Story & photos by Tim Huffman
Dock fishing in the fall and winter can be excellent. There are several ways to fish docks with each one being better or worse depending upon the type dock, water depth and fish movements.
Docks that are not covered can be good fishing especially in the fall. On lakes with both covered and open docks, covered docks are often better but never rule out good fishing on uncovered docks.
It is true fall crappie are often on the move in search of baitfish. However, the baitfish will roam under the docks too, turning on the crappie. So crappie will get in the shade in wait to ambush baitfish.
Two types of docks are floating and piling/stationary. Pilings offer more cover to hold fish and are found on lakes with less water fluctuations. Floating docks are more common on most Corp of Engineer lakes where fluctuations are common.
Catching fish on docks with no cover offer more options for fishing techniques. Pitching is a great way to carefully place a jig in precise places. Pitching allows a pendulum swing of the bait to give a slow swim mixed with a natural-looking fall.
Charlie Rogers says docks, especially the ones in the wide open, are easy for the weekend fisherman to find and fish. “Fish will be suspended somewhere from the bottom to the top of the water. All a fisherman has to do is pitch, or cast, along the walkways and covers. Fish all depths and it will be revealed which depth is the crappies’ favorite.”
Once the strike zone is learned, baits can be targeted into the one zone. There are many good baits for this tactic with basic curly tails being at the top of the list. Specific choices in the Bobby Garland lineup include Baby Shad, Stroller, Slab Slay’R and Scent Wiggler.
Probe corners and as many areas under the dock as possible. Shade is critical. Be sure to hit all shady areas including under and beside boats.
Flipping equipment includes a 7- to 11-foot pole rigged with a smooth reel. A lightweight, sensitive pole is very important for less fatigue and maximum sensitivity. Since you can mix pitching with reeling, a 7-foot pole is very versatile and easy to use in tight spots.
A spinning outfit allows a fisherman to shoot, pitch or cast up under the roof of a dock.
Water temperature is important on the depths of crappie under docks. The fish will often surprise a fisherman by being only a few feet under the water surface. However, no matter the water temperature, crappie like the shade and perceived protection under a covered dock.
Pitching, as described previously, can be used to reach many areas where you’ll find fish. However, the length of the pole prevents overhead hooksets if the pole is sticking under the roof.
The popular and preferred method is “shooting.” Shooting is the act of leaving 20 to 30 inches of line, grabbing the jighead, pulling it back while aiming the rod the direction you want to shoot, and then releasing the jig. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
The first tip is to keep the hook point away from your finger and thumb. That means to grab the jighead and keeping it where the hook won’t get you when you let go of the jig.
Next is aim. Pointing the rod in the direction you want the jig to go is important. Release your bail on the spinning reel and hold the line between your pointer finger and the rod. When you pull the jig back and the rod is aimed it’s time to let the jig go. The tricky part of is timing the release of the line. If you let the line go too soon the jig will fall short of its target. If you hold too long it will fly high in the air. A good shot will maintain a low trajectory not far from the top of the water. Practice is important to improve at this technique. Good shooters will often squat or lay down on the deck to get next to the water to shoot in tight places.
A dock always has “sweet spots”. These spots are usually the most remote, dark areas. It might be the back corner of a boat stall or a spot between floatation blocks. Every fisherman does not hit these spots. A good shot to the right spot might produce a number of fish, maybe a limit.
A general rule is that jigs should be lightweight and rugged. Handtied jigs are popular because they will last a long time. Solid body plastics are a good choice. Whatever your preference, starting with a 1/32-ounce head is common. The light jig stays in the strike zone longer and allows a slower retrieve.
Plastics have an advantage because they make changing colors or styles very easy. A body made just for shooting is the Muddy Water Baits 2.5-inch. It is a solid body with a flat tail. The jig can be skipped back into hard to reach locations. On the fall it has a back and forth wobble that slows it down and entices more strikes. Of course other jigs will catch fish too. Only by test-fishing will you learn their favorite for the day.
Bonus Dock Spots
Docks owned by fishermen can expect to have brushpiles under and nearby. Typical locations include suspended under walkways, sunk to the bottom under the dock, and within casting range of the dock.
The easiest ones to find are brushpiles near the outside edges of the dock. Outside corners and walkways are favorite spots. Sonar can find these while pitching or shooting the dock.
Brush away from the dock requires some searching to find. One of the high-tech units like a Humminbird Side Imager is a time saver but any sonar unit will do the job. Search, mark and then fish the brushpile or bed. Water depth verses season will usually determine if and how many crappie you’ll find.
Sun/Overcast: Even though it’s cooler water in the fall, shade is important to crappie. Therefore, on an overcast day crappie are less likely to be around a dock. If it is bright and sunny, they’ll be in the shadiest areas.
Current: Plays a key role in bait presentation. Since light baits are favored for this technique, current will carry the bait and cause more hang-ups. A heavier jig will be required.
Fishing Pressure: This can be a big problem if fishermen tend to hit the same docks. When there are fewer and spookier fish the results will be less fish.
Boating Activity: Usually boating is at a minimum this time of year. Thank goodness for no jet skies.
Wind: A major factor because wind and waves can slam your boat into the dock. Wind is a boat control problem.
Cold Front: It usually slows the fish down so expect fewer bites right after a cold front moves through.