Shoot docks for post-spawn crappie

(Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Boat docks are an often-overlooked form of cover for post-spawn crappie. This technique will help you get baits where the big ones hide.

Slab-sized crappie love to hold tight to structure during the spawn, and if that structure happens to be a pier or boat dock with sufficient water under it, they will stay there through the summer, because the overhead shade provides relief from the sun.

The only problem with fishing these structures is that crappie often hold way back under the docks, where it’s almost impossible to reach them with a jig pole. In order to get your bait to the fish, you may need to move a crappie jig horizontally as much as 20 feet. That’s why dock-shooting was invented; it’s a technique that works great for catching crappie.

Kent Driscoll, a professional crappie fisherman and pro staffer for B’n’M Poles, couldn’t agree more. Docks provide structure, cover, food and a variety of water depths so crappie can find comfortable water temperatures.

After the shot, leave the bail of the reel open and let the jig sink slowly and naturally through the water column. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

In summer, Driscoll passes on docks that span shallow water, looking for larger structures that cover more surface area and span deeper water.

“Summer docks are definitely deeper docks, depending on where you are and what lake you are fishing,” Driscoll said.  “When I say deep, we’re talking 10 to 20 feet deep. The deeper docks are honestly a little bit easier to fish than the shallow docks; the fish aren’t as spooky. I usually see the fish spend the summer in the deeper water.”

The right dock

Finding the right dock is no longer a game of checking every dock with multiple casts until you find the fish. Driscoll turns on his sonar unit and spends the first part of the day scanning boat docks. With today’s forward-scanning technology, half the battle is won simply by locating fish.

“The key with today’s electronics is just scanning these docks,” he said. “We’ve gotten to the point now we can ride by a dock, look under the dock with my Garmin Panoptix unit and tell if it holds fish or not. I’ll see exactly where those fish are: where they’re positioned, how deep they are. Are they relating to the poles or the beams? Is there a boat lift? Is there structure underneath the dock? You can see it all.”

Once you find fish, getting a bait to them with an appealing presentation is not as easy as it sounds. Most docks are considered fair game, free to fish from a boat, but likely trespassing if the anglers steps onto or even touches the dock. That’s where shooting docks come in to play.

“Everybody knows the most-productive docks are usually the hardest ones to get to,” he said. “It’s kind of like bowhunting. Dock-shooting is all about being very precise and placing that jig in the right spot, getting it in the strike zone and keeping it there for the fish.”

Boat positioning

Having identified a dock he wants to fish, Driscoll’s next concern is boat positioning. Shooting docks in the summer means fish can either be deep or tucked just below the surface, under the dock.

“Boat control is going to be real important, too. You’ve got to be able to hold your boat pretty still while that jig sinks,” he said. “That’s kind of the benefit of the deeper docks. You fish a little bit deeper; you don’t spook them as much. You’ve got to get into that sweet spot, and usually that sweet spot is against the walkway, and it’s in between the dock itself and the actual boat itself. That’s usually going to be your darkest spot.”

Another part of the equation is line diameter. The lighter the line, the further the shot, but lighter line also hinders retrieving a larger fish that decides to rub some structure on the way out.

“Four-pound is my standard,” Driscoll said. “I’ve tried fluorocarbon, but it can be stiff. I’d recommend 4-pound mono, and if you get into really heavy cover and start breaking off or catching bigger fish, maybe bump up to 6-pound. High-vis works in stained water, but you probably want a clear line or a clear blue line for clear-water lakes.”

Line-watching

Line-watching is key to detecting bites. Driscoll describes two important aspects of line watching while the jig is descending under the dock.

“Two things you need to know,” he said.  “No. 1, it’s all about line watching. When that line stops, more than likely the fish has sucked it in. And in the summer, the fish aren’t near as active as the bite during the spring, so your strike is a lot more subtle so it is crucial you watch the line.”

“No. 2, instead of engaging the spool the minute the jig hits the water, leave that spool open,” he said. “You might pull back twice with the spool open, and that’ll let that jig fall faster and get it in the strike zone quicker, but also be watching for the line to stop as the jig falls.”

Jigs

Finally, Driscoll winds up his discussion of dock-shooting with the perfect jig. In reality, there is no one perfect jig, it’s a matter of matching your bait, and it’s weight with your current situation.

“The two types of jigs that I primarily use are solid-body jigs and hair jigs,” said Driscoll. “Solid-body jigs skip and, especially in a tight spot where maybe you’ve got a low ceiling, you can aim the jig, hit the water and skip it an additional 15 or 20 feet.  Hair jigs do not skip like a solid body. A Bobby Garland Baby Shad is a killer for skipping.”

“Now, the flip side of that is hair. Black crappie love a hair jig,” he said. “It’s got a little bit more action. It breaths as it falls. You get the flutter effect, which is important, but hair won’t skip. You’ve just got to figure the pattern out. Every day is a little bit different. I tell everybody you need to have both. It’s really just trial-and-error.”

Shooting docks involves hand-eye coordination to bend the rod tip back, release the jig and the line and keep the bait moving horizontally, close enough to the water’s surface to get it well back under the dock structure. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

How to shoot a dock

The art of shooting docks is a skill no crappie angler should be without. Shooting a jig allows an angler to present a bait well back under a boat dock or other overhead structure that couldn’t otherwise be reached. Here’s a few simple steps to master the skill:

Numerous jigs will work for shooting docks, you often need to change baits until you find which bait is working best on a given day. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Technique

First, open the bail on your spinning reel and let out line until you have about half the length of the rod hanging, then snub the line to the spool or the rod with the index finger on your reel hand. Look down the bend of the rod to gauge where the rod is aimed. Grab the jig by the head with two fingers with the hook point up. Keep your jig hand open with the other fingers spread away from the hook to avoid sticking yourself on launch. Pull the jig back toward you until you have a significant bend in the rod, then release the jig. As the jig leaves your hand, then release the line from your reel. Raise the rod tip slightly to keep the jig on course. Watch the line after the jig has started to sink, most strikes will be light, noticed only by a twitch in the line.

Timing

This is critical in shooting jigs. Do not release the jig and the line at the same time. Allow that split second for the rod to rocket the jig forward before releasing the line. Too much line out is hard to control, too little throws off your timing. 

Equipment

A fast-action graphite rod makes for a good shooting rod. Ideal choices are from 4½ to 6½ feet long. A wide-diameter spool allows line to peel off faster and easier than a narrow spool. Monofilament is a must. Crappie may shy away from braided line in clear, shallow water and a little bit of stretch is necessary to get off good shots. Light line shoots best; 4- to 6-pound is ideal. Heavier line is too stiff.

Set up

The lower the shooter is to the water, the easier it is to shoot parallel to the water. Shooting from a higher vantage point will cause the jig to cut into the water rather than skip across the surface.

Adding a tiny slip cork on the line above of the jig will help suspend the bait and add weight to the shot for attaining further distance on the shot. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Add a slip cork to your shot

Boat docks are great locations, as post-spawn crappie gravitate to docks adjacent to deep water that provide food, shade and security for spawn-weary fish.

“If I had to pick the most important feature of a boat dock to fish for crappie, it would have to be how close is it to deep water” said Mike Walters, a pro crappie angler. “If a dock has lights and rod holders all around it, a lot of guys always assume that’s a great place to find crappie because more than likely the owner has brush piles or stakebeds nearby. The truth is, if the dock isn’t located in the right area, depth-wise, all that structure isn’t going to change a bad location into a good spot.”

Once he’s found a dock he wants to fish, Walters pulls out B’n’M’s Sharpshooter 6 dock-shooting rod and, with the accuracy of a Wild West marksman, puts his jig in places most people never see, much less fish. But he also has a little secret that helps him both slow his presentation and detect bites when the going is tough.

Ice float

He uses a grape-sized ice float on the line above his jig. This allows him to fish docks without worrying about the jig getting hung up in structure under the dock.

“I rig the float like a slip-cork” Walters said. “Crappie typically aren’t too deep when they move in around boat docks, so I’ll adjust the stop to just a foot or so up the line. The other advantage is that the cork and jig stay together when cast and then separate once the float hits the water.”

Walters said boat positioning is critical when shooting docks and urges anglers not to grab hold of the dock — which may be considered trespassing — but to work the dock systematically from deep to shallow all the way around until crappie are located.

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Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 377 Articles
Phillip Gentry is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer who says that if it swims, walks, hops, flies or crawls he’s usually not too far behind.

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