Want to go Fish the Dock Lights?

“Want to go fish the dock lights?”  

These were the fateful words that came out of my mouth on one early summer night in Destin, Florida. Two of my best friends, Brent and Geoff, as well as Brent’s Dad, Benji, were in town for a long weekend of fishing. Our original plan for the weekend was to daytime swordfish out of Panama City Beach, where we would have the chance to go head-to-head with a real gladiator of the sea. The captain called off the trip due to a nasty cold front making its way down the southeastern United States and was expected to hit the Gulf mid-day and turn it into a frothy mess of wind and waves. We switched our weekend to plan B, which was staying inshore to chase redfish and trout.  

The four of us had spent the day poking around the Choctawhatchee Bay checking out every nook and cranny that looked fishy. It turned out to be a beautiful day outside, with only a few clouds and a light breeze that sent a chill down your spine when it hit the back of a sweaty neck. After checking out a few of my “go-to” spots without any luck, we decided to catch some live croakers and head to the Destin bridge in hopes of pulling out a bull redfish. These are fish that are over the slot limit for harvesting since they are the big breeding fish that keep the circle of life going strong.

We made a stop by my house on the way to the bridge and loaded a cooler full of beer, because we knew that we could always catch a buzz if we didn’t catch anything else. We made a bee line towards the bridge and decided to make a quick stop at Crab Island, a knee-deep and crystal clear water sand bar that hundreds of boats congregate to during the summer months. It was late evening and Crab Island was starting to show its true colors with tourist who had a few too many trying to drive their rented pontoon boats back to the dock. It’s an unorganized circus when you combine the jet ski and paddleboard renters to the mix.

We had a few beers at Crab Island and moseyed on over to the bridge just as the tide was getting right. After getting the anchor set, we hooked a few noisy croakers, the live bait of choice, and sent them down to the bottom with a 5 oz sinker. After a catching a few monster gaff top catfish and killing a few more beers, we decided to call it a day and head back to the house as the sun was dropping below the horizon.

I put the boat up in the boat house and as I was stepping off I heard the all-to-familiar “Woof-Woof” coming from my neighbor Bob’s yard. It was his big-headed, stubby legged, black and white, pitbull-boxer-mix named Rooney who just so happens to be the friendliest dog I’ve ever met. Brent, Geoff, and I decided to walk over there and play with Rooney for a bit and after a few seconds Bob had emerged from the house. Bob’s one of those guys that no matter what time of the day it is, he’s always full of life, laughter, and is down for a good time. He invited us in to have a drink(s) with him and pulled out a bottle of whiskey, which he suckered Brent into taking a shot of. My liver politely declined and I went to grab a beer for Geoff and I from the fridge.

After catching up with Bob, having a few drinks, and sharing stories of the good ole days on the water, we we’re feeling pretty good despite the unsuccessful day we just had. The sun had completely set and it was pitch black outside, with only a sliver of moon showing at this point. We made our way back to my house and I had a bright idea to salvage the terrible day of fishing. So I asked the guys: 

“Want to go fish the dock lights?”

About a mile away from my house there was a dock that put these bright neon green lights on their docks that would attract baitfish and in turn the bait fish attracts the speckled trout and occasional redfish. It’s not too uncommon to find 5-10 speckled trout hovering around the lights sending silhouettes of their tails flickering around the dock. We put a few rods on the boat, grabbed Benji from the house, and lowered the boat down into the water. With a hit of the throttle, we were off to the races in hopes of putting a few fish in the boat on a hail mary of a trip.

We arrived to the first dock and Geoff threw out the first cast with a soft plastic lure towards the green lights. He had over shot the light and got caught on the dock, since it’s hard to make great cast when its pitch black outside. As Geoff tried to knock the lure loose, I felt that all familiar cool breeze start to pick up some speed as it raced across three miles of open water. It wasn’t more than a few seconds of the wind picking up that the chop in the bay started to look like someone had done a million cannon balls into a small pool.

“Lets get out of here!” and I cranked the engine into gear. We started our way back towards the house as the confused choppy waves started building higher and higher. Geoff took a seat on the bow of the boat, Benji in front of the console, and Brent next to me behind the steering wheel. The little 18 foot East Cape Fury started pounding waves and taking water spray from all directions. It was so rough that Geoff on the bow looked like he was taking a ride on a hippopotamus and holding on for dear life. I started going faster as I knew that conditions were going to deteriorate by the minute and glanced down next to me at Brent. He had put his sunglasses on as an impromptu windshield for his eyes and was in hysterics laughing harder with each wave that the boat bounce off of.

We made it back to the house and after some maneuvering of the wind and waves we got the boat back up on the lift. We all looked like we had just been sprayed with a water hose repeatedly – soaked to the bone. We grabbed the last few beers from the cooler and watched the bay turn into a nasty mess of whitecaps behind the house. The cold front that the captain had predicted to come through during the day had hit us square in the face that night.

Anytime I bring up hitting up the dock lights for some trout – I get a “you can’t be serious” look from them that turns into a raging laughter thinking back to the one time we got our butts handed to us riding home in the dark of the night with a cold front whipping through.

Steven Vanden Heuvel