As air and water temperatures become increasingly comfortable and the spring season progresses, anglers will emerge from hibernation and once again fish under the cover of darkness. Spring nights may still be crisp, but the fishing will heat up around dock lights where prey and predator flourish.
As the spring bloom ignites baitfish migrations and warm water begins creeping north, inshore game fish will begin leaving the comfort of their winter hideouts as they transition toward area inlets and passes. Along the way, many will stage in the vicinity of brightly lit docks that provide ideal ambush points.
Although dock lights cast shadows on all evenings, their effect will be the greatest on nights will little or no moonlight…
Starting with tiny microorganisms like plankton, which attract larger baitfish and in turn hungry predators, dock lights ring the dinner bell for forage and game fish of all shapes and sizes. It’s important to note that both underwater and above water lights attract life, so don’t discount a light because it’s not emitting a green illumination from the seafloor.
While most sight fishing occurs in shallow water, targeting these illuminated orbs takes sight fishing to an entirely new level. As new and exciting this fishery is, the wide-ranging species that prowl dock light shadow lines make it even more enjoyable of an experience. Depending on your location around the state you may encounter trout, tarpon, snook, sheepshead, drum, croaker, lookdowns and more.
It’s important to note that just because you find an illuminated dock doesn’t mean you are going to be rewarded with substantial results. There are many factors that will contribute to the action you encounter including the type of light—exposed or submerged— and its precise location. Numerous manufacturers offer brilliant underwater lights in a variety of colors, but don’t think the old school floodlights that simply shine into the water won’t produce. Light sources that penetrate the depths from above produce a unique effect. From a fish’s perspective your bait or lure will have greater contrast and appear as a silhouette.
Submerged lights that rest on the bottom shine toward the surface and illuminate everything from the bottom up, providing game fish a clear look at your offering. Furthermore, underwater dock lights, which appear to emit an eerie green aura, are so eye catching that they rarely go unnoticed. Because of this you can expect underwater dock lights to receive much greater fishing pressure than dock lights that simply shine into the water and often go unnoticed.
When picking a particular light, or stretch of lit docks to fish, you should consider if the location is in proximity to ideal habitat and structure. By picking a dock that is close to deeper channels or current swept points that alter and intensify the water flow, you can be sure that game fish will be staging in the vicinity. Depth should also be a factor in your selection, with 5 to 8-foot depths ideal. Consistency is yet another factor, and a light that is turned on every night will produce a livelier ecosystem than a light that is only illuminated randomly. With all of that being said, you can expect both forage and predator fish to positively react to lights that have been illuminated all season long.
Selecting artificial baits to present in the vicinity of dock lights is rather straightforward, with small streamlined lures featuring flash and foil working extremely well. Clousers and streamer flies, bucktail jigs and small subsurface plugs and crankbaits imitate local forage found cruising in and out of illuminated waters. Fishing with live bait is another great approach, with handpicked shrimp and frisky whitebait eliciting savage strikes.
Once you’ve selected an offering and it’s time to approach a lit dock you’ll want to keep your distance. Keep light from additional sources like cockpit lights and flashlights to a minimum in order to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Look for large shadows moving around, in addition to baitfish dimpling the surface. It is very important to understand that game fish will be hunting well beyond illuminated waters, so position yourself upwards of 30 feet from the outermost edge of the shadow. You need to realize that the center of a glowing orb is not the strike zone—it’s the outside perimeter where most of the action takes place. The surrounding waters enable predators to remain unnoticed as they hunt the shallows. Although dock lights cast shadows on all evenings, their effect will be the greatest on nights with little or no moonlight, which are common during new moon phases.
No matter your approach, light fluorocarbon leader is highly advised due to its stealthy attributes. Even so, the bright light will illuminate your leader and you will experience line-shy fish that want nothing to do with your offering. Lights also magnify swivels and hooks, so a stealthy, light tackle approach is absolutaly essential. It is a numbers game and after casting to a few lights you’ll eventually find cooperative fish. You’ll also have the best success letting your fly or lure simply drift with the current, only imparting subtle twitches.
Stealthy tactics extend beyond terminal tackle selection, with trolling motors and silent anchoring devices ideal for the shallow water environment.
While you may be fortunate to have a thriving ecosystem in your very own backyard, it’s important you show respect when fishing private dock lights. If you accidentally hang a lure it is better to forget about it than attempt to retrieve it. Dock owners would much rather have to rid their dock of a snagged lure than catch an intruder on their property in the middle of the night. You should also keep noise to an absolute minimum not only to avoid spooking fish, but also to keep dock owners unaware of your presence. Even so, you may encounter unruly owners who stomp their way to the end of the dock to unplug the light. For whatever reasons, some waterfront owners simply don’t get it. If you are ever approached, it’s best to quietly move on. Chances are in a few minutes they will go back to bed and you can return to catch their fish!