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An ode to the only fishing pier of Miami

Old Rickenbacker fishing pier
Daniel Rivero
/
WLRN
The Rickenbacker Causeway was originally built in 1947. Remnants of the old bridge now serve as a fishing pier.

The fishing pier on the Old Rickenbacker Causeway is one of the last remaining remnants of Old Miami. How long does it have left?

They say you only miss something when it’s gone. But sometimes you have to take a pause and appreciate the things we still have.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot about a place that’s become my favorite spot in the City of Miami: the fishing pier on the Old Rickenbacker Causeway. A place suspended on Biscayne Bay, where the cars zip above and the boats pass below.

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This little slab of concrete is one of the last remnants of Old Miami, and it’s easy to overlook. The New Rickenbacker was built in the '80s and it towers above, with joggers and cyclists crossing the bridge in their workout gear and Maseratis screaming past.

But on this lower level, the men show up to the Old Rickenbacker in utility vans and pick-up trucks, wearing baseball caps and long-sleeve shirts that bear the names of roofing companies and mechanic shops.

They bring their whole families here in hopes of catching dinner. Moms set up little tents to block out the sun, kids ride bikes and teenagers dance to TikTok videos next to confused pelicans.

You’ll hear some cumbia here, and you’ll also hear bachata, salsa and classic rock — blaring out of tiny speakers. It’s like a convention of living rooms from each cross-section of Miami, with families clapping for each other when someone gets a big catch.

Old Rickenbacker pelicans
Daniel Rivero
/
WLRN
Pelicans on the old fishing pier, as locals cast lines in the background.

This place was built in 1947 and named after Eddie Rickenbacker, a World War II (and WWI) hero who shot down no fewer than 22 enemy planes.

And for years I’ve come here to his namesake, which by now is one of those words people know, but don’t really know.

There used to be another fishing pier on this old bridge, on the side closest to the city. Recently arrived Cuban refugees lived in vans nearby, and they’d come cast lines and sell bottled water to make a few bucks.

But that was shut down in 2007 and then demolished. And now this existing, remaining piece of the Old Rickenbacker is the only fishing pier we have left in the City of Miami, if you can imagine that.

A seaside city in a state that bills itself as the ‘fishing capital of the world’ — with a single, hidden fishing pier to its name. (Note: The fishing pier on the Old Rickenbacker itself is a jurisdictional quirk; Virginia Key is a part of the City of Miami, but the park and fishing pier are operated by Miami-Dade County. The City of Miami actually bans all fishing from city parks, many of which are on the water.)

Fishing off of Old Rickenbacker fishing pier
Daniel Rivero
/
WLRN
A local casts a line off of the Old Rickenbacker fishing pier.

You can see the skyline perfectly from this quiet place in the middle of the city, see how it’s growing taller and taller as the yachts get fancier and fancier. And when you spend enough time here it dawns on you how out of place this rusty old remnant of a bridge is, in the big scheme of things.

We’re pretty used to disappointment in Miami.

The Marine Stadium that was abandoned after Hurricane Andrew 30 years ago and never reopened. The Coconut Grove Playhouse saga. The promised waterfront park behind the FTX Arena where the Miami Heat play — we’ve waited more than two decades for that to happen, and nothing yet.

Close by the Old Rickenbacker, you used to be able to barbecue on the beach on Hobie Island with the perfect view of Brickell, and set out your kayak from its shores. But that beach has been closed to the public for years now. I like to think it’s because the Brickell people got tired of Santeria sacrifices washing up on their luxury apartments. No matter why it is, my favorite barbecue spot is no longer.

I asked the county for inspection reports for this old fishing pier, to try to gauge how much life it has left. But because of 9/11, they say they can’t legally tell me anything at all about the kind of shape it’s in. For security reasons.

The only thing I know is that they’ve done two full inspections since Hurricane Irma in 2017, and I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a good thing to me, since fishing piers a lot of times are damaged or destroyed in hurricanes.

Maybe it’s better that we don’t know how long this fishing pier has left. That I can’t count down to my last visit before they knock it down. Because let’s be honest. They’re probably going to knock it down.

It could happen tomorrow, it could happen five years from now. But in the meantime from where I sit — the sun rose this morning over Crandon Park and tonight it sets over Coconut Grove.

And for today, that’ll do. That’ll do just fine.

Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.