No. Not all docks. And certainly not year round. How do you know which docks to fish?
Here is a little primer to let you know what I look for when dock fishing.
Is there moving water?
The first thing to look for when dock fishing is whether or not the area that you’ll be fishing in has moving water around it. Most of the species we fish for in Florida are ambush predators that lie in wait around structure or bottom contours for the current to sweep unsuspecting prey items to them. These fish also use the structure as a current break.
Now, you don’t need a 10 knot tide to be blowing by your preferred dock to think that fish might be there, nor does it matter , in most cases if the tide is incoming or outgoing. Just as long as the water is moving.
If I’m fishing a new area at night, the first thing I look for are the docks in moving water.
On a recent night trip, most of the docks facing the main channel with the best moving water didn’t have lights on them. When we found one that did, we were pulling in fish on almost every cast.
Go To The Light
One of the areas that I often fish at night has quite a few residential inlets. Every house has a dock in the backyard and probably half of them have lights on at night. Most of these docks with lights are fairly close together, so I don’t have to paddle a half mile to go from one to the next. It almost reminds me of Trick Or Treating as a kid….except instead of candy, you’re pulling fish. These lights attract baitfish and shrimp, and you can bet that hungry gamefish will be close behind….the lights acting as the Golden Arches or Denny’s to drivers on the highway.
The best lights to cast around are the low-to-the-water type that are shining downward. The light acts like the sun in the sense that the fish see the silhouette of your lure. That’s not to say that the modern underwater colored lights that point up aren’t good, I just feel that the fish can see your lure better (and not in the good way) when your offering is lit from beneath as opposed to from above.
Also, resist the urge to cast right at the light….try to cast past it and reel it back with the current, taking care to work the edge of light and dark. Often times, big night feeding snook hang around the shadows outside the light’s cone of brightness to ambush unsuspecting bait fish. Large spotted seatrout also hang around the darker, shadowy sections of a dock so if you’re only catching schoolies, cast for the dark, and along the seawalls between lighted docks. Try to stay back from the dock a safe distance as not to spook nervous fish…and remember, stealth is paramount.
Target Deeper Water Docks
One of the rules that I used to live by when bass fishing was to look for the docks in deeper water. During the Florida summer, water temperatures often tick into the 90′s, even overnight. Fish are cold blooded and prefer cooler water. When scouting your docks in the daytime or when looking at Bing Maps, try to locate the areas where the water around the docks is deeper. Most of the dock areas I fish are in about 8 feet of water. Also, any area mooring sailboats will usually have deeper water underneath to allow for the keels of these vessels.
The deeper water usually will be cooler than what might be 2 or 3 feet deep. Also, depth gives most fish a “security blanket” and aren’t as skittish in most cases.
Another feature in areas that get dredged every few years is a “hump” of bottom right under the dock. I would advise anyone fishing an area like this to make sure to cast directly under the dock. This is a prime area to find redfish rooting around at night, and they won’t hesitate to hammer your offering.
What to use?
As I always say, “If you can’t find fish, it doesn’t matter what you use.” and the same rings true when dock fishing.
One of my favorite go to lures to use in any situation is a DOA Shrimp in Clear/Red Flake, so I suppose it’s the same when fishing docks at night. Everything that swims in saltwater besides mullet feed on shrimp. I’ve seen shrimp swimming along with the current under the lights and my first thought is always “How did that guy make his DOA swim toward me?”…only to realize that it’s the real deal.
DOA Shrimp - Clear/Red Flake
Another favorite is a Storm Shad Tail in dark green and silver. The darker coloring helps silhouette the lure against the dark background.
A Strike King Shad-a-licious in Pearl Black Back looks just like a finger mullet and will draw attention when cast past the light and speed reeled through. It often triggers an instinctual strike from snook who think it’s a bait trying to get out of town.
A sturdy, yet short rod is a good bet for dock fishing. I use a 6.5 long, medium heavy Ugly Stik rod and a medium sized Penn Silverado spinning reel. The shorter Stik allows me to skip a lure under a dock with ease without having to sacrifice strength, giving me the power to yank big fish out and away from the structure. 20 lb Power Pro is the rule as well as 30lb mono leader.
Whatever you decide to use, plan on losing some tackle. Not only do you have to worry about hanging up on a piling, but oftentimes, there are crab traps, bumper ropes among other obstacles to get hooked on. Remember to always be respectful because you’re literally fishing in someones backyard. Always try to retrieve snagged lures without climbing onto the dock. I carry a reach and grab tool just for this reason.
So there you go. A few Badtastic tactics to help you with docks at night.
Read more of Rob's Inane Musings HERE