Back to Basics – Pier Fishing
  |  First Published: August 2009

There is a strange feeling about land-based fishing that lures me back time after time. Although sometimes it’s hard giving up the boat fishing option, there’s just something about sitting on the end of a pier that is truly satisfying.

Research, understanding and knowing the area are all vital keys to having good success when fishing of the humble pier. For the pier-based angler it is a little more challenging to find good fish but with a little local knowledge and refined techniques the rewards can be endless.

Pier Advantage

Fishing from a platform such as a pier enables many anglers access into deeper water; this may be a channel or there could even be some sort of structure in which fish will seek shelter, this also applies to the pier itself.

There are literately thousands of piers around the country and at each one you have the ability to catch top quality fish. Take Western Port in Victoria for example; there are 10 piers within Western Port that fish considerably well for different species. Sure many of the same species can be caught but because of water depth some piers fish different to others. Although there will be a similar basic technique to each, but it is the rigs, baits and location of the cast that will differ.


There are many different techniques associated with fishing from a pier. Different fish require different rigs, hook sizes and baits in order to catch them and it pays to do your research on what you want to catch before venturing on your trip.

When I go to the local pier, I first pick a species I want to target. Of course I can’t go to Cowes Pier and try to catch a marlin, (although it would be nice); I have to stay within my means and learn about what fish usually hang around that location.

Once you have decided on the species you would like to catch, learn about it; what it eats, where it lives, how big is it, where in the water column does it feed?

All this information will assist you in targeting that fish and you will have more of a chance to catch it using the correct gear that corresponds with the answers to the above questions.


The beauty about fishing from a pier is that you are able to catch a variety of species. Not just that but each pier generally fishes better for one particular species that another.


When chasing gummies from a pier, a basic running sinker rig setup is required. Gummies feed along the sea floor sniffing out potential meals; if your offerings are on the bottom then you’re in with a good chance. The basic requirements for making a running sinker rig are using 80lb trace line and either one 6/0 circle hook or two 6/0 suicide hooks for a two hook rig.

Finding a pier where you’re likely going to hook a gummy shark can be easy by roughly knowing the depths at the end of your chosen location. Cowes, Corinella, Stony Point and Flinders are all good locations to begin. All are deep having access into the channels with mud banks nearby. 12ft surf rods are recommended to cast baits out into the deeper water. Mainlines should be 20 or 30lb; braid is preferred. Try whole fresh calamari, cured eel fillets, fresh salmon fillets, and even the humble pilchard to entice one of these toothless sharks to your bait.


One of the most common species caught at any pier is the humble flathead. For some, these are the tastiest fish in the sea but lack that adrenalin pumping fight when hooked. Anglers using either a paternoster or running sinker rig are more likely to hook a few flatties. Bluebait, squid, whitebait and cut pilchards are their favourite foods. Flathead are a bottom feeder so any bait placed on the bottom is sure to snap them up.

You don’t need to go to extremes with your tackle but leader should be around 20lb in case you hook into something a little more exciting.


Catching snapper from a pier is quite a challenge. The best run is between October and December when they enter the bays to spawn. Most anglers usually only manage one or two at the most but with the correct baits and rigs more fish can be taken. Either a paternoster or running sinker rig is the best setup on a 10kg outfit. Hook size is best kept around a 4/0 to 6/0 size hook with whole baits fitted. Pilchards, fresh calamari, garfish and even fresh fish fillets work very well. Baits should be cast out into the channels or near reefs where snapper will frequent.

If you’re keen on hooking into a red then during a westerly wind try your luck at Mornington Pier along the rock wall. This is best fished with a running sinker rig and whole fresh calamari, silver whiting or garfish. The high tide on sun up is most productive, as fish will often feed close in the shallows. Your cast needs to be about 70m as this is the edge of the reef system.

Both Cowes and Stony Point piers in Western Port are equally as good. Though at Stony Point you’ll need to cast to the left about 50m to get your bait near the reef system that holds fish. Cowes is mostly mud and the fish are often passersby: fresh baits are the key on running sinker rigs.


Just about every pier in the southern states has good populations of salmon and trevally beneath them. They can be caught during any time of the day but a high tide is preferable. If the tide is running you will need to pick which side of the pier to fish. If you fish the end of the pier you may want to use a berley mixture and place a berley pot just below the water’s surface; this will attract the salmon and trevally to your area.

Small long shank hooks in size 10 or 8 will suffice tied onto a paternoster rig. Anglers using Bass yabbies have the best success but pipi and pilchard fillets will also work if cast into the berley trail. 2-4kg outfits provide anglers with excellent sports fishing opportunities.

A 12lb leader is recommended because these species are often under the pier and when hooked attempt to dart under the safety of the pylons. You will have to cast your baits as close to the pylons as possible if you want to catch them.


From February until the beginning of May, elephant fish are a popular catch for land-based anglers. They are quite large averaging 5kg in weight and provide great angling opportunities for pier based anglers. Corinella, Grantville, Rhyll, Cowes and Stony Point piers all provide access to catching these easy to catch fish. Running sinkers with a 3/0 circle hook is ideal so the elephants don’t swallow the hook. They respond well to berley with pilchard fillets, small squid strips and pipis being the tastiest baits.


Locations like Corinella and Stony Point piers and the Warneet Jetty all have the potential for anglers to catch numbers of whiting. A small berley pot of mashed pilchards and pellets placed on the sea floor will aid in attracting whiting to your area. Just remember, pilchard fillets, pipi, mussel, squid strips and live bass yabbies are all worthy baits. Size 10 to 1 long shank hooks or KL 1/0 circle hooks enable the fish to hook themselves. Whiting are quite a finicky fish so use light tackle where possible. Once you land a fish, keep casting into the same area. Whiting are a schooling fish so when you hook one there are usually quite a number around.

Each and every pier has a specific way and time that it fishes best. Finding out all the answers to pier fishing requires time and effort. If you’re new to land-based pier angling, don’t be afraid to ask questions; local knowledge is priceless.



Berleying from a pier can be done in many ways; the most useful and cheapest is to hang an onion bag into the water on a long rope. This can contain, fish pellets or a block of mashed pilchards, even a can of cat food will do.



Remember when fishing from a pier to take your rubbish home or put it in the bin. How many times do you see discarded bait bags, beer cans or stubbies left on the pier? Do the right thing, put it in the bin.

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