A sky-lift ride takes riders over Daytona Beach's Main Street Pier. — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
On sunny Florida days, beach fishing piers are as much a social gathering spot as a place to reel in the day’s dinner. In many instances, they anchor a town to its past and present. Besides fisher-folk, the piers usually attract surfer-types.
Here’s a stroll down 10 of the state’s peerless beach piers, with hints on what’s biting, what’s cooking and what’s the buzz. The best fulfill their social obligation with lots of activity and a stellar beach.
1. Panama City Beach: This beach has not one but four piers jutting out from the Gulf of Mexico’s north shores. The main 1,500-foot-long City Pier anchors Pier Park, an immense shopping-entertainment spread with a mix of chain and department stores, boutiques, clubs and restaurants, amusement park rides and an outdoor concert venue. Billfish, snapper, redfish and other trophy catches are biting in these waters.
2. Cocoa Beach: One of Florida’s most famous beach piers, its surfing scene puts it on the gnarly map. The mid-Atlantic beach sees a lot of festivals, surfing competitions and everyday action around its 800-foot pier, which holds restaurants, bars, gift shops and live entertainment. Cast for grouper, tarpon, wahoo and pompano.
3. Daytona Beach: Its drive-on beach makes it one of Florida’s "partyingest" beaches. Around the Main Street Pier is designated a pedestrian zone. The pier dates to the 1920s and is the hub of the beach’s amusement park scene – like a year-round county fair in the sand. Fishing is free from the 1,000-foot pier into the Atlantic, where the catches are much the same as at Cocoa Beach.
4. Clearwater Beach: This central Gulf Coast beach anchors at Pier 60 Park, where street performers and revelers gather nightly to celebrate the sunset. The 1,080-foot pier lies near restaurants, beach concessions and volleyball. Fisher-folk report catches of everything from sheepshead to cobia.
5. Venice Beach: Moving south along Florida’s Gulf Coast, you come to this beach, known for its sharks' teeth pickings. The pier’s restaurant is called – what else? – Sharky’s on the Pier, with live entertainment Wednesday through Sunday. At 700 feet long, the pier hooks fishers into mackerel, flounder and snapper.
6. Jacksonville Beach: At the northern end of Florida’s Atlantic Coast, it, too, attracts surfers. Restored in 2004 from dereliction, the area around this pier underwent a face-lift that brought in new restaurants and a new shine. Catching can get adventuresome on the 1,320-foot pier with reports of barracuda and shark among others.
7. Fort Myers Beach: Here’s another beach that knows how to party, and most of it happens in the clubs and restaurants at the base of the pier. Come for sunset or to tease the snook and tarpon out of the warm southern gulf waters.
8. Fort Walton Beach: The Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier connects to Fort Walton Beach’s Boardwalk, where you will find restaurants, bars and shops. On the beach? A playground and the softest, whitest variety of sand you’ll find anywhere. The 1,262-foot pier yields billfish and redfish catches from northern gulf waters.
9. Naples: Naples dwells at the calmer end of the beach piers spectrum. Still, its historic 1,000-foot gulf-front pier attracts fishers and strollers day and night. Within a short walk from downtown’s Third Street South restaurants, bars and stores, it offers more than snook and snapper to lure folks.
10. Anna Maria Island: This one is unique because it sits low, close to Tampa Bay waters with a view of Tampa’s Sunshine Skyway. Have a bite and a drink at the pier’s restaurant or at one of several eateries lining the shore. Or wet a line in hopes of hooking a kingfish or snapper from the 700-foot pier.