Saltwater Dock Fishing Tips for Beginners

The number of coastal and waterside homes are growing each year. Naturally, the appearance of docks and piers alongside them is growing as well.
Fishing is a wonderful pastime to enjoy the quiet scenery and get in touch with nature, and what might be swimming under the scenic surface is enticing. Luckily, we’ve put together a beginner’s guide of saltwater dock fishing tips so that you may tackle fishing off your dock with ease. 

Doing the Research

Before baiting the hook and making your first cast, it’s important to do some research and determine what species of fish you may encounter—what tackle you will need to properly handle any fish at the end of your line. 

A few questions to consider when targeting a new body of water for saltwater fishing: What species of fish are native to your area? Are these species typically large and require heavier rods, reels, and line—or are they smaller, easily reeled in with light tackle? What bait or artificial lures should you use to maximize your chances of success? Answering these questions prior to wetting a line will ensure you are prepared to have a fun and safe day on the water.

If you are looking to catch a specific species of fish, pay attention to its migratory behavior, typical prey, and other preferences. For example, Atlantic tarpon are a highly popular sport fish that prefer a cooler environment. Once the water they are in heats up to above 84 degrees, they’re likely to move on and migrate elsewhere. Knowing the patterns for your catch will help you prepare. 

If you’re not picky about what you hook, the approach will be simpler. Once armed with the proper bait and gear, all you need to do is cast.

Picking Your Gear

No matter what you’re doing, you’ll want the right tools for the job. While saltwater fishing can get very specialized, there are plenty of options that are accessible for all levels. 


Just like freshwater fishing, saltwater dock fishing yields the best results when you use live bait. The main difference, however, is in the type of live bait you use. Live shrimp is the most versatile, and can be found for cheap at most bait and tackle shops near saltwater. 

Different catches prefer different bait, so if you’re looking to reel in a specific fish it’s worth hunting down their favorite food. Live crab is preferred by redfish, grouper enjoys live pinfish or mullet, and bass and flounder will nab whitebait. Have a bait bucket handy to keep your live bait down by the water with you while you fish. 


Rod and reel combinations for saltwater fishing are categorized into three main styles based on the angler's experience level, line capacity, and overall strength.

Most saltwater anglers, at levels from beginner to expert, will pair their reels with either a fiberglass or graphite rod. Fiberglass rods are generally the least expensive option. While durable and user-friendly, they lack the sensitivity and strength graphite rods offer. 

Graphite and composite rods tend to be more expensive but offer higher levels of sensitivity when detecting a bite, as well as superior strength in overall fish fighting capability. 

The three most common types of reels used in saltwater dock fishing are spincast, spinning reels, and baitcast reels. 

    • Spincast reels are considered the simplest to use and are best for beginners or children. These reels have a button that locks or frees your line with a simple press, and the line-management mechanisms are hidden neatly inside a casing to minimize the chance of tangled line.
    • Spinning reels are more versatile, while still being accessible to beginners. Spinning reels feature an open-spool with a spinning bail that prevents the line from tangling or nesting. The reel is mounted on the bottom of the rod for better balance.
  • Baitcast reels are typically best for experienced anglers. They consist of an open  horizontal design that allows the user to control the line with their thumb. Baitcast reels offer a high-level of accuracy and line control but also require more input from the angler. Without proper casting operation, baitcast reels can cause line tangles or “bird’s nests” easily and be difficult for inexperienced anglers to use.  
  • Lines

    Choosing the correct fishing line for your saltwater dock fishing can often be overlooked, but it serves as the most important connection between you and the fish.  The two most commonly used fishing line types for saltwater fishing are monofilament and braid. Both monofilament and braided line come in a variety of colors and strengths, so making an educated line choice is important for success on the water.

  • Monofilament: By far the most popular fishing line for experts and beginners alike, monofilament is a great choice for many species of saltwater fish. Monofilament line offers many different color choices (which virtually disappear underwater), is abrasion resistant, and stretches to absorb shock from fish strikes or underwater snags.  It’s thin enough to tie knots with ease, but will deteriorate from exposure to sunlight. Be sure to inspect your line for cuts, frays, or deterioration if you haven’t been fishing in a while to avoid line failure when fighting the “big one.”  
    • Braid: Made for ultra-sensitivity, superior strength, and durability; braid is a good choice for those seeking big fights with tough fish. Braided line offers higher strength, smaller diameter, and zero memory compared with monofilament. Braided line also has zero stretch, making it highly sensitive for feeling small bites and underwater contours.

    Other Equipment

    For the best saltwater dock fishing experience, you’ll want to be well-equipped. You can also head down to the dock with the following:

  • Bait Bucket: Keep a bucket of water for your live bait on hand to keep them swimming.
  • Fish Bucket or Cooler: A fish’s metabolism naturally slows when it’s cold, so a watertight container with ice will keep your catch fresh until you can clean it. 
  • Drop Net: You can use a net to scoop up your catch once it’s broken the surface of the water.
  • Pliers: Pliers will be your best tool for removing a hook from a fish’s mouth or untangling a line.
      • Polarized Sunglasses: These glasses eliminate glare off of the surface of the water, allowing you to see where fish are gathering underneath.
  • Chair: Fishing will always involve waiting. You might as well be comfortable!

  • Reeling It In 

    If you’ve been bitten by the fishing bug, you may want to deck out your dock with the best equipment available; making it a fisherman’s dream. This could include a fish cleaning table to prepare and enjoy your fresh catch, or dock boxes to store all of your precious equipment. If you are looking to upgrade or repair your dock, find your nearest Haven Dock & Marine today to make your new fishing spot feel top-of-the-line.