On the Water
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New Adventures in Fly-Fishing

With the right dock, you've got great fishing at your fingertips
By Dan Armitage
Published: March 1, 2007
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Photo by Dan Armitage

The steady plop-plop-plop of the tiny popping bug was the loudest sound I could hear as my wife gently skated the cork-andfeather fly across the windowpane of the lake’s surface. The dainty yellow flat-faced lure trailed a tiny wake, and I was just thinking how quiet it must be for such a delicate sound to dominate the scene – when all heck broke loose!

Without warning, a huge bass boiled from the submerged thicket of coontails below the fly. The fish erupted from the water, engulfing the yellow bug with its big maw and – with a sound comparable to that of a dog falling out of a boat – hit the water tail first. Then he jumped again, this time landing broadside with a loud “smack.” It freed the hook from its lip, sending it flying back amid coils of limegreen fly line to where my wife stood awestruck on the dock.

“I guess I’ll take that beer after all,” Maria said meekly as she set down the rod and headed up the dock toward the cabin.

We enjoyed many repeat evening performances while fly-fishing from that low wooden dock – albeit not featuring the size of the lunker that escaped Maria.

The ABCs of a decent fly-fishing dock

Our experiences on that dock taught us the value of an ideal dock from which to cast and fish a fly. Ideally: Find or build yourself a low-profile dock free of above-water obstructions yet near below-water fish-holding structure. Voila! You’ve got the ultimate fly-casting platform for boat- and wader-free fishing.

A. Obstruction-free

Fly-fishing involves casting a line that uses its own weight to take the near-weightless lure to the target. To gain the momentum needed to propel the fly, the line must be back cast behind the angler – at least once and often several times.

All that looping, throwing and flowing requires space behind and in front of the angler, an area free of things that the fly might hook or the line might wrap around. These include such bogeys as overhead trees, docked boats and lines, posts, flag poles, railings, pets and sunbathers

B. Close to the water

You need to be within easy netreaching distance from the water’s surface to land fish larger than palmsized sunfish. Small fish can be hoisted up and onto the deck without breaking the leader, the light line that attaches the fly to the fly line. But any respectable catch requires use of a net – or a thumb in the maw – to haul aboard.

Any dock much more than three feet or so above the water’s surface will not only make it tough to reach and land fish, but the height makes it harder to properly work a fly across or through the water.

C. On top of fishable water

The lowest, obstruction-free dock on the lake may still be a poor fly-fishing platform if it is surrounded by a dense carpet of lily pads, extremely deep or shallow water or a featureless mud or sand bottom.

The best fly-fishing docks are within casting distance of fishattracting structures such as sunken,
underwater brush or weeds, rocks, patches of surface weeds, submerged trees or gravel bottom. Too much weed growth, however, will hamper casting and retrieving efforts.

Water too deep can be a challenge to fish with conventional fly tackle, although it can be done with sinking lines, powerful forearms and lots of patience. And there are times when fish will feed on the surface over deep water and offer fleeting sport, but not often enough to qualify such docks as reliable fly-fishing bases.

Water too shallow simply will not accommodate a fishable population of anything but stunted sunfish and warm-water-tolerating carp. Of course, if the fish aren’t biting, there’s always the therapeutic value of the steady plop-plop-plop of the popping bug across the water’s surface.


When Dan Armitage isn’t fishing with his wife and son, he leads fishing and photography seminars and works as an outdoors writer and radio host.

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