Docks are not just a place to enjoy those late afternoon cocktails. They can also be an angler’s best friend if you know how to work them. Docks are easy to locate and provide structure, shade, food, and protection for a variety of fish. With all the development in the Charleston area, it is easy to find a dock to fish whether along the Kiawah, Stono, Wando, or Cooper or even along the coast by Folly Beach or Isle of Palms.
But what makes one dock better than the other? At the end of the day aren’t they are all just a bunch of pilings in the water?
While there is no definitive rule for which docks will always hold fish but I hope to outline below what I look for in a dock that puts the odds in my favor.
Age is more than a number
We will start with the obvious: how old is the dock? Just like reefs, age affects how well a dock holds fish. If a boat was sunk for an artificial reef tomorrow it would take time before numbers of fish became accustomed to it and it started to support regular life. While our inshore fish are different than reef fish, they do still have an established feeding pattern and that pattern is created through time. With an older dock, the fish have had time to adjust to it and learn to use it as a feeding stop as they travel through the tide.
Another element that comes with age is marine growth. The barnacles and crustaceans that grow on an older dock attract many gamefish as well. There could also be older boards and supports below the surface that are not initially visible that add to the dock's appeal.
No surprise here but the depth of water will affect a dock’s productivity as well. The ideal dock will still hold water at low tide. This will allow the fish to remain with the structure as the tide leaves. I try to look for a dock holding at least three feet of water at low tide. An added bonus is if there is a deep hole either under or close to the dock where the fish can hide at the lower stages of the tide.
Depth can also relate to when fish are most active at docks. While a dock may hold fish on all cycles of the tide, there definitely seems to be parts of the cycle where a dock receives more traffic. I have docks that hold fish at high tides, low tides and everywhere in between. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to determining this other than trial and error but if a dock seems right don’t fully write it off if you don’t have success at first.
Banking on it
It’s all about location, right? I have found my most productive docks to be on what I would call a “hard bank”. This is a bank that has a notable drop off and can be identified by a seawall, rock wall, etc. Typically, these will be a shorter dock as they do not have to expand over the slow slope of the marsh.
Use the Map
Here are some examples of good looking docks as seen from an aerial map (provided by Google Maps). See if you can identify any of the features talked about above.