The best way to fish a sea wall or pier

You have all seen them. They stand on the pier or sea wall and cast for the horizon. Daft really, says Alan Yates, when the fish are feeding close to the wall. Here’s how to do it

THERE’S A BIG secret to fishing successfully down the wall of a pier, jetty or rock face and I am giving it away here for free.

Think about casting from the beach. Nearly all anglers cast to the maximum, but we all know that fish can be found at distances ranging from a few yards to a couple of hundred yards.

So why do 99 per cent of all off-the-wall anglers cast to maximum range when the fish are at their feet? There is nothing I enjoy more than plopping a bait alongside a wall.

Piers are an attraction to fish as well as a natural barrier, a feature they swim along, up and around. Piers funnel fish, especially in summer when various species make the most of the food and habitat.

Piers are full of features and, just like the sea bed, offer fish numerous holding and hiding places. The wall has corners, holes, ridges, overhangs, weed fringes, obstructions and floodlights. Piers may differ and all species may not be common in all regions, but wherever you fish from a pier the wall is worth targeting.

There is always a hot spot, such as a corner where the tide congregates rubbish, inside the end where the tide slacks in an eddy, the slack behind a jutting wall or pile, underneath the café or where tide meets pier.

Knowledge of the species gives the angler an insight into the pecking order up the pier wall. Each species exploits a particular food source or part of the wall and, if you fish pier walls long enough, you’ll soon realise the different depths that various species can be caught at and how these fluctuate within the tide, season, daylight and darkness.

It’s uncanny how some species feed in depth ranges that are so precise and how knowledge of these facts can be used the exploit each type of fish.

The tackle

I prefer long soft rods for down-the-wall fishing, although heavier tackle is needed for bass and conger eels. A compromise rod may be required in strong tide and you can use a beachcaster, although it does tend to dampen the fun of fishing for smaller species.

The latest long continental quiver-tip rods are ideal, while a heavy freshwater feeder rod is the choice of some. For pollack, scad and garfish you can use braid line, which gives a more direct connection to the fish and bites, as well as combating strong tide, but this does require a soft rod.

Another essential is some form of wall or railing that can act as a rod-rest, so tackle can be suspended alongside the wall. Most anglers construct a rod-rest and there are a number of ways to do this, including a bungee elastic hooked to your reel and tackle box. You could use of the new Rail Monkey to protect your rods when it is propped against a railing. Remember to release your reel drag to avoid the rod being pulled in.


Many pier walls can be snaggy because of the seaweed growth sprouting from the wall. Long rods and a wall rod-rest help keep the tackle clear of this and allow you to fish baits under weed and ledges, rather than in it.

The rig

THERE are several rigs that are perfect for pier wall hanging. The wire boom rig is a favourite because it is practical and presents baits suspended and tangle free.

An alternative is a long mono paternoster (twoup, one-down) for timid species in strong tide. It’s a favourite of anglers who fish with long light rods from stilted piers.

Spread the booms or hook snoods over 12ft to maximise the depth covered by baits (longer rods allow longer rigs).

Light snood lines (10lb) can be used to maximise tidal movement on the baits. Mullet and garfish will avoid heavy monofilament line in clear water, others may not be fussy, but if you do go light chose a tough fluorocarbon line.

Species are found at different depths so you can bait each hook differently. For instance, bread or fish strip on the top for garfish or mullet, a head-hooked white ragworm or bunch of maddies on the middle for scad or pollack and a large ragworm on the bottom for a bass.

Hook sizes range between size 6 for garfish and mullet and size 2 for pollack. Use a tough hook at the bottom because that’s the one that can pick up a bonus big fish. Conger and bass hooks start at size 3/0.

Baits in your bucket

DOWN the wall baits include small king ragworms, harbour ragworms (maddies), white ragworms, fish strip, either garfish or mackerel, sandeels, live prawns/shrimps, bread, maggots, sweetcorn etc.

For the biggest species have peeler crabs, mackerel head, flapper or fillet or a small live pout, whiting and smelt to hand.

Head-hook a ragworm so they swim and wriggle attractively. Small strips or slivers of fish cut to resemble a sandeel work best, hook them once. Bread can catch a surprising number of the species, especially if the fishing spot is pre-baited.



MOVEMENT is an effective trick to encourage any fish swimming close to a wall to attack the bait.

The obvious method is to raise and lower the rig occasionally. It’s a good idea to use a marked line; a coloured leader works, so that you know where you are. You can also tie on a stop knot on the line in Power Gum to mark your depth. If you get a bite you can then return to the hit zone.

Another method is to use a lighter lead that will travel and lift in the tide. Drop the rig to the bottom and allow it to lift in the tide to a depth the weight will hold. Altering the weight of the lead can allow you to search out areas of a wall or along/under pier piles.

Species like pollack, mackerel, garfish and scad will attack a moving bait and it often pays to keep the bait on the move rather than leaving it to fish statically.

Freelining a bait with a swan or SSG shot is a tactic that works well in light tide from many piers, especially for coalfish, mackerel, scad and garfish. A small strip of fish from the silver underbelly or a sandeel section is the bait.

Float fishing alongside the pier wall is a fun alternative. You will need to use a sliding float rig with a Power Gum stop knot on the line above the float so that the depth you are fishing can be adjusted easily. Remember the tide will always be moving and it will take your bait away from the feeding zone unless you regularly deepen or shallow up.

Groundbait is a worthwhile tactic. Use a mixture of boiled fish, bread, bran, sweetcorn, freshwater pellets and tinned pilchards, which can all be mashed up and introduced periodically to attract the fish. Alternatively put it in a fine mesh bread bag suspended alongside the wall.


Garfish: Surface feeders rarely found below 12ft. Bait is fish strip, garfish or mackerel.

Mackerel: Feed at various depths according to their prey. Baits include fish strip, worms and most lures.

Mullet: Thick-lips do feed on the bottom in shallow estuaries, but around piers they feed mainly on the surface or just out of sight, depending upon water clarity. Baits are bread, fish flesh without the skin, maggots, paste and sometimes harbour rag.

Pollack: Eight spool turns up from most walled piers is the daylight target area, but at night they take baits on the top. Baits are a head-hooked ragworm, bunches of wriggly harbour or white rag.

Coalfish: Feed at all depths, but often found within 12ft of the surface. Bait is peeler crabs, ragworms and fish strip. Use beads on rigs.

Scad: Feed just off the bottom in daylight, but on the surface in darkness, especially under lights. Bait is fish strip, head-hooked king or white rag with the latter good in clear water.

Wrasse: Mostly found around the low tide weed fringe where they take up residence. Baits are peeler crabs for big wrasse and worms for small.

Bream: Mainly bottom feeders, but also follow the pier wall up and can be caught very shallow on occasions. Baits are crab, squid, fish strip.

Bass: Found mainly on the bottom, but do feed within 12ft of the surface and on the surface when chasing food, especially under pier lights at night. Baits include rag, small live fish, crabs and large mackerel baits.

Pouting: Mostly caught on the bottom, but do rise several feet on occasions. Most baits catch pouting.

Conger: A bottom predator that will come very close to the surface on occasions. Baits are large fresh mackerel flapper, head or fillet, squid or small pollack and pouting.




Does lure colour matter when sea fishing in deep water?

Boat angler Neil Evans faces the age-old dilemma of choosing the right colour lure for sea fishing in deep water. He's a little sceptical, worrying that bright hues catch more anglers than fish. The angler from Bedlinog, Merthyr Tydfil, teams up with Dave Lewis to see if we can prove a point and find out whether the colour of your sea fishing lures actually matters...


The colour of lures was a hot topic way back in the 1970s when I started wreck fishing. Some crews argued that when fishing in over 150 feet of water it didn't matter what the colour was because everything looked virtually the same - black.

Others held the view that the choice of colour was critical to success, regardless of depth, and unless you rigged up with the day's hot lure you would probably lag behind in the catch stakes.

So does the choice of lure colour make any difference when fishing deep water, and if so, which are the best colours to have in the tackle box? Searching for the answer is the angling equivalent of finding the Holy Grail and it seems a lot of mystery surrounds that myth.

At best all you can do is grab a mixed selection of lures, go fishing and find out what lures produce the fish. That is precisely what Neil Evans and I did aboard Andrew Alsop's White Waters, operating out of Milford Haven.

We seemed to have drawn a lucky card the day Neil and I joined up because the conditions for wrecking were absolutely perfect with virtually flat seas and an ideal tide to ensure a decent chance of fish.

The wreck Andrew had in mind sat in 220ft of water around 34 miles off St Anne's Head at the mouth of The Haven, and with a steady 16 knot cruising speed we were in position for our first drift a little over two hours after setting off.

These days most wreck anglers target pollack using either shads or jellyworms, though the wide range of artificial sandeels will still take their fair share of fish.

In recent years I have become a firm believer in shads and not just because they are such a deadly lure for pollack, but also because they are more likely to attract all sorts of fish, like bass, cod and coalfish, which also lurk around wrecks.

Neil and I fished with identical dark green shads, which were extremely natural-looking and lifelike, with my choice based on no other reason than they were the first I found in my tackle bag.
I am of the opinion that while the colour of a lure can be absolutely critical in relatively shallow water, once the depth drops beyond 150ft or so colour is virtually irrelevant.

On any day's wreck fishing one or two anglers will always catch the majority of the fish and the others will always be quick to point out that the reason for their success is down to the colour lure they are using. That's the point at which they start switching to the same colour, be it bubble-gum pink or hot orange. You don't need a degree in marine biology to fathom out that as more and more anglers use one specific colour lure, then the majority of fish brought to the boat will have been caught on the same colour lure.

I reckon the more successful anglers use a slightly different technique, often no more than a very subtle change in speed of retrieve compared to everyone else aboard.

It might also be the length of their hooklength is longer or shorter,  perhaps the way they have rigged their lure on the hook or even the fact they are using a thinner diameter braid mainline that on the day is offering a slightly better presentation.

Sometimes it is even simpler - the anglers are fishing on the side of the boat that offers better presentation or the fish are shoaled up tight and the same people hit fish time after time.
From the very first drift we were into plenty of pollack. At first they were samples to 6lb, but as the ebbing tide kicked in and started to gather momentum so the size of the fish increased.
Individual specimens over 10lb started to come aboard every other drift and at least two specimens weighing over 15lb were among our final bag of 100-plus pollack.

Remember this was mid-July 2005, so imagine what the fishing could be like in the winter?







I bet you all want to know what colour attracted the most fish? As things turned out it was Neil and I who had the most fish with Neil declaring: "This is the best day's boat fishing I have ever had."
He was still working with the original green shad I had given him at the start of the session and I hadn't the heart to ask him to change his lucky lure.

During our boat trip I had tried at least six different colour lures and they were all equally as effective as the other, while the rest of the party had fished lures from every colour in the rainbow.
While I concede our results prove nothing, we can say with some confidence that some days the choice of colour makes no difference. The wreck held a good head of hungry fish so even technique wasn't that critical, but I remain convinced that on less productive days the fine line between success and failure rests more on getting your technique right, rather than simply choosing the right colour lure.


"When there are lots of feeding fish on a wreck, individual fish can't afford to be choosy," said skipper Andrew, as we steamed back towards the distant Welsh coastline.

"On days like these, you'll catch fish on pretty much any shape or colour lure. On other days other colour lures do appear to be more effective with black and orange being the must-have colours in an angler's tackle box."

The moral to this tale is that you should have a wide selection of lures in your bag with a few black and orange ones handy... just in case.



Q What course of action should I take when snagged from a drifting boat?

Dave Lewis says: I have found that when fishing on the drift the best course of action, when your terminal rig becomes snagged, is to lock the spool with your thumb to prevent the clutch slipping and point the rod directly down the line. This allows the pressure on the line to steadily build until something gives; hopefully somewhere near the terminal rig.
Some skippers take a few wraps of line around a piece of wood then pull for a break, though I dislike this technique as often I have seen the line break at the surface, obviously resulting in the loss of a lot of line when fishing deep water. That said if your line is getting pulled under the boat this might be necessary to avoid a broken rod. Avoid wrapping the line around your hands, especially if using braid, as you can easily inflict deep and nasty cuts as a result of the line cutting through to the bone.

Has braided line any advantage over mono when trolling or float fishing?

Dave Lewis says: The non-stretch qualities of braid are excellent when trolling, as they help ensure the hook gets correctly set on the strike. The same principle would be true when float fishing. That said when trolling in the UK, which usually means seeking bass or pollack, or float fishing for mullet, garfish or wrasse, I use mono lines that are adequate for these species.