Tackle for Piers — Rods and Reels

Ken Jones

Staff member
I need to revise the following and would appreciate any suggestions you might have. Please don't hesitate to offer your opinions.

Tackle For Piers
Even though pier fishing is less complicated than some forms of fishing, several different and distinct forms of angling can take place. Thus you may need several different set-ups depending upon the type of fishing you will be doing. Most important is that tackle should always be geared to the size of the fish you are seeking and the conditions under which you must operate. It’s simple if you consider a few basics:

• The wind, both its velocity and direction, will have much to do with your ability to cast. When there is little wind you may be able to use light tackle. When gale force winds are present (if you’re still trying to fish) you may need to use several ounces of weight just to cast a reasonable distance. More weight means heavier tackle.

• The current will often dictate how much lead is needed to hold your bait on the bottom. Again, the weight of your sinker generally dictates the type and size of the tackle you need with a heavier sinker requiring heavier tackle.

• Two distinctly different types of piers are most common. The first is the large, oceanfront piers common to many states. The second are the small piers found in bays and estuary areas. The fishing surfaces on oceanfront piers are typically 20 feet or more from the water while those on piers in bays are closer to the water, in some cases only a few feet from the water. Two quite different environments and often two quite different needs as far as tackle is concerned.

• Rods provide different degrees of tip sensitivity, a trait that can help you feel the bite better and result in more fish. The lighter the better is my general rule but if the wind and current are strong you may have little choice but to use heavier tackle.

• A proper match is needed between rod and reel. The same is true between fish and tackle. Although you can catch small fish with heavy tackle, much of the sport, and the fun, will be missed. And yes, while you can catch heavy fish with light tackle, you also will have a harder time keeping the fish away from other lines and the pilings, not to mention the problem of controlling the fish when you are trying to net it. Tackle that is too light also often means a prolonged fight if you hook a large fish. Such fights, while fun, can sometimes severely stress a fish and lead to its death, even if you release it.

• Although most anglers on piers use bait, some prefer to use lures. The best rod and reel combinations for tossing lures are often quite different than that used in bait fishing.

The main question that arises from these basic facts is, do I need light or heavy tackle? A corollary question is which type of tackle, spinning or conventional, is best for each of these conditions?

Light or Heavy Tackle?

One of the major differences in pier fishing today, versus earlier times, is the use of lighter tackle. Depending upon the species you are seeking, and the pier from which you are fishing, light tackle is often the method of choice and it can sometimes yield results nearly impossible to achieve when using heavier gear.

• For the majority of fish caught from piers, a light saltwater rod or medium freshwater rod, 8-9 feet in length, suited for a one ounce sinker will suffice. For most croakers, bass, perch, and pelagics such as mackerel, a light outfit fitted with 6-8 pound test line will work fine. The same outfit fitted with 8-12 pound test line will handle medium-sized striped bass, halibut, white seabass and smaller sharks and rays.

• Light tackle is also almost always used by those who prefer to use artificial lures. Light tackle is especially suited for the smaller, close-to-the-water piers, but is also fine from the larger piers assuming the wind and current cooperate. If the wind gods are against you however, your ability to use light tackle may be impaired. It may simply be too hard to cast into the wind or to hold the spot you want on the bottom. In addition, the moment of truth, the time when the fish is brought to the surface and needs to be netted, is the most precarious time when using light tackle. You have less control over the fish at that time than if you were using heavier tackle.

• For medium to large-sized fish, it is wise to have a fairly strong rod in the 8-9 foot length capable of holding 200 yards of 15-20 pound test line. If pursuing the larger rays and sharks an even heavier outfit with at least 30-pound test line should be used. This heavier tackle is also preferred in windy conditions or when the currents are making it hard to hold bottom. Depending upon the area you may find you need 4-6 ounces of weight due to ocean currents. Sometimes in really swift waters, anglers are faced with currents requiring even heavier, 10-12 ounce sinkers. Obviously in such conditions light tackle isn't applicable.

• Pier anglers are generally allowed to use two rods and reels when fishing on public piers and most private (there are a few exceptions) and I generally take advantage of that rule. I use a light outfit to fish for the smaller species and a heavier outfit to fish for the larger species. As might be expected, the larger fish are not as common as the smaller, more frequently schooling species. Using two riggings allows you to use the proper bait and tackle for the larger fish (the quality) but also allows you to catch a lot of fish (quantity) while you are waiting for the big one to arrive.

• Nevertheless, if you only have the money for one fishing outfit, you may want to use the heavier one. It is capable of catching both small and large fish, can handle the larger sinker that is sometimes needed, and it provides more control to keep your line from tangling others. If you are willing to take the chance, and realize that you may not have heavy enough tackle for some weather conditions, you can stick with the lighter gear. You'll catch more fish and have more fun.

Spinning or Conventional Baitcasting Reels?

The debate about types of tackle, spinning or conventional, is a leading topic among many anglers. To some degree it's a matter of personal preference but each also has its place and is best in certain conditions. Back when I started fishing in the ‘60s most anglers used baitcasting gear. Today, spinning outfits tend to dominate the tackle store shelves and most pier anglers use spinning gear.

The advantage of spinning reels is that they have a fixed spool and you can cast a good distance with very little weight. Thus light tackle anglers can use minimum size sinkers (I generally use 1/2 ounce) and light lures in most conditions. In addition, spinning reels are easy to use and you don't need to worry about backlash, the scourge of conventional reels. Ease of use and increasingly better quality make them ideal for light tackle fishing. There are of course many different sized spinning reels, everything from true ultra-lite models to ones that have the size and line capacity to handle large fish.

• I generally carry three rod and reel combinations on my pier cart, the combinations changing depending upon where I will be fishing and the type of fish I will be seeking out. Most generally I have a light or medium-light rod/reel spinning combination that I can use for both bait fishing and lures. It’s great for smaller fish down around the pilings or for smaller species bottom species. Typically it can handle 1/2-2 ounce weights and can handle lures intended for fish like bass or halibut.

• A second combination is a medium-light spinning reel with a longer rod that can be used for casting out Sabiki-type bait rigs for baitfish, mackerel, or similar species. It can also be used to fish with live bait on top or bottom. Typically it can handle 1-2 ounce weights and is suitable for everything from perch and croaker to bass and flatfish including halibut.

• A third rigging will be a medium-heavy to heavy rod and reel combination used primarily when seeking out sharks, rays and other large fish. It typically can handle 4-6 ounce weights. Most typically I will use a conventional reel for this although I do have some large spinning reels that can also handle large fish.

• As a general rule, if I am really seeking out larger fish, or using over four ounces of weight, I go with a conventional reel. Conventional reels generally have more powerful drag systems than spinning reels and that's important if you’re fighting a large fish. In addition, many of today's better conventional reels come equipped with magnetic braking systems to help eliminate the backlash problem (caused by their revolving spools). Lastly, some of the conventional reels now offer lighter weight aluminum spools, which allow them to cast lighter lures and smaller baits. Because of these improvements many fishermen have gone back to conventional reels but again it's a matter of preference. Just as I prefer to use spinning tackle for my light tackle fishing, I prefer to use baitcasting tackle if I'm seeking out the bigger sharks, rays and sturgeon.

Rods and Reels.

Today there are literally hundreds of different models of spinning and conventional reels available, and most of the recognized brand names are excellent. Almost any high-quality outfit should work and often an inexpensive, generic “special” will suit your needs just fine. Just make sure the rod and reel are compatible with saltwater. Saltwater is hard on metal, and top-quality equipment is constructed with materials that allow maximum protection against these elements. Get the best you can afford. When you have your prize fish on the end of your line is when you need the best and, unfortunately, a lot of good fish are lost by anglers with poor-quality tackle. If you want to become a serious and successful angler get good quality tackle, learn how to take care of it, and learn how to use it properly.

One recommendation I do make concerns spinning reels and the debate on two of the most modern features, graphite construction and rear-drag systems. For catching the larger saltwater fish, graphite, especially graphite spools, may be a problem. For pier fishing, graphite reels should normally be OK, although the only reel I have ever had totally fail in all the years I have been fishing was a graphite reel. The rear-drag argument is, I feel, more of a concern. Rear-drag systems are easier to set and to change, but as a general rule they have smaller drag washers (which means they may not be as good). Most important is that they are harder to clean and proper cleaning and maintenance is perhaps the most important ingredient to keeping your reel in good condition. Unless you are an experienced angler and know how to properly clean and lubricate your reel, stick to a front- drag system.

Four Rod and Reel Combinations.

Although the occasional pier angler can probably get by with one rod and reel outfit, serious pier anglers will usually have 3-4 of the following rigs depending upon their geographic location in the state.

Light tackle spinning reel

• A light action spinning rod and reel. Rods 7-9 feet foot long together with a light reel are sufficient for almost all small species at piers as well as being capable of landing medium-sized fish. Do not use these outfits for the bigger species. When fishing from a pier you must be able to control fish and keep them away from the pilings. Using tackle that is too light will often cause you to lose the bigger species. Reel requirements include a line capacity of 200 yards of 6-8 pound test line. The rod must be able to handle 1/2 to 2 ounce sinkers.

Medium/heavy spinning or baitcasting reel

• A medium action spinning (or conventional) rod and reel. A second 7-9 foot long rod with a medium sized saltwater reel. Set it up on the bottom while you're holding your light action rod. Can be used for either small or larger species and can handle larger lures and sinkers than the light outfit. Recommended line capacity of 250 yards of 12-20 pound test line. The rod should be able to handle 3-4 ounce sinkers.

Heavy tackle baitcasting reels

• A heavy conventional rod and reel. An 8-9 foot long rod capable of handling 4+ ounces of lead is usually best, although longer rods are sometimes used by those fishing for the larger fish like sharks, rays and large Sportfish. The reel should be capable of holding a minimum of 250 yards of 20-40 pound test line.

Light tackle baitcasting reels

• A light action spinning (or conventional) popping-type rod and reel. This will usually be a 6 to 7 1/2 foot rod designed to be used with lures. It is especially suited for the inner bay piers. The reel should be capable of holding 200 yards of 10-12 pound test line.

General Tips for Rod and Reel Maintenance

If you want to become a serious and successful angler you should also learn how to properly use and take care of your tackle. One of the best ways is to find a knowledgeable tackle store, especially one that repairs rods and reels, and then become a regular. The tips and knowledge you will pick up from your visits will more than make up for any additional cost over using the big box chains. The following are some tips for maintenance given by my friend Ron Crandall who once wrote the “Tackle Tips” page for the Pier Fishing in California web site. Ron owned a tackle repair shop in Santa Rosa and is still considered one of the true “experts” in the field of rod and reel repair.

Reel Maintenance

Clean your reel after every use. The number one rule in reel maintenance is to rinse the reel gently with fresh water after use in salt water. However, do not rinse it with water at high pressure as this will force salt into the reel and cause corrosion problems.

Lubricate the reel after rinsing. After your reel is thoroughly dry, apply a moisture-dissipating lubricant, such as Corrosion X, to a rag, and wipe the reel with the rag. Do not spray the reel with lubricant, as this will cause the reel to collect dirt.

Use the proper lubricant when overhauling your own reels. Use Penn lubricant, or other light grease such as, Lubriplate #105. Do not use boat axle grease.

If you drop your reel in the sand... STOP! Do not test the reel to see if it still works. Use a spare reel and overhaul your reel or take the reel to a repair shop for an overhaul. Turning the handle of a reel with sand in it has a 95% chance of breaking parts.

Periodic maintenance saves costly repairs. Do not get caught in the old myth of “if it ain’t broke don't fix it.”

How to store a reel after you've cleaned it! Do not store your reel on your rod. Corrosion can build up on the rod’s reel seat as well as on the foot of the reel. After the reel is cleaned and dried, and since the reel is already off the rod, leave it off. Let the reel thoroughly dry. Store the reel in a breathable cloth bag, like cotton, or flannel or muslin. Avoid plastic or nylon bags. Store extra spools in a cloth bag as well. Clean old socks work well and are the right size.

Rod Maintenance

New rods. To insure a long life for your new rod, do the following: Apply a paste wax (not a liquid) to the rod and the base of the guides only (not directly to the guides). Apply paraffin wax to the screw threads of the reel seat. This will allow for smooth operation and less wear. For a rod with glass or graphite ferrules, apply paraffin wax to the ferrules. For a rod with metal ferrules, use only skin oil on the ferrules. Apply by rubbing the male end of the ferrule in hair or, lacking that, rub on a forehead. This will apply a minuscule amount of oil to the ferrule. This is all you need.

After fishing, do the following. Remove the reel and clean any sand or grit from the reel seat with an old toothbrush, or a paint or acid brush that has its bristles cut short (for stiffness). Spray the rod with Salt Away, then rinse. This breaks down an amazing amount of salt that you didn't realize was on the rod. Take the rod into the shower with you and clean it thoroughly with a toothbrush. Naturally, dry it before putting it away.

For older, abused rods. Apply Corrosion-X to any corrosion build-up on metal ferrules, reel seats and guides. Let the rod sit overnight. Next, scrub it with a toothbrush and rinse. (Tip—WD40 or Simple Green do not work as well as Corrosion-X). Install a rod butt cap if it is missing (caps are available through tackle shops). After the rod is free of corrosion and thoroughly clean, proceed to treat it as if it were a new rod.

Other considerations. Most new rods have a single coat of epoxy covering the rod and guide wrapping. This epoxy will chip off with use, exposing the uncoated surfaces to moisture. Moisture will get under the epoxy and lift it off, deteriorating the guide wrapping and causing the guides to come loose. You need to seal the chipped epoxy immediately. Applying paste wax will help, or clean the chip with alcohol, and apply a flexible marine varnish like McCloskey's Man-O-War. Inexpensive rods are more prone to chipping than expensive rods. But, treating an inexpensive rod as described above will allow you to keep it for a lifetime.

Paraffin Wax. Someone (TW) sent a note to Ron and asked if applying paraffin on glass or graphite ferrules, and on reel seats, wouldn't cause dirt, sand or similar items to cling to the rod parts and cause an even worse problem? Ron replied: “Paraffin is a dry wax not a sticky wax. Sand and dirt don't stick to paraffin as they would on a sticky wax, but instead, fall off. Paraffin is used as an industrial lubricant because it is neutral in its reactivity. It allows the surfaces of the male and female ferrule to be tightly in contact without abrading each other. Paraffin allows the ferrules to be separated as needed, and not stick them together as they would if a lubricant was not applied. Not using a lubricant would eventually cause the ferrules to wear against each other and loosen over time. Naturally, if there is dirt or sand on the ferrules, clean them before putting them together. Paraffin prevents the build up of corrosion on metal-based ferrules and reel seats. These are the rods that you can't separate and the reel seats that won't unscrew. Paraffin helps prevent cross-threading of graphite reel seats, which is a common problem if the reel seat and ring get dirt or sand in them. When the ring or the seat is dirty the ring can cross-thread on the seat and in turn damage the seat threads. This will cause the ring not to tighten properly and cause the reel to be loose. Where do you get paraffin? First look in the kitchen cupboard. If you or a member of your family makes jam, or cans fruits and vegetables, there is probably a blue and white box of paraffin already there. If not, paraffin is available in the canning supply sections of most grocery and hardware stores. Note, do not use candles, candle wax or beeswax. Use only paraffin."