How to Fish Around Docks

Docks are structures that usually hold fish. Here's how to fish them.

Photo © Ron Brooks
Dock Fishing. Photo © Ron Brooks

All up and down both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts – although more in the Atlantic – you will find docks. From large industrial docks to small, private, residential docks, you will find them literally everywhere. Some are new, creosoted wood, others are concrete, metal or old rotting wood. And, in almost all cases, fish are attracted to these structures. Dock fishing is a specialized form of structure fishing that anyone can learn to do and do well.

Why is Dock Fishing so Popular?

Let’s look at what a dock means in terms of fishing. It’s a place where a boat can be tied. That means the water under it has to be deep enough to float that boat – usually even at low tide. I’ve seen docks that are high and dry at low tide and only usable at high tide. These docks need to be left alone because they will probably not have fish under them even at high tide. Fish need a home they can depend upon.

So for the dock that always has water, the fish have a home where they can feel protected. The other reason dock fishing is popular is that these docks are almost always in protected water. Even if the wind blows and other areas are rough, docks are usually in calm water and can be fished in any weather short of a hurricane!

Two Dock Factors

Two important factors make docks great places to fish. First, except for the brand new structures, docks attract and are home to any number of marine plants and animals.

Oysters and barnacles cling to the dock pilings. They, in turn, provide something for plant life to cling to and small animal live an estuary in which to grow. Every dock structure is sort of a mini-eco-system of its own.

Second, these docks provide cover. Cover means relief from the sun, protection for small fish from larger, predator fish, and for those predator fish, it means a steady food supply.

The dock pilings provide some relief from a fast moving current. Fish will position themselves facing the current, just behind the piling and await a meal. What better place to be than that!?

What Species of Fish Like Docks?

Obviously, we are talking about inshore fish in this context. But, juvenile gag grouper and Goliath grouper that can be found offshore will often be found in and around a dock structure in the southern Atlantic.

Flounder, redfish, sea trout, gray (mangrove) and other smaller varieties of snapper, and snook can all be found under and around dock structures. There are myriad other species of small fish found around a dock, but these are the ones primarily targeted by anglers.

Snook fishing around docks has long been a favorite angling activity in Florida. The art of presenting a lure or bait in a way that a wary snook will strike it coupled with the expertise needed to pull one of these line-sided monsters from under that dock is daunting.

Fishing Techniques

The two techniques – using natural bait or Artificial bait – can both be productive if they are done right. Let’s take natural bait first.

A small live fish or minnow – like a mud minnow – or a live shrimp makes the top of the list for natural baits.

Fished with a small weight or a jig head, these baits are presented to the fish on the bottom. Remember that the fish will almost always be facing into the current and usually will be behind a pole or piling.

Artificial lures include jigs, bucktails, grubs, and crankbaits. In the early morning or late in the day a noisy topwater lure can also work. But, for the most part, the lure needs to get down in the water column toward the bottom.

There are three choices for boat position, and any of them will work if you pay attention to the current.

  • Anchor Parallel to The Dock

    With this method, you will be casting your bait across the current and allowing it to sink down as the current moves it. This works for the outside edge pilings, those closest to the deeper water. Cast to the most up-current piling and let your bait move its way close to the bottom, passing the pilings as it goes down.

  • Anchor Up-Current from the Dock

    In this scenario, the current will be headed directly away from the stern of the boat toward the pilings of the dock. Here you will let you bait go down between two pilings and let the current take in the back under the dock. You will probably get more strikes with this method, but as the bait moves far back under the dock, your chances of dragging out a big fish without being cut off by sharp barnacles decrease dramatically.

  • Anchor Down-Current from the Dock

    This position is one of the better ones for artificial lures. You can cast up current and work the bait between the pilings close to the bottom all the way back to the boat. Additionally, you bait is moving more naturally with the current. Artificial baits that are worked against the current are just not natural and consequently draw fewer strikes.

Which Docks Do I Fish?

Now there is the question! Knowing which docks hold fish and which don’t is a matter of trial and error. If you find fish under a dock on this trip, the chances are good you will find them there under similar circumstances on another trip. But – don’t over fish one particular dock! You can and will deplete the fish population of a set of docks if you consistently fish those same docks. Think about the fact that others surely know the fish are there and they fish these same docks. Too much pressure runs fish away. Have a variety of docks picked out and work a plan where you aren’t fishing the same ones on every trip.

Bottom Line

You can catch fish under docks.

Trial and error will help you learn to get a fish out from under a dock. Hunt and peck will find the docks where you fish that usually have fish under them. Smart conservation will prevent you from overfishing one specific dock.