PIER GROUPS -- Friends are Just a Cast Away When You Enjoy a Day on a Virginia Fishing Pier
Updated: Jun 2
By Ken Perrotte
For a true American “melting pot” experience, check out one of Virginia’s many productive fishing piers. A visit to a fishing pier, especially in the summer when schools are out and families are on vacation, reveals a glorious mix of young and old, rural and urban, and just about every color, creed and ethnicity found in the American experience.
Note: The article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of Virginia Wildlife. Here is it, slightly expanded -- with many additional photos. I must say, everyone I met on these 2019 visits to some of Virginia's finest fishing piers was exceptionally friendly and generally having some laid-back fun...many even caught fish! As always, verify with the pier the open times and prices.
Most times, a pier has a laid-back vibe, although there are days when the deck boards are densely packed with anglers. This is usually when word gets out about some tremendous “bite” taking place or on some weekends and holidays. Then, competition can transcend the normally placid conversation, storytelling and relationship-building that relaxed fishing in a tightly-defined space promotes.
Yes, a “pier group” is a blend of unique people from all walks of life bonded by a love for feeling a tug at the end of a line. Here is a look at some of Virginia’s saltwater and brackish water fishing piers.
James T. Wilson Fishing Pier (formerly Buckroe Fishing Pier)
This 709-foot Hampton pier is a destination for many anglers, with visitors traveling considerable distances to fish for a day or a week. It’s also popular with military veterans. During our visit on an early Wednesday evening, we quit counting after reaching more than 1,000 years of service represented on that pier.
“Just about the entire pier is military,” said Leo Judge, an Army retiree and native of Copperas Cove, Texas. A nearby friend, the pier’s gaffing expert Robert Garrett, originally from Guam, is also an Army retiree.
The pier is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from April 1 until December 31, except for periods of extremely bad weather. It closes January through March. Fronting the Lower Chesapeake Bay, it’s one of the few piers where anglers have a chance to hook into a hard-fighting cobia during the late spring and summer. The pier actually has a large red stripe painted down the center of the platform at its T-section terminus. That line denotes where cobia fisherman can operate with some exclusivity at certain times. But the pier has a bonanza of other species including bluefish, spot, croaker, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, rays, crabs and more.
Young anglers, fishing with family and friends, are common in the summer. Addison Ainsworth, age 11, was fishing next to her grandmother Judy Ainsworth. She and her father traveled from Oklahoma to join Judy on the pier. “I always catch fish,” Addison said with a smile. Sure enough, a few minutes later she was swinging a bluefish over the rail with obvious delight.
Down at the end of the pier, Samantha Dortch was fishing with her three children and her fiancé. “I love the smell of the saltwater and seeing all the cobia caught,” she said.
The pier, which was rebuilt after Hurricane Isabel, is lighted and has excellent facilities, including rest rooms, snack bar, fish-cleaning stations and a bait and tackle shop that offers rod rentals. Parking is free.
Fishing prices vary, with seasonal passes available. Daily passes range from $6-$8 for anglers. A license isn’t needed. Non-fishing visitors with fisherman are $4. Sightseers can visit for an hour for $1. The pier is at 330 South Resort Boulevard, Hampton, Virginia 23664. Call 757-727-1486 or visit www.hampton.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/47.
Gloucester Point Fishing Pier
This York River pier is just off U.S. 17 south, at Gloucester Point Landing, just before you get to the Coleman Bridge. The property borders the campus of William and Mary College and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
It’s a substantial pier with a large “T-head” to let anglers spread out as they access deeper water. Anglers catch croaker, spot, flounder, striped bass, seatrout, mullet, blue crabs and an occasionally catfish.
Thomas Parris, a regular from Williamsburg, says, “This pier can get crowded, especially on weekends and holidays, but I like it; it’s the closest to my house.” Nicole Codekas, is a local, living in nearby Hayes. She says she likes to visit the pier “just to see what friends are up to. Plus, I always run into friends on the beach.”
There is ample free parking and a beach but no readily available bait, tackle or food options. No fishing license is required. Night fishing is allowed (unless the pier is closed due to damage). The park, however, closes at 11 p.m. and reopens at 5 a.m.
The address is 1255 Greate Road, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062. For more information, contact Gloucester County Parks, Recreation and Tourism at 804-693-2355 or visit www.gloucesterva.info/Facilities/Facility/Details/Gloucester-Point-Beach-Park-9.
James River Bridge Fishing Pier
The new pier is made entirely of concrete, replacing an old bridge with deteriorating metal beams. At 6/10 of a mile, it’s one of the longest fishing piers on the East Coast. The pier extends out from the Crab Shack Restaurant, adjacent to Huntington Park. It is open from April through November. Croaker, spot and catfish are the main catches, along with striped bass, flounder, trout and an occasional puppy drum. New LED lights help attract fish in the evening.
Donald Moore, a transplanted New Yorker from New Rochelle to Williamsburg, had the end of the pier all to himself during a midweek visit. “I fish here every Tuesday,” he said. “I’m usually lucky down here. This is a comfortable, big pier and it’s not too crowded.”
The Webb family travels from Raleigh, N.C., just to fish this pier. “We’ve got some places in North Carolina that are so crowded, by the time you re-bait your hook someone has slipped into your place. This pier is long enough that you don’t have people right up on you,” said Edward Webb. Sandra Webb said they’ve been visiting the pier for 8 years, usually making three or four trips in the spring and fall.
No fishing license is required but there is a fee to fish. Adults are $10, with seniors and children age 6-12, $8. The pier is closed from Dec. 31 until April 15. Operating hours are 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays. The pier reopens at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays and stays open until 11 p.m. on Sunday.
There is a bait shop on premise with a limited amount of basic tackle. Michelle Veloso, a bartender at a nearby club, said she fishes the pier three-to-four times a week, noting it’s a great place to relax. Charlie Chan of McClean, Va., was making his first visit to the James River Pier. “I heard it’s good. I’ve fished piers from Delaware to Maryland,” he said. The address is 7601 River Rd, Newport News, Virginia 23607. For more information, call 757-247-0364 or go to www.crabshackonjames.com/james-river-fishing-pier.
Virginia Beach Fishing Pier
Located at 17th Street and Atlantic Avenue in the heart of Virginia Beach’s oceanfront strip, the large pier is superb on many fronts. First, anglers can catch croaker, kingfish, trout, red drum, Spanish mackerel, bluefish rays and more. The pier also gets a lot of pedestrian tourist traffic. It can be one of the best locations, short of taking a boat, to view dolphins.
A local Head Start program was staging a Daddy/Daughter Fishing Day in July during our visit. Several dads and their young children were trying to catch fish. One dad, Jay Roche, had brought a couple rods and reels, including a pint-sized child’s combo with a two-hook bottom rig tied on. The trouble was, he forgot to bring hooks. No worries. A quick check of anglers at the end of the pier found fisherman Moonilal “Moon” Ramdhan. He reached into his tackle box and pulled out a full bottom rig, complete with hooks, and within minutes young Khloe Roche, age 4, was in smiling business.
Ramdhan is a regular at the pier, often fishing alongside Mike Mahan, who moved to Virginia Beach from Italy five years ago. The duo like to pop jerk baits off the pier’s end, looking for bluefish, Spanish mackerel and speckled trout. Flounder can sometimes be caught at the portion of the pier where the surf breaks.
Wendy Fulton, a computer coding teacher who recently moved to the Hampton Roads area from Brooklyn, New York, was steadily moving from one side of the pier to the other. While she had a line in the water on the pier’s north side, her primary attention was on the two crab pots she placed on the south side. “They sure seem to like turkey necks,” she said. “If I catch enough, I’ll take them home and steam them up for a meal.”
Fishing is $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Spectators are $2. These are all day passes. The pier opens 24 hours from Memorial Weekend thru the annual Neptune Festival week at the end of September. Off-season hours (April through late May and October) are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nearby parking is $15 a day. The pier has a restaurant at the pier and a fairly well-stocked bait and tackle shop and a fish-cleaning station. For more details, call 757-428-2333.
Colonial Beach Municipal Pier
Colonial Beach is quaint tourist and retirement town located on the Potomac River close to the Westmoreland and King George County boundary. The spacious pier has a lot of fans, mainly because of its easy accessibility from areas of northern Virginia. Situated on big water, it’s a location featuring glorious summer sunrises and the opportunity to catch a variety of fish ranging from rockfish to croaker to perch. When salinity levels are low, it can also be a catfish hotspot. To reach it, take Route 205 to Colonial Beach, then turn right onto Colonial Avenue (near the McDonald's). Next, take a right on Washington Avenue and then a left on Hawthorn Street. The pier is at the end of the road. There is no bait or tackle available. Many small restaurants and snack bars are nearby. Inexpensive parking ($2 per hour) is nearby. www.colonialbeachva.net.
West Point (Glass Island Landing) Fishing Pier
This small pier in brackish water used to be a croaker hotspot that drew considerable crowds but that action has slowed in recent years. Anglers say catfish are the current mainstay, with the occasional croaker still taking the bait. Fishing is free and there is a free boat ramp adjacent to the pier. The pier extends 85 feet into the Mattaponi River and has a 70-foot T-section at the end. Access it from the Town of West Point with the closest intersection being 14th Street & Glass Island Road. Turn on to Glass Island Road and follow it about 2/10 of a mile to the pier area. www.west-point.va.us/pages/visitors/visitors.php.
King & Queen County Fishing Pier
This pier, located off Route 33 in Mattaponi, is almost directly across the river from the West Point Pier and a short distance from the Lord Delaware Bridge. The pier was built largely via a grant from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. The 65-foot-long pier has a 15-foot-by-30-foot T-section at the end. Individuals do not need a saltwater fishing license to fish there. Interesting, this pier is considered to be in saltwater because the line marking the break between freshwater and saltwater is the northern edge of the original Route 33 bridge abutments. This places the West Point pier in a freshwater status, although the water is actually brackish. For more information, contact county offices at 804-785-5975
Chincoteague Island Pier at Robert N. Reed Waterfront Park
This 155-foot-long, 8-foot-wide pier is just a few years old and is situated at the southwest end of Robert N. Reed Park. It is a popular place for watching sunsets, crabbing and catching fish, including flounder, striped bass, spot, croaker, pigfish, black sea bass puffers and more. Stylishly lighted, it extends into the main channel and many fish migrate through the area. It is made of wood and is constructed on an existing concrete bridge fender that was left after the old swing drawbridge was demolished. The town purchases a fishing license for this pier and the nearby, 250-foot pier at Veteran's Memorial Park
The closest intersection to the pier at Robert N. Reed Park at Church and Main Streets. A parking lot entrance is nearby. With the downtown location, the pier is located close to the town's historic shopping district, with many specialty stores and restaurants. Call 757-336-6519 or visit www.chincoteague-va.gov/recreation.
Westmoreland State Park Fishing Pier
The Westmoreland State Park Fishing Pier is 100-feet long and is situated between two rip-rap breakwaters over the Potomac River. Access to this handicapped-accessible pier is free after you have paid for admission to the park. Anglers 16 or older must have a valid saltwater fishing license (either Maryland, Virginia or Potomac River Fisheries Commission). The pier has been a good place to catch croaker, spot, white perch and striped bass. It is also a good location for crabbing. The park has restroom facilities and a seasonal snack bar. The park is located off Route 3 in Westmoreland County. Call 808-493-8821 or visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/wes.shtml.
Ocean View Fishing Pier - Norfolk
The large Ocean View Pier also fronts the Chesapeake and is just a short distance from Willoughby Spit. It is open every day, all day (weather permitting). Anglers say they catch a variety of species, including bluefish, spot, croaker, Spanish mackerel, rays and more. The pier can get crowded at times. A restaurant on the pier is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to midnight on weekends.
The pier offers rod/reel rentals and has a decently stocked bait and tackle shop. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and military members. Kids under age 5 are free. Monthly and seasonal passes are available. 400 West Ocean View Ave., Norfolk, Virginia 23503. Call 757-583-6000 or visit www.oceanviewfishingpier.com.
Sandbridge Little Island Fishing Pier
No fishing license is required but there is a fee to fish. Adults are $9, with seniors and children age 6-12, $8he pier is closed from Dec. 31 until April 15. Operating hours are 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays. The pier reopens at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays and stays open until 11 p.m. on Sunday. uth of the pier. Anglers there can catch a wide variety of fish, ranging from spot to croaker and trout, red and black drum, flounder, kingfish, bluefish, puffers, cobia, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, sharks and more. The pier is open from April 15 to Oct. 31 from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily. From Nov. 1 to April 14, it opens at 7 a.m. with closing times posted on location. Fishing costs $8 for Virginia Beach residents and $10 for nonresidents. Weekly and annual passes are available. Children under age 9 are free with a paying adult. Daily parking is $3 for Virginia Beach residents, $5 for nonresidents and $10 for buses and RVs. 3820 South Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23456. For more information, call 757-385-4461 or visit www.vbgov.com/government/departments/parks-recreation/parks-trails/city-parks/Pages/little-island-park.aspx1010108