August 30, 2021
In the sport of bass fishing, there’s a funny saying about anglers that goes something like this: if their mouths are moving, they’re lying!
Of course, that's not always true when it comes to the topic of "dock talk," or fishing information gleaned from dockside conversations, pre-dawn discussions over scrambled eggs and coffee at a marina café, or in a boat ramp parking lot after a hard day out on the water.
Sometimes, the intel that can be gathered is good and helpful, at least on the day that the information is given out. As my friend Chris Bobo, a longtime North Texas angler and avid tournament participant in the region near Dallas/Fort Worth laughs, "Before a tournament, everybody is always on them, right?"
But like state-issued fishing reports, the first problem with "dock talk" is that fishing is always changing, from year to year, from month to month, from day to day, and in some cases, from hour to hour. If you doubt that, just watch a day or two of tournament action in a professional fishing event.
1. Does 'Dock Talk' Info Apply to Fishing Today?
Take the recent 2021 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Ray Roberts near Fort Worth, Texas, the so-called "Super Bowl of Bass Fishing" won by Hank Cherry, a North Carolinian who captured the event for the second year in a row.
But on the 51st Classic’s first day of competition, Cherry didn't seem to be the man to beat as Alabama resident and longtime B.A.S.S. pro Steve Kennedy roared out of the gates and caught a huge limit of fish almost before the sun had even completely risen over the flooded North Texas lake.
In fact, almost by the time my pancakes were served at the Corner Café in nearby Pilot Point, Kennedy had already caught the bulk of a 23-pound first-day bag, the best five-fish limit of the entire event.
But after overnight severe thunderstorms wrecked the lake and reduced competition time by two hours the following day, Kennedy was never able to duplicate his first-day magic, finishing in 13th place, more than 15 pounds behind Cherry’s winning total of 50 pounds, 15 ounces.
2. Can You Believe the Where, When & How?
That recent Classic story serves as the perfect backdrop for a discussion on the value of "dock talk," since where, when, and how the bass are biting is such a delicate matter, even when the information is accurate and being live-streamed and televised.
But the other side of the coin is that the "dock talk" fishing information isn't always accurate, since anglers are known to imitate the fabled Pinocchio from time to time. The only difference between Geppetto's wooden boy and some bass anglers—as far as I can tell—is that the latter group's noses don't grow when they tell the fishing version of a whopper.
Before we go any further with this discussion about "dock talk," it should be noted that in many instances—particularly in professional bass tournaments or serious local and regional events offering big prize money, the act of soliciting or even giving information is often an absolute no-no.
In some cases, no outside help can be received at all, while in other situations, there is a cut-off time limit enforced for such intel to be gathered. When and where such regulations exist—and there is often a polygraph test for the top finishers at big tournaments—violation of such rules can result in an angler being disqualified, suspended from future competitions, or even have a career trajectory permanently altered as sponsors and fans shy away.
But for other events like a weeknight jackpot tournament on a local lake, a weekend bass club competition amongst friends, or simply fishing for fun after a long, hard week at work, there’s usually no rule against tell it like it is "dock talk."
Just as long as anglers understand going in that some information is good and golden, while other intel is as rotten as a jug of milk left outside on a hot summer day. The trick is to figure out which info is good, which is bad, and what to do with it all.
3. Consider the 'Dock Talk' Source
Some anglers will tell it straight up to their buddies, just like it is. Case in point was a trip that Bobo and I made to a famous East Texas lake several years ago. After going to some spots that produced little in the way of hope, I dug deep into my memory banks and pulled out some intel given to me by a guide friend about where the bass liked to stack up at that time of year.
Did it work? I’ll say, as Bobo and I landed several fish in the 7- to 9-pound range in short order, using the lures suggested in the exact location that was shared with me a few weeks earlier.
Mike Woody, a North Texas high school football official and an avid weekend tournament warrior, has also been on the receiving end of such golden intel, particularly when it relates to bass fishing on his home water, the 89,000-acre Lake Texoma that straddles the Texas-Oklahoma border.
But he’s also quick to point out that he’s seen "dock talk" work the other way, too.
"After 40 years on this lake, I’d say that nothing has created more doubt in one’s fishing (ability) and (even) caused more men to cross a line of honesty, even to friends, than this concept of dock talk," said Woody. "If, of course, there was money involved, then Scripture is always right on this."
You know, the Biblical admonition from the apostle Paul—who was known to hang out with a few fishermen—to his young protégé Timothy about the love of money being the root of all sorts of evil.
4. What 'Dock Talk' Info Can You Actually Use?
But even when money isn’t involved, Woody said that in his opinion, as a longtime angler, guide, and tournament participant in North Texas, "dock talk" has to be carefully weighed against the timing, context, and manner in which it is being received.
"You have your pre-fishing, or practice, info, and of course, the post-trip or tournament winning talk," he said. "The former is always sketchy at best and usually always changes somehow (before the tournament begins) and is just hard to duplicate later on when you get on the water. (And even if it's good information), there’s way too many factors involved and confusion about what’s being said, so I have usually avoided it (the pre-tournament talk)."
After an event, or when the fishing is merely for fun, Woody has been more willing to listen and learn.
"Now as for the latter, if you have that rare occasion when you actually get the truth or some sort of accuracy is found when you get out on the water, that’s always worth noting (concerning what info was given and who gave it)," he said. "Mainly, I’d say that I use such intel for learning about what to do in similar conditions later on in the future."
Woody, who once gave me some very valuable "dock talk" advice—he told me years ago that the first bait he'll always throw after lunch on a warm summertime day is a topwater plug since Texoma's big smallmouths are known to crush a mid-day surface offering—also notes that he's learned to take a lot of "dock talk" advice with a grain of salt, especially when his gut instinct says to do so.
"Honestly, I don’t remember 'dock talk' ever helping me out too much," said Woody, who spends a lot of hours on the water each year earning his own first-hand fishing information. "(And almost) everyone I know has been burned by sharing something in confidence, only to see the info get passed on many times over."
Sometimes, such information has burned out a good spot or even unveiled a secret tactic or lure to the point that a fishing advantage is lost. And a time or two, "dock talk" has even proven to be something more than simply the idea of loose lips sinking ships.
"I do know a guy who was told for sure where (a local pro) was fishing up the Washita (River)," said Woody. "The guy that shared the intel with the other angler failed to tell him how to run the river though, and the angler spent many hours stranded on a sandbar where he left his lower unit behind. Lesson learned."
5. Is 'Dock Talk' Info a Fit for You?
In the final analysis of dock talk versus telling it like it is, a key thing to ponder is that intel gathered, and lessons learned from that info, should always be measured against where, when, and how an angler likes to fish. In other words, if shallow water flipping is your strength, you might want to avoid "dock talk" about offshore cranking in the deep stuff.
In other words, let dock talk point you in a certain direction, perhaps, but don't always take it as the Gospel truth.
To illustrate that, consider the "dock talk" advice I recently received from my friend Jim Spitzmiller, a serious tournament angler from the Houston area who fishes frequently on Sam Rayburn and other big reservoirs in East and South Texas.
"Years ago, I got some advice about 'dock talk' from Ed Partin, a Texas fishing great and a member of our state's Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame," said Spitzmiller, who also happens to be my youngest son's father-in-law.
"Ed told me that he never asked anyone what they caught their fish on, but instead what depth they caught them at," Jim continued. "Ed reasoned that since anglers' fish different lures—or even the same lure in different ways—that the most valuable info he could gather was simply knowing where the fish were holding against seasonal patterns, not what lures they had been caught on."
Put simply, after all of the years spent on the water learning where, when, and how to catch bass in the Houston area, Partin trusts his own skills and instincts more than the "dock talk" advice of others. He might not know everything about the fishing on a particular body of water when he put the trolling motor down, but he had a pretty good idea of where to start and believed that he would eventually figure it all out on his own.
And he usually has, all the way to the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, in fact. While you and I might not ever duplicate Partin’s path to a fishing hall of fame, the guess here is that we can probably learn how to catch a few bass along the way in our own angling journey, as long as we’ll pay attention and take a few mental notes concerning what a lake and the bass are trying to tell us.
Because in the end, an angler’s own hard-earned "dock talk" is always the best kind, right? As long as we tell it like it is to ourselves.