If you are an avid angler but don’t have a boat to go offshore to catch fish, or you simply don’t feel like getting the boat out of storage and onto the water for a fishing trip, dock fishing is your next best option for both salt and freshwater fishing.
Many freshwater and saltwater fish species love to hang out around docks, and both beginner and pro fishermen can land their next trophy right from the comfort of the dock. Catching fish from the local boat docks is a great way to access deeper water fish without actually having to leave the shore.
Dock Fishing in Lakes, Rivers and Ponds
What Freshwater Fish Can I Catch from A Dock?
There are a wide range of fish you can find under and around a dock or pier. Most smaller fish like to hide around the cover to hide from predators, but predators also gather nearby specifically to target the smaller prey fish.
Some of the more common freshwater species you can find when dock fishing are bass, bluegill, catfish, and crappie. Each of these fish are excellent species to target for catch and release fishing, as well as sustenance fishing depending on your preference.
What Type of Rod and Reel is Good For Dock Fishing
You can almost use any rod and reel combo that you are most comfortable with as your go to choice for dock fishing, but my personal preference for freshwater fishing from a dock is with a 7 foot medium strength rod with fast action. The reel that goes best with it is a 4500 series from Penn, such as the Spinfisher V or VI versions.
Depending on what fish species you are hoping to target on your next dock fishing trip, a braided line with 20 pound test is a great option for pairing with any Spinfisher reel. Your leader line can be considerably higher weight, so 30 or 35 is a good option.
For bass anglers specifically, you won’t need a rod and reel combo that can perform a long cast since most of your fishing with either live bait or a lure will just be dropped off the edge of the dock. Even some big fish will likely be lurking right below your feet under the dock and you might not even realize it.
One of the reasons I highly recommend the Penn line of Spinfisher reels over the many others available on the market is that they can handle a fair bit of abuse. If you get sand and mud on the reel, which is very common with dock fishing, it still works exceptionally well because of the quality sealed body when other reels will get snagged or damaged.
See also: How to fix a fishing reel
What Parts of the Dock Should I Target
Big trophy sized bass love hiding around the dock pilings and support beams. They also love tall grasses and thick vegetation where small fish and other live bait may be hiding, so if you have any of that around your dock you can pretty much guarantee big bass will be hiding nearby.
Walkways leading up to the deeper docks are also great places for several species and small baitfish to hide, especially catfish down towards the bottom of the deep water, and bass or bluegill a bit higher up suspended in the water column depending on the water depth.
You can stand on the dock and fish over the side, or stand on the shore and cast towards the dock itself. Either option can get you great fishing results and some big fish in the bag, and it also won’t require you to hop onto a boat just for catching fish.
What Lures are Best for Dock Fishing
The best choice of lure or bait for dock fishing will depend on what time of day you are fishing from the dock. For example, if you head out in the early morning, a topwater lure such as a popper or buzzbait is a great choice. These lures can be worked slowly across and through the water to get early morning fish to take notice.
As the morning turns into afternoon, fish hiding under and around the dock will start to react better to faster moving lures such as spinnerbaits. You can move this lure around the support structures of the dock and see what might give it some good reaction bites.
Bass are usually very eager to strike at a spinnerbait in the late morning or early afternoon, but they will also take vibrating jigs, a variety of soft plastics, and around a dozen different bait. For bass, my personal favorite is either a live shrimp or soft plastic shrimp on a mid sized hook and a 20 pound test line.
If you’re still out there fishing in the afternoon when temps are at their highest and the sun is high in the sky, it’s time to move into using a jig with a trailer to catch more bass, redfish, and other species. This will give you the best results to catch fish of most species when dock fishing.
You want a slow falling jig and a trailer that will float a bit to create a unique shape and silhouette for nearby hiding fish to notice. You can also use a trailer that is infused with an odor to get more fish to show some interest and move closer for a bite.
How Can I Attract Fish to the Dock
The very structure of any pier or your favorite boat docks is already an appealing spot for many species of fish to gather, but if you want to attract even more fish as well as small shrimp and crabs for them to feed on, consider installing lights to the dock.
The brighter the dock lights, the better it will be to attract fish and their food items for dock fishing. Install your dock lights just above the water level and have them shining down into the water for the best results.
The bright light will draw in all sorts of microorganisms and small fish which will in turn draw in the fish you are targeting during your next fishing trip. It will also bring in a huge amount of insects, which is a great way to entice fish you want to catch with a fly or other topwater lure.
For even better results when dock fishing, get a green flood light bulb for your dock lights and angle it towards the dock pilings. The green color has been found to penetrate the water better and will draw fish from the depths up towards the surface and towards the dock. This gives you a chance to do some sight fishing or allows you to net some smaller bait fish and live shrimp.
See also: How to attract crappie to your dock
Saltwater Dock Fishing
What Species Can I Catch from a Saltwater Dock
Similar to freshwater dock fishing, saltwater dock and pier fishing can draw in a large number of different species for you to catch without needing to bother with a boat. Trust me, I know the hassle of getting a boat out of storage or down from it’s dry dock and getting it into the water. That’s why I recommend any angler tries their luck from the fishing docks.
Some of the most common saltwater species to catch around docks and piers are large and slow moving groupers, schools of sand bass, bottom dwelling flounders, and snook. You can also find a large amount of plankton, shrimp, jellyfish, and other small creatures which might just end up being the best baits for your target fish.
What gear should I use?
For saltwater dock fishing, I prefer using an 8 foot heavy rod with a durable rod tip, though a 7 foot heavy or medium-heavy would work as well. You should absolutely focus on getting a saltwater baitcasting reel such as a Piscifun Spark or a Shimano Tranx.
For line, you want to look for something that is durable and abrasion resistant, so opt for a braided line with 20 or 30 pound test. This is very true if you will be fishing around the pylons and other structures that are covered in barnacles and other sharp mollusks.
Bait or lures will depend on what species of fish you are wanting to catch. For example, if you are looking to catch sand bass and low lying flounder, try using live or fresh shrimp bait to get them to bite. Redfish are more open to a variety of food such as shrimp, mullet, crabs, whitebait, or small snook.
Groupers are the least picky of all and will suck almost any kind of bait or lure into their massive mouths. For grouper fishing, you definitely want to go with a heavy tackle setup since these fish can get big and extremely heavy, but aside from that they will normally sample any live or artificial baits and a variety of lures.
What Are Some Other Tips for Dock Fishing
When saltwater fishing from a dock or pier, one of the best fishing tips I can offer is to pay attention to the tide. At low tide, the water level will be much too low for most fish to remain under the docks and they will instead move further away from the dock. Obviously you won’t get much to bite, if anything, if you cast into extremely shallow water since they would have all moved into deeper water with the tides.
Another thing to keep in mind is the location of support posts or outlying pilings. These can easily snag your line or hook and cause abrasive damage or breakage if you aren’t careful because of the barnacles and other sharp-shelled organisms that grow there. This is definitely true if the waves are being a bit wild and are moving your lure in and out from where it was cast.
While they can definitely be a nuisance at times, waves and currents can also be used to your advantage when you want to make accurate casts. If you are trying to get your lure into a difficult spot to catch a large flounder or school of sand bass, you can use the currents to help move it where you need it and catch fish.