Along the Emerald Coast, several large fishing piers provide access to the Gulf of Mexico. In Panama City Beach, there are two piers: the MB Miller County Pier and the Russell Fields City Pier. To the west is Okaloosa Island Pier (OIP) at Fort Walton Beach. Past there is the Navarre pier in Navarre. Then the Pensacola Pier in you guessed it, Pensacola. The latest is the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores, Alabama. For a small daily fee, these six spots give you access to deeper waters that are normally only accessible by boat.
On average, they tend to be about a quarter mile long from the sand to the “T” end. The end of these pillars extend into a “T” which is in about 25 to 30 feet of water past the second sandbar. The Piers Bridge averages about 25 feet above the surface of the water depending on the tide. This helps mitigate potential hurricane damage, but also helps anglers spot and cast fish. So this is a warning, if you are afraid of heights, pier fishing may not be for you. But just because there is deep water at the end of the jetty. Don’t rush to the “T” end thinking deep water is the ticket. You can fish from the first bin to the T end of the pier.
The docks have a wide variety of species available to catch. Close in the first trough to the second trough of the beach. You usually come across whiting, pompano, goldfish, sea trout, sheep head, sea catfish, flounder, bluefish and many other species. From the second trough, you start encountering species that like deeper waters. fish like the spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and bonito. In the end is when you start encountering pelagic species, king mackerellarge spanish mackerel, tarpon, cobie, and black tuna on rare occasions. During the hot summer months, if the current and the wind align perfectly. You can meet Mahi Mahi and Sailfish who came from overseas. Much like blackfin tuna although they are not commonly seen or caught. But when they show up, it’s an exciting time.
This information on where you can find certain species is not set in stone, however. Just more of a set of guidelines for where to go to target specific species. This is also not an exhaustive list, just a summary list of the most common target species. There are many more species you can catch there.
The basic configurations for the pier would be three fishing rods of different sizes. A bait rod, a small lightweight rig that you will keep a sabiki rig on to catch live bait. A medium power 7ft rod, good pitching jigs, lures and smaller rigs. It’s a great all-around rod for tricks like Spanish mackerel, pompano and sheep’s head. The final rod is an 8ft to 9ft medium weight fishing rod, intended for targeting larger fish like king mackerel, red bulls, crevalle jack and tarpon. This rod will be the one for casting live bait, dead bait and big lures.
The tackle you should bring would be terminal tackle of monofilament and leader wire, swivels, hooks and sinkers. Also, it’s a good idea to have a few extra prepackaged sabiki rigs, in case Spanish mackerel or blue runners tear your rigs apart. An assortment of pompano jigs, spinning spoons and traps will cover your bases for artificial lures. Needle-nose pliers are essential because most saltwater fish have teeth and putting your hands in your mouth is not recommended. The exact rig, terminal gear and lures will be explained later.
If you plan to keep fish, a cooler with ice is essential. It can get very hot there and there is no need to pre-cook your fish on the hot concrete. Technically you don’t need a dock cart, just having one is highly recommended. It’s usually a quarter mile walk to the end of the pier from the parking lot. A cart gives you a place to set up your rods, tackle box, landing gear, and cooler. There are specially designed aluminum carts that you can purchase. Or, DIY and make your own cart from a cart with rod holders attached. The cart doesn’t have to be pretty, just carry your gear and roll easily.
The last gear you’ll need is often the most overlooked. Bring polarized glasses with copper lenses and a good hat. Being able to see the fish will help a lot. And don’t forget to pack water and sunscreen, there is no shade except for the toilets. The sun is harsh and will burn you easily out there on the water.