Tips for Fishing Bays and Harbors

Use these tips to catch fish while staying protected from howling winds and white-capped waves.

Fish caught in bays and harbors can save the day while providing light-tackle action.Jim Hendricks

When Mother Nature throws a wind-whipped monkey wrench into your fishing plans, you have a choice. You can stay tied to the dock or try Plan B — as in bay — and enjoy some angling action close to home. Many of the same bays and harbors where we store or launch our boats host a variety of game fish. While not usually as large as those encountered in coastal or offshore waters, these fish can still save the day while providing light-tackle action in waters more protected from the howling winds and white-capped waves.

Focus on Structure
Game fish are attracted to various types of structure. Dock pilings, bridge abutments, piers, shoreline riprap, jetties and bars all provide sources of food and an ideal place to ambush prey. Whether fishing with live or cut bait or casting artificial lures, focus your efforts in these types of areas. Points of land can also provide fish with a place to conserve energy while waiting for the tidal current to bring food.

Look for Life
Find the life and you'll find the fish. Just as you would offshore, use your eyes to find feeding birds (including those stalking the shoreline) or the visible glint of baitfish in the sun. Put your fish finder on its manual setting and select a depth range/frequency that maximizes the display for shallow water. If your harbor has floating live-bait receivers (like many do in California), these are obvious magnets for a range of fish.

Lighten Up
The fish available in harbors and bays are often smaller versions of those you'd target offshore. Downsizing your tackle can make catching small stripers, blues, spotted bay bass or halibut more fun. And you might just learn some new finesse techniques you can use any time the fish get finicky.