Call For a Tow

A Fishermans Question of the Hour

By Tom Neale, 7/13/2006


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Can you catch fish better sitting in a boat or sitting on the dock? There is a solution for this dilemma.

If you can catch fish better sitting on the dock, you can feel even better than normal while fishing because you know you’re getting back at the bad guys by not using their gas. If you can catch fish better on the dock, you don’t have to worry about beating the afternoon squalls back to the shore before you get clobbered. If you can catch fish better sitting on the dock you don’t have to worry as much about bait. You can go dig up another worm, scoop up some minnows around the pilings, or buy another package of squid. And if you can catch fish better sitting on the dock, you can have a cold beer if you don’t have to drive anywhere.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because of personal reasons. The personal reasons have to do with the fact that I like to fish. The personal reasons also have to do with not being able to afford the gas. Putting gas into a boat these days is like an extreme act of masochism, especially with the ethanol problem. You’re paying for the privilege of feeding your most prized possession knowing that the food might eat up its insides.

So I’ve been doing an unscientific study. Every day I see people launch their boats at the nearby ramp or pull away from the dock in their boats, fishing gear at the ready. But every day I also see people from far and wide (and nearby) come down with coolers, bait and tackle and sit for hours on the dock. They’re spending a lot less on gas than the people who’re out driving boats around, they’re catching fish, and they seem to be having fun.

But you can’t get out to the good holes when you’re just sitting at the dock. We all know there are wrecks, reefs, ledges, drop-offs, oyster beds, grass beds, rocky bottoms, weed lines, tidal change lines and all sorts of other phenomena that all the books and the fishing gurus say make for good fishing. And you can’t get to those without a boat. Or can you?

Most docks that I know of are on pilings. To the pilings are attached grasses, barnacles, oysters, old ropes, pieces of bologna sandwiches and all sorts of other good things from a fish’s perspective. And most docks that I sit on are very old so there are pilings down there lying along the bottom—and pieces of dock and debris from a long history of “docking incidents.” Even if it’s a floating dock, it may be great for fishing because floating docks grow sea life and they make a great shadow down there underwater. And most docks that I know of are near depressions in the bottom (like where I ran aground last) or drop-offs and other things that make for one kind of fishing hole or another. Come to think of it, a lot of the people drifting by in boats deliberately drift close to the docks so they can cast their lines up close to the pilings.

And here comes the killer. A lot of the times when I walk up and down the docks people are pulling in fish. Not all the times, no way! But enough of the time to make you think: What’s going on here? When I see the boats come in (including mine) sometimes I see fish in the cooler, but sometimes I don’t see any. What really flips me is that sometimes I see big sport fish boats come in after a day out on the water, from a trip costing maybe a thousand dollars or so, without a single fish.

About Fishing on a Boat at the Dock

1. The greatest casualty I see from people fishing on the dock, on boats at the dock, or from boats drifting by is catching the hooks in the dock lines as they cast. I don’t know what the attraction is, but dock lines seem to get hooks quicker than pilings, bottom junk, or anything else.

2. The second greatest casualty I see is lines hooking boats as people cast.

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And then there’s another killer. We cruise three to five thousand miles a year on our big boat. We’ve learned over the years that if we drag a line while we’re underway we often catch fish for free—for free because we would be underway anyway. So why can’t I just be content with fishing from a boat when I’m cruising rather than wanting to take my ancient 20’ Mako out to fish? There’s no certainty that I’ll feed my family dinner, but there’s plenty of certainty that I’ll feed the fish and there’s even more certainty that I’ll help feed the oil billionaires. And if I don’t catch fish, I know I’ll have nevertheless contributed so much to the oil billionaires dinners that I probably won’t have enough money left over to feed my family. Is there something wrong here?

Nope. There are several things going on here with people like you and me. I like to fish. And I also like to go out in my old Mako. Even if I don’t catch any fish, I have fun going out, drifting, finding a spot and anchoring, racing back in the evening—I like it all. And when you go out in your boat and fish, at least you aren’t running fast all the time and burning as much gas as those mighty mariners who do nothing but race around all day in their stud boats. You might even say it’s a kinder gentler sort of boating. And besides, if you can rationalize (lie) to yourself as well as I can, you can convince yourself that you’re “feeding your family” while you’re taking that boat ride. And there’s one more important thing that we all know about, even thought it’s not cool to admit it. There’s a distinct exclusivity to being out on your very own boat. It’s a pride thing. It sets you apart from the rest of the world.

So this says to me, in a loud and clear voice, that I’m going to keep on fishing in my boat instead of sitting at the dock. It says this until I have to fill up my tank. And then the loud and clear voice drowns in the gas gurgle of hundred dollar bills going down the fill pipe. But I’ve discovered that there is a way out of this dilemma.

I’ve been fishing from my boat while it’s still tied to the dock. Stupid? You bet, but that’s never stopped me before. I get to use the fishing seats in the boat; the rod holders and the fish well. I can cast out to the channel drop off or to swirls around pilings. If I want to go to a better spot I can, as long as it’s no farther away than the length of my longest dock line. So I’ve got a really long line on the bow. I just let the boat drift out over a promising looking area and then pull myself back in with the line when I want to. No gas in the equation. Best of all, I can turn on the VHF and go to the fishing channel and listen to everybody zooming around out there sucking down gas and saying, “Hey, anybody out there catching any fish? Where you at, Big Buddy, Where you at? We got nothing over here, whatcha getting over there?”

But most of all, I have my own private space on the water and I get the thrill and pride of private boat ownership and of knowing that people walking by on the dock are enviously thinking, “Hey, that guy has a nice boat. I wish I had one.” Well, I used to get that thrill. But yesterday as I was sitting in my boat fishing at the dock I heard a couple walking by with poles and tackle boxes in hands saying “Hey, he’s got a great idea. Let’s keep walking down the dock ‘till we can find a boat to sit in too.”

Copyright 2004-2006 Tom Neale