What's in a Dock?

 You did it! Great planning, fantastic execution, and now you are well on your way to developing the best fishing hole in your part of the planet.

What next?

As heavy equipment sculpts the soils and shapes the earth, putting the best soils forward for mixing and compaction, your thoughts have moved to designing the best habitat and thinking about a stocking program that meets your goals and timeline. You’ve given reasonable thought to a workable management strategy, too.

Now it’s time for you to also think about how to experience this soon-to-be glistening diamond of serene water that’s teeming with fish.



Experience it?


 Yes. It isn’t enough to design the best habitat and stock the greatest quality fish in recommended numbers. It isn’t enough to mold a management strategy where your water has optimum productivity via fertility and feeding your little darlings.

After all, if you have the best fish this side of Mars, and you haven’t figured out how to catch and enjoy them, does it matter?

That’s why part of this pond management process involves the best ways to enjoy your newest wet asset.

You’re thinking about a dock. Sure, that makes perfectly good sense.

At first pass, you may think you’ll spend a few bucks, put some wood on some floating barrels, and have the perfect place to keep your feet dry, and a great place to climb into your favorite boat so you can get to the places where you catch a fish on every cast.

Look a little deeper into dock decisions. It ain’t quite that simple.

I decided to ask our experts. You’ll be interested to hear their thoughts. All three of them are Pond Boss advertisers and good friends with sound advice to offer. To be clear, I told each expert this conversation couldn’t be an advertorial for his, or anyone else’s products. We needed facts for people to make smart decisions.

I had my first conversation with David Schnaiderman, long time EZ Dock distributor. He and I bumped into each other at a trade show. EZ Docks are prefabricated, snap-together segments designed for both do-it-yourselfers and dealers who want to design and put together a floating dock. As we visited in the Pond Boss booth, I asked him, “What do people need to consider as they decide on a dock?”

His response was quick. “First, they need to define the purpose of a dock. Do they want it for sunbathing, to house a boat, fishing, or feeding their fish?” He smiled and continued, “Want a place to see the sun go down, or will they be swimming off of it?”

He said, “Unless you have a way to control the water level, you’ll want a floating dock. Something that will work with Mother Nature. A fixed pier won’t move with fluctuating water levels. If you have a well, or know your water won’t fluctuate more than a few inches, any type of dock will work.”

Good advice.


John Krogman, with Connect-A-Dock, echoed those thoughts. “Define the purpose. Fishing? Keep a boat?” He added. “Part of our mission, as we help people decide, is to define what they want to do. There are different profile docks, some sit higher, some lower. Do you need to remove your dock each year? How important is maintenance, or no maintenance?” That was a recurring theme among all three experts. “Do you want to build it yourself?” He switched gears, “What kind of look do you want? People have their preferences, and with a dock, it usually starts with ‘stationary or floating’?” His best advice is this, “Do your research.

           What are your preferences, what’s best for your climate and area? Some docks don’t work well on rough water. You need to learn that before your purchase.” He finished with, “What will it cost? Is that expense the best value for what you need? Think about value, more than price. What about accessories? Adding a bench? Kayak launch?” He finished with, “Go look at some docks, walk on them, make sure you understand each type of system.”

More solid advice.

Owen Jones, with Tommy Docks, said, “We cut our teeth on fixed docks. Most ponds have a fairly constant level, except in the more arid regions. Floating docks tend to be less stable than fixed docks. If someonehas mobility issues, a fixed dock is better.” So, he says, “The first question to ask is, “What do I need, floating or fixed?” He added, “The qualifying questions are: Does your water fluctuate? Are there mobility issues with users? Sometimes, we’ll use a fixed walkway to a floating dock. That can work well.”


What else is important? All three agreed, “Budget and materials. These go hand in hand.”

With these three companies, you can get anything from all-cedar on aluminum, to aluminum decking, to prefabricated, snap-together modules to create any design. You can have PVC decking or another artificial material that’s mostly maintenance-free, and still get a look similar to wood. Some people like the wood-grain look. Others prefer the design and ease of the floating modules. Other folks want to go to the local box store, buy their stuff, and build it themselves. It’s all about choices, methods, budget, and aesthetics. You can buy a dock from these companies and choose between a natural wood look, a functional style, or even something that has a mild industrial look to it.

Another smart thing about these three different companies is they all accommodate change. Their products and systems are designed so you can make additions later and add square footage whenever you are ready. Don’t want to buy a boatlift on the first go around? Wait, and add it later. Each company has an amazing array of add-ons.



Over a long career as a consulting fisheries biologist, I can’t tell you how many docks and boathouses I’ve seen. To this day, I’ll always remember the three I fell from. The first time I plummeted off a dock, I was at an east Texas club lake, a famous one. I was meeting with two influential decision-makers, trying to sell them on my expertise as a pond manager, and I got a little carried away with my gestures. I was emphasizing a point that must’ve been important and took a slight step backward. You guessed it—there wasn’t any more dock. Totally embarrassed, and soaked to the bone, I swam a few feet, got my footing, walked out, took my former place on the dock, and finished my spiel—dripping.

They didn’t laugh; they didn’t smirk, or make any comment, at least not in front of me. I can only imagine the yeehaw conversation in the car on their way home back to Dallas.

But, I closed the deal, probably because they felt a wee bit sorry. However, if that dock had a rail…

Another time, I was walking along a dock with a frame made from boards nailed together, a plywood top, and blue plastic barrels as floats. It was put together in segments, with hinges holding the segments. Hinges! Going down that horrid contraption was like one of those carnival attractions where you give the attendant some tickets, and then see if you can walk without falling or collapsing into some stranger’s arms. The only thing missing on this dock were the mirrors that made your body look goofy. I made it to the third section before sidewinding into the depths. Two barrels popped from under their boorish moors and floated away. The owner apologized—easy for him; he knew how to walk down that thing. I knew better than to walk it, but tried anyway. By then, I’d learned to carry an extra set of clothes and a towel in my truck.




The third time, I was taking photos. I stepped back to get a better angle, and plopped straight into the water. Just before my head went under, I tossed my Canon camera onto the dock, not wanting to ruin it under water, but the impact broke it anyway. Even soaking wet, I’m the eternal optimist, and saw my bent up, 35 mm film camera as an opportunity to move into the digital age. Rather than repair my treasured tool, I bought my first digital camera, another Canon.

Uh, that dock had no rail, either. But, that’s not a good enough excuse for my carelessness.

What should you not do? Don’t spend a lot of time, effort, and money doing it wrong. Don’t build something unsafe, wobbly, or less-than-ideal functionally. If you build a stationary dock, keep in mind that if your pond is four feet low, you’ll need to sit on the dock and drop into your boat. Never mind what it will take to get back on the dock after your fun. The smartest addition I’ve seen with a stationary dock in fluctuating waters is a set of steps. When the lake is full, steps are under water, slick as…well, you know what slick means. But, when the lake drops, the steps are handy.

Also, think about how you build it. With a wooden dock, plan for splinters and nails popping up. For our dock at LL,2, we attached all the boards with non-corrosive screws, just to keep the planks down. We planed and sealed all the boards prior. Some of the synthetic materials, as well as treated lumber, can last for eight to ten years, but it’s not unusual to have a few boards want to twist. If you use wood, expect maintenance such as needing to replace boards that rot or twist, plus paint or sealant.

Just like everything else, think completely through the purpose of your dock. Recently, we consulted with a client outside Austin, Texas. He was specific. “I’d like to have a dock where my 92-year old aunt and her 95-year-old sister can walk out, hold a rail, sit in the shade and catch a mess of fish to cook for lunch.” He said, “I don’t really want them to carry anything onto the dock, either.” We helped him design a custom-built dock with a wide gangway leading onto a sturdy platform with a roof over the top for shade on hot summer days, but with enough room for his aunt and her sister to cast off the dock to fish over the brush piles where his bass are primed to take their offerings.

Also on his dock is a fish cleaning station with plenty of lighting, a pump from the lake, a sink, and a stainless-steel table to fillet fish. To the left are a set of custom lockers. One locker is for his gear. That one stays locked, until he’s ready to fish. The other lockers house all the guest equipment, from fishing rods, terminal tackle, and PFDs, which he requires his aunts to wear. A swimming ladder is installed at the end of the dock, so in case someone falls in, they have a way out. He also has two boat slips.


I’ve seen docks with sun decks, slips for pontoon boats, bait tanks, and fishing decks. There are special extensions for fish feeders, boxes designed for storage, and even misting systems designed to spray an organic citrus oil to dissuade spiders. Spiders love lighted docks. They’ll build webs to catch those pesky nighttime insects. While that sounds like a good thing, spiders leave lots of little poop spots all over the dock, boats, and whatever else sits beneath their lair, and that requires occasional pressure washing.

In areas where water fluctuates measurably, floating docks are the best choice. I’ve seen long gangplanks and walkways with a soft slope. Last spring, when the Queen and I joined some friends to fish in Alaska, we trapesed down a long gangplank set at such an angle it would have been easy to slide down it like a ride at an amusement park. We happened to be there at low tide, but had we arrived a few hours earlier, the walkway would have been level, since tides there range 24-26 feet every six or so hours. With some ponds that fluctuate, I’ve seen two docks. One is a level walkway leading to a stationary dock and another gangplank leading to a second dock that floats with the water level. Double usage, but double costs.

A new trend is adding a kayak launch. Some docks have electric boat lifts. Others have built in battery chargers. Many have storage boxes, cleats, and bumpers. Some docks have toys, like a slide from the upper deck, or a diving board for those little risk takers.

Your basic choices, based on the situation, are to build a permanent structure, either stationary or floating, with all your favorite bells and whistles, or you can install a prefab floating modular dock. In the northern reaches, you’ll want a floating dock on wheels. Yes, you are reading those words correctly. Every fall, part of the winterizing process is to hook up a vehicle to the dock, release it from its moorings, and pull it out of the water. If left to the throes of winter, ice will mutilate most docks.

If you plan to build a floating dock, study about buoyancy. Too much buoyancy and the dock or walkway wants to roll to the side, even flip. If there’s too little buoyancy, don’t be surprised if your work of art sinks with just the right amount of weight on it. Think it’s okay to tie two boats to a cleat? Think again. Too much pressure on a cleat centers the torque and it can pull free, setting your boats adrift.

So, there you go. Plenty of dock information. I’m not sure about you, but my head is spinning from all this good information from our Pond Boss experts. Think I’ll go to the dock and see if I can coax a few big bluegills from beneath.

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