June 04, 2021
North, south, east or west. Big lakes, small lakes and even rivers. Wherever you fish, you’re likely to encounter boat docks. While the primary purpose of these structures is to provide waterfront homeowners with access to the water, they also offer bass valuable overhead cover and access to baitfish, something they take of advantage of big time during the warm, bright summer months.
If you’re a bass angler, you probably throw a few casts around a boat dock when you come upon one. But, are you fishing docks as effectively as you could be?
Can you distinguish between productive and unproductive docks? And when you do choose one to fish, are you targeting bass under and around it efficiently?
If you can properly analyze a dock and fish it well, you can set yourself up for some phenomenal days on the water. This starts by understanding where bass will be in relation to a dock given the conditions, then implementing a strategy to cover key features.
The first step in any dock-centric outing is identifying where the bass are positioned. During lowlight periods or when there is cloud cover, bass likely won’t be positioned far up underneath a boat dock. Instead, they’ll hold on the edge of it or around nearby secondary cover.
I like targeting these bass with moving baits that mimic the food sources fish are feeding on around docks—generally bluegills or small baitfish. My first choice is a buzzbait, as it draws a lot of attention, particularly from bass that might be cruising near the dock. Buzzbaits can be cast fairly accurately, making them a good choice for the tight quarters common with boat docks, and because they only have one hook—not multiple trebles like many topwater plugs—you don’t have to worry as much when retrieving them around snaggy cover.
I always retrieve buzzbaits parallel to each side of the dock. This ensures I cover water, and it helps identify where bass might be positioned. Later, after moving past dock edges and surrounding cover, I’ll also skip buzzbaits under the dock. Braided line, such as 40-pound Seaguar Smackdown Braid, provides confidence in making those key casts and helps in wrestling bass out from beneath the dock.
Another lure I like when bass are cruising edges and nearby cover is a vibrating jig. The bait’s action mimics bluegill and baitfish well, and like the buzzbait it can be accurately cast beneath a boat dock. Vegetation and laydowns are two of the primary cover types often found in the vicinity of docks. Bass will move back and forth from the dock’s protection to the nearby fish-holding cover, and the vibrating jig shines here.
As the sun starts to move higher in the sky, the shade offered by a dock begins shifting closer to it. When this happens, bass begin positioning themselves nearer to and beneath docks in order to ambush an unsuspecting meal. The water underneath a boat dock is rich in attractive cover for bass. Between vertical and horizontal support poles, cables and floats, bass have many options. Unfortunately, the same things that make these areas attractive to bass comprise a nightmarish web of snags and breakoff hazards to anglers. When fish retreat beneath docks, you need to execute presentations some anglers won’t even attempt.
First, fish boat dock openings on the perimeter. Much like with an onion, your approach with any dock should be about peeling back layers. We started with bass holding on the edge and in surrounding cover; now you’re targeting bass in the dock’s easy-to-target openings.
A common error many anglers make is cruising by the front side of the dock and only making casts to the most accessible openings. A more difficult spot you should always fish (after the easy openings, of course) is the area directly beneath a dock’s walkway. This spot is productive for a couple reasons. First, it sees much less attention from anglers than other areas of the dock, so bass are less pressured. These spots also hold bass because they offer a lot of shaded surface area, so cooler water temperatures and prime ambush opportunities extend across a sizable swath of water.
When fishing walkways, rely heavily on your equipment to avoid disrupting bass—and the owner’s property. I use a Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor on a low speed to sneak up on bass and keep me in complete control of my boat. Once I’m within good casting distance and have the angle I want, I deploy dual Minn Kota Talons. This ensures I’ll stay in one spot and can focus on making precise casts without worrying about boat control.
I’ve mentioned that buzzbaits and vibrating jigs, while excellent for dock edges and nearby cover, can also be skipped under docks. However, my two favorite lures for dock-dwelling bass are a jig and a Texas-rigged soft plastic bait. You can fish both underneath a dock without worrying too much about snags. Most jigs have a fiber weedguard that keeps them from getting hung up in the dock’s components. Meanwhile, a Texas-rigged bait’s hook point is buried in the plastic, so it won’t hang on anything until you set the hook (most of the time). Which one I use most depends on two things: the preference of bass on that given day and how far back under the dock fish are holding.
That said, when fish are way back under the dock, a jig is usually my go-to. It’s simply easier and more effective to skip farther beneath a dock. Skipping a Texas-rigged soft plastic sometimes results in the hook point becoming exposed and snagging the very features you’re trying to avoid.
Whether I’m using a jig or Texas-rigged soft plastic around a boat dock, I like 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon. This line is very abrasion-resistant and holds up well to the abusive conditions underneath docks. It also has little stretch, so when I set the hook I get a solid hookset and am able to turn that bass to keep it from wrapping around a piling. And because InvizX is easy casting, I don’t have to worry about line coiling off the spool of my reel when skipping a jig under a dock.
SHALLOW OR DEEP?
The water depth around and underneath a boat dock plays a huge role in determining whether bass will inhabit it. Often, docks with deeper water are more productive than those with little water beneath them, though there are exceptions since bass only need a few inches of water to live.
Combined with the overhead cover a dock provides, less than a foot of water can be perfectly suitable for fish, especially before the water warms too substantially.
If you determine that bass are using boat docks in shallow water, you’ll want to alter your tactics a bit. First, bass in shallow water have a tendency to be a little warier, so be as stealthy as possible in your approach. (Of course, some lakes see near-constant traffic, so a quiet approach may not always be necessary.) It’s also wise to switch to a presentation that causes minimal disturbance when entering the water—something like a wacky-rigged stick bait. This is a good option if you’re fishing docks that have seen a lot of pressure from other anglers, too.
When skipping a wacky rig on a spinning rod and reel, I use 30-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid in Hi-Viz Flash Green as my main line and 10-pound Seaguar Gold Label as my leader. The visibility of the green braid allows me to see my line clearly and skip baits easily, and its strength and durability help mitigate damage to the line. Gold Label is Seaguar’s thinnest leader, so it’s perfect for finesse presentations.
HIT THE DOCKS
Boat docks are a solid summer program for bass anglers. With the right approach, baits and techniques, they are big-time producers. Anglers should also keep in mind that revisiting a productive dock run or a single dock throughout the day isn’t a bad idea. If a dock is holding bass, there is a reason for that, and bass will continue holding under it.
How much bass use a given dock will vary based on time of day and other factors such as sunlight, water temperature and boat traffic. However, with summer’s imminent arrival, it’s time give boat docks a harder look. Those who do might be handsomely rewarded.