Docks, piers and boathouses may have been created as launching points for boating activities, and the activity that benefits the most from them during the warmer months is fishing.
Docks are essentially emergent reefs of wood or concrete, and they provide the two things bass favor — shelter and food. Shade over their heads, structure and shadows from which to ambush passing prey, along with the meals sharing residence — what’s not to love?
No doubt, docks offer one of your best summer patterns, and minding these principles will increase your productivity.
Seasonality influences overall dock selection (i.e. spring and fall creek/cove migrations vs. summer and winter main lake patterns), but wherever you fish docks quantity equals quality. In other words, commit enough time to hit several docks, because, as Bassmaster Elite Series pro Greg Hackney notes, piecing together the details of when and where bites occur typically yields a consistent formula.
“There will be a pattern; it could be channel swing docks, flat docks or something that the fish are keying on,” Hackney said. “If you find what that is, you can run the lake targeting docks that fit that (criteria).”
Balancing that principle, FLW pro Phil Marks warns against overlooking the loners. A solitary dock in a canal, creek or cove may represent the only available shade or shelter, so it will almost certainly hold some of the area’s biggest fish. With this in mind, let’s look deeper into dock strategy.
When daylight’s burning, it’s tempting to rush through a row of docks with a cast to the left, one to the face and another to the right of each structure.
But, you’ll do better in the long run by picking apart a few docks to see if you can unlock that key pattern. FLW Tour pro Terry Bolton said he bases his approach on the type of dock, either floating or stationary pole style.
“When I pull up on a floating dock, if I approach from the side, I look for two things — the darkest points, which are usually where the walkway meets the dock, and the mud poles, which anchor floating docks, and the walkway posts,” he said.
“If it’s a long walkway, I might start on the bank and work my way out. If I come at it from the front side, I might make a long cast down the side of the dock, so if there are two mud poles, I cover both of them.”
Bolton lets each individual stationary dock tell its own story, with consideration given to depth, bottom makeup and additional structure. Side-scanning sonar will show you the brush, stake beds and random wood that attracts bait and bass, but Marks says you can often size up a dock’s potential even without the fancy tech.
Surface-level recon often reveals the shadows and tips of brush piles; while crappie rod holders, cleaning stations, fishing chairs all point to crappie-loving homeowners who have likely sunk brush around the dock. And if you spot a dock with a pellet dispensing fish feeder, you can bet it’s a player.
A couple things to keep in mind:
Target priority: Seeking to maximize each dock’s potential, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Menendez said success hinges not only on presentation accuracy, but also on presentation order. Basically, don’t spook fish by trying to reach other fish.
“I look for the key element, whether that is an oversized pillar or a pocket of dark shade and determining how easy it is to penetrate that spot,” he said. “If that is a difficult cast to make, it will not be my first cast. I will proliferate the edges, make several pitches around the area and try to entice additional fish that might be around the dock before I go to the heart of the matter. If it’s an easy shot and a clean shot, then I will go (to that sweet spot) and get there the quickest.”
Front row seat: The low-light periods of early mornings, late afternoons and cooler overcast weather may find fish staging along dock perimeters, but during bright sunlight, FLW Tour pro Terry Bolton suggests pulling in tight, reaching over crossbeams, poking into open boat slips and hitting all those hard-to-access spots. Respect for waterfront property goes a long way, whether the homeowner’s watching or not, so avoid dinging boat hulls, don’t make any unnecessary contact and do your best to retrieve any snagged baits.
Naturally, a bass won’t be too happy about leaving its cozy abode, but hook ’em first and worry about getting them out later. Stout tackle and braided line are the assumptions here.
Diversity definitely benefits the effective dock arsenal, and that means a mix of reaction baits and “down” baits. The latter’s pretty straightforward — your flipping jigs, Texas-rigged worms and creature baits and the perennial back-up bait, the shaky head. Use these for probing particular areas such as dock posts, blown-in wood, brush, etc.
On the reaction side, the moving stuff is what you want to use for perimeter passes, tracing long edges and burning past high-value elements like corners where the enticing profile of a spinnerbait or the bumping vibration of a crankbait might pull out one of the more aggressive fish.
Hackney likes sending a Strike King Hack Attack Swim Jig with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer into boat stalls and under dock platforms. This presentation, he said, is a good bet for targeting the upper half of the water column.
“Fish suspend under docks a lot and the swim jig stays in the strike zone,” Hackney said. “Also, it resembles a bluegill or shad, depending on the color you use, so it looks like what the fish are eating.”
When Elite pro John Murray passes an empty boat slip, he’ll cast a Neko-rigged Gene Larew Tattle Tail Worm into the far corners and work it back out on a semi-slack line. He throws this rig on spinning gear, so he’ll angle his boat strategically, in case he has to slide into the slip and secure the fish before it can drag his line where he doesn’t want it to go.
Also on the finesse side, Elite pro Matt Lee always has a dropshot on his deck because it allows him to focus on a particular spot with a subtly suspended presentation to work on a stubborn fish, or follow up a near miss on one of his moving baits.
Each dock is different and each bite offers a piece of the puzzle. The key is to realize that, while the fish could be just about anywhere, they’re most likely going to be found in specific areas.
Be thorough, be surgical and be ready for the bite.`