This section is from the book "Fishing", by Horace G. Hutchinson. Also available from Amazon: Fishing.
Fishing from piers and harbours is an almost distinct branch of the sport, so many little modifications are necessary under the altered conditions. Much depends, in the first place, on whether the pier is a solid structure, like, say, the farther end of the Admiralty Pier used to be at Dover when they allowed one to fish there-an indulgence withdrawn, I believe, since the inception of the Government .works some four or five years ago-or, as is more often the case, a skeleton framework of piles and girders, through which the water moves to and fro and often with a strong set, or current, one way or the other, which may prove very dangerous to light tackle. The solid pier is in every way preferable for fishing purposes with the exception of one drawback, and that is that large fish are sometimes knocked off the hook when being hauled up, as they are apt to come roughly in contact with the stonework, a collision which is in the highest degree improbable in the open-work piers. With this exception, then, everything is in favour of the solid masonry. With the more common open-work piers, which also involve standing on draughty gratings which admit in opposite directions the cold air and such valuables as may drop through, the angler is exposed to a variety of more or less serious inconveniences. There is the risk, just alluded to, of losing money, knives, pencil-cases, and so forth, through the gratings. The secretive sand under the piers at some of our popular watering-places would, I should think, start a bank and an ironmonger with coin and fishing gear. There is another fruitful source of loss, for the shell-encrusted girders and posts continually take a fancy to the angler's lead and hooks, and refuse to part with them. Overcrowding, particularly during the months of August and September, is another undoubted drawback of pier-fishing; and when, in addition, there are small boys in evidence swinging immense leads, about half their own weight, round their tiny heads, and delivering them with wonderful accuracy on the ear of their neighbour to left or right, that which was merely a nuisance may become nothing short of a danger. I have before now seen a large hook fairly embedded in the neck of a peaceful loiterer in this way. There is no redress. The small boy looks overwhelmed with contrition -in reality he is mentally calculating how long it will take to unhook the fellow who got in his way and go on with his fishing-and the onlookers show a tendency to treat the situation lightly. The one remedy for this is either to restrict all pier-fishing to the use of rods (though on some piers I have known the authorities short-sighted enough to insist on hand-lines), or else to prohibit throw-out lines and allow only those which are quietly let down alongside.
Not only is the rod safer in pier-fishing; it is also far more convenient, and enables more anglers to get to work side by side without one interfering with the other. A man who knows the use of his rod ought moreover to be able to save many a large bass or pollack that, on the hand-line, would inevitably get foul of the posts and thus regain its liberty. Of course it takes some knowledge and practice to use a rod properly, and in the hands of the novice the hand-line would in all probability catch more fish. For float-fishing, by far the most killing method of fishing from piers or harbours, except in rough weather, a rod is practically indispensable. I have seen a large float used with a light hand-line, but it is at best a hybrid combination with all the odds in favour of the fish.
On some of the East Coast piers, where much autumn fishing is done at night, anglers complain that the pier authorities do not sufficiently provide for their comfort and safety, while the men on the herring boats declare that the amateur's lanterns on the piers mislead them when steering for harbour late at night.
It is of the greatest importance in pier-fishing that there shall be a sense of good fellowship, as otherwise it is impossible to fish in harmony. When, for instance, a number of anglers are using rods and float tackle side by side, it is necessary as soon as one hooks a really heavy fish that the others should at once reel in and stop fishing until the fish is either won or lost. Self-interest indeed dictates this policy as well as courtesy, for if the other floats be not at once hauled clear of the water, the frenzied efforts of the fish to escape will speedily entangle all the lines, and there will be no more fishing for perhaps a quarter of an hour, while the language that then will float upon the summer breeze will make the mermaids stop their shell-like ears with seaweed. The floats, too, should be dropped quietly in, at any rate when the tide is carrying them clear of the pier. There is no need to make magnificent casts from the Nottingham reel unless one has the pier to oneself, and even then the effort entailed in such feats is usually out of all proportion to the result. I have already alluded to the fact, which is within the experience of almost every amateur sea-fisherman of any experience at all, of the fish generally feeding close against the rock or against the piles of a pier; and in nine cases out of ten a float-line pitched some distance from where the angler stands will take the bait out of ken of the fish.
Float tackle or the paternoster is the best tackle for pier-fishing, and the paternoster may be used either up and down or as a throw-out line. Two other tackles, the leger and chopstick, may also be used if so desired, but the latter at any rate must be used with a rod and not with a hand-line. To throw a chopstick out and let it lie on the ground is to ignore its obvious intent and purpose, and fish will not only be very hard to hook, but even extremely chary of biting. The proper position of the chopstick is hanging on a vertical line a short distance above the ground. Now, to use a chop-stick in this fashion from a pier on an ordinary hand-line would be to court the immediate risk of entanglement with the ironwork and consequent loss of gear. Only with the help of a rod is it possible to dangle the chopstick in its right position and at the same time keep it clear of the posts. And, as the chopstick is at best a heavy and cumbersome gear to use with a light rod, it had better be left for boat work with a hand-line, when large whiting-pout or silver whiting are biting furiously in deep water.