Fort Clinch Pier, Florida Fishing Guide
Fort Clinch is located on Amelia Island, Florida’s northernmost island in the Atlantic Ocean. Established as a state park in 1938, Ft. Clinch offers a wide variety of activities for visitors. Swimming, camping, crabbing, biking, hiking, and bird-watching are all popular. Something else to do at the park is to tour and explore the old brick fort. Of all the activities the state park offers, my husband and I have a definite favorite: Saltwater fishing. We’ve fished numerous locations within the park, and our favorite spot is the Fort Clinch Pier. The concrete structure is half a mile long and juts out into the Cumberland Sound. Running alongside the pier is a rock jetty that separates the sound from the Atlantic Ocean. Few times we have been “skunked” fishing the pier, but we learned our techniques through trial and error over the years. Fortunately for you, you can learn from our experiences fishing the Fort Clinch State Park pier.
Planning Your Fishing Trip
The gates to Fort Clinch State Park open at 8:00 a.m. and close each day at sundown. Entry price as of summer 2015 is $6 per car. Be sure to save your receipt so that you can exit and re-enter the park on the same day at no extra charge. Be sure to have your Florida fishing license with you. If you’re not a resident of the state, you can purchase a license online. Prices for nonresident saltwater fishing licenses include a three-day license at $17, a seven-day license at $30, or a yearly license at $47. Anglers under the age of sixteen do not have to have a license.
In addition to your license, you’ll probably want to bring a cooler. The ones on wheels work best because it’s a pretty long haul if you want to fish at the end of the pier. There’s no shade provided, and in the summer, it can get very hot on the concrete in the summer months. Bring plenty of cold drinks, sunscreen, and a cap or visor. Alcoholic beverages aren’t permitted. Also, bring some extra tackle, as it’s easy to lose hooks and weights in the rocks and under the pier. Depending on the fish species you’re targeting, you might want to include a drop net in your fishing supplies. Some fish, like seatrout, have fairly flimsy mouths, so they might fall off the hook before you can get them onto the pier. A large drop net largely eliminates this problem.
After you park in the paved lot, you’ll take a wooden walkway to the pier. You’ll pass the bathrooms, which have showers, toilets, and sinks. “Go” before you continue on to the pier. There are also water fountains and a cold drink machine located at the restrooms. Drinks are $1.50 each.
Ft. Clinch State Park
Florida Fishing Regulations
Before your fishing trip, get familiar with the required size limits and number of species you can keep. The most likely catches from the pier include redfish, spotted seatrout, flounder, whiting, sheepshead, sharks, spadefish, ladyfish, and black drum, so I’ve included the information for these species:
Redfish – Must be between 18 and 27 inches long. Bag limit is 2 per day.
Spotted seatrout – Must be between 15 and 20 inches long. In Northeast Florida, you can keep 6 per day.
Flounder – Must be at least 12 inches long. Daily limit is 10.
Whiting – No size limit and 100-pound bag limit.
Sheepshead – Must be at least 12 inches long. Daily bag limit is 15.
Sharks – Florida regulations on sharks are too detailed for me to mention here. Anyway, unless you’re a shark expert, you probably wouldn’t be able to distinguish between some of the allowed species and the protected species. My advice to you is to stay within the law, release any shark you catch, unharmed. If you really want to keep a shark, familiarize yourself with the regulations and make sure you can identify the numerous species. Shark meat is delicious when prepared and cooked right, by the way, so it might be worth some time to understand the fishing regulations for Florida sharks.
Bluefish – Must be at least 12 inches long. Daily limit is 10 fish.
Weakfish – All the waters of Nassau County, including those around the Ft. Clinch Pier, lie in a weakfish management area. You can keep just one weakfish per day, and it must measure at least 12 inches.
Spadefish – No size limit. Your keep must weigh less than 100 pounds, total.
Black drum – Must be between 14 and 24 inches. You can keep 5 per day.
Ladyfish – No size limit. You can keep up to 100 pounds of ladyfish.
Fishing Tips for the Ft. Clinch Pier
The following suggestions are based on our years of experience fishing the pier at Fort Clinch State Park. Of course, your experiences could be different.
Flounder – Flounder is one of the tastiest fish in the sea! The best place we’ve found for flounder is between the pier and the rocks. Directly under the pier can also be productive. Depending on their mood, flounder can be caught anywhere from high tide to two hours before low tide. Best live baits include live shrimp, finger mullet, and mud minnows. Fish these on or near the bottom, and move your bait frequently. Some artificial are also great, including leadhead salty dogs in pink and white and Gulp baits. Among the Gulp baits, we’ve been most successful with the mantis shrimp. Cast it out and use an up-and-down erratic retrieve. When a flounder bites, don’t set the hook too quickly. They usually “mouth” the bait for a few seconds before actually taking it.
Trout and Weakfish – There are several ways to catch spotted seatrout and weakfish. Perhaps the most popular is to float a live shrimp under a cork. We’ve also caught them on dead shrimp, with cut bait, and with artificial lures like lead head jigs with grubs, Gotcha plugs, and white bucktails. Fish between the pier and the rocks at and around high tide. Their flesh is white, mild, and delicious.
Redfish – Redfish will usually take a wide variety of baits, including live shrimp, dead shrimp, live minnows, mantis shrimp, cut bait, and pieces of blue crab. We’ve caught our largest reds in the fall, just before or just after high tide. Artificial baits can also be deadly, including spoons, DOA shrimp, and lead heads with grubs. Redfish is great broiled, grilled, and blackened.
Whiting – Use dead shrimp or small pieces of cut bait directly on the bottom. Whiting are great fried!
Sheepshead – Sheepies are tricky and are hard to hook. Fish near the rocks or around the pier pilings at high tide with fiddler crabs, sand fleas, or barnacles. Their bite is very subtle. Sheepshead make excellent table fare.
Spadefish – These fish look like big angelfish and taste somewhat like freshwater bream. To catch them, use small hooks and small pieces of shrimp or cut bait. Fish around the pier pilings, at or near the bottom.
Black drum – We’ve caught black drum with a variety of baits, but they love sand fleas. Larger fish will hit blue crabs. Fish under the pier or near the rocks. Black drum weighing under four or five pounds, called “puppy drum,” are good eating. Throw the larger ones back.
Sharks – There are some huge sharks in the sound! For some reason, they seem to mostly congregate in a spot perpendicular from the sixth or seventh light post from the end of the pier. Best baits include large chunks of oily fish like mullet.
Bluefish - Blues are voracious feeders and will hit almost anything, anywhere along the pier, especially on the sound side. Their flesh is strong and oily.
Ladyfish – Ladyfish aren’t good to eat, but they’re fun to catch. They look like small tarpon and can be caught with live or dead shrimp, minnows, and cut bait. Cast your line out into the sound, or if you’re skilled enough, cast over the rocks and into the Atlantic. Ladyfish make excellent cut bait.
Flounder Fishing at the Ft. Clinch Pier
Catching Whiting at the Pier
Catch Your Own Bait!
You can buy all sorts of bait at Leaders and Sinkers Bait Shop at Egan’s Creek, which is located near Fort Clinch. The address is 1620 North 14th Street, Fernandina Beach, Florida.
If you prefer free bait, you can procure your own inside the state park. Finger mullet and larger mullet can be caught with a cast net in the sound and in the river. The river is located in the River Campground area. Don’t wade out too far, as the currents are very strong.
If it’s fiddler crabs you want, catch a few of those at a small creek you’ll cross on the way to the pier. Park your vehicle on the side of the road and walk down the embankment to the sandy creek. There are usually fiddlers milling about. Another good place to catch fiddler crabs is at the river beach.
To catch sand fleas, walk to the Atlantic beach adjacent to the pier. Watch the sand closely as the waves retreat, and you can often see the sand fleas digging themselves into the wet sand. The best way to catch them is to use a square of metal hardware cloth.
Keep It Legal and Have Fun!
Spending a few hours on the Ft. Clinch pier is very enjoyable, even if you’re not a fisherman. The view is great, and you might see a manatee, a big shark, a sea turtle, huge ships, and even a submarine. There’s no need to walk all the way to the end of the pier – fishing is good just about the entire length. And if you’re just on the pier for the views, you certainly don’t need to go to the end. If you need to stop and take a break, there are numerous benches along the way. If you do happen to fish the pier, be a responsible angler. Make sure you follow the Florida Saltwater Fishing Regulations, and don’t be wasteful. Never keep more fish than you’re going to eat. Return unwanted fish to the water as quickly as possible. Good luck and tight lines on your Florida fishing trip!