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Docklight Fly Fishing

Small flies and big nights under the docklights.

For snook, trout and other inshore predators, docklights provide easy pickings at an all-night buffet

of crustaceans and minnows flowing through with the tide. Given the size of the forage, "Docklight fishing is one situation where a fly rod will out fish conventional tackle 99 percent of the time," says Capt. Giles Murphy of Stuart Angler ( The fish are eating shrimp and minnows that are typically an inch or so long. Small, flashy flies match this profile well. Sizes from 2 to 10 are commonly used. Murphy prefers a size 4 white Enrico Puglisi minnow as a standard for docklight fishing. These style flies are great because they can be trimmed down smaller if fish are refusing your fly. If you notice the fish are lethargic and laying low in the light, a small fly that will get down in the water column, such as a Clouser Minnow can trigger a bite. Short, brisk strips with both of these style flies seem to work the best.

When approaching lights, motor up slow (trolling motor preferred). Stealth is a big factor. Make your first couple casts along the outer edge of the light. If there are no takers, fire into the middle of the light; try to lay the line down lightly, a few feet past the light and strip through.

Tide is a major factor with this style of fishing. There isn't necessarily a better tide to fish, but in moving water fish tend to take a fly with less hesitation.

Captain Rob Gilbert of Tampa Bay ( prefers to target docklight fish after 12 a.m. Most boaters are off the water by then and the fish have had time to get comfortable with the dock light. This will also give the fish some time to recoup if the light was fished earlier in the night. Stepping down tippet size from 30- to 20-pound test can make a difference with these pressured fish.

The standard 8-weight setup works great in the lights, but jumping up to a 9 or 10 weight can help if you are losing fish to the structure. Some fishermen like to go the other way, dropping down to a 5 or 6 weight. This can be a blast, especially if you've found a light where the fish seem to be on the smaller side. Captain Gilbert says, "I fish my 5 weight occasionally in the docklights and love it. You will lose some fish, but fishing a light rod like this adds the aspect of finesse and can really help you to learn how to play a fish.”

If you've never tried this nocturnal fishery, take heed: This is one of those fisheries that will keep you up at night. FS

First published Florida Sportsman February 2015

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