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Dock Fishing 101

Between the efforts of the Brevard County Parks and Recreation Department, the various efforts of individual cities and other agencies there is an abundance of docks overlooking the Indian River lagoon system offering fishing opportunities for the shore-bound angler. Most of the time however the dock is seen merely as a platform for fishing as far away from the shoreline as possible and it is my belief that far too many anglers will simply walk past some of the best opportunities of the day.
In my mind there are a few simple facts that no angler should ignore. Fish require food, and they don't like to be eaten themselves. In addition, any structure in the lagoon, natural or manmade will soon be colonized by barnacles, oysters, algae, and other attached life-forms which in turn provide hiding places for many other species of shrimps, crabs, small fish, etc. Small schools of juvenile glass minnows will also patrol these edges and in turn, all this food will draw gamefish.
On several occasions while walking out towards the end of a dock or along a seawall I have observed large trout, snook, or redfish leaving the area, spooked by my sudden appearance. I have seen redfish patrolling along seawalls within a foot of the wall looking for food. I often see trout smashing into schools of tiny baitfish along seawalls. I have seen sheepshead foraging along the seawalls and on the pilings of docks. During the summer, large schools of glass minnows will often gather along docks, piers and bridges in deeper waters and in turn attract school-sized trout and other species such as ladyfish and jack crevalle. These minnows will often gather along deeper seawalls as well. I have lain down on my belly on a dock in order to wash my hands after releasing a small seatrout. The water was fairly clear that day and I could see the bottom about 4 feet beneath the dock and quickly realized I was seeing a virtual aquarium of mangrove snapper and other fish under the dock.
I have also noticed that many professional guides who have access to the entire body of water will often position their guide boat so that their clients can work baits and lures around unoccupied docks. Trout will often seek refuge from the mid-day sun in the heat of the summer under deeper water docks.
The simple fact is that once a seawall, bridge or dock has been built if becomes a "mini ecosystem" that can and will attract fish and should not be ignored.


In the diagram at left I outline a strategy for fishing docks that has worked well for me. This of course works best if you are the first person at the dock before cast-netters joggers and noisy fishermen scare everything off.
I fish primarily with artificials and my favorite lures for fishing along docks are the Krocodile Spoon, 3/8 oz, chrome finish, and the Rapala Original Floating Minnow model F09, silver finish. If the shoreline is not a seawall but natural then usually the water is too shallow for the Rapala, which dives when retrieved. However, on occasion in these extreme shallows you can encounter snook, redfish or seatrout lying motionless. For this I will use a MirrOlure MirrOMullet. I fish these on my standard 7' spinning outfit loaded with 8 lb test line. I also use about 18-24 inches of 25 lb. monofilament shock leader. When I approach a public dock for fishing, I will stop at the base of the dock and position myself just to the side of the dock. My first casts will be parallel to the dock as close as possible on both sides. If the sun is up give the shadier side a greater priority. Then step onto the dock just a few feet and do the same along the seawall or shoreline. Next work the finger docks the same way. And finally work the outer edge. The most important thing to remember is BE QUIET! Fish have an organ called a lateral line that runs the entire length of their body. This thing is designed pick up vibrations from a struggling minnow and help them pick it off out of a school of thousands so there is no doubt in my find that it can pick up heavy footsteps on a wooden dock. After working your way out onto the end of the dock. Work the open water around the dock but occasionally make a cast back towards shore along the edge of the dock. This has worked for me on many occasions.
If you are fishing with live shrimp, try free-lining a shrimp under the main body of the dock from a finger dock or the "T" of the diagram. If need be you can use a small weight to get the bait closer to the bottom. For sheepshead concentrate on the dock pilings near the bottom. For me this has always worked better on docks that eventually extend to a depth where the bottom is no longer visible under normal conditions.
Good Luck!
Dean R. Pettit