Some features that give a dock good fishing characteristics are obvious. I am automatically drawn to older docks--the older the better. These docks have had a longer time to develop marine habitat underneath them, which in turn will draw the predators. If a dock is actually broken, I’ll fish it even harder. Broken docks often leave their skeletal remains just below the surface, which obviously is even more structure. Couple that with the absence of foot traffic to spook the fish, and you have the makings for a “fishy” dock.
Other features that are more subtle play into the picture as well. Some docks that sit in shallow water may fish better on the higher end of the tides, while docks situated in deep water may be more productive at low tide. Many docks have shell or oyster underneath them or close by. Shell and dock combos can often be very good. Docks that have boats tied to them or on a hoist, often have a small depression or hole directly beneath the motor. This is created by the repeated turning of the engines prop at that one spot. Depending on current and land features, other docks will have a distinct depth change somewhere along the pilings. Any little changes along the length of a dock are targets. If a dock has any additions such as lower platforms, mooring pilings, or even just an additional jet ski lift, throw at it. The little extra shade or contrast can usually be just enough to hold a few big fish. Shade usually will be a factor at some time or another. Obviously in the summer months, the shade offers relief for the fish, but in the cooler months may be a less desirable. It probably needs be stated that docks in smaller systems such as canals, can actually offer warmth during the winter, and become great targets.
A docks placement in relation to the land can be critical as well. The docks or dock that sits on a point is always worth a stop. A similar set up is at the entrance to a marina, canal, river or smaller system. Some of my favorite docks are those in deep creek bends. As previously mentioned, I like to fish deeper docks at low tide. Another of my favorite scenarios are the docks closest to the ocean. Everywhere I have fished, it seems like manmade structure closest to the ocean will hold good fish at one time or another.
As far as how to fish or approach a dock, I pretty much have one rule. That is to present your bait with the current. This is not a factor if you are using a bottom rig. If you are free lining, anchor up current and float or free line your bait back naturally. If you like a bobber or cork, do the same. For those, like me, who like to use artificials, anchor or run the trolling motor into the current and work your bait with the current. Work as much of the chosen dock as possible. Often the best bites are under the dock, so you may have to pitch your bait under or thru the dock. With the cork or free lined bait, let it drift right on thru. I often upsize my tackle and tighten the drags an extra notch or two.
Finally, dock fishing, like anything improves with time on the water. You may well have to fish 10, 20, or even 30 docks before you hit pay dirt. One dock may fish better depending on tide, season, wind or a combination of other factors. It is important to either mentally record or have written (or I guess in this day and age there may be an app you can use for storage) records as to the “where and when”. After a while you will have a fairly solid pattern that you can mix in with your other spots. I hope this helps eliminate some of the guess work and as always, “you won’t know, if you don’t go!”By Tim Cutting