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Tips for Sight-Fishing on Structure & Shorelines

How to find fish holding or hunting at the margins

Tips for Sight-Fishing on Structure & Shorelines

Two of the little nuances common to sight fishing: Finding fish on shorelines and structure.

The 2021 issue of Shallow Water Angler is available on newstands and online here, but here's a sneak peek.

Fish are creatures of habit, and as you spend more time looking for and locating, gamefish, you’ll find that areas or scenarios that produce fish in one area will also hold fish in another, so that as you encounter these little nuances in the fishing environment your senses become naturally heightened as you search out the fish that should be in the area.

Two of the little nuances common to sight-fishing: Finding fish on shorelines and structure.


Shorelines are natural fish attractors for several reasons: they hold a variety of prey; limit the avenues of escape for that prey and usually present great ambush points. As fish grow, they learn that shorelines are effective locations to catch their food, so they spend more time hunting near them.

Along shorelines there are usually two types of fish feeding scenarios: stationary fish that are waiting to lunge at their prey; and moving fish that are looking to hunt down their prey. Both scenarios are effective for sight casting gamefish.

how to sight fish the shoreline
In a perfect world you'd have a shot at fish moving toward you, but if they're facing away, ease out to get a wider angle and cast ahead of them.

Stationary fish are common with lunging/grasping predators like spotted seatrout, snook and redfish, although all of these species will also feed by moving along a shoreline. The key to seeing stationary fish before they detect your presence is to move slowly and deliberately at all times while watching ahead for fish.

Fish typically face into the current, and are completely focused on what is coming down the current directly in front of their faces, so they’re much easier to approach from downcurrent or to the deeper side of the fish. From there, the key is to put the lure, bait or fly up-current of the fish so that it will flow naturally within striking range without having the fish see your movements.

Fish moving along a shoreline are much harder to target because the window of opportunity is smaller as the fish moves closer to you and constantly changes the angle and distance of the cast. You can target these fish by remaining stationary and waiting for them to come by, which gives you a consistent casting angle, or you can move in the opposite direction that the fish are hunting, thus approaching them and closing the ground you have to cover. In either instance, you want to remain stationary any time you spot fish, and then cast ahead of the moving fish.


Many gamefish are structure-oriented, which is to say they gravitate to specific structure like weed beds, rocks, docks or pilings or mangroves. That structure may be fixed, as with trees or weed beds, or moving as in weed lines flowing in current offshore. In either instance, the gamefish move to the structure for safety and food.

Shoreline structure is one of the most consistent areas for sight casting gamefish because it’s easily accessible from land or boat. Good examples of shoreline structure are rock jetties, rockpiles, piers and docks. Small fish and baitfish gravitate towards structure for the safety it provides from predators, so the gamefish in turn move to these structures knowing they hold these food items.

how to sight fish docks at night
At night, fish often lie in the shadowed waters, waiting to pick off unsuspecting prey.

Just about every dock or fishing pier has small fish that hold around it at one time or another, and these structures also provide shade during the middle of the day.

Any time you’re sight casting to fish around this or any type of structure you want to be observant of any current in the area. Fish like to face into the current when they feed, so current direction and strength will be determining factors when trying to locate gamefish. Some fish species will sit on the upcurrent side of the structure, while others regularly prefer the downcurrent side


how to sight fish bridges
Docks and bridges are common points to find fish, and it pays to present baits and lures so they drift with the current.

When fishing structure like rockpiles and jetties there will be distinct locations the fish like to hold during specific tides, often because the current pushes baitfish or other food items into that spot. Many times that’s an eddy out of the current or off a point in the land—a place where the current wraps around the rocks and pushes food items with it where the fish can make an ambush point and strike out at the food. When you have that scenario, you’ll usually find fish in that location on a regular basis.

Any time you know the location of fish and where they hold, you want to approach it from the best angle that will keep the fish from detecting your presence while giving you a good opportunity to present a lure, bait or fly in the strike zone. In moving water scenarios, that approach is rarely head-on. Keep in mind that the fish is facing forward, so that a head-on approach moves the angler into the main field of vision for the fish. If that fish is feeding on something that is flowing in the current, it’s difficult to effectively drift or work a lure or bait downcurrent to the fish with it looking natural. For that reason, you want to approach the fish from one side or the other, often from downcurrent and at a right angle so when the cast lands in front of the fish you are working the lure or bait back towards the fish utilizing the current. SWA

Pick up this special issue of Shallow Water Angler 2021 on newsstands today and online here.


Sight Fishing: Fin Talk - By Hunter Bach
Sight-fishing is not a guessing game. Fish will tell you what's up. It's all about reading their body language.

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Tidesman: Flood Tide Redfishing Experience - By Aaron Wood
A South Carolina writer captures his redfish— and exactly how it feels.

flood tide redfish tailing

New Gear: Slimming Down Our Waste Lines - By Shelby Busenbark & Gary Oster
Sustainability is catching on. Fishing apparel and accessory companies are getting in on the act, too.

clothing made from recycled plastic

Cooking: Tom Colicchio's Fillet Knives & Simple Bluefish Ceviche - By Jeff Weakley
Knives to handle tough saltwater fish- and a delicious, easy recipe to finish the day.

easy ceviche recipe

Nearshore: The Science of Nearshore Reefs - By Tom Migdalski
Structure plus baitfish, multiplied by strong tide, equals great fishing.

nearshore reef fishing

Order Your Copy of Shallow Water Angler Here!

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