weight and bait, you are in constant touch and will feel a knock, even if you see nothing. Perhaps this drift-lining is the most effective method of bait fishing in a current flow - there is virtually nothing to alarm the fish or rouse its natural suspicions, everything is simple, and streamlined and cunning, you feel the touch and whoosh, you clamp everything solid and swing the rod top back firmly and swiftly. And you feel the fish kicking on the end of it all. It's a strange and exhilarating feeling.
Mullet approach some piers in high summer, and it is almost irresistible, at any rate to some natures, to try for them. But the mullet is a desperately crafty fish, not exactly shy, I'd say, but supernaturally cautious and fastidious, and to catch them regularly is really among the most difficult exercises in the sport. Stealth and fine tackle are prime necessities for mullet - and since mullet grow big and burly, fine tackle can mean frustration, fish hooked and lost. (A mullet's mouth is very soft, and if you rough them up the hook hold gives way all too readily.) But stout tackle means that you never get a chance, anyway. So there you are. It's not much use trying to catch mullet when the pier is crowded; quietude is called-for. You may have a chance early and late - especially late, on those piers which allow night fishing. Likelier, though, I fancy, from a small harbour jetty than from a populous seaside-resort pier. You can fish for them with ordinary roach tackle, but a good compromise is that sort of middleweight coarse fishing rod known as the Avon style. In fact this is a perfect rod for the sport. With a centre-pin reel loaded with something like five-pound breaking-strain line, you can send your float subtly down the current, with a fragment of almost anything on the hook, fishing it merely two feet below the surface, and trying ever-greater depths until you get among them. A scrap of tiny ragworm is as good as anything, but mullet have been caught on all sorts of bait - even macaroni! They certainly eat bread - and cheese. But sticking to marine worms and bits of fish makes sense.
Some anglers in the West Country even fish for herring from harbour walls and jetties, at the appropriate season - preferably fishing by night, with a bit of ragworm on light float tackle suitable for roach, fishing fairly deep.
A word about floats. The floats one sees used in the sea are a striking and multifarious lot, but generally speaking they are bright and they are big. Too big, I often think. True, you need to see your float, but never think that the sea fish is an idiot. If the fish feels the resistance of the float as it is drawn down through the water, that fish has (generally speaking and with a few exceptions) enough sense to realise that there is something fishy going on and to release the lure smartly. The big bung habit dies hard, but really a fat 'pike float', which is what you so often see in use, really isn't the most intelligent approach to sea fish. (It isn't the most intelligent approach to pike either, come to that.) Try to select a float which is above all slim, a float which offers the least possible resistance to being drawn down through the water. Often it will have to be a big and buoyant float, capable of carrying a load of lead and of being seen in the roily sea: but it should be slender for its length. The old goosequill threaded through a length of cork or balsa wood, the whole thereafter nicely painted and varnished, is as good as anything. But of course there are lots of plastic floats available, if you don't enjoy making your own - a delightful pastime for the murky winter evenings, I may say; sometimes better by far than watching the box.
Not everyone knows it, but there is a cunning device known as the self-hooking float, which is bound to appeal to some mentalities. This is a good slender float with a wide circular disc of stiff plastic sheet, two to three inches in diameter, slipped down over the top quill or pinnacle of the float, and glued in position. The theory is that an eager-biting fish - such as the mackerel, pre-eminently - diving on the bait, pulls the flat of the float down on to or into the water, with a bang. The resistance so suddenly set up - and it really is a considerable resistance, as you can imagine - stops the hook short in its travel downwards. But since the fish is by then committed to its dive, the point enters and the fish is hooked without any assistance from the angler, who is assumed not to have noticed anyway. Striking a quick bite at a distance really is a bit of a problem; co-ordination of eye and hand, the dear old reflexes, can't always be relied upon to be adequate to the demands of the moment.
Then there is the natural elasticity of the line, and the big 'bag' of line in the water, and wind resistance … you can go on elaborating the factors which make for missed bites. The self-hooking float helps to eliminate some of them. Still, it feels like cheating - to some of us fastidious nuts.
Bass and pollack, two of our greatest medium-weight sporting fish, may be caught from suitable piers in summer, in fact any time between April and early October, depending on where you are and what the weather is like - and has been like, months previously. With the coming of winter, the pier is used mainly by cod and whiting fishermen, in a general sense, but there is always the odd flat fish to be hoped for. Fishing on the bottom, certainly, is the thing for the winter months - not much use fishing mid-water then, for there won't be many fish swimming at that level, nor anywhere near the surface.
Spinning can be indulged in, provided you have access to one of the lower platforms. Like drift-lining and mid-water float fishing, it can really only be practised from a platform near the water level: from the top storey you should only expect to fish vertically, on the bottom …
The pier fisherman's baits are about as varied as his quarry, and it really does pay to notice what is popular in a given district - or even to ask. One thing is pretty sure - where there is a pier, a bait salesman won't be very far away. As a rule. Of course it is cheaper to dig your own ragworms and lugworms, but the time factor, not to mention the energy factor, militates against this healthful pursuit for many of us. I should guess that an absolute majority of pier fishermen use lugworm as a bait. It's all right, of course - often it's the best there is. But don't forget that fish are the greatest fish-eaters in creation. Strips of mackerel or herring are always useful, the fleshy parts of crustaceans, prawns and shrimps, sandeels, small fish entire, pieces of squid, razor fish, mussels - there is practically no end to the list of fishy baits. Don't forget that a useful bait for bass is a piece of kipper. Yes, honestly. It's strange that some fish, not especially nice to know, are very finicky about fresh bait - conger, for example - while some fish which are simply pure and fresh and shining (and exquisite to eat) will gobble up pretty stale and stinky old stuff. Pilchards attract bass, by the way.
Soft crab is a great bait, but obtaining it is not so easy. It is when a crab has just thrown his old hard shell, having outgrown it, that he is tender and especially attractive to other creatures. But to find soft or 'peeler' crabs is an art in itself. However, ask around. A really obliging (or even rapacious) local dealer may get you some, but you may have to buy a lot of beer.
Some people fish for flounders with maggots. In estuaries, at any rate. But I've never seen it happen on a pier.
Earthworms die rather quickly in sea water.
Mackerel prefer mackerel. They really do. Actually I do most of my mackerel fishing elsewhere, but if I were on a pier and the mackerel were 'in' I'd back little bright strips cut from the side of one of their own brethren to equal or beat any other bait. Problem: what do you catch the first mackerel on, before you can start using mackerel as bait for mackerel? Answer, a sprat. They love sprats. It is in pursuit of vast shoals of sprats, or sandeels, or pilchards, that they come close inshore in summer.
When the mullet are right on the surface it isn't a lot of use to offer them conventional fishy or 'natural' baits. I think I mentioned macaroni. Bread is also reasonably effective. "If they won't eat bread, give them cake", said Marie Antoinette. Or almost. I have approached this state by mixing custard powder in my bread paste, just as I do ashore. I don't know that it made it work any better. A bit of floating bread crust I once saw do considerable execution when fished from a jetty in the West Country. But since I was standing alongside the floating crust expert, and catching them lower down in the water on bits of ragworm, I'm not sure what that proved. But I do fancy that a touch of pilchard oil mixed with the bread paste really pays off. So far as anything can be said to pay off in this branch of fishing. Mullet are real worthwhile targets: they can tax the patience of a saint, yet on occasion they can give great rewards …
Generally speaking, it's the old flatfish, cod and whiting in winter, and bass, pollack and mackerel in summer. A pier's not a bad place to begin, perhaps, if you love the human race.
"Modern Sea Angling" (1970) Richard Arnold at pages 97 & 98
Ground (or Bottom) Fishing Tackle
For boat or pier fishing a spreader may be used (Figure 15). This consists of a boom from which the hooks depend at the extremities. The weight is attached to the centre and the rig is attached to the line or trace by means of a swivel. It is a very simple piece of tackle, and very effective too, for fishing well above the sea-bed, or even at mid-water. It is advantageous to use booms made from clear plastic or some other transparent material if the water is clear.
"Modern Sea Angling" (1971) Alan Young at pages 18, 19 & 23
Sea Angling: A General Survey
Pier fishing is an intangible business, for in some places it may provide the best fishing in the district; in others it can be mediocre; and in some it offers little but crabs. But even in the worst fishing areas really good fish are sometimes caught from piers, and it is this element of the unknown and the possible which brings anglers day after day to the pier.
The majority of pier anglers fish with paternoster or ledger tackle, and the weights they use are determined by the force of the current. Heavy weights in fishing are an abomination, but if one has to use them they must do their job. If an attempt is made to use lighter weights than are necessary, the line will drag and foul those of other anglers, with regrettable results.
If there are only a few people fishing, and there is a little room to manoeuvre, it is possible to catch good fish with float tackle. If no drop net is available, it will be necessary to use 12lb or heavier line. Bass like to explore the structure and piles of piers, so the float tackle can simply be lowered straight down and allowed to travel where the current takes it. If the water is not more than 14ft deep it is a good idea to start fishing 2ft from the bottom, and gradually reduce the depth until the fish are found.
If a really good fish is hooked and played out, it may be impossible to lift it without risking a broken line. If there is a drop net on the pier (and some pier authorities provide them), the fish should be held until someone lowers the net. When this is below the surface the fish is drawn over it and the net is lifted. While the net is being raised, no line should be recovered in case the fish drops back again. If no drop net is available, try to work back along the pier, towing the fish, until it can be beached.
Where there is a pier, the visitor's best course is to fish from it with paternoster tackle but, unless he knows how to cast, it will be safest to lower the tackle straight down, where it will stand a good chance of catching any fish which comes along.
"Sea Fishing (Learn Through Strips)" (1973) John Mitchell (London Evening News) at page 22
Note: Deal Pier featured in the middle frame.
"Sea Fishing in Kent" (1973) Hugh Stoker at pages 32 - 40
Deal and Walmer … Shore Fishing
1. The Pier. The requirements of sea anglers were specially considered when this pier was designed. It extends for nearly 1,000 feet, and out-jutting glass-covered shelters are positioned at intervals along the stem of the pier so that on wet or windy days the angler can dodge the weather, at the same time keeping an eye on his rod and line. Fishing is pemitted all the year round from the main landing decks at the end of the pier, and it is also allowed along the full length of the stem except during July and August.
Catches are varied, and include dabs, plaice, occasional sole, pouting, dogfish, bass (sometimes taken towards the inshore end), mackerel, scad and occasional thornback rays (usually during the evening). In the autumn and winter there is a good chance of whiting and codling, with occasional large cod up to 20lb or more.
A favourite form of terminal tackle for ground-feeding species comprises a two-hook running leger, with the end hook on a 2 to 3 foot flowing trace, and the second hook attached by a short dropper to a loop 9 inches below the lead. The Wessex leger … is a useful alternative. Favourite baits are local yellowtail lugworm (on one hook) and herring or mackerel strip (on the second hook). When mackerel are shoaling in the vicinity they may be taken (i) on float tackle, (ii) by threadline spinning with suitable lures, or (iii) with feathered traces …
14. Pier Area. When strong offshore winds necessitate inshore fishing, it is possible to catch thornback rays, cod, whiting etc by anchoring about ½ mile off the end of the pier.
"Sea Angler's First Handbook (Pan Anglers' Library)" (1975) Alan Vare & Arthur E. Hardy at page 93
Sea Fishing Methods
Fishing from Piers, Breakwaters, Jetties and Rocks
… Quite the reverse type of angler, encountered all too often, is the 'Pier Menace', with his characteristic heavy line and light leads. His tackle will be drifting, constantly, into everyone else's on the pier, always supposing that he hasn't cast it there in the first place! The worst breed of Pier Menace is the noisy one, with his continual boasting, complaining and commenting. Noisy Menace will 'borrow' bait, leads, swivels, hooks - and anything else he can lay his fatuous hands on, anything from an aspirin to a cup of soup. Avoid him like the plague - and do, please, try not to develop into one yourself, not even a little one. We're sure you won't.
"The Long Book of Sea Fishing in Pictures" (1975) Dick Murray at pages 56 to 59
Piers attract all sorts of fish, from the mighty conger eel to the humble dab … Fish haunt the pier to feed on the weed covered piles. Fishing close to the pier edge is frequently more productive than casting into the distance: ① bass, ② cod, ③ eels, ④ mullet, ⑤ garfish and ⑥ flatfish are the most common, though the list is endless.
Float fishing from a pier
Float fishing from a pier for mackerel, garfish and flatfish is really exciting. It is virtually a heavy form of freshwater float fishing. Most piers have a tide race which flows through the pier structure. Always choose the side where the water is flowing away from the pier.
"Catch More Cod" (1976) Paul Cartwright at pages 20 to 24
Chapter Three: Beach and Pier Fishing
… Although it is not absolutely necessary to cast long distances it is useful to have equipment to do so when the situation demands. A hollow glass rod between eight and twelve feet capable of casting between four and six ounces is quite adequate, with either a multiplier or fixed spool reel. My choice would always be for a multiplier as its casting distance potential and accuracy is greater than that of a fixed spool.
Line strength can vary but by and large should be between 18lb and 26lb breaking strain. Certainly there should be no necessity to go for anything heavier unless you're fishing a really rough bottom or casting into beds of kelp weed.
I have found that the simplest and most efficient tackle is a single hook nylon paternoster. This consists of a length of nylon approximately three feet long with a swivel at one end and a weight connector at the other. A loop is put in at roughly six to ten inches above the weight (or higher if you want to keep your bait off the bottom). A hook is then attached with the snood no longer than 6 to 8in. If you intend fishing with your bait higher away from the weight then the length of the snood should be reduced to avoid tangling.
This type of tackle is designed mainly for fishing into or across the run of tide. Depending on whether there were any crabs or smaller fish about, I might be tempted to either use two hooks, looped one above the other, or to raise the height of the bait to even 3 or 4ft above the weight.
Into the Tide
Fishing from a pier which is supported by pylons and where the water is free to run through under it, I have always obtained my best results by fishing into the tide using the sort of tackle as just described. Very seldom have I taken fish fishing with the tide even when the use of a flowing trace has been adopted.
To give you an example - I might be fishing the incoming tide on the easterly side of the pier and have been catching fish consistently up to high water. Then there has been a period of inactivity, the tide has changed and I've switched sides to the west, again fishing against the ebb tide. Probably within half an hour the fish have begun feeding again. Had I continued fishing in the same place even with adopting a different tackle, then by experience the number of bites I would have had would be very small in comparison.
Now, those cod haven't all thought that because it's high water and the tide's about to turn, 'let's swim through the pier to the other side'. I believe that they are there on both sides at all stages of the tide, but it's the method in which the bait is being presented to the fish that is critical. Not necessarily in terms of how the worms, or how many of them have been put on the hook, but the way in which this particular tackle presents the bait to the fish.
I have also found that to use this method to its fullest advantage, a spiked grip lead is essential to anchor the tackle on to the bottom. As one is some distance above the water, I prefer not to use the 'breakaway' type grip leads but those which have stainless steel wire grips which don't move and can be bent into whatever shape is required to hold bottom in a certain strength of tide.
The only other possible explanation why cod are caught in greater numbers this way is the amount of vibration carried down into the water through the metal piles and then down tide. Although it is the only other possible explanation I can think of, I don't believe it has any effect at all …
Other variations on the paternoster are the 'Yarmouth' and 'Spreader' types. The former has stainless steel booms connected by heavy gauge nylon (approx 55lb breaking strain) whilst the Spreader is all stainless steel wire. Both these tackles will catch fish but it is important to remember the amount of air resistance there is to all the booms and additional baits you are casting. Just an extra baited hook can cut your cast down by between ten to fifteen metres.
"Catch More Bass" (1976) Keith Elliott at pages 39 to 45
Chapter Five: Pier and Jetty Fishing
Many big bass are caught from piers every year; many more are lost, particularly the biggest ones. This is because the big bass lie in among the piles, and you just cannot give them much line. If they are allowed to run, they will either break you by running against a barnacle encrusted pile, or weave a path through the struts that you'd have a job to untangle even with diving gear. Often, too, they are hooked by anglers after other species, and the tackle they are using is insufficient to deal with the power of a bass.
The biggest mistake that can be made fishing from piers is to try and cast to the horizon. The whole reason that there are a lot of fish around the pier is because it provides shelter for small fish and food for big ones. There's obviously no sense in casting away from the cover, because you are casting away from the fish. The only exception I would make to this is where the pier is situated on a good bass beach, and here you can often get fish by casting into the surf. Another advantage of this is that the early risers, the first ones on the pier, always seem to make a dash for the furthest point from the shore, believing that the further out to sea they are, the more fish they will catch.
Finally, don't believe that because the pier is crowded with holidaymakers you have no chance of catching fish. I remember one occasion on Brighton pier when I shared six good bass with a friend. The bright sun that attracted the crowds also attracted small fish and, using live fish, we took bass steadily until the brit moved away.
Getting down to it
On a lot of piers there is a bottom deck that you can get down to. This enables you to fish right among the piles, and this is where most of the bass will be, hunting for crabs or small fish. You can often get sandeels or other small fish with a net among the piles. It sometimes proves worthwhile to fish underneath these shoals for bass. If you have to fish from the top deck, either fish by a pile or, if you can't get such a place, fish right underneath the pier.
Obviously, because there are a lot of snags, you must use quite heavy tackle and expect to lose some gear. Fishing among the piles you will find a long rod a positive disdvantage, so use something about 8ft. It should be hollow glass and sensitive enough to show a bite, yet strong enough to be able to manhandle a bass out from the restricted space. The sort of rods that are sold as 'pier rods' are normally much too heavy for pier work, but for the restricted bass fishing they are ideal.
I find a large centre pin the best reel for the job and it has the additional advantage of giving direct control over the fish. The best centre pins are those with a tension setting so that when a fish runs, as well as the pressure of your finger to slow him, there is the tension of the reel which is an additional pressure but not so strong that a very sharp jerk will break the line - as can happen with some fixed spool reels.
Your line strength should be at least 20lb and you may have to go up to 30lb or more if those very big bass that seem to stretch from one square bay into the next are about.
Keep it simple
Your end rig must be kept simple. I fish only one hook because there is nothing more annoying to hook a good bass and then lose it because your second hook catches in an obstruction.
Among the piles, livebait, ragworm or crab are nearly always the best baits. Because you must expect to lose the odd fish, and often the weight with it, I use old leads that I find while crabbing. But don't use grapnels, or any other leads with trailing bits. Round or near-round weights are best. You will be fishing in a very limited space so you don't need to worry too much about keeping the bait on the move. For this sort of fishing you are finding the bass rather than the other way round. It is you who are doing the moving.
Your weight needs to be as light as possible, although you don't want it to move too much, particularly if you are using livebait because the livebait will swim round the barnacle encrusted crossbeams and you will probably lose your end tackle whether a bass takes or not. The only exception is if you can see a bass - then you may be best without any weight. So the end tackle will simply be a weight on the end with a single hook trace a couple of pounds breaking strain less than the main line.
If you are using whole ragworm and pouting keep nipping the end, either move or push the trace higher up. You may be troubled by smelts in the high water, but there is often a crucial depth between the two where the bass will come from.
Hook size should be at least 3/0 for worm and 5/0 for crab and live pouting or smelt. Always use crabs whole and don't cut them if you are using 'jellies' which are by far the best of the crab baits for this style.
Try it slowly
Lower your bait down in the water very slowly. Sometimes a bass will take it on the way down … Once your weight has touched the bottom lean slightly forwards and point your rod top downwards at about 45 degrees, keeping the tip just a few inches above the surface.
Because you are so near to the bait this way, you will feel it from the moment a bass is interested. Rather as in freshwater fishing when a pike moves near a livebait, so here your livebait may show extra activity. Often the bite is a thumping pull - so don't do as many anglers do and put a twist of line round the centre-pin reel handle. It may be a small pluck however. I find it best to wait until the fish starts moving away. But if you miss the bite and your bait is stripped, strike as soon as you feel a touch on the next cast. This doesn't mean don't give any line; that is a certainty for a lost fish. Just make the bass work for every inch he gets. You have a strong rod and line so really lay into him. Always make sure your landing net is within easy reach. If you're stretching one way to reach your net, you can be sure the bass will stretch the other way and break you.
Don't stay in the same place all the time, unless you are fishing a very deep spot which is a known bass haunt at certain stages of the tide.
Another important thing is quietness. If you are shouting to your mates and banging about, the bass will quietly fade elsewhere. Also remember that underneath is the windiest and coldest place on the pier, so dress extra warmly. Remember to take two torches with you - I'd hate to think how many I've dropped or kicked in the water.
Under-pier bass fishing works best at night, but not all pier authorities allow this.
On the main deck
On a lot of piers you cannot get to the bottom deck so you have to fish from the main deck. This means casting back underneath the pier. Choose the places where the tide runs hard round the piles and fish a similar style, though here movement will pay off.
On piers where the tide leaves the shoreline exposed, you will often get bass, particularly on stormy days, in only a couple of feet of water as the tide rolls in. I have found crab by far the most successful bait for this style.
I said that the underpier work demands a fairly short rod, but if you are fishing from the top deck back underneath, a long rod - about 11 ft - is a real advantage in keeping the fish clear of the piles. A beachcaster that takes about 2 or 3 oz weights is idea, because it is also very sensitive.
I find fixed spool reels unsuitable for this kind of fishing, even in the sea sizes, because of the fine tension settings needed and the fact that they are not as happy at full pressure as a centre pin or a multiplier. The big advantage of the multiplier is its line recovery which enables you to keep in touch with the fish all the time. You don't need a big multiplier because, although it will be carrying heavy line, you will not need a lot. It is very rare for a bass hooked among piles to run for the open sea. I find the Penn range of light beachcasting reels ideal. The Abu range, although expensive, is equally suitable and the smaller Mitchells will perform the same job admirably.
The other style of bass fishing from piers that often works well is floatfishing. This has the advantage of presenting the bait moving at the same speed as the tide.
Again, use only one hook and start fishing between midwater and the bottom. On most occasions you will need to use a sliding float, and the most effective way of doing so is to change the ring on the side of the standard slider for a smaller one. Some of the rings are as much as ½ in in diameter, and you need a big stop for such a ring. A stop of this size can easily lose fish if it gets tangled with one of the rod rings.
Again, use a slightly lighter hook trace than the main line and connect the two by a swivel, because the float gets caught in a lot of mini-eddies which quickly kink the line.
If the tide is running hard you can floatfish with a 'double-ender'. Just put a weight on your main line and cast it where you want the float to go.
Then fix up a separate trace at the depth you want to fish plus two feet and connect the double-ender. This clips on the main line and slides down, but you have the advantage of holding, thanks to the weight on the main line, that would be impossible with an ordinary float rig. Remember to use a fairly heavy float, because the weight will govern where the bait rides in the water. The weight should be about 24 in from the hook. This method, I should add, works best at depths under 12ft; when the water is deeper, it becomes awkward to manage.
When the tide is running hard, fish baits often prove very effective, particularly if you can get fresh sprats, or even live pouting and sandeels. If you can't get either of these use a side of mackerel and cut it in half lengthways. Don't leave too much flesh on: the less fish, the more the bait will work in the water. Hook it in the very end after cutting away, with a razor blade, all the pieces of dark flesh.
Occasionally, when there is no tide run, you may be able to fish with no weight at all, with just the weight of the bait taking the hook down. This is a delightful way to fish because it is the most natural of all, so watch out for the chance to use it. It can be a killer.
Pier bass will be there all the time during the summer, but seem to feed best early morning or late evening, at night and often during a heavy blow.
When night fishing I usually pack up about 2am. For some reason the fish seem then to go off their feed until dawn.
"Fisherman's Handbook" (1977) The Marshall Cavendish, Part 9 at pages 231 to 235
The Kent Coast
Map showing the sand banks and wrecks where fine cod and conger are fished
The Kent coast offers some of the finest sea angling in the British Isles. Many species are encountered with cod predominant, particularly during the autumn and winter. The great advantage of fishing this coastline is that excellent fishing can often be had only a mile or two beyond the embarkation point.
The North Sea, ebbing and flowing through the Straits of Dover, gives rather fierce tides, but the relatively shallow water compensates for this. Rarely is it over 14 fathoms deep, and is on average 7-10 fathoms. There is good fishing up the Thames as far as Gravesend and the Isle of Sheppey but this is estuary fishing. Open sea fishing begins at Whitstable.
Whitstable is reached directly from London via the M2 and A299. The sea around this town is shallow for the first five miles out, and on average less than three fathoms deep. Boat anglers can expect to find dabs, whiting and cod in winter, and flounders, eels and bass in summer. Shore anglers enjoy beach casting for the same species from the gentle shelving beach east of the harbour.
Herne Bay lies 4 miles to the east of Whitstable still on the A299. Several available charter boats will take anglers to the famous Pansands for the excellent bass fishing in the summer, or to the broken ground off Reculver for winter cod fishing. The town was famous for its tope fishing before the war, but this species seems to have declined since then. The average depth here is about 3 fathoms until one reaches the shipping lanes nearly 7 miles out.
Most varieties of seafish are caught in the appropriate seasons with thornback ray and smooth-hounds especially prolific during the peeler crab season in April, May and June. For the shore angler, fishing from the Eastern Promenade can be very rewarding, particularly in the autumn and winter after dark. Unfortunately the ¾ mile long pier was closed as being unsafe in 1968.
The twin towers of the ruined church known as Reculver are 3 miles east of Herne Bay. The beach here shelves gently. and thornback and stingrays are caught during spring and summer and cod and whiting in autumn and winter. Shore angling is good for another 2 miles east of this landmark.
Several charter boats are on hire from the harbour at Margate. The water here is 5-6 fathoms deep and the bottom, except at Margate Sands, is of chalk and flints, unlike the sand and gravel bottom at Herne Bay. Excellent bass and thornback ray are caught during spring and summer. The North Foreland Lighthouse is south-east of Margate, and the Elbow Buoy is approximately three miles out at sea from this point. Here one can expect the finest cod fishing to be had in the British Isles.
Many dinghy anglers favour the Longnose Buoy which is nearer, being a mile offshore, and where similar catches can be made. During the summer, bass fishing is good off the inshore chalk ledges and artificial lures are very successful. In the town there is a stone jetty and promenades from which most varieties can be taken depending on the season.
Broadstairs, on the A225 about 4 miles south-east of Margate, has a harbour where boats can be chartered to fish the same area as the Margate boats. Shore angling is possible from the harbour arm and from the chalk ledges north and south of the town.
Ramsgate, south of Broadstairs, is on a direct route from London via the M2, A222 and A253. With its very large harbour and excellent boat facilities, it accommodates both individual and charter anglers. The boats fish as far as the Elbow Buoy, particularly in winter for the cod, at North Goodwins for thornback ray during the summer months, and at Quern Bank for the good bass fishing. Pegwell Bay, which is a shallow water mark, is good for flatfish and whiting. Shore angling takes place from the harbour arms and a large variety of fish are caught although the ground is rather snaggy from the western arm. Large shoals of mullet abound inside the harbour during the summer months and can be caught on freshwater tackle. Other shore stations include the Chines and Under-Cliffe.
Sand and shingle
Although Sandwich lies a mile inland from the coast there is a road through the sand dunes to the shore. The chalk of Ramsgate has now given way to sand and shingle and excellent sport can be had by the beach angler from this point. Big catches of cod are made during the autumn and winter, and mainly flatfish, including soles, through the summer.
South of Ramsgate, and accessible via the M2, the A257 and the A258, Deal is the Mecca of sea angling. Large numbers of charter boats are launched from the steeply-shelving shingle beaches and just about every species of seafish has been caught at some time in these waters. A number of wrecks, particularly on the Goodwin Sands, provide good conger fishing, and in the summer tope and thornback are still caught in fair numbers over the sands. There is often good plaice fishing north of the town and south of Kingsdown, but the town's reputation is primarily for winter cod and whiting. Angling is allowed throughout the year from the modern pier and also night fishing at weekends.
Known as the gateway to England, Dover boasts a magnificent harbour with several angling charter boats. This is the narrowest part of the English Channel and the tides are therefore the strongest, but on neap tides the fishing is good, particularly for conger, cod and pollack found among the many wrecks. The water here is deeper than the rest of the
Kent Coast and the bottom is very hard chalk with fissures. Varne Bank, lying nearly half-way across the Channel, can provide good cod fishing throughout the summer with brill and turbot often a bonus. For the shore angler, the large harbour gives plenty of opportunity, although the eastern arm was closed to anglers many years ago. The Southern Breakwater is only accessible by boat, but a ferry service will take anglers for a nominal charge. Admiralty Pier is free fishing and anglers will often be shoulder to shoulder feathering for the vast shoals of mackerel found here during the summer.
Folkestone Harbour, approximately 5 miles west of Dover, has charter boats which fish Varne Bank in summer and supply good inshore fishing in winter. Several of the inshore marks have 14 fathoms of water, and the sea bed is very rocky particularly off the Warren. Conger to 30 lb are not uncommon near the British Rail Harbour Arm where anglers may fish for a small charge. West of Folkestone, the first mile of shingle beach runs off to snaggy ground, and further westward gives way to sand. This beach extends for 4½ miles, and the road at the top known as Princes Parade enables one virtually to fish from the car. Many species are caught here including bass, conger, plaice, cod and whiting. West of Hythe are the Military Ranges, where fishing is prohibited except on special occasions.
Dungeness is reached via the A259 to New Romney, then the B2071 out to the point. From Hythe to Dungeness the tide goes out so far that very little beachfishing is possible, but at Dungeness itself the steep shelving beach of shingle and the deep water make it ideal for the beach angler. Many years ago Leslie Moncrieff made this station famous for its cod fishing during the winter months. With the right conditions, anglers catch more cod than they can carry, and many of them are over 20 lb. In summer Dungeness and Dengemarsh provide excellent sole fishing and quite often large shoals of mackerel come right to the water's edge. Nearly all species of seafish are contacted; at one time there was even a small thresher shark caught from the beach here.
"Fisherman's Handbook" The Marshall Cavendish Volume 1, Part 21 (1977) Ray Forsberg at pages 582 to 585
How to Fish
Harbours and Piers
Fishing from jetties, harbour walls, piers and groynes into deep water has almost all the benefits of boat angling without that dreaded scourge of the angler afloat - seasickness!
Around Britain's varied coastline there are quite a number of seaward-projecting structures, providing an attractive habitat for a wide variety of sea species. Fish drawn to the security and food stocks of deepwater wrecks, rocks and reefs are also attracted to the underwater structures of piers, jetties, harbour walls and groynes, especially those in a good depth of water at all states of the tide. These provide abundant marine life in a natural state without suffering a drying-out process twice a day as the tide recedes.
Harbour walls demand that anglers use casting patterns that respect all other anglers' fishing areas. Mullet fishing is best done by a long-snood rig With the paternoster, midwater and bottom species can be fished for using different hooks and baits such as lugworm and small dead sprats
Piers give moral support
Seaside piers have long been the favourite fishing stations for elderly, comfort-loving sea anglers, small boys and beginners who initially require the moral support and companionship of other fishermen as they make their first unsure casts.
One great advantage to young anglers fishing from above-water structures is that they can learn to operate their tackle by lowering it rather than casting. This eliminates 'crack-offs' and tangles when using multiplier reels.
The tackle should be powerful enough to cope with the conditions - such as the strength and height of the tide - as well as being strong enough to land the fish when caught. When float fishing for bass, for example, on the lower deck of a pier, it would be inadvisable to fish with 'open-water' tackle - a light spinning rod, a fixed-spool reel and 5 or 6 lb line. The first good bass hooked would immediately dive for cover among the old barnacle-covered iron girders and smash such tackle. For such a snaggy angling situation, a stout beachcasting rod, a powerful multiplier or centrepin reel, and 15 to 20 lb b.s. line is effective.
Where double figure cod weights are expected and a long haul-up has to be made, because the powerful rush of the tide makes dropnetting impractical, a stout pier rod about 9 or 10 ft in length or a heavy duty beachcaster is needed, together with a powerful reel and strong line of 25 to 35 lb b.s. Such tackle may appear to be on the pulley-hauling side, but it must always be remembered that with difficult shore fishing the strength of the tackle must be geared to overcome hazardous tackle handling, rather than just the fish itself.
Some seaward-projecting structures, however, present the gentlest of tides and sandy-bottomed fishing positions, necessitating the use of the very lightest of tackle - almost that used by the coarse fishing watchman. This is particularly true when fishing for harbour mullet which require a very subtle, silent coarse fishing approach.
A great deal of successful pier or harbour wall fishing can be done with the simplest of inexpensive tackle and a few fundamental terminal rigs. Provided the angler, who need not necessarily be highly skilled, studies the fishing conditions carefully, and presents the right bait when the fish are in a feeding mood (which could be at a certain state of the tide or during the hours of darkness - or both) good fishing can be had.
Long casting from piers is seldom necessary or absolutely vital to the making of good catches. Usually fish will be found lurking in search of food around the underwater structure, right below the angler's fishing stance. A standard length 'pier rod', about 8-10 ft long, will prove adequate when used in conjunction with a multiplier, a fixed-spool or a sea size centrepin reel. Short boat rods can also be used for pier and harbour wall fishing where the 'haul-up' is more or less perpendicular and there are no obstacles. If masses of rocks surround the fishing station and projections of various kinds present a definite hazard to the landing of a hooked fish, a longer rod will be of great assistance. This will enable the angler to steer his catch clear of the snags and haul it up, either directly with his tackle, or land it by means of a drop-net operated by one of his companions.
Match tackle with species
Line strength and hook sizes need to be matched to the size and species of fish expected. When the fishing ground is not 'tackle-hungry', for example, the pattern and weight of the lead used will be dictated by the strength of the tidal flow and the nature of the bottom which is being fished over. For general pier and harbour wall type fishing locations, where the usual catch may consist of the flatfish species - dabs, flounders and a possible plaice or two, small codling, whiting, wrasse, pollack, coalfish and the odd thornback ray and 'strap' conger eel - the main reel line could be fixed at a sensible 24 lb b.s. and the rest of the terminal tackle scaled down in steps to minimize tackle losses. The reel line to lead link in such cases would consist of a length of 20 lb b.s. and hook links or snoods of nylon 16 lb b.s.
Paternosters are pier favourites
The favourite bottom fishing terminal rig for piers has always been the paternoster, where one or more wire booms are mounted above the lead. This method, if three booms are used with a hook dropper suspended from each one, gives the angler a chance to experiment with three different kinds of bait and the fish have a varied 'menu' to choose from. Hook sizes should always match the size of the bait being used so that it can be mounted correctly and neatly presented.
Vary baits and hook sizes
Where both large and small fish species are expected, the bait offerings and hook sizes can be varied so that a bottom-feeding flatfish can take a lugworm offering on a 1/0 hook and a double figure cod can engulf a small dead sprat mounted on a size 6/0 hook higher up the terminal trace.
Winter fishing from piers, harbour walls, groynes and jetties may necessitate the use of stout rods and strong line to combat rough weather as well as the energies of the fish. In the warmer spring, summer and autumn months, however, a great deal of fine sport can be had by employing light, fine tackle techniques.
Coarse fishing 'specimen hunting' gear is admirably suited to the pursuit of large bass, which in summertime, especially at night, forage around piers and harbour walls. Likewise, light float fishing tackle will account for the ultra-shy mullet, garfish and mackerel which sport around at dusk and after dark in the vicinity of groynes and jetties, especially if quantities of waste food, vegetable matter or fish offal find their way into the water from fish quays or factories on the waterfront.
To avoid accidents and loss of life it is important that all shore anglers, particularly those fishing from angling stations above deep water, observe certain safety rules. Always observe strictly the rules of the pier or harbour wall so far as overhead casting, line strength and sinker weights are concerned. In rough weather, when waves are apt to break over the fishing station, leave the place well alone. On some piers, Tilley lamps and lanterns are banned because they constitute a navigational hazard when shone seawards.
Be careful when using a dropnet from piers or harbour walls with no guard rails and when climbing down perpendicular iron ladders or negotiating steep, weed-covered stone steps.
The Daily Express, Friday 17 November 1978 at page 43
A Winter on the Pier
Alan Bennett turns the spotlight on angling's big seaside show
Those stern, side-whiskered Victorian men of vision who built Britain's seaside piers saw them as an all-in-one packaged leisure centre of the times.
Folk could catch a boat, see a sideshow, breathe good clean air and experience the thrill of walking on water.
Pier building became a blue chip investment. Between 1870 and 1900 more than 50 piers were opened, and every one was a money-spinner. The builders believed that while their ventures were as sound as the cast iron they used, piers were purely a summer business - but happily they were not quite right.
Since the first pier was opened back in 1813 anglers have waited eagerly for the sideshows to close and the visitors to go home. Then out would come the rods for winter pier fishing.
About 50 of Britain's original 84 piers are still standing. Maintenance costs are fearsome and there is no prospect of any new ones.
Hardly a winter passes without the cruel sea pounding another Victorian vignette to sorry shrapnel. The days of fishing may be numbered, but the enthusiasm of the winter angling patrons is unabated. This weekend hundreds of pier anglers - experts and first time youngsters - will be out after lively codling, needle-toothed whiting and sweet-tasting dabs. Prospect for the next few months are excellent.
There were plenty of small codling well distributed around the coasts last winter and they are already showing up again as much bigger fish.
Several 20 lb. plus cod have been reported from the Clyde down to the South Coast. Off the Essex coast Skipper Owen Wooley of the Argonaut hauled up a mighty 30 lb. plus fish on a 12 lb. line.
Big fish like these are always hungry and will sweep close in to the piers and jetties hunting for their food.
One of the attractions of winter pier fishing is its simplicity. You don't have to cast huge distances - a simple drop down straight off the rails is often enough - and basic tackle and baits will catch fish.
There is no need for expensive beach-casting rods and fancy reels. A complete last-you-for-life outfit should not set you back more than £30. You don't need sophisticated baits either. Take your choice from lug, rag, small strips of mackerel or squid, herring melts, prawns, sprats or feathers.
The Daily Express, Friday 26 June 1981 at page 39
Hook for the Cook
Angling by Alan Bennett
A couple of angling pals in the Isle of Man claim the world speed record for catching, cooking and serving a mackerel. Last season they achieved this incredible culinary feat in less than one minute. Off the hook, into the already-sizzling pan and served up on the scrubbed pine table In the wheelhouse - a dish as dainty as ever emerged from the sea.
Many a schoolboy has started his sea angling career with a glinting string of freshly-caught mackerel. They are the most unsophisticated fish. Suicide pilots pulsating with power from nose to tail, ever hungry, hard-battling. Now, as the water warms, they are showing again all around our coasts, but I sometimes wonder how long they will continue to return.
Sadly, generations of commercial fishermen have taken the mackerel for granted, believing the shoals to be inexhaustible. The mackerel have been over-fished and, if care is not taken, the same fate that overtook the rich herring shoals could befall them. Sport fishermen can help to conserve mackerel stocks.
Take what you need for bait and your own table. Don't take more than you need … it's a sad sight to see scores of prime mackerel left to rot on the pier by anglers who should know better.
If you want a few tasty mackerel for the pot - and a scrap into the bargain - here's my favourite method. Try a light 7 to 8 ft. spinning rod, centre pin or fixed spool reel, 10 lb. breaking strain line and a small hook. I like a light balsa float and a couple of medium-sized split shot. Herring or mackerel strip makes a good bait, but herring roe is best.
In early summer mackerel feed mainly on sprats, plankton and small pilchards. By the middle of the season they are taking sand eels, marine worms and infant coal fish. Drift lining from the pier with light tackle on a sunny day can really be exciting. Use a mackerel or herring last with no weight. Pay out the line and let it drift with the current. Retrieve slowly. And when he hits that bait, keep your line tight. If you let it go slack, he will shake himself off the hook.
"Fishing for Bass: Strategy & Confidence" (1989) Mike Thrussell at pages 85 & 86
8. Specimen Fish
… Piers and jetties hold their share of good fish. A dead or live bait works best. Use the following rig: with your reel line threaded through the rings slide one eye of a swivel on to the line so that it slides freely; tie directly to the reel line a second swivel, large enough in the eye to halt the upper swivel; to the bottom eye of the second swivel tie 1.8-3 m (6-10 ft) of line and add the lead; to the first swivel tie a trace around 1.8 m (6 ft) in length and add your hook and bait (see Fig. 31). Hold on to the bait while you cast out the lead, or drop it over the side. Then when the lead is down, let the bait slide down the line. If you hold your rod you should be able to feel the bait become agitated as a big fish makes it presence felt. Bites are usually fairly savage affairs. This method only works effectively where you have depth and height to allow a steep trajectory of line. Some deep-rock marks also respond favourably to this trick.
"Sea Angling: Kent to Cornwall" (1990) Mel Russ & Alan Yates at pages 23 & 24
Deal has a pier, built in 1952. It is a stilted pier built over chalk rock and sand which offers excellent fishing for codling and pouting during winter and pouting, pollack, flatfish and the occasional bass and smoothhounds in spring. Fishing is best from the lower deck, and the west corner is best during a flood-tide. Try the east corner when the ebb is running.
Top baits are yellowtail lugworm and peeler crab with ragworm for the pollack and fish strip for garfish and scad. Mackerel and garfish can be caught from the pier during sunny August to October days and the same conditions yield a few mullet to bread flake fished between the pier piles."
"Sea Fishing: Expert Advice for Beginners" (1991) Trevor Housby at pages 29, 31, 32 & 33
The secret to pier and harbour fishing is to know where your fish are likely to be. Far too many anglers march to the end of the pier and cast out as far as possible. In most instances they overshoot the best fishing areas by many yards. The only time long casting is recommended is when the bait is cast to a specific area such as a patch of rock or an upthrust rock - the sort of place which might hold a conger or attract the attention of hunting cod. For the most part, pier fish are found under or directly in front of the pier structure or harbour stonework. Most species will be found close to the bottom. Pollack and bass might swim as high as mid water while mackerel and garfish patrol just under the surface.
Medium-weight beach casting tackle is near perfect for most pier and harbour fishing, while a lighter rod can be used for float or mullet fishing.
Terminal tackle used is very similar to that of rock fishing. For fish that swim from mid water to the surface a sliding float rig like the one recommended for float fishing from rocks  is perfect. For the smaller bottom fish a single hook paternoster will suffice, while for larger fish a simple running ledger is ideal.
The recommended baits for catching fish which frequent pier or harbour arms are worm for wrasse, fresh pouting flesh for mullet, and fish strip for the other major species. The larger fish prefer whole or cut fish or squid.
Many anglers automatically head for the end of a pier. This is alright for catching mullet, mackerel, garfish, pollack and cod. Other species such as bass and flat-fish prefer to swim and feed closer to the shore. The middle sections of a pier are therefore often highly productive.
For bass, it pays to watch the wave patterns and take up a position that allows you to cast between the third and fourth breakers. Bass use the breakers as a natural groundbait-providing machine - worms, crabs and small fish are dug out or by the tidal action and swept out by the undertow. A good bait in this situation is peeler crab or whole or cut sandeel.
In areas where heavyweight bass are known to exist, a half mackerel or whole calamari squid can be used as bait. Remember however: a big bait calls for a big hook.
 Pike floats make first-class sea floats, most of which look more like miniature lighthouses. The main purpose of any float is to support a bait at a given depth. Its use as a bite indicator is of secondary importance. Remember also that a float can only be set to fish over the shallowest section of a gully - any deeper and the tackle may become snagged. Most sea floats work on the sliding principle, the depth being set by a tiny section of rubber band hitched to the line at the required distance from the hook. To avoid the rubber band becoming jammed in the centre tube of the float, many anglers use a tiny shirt button or bead between it and the float top. The majority of traces are made up of 12in nylon with a hook at one end and a small barrel swivel on the other end. The float is slid onto the reel line as is the weight, normally a barrel type of the right size to cock the float. The trace is then tied to the end of the reel line.
"The Complete Book of Fishing: Tackle and Techniques" (1992) Alan Yates and Jed Entwistle at pages 62 to 73
7. Pier Fishing for Cod, Whiting, Pouting, Pollack, Mullet and Mackerel
… The biggest advantage a pier offers is that there is no need for long casting, with deep water within any angler's range, whether it is with an overhead thump or simply by dropping tackle alongside the wall. The pier offers comfort as well as safety, whilst the camaraderie that results from so many anglers fishing in close proximity is a great attraction in itself.
There is always a temptation to head for the very end of the pier. Logic has it that the further out from the shore you travel, the better chance you have of catching fish, and to an extent this is true. There are exceptions to the rule, however, and it may be better to avoid the end of the pier if you are a beginner as this is most likely to be crowded, and where the tide is probably at its strongest.
Piers offer the angler different fish environments and various species of fish all within easy reach; they are therefore a great place to learn different angling skills and techniques, and the ideal place for a junior angler to enjoy his apprenticeship. There are two main types of pier, the piled pier and the walled pier. Tackle and tactics for each are dif-ferent, and both are a mixture of those used for beach and promenade fishing, so here it seemed better to discuss the ways to fish the venue, rather than fishing methods for each particular species.
Fishing from a piled or stilted pier
… During the evenings and winter months they prove a popular venue for more serious angling, and most have a club which organises events and competitions.
The construction of these piers is such that a framework of wood and metal is supported on piles driven into the sea-bed. They are usually low to the sea, so the fishing is relatively easy. The powerful lateral tide experienced on walled piers is absent, as the tide meets little resistance from the piles or stanchions. Casting is usually unnecessary, and many species of fish can be found around the pier piles: bass, pollack, mackerel, garfish and mullet swim behind the piles out of the tide, and the maze of underwater and fallen framework found under some of the oldest Victorian piers is also home to conger eels. Other species swim close to the pier, though what these are depends upon the nature of the sea-bed - most piled piers are built on clean sand and therefore have a reputation for producing flatfish.
The tackle needed to fish most piled piers does not need to be heavy, and to a certain extent even coarse-fishing gear will cope; this can be used to fish between the pier piles, whilst more conventional shore-fishing gear is required for casting out from the pier.
Bottom fishing from a piled pier
The main problem that anglers encounter when bottom fishing from piled piers is related to the tide, because bait and tackle are presented differently, depending on which side of the pier you cast. Many anglers do not realise that the reason one side of the pier fishes best at high water and the other side at low water is because of the behaviour of the tackle in the tide, and not because the fish favour one side or another. If you fish into the oncoming tide, your baits and line are forced into a bow onto the sea-bed. If you fish with the tide, your baits and line are forced into a bow towards the surface and away from the sea-bed. Most of the bottom species of fish do feed on the bottom or within 6in (15cm) of it, and they will not take a bait 2ft (0.6m) off the sea-bed. The whiting is one of the few exceptions, and will occasionally take a bait which is higher off the bottom. To ensure that baits are hard on the sea-bed the angler can employ a different rig for fishing from each side of the pier; a flowing trace is favoured for fishing downtide, and the standard monofilament paternoster for fishing uptide. Alternatively, when fishing with the tide, if you allow the line to bow downtide the baits will eventually end up being close to the sea-bed. A compromise rig often preferred by experienced pier anglers is the one-up and one-down paternoster; this mixes both flowing trace and mono-paternoster, therefore covering either option.
Fishing between the piles
Perhaps the greatest sport to be had from the piled pier is by fishing amongst the piles and stanchions. The most efficient method is to fish a static line in mid water or just under the surface. Float fishing can be employed from some piers, but the tide makes this impractical from most, as the float can easily become snagged around the stanchions and so on under the pier. More control is achieved simply by dangling the rig alongside or behind a pile. According to the weight of the lead used, the angler will either fish straight down the side of a pile or - with a light lead - the tackle will be pushed under the pier with the tide. Small wriggly white ragworm, harbour ragworm, fish strip and bread are the favoured baits, and the species most likely to be encountered include pollack, bass, mullet, mackerel, scad and garfish. Small ragworms are best for pollack and these should be fished in bunches, hooked through the head so that they wriggle. Fish strip is ideal for mackerel or garfish, and if using a three-hook rig, bait the top hook with a long narrow sliver of mackerel or garfish cut from the belly of the bait fish. Mullet will take steamed bread flake, whilst small white ragworm and fish-based bread pastes work in some areas. Again, the hooks nearest the surface are those most likely to tempt a mullet, and so they should be baited accordingly. Food scraps are less likely to work from piled piers for mullet - scraps are more commonly found inside many harbours and estuaries, and it is here they will be more effective with the species. To catch mullet may require a more refined approach in some coastal areas; I have included them as they often do turn up when fishing this technique.
The terminal rig should be made up as long as is possible to handle with the rod used, as this allows a greater variety of depths to be fished, from the surface down. Booms or a straightforward monofilament paternoster are the preferred terminal rigs. Booms help to keep hook snoods apart and tangle-free from the body of the terminal rig when fishing in slack water. Some anglers who specialise in catching pollack and mullet use custom-made rods long enough to hang the rig away from, or angled under pier piles; these are held by a special rodrest fixed to the pier railings. Hook snoods can be as light as 6lb (2.7kg) breaking strain, to a maximum of 15lb (6.8kg) breaking strain, and these allow the bait to be presented naturally. Size 4 or 6 hooks are ideal, with the strongest patterns pre-ferred as the odd bass may occasionally come along …
Bites can be ferocious, especially those of pollack on a short line, pulling the rod over. In many instances fish have to be bullied out from behind the piles and it pays not to let them have too much line, so beware of fishing with the reel drag setting slackened. This is the type of fishing you should do in attendance of your rod, as bites can be sudden and end with tackle snagged and fish lost if you are not there. Moving the baits occasionally can prove deadly, the slight movement of the bait enticing the pollack to take. Finding and remembering the feeding depth is also important, and this can be done either by counting the reel handle turns up from the bottom, or marking the reel spool or line with tape or an elastic band. This method is very effective at night, with pollack coming to the surface. A Starlite chemical light-stick makes it easier to judge accurately the depth at which the rig is to be fished.
A net bag full of bread, fish waste, even cat food, and suspended by a rope under the surface can serve to attract mullet, pollack and the other species, whilst loose feed will work in some tide-less harbours. Ensure that the mesh of a bait net does not allow too much of the groundbait to escape - just a scent is needed. Also, watch for the tide rubbing the net against barnacles and suchlike, which will hole the net. An ideal groundbait sack is a standard onion bag, using two - one placed inside the other - where strong tide is encountered and there is greater risk of damage.
A landing net is essential for pier fishing, either the drop variety or a hand net if there are steps available. When using a net for landing mullet it is advisable to land them away from the groundbait source or fishing area. Alternatively use two rubby-dubby sacks placed some way apart. That way after each fish you can change positions.
It is possible to use techniques from both of the previous methods of fishing, thus giving the angler a chance of catching the bottom and mid water swimming species at the same time. This entails fishing a baited rig cast out onto the sea-bed, and then sliding a float rig down the line. Clip the rig onto the main line using an American snap-lead link, or the wire of a Breakaway lead lift which is even better. This method is an ideal way of catching mackerel and garfish which swim close to the surface, but care should be taken when using a sliding float rig that it does not interfere with other anglers, as in strong wind the technique can cause tangles as the float drifts over other lines. The same techniques can also be employed, less the float, to spread baited hooks over a wider area of the sea-bed, thus fishing out from the pier as well as alongside the piles during the same cast.
Fishing from walled piers
Walled piers, breakwaters or harbour arms are usually built as coastal protection or to provide a safe haven for boats and watercraft. They are therefore more permanent than piled piers, as well as being better maintained. Most are basic as far as amenities are concerned and consist of a long high wall with a lighthouse situated at the end. Customs, docks and commercial fishing restrict some areas on piers, notably the pier head where anglers' lines may prove a hazard to boats, or the inside wall where boats may dock. These walled piers are less likely to attract promenaders than the amusement piers and generally anglers have such places to themselves, often free of charge. In many cases angling clubs have obtained a lease from Harbour Authorities and you can fish the pier for a small fee.
Bottom fishing from walled piers
Many of the ideas and techniques for fishing alongside the piles of piled piers for pollack, mullet and scad can be applied to fishing close to the wall on walled piers. However, walled piers differ greatly when it comes to bottom fishing, because when the tide meets the solid wall it is funnelled along its length, and this creates a strong lateral movement which is difficult to combat, especially during the high water and spring tides. The first necessity is to hold the bait and rig in position, and this can be done with a fixed-wire grip lead. The snap-out Breakaway lead used on the beach does not give enough grip to combat the strongest tide, although placing an elastic band around the wires does improve their performance. Purpose-made fixed-wire grip leads are the most efficient means to beat strong tide, and the type of lead with the wires coming out of the nose is the best of all. By winding a short length of copper wire (1.0mm twin and earth domestic electrical cable) around the wires, the business end of the grip lead is several inches away from the weight of the lead and this, along with short stiff wires (18-gauge stainless steel) aids grip in the strongest tides. Most standard patterns of fixed grip lead can be equally improved by bending the wires so that they grip below the lead. This alters the centre of gravity of the lead and aids grip, on the same principle as adding a chain to a boat anchor to force it to dig into the sea-bed.
A smaller line diameter also serves to reduce tidal pressure on the line and therefore the lead. When fishing from piers over a clear sea-bed, lines of 151b (6.8kg/0.35mm dia) will allow the lead to hold bottom far more efficiently than heavy, large diameter lines.
Overcoming strong lateral tides also requires a degree of co-operation between anglers. Should one angler cast uptide in an effort to overcome the tide, he will cast over other anglers' lines which are bowed downtide. This can cause tangles and arguments which need not happen if anglers uncross lines as they cross, rather than waiting until the tide drags tackle downtide or anglers tangle each other's lines when they reel in.
The basic technique for beating strong tide is to cast slightly uptide and then let the lead sink and a bow of line develop. So often the angler stops the flow of line as the lead hits the water, which results in the lead dropping to the sea-bed downtide and much closer to the pier wall. You must take care to cast further than your uptide neighbour so that your lead will move outside his; failing that, you must take your rod over and back under his. At the same time, keep an eye on where your downtide neighbour casts; if he casts, short, then take your rod under and back over his and then back to its position. Anglers grouped together can also improve their chances by all reeling in at the same time. The make-up of the terminal rigs for fishing for cod, whiting, pout and flatfish from a walled pier in strong tide is basically the same as that previously described for beach and promenade fishing. Again, the decision rests with the angler as to whether to fish one large bait or two or three small ones.
There are variations on the monofilament paternoster, with a general opinion that fishing for bigger fish or from a high pier wall requires longer hook snoods to allow big fish such as cod to get the bait into their mouths. Use short snoods and the fish get a mouthful of trace line. That is the theory, although I don't totally subscribe to it myself. Long snoods do give the fish time to take the bait into their mouths before a bite registers on the rod tip, and this can sometimes be an advantage in that the angler does not strike prematurely. On the other hand, short snoods are favoured when fishing with sand eel for such species as dogfish, as they betray the slightest bite. Long snoods are ideal for fishing with a single hook, paternoster style, or with a short flowing trace, but it is important when fishing multi-hook rigs to keep snoods to a suitable length to prevent them tangling with each other. Remember, what a rig looks like on dry land is not as important as how it behaves underwater.
Strong tide will force the rig and baited hooks close to the sea-bed if it is cast out a reasonable distance from a pier wall. If you are fishing at short range in deep water, high up on a pier wall, it is important to ensure that your baits are on the bottom. Increasing the length of the hook snoods when fishing hooks up the line, paternoster style, helps the situation, with the longest snood placed at the top of the terminal rig.
The ideal terminal rig for pier fishing is one including a short boom close to the lead; additional snoods can be placed paternoster style above the boom if required. The boom ensures that the lower bait is fished hard on the sea-bed, and is ideal when fishing at very short range. Both cod and whiting will sometimes only accept a bait nailed close to the sea-bed, and the combination of one boom and one snood above is a most effective terminal rig for fishing in very strong tide, especially when there are dramatic changes in tidal strength. The length of the boom snood need be no longer than 3ft (0.9m), with a swivel placed at the end of the boom to protect the line from breaking when small fish spin up. The boom also serves to keep the line clear of the fixed grip lead. When using long-wired leads you can prevent the line being damaged by the grip wires by increasing the strength of the snood line for the first 8in (20cm) from the boom with the aid of a blood knot.
Fishing in strong tide has an added bonus: because of the tidal pressure on the fish to maintain their position, they need to attack the baits on the move. They therefore dart in, grab the bait and invariably hook themselves, and there are none of the frustrations of missed bites that can be experienced in tide-less conditions. Bites are often registered by the fish pulling the lead out of the sea-bed - and of course the fish is then already hooked.
Because of the lateral tides produced by most walled piers, when the fish swimming up the tide meet the pier, they are then forced around it. This produces hotspots where fish are congregated by the tide; these can either be in the form of an eddy close to the end of the pier, or at the start of the pier where the tide first meets the wall. A build-up of sand or shingle in these regions, or excess rocks from the building of the pier, can force the fish to pass in a set place or at a set distance, making ideal ambush points. Casting distance, direction and being able to hold bottom are therefore much more crucial to success when fishing from a walled pier.
Strong tide poses a danger to tackle because it can pull an unsupervised rod over or along pier walls and railings. A luggage strap is ideal for securing rods to railings, whilst from a wall the rod should be placed low, with no more than a third sticking out over the wall. A short piece of plastic hosepipe, split and placed over the rod blank, or half a rubber ball complete with rod rest V cut into it, protects varnish and rod rings from damage.
Fishing for mackerel from piers
Mackerel are occasionally taken on bait whilst fishing for other species from the pier, but they are more deliberately fished for with feathers and lures. The technique is generally frowned upon by serious anglers, with mackerel considered as a legitimate angling target only when they are needed for bait. However, thousands of anglers fish for mackerel from piers during the summer months when they are an easy target for the holiday angler or novice.
Feathering is the most effective technique to catch mackerel which, when shoaled up and feeding on the small whitebait and brit, work themselves into a frenzy, grabbing anything that moves. Feathered lures work well, but even bare silver hooks or silver paper wrapped around a hook will take fish in this situation - huge bags can be caught by the novice with ease, simply by dragging six bright lures through their midst, sink and draw. The greed promoted in us by such easy fishing means that anglers catch many more fish than they can carry home, and on occasions dead fish are dumped back in the sea. Hence the unfortunate reputation that feathering has gained amongst the majority of anglers. This is a pity because the mackerel is one of the speediest fighters in the sea, and on light spinning gear he has few rivals. A single lure on a light spinning outfit fished from the pier at dusk is a fun way to catch mackerel for bait or for the pot.
There are a few points worth noting about feathering for mackerel: first, a warning about the commercial mackerel feathers on sale. Most are tied with inferior knots and in line which is too light. A snapped-off lead poses much danger on a pier crowded with mackerel anglers, and my advice is to buy ready-tied feathers with care. Failing that, you can make up your own or retie the commercial sets using stronger line.
Some of the dayglow designs are very effective, but they do tend to fall to pieces after catching a few fish. I prefer to tie my own feathers and use trout lures for the job. These smaller and more deliberate designs will catch pollack, whiting, bass, lance, coalfish, pout, scad and mackerel, and they bring a new dimension to feathering. The most effective flies include Jack Frost, Appetiser, Missionary, Zonkers, Whisky, Dog Nobblers and Cat's Whisker. These lures can be purchased in hook sizes ranging from 6 to 12, and although they are a little on the small size for mackerel, they are ideal for several other species. Alternatively if you know a fly tier, get him to tie the lures on bigger hooks such as 1s or 2s. The lures can be made up on rigs of three or four with 4in (10cm) snoods. There is no real need for sets of six, as a rig full of mackerel is difficult to pull up the pier wall.
Fish the lures 'sink and draw' - lift the rod and then reel in as you lower it down again. The speed of the retrieve and the depth to which the lures are allowed to sink, gives the angler the means to search the different levels of the water for fish. Another method which works on occasions is to creep the lures slowly along the sea-bed. A heavy lead improves the standard sink-and-draw feathering technique, as it increases the speed of the lures as they sink. Thus fish are attracted to the lures both as they are lifted and as they sink. If you are filling the freezer with bait or simply catching mackerel to eat, a cool box and a couple of ice packs keep the fish fresh. Gutted as they are landed and transferred to the cool box, they will arrive home fresh, and will also keep in much better condition if being used for bait in the future.
"Cod Fishing: The Complete Guide" (1997) Dave Lewis at pages 106 to 109
5. Shore Fishing for Cod
Piers and breakwaters are among the most productive of fishing marks for the shore-bound angler. These man-made structures provide shore anglers with easy access to deep water, without having to resort to boats, and they attract many species of fish in exactly the same way as a wrecked ship lying on the sea bed quickly becomes inhabited by a multitude of marine life, which in turn attracts larger species of fish. The base and underwater section of piers and breakwaters very quickly become encrusted with a rich variety of life, attracting thousands of small fish and their predators. On occasion, cod move among the pier pilings and along the base of breakwaters to feed and can be caught by dropping a bait straight down from the vantage point above; however, more often than not the best cod fishing will be had by those anglers casting well away from the actual structure.
Breakwaters - and to a far lesser extent elevated piers - deflect the flow of tide, which over the years scours out a deep-water channel off the end of the structure. The exact position of this deep-water channel will depend upon many factors such as the direction and rate of flow of the main tidal current in relation to the length and angle of the breakwater. Often one side of the pier will be flushed with a very strong flow of water, while the water on the other side, generally the inner side, will be comparatively slack. Often the best place to catch cod will be wherever the water is at its deepest and fastest.
One of the biggest problems which many anglers encounter when fishing off piers and breakwaters is holding bottom with their terminal rig in the strong run of water. Naturally, grip leads will almost always be required, but even then the flow of water off many of these locations is such that even the largest leads are ripped straight out of the sea bed, unless the angler adopts the correct approach.
The answer when faced with such testing conditions is to treat fishing fast water off piers and breakwaters in exactly the same way as when fishing off a boat, i.e. by uptiding. The angler casts his bait well uptide of the spot which he intends fishing and allows it to sink swiftly to the sea bed. When the angler feels his lead touch bottom he releases a bow of slack line which helps the lead to maintain its grip on the sea bed by reducing the angle of pull. The reel spool is now re-engaged and the rod placed securely in its rest, with its tip bending over in the tide.
When a fish locates the bait, the bite will be registered in one of two ways. Firstly, the angler will see the tip of his rod nodding, and secondly, which is generally the case with larger fish, the next indication he will see will be when the rod tip suddenly springs upright as the fish breaks the lead out of the sea bed. In either case, the fish invariably hook themselves against the resistance of the anchored grip lead.
Running leger rig incorporating a wishbone rig.
In use this offers the best chance of catching large and small fish. The combined scent trail from two small baits is equivalent to one large one, and attracts fish of all sizes. Small fish can take just one bait while larger ones often take both. The rig can also be fished as two Pennell rigs for maximum hooking power.
Different anglers use a wide range of end rigs when fishing from piers and breakwaters, the final choice often being dictated by the range at which the angler intends to fish, the depth of water and the exact nature of the sea bed, i.e. rough ground or clean. My own favourite pier rig when targeting cod is the simple running-leger rig, which apart from being very easy to tie casts well and presents what are often large baits in a very natural way. Occasionally I adapt the hook-length to a wishbone rig which gives me the best option for catching both large and small fish. Piers and breakwaters are excellent venues from which to fish a livebait rig …
Landing fish, especially large fish, from piers and breakwaters can be difficult. The answer is to ensure you have a drop-net ready to hand should you need one. Many tackle shops now sell purpose-made drop-nets, though equally functional nets are very easily made. Climbing down to land fish by hand can be very dangerous, especially in rough seas, and is therefore best avoided.
The correct angle to cast when fishing off a pier or breakwater with a strong run of the tide.
The angler casts to B and the lead touches the bottom at C and grips. The angler then releases a bow of slack line into the tide to help the lead maintain its grip.
"Hooked on Bass" (2003) Alan Vaughan & Mike Ladle at pages 147 to 151 & 154 to 158
9. Pier Fishing
I … allowed the current to sweep the bait to the bottom, between the piles, and let the 1-ounce lead bump the bottom; before I had wound a foot of line I got a fish at almost every cast. P. Wadham, B.S.A.S. Quarterly, 1921
Whilst many anglers seem to regard pier fishing as synonymous with beginner's fishing, there is no way to ignore the fact that every year a lot of bass are caught from piers. Up and down the country local anglers, with expert knowledge of their piers, make regular catches of bass in season.
The reasons are not hard to find. Bass are chiefly inshore, shallow-water fish and piers are structures enabling baits to be easily placed where the fish are sheltering from the main current and feeding. A pier can, of course, be used simply as a fishing platform for casting to a known or suspected holding area of the surrounding seabed, for example a rock or weed patch; however, this chapter is about the piers themselves as holding areas.
The piers which have the best fishing are usually those that do not dry out at low water. If there is always some water under a pierhead, then there will be more seaweed growing on the piles, and plenty of shelter for small fish and crabs, prawns and other crustaceans. Bass will, according to the time of year, weather and appetite, frequent such areas, and then the angler, by using appropriate methods, can catch these fish. At times, very big bass are caught from piers; sometimes they have been deliberately angled for.
Piers that dry out at low water and solid stone piers are popular fishing venues and some of them produce fish consistently. However, the solid, jetty-type pier is best considered as a rocky headland, whilst the other type, visible as a bare skeleton at low tide, will vary in its fishing characteristics; often more will depend on the nature of the surrounding seabed than anything else.
Anyone who has spent a few hours investigating the life which is visible under a pier will realise the variety that can exist, even where the bottom is only sand. The piles serve as foundations for the different seaweeds, mussels, barnacles, limpets and hydroids, and, in their shelter, clinging to the woodwork or living in cracks, are a host of crustaceans, such as prawns, sea slaters and different types of crabs. Here too are many different small fish, secure in the more sheltered environment and feeding on the smaller animals present. The commonest fish are usually blennies, gobies, small pouting, poor cod, pollack, wrasse, pipefish, fifteen-spined sticklebacks, baby flatfish and, perhaps sandeels.
At low water the scour pools at the bases of the piles provide a refuge for prawns and small fish. All these organisms are food for larger fish such as conger, pollack and bass, and, if a pier is within the geographical range of bass, at some time or another they will be there and their numbers may be large. I once saw many thousands of average-to-large bass in a shoal … Looking back, I find several things of interest. First, there were no small fish; these were all mature bass. Second, they were in a large, dense shoal in the middle of the summer; they were not in small groups that might have been feeding in different places. Third, they were going somewhere; they were not interested at all in feeding. Perhaps they were keeping together in order to feed on some equally large shoal of small food-fish, but we saw no hint of feeding behaviour as they swam out and over the sand in three or four feet of water.
Bass are likely to be present around piers roughly from May till October and angling methods need to be varied to make the most of each part of the season. The bass will be found at various depths; usually the smaller fish are higher in the water than the larger ones, but sometimes very big bass are caught on baits fished at or near the surface.
Any of the methods known to be effective for bass can be used, but it is well to remember that the line needs to be able to withstand the chafing action of the piles and of the barnacles which encrust them. It may also have to cope with lifting a fish to safety if steps or a drop net are not available (but this should be only a last resort). Any angler intending to specialise in bass fishing from piers is advised to acquire a drop net. However, this does not mean that the rod needs to be an 8-foot broomstick. A 9-foot spinning rod is quite suitable, although a slightly shorter rod can be handy for fishing actually underneath a pier, on lower platforms where headroom is restricted. Steps, lower decks or launching ramps often permit the normal use of a net or gaff and, before commencing to fish, the first consideration should be whether access to such structures is possible.
Early in the season, during May and June, pier-haunting bass take worm baits well, particularly large king rag and white rag. More fish are taken if baits are fished above the bottom to avoid other, smaller, fish and the host of crabs waiting there to steal them.
The method which is most productive is drifting or simply dangling a large ragworm underneath the pier, searching the different levels until fish are found. A spinning rod is ideal for this because very little weight is required; simply fix a small weight about three feet from a 2/0 hook. Bass are usually found at the side of the pier which the current strikes and will generally be just beneath the pier waiting behind or slightly to one side of the piles.
In daylight the fish keep to the shade, unless chasing small fish such as sandeels, and they are usually a lot easier to tempt at night. A useful routine is to swing the tackle out into the current, let it sink down and under the pier and then, with the small weight only, the bait rises up and lies several yards behind your position and under the decking. The bait should then be slowly retrieved. Takes are usually positive, but quite often a fish can be felt to almost suck at the bait. When this happens, a very gentle lift will sometimes encourage the bass to take more positively, but equally often the fish will only remove the tail of the worm. This tail should then be replaced with another worm. Bass taken in mid-water (where most of them are) are seldom caught on a worm without an attractive moving tail. Takes are most frequent as the bait rises up from the bottom, or on the retrieve, and a sharp strike usually hooks the fish.
A variation on the same method involves the use of a live prawn. In high summer, when the bass are splashing about and not taking worms, prawn baits will often produce fish.
If peeler or soft crabs are available, they can be used in the same way as the other baits. Bass do not seem to find it odd to discover a crab suspended in mid-water, and it is a killing bait. However, it probably pays to fish crab on the bottom, as a bait to tempt a larger fish, since most mid-water bass in these situations are fish of less than 5 lb.
Float fishing is also effective in these situations. A float will carry the bait to surface or mid-water feeding fish right under the middle of a pier. This method is fraught with dangers, however, since tackle losses can be frequent. The use of expendable floats such as old wine bottle corks is a good idea.
In such circumstances the float cannot be watched, of course, and the line is let out in small bursts, being held back every few seconds to make the bait rise up in the water in an attempt to induce a take. Bites are felt and must be struck immediately; then some luck is required.
… In the middle months of July and August bass are sometimes difficult to tempt. They are more likely to take crab than worm, and occasionally will appear preoccupied, at the surface, with feeding on small fish. When prawn and crab fail to produce fish, spinning is worth a try, but if light lines are used tackle losses are almost bound to be heavy, since bass, although not usually fish to seek snags, are quite likely to swim between pier supports and the line then contacts the piles. A very attractive (and cheaper) bait than expensive spoons or spinners is a strip of fish, such as mackerel or garfish. This can be hooked through one end if it is less than three inches long, but should be arranged with the hook in the middle if it is longer.
If it is possible to obtain live sandeels, these are excellent summer pier-fishing baits - freelined, or drifted using a light lead, or float-fished. The sandeel can be lip hooked or hooked in the belly via the mouth and gill-cover.
A method which I have not tried in recent years, but one which my father used to great effect, taking many fish up to 9½ lb, is 'spinning' a sole-skin lure on the surface at night. The piece of sole skin, roughly fish-shaped, is hooked at one end and moved through the water either by casting out and retrieving steadily or by working the lure directly underneath the rod tip in a figure-of-eight pattern. When the latter method is used, the best place to choose is near a pier light. (We often used to improvise a light by tying a torch to the railings to shine on the water.) Bass in the vicinity gradually seem to become aware of the lure - possibly repeated movement gives an impression of many active bait fish - and eventually the bass start slashing at it. I remember many evenings when the only fish caught were bass taken on a sole-skin lure fished in this manner. Anyone interested in trying this method for the first time should not be put off by the appearance of dry sole skin; when it is wetted it becomes extremely pliable, but remains very tough. The white belly skin is obtained from a fishmonger (or by catching your own sole), dried and then cut into strips. Feathers, muppets and streamer flies should work in the same way.
During the days when I did a lot of fishing from various piers on the Isle of Wight, although our group caught a great many bass, the really big fish were usually taken by anglers bottom-fishing with big baits of fish, squid or cuttlefish. At the time I was young and had neither the patience nor confidence to give up the tactics which I knew regularly produced fish for a less active method. Bottom fishing was unable to satisfy our hunting instinct, for we spent a lot of time trying this place and that during different states of the tide to find fish in mid-water. This to me was bass fishing.
We prided ourselves on knowing where fish would be at a particular state of the tide, but occasionally we would feel envious of a large bass taken by someone else on a bottom-fished bait.
If I were to spend a lot of time pier fishing these days, I would certainly put in plenty of hours using large baits fished on the bottom. For the pier angler with the larger fish on his mind, the best tactic must be bottom fishing right under the pier or next to the piles with a large crab or fish bait - and I do mean large. As a rough guide, a bait with a bulk less than that of a matchbox is too small. A big bass can take the largest soft shore crab with ease; a five-inch fish, a six-inch strip of cuttlefish, or a whole calamari-sized squid are equally acceptable alternatives.
The problem with this type of fishing is primarily that the bait may be taken by other fish, particularly conger (less chance of that if crab is used), but should there be a big bass in the vicinity it's odds on that the large bait will interest it; a worm bait probably will not. Then be ready for action, and have your net handy!
The most likely tactic to succeed with really large bass in such situations is a paternostered livebait. Sandeel, sand-smelt, pouting, wrasse and almost any other small fish are extremely attractive to these really big fish. A very ingenious method which has produced many good bass was developed in the south-east of England. This is the use of floating dead pouting, particularly at night. The fish are injected with air from a hypodermic syringe and then freelined on the surface. Some very large fish have been taken by this method, which is most often used from piers.
Every pier is, of course, different, but some additional hints may prove useful. In general the best times are when the tide flows strongly, and particularly during the first of the increasing flow in a new direction following slack water, although fish may be caught at any state of the tide. (Slack water, with no real flow, may not coincide with low and high waters; often the direction of the current changes during the ebb or flood, depending on geographical location. In any case the new flow seems to be a good time.) Gradually, as you come to understand your pier intimately, there is great satisfaction in knowing where fish are likely to be during the different stages of the tide.
Bass are usually easiest to catch at the beginning and end of the season, during May and June, and then again in September and October. It is almost always best for fishing natural baits if the water is not too clear, and often it is better if the sea is choppy; in general a very rough sea is not much good, and may even be dangerous on some piers.
It is frequently difficult to gather bait from a pier, but little pouting (at night) and wrasse (in daytime) can often be caught next to the piles by using small paternostered baits. Also, especially at low water, prawns can be gathered, from May onwards, by netting around the bases of the piles. At night the eyes of prawns glow brilliantly red if a torch is shone into the water. This can make prawning at night a practicable proposition, since a quick flash with a light will pick out the location of every prawn in the vicinity.
Frequently, even when mid-water fishing, fish other than bass may be taken. Those most commonly caught are small pollack, scad, garfish and mackerel, in about that order (with some variation from pier to pier). At times, large numbers of these may be taken, whereas the number of bass caught will rarely exceed about a dozen fish. (My own best effort was fifteen fish, with an average size of about 2 lb.) Usually two or three bass are reason enough to feel pleased. On many occasions I have been unable to resist giving attention to other fish that were obviously present. When using a light rod there is plenty of enjoyment in taking mackerel, garfish or scad, which are usually easier to catch than bass anyway. For example, having initially intended to fish for bass, I recall on one occasion taking 63 pollack; 36 scad was the catch on another trip and 22 garfish on another. Even now, when I concentrate wholeheartedly on bass fishing in the summer, I could be tempted to try for other fish if I failed in my main intention.
American scientists have studied the effect of submerged mid-water artificial structures (for example pier piles) on the deployment of forage fish and predators. The predators were not bass but king mackerel and little tunny; however, the principles are exactly the same. Many small bait-fish took advantage of the 'bow-wave effect' upstream of the piles, holding station in the quiet water, whilst smaller numbers of little fish sheltered behind the structures. The predators took up their stations further downstream of the piles or closer to the seabed, positions from which they could strike at any fish which became separated from the protection of the schools. Multiple structures, such as piers, were found to attract and concentrate fish much more effectively than single structures, such as isolated rocks, and differences were observed in the species of fish found at different depths. Apparently fish very rapidly moved in to congregate round newly introduced structures. These conclusions confirm the notion of pier piles or bridge supports forming a focus for different fish, and the predators seem to take up station in exactly the same way as bass around pier piles.
Using artificial lures from piers or bridges is essentially similar to lure fishing in other situations. It usually pays to fish close to the supporting structures, bearing in mind that the bass will usually be in positions sheltered from the main flow. By using small pirks, German sprats or 'willow-leaf' spoons according to the strength of flow (the heavier lures will generally be needed when the tide is flowing swiftly), it is possible to fish more or less vertically downwards or to let the current carry the lure between the piles. The best type of lure action is the one which produces the most realistic swimming action on the drop. The basic principles of spinning - which involve needle-sharp hooks, a very firm strike and careful representation of the size, shape, colour and movement of the acceptable prey - all apply.
The use of strings of feathers, muppets or even Red Gills, jigged above a lead (or a pirk), is favoured in some areas. Dave Bourne of Dover, a skilled exponent of lure fishing, says that one method used from his local breakwater involves two or three Red Gills fished up the line, using a sink-and-draw method along the sides of the wall. Bass caught on lures from this mark tend to come after dark. This last point seems significant, and sole-skin lures fished in this way could certainly pay off handsomely. Dave says of the effectiveness of night-time spinning:
"I think that this is mostly because the bass feed on the surface after dark, which makes it easier to spin for them, rather than trying to work a lure near the bottom during daylight when you are about fifty feet above where the bass are feeding, on the bottom in a 3- or 4-knot tide."
It seems likely that, in strong flows of water such as that described above, a paternostered plug or livebait could be very effective. By altering the lengths of the links on the paternoster it would be possible to fish at various distances from the seabed.
"Dave's Sole Fishing Blog" (2006 to 2012) David Slingsby
"Bless my Sole" (2012) M. Davies
My favourite fish to target is the Dover Sole and over the past 10 years I have enjoyed a certain amount of success around the Kent Coast, even winning the 1999 Sole Open match at Dungeness.
I much prefer to fish for sole on purely pleasure sessions when I am able to experiment and also when I am alone, as this species requires both still and quiet conditions. Several scores of 6oz leads crashing into the sea do not help at all when targeting this species. So very often competitions fished over venues noted for large numbers of sole do not produce and I believe that noise is obviously a factor.
I find that still, balmy nights or early morning sessions between July and October seem to produce best results but best of all are those times and tides that coincide with the still before a thunderstorm - the high pressure is perhaps a factor. However if you stay and fish through the storm be very careful as carbon-based fishing rods and lightning don't mix. I saw on man get struck twice in the same night on Deal Pier so the saying "lightning never strikes in the same place twice" is definitely wrong.
Let's look at where to fish for this now quite common species. Living at Deal, and within walking distance from the Pier, makes a session easy and, as long as I have bait, I am able to pick a time and tide to suit at a moment's notice. Deal Pier was opened in 1957 and is the only pier that I know that was built with the angler in mind. It has a long 'stem' from which angling is allowed on both sides and a lower deck at the far end from which anglers can cast out into deeper water. However, one of the best marks on the Pier does not need a long walk. The stem has a section where the railings are painted yellow which denotes the area where boats are allowed to pass under the pier, and it is at the end of the yellow rails that you should set up to fish. The seats here are numbered and numbers 80 to 90 can produce good results. Fish two hours either side of the high tide on the south side of the pier (facing Kingsdown.) You do not need to cast far, in fact dropping under the pier can often be the place to be but I have found that you may need to try to find the sole as I believe the sand banks around here move and the fish move with them. Swing your tackle into the water or drop it and try not to make too big a splash. Let the tackle drop to the bottom and let out some slack line. Fishing into the tide allows the flow to push the tackle down so that all the hooks are on the bottom to get best results.
The tackle I use here very often gets laughed at and seems to be 'old fashioned' but it gets results. I use very light rods, usually a pair of Daiwa bass rods, but I have recently been trying Conoflex's Reflexor that was made for my daughter Emma for the World Championships last year in Portugal. It is ideal for fishing light for this species. I use a 3 or 4 oz breakaway lead and three metal French booms set about 1 foot apart. My hook length is made from 15 lb Tritanium line to a size 6 kamasan B940 hook and is usually only 6 inches long. This set up looks strange but, I can assure you, it gets results from the Pier.
As the tide eases I sometimes connect a small round lead between 1 and 3 oz at the top of the trace. This helps to keep all three hooks in contact with the seabed. My bait here will vary and, like the sandbanks, you may need to experiment to see what the fish are feeding on. I would always take ragworm but blow lug and wrapped yellow tails or combinations also work well. Keep the bait small and neat, half a worm will be enough to take fish up to 2 lb here.
The other noted place on Deal Pier is the far, front, left or north corner facing Ramsgate. There is a sandbank 30 to 40 yards out and in line with Ramsgate Harbour. Similar tackle or a standard 3 hook flowing trace, again with light hook lengths and size 6 hooks, cast out here can produce results. The best tide is often over low water. This mark will also produce large numbers of Dabs in the spring.
My other favourite venues for sole are at Hythe behind the swimming pool and at Dungeness. At Hythe the low tide is often best and darkness will always be the best time. Fish very light again and don't be frightened to cast your tackle into the water at just a rod's-length out. Again, try to be quiet and don't make too big a splash. I recently fished a species competition here and caught six sole. I was using the Conoflex Reflexor and I went down to size 10 hooks with small pieces of ragworm and bunches of maddies (harbour rag). The fish were taken at about 15 feet in on a very calm night. I discovered here that, if I cast further out I found rough ground for about 20 to 30 yards on the low tide but I did catch fish when I found the softer ground. On the high tide you therefore need to cast either in front of this rough ground or over it.
At Dungeness park your car near the gate to the road that goes around the back of the power station but be careful not to leave valuables in the car as there has been trouble with thieves. Walk to the end of the fence and turn around the back of the power station about 50 yards. Here there is a hut on the beach (I think bird watchers use it). Fish anywhere here for excellent results. Use a 3-hook trace with one of the hooks dropping below the weight. The hook length again I prefer to be light and clear and about 21 inches long. I use a size 6 or 4 Kamasan B940. The size 4 hook is probably needed as here the fish can be up to 3 lb and when they coil their body into the tide like a sail they can easily pull themselves off the hook. Here I have had best results with black lug and lug tipped with ragworm. Don't be afraid to fish close in here but be prepared to experiment and try again to find the distance at which the fish are feeding - normally a cast of 40 to 50 yards will be sufficient but if you are fishing with two rods vary the distances. Best times to fish here are over the low tide up and night-time, and early mornings can produce large numbers of good fish.
Sole, when feeding, tend to settle over the bait and suck it into their very small mouths. Your rod tip may quiver and twitch but be patient as the fish needs time to get the bait into its mouth. When the bait is taken and the fish moves the rod tip may lurch forward as if taken by a cod and may drop back slack. You can reel in now and may be rewarded with two or three fish for your patience. Don't forget to be quiet. Cast your tackle into the sea with care. Don't make too much splash when casting your weight into the sea and be patient when you see the rod tip quiver and rattle. I hope these tips will help you when it comes to catching sole. They are now common around the English coast and with a little thought can be easily caught. Use small hooks, light tackle and small ragworm or lug baits and your results should improve.