Best Bait For Florida Pier Fishing

Earl Hamilton
• Friday, 17 September, 2021
• 9 min read

While a boat gives you access in Florida to thousands of miles of waterways and coastline fishing, it also presents a host of complications. Berthing it, trailing it, maintaining it and, increasingly, paying the price of operating it are all prompting lots of people to question the wisdom of owning a boat.

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Many visitors don’t realize just how many species of fish move up and down the coastline and through our waterways within easy reach of a fisherman on shore or on a pier or bridge. Additionally, there are hundreds of public docks around the state that offer freshwater fishing access to Florida ’s famed black bass and numerous pan fish.

It’s just a matter of figuring out where there’s close access to the water and then fitting yourself out to do some laid back fishing. While I’ve done my share of surf casting and still hit the beach occasionally when the pompano are running, I grew up as a wharf rat, spending many happy hours fishing from the old Jacksonville Beach pier.

A college friend who knew I fished a lot once asked to go along on one of my pier expeditions. Cold fronts in Florida generally aren’t a big deal, but standing on a windswept pier in 45 degrees with just a light windbreaker to fend off a steady drizzle isn’t anybody’s idea of fun.

Most of the ocean piers around the state have a concession stand that will rent you a rig and sell you the terminal tackle and bait. All you need do is show up and pay the fee, which usually includes the use of the pier’s commercial fishing license.

If the kids get bored with fishing, they can wander up and down the pier seeing what other people are catching, or they can hit the beach to toss a Frisbee or grab some rays. They’ve built or bought dock carts that allow them to haul multiple rods and reels, lots of gear and even live bait (not to mention drinks, lunch, a boom box and whatever else they feel they need for a day’s fishing) from the parking lot to the end of the pier.

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They use one big rod and reel to send a heavy sinker with prongs as far out into the ocean as possible. The average pier fisherman using simple equipment and dead bait, like shrimp, will most likely connect with whiting and croaked.

While hardly fighters of any repute, they make great table fare. But be careful, because interspersed with the dinner fish will be the occasional catfish, whose spines can inflict a nasty injury (I know this from experience after getting a dorsal fin deep into my foot).

Floridapierfishing is mostly a matter of stationing yourself in the path of fish swimming parallel to shore just beyond the breaking waves and waiting for them to find your bait or lure. Lots of bridges spanning salt water inlets or waterways offer fishing opportunities.

The old Sunshine Skyway bridge that spanned the entrance to Tampa Bay has been converted into two of the longest fishing piers in the world. That means if an east wind has been blowing and the surf is up, you’re going to have a hard time getting your bait past the breaking waves.

Fishing near jetties or inlets can be good, but what you really want is to find a stretch of beach protected by an offshore sandbar. It takes a little experience to learn to read the water and the pattern of breaking waves to find the right spot.

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But if you wander a nearby beach early in the morning or late in the afternoon, chances are you’ll come across a group of fishermen. Bring chairs, recliners, tents, pillows, air mattresses, huge tarps to block the sun, all the coolers you want with ice, food, drinks, and snacks.

You can bring your stereo and music, bean-bag chair or any damn thing you want when you go Spearfishing. Spearfishing has a lot of advantages, but really it’s the comfort and ease of arranging a fishing trip.

There are so many more reasons Spearfishing can be the ultimate way to spend a weekend fishing. Make sure to bookmark this page and come back, we are constantly updating information here to include the latest.

Fillet your red grouper (Epimetheus Mario) right on the pier ! These hold gear, fish, bait, water, castanet, and other stuff.

I also have iced-coffee, soda, and probably a couple of German beers because if you’re on an Adventure, you can drink whatever you want! Small Hibachi Grill with charcoal and lighter fluid.

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), BBQ sauce, fillet knife, tongs, fork, spoon, butter, lemon juice, garlic, foil, olive oil, salt, pepper, sandwich wraps, hot dogs, and whatever else I’m in the mood for! I bring my sleeping bag and usually just put the seats down in the SUV or lay in the back of the truck if I take it.

The NAO+ model has 750 lumens brightness and auto-adjusts the beam strength depending on what you’re looking at. I have LED battery lanterns and flashlights as well and a charger that works with the cigarette lighter in the truck, but it takes forever to charge.

I do bring some other stuff like tools, sunblock, phone, 2-way radios to talk to friends way down the pier, a change of clothes or two, extra batteries for the aerators, and always tons of snacks. Test on a Carolina Rig setup fishing the bottom.

I might fish for fifteen hours on the pier, that’s a LOT OF BAIT needed. You can buy a good cast net at most bait shops, at Walmart, online at Amazon, and many other places.

A cast net is circular and comes in a certain number of feet. When cast correctly, the net expands in a perfect circle above the water before it falls straight down.

snook fish florida fishtrack spawn
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This isn’t how I throw a cast net, but I couldn’t find a good one showing my technique, so I may have to make one. Angler using cast net in the Florida Atlantic surf to catch small bait fish for fishing.

A cast net can be your best friend for catching enough bait to get you through a couple of days of fishing from the pier. I always bring my cast net and throw for pinkish in the sea-grass beds along the shore before going to the pier.

I know many good spots, and you’ll have to find your own because I don’t want hundreds of people showing up when I’m trying to catch my couple of dozen bait fish! Catch them with a cast net in the shallows around beds of seagrass.

Color can vary a bit, and where I’m from they tend to be brown and darker hues. Hard, bony, and with sharp fins, pinkish are great snacks for all kinds of fish.

It is not difficult to find pinkish in the seagrass in the shallows and cast net them. Big Speckled Trout, Redfish, Shook, Grouper, Tarpon, Bigger Snapper, Big Flounder, Bluefish, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, and more.

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Mullet are fat and on the slower side, so make great bait at any size. Mullet are those odd fish that seem to jump for absolutely no reason inshore.

They love saltwater canals and areas around streams or rivers entering the ocean bays during strong incoming tides. They grow quickly and can be cast netted easily inshore.

Unfortunately, I don’t eat the big ones, I’m just after the smaller ones (under 12 inches) to use as bait for other fish. Grouper, Cobra, Redfish, Tarpon, Big Speckled Trout, Bigger Snapper, Big Flounder, Bluefish, Tuna, Dorado, Yahoo, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, just about anything will eat a mullet.

Menhaden are oily fish which make a nice slick in the water when you use them as chum. The oil disperses quickly through the water and has a strong smell which brings in the other fish to the chum ball.

Menhaden are found inshore in shallow water during summer months and are easily caught in the cast net. Goggle Eyes (Rule in Hawaii) School of Big eye Scad (Big Eye or in Hawaii, Rule (Solar crumenophthalmus) are the perfect bait for big fish like Yahoo, King Mackerel, Tuna, Mahi, and other great tasting fish.

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Goggle Eyes (Solar crumenophthalmus) also called big-eyed shad are bait fish shaped a bit like mullet from the side, but they are thinner vertically. You can catch them when there is NO moon at all with Sabik rigs from a boat in 150 feet of water or more.

You’ll need a wide net if possible, but mainly fine seine and with lead that drops pretty quickly (heavy). The pinkish and other bait steamers will steal shrimp from a hook because they’re so soft and easily to tear off a little chunk.

Fish that eat crabs are Redfish, Black Drum, Cobra, Crevasse Jack, Shook, Sleepyhead, Snapper, Bluefish, Flounder, Grouper, and more! If you fish it on the bottom, you’ll catch catfish, Flounder, and sharks if it’s big enough.

Spearfishing is a great way to catch fish when you have limited time and don’t want to arrange a boat. Piers are safe and the big ones have restrooms and bait for sale 24 hours a day.

Grouper, Cobra, Redfish, Tarpon, Big Speckled Trout, Bigger Snapper, Big Flounder, Bluefish, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, just about anything! Photos © Ken Schultz Saltwater spearfishing is a popular way for anglers to access coastal fish without being on a boat and can be productive even when high winds and big waves keep boaters in port.

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These are fish finder or high-lo rigs with some form of hooked natural bait (squid, clam, eel, fish chunk, etc.). Sinkers keep bait on or near the bottom, and rods are propped against or tethered to pier rails or placed in secure holders.

The best saltwater lures for spearfishing vary depending on species, season, and region, but include the following. As surface-only lures they seldom get snagged and are less likely to tangle with other lines; and they can be cast a long distance.

Because they sink, such fishing lures are more prone to snagging on rocks and pilings, and a lot get broken off, but they’re inexpensive, versatile, and very effective for a multitude of species. Thick-bodied casting spoons work well for covering a lot of territory as well as distance and can be retrieved at varying depths and speeds.

Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sport fishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar., and his writing has appeared on various websites for nearly two decades.

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