By Darl Black
Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees will likely be remembered by bass fishermen as the site of the very, very cold 2013 Bassmaster Classic. But I’ll remember it as an unexpected topnotch crappie fishery.
I had an opportunity to visit Grand Lake in November of 2012 on a get-acquainted trip prior to the February Classic dates. It was my first time on the lake. In terms of bass fishing, we hit a bad series of days. Maybe bass were keeping their mouths shut in hopes of being caught by a big name pro during the Classic!
While catching bass was difficult, crappies welcomed me to Grand with open mouths! Of course there was one glitch – we had to first figure out where the crappies were hiding.
After striking out with bass, I jumped in the boat with crappie guru Dan Dannenmueller of Alabama for a late morning fishing session. It was Dan’s first time on the lake as well. Given the time of year, Dan expected shad to be on the flats in the back ends of the creek arms, and anticipated crappies would be there as well. We immediately ran up a creek arm until we saw shad schools dimpling the surface. We dropped lines in the water and began the slow-troll spider rigging routine.
Using the combination of electronic lake map and sonar, we worked along the creek channel edge. Cover seemed to be missing on the channel lip. Then we moved across the flats searching for groups of stumps or man-made brushpiles. But the bottom was as bare as a baby’s behind. It was apparent that things were not falling in place for trolling the flats.
As lunchtime drew near, we pulled the rods and headed back down the lake to rendezvous with the rest of group. On the way back we took note of the large number of docks.
“You know, one typical summer pattern on the lakes I fish in my neck of the woods revolves around crappies under shady docks. While I thought the shallow flats were the best bet this time of year, maybe it’s worth checking out docks after lunch,” said Dan.
“I love shooting docks,” he continued. “I use the 5′ BnM Dock Shooter, a very limber rod which allows one to load the rod and aim at an opening under a dock or the slot between a boat and side of dock. Some anglers like a long rod, but I find the shorter rod works best for me.
“Bobby Garland just brought out the Slab Dockt’r. With a bulked-up body and broad flat back for skipping across the surface, it is billed as the ultimate dock-shooting bait. I have not had a chance to try it out yet, but this looks like the time to do so. I’ll match it up with Bobby Garland 1/32 or 1/16-ounce Mo’ Glow Head.”
Dan explained the best docks are ones creating the greatest amount of shade. “Instead of a simple single walkway dock, concentrate on ones having an extra-large platform for an equipment shed, swim slide, boathouse – the bigger the area the better. Then you need to shoot the jig way back up under the docks. Another thing I’ve learned on docks back home, if there is pea gravel on the shoreline rather than plain dirt or sand, those docks usually hold more crappies.”
Back at the resort, lunchtime chatter revealed crappies were indeed on docks – at least black crappies; white crappie whereabouts were unknown. The boats which trolled the shallow flats had struck out. However, Terry Blankenship, a crappie guide from Lake of the Ozarks, had immediately been attracted to the large number of docks resulting in plenty of fish-catching action.
For the afternoon session, I joined Terry in order to obtain his take on dock shooting. We simply ran out of the cove where the resort was located, stopped and Terry dropped the trolling motor.
“My specialties include dock-shooting on Lake of the Ozarks so it was natural to head to the docks right away,” said Terry. “I was pleasantly surprised with the results.”
He fished a variety of different docks in the morning, but discovered main lake docks with immediate access to deep water were most consistent in holding crappies. Just about any dock would give up a couple crappies but for numbers and better average size, the main lake docks were superior.
“I’m always on the lookout for the best seasonal bait to match-the-hatch as well as being effective and efficient for skipping. The new Slab Dockt’r by Bobby Garland baits proved to be the perfect bait for shooting. The size perfectly matched y-o-y shad on Grand Lake at this time. The mass of the bait and the flat back makes for excellent skipping.”
While his shooting style appeared to me to be very similar to other dock shooters, I did note that Terry prefers a longer rod. He believes a 6-1/2 or 7-foot rod provides more accuracy and generates more force to skip a jig way back under a large dock.
We caught crappies on our first dock, taking perhaps 4 or 5 fish before moving to the next dock. Within a half an hour, we had caught and released 25 crappies. Shortly thereafter, we lost count. Occasionally we hit a likely looking dock which did not yield fish, but the majority of docks gave up between 3 to 6 crappies. Of course there were obstacles like dock support cross-members, ropes and planted brushpiles that resulted in yours truly hanging frequently.
Shooting can be accomplished from a standing, kneeling or seated position. Given that placement of most shots are very close to the water, the kneeling or seated position is generally advisable.
With the bail of the spinning reel open, let out line about 1/2 the length of the rod being used; then press the forefinger against the spool to prevent additional line from coming off. Pinch the hook shank of the jig between the forefinger and thumb of the other hand, careful to stay away from the point. Keeping both hands apart but parallel, draw the jig back as if drawing a bow string. With the limber rod fully arched from tip to butt, line up your target. First, let go the jig and about a 1/2 second later, release the line from the spool.
If all goes right, the bait will fly close to the surface the distance to the dock and disappear into the darkness, skipping across the water to a stop way back under the dock. But it takes practice.
On deepwater docks, crappies will suspend between the surface and the bottom. On the first skip let the jig fall for ‘one thousand one’ count then slowly retrieve it back to the boat. If no takers the first time, give a two or three count the next time. Keep adjusting until you figure the level at which crappies are suspended.
The other day, I gave Dan Dannenmueller a call to see if he had been back to Grand Lake. “Unfortunately no,” said Dan. “However, it’s a beautiful lake to fish – especially in November when all the summer boating traffic is gone. Now that I have a bead on the best way to fish Grand in early November, I would love to return to shoot more docks and haul in those slab black crappies.”