July 21, 2016
Like most weekends during the heat of summer, boat traffic in and around favorite bass water holes is a common sight.
Meaning a parade of water skiers, personal watercraft operators and sailboat enthusiasts have to share the nation's waterways with bass anglers.
What's a bass angler to do, besides give in to the temptation to sleep in, that is?
Simple, get to the lake early, before the crowds arrive, and then stay away from the wave-tossed main lake where pleasure boaters and jet skiers will increasingly abound. Instead, focus on marinas and boat docks that lie safely inside of the quieter reaches of tire-reefs, breakwater structures and No Wake Zone signs.
Truth be told, the tactic of targeting a lake's marinas, boat houses and docks can prove to be one the year's most consistent bass catching methods, even when the heat is on.
Marina basins, boat houses and docks are prime places for a bass angler, including pro angler Brent Chapman, to target on a busy summer weekend. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
With all of that in mind, don't forget these five dock fishing tips before you hit the water in the summer:
1. Don't Forget What's Under The Dock: It's an age old question, the query about what separates one dock from another, one where an angler catches several fish versus those that prove to be barren and empty?
"One has fish under it while another one doesn't," laughs Bassmaster Elite Series prodigy, Major League Fishing pro and bass fishing funnyman Brandon Palaniuk.
Fair enough BP, but why does one dock have bass while another one doesn't?
Palaniuk, a six-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Idaho, said it’s often because of what's actually below the dock, not what can be seen above it.
"It generally has to do with the bottom contour setup underneath the docks," said Palaniuk, the 2010 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation national champ and winner of two Bassmaster Elite Series events.
Meaning, some docks are in better real estate areas than others, a truth that is based on such structural features as nearby channel swings, ditches and creek channels and/or a migrational corridor between shallower and deeper water.
2. Find the Shade: The various reasons bass are attracted to docks are plentiful indeed, ranging from the growth of algae that attracts baitfish to the providing of ambush cover near brush piles and even the lure of warmer water temps during the winter months.
But in the heat of summer, big marina basin structures, boat houses and docks prove to be something like an air conditioner unit is to sweaty anglers on a searing hot afternoon.
In other words, docks help provide bass with a little bit of thermal relief as they look for relief from the heat of the broiling sun.
"In the summertime, it's all about the shade," said Timmy Horton, the 2000 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year and a regular MLF Cup-level competitor from Alabama. "You want to look for and fish the deepest and darkest shaded areas on the docks."
"Skipping the lure into the shaded area is the prime target on most docks," agrees California B.A.S.S. pro and MLF 2012 Challenge Cup champion Brent Ehrler. "You're looking to fish the biggest part of the dock with the most shade."
3. Use the Right Lures: When it comes to dock fishing, a number of lures will work at various times: a buzzbait rattled down the shade line, a Zara Spook walked along the side of a dock, a Pop-R spitting water on the inside of a covered boat slip, a swim jig fished along the support posts and crossbeams of a marina structure, a squarebill banged off of a wooden piling or even a spinnerbait reeled in over the top of a dockside brush pile.
But in Ehrler's mind, there is another bait that absolutely cannot be left off of the list.
"My best dock fishing tip is to tell anglers to use a Gary Yamamoto Senko," said Ehrler, winner of the 2015 Toyota Texas Bass Classic and the 2006 FLW Tour Forrest Wood Cup title.
"Whether you fish it weightless on a wacky rig setup, on a spinning rod or you fish it on a jig head with a baitcasting reel, it's hard to beat a Senko, especially when you get it into the shade."
4. Find the Dirty Docks: When it comes to dock fishing success, clear and pristine conditions – aquarium conditions as I call them – are not what you typically want to seek out.
"I've got a buddy from the Ozarks area named Ken that has always told me, 'Fish those nasty docks, Pete!," agrees Mississippi FLW Tour pro and Major League Fishing angler Pete Ponds with a hearty laugh.
"Those are the older docks that have a lot of vegetation growing off of them," he added.
What's important about that scenario? In a couple of words, phytoplankton and insects, the bottom end of the food chain.
Louisiana bass fishing powerhouse Greg Hackney, the 2014 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year and the winner of the 2016 BASSfest on Lake Texoma, agrees with Ponds.
"In the late summer when there is plenty of hot water, I'm going to be looking for algae growth and the bluegills that it will attract around a dock," said Hackney, a regular contender in MLF Cup-level events.
Put simply, the advice of these two anglers here is this: Find marinas, boat houses and docks with plenty of algae on and around them, vegetation that will attract the bottom of the food chain.
Next, be sure that there are some baitfish and bluegills hanging around and then get ready.
Ready to catch a good largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass that is, a chunky black bass specimen that happens to mistake a Pop-R or Zara Spook topwater, a buzzbait, a Texas-rigged soft plastic, a pig-and-jig combo or a swim jig for an easy dock-side meal.
While standard fare dock fishing lures will usually work, sometimes, it pays to think outside of the box with something like a Whopper Plopper lure tossed around a boat dock. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
5. Think Outside of the Box: If you have read the tips above, then you've probably gotten a pretty good indication about what lures to throw when fishing these spots.
But knowing that an area's bass can be lazily laid up in the shade, a bit on the lethargic side and all but uninterested as they fin silently under a dock, sometimes it pays to do something a little bit out of the ordinary.
Instead of skipping a jig under a dock or fishing a spinnerbait around its edges, why not toss a hollow-bodied plastic frog deep into the covered shade?
Before you think I've had a mid-summer heat stroke, hear me out. Such a bait is a big profile topwater bait that represents an easy meal filled with protein. It presents a shape dock fish rarely see. And it's almost totally weedless, allowing an angler to fling it with abandon up and under a shady dock that might be difficult to reach with other types of lures with uncovered treble hooks.
If skipping a frog under a dock is one way to think outside of the box for a dock fishing session, then another one might be to throw one of the pro bass fishing tour's carefully guarded secret baits, the River2Sea Whopper Plopper.
While standard dock fishing fare often calls for a buzzbait approach, a Pop-R that spits and chugs along an edge or a Zara Spook that walks the dog all the way back from the shade to your bass rig, odds are, the dock fish population on your home water body have already seen those lures several times over.
But they may not have seen the hard to describe – and reasonably difficult to find – Whopper Plopper, a fast-selling bait that a surprising number of bass pros have been using.
I've seen firsthand a number of bass fishing pros really believe in the fish-catching abilities of a Whopper Plopper.
That seems especially true in the post-spawn and early-summer when the lure sensation – that resembles a hard-bodied Zara Spook with a buzzbait on the backend – produces aggressive takes from bass and, at times, easily out fishes other well-known lures.
I do know this, after seeing the Whopper Plopper in action during tournaments, I won't hesitate to throw a bone-, a shad- or a bluegill-colored Whopper Plopper over the summer.
Especially when I'm around a shade producing, algae covered boat dock sitting on top of a prime piece of aquatic real estate situated in an area chock full of baitfish and bluegills.
And with a little bit of luck, perhaps even a heavyweight bass or two, the kind every angler will smile about, busy lake or not.