GAME PLAN

STRATE­GIES FOR RES­I­DEN­TIAL FISH­ING: HOW EX­PERTS EN­JOY CON­SIS­TENT SUC­CESS FISH­ING DOCKS

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS -

BY 2020, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion fore­casts 135.63 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in coun­ties along the na­tion’s coast. That’s about 40 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion re­sid­ing in coun­ties that make up less than 10 per­cent of the land area of the con­tigu­ous United States. Sim­ply stated, peo­ple en­joy be­ing on or near the wa­ter.

Crowded res­i­den­tial ar­eas on coastal wa­ters equate to a jumble of docks that edge brack­ish bays, rivers and creeks. Don’t for­get the ac­com­pa­ny­ing board­walks, pil­ings, boat lifts, dredged chan­nels and all the rest.

We miss out when we mo­tor away from th­ese ob­vi­ous fish at­trac­tors. Fish­er­men can catch plenty of res­i­den­tial fish and even save some gas by tar­get­ing close-quar­ters docks and pil­ings com­mon in ev­ery coastal city. Three ex­pert cap­tains ex­plain their dock-fish­ing tech­niques.

SIZ­ING UP YOUR TAR­GETS

Capt. Bob Day has dock fish­ing for bass di­aled in — not large­mouths; rather, he tar­gets spot­ted bay bass ( Par­al­abrax mac­u­lato­fas­cia­tus, also re­ferred to as spot­ted sand bass). Spe­cial­iz­ing in light-tackle fish­ing in San Diego Bay, Day tar­gets bass, yel­lowfin croaker, Pa­cific bone­fish and oth­ers.

“Spot­ted bay bass are op­por­tunis­tic preda­tors,” says Day. “They at­tack food pushed past them by the cur­rents, but they also eat items stuck to docks, like clams and mus­sels.”

Com­par­ing bay bass to large­mouth bass can’t be avoided; in fact, many an­glers use the same tackle for both. “The sand bass hide close to the struc­ture of the dock,” ex­plains Day. “They will dart out to get food and then go back. Some­times they will be nes­tled right against the dock.”

Bay bass ag­gres­sion re­lates in­versely to the size of the fish — a fe­ro­cious ap­petite for small soft baits in­side a frame that av­er­ages 12 inches. The record IGFA bay bass is just shy of 5 pounds.

Use darker pat­terns in low light and brighter col­ors as the light in­creases. “In low light, I don’t think the fish can see col­ors, but they can see the pro­file of a darker color,” says Day.

Part of fish­ing docks is uti­liz­ing the right gear to han­dle a tar­get in tight quar­ters. For bass, Day sizes down to light­weight gear, choos­ing a bait­caster spooled with 12- to 15-pound-test line and a rod with medium ac­tion to fa­cil­i­tate skip-cast­ing and ac­cu­racy around docks. He sets the drag to ap­prox­i­mately 33 per­cent of the line weight, so 12-pound-test line re­ceives 4 pounds of drag.

“I use 3- to 4-inch swim­baits with ¼- and ⅜-ounce jig heads,” says Day. “I po­si­tion the boat down-cur­rent so I can swim the bait with the cur­rent, cast along the length of the dock and swim the bait par­al­lel to it. If I catch a fish on one dock, I’ll make re­peat passes.”

Other pop­u­lar tech­niques in­clude cast­ing from about 15 to 20 feet away and skip­ping baits un­der piers and near pil­ings. To get right next to a pil­ing, cast on top of the dock, pull the bait off slowly and let it sink next to the py­lon. Both cast­ing meth­ods have high hookup rates for bass.

HOW AM­BUSH FEED­ERS PO­SI­TION

Un­der­stand­ing how floun­der po­si­tion near boat docks helps pro­vide a blue­print for an­glers to tar­get most am­bush feed­ers near struc­ture.

“Floun­der are true bot­tom-dwelling am­bush feed­ers, so it makes a lot of sense for them to con­gre­gate around struc­ture,” says Capt. Jeff Cronk, of Swans­boro, North Carolina. “Struc­tures like docks and bridge pil­ings usu­ally have a lot of growth on them that pro­vides a con­stant food sup­ply for bait­fish, as well as a cur­rent break for all types of small fish that floun­der feed on.”

When fish­ing boat docks, Cronk tar­gets the out­side half of the dock on the lat­ter part of a fall­ing tide and the in­side half on the last of the ris­ing tide. “Over many years of tar­get­ing floun­der around docks, I’ve found a pat­tern with floun­der fol­low­ing bait­fish move­ment: head­ing to­ward the shore­line as the tide gets higher, and re­ced­ing as the tide drops out.”

Cronk, in par­tic­u­lar, tar­gets the down-cur­rent side of a dock be­cause am­bush feed­ers lie with their head into the tide. He sets the Power-Pole and casts to the edge of the dock or un­der it.

“When I have to fish the up-cur­rent side of a dock, I pre­fer to fish a jig head, buck­tail or spin­ner­bait and cast to­ward the shore, just up-cur­rent of the dock,

SPOT­TED BAY BASS ARE OP­POR­TUNIS­TIC PREDA­TORS. THEY AT­TACK FOOD PUSHED PAST THEM BY THE CUR­RENTS, BUT THEY ALSO EAT ITEMS STUCK TO DOCKS, LIKE CLAMS AND MUS­SELS.”

al­low­ing my bait to sweep to­ward the dock dur­ing the re­trieve,” says Cronk.

Cronk has one other im­por­tant tip. Try to find holes un­der and around docks where floun­der hun­ker down. It could be a trough cre­ated by a boat prop en­ter­ing or ex­it­ing a boat slip. Or it could be some­thing else: A nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring bot­tom fea­ture that de­vel­ops around dock pil­ings pro­vides the per­fect feed­ing habi­tat for floun­der in the form of de­pres­sions.

“As cur­rent moves past a py­lon, the wa­ter wraps around and tends to wash out the bot­tom just be­hind and down-cur­rent of the py­lon, cre­at­ing a de­pres­sion,” ex­plains Cronk. “The larger the di­am­e­ter of the py­lon and stronger the cur­rent, the big­ger and deeper the de­pres­sion. Most an­glers aren’t even aware of this, but floun­der use th­ese de­pres­sions to avoid the cur­rent as a per­fect am­bush spot.”

WHERE GI­ANTS LURK

Land­ing the kind of big snook that Capt. Jeremy Neff tar­gets around Stu­art, Florida, is much harder than find­ing them. A con­sis­tent food sup­ply, wa­ter move­ment and dark, off-color wa­ters are the prime con­di­tions he looks for.

“That’s why fish­ing at night has many ad­van­tages,” says Neff. “The dock lights in Stu­art are leg­endary, il­lu­mi­nat­ing crea­tures rid­ing the tide. Sport fish lurk in the shad­ows of the lights, de­vour­ing bait as they pass. I’ve no­ticed that fish of the same size hang to­gether, so if you are catch­ing small fish, try mov­ing to an­other dock.” Land­ing fish is an­other story.

“Some of the docks, I call them ‘jail­breaks,’” says Neff. “The docks are so tight, loaded with pil­ings and full of bar­na­cles, that get­ting fish out is sim­i­lar to a jail­break.” With so many docks close to­gether where Neff fishes, he tightens up the drag when tar­get­ing larger fish.

“Once I hook a large fish, I have al­ready gone over the es­cape plan with my cus­tomers,” says Neff. “I gen­er­ally use my trolling mo­tor to get to a place where we can fight the fish and land it in open wa­ter.”

If a fish goes into a mess of dock pil­ings, stop putting pres­sure on the fish and open the bail. Neff will ma­neu­ver the rod around the pil­ings, or even jump out of the boat and give chase if the wa­ter’s shal­low.

“More of­ten than not, a big fish will make it to the pil­ings with an in­ex­pe­ri­enced an­gler,” points out Neff. “You must be ready for the hit to hap­pen, and then put heavy pres­sure on them im­me­di­ately after the bite.”

Neff uses 30- or 50-pound braid with 50- and 80-pound leader when tar­get­ing large snook or tar­pon.

“If you don’t throw a lure or bait deep enough un­der the dock, you won’t reach the fish,” says Neff. “But the far­ther un­der the dock you cast your pre­sen­ta­tion, the less likely you’ll get it back. No risk, no re­ward.”

Watch how the cur­rent is mov­ing; a swift tide can eas­ily track your line right into a pil­ing. The best pre­sen­ta­tion is a lure or bait re­trieved at an an­gle mov­ing to­ward the fish’s cone of vi­sion.

PICK A PIL­ING: Res­i­den­tial docks as fish at­trac­tors don’t re­ceive enough at­ten­tion. Brush up on your skip- cast­ing to put your baits back in those hard- tore­ach spots.

Cal­i­for­nia’s spot­ted bay bass might be the salt’s equiv­a­lent to fresh­wa­ter large­mouths, ex­cept bay bass are even more ag­gres­sive. Right: A dis­guised ŴRXQGHU ZDLWV WR DPEXVK SDVVLQJ SUH\

A gi­ant snook hangs near dock pil­ings like an in­mate be­hind bars. Pulling one from such struc­ture is a chal­lenge.

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