Fishing in freshwater docks

Docks like those of London and Bristol offer excellent fishing. Top London angler Les Hammond reveals how to tackle the teeming docklands.

Freshwater docks have always tended to hold huge heads of fish. Even in the days when they were busy with ships being unloaded and there was a constant film of surface oil and other debris, fish thrived.

Yet, at first glance, coarse fishing in freshwater docks can appear a daunting task to the newcomer. Many anglers never even consider wetting a line in such virtually featureless, often vast, expanses of water.

Fishing in freshwater docks is an art in itself. The angler not only has to learn where the fish are, but also discover how the fish feed. There are almost no giveaway signs. You won’t find overhanging trees, lily patches, weed beds or any of the normal clues to good fish areas.

At best there may be some disused machinery or moored boats offering fish shelter, but even these are unlikely. Dumped cranes are vanishing as the docks are cleaned up and the boats are only temporary placements – their very presence being a sign of the varied uses our docks are now being put to. Undeveloped docks often feature sunken boats and machinery on the bottom. These give useful cover to fish – but can cause snags.

Many a docker once used his place of work for a little angling recreation. Today the docks are largely silent, or subject to all manner of development. Nevertheless the fish are still there.

Think deep

Because they were built to house large boats there is no such thing as shallow water in a dock. With the majority the bottom is at least 3.7m (12ft) down and they are sometimes as deep as 12m (40ft).

You could describe docks, from a fishing angle, as featureless concrete holes in the ground – with sheer sides going down to a fairly flat bottom. Different docks vary little in appearance – the only change being in size, which can range from an acre or two to truly enormous areas of water.

All manner of fish inhabit freshwater docks. There are often vast shoals of bream, roach, tench, rudd, pike, and perch, while some docks are also the home of huge carp. Even typical running water species such as chub and dace can be commonplace. Some of the London docks have big heads of dace, which have no doubt worked their way in from the Thames and other connecting waterways.

Despite the bleakness of their surroundings, the fish are usually in mint condition, with a plumpness that reveals a good diet.

Going to the wall

One prime natural source of food for these fish is the algae that is always found in abundance on and around the dock walls. Because of this you probably won’t have to fish too far from the dock edge. Freshwater shrimps also frequent the area near the walls – they are another good source of food for dock fish.

If you are a newcomer, fishing docks for the first time, start off by getting to work with a plummet to establish the sort of depth you are going to fish. Good starting points are any inlets there may be – either from connecting canals or the main river. These are often excellent holding points for fish. Areas where there is some form of shade or cover, however slight, are also well worth trying.

In summer dock fish gather in the warmest layer of water, usually between the surface and halfway down. On very hot days you may even see fish cruising along the surface. As temperatures fall through autumn and into winter, the fish change their habitat and drop deeper into the water, being found right at the bottom in the coldest weather. They don’t go away, —1 —ti—I—w I ;m»[miiMK>aii Mia tsi though – the beauty of dock fishing is that most venues respond summer and winter.

Choose your style

Docks lend themselves well to three styles of fishing – the long pole with fixed line, sliding float on rod and reel, and the feeder with a quivertip rod.

The long pole is the best way of fishing at a fixed depth. In the summer, when the fish are likely to be feeding up in the water a lightly shotted float – giving the bait a slow drop through to the depth being fished – can be excellent. When the fish are feeding deep an Olivette rig with a couple of droppers below is the best method. The sliding float For searching out fish in summer or winter, the sliding float is hard to beat – it enables the bait to be dropped right through the water. When using the slider, always have a biggish shot – between a no. 1 and a BB — as a tell-tale dropper to give a solid indication should you take any fish on the drop.

Be sure to use a proper sliding knot when fishing this method – leave the ends cut long so as not to impede the passage of line through the rod rings. The knot can be easily adjusted to give a fixed depth if the fish are all taking at one level. The swimfeeder When fishing a swim-feeder use an open-end type packed with groundbait and a few samples of the hook-bait. With this method always cast to the same spot each time. This builds up a carpet of feed to hold foraging fish. ‘Twitching’ the bait along the bottom with quarter turns of the reel handle often encourages a bite.

Large maggots are the best all-round bait • with casters, bread, and worms next on the list of preference. Bread and worms work well with the feeder, and can often sort out some good quality fish — but it is the more commonly used maggots and casters that can take the most.

When fishing maggots and casters, always keep a steady stream of loose-feed samples going in. You don’t have to use a lot • six to a dozen a time is enough – but they must be fed every few minutes to keep the fish interested.

Fishing in freshwater docks