There are few pieces of structure as iconic as jetties. These rocky man-made points dot both coasts, providing thousands of unique and productive fishing opportunities. Jetties act like an oasis where vegetation, mollusks, crabs, bait and gamefish accumulate. They are beloved by all anglers, and many of us cut our teeth by fishing from them. If you’re interested in becoming a better jetty angler—from shore or boat—here are some tactics to help up your game.
Jetties Mean Current
Jetties are built in areas with current running parallel to shore. They are designed to break up this flow, slow it down, and reduce shoreline erosion as a result. They vary dramatically in size and composition; some are short and loosely cobbled together, while others are extremely long, with carefully placed, tightly packed boulders and poured concrete.
Regardless of what it looks like, the presence of a jetty is a fail-proof signal that there is moving water along that stretch of shoreline. While the flow is not always dramatic, it usually acts as a conveyor belt, pushing bait and other forage right up along the edge of the rocks.
Predators key in on current, letting it deliver food directly to them or using it to their advantage to overwhelm and take down prey. Because of this, you can count on any given jetty being visited by tarpon, striped bass, redfish, bluefish or other gamefish at some point during the tide cycle.
While it’s safe to assume current will play some role in a jetty’s productivity, every jetty is unique. Each will have its own list of top fishing factors, and current is only one component. For example, wind speed and direction will influence some jetties far more than others. Or a specific bait migration might be critical to one jetty and completely unimportant for another. Here’s what to look for.
Because jetties are designed to impede water flow, they have an up-current and a down-current side. This also means they have a high- and a low-pressure side, which changes with the current direction.
The water flow collides with the up-current, high-pressure side. The sheltered side is the down-current, low-pressure side. If your jetty is associated with an inlet, the high- and low-pressure sides will be outside either channel wall, depending on the current direction.
The high-pressure side is a trap for anything moving along with the parallel current. This results in two important phenomena. First, debris, vegetation and plankton accumulate against the high-pressure wall. This is the basis of the food chain, and it attracts bait, which attracts the species we target. Second, if the jetty is subject to stronger currents, prey species can get pinned against the rocks. These scenarios make the high-pressure side my preference during most tides.
Note that these same situations can also occur with wind sweep. Though it is often lower in speed and intensity, wind-driven current can easily push plankton and the rest of the food web around. In many cases, wind is as important as tide.
Many jetties do not experience the same current force from both directions. For example, one jetty I fish has a current strong enough to create a visible rip line off the tip on incoming tides, accumulating bait. But the current comes from the opposite direction on the dropping tide, with much less force. Bait simply doesn’t collect in the same way during this time, and I’ve stopped fishing it on the outgoing tide.
But depending on what bait is present, the species you’re pursuing, and the strength of the current, fishing the lower-current tide cycle might be your most productive time. Understanding your specific jetty and target species behavior is the key to determining this.
For instance, you probably want less current when soaking baits or dropping jigs for tautog. The slower water flow will encourage them to poke out of their hides and move around, as well as help keep your bait in the strike zone. But periods of higher flow are more ideal for stripers, which use the bait-crippling currents to their advantage.
Get in Close
Because bait is living in or being pushed against the rocks, often predators will also be close. As a result, casting tight to the rocks is key. There’s no such thing as getting your lure or bait too close. If you can bounce them off the rocks without hanging up or destroying them, try it. Sometimes gamefish will refuse to move more than a foot from the shelter of the rocks.
Boating anglers have a huge advantage because they can cast directly at the rocks, working the length of a jetty easily. Using a Spot-Lock trolling motor to hold position while you cast at every nook and cranny can be deadly. While you might be inclined to think a cast 3 feet from the previous one is a waste, that kind of precision can be necessary.
If you’re on shore, start from the sand and cast out along the edge. From the jetty itself, remember to take a few casts along the edge. Reel your bait right up tight to the rocks before lifting it; burning it in the last 20 feet can mean missing the most productive slice of water. Dropping your rod down low while retrieving to keep your bait from rising too quickly is a classic jetty technique to get your offering in even closer.
Focus On the Tip
The tip is the most dynamic part of the structure. Water movement here is constantly changing as the tide ebbs and floods, the wind changes strength or direction, and waves increase or decrease in size. Typically, the lion’s share of the current is forced along the jetty’s length before wrapping around the tip. Since there’s an increase in pressure behind it, the current at the tip is often substantially accelerated. Even if your jetty has no inlet or outflow associated with it, this faster current wrapping around the tip creates eddies and seams that predators use to ambush and overwhelm prey.
If your jetty lines an inlet channel, the tip can be even better. The current moving in or out of the backwater collides with parallel current and creates dramatic seams, back currents, eddies and rips, which predators use in a host of different ways. It’ll be different for every jetty and every species. Some will be right in the current, while others will sit at the edges. For these reasons, the tip of an inlet jetty is a highly sought-after spot. Don’t be surprised if it’s occupied almost 24 hours a day on some of the most popular jetties.
Finding the Flow-Through
The tip is hardly the only good place to fish. One of my favorite places to target is what I call flow-throughs. Particularly, longer, “leakier” jetties with moderate or stronger current with gaps or areas with fewer stones can create small zones of increased water exchange directly through the wall. This means miniature currents can form as the water squeezes through, pushed from the high- to the low-pressure side.
These areas are magnets for predators that ambush prey dislodged or pulled through. While I personally prefer the high-pressure side in most cases, these pockets of flow-through are often fished best on the low-pressure side. Finding them can be tricky because they aren’t always easy to spot. It can take fishing the entire length with a lure to signal where there’s more pull.
Trophy Fish, Corner Pocket
Another critical and often-overlooked spot is the corner pocket, where the jetty joins the shoreline. While many anglers rush past it, this can be one of the most productive areas of the entire jetty and even the whole beach. Bait moving along the shoreline gets trapped and pinned in the pocket. Unlike along the lengths of the jetty, there is no place for bait to hide as it’s pushed against the shore.
I like looking for channels created in soft bottom as current hits the rocky jetty at the intersection of the shoreline and is forced out along the jetty. These small culverts, depressions and edges funnel bait out into deeper water, where the trophy fish are waiting.
Put Your Time In
As many seasoned “jetty rats” will attest, jetties have personalities. It can take time to determine what factors are most important, so fish at various tide stages. Even preferred fishing techniques and tackle choices will influence when a jetty is most productive.
For example, anglers fishing bait might prefer calmer conditions and weaker currents, while those fishing lures prefer snotty weather and peak-current windows. Putting in your time will be rewarded with bent rods.