August 23, 2020
These coastal fish-attractors are open all night long.
As the sun drops, throughout the Intracoastal you will find docks lit up like the stars above, some bright, some dim. As humans are attracted to stars for their beauty, gamefish are attracted to these docks, but for a different reason. Food. Knowing how to fish these illuminated structures can guarantee a night full of fun; no downtown or pricey cover charges necessary.
Who calls these home? Species vary a bit along the latitudinal line. In the southern part of the state, Miami for example, docklights often hold tarpon, with the occasional snook. Push more north, say Fort Pierce or Sarasota, snook hold in the docklights, with seatrout and redfish mixed in. Once you've reached the north end of the state, up near Jacksonville or Panama City, trout and reds are your target species.
There are three different lights you will typically find when running the Intracoastal at night. First is the “light pole” style, typically installed to illuminate the dock. These also shine out into the water, making a shadow line for fish to hold on and ambush prey as they sweep through with the current. Second style is a light, often fluorescent, mounted to the bottom of the dock, shining straight down into the water. Last is the underwater light. Often green, this light is typically submerged under or off to the side of the dock, giving off a large orb of light underwater.
When approaching these lights, I always like to slow down, stay back and just watch for a minute before creeping in to make a cast. Can I see fish hanging in the light? Are they popping baits? If so, are they small baits? How is the current?
If you look at fish in a light, majority of the time they are staging into the current, waiting for a shrimp, crab, or small baitfish to be swept with the tide to them. If throwing artificials or flies, you will either want to setup down current of the light, and cast upcurrent, or parallel and “sweep” your lure through the light. The only time I ever like to stage up current of a light is when I am drifting back live baits, typically freelined live shrimp, that look the most natural when drifting with the current.
Majority of the time, the bait these fish are foraging on are small, very small, such as glass minnows, pilchard fry, small shrimp and crabs adrift in the current, to name a few. If your standard soft-plastic paddletail or lipped plug won't get a bite, downsize it! If the fish are really keyed in on small baits, I will take a white jerkbait, and cut the tail off about an inch and a half up the bait. I will then rig it on a small 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jighead. Reel it through the light quickly, with your rodtip up, giving it small twitches. You want the fish to think a baitfish is fleeing from the light, triggering a reaction bite. Small plugs such as the Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow or MirrOlure MirrOdine Mini also suffice. The key is to keep it moving.
Flies excel in these situations, as you can downsize to very small presentations. I prefer throwing something like the Enrico Puglisi Micro Minnow. At 1 ½ inches long and integrated flash, it resembles a fry bait perfect, and can even be trimmed down more, if necessary. Mirroring the conventional retrieve, short, brisk strips will get you the bite.
REMEMBER: The lighted dock you're fishing didn't grow there by itself. Someone put it there. And good chance they like to fish, too. If you see someone on the dock, fishing or otherwise enjoying the night, take a pass—or at least ask politely if it's okay to make a few casts. If the dock isn't occupied, make every effort to avoid hitting it with a lure; keep your voices to a minimum, and avoid shining a spotlight into windows on nearby residence. Most coastal waterfront areas are public waters, where boating access is lawful for everyone. But, there are some private harbors and residential marinas. Inquire with local law enforcement, if you're unsure about a sign or something someone tells you. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2020