September 20, 2021
Whatever their motivation, bass love docks, and savvy anglers who know how to identify promising structures and can figure out the high-percentage presentations keep their lines tight when targeting docks while fishing for largemouths.
Here's a rundown of key points for this time-honored bass pattern.
A dock's attraction for bass is clear. It's basically one big beach umbrella that offers lots of fish-friendly structure, such as cables, braces, walkways, ladders and various flotation devices. Shade and cooler water are easily the most attractive features of docks, as bass are generally content to lounge amid the dark, comfy quarters and gulp the occasional meal this time of year.
With the exception of cloudy and/or rainy conditions, when fish may roam the perimeter, dock bass generally stay put. The dock's deepest reaches will always offer shade, but as shadow lines shift with a moving sun, bass will favor one side or the other. Coincidentally, dock shade also interests bluegills, sunfish, crappies and shad.
The latter will begin migrating into creeks and pockets soon, with docks serving as handy pitstops along the way. To bass, that’s like having food delivered to their doorstep.
Catching bass off of docks is a relatively straight-forward proposition for those in the know. Understanding the fundamentals is key to being successful.
The physical location of a dock is important. Likewise, the depth over which a dock is situated is also a major consideration as bass seek cooler temperatures. Docks on channel swing banks benefit from their proximity to the aqueous highway. But also consider how multi-slip marinas often extend their piers across a range of depths out to the creek channel—the same basic attractions, except marinas offer a wider range of depths.
Dock shapes and sizes vary, but given the value of shade this time of year, the larger tend to excel. That being said, don’t overlook single isolated docks—even a modest finger dock offering an oasis in an otherwise barren pocket.
This becomes increasingly relevant on reservoirs once the fall drawdowns begin. As a decreasing water level takes a significant amount of shallow cover out of play, remaining structures become bass magnets. In other words, you may have one modest dock in a small pocket, but when the drawdown drains a handful of laydowns, many of those fish will crowd under the dock.
Mounted rod holders, cleaning tables, tackle boxes and automated fish feeders all point to angling activity that probably involves some type of sunken cover. Elsewhere, docks with ducks, geese and/or their fragrant leavings could indicate a little gold mine of unmolested potential since waterfowl don’t care for human company.
Likewise, older docks with bushes or weeds sprouting from the sides and slip corners gather lots of insects that often fall to the water. Bream like bugs. Bass like bream. You do the math. Thick algae common to older white Styrofoam floats attract lots of nibbling baitfish.
Side- and forward-scanning sonar reveals not only the subsurface dock structure, but also the bonus stuff. As pro bass angler Jake Whitaker notes, anything that sits on a dock can end up in the water. That could mean chairs, grills, coolers and small picnic tables. A good sonar unit helps locate and identify these structures the eyes cannot see from above.
Also, crappie-loving dock owners often anchor discarded Christmas trees and brush nearby, while storms and lake current tend to deposit limbs and debris under docks. More cover equals more fish.
Probing dock posts, blown-in debris and perimeter brush with shaky heads and dropshots is certainly worth your while, but skipping jigs or compact Texas rigs typically proves to be the most effective of summer dock tactics. Simply put, when summer’s swelter has the fish tucked in tightly, this technique puts baits on the tips of their noses.
Be aware that on reservoirs or tidal fisheries, heavy current will tug weighted baits into any bottom clutter. Bass pro Bill Lowen prevents this by downsizing from a standard 1/2-ounce jig to a 3/8-ounce with a bulky chunk trailer for buoyancy. This provides enough weight for accurate skips, but a slower fall that drifts through the target zone instead of sinking. Response is usually swift, and dock skipping will often deliver some of your better bites. It seems like the perfect presentation, but this technique intimidates many because of the propensity to backlash reels on poorly executed skips.
Using the right rod is critical to dock success. Pro angler Clark Wendlandt likes a 6-foot, 10-inch to 7-foot, medium-heavy model with sufficient backbone and a softer tip. Such a rod allows him to zip a bait under the dock without backlashing the second it touches the water.
Florida pro Terry Scroggins suggests spooling skipping reels to about 75-percent capacity to increase control and minimize backlashing. He’s also a fan of the sidearm roll cast for its easy motion, which smoothly distributes the power with less likelihood of bait-stopping impact.
If skipping just isn’t your deal, you can still present a bait beneath a dock by borrowing a crappie fishing technique known as “shooting.” With the bait hanging at about reel level, point the rod tip at the target area, pull the bait back to load the rod like a bow and then release to send the bait zipping into the shadows. Compact baits work best, and be sure to only grip the bait by the bend of the hook. This keeps the point safely forward of your fingers.
Taking into consideration low-light periods and the occasional feeding windows when fish move close to the dock edges, a complete arsenal should include a few moving baits. The fast movers are what you want for perimeter passes, tracing long edges and burning past high-value elements like corners and prominent posts.
Here, the enticing profile of a squarebill crankbait, spinnerbait or bladed jig may fool the more aggressive fish. Dock fish also fall for surface presentations, including walkers, prop baits and poppers, but keep the topwater retrieves close and short.
Give bass time to look at the baits, as they’re generally not inclined to leave their fortress to run down a speedy target like a buzzbait or buzz toad. I’ll also include hollow-body frogs here, which, unlike baits with treble hooks, skip well. Frogs and bladed jigs sent deep into dock shadows give bass an enticing look they don’t often see. No doubt it’s a challenging presentation, but it’s also one worth practicing and mastering.
Open boat slips welcome just about any of these presentations, but a wacky-rigged Senko can be deadly here and is also a good option for skipping. If the fish are holding deeper, add a nail weight for a faster falling Neko rig presentation. Either technique calls for light spinning gear, so keep your boat in position to quickly pull a fish out before it takes you somewhere you don’t want to be.
Success hinges not only on presentation accuracy, but also on presentation order. To that point, bass pro Mark Menendez warns against spooking fish by being sloppy. Essentially, when Menendez fishes docks he looks for a dominant element, like an oversized pillar or a distinct shade pocket, then sizes up the degree of casting difficulty. If it’s a tough shot, he’ll cover the dock with more manageable casts first to pick off the low-hanging fruit.
"I'll make several pitches around the edges and try to entice additional fish that might be around the dock before I go to the heart of the matter," Menendez said. "If it's an easy, clean shot to the best-looking spot, then I will fish that first."
Bi-level docks with a pass-through space beneath, or docks on steep banks with clearance below walkways, offer the opportunity to hit the typically difficult, if not mostly unreachable, angles. Proceed with caution and a low trolling motor speed—one collision, no matter how minor, and it's game over.
And if you don't mind the truly up-close-and-personal approach, casting over dock cables, cross beams and lower walkways, or easing into open slips to pitch across the dock may be rewarded with stellar opportunities. Sounds pretty cool—and it is—but have an extraction plan in mind.
"An angler has to already know in his mind what he's going to do prior to hooking up with a fish," said Texas pro Jeff Sprague. "Otherwise, you're wasting your time because that fish will own you before you even have the opportunity to make that decision."
Trolling motors are essential to dock fishing, but Sprague warns against relying on GPS functionality for holding on a spot. It works fine in open water, but for close-quarters fishing, the benefit becomes a liability if it autonomously pulses to counter waves or wind and inadvertently blows out your spot.
Acknowledging difficult docks as a two-edged sword, Sprague offers this closing thought: "The hardest docks to fish and the hardest docks to get a fish out of are the docks that hold the better fish because there's more structure there for the fish to relate to," he said. "The more potential hang-ups you have, the more likely you are to get the bites you need out of that dock."
A purpose-built reel designed specifically for skipping and pitching.
Docks offer an abundance of horizontal structure close to the water’s surface. Getting a bait under one is impossible with conventional overhand or underhand casting techniques. As such, "skipping" docks has become a go-to presentation for getting baits up and under these fish-holding structures, though doing so can be challenging with standard baitcasters.
With a super-shallow spool that has a capacity of just 40 yards of 20-pound flourocarbon, the Team Lew's Pro SP baitcasting reel is made specifically for skipping baits into hard-to-reach spots. The shallow spool has less surface area and less material, which means less mass weight, and it spins up quicker and more efficiently on short, skip casts than heavier spools found on conventional baitcasters. An 8.1:1 retrieve ratio gobbles line at 33 inches per turn, allowing for quick, rapid-fire follow-up casts. ($199.99; lews.com) -- Dr. Todd A. Kuhn