Proven fly fishing tactics that give you the upper hand.
Fly fishing around docks, night or day, is productive for snook, seatrout and other structure-oriented fish, but frustrating whenever the fish are hugging the structure, largely out of reach, or the current is such that it makes it hard to present your fly. It requires specialized casting and line-minding to get bit consistently, and land a few fish in the process.
Accuracy is a must, and that is easier to achieve on short casts. Unless the fish are super-spooky it makes little sense to cast from over 40 to 50 feet. The more line on the water, the more current affects your ability to fish the fly and keep your line and leader tight. I find that short, accurate casts are easiest with sub-9-foot rods. My favorite dock rods include an 8-foot, 4-incher for a 9-weight line, and a 7 ½-footer for an 8-weight. With these, I can cast in tight spots, where docks behind me constrict backcast room, and cast somewhat tighter loops on the sidearm trajectory I like to get my fly under a dock. Most shorter rods also seem less parabolic and help me muscle a fish out of structure. You may agree if you try one.
As is the case with all saltwater fly fishing, keep a straight line from your rodtip to fly for both control and setting the hook. When working a long dock with multiple fishable openings (I call them windows) between pilings, fight the urge to cast at the “next one” before fishing the one right in front, or closest to you. You may be tempted by a feeding frenzy farther down the dock, but don’t worry, the fish won’t be going anywhere! And because fish tend to face the current waiting for food to be carried to them, fish from down-current. It is more natural and you can better control your boat with your electric motor facing the current.
When you spot a fish, or see a bust upcurrent of you, don’t lay the leader or flyline over its back. Rather, cast either to the right or left of its “lane.” An aggressive fish will often swerve right or left and move 2 to 4 feet to grab the fly. And whenever possible, do not cast your fly where current will push it parallel to you—you are asking for a snag on the nearest piling. When forced to cast from upcurrent, you can still catch fish. Just cast fairly close to the fish you spot, or get the fly under the dock and strip it out. An aggressive fish figures the thing is trying to get out of Dodge, and will strike on impulse.
Unstick Your Fly
If you are fishing a dock correctly (tucking your fly well under the structure) you are going to stick a fly now and again. You may hang it on the cast, or current will push it into the wood. A weedguard will somewhat prevent it. I prefer a mustache-style (2-prong) fluorocarbon guard of 20- or 25-pound-test. On a typical dock fly–a No. 4 or so—the length needed to guard the point guarantees its stiffness, yet does not deter hookups.
Never yank back on a snag. You’ll just dig the hook deeper. What I do is make a quick, powerful roll cast that gets down to the fly (easiest with a short leader). The roll will pull the fly in the opposite direction and usually free it. Should you hang your leader and fly on top of a dock–caused by an exaggerated vertical casting motion—or around a dock line or rail, don’t yank hard. Simply strip slowly to “walk” the fly out of there. Fish barbless also to more easily unstick the fly.
When you hook up on a fish you’ve spotted, you have a clue as to how big it is. Otherwise, you won’t know at first. A wrist-breaking strike can be delivered by a dink, and a tap could be a brute!
Be ready to get a fish on the reel to better fight it. Unless looking for some kind of tippet record, err on the heavy side—a 20- or 25-pound-class tippet perhaps and maybe a slightly heavier bite tippet in the case of bigger snook. Or, a straight leader from flyline to fly. A light leader gets frayed by either structure or, in the case of snook or baby tarpon, the fish’s raspy lips.
I always advise having only the amount of line off the reel you need to reach target—too much on the deck is asking for tangles and to you would simply give that fish its freedom if you let it clear it to your reel. Strip-strike when it eats, and muscle it away from the dock, using your electric or outboard motor for assistance if needed. If I hang a big fish, I give it zero headway by snubbing my line against the rod blank while reeling up any loose line from the deck. You can hand-strip smaller snook and most seatrout. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine April 2018