Fishing Docks and Dock Lights
It's no wonder why you see masses of inshore anglers casting to nearly any dock that exists as their prime targets, as docks are one of the best manmade structures to catch a variety of species. They provide safety, food, and comfort, the three things that make them tick. Among the top, snook, trout, and redfish call docks their stompin' grounds throughout much of their lives, and many other species can be found visiting docks as well, from sea bass and grouper, to snapper and sheepshead.
Typically, the majority of docks include downward facing dock lights, and many now include underwater light pods positioned around the outer radius of the docks to attract fish. Homeowners tend to get territorial of their docks and often improvise tactics to keep outside anglers away. Personally, I feel this is not a very neighborly thing to do, as they should have known the outcome far before creating such a great fishing habitat. If you build it, they will come is a fair assessment not only for fish, but also for their predators; anglers.
Some of this homeowner animosity towards anglers may be well deserved however, as I've seen anglers climbing onto docks and boats to retrieve their snagged lures, which is personal property and should never be attempted. Just get as close as you can, cut your line and leave your lure to the homeowner as a thank you present. I've even seen anglers moor to the docks, and for those of you guilty of such improper actions, I highly recommend you stop invading their personal property and fish the dock from a distance as you should be doing anyway. Be respectful, responsible, and thoughtful to the homeowners and we may just have these docks to fish for years to come.
There are several different scenarios to consider when fishing a dock. You'll need to account for day fishing methods, night fishing methods, from land or boat, and with live baits, crank baits, and jigs, all of which can be found in my book, and a limted version of this information here. They are fished differently, and knowing when to apply the right technique for each situation will indeed increase your success. In addition, we need to determine what species of fish we intend to catch. The below image shows the key casting and target locations for fishing from land. The casting position is indicated with an "X,", and the targets are numbered in the sequence of steps. In this case we are going to use a "T" shaped dock, as they are pretty common around Florida and offer a medium level of difficulty. The first thing I need you to take note of is how we progress from the seawall to the outer dock in small steps. Too many excited anglers rush out onto the dock and head for the end, in which case you've most likely limited your chances of hooking up without a long wait.
Common practice for many is to head for the lights where they can see their target darting in and out of the light. Let me just tell you that most of my larger snook have come off the shadow line or other areas in the dark. With that being said, one of the biggest issues is trying to find a dock that people are not already on. Your best bet is to fish on the weekdays during late nights. Regardless, many popular docks recieve so much attention that local fish tend to ignore those sounds that would generally spook them, so don't let human activity prevent you for using these tactics.
Make your first cast from land (X) along the inside of the main dock connecting to the "T" portion of the dock (1). Work your bait back to you at least a dozen or more times at different speeds. If nothing seems to be attracted, move to the opposite side and work that path in the same fashion as your first cast (1). This path produces many bites in various water conditions. It keeps the fish close to the structure where during hot summer days it will provide shade from the sun, and when water temps are cooler it will provide heat from where the dock pilings protrude into the water. It also keeps the fish closer to structure and keeps them in the comfort zone. Too many times I see anglers casting far from the dock, out into the open. While I'm sure there are fish hanging around out there at times, remember what I stress throughout this book frequently; structure! The best structure you have going in this scenario is the big wooden thing you are standing near, so use it! Throwing a lighting condition in the mix changes that last statement, as shadows are a form of structure, which will be discussed later in this section.
Now then, rather than walking out on the dock, remain in the same place and start to fan cast towards the outer tips of the connecting dock, between 1 and 3. Work each side thoroughly. Many people get in too much of a hurry and put a handful of casts into an area and then move on. When you fan your casts keep them just a foot or so apart. Once you reach the tip of the dock, if you are able, cast beyond the outer edges of the dock. This path works well in ideal to warmer water conditions at night when the sun drops, and ideal conditions during the day. In conditions where the water is too hot or too cold the fish will keep close to the structure and usually only come out a few feet, in which case I usually bypass the fan casts and stick to fishing close to the structure.
Now it's decision time. You've worked the dock from land and now it's time to move onto the dock and start working more areas. Before you walk out onto the dock, are you missing any opportunities to get a strike? If you're not a patient person, or dedicated to catching fish, then continue on to the dock. If you want to explore the options, I'll detail them towards the end of this section. In the meantime, I'm going to assume you have limited patients, so proceed onto the dock.
*****To read more you'll have to buy the book.****** This section continues with various other presentation methods and tactics for both live and artificial baits, as well as strategies from land and boat.
So what about those dock lights? Which ones are best? Rather than solely targeting a dock light, the first thing to target is structure. Finding a dock with a lot of underwater structure, close to a channel, with good current flow, and depth of 6 feet or more is what I look for before the type of light. Once I find something close, I'll fish it regardless of the type of light, as any light is good when it comes to night fishing. I've caught some of the biggest snook, redfish, trout, and tarpon under the dimmest of lights cast from a bridge or dock, and it was mostly structure that played a good part in those hook ups. If I had to chose the color of an above water light I'd opt for a super bright white LED light over the old yellow incandescent lights. They are simply brighter and provide better underwater effects to your advantage in my opinion. When the light shines down from above the water, especially a bright white light, it appears to produce a darker silhouette of the bait and makes it contrast. In turn, this casts a lot of dark area on your bait and helps mask the hook, if you're using a dark hook as you should in this case. It also makes fish less weary and more likely to strike.
On the other end, underwater lights cast an up-light onto your bait giving the fish a much better view of your offerings, and any terminal tackle attached, so be sure to keep lines trimmed, terminal tackle limited, and fluorocarbon line. As far as color goes I would probably choose a green underwater light. The underwater light can work against you if your knots aren't tight, your hook and line is to visible, etc. From personal experience, I feel the above water lights work better for top water fish like snook and trout, while the underwater lights seem to favor bottom fish like redfish and other drum. It's really hard to say, but that's my preference and opinion, and I've done pretty well with both types of light in various colors. That's not to say that you won't find top water fish around underwater lights, because they are found there often and plentiful as well.
Let's throw a well defined dock light into the mix, and approach it from a boat. Land locked anglers will fish it generally the same. If you're like me you've been out at night and find that most docks are occupied if the fish are biting. In your travels to find a dock take notice to how people are fishing these docks. You'll spot the experienced anglers quickly.
So the approach, as in the case with fishing from a dock, you'll want to come up as stealth as possible. Obviously motoring up to your spot isn't going to do you any good, so we move our attention to a trolling motor. For the land locked angler, try reaching your target without going onto the dock, but if you have to, stay as far away as possible. Trolling motors also make noise, and they do indeed spook fish. Those fish get pressure all the time from anglers, and they begin to adapt to certain noises. We know that we need to fish a dock light during good water movement, so rather than trolling up to your spot, troll from afar and ahead and drift back to your dock, gently slipping the anchor in far ahead and use the anchor and rope to bring you in, not your trolling motor.
I like to stay as far away as possible in the beginning, keeping in mind that I need to be able to cast accurately, control my bait, and get the fish out or away from the dock quickly. To manage all these aspects, putting your boat in the right spot is crucial. Each angler has their own skill set, so getting these three aspects right is on you.
Many times when you pull up to a dock you'll see small bait dancing on the surface and larger bait darting through the light, as well as trout, snook, redfish, and other species making their presence known. The kneejerk reaction is to throw a bait in the school and see what comes out. As I've said many times, this is not the right approach. Although it can produce, and at times may be the only way to get a strike, I'd rather slowly introduce my bait and place odds on not spooking them and killing the bite just as I do when fishing a dock from land. The window for a solid bite usually isn't long as is, so make your attempts count.
Sit back for a few minutes and watch what is going on. Let your new noises acclimate into the surroundings before you start throwing bait. Watch which way the fish are positioned, how they are reacting to the bait under the light, and take note in the size of the bait and fish. To read more, please purchase the book.