March 09, 2021
Skipping lightweight jigs underneath docks with bow-and-arrow casts is known as "shooting" in the Deep South’s crappie country, where it’s an effective technique for catching papermouths.
Though shooting is often regarded as a strategy for summer and early fall, Wally Marshall, aka "Mr. Crappie," relies on it even in late winter and early spring when crappies are staging under shallow-water docks for the spawn.
In the Texas angler's playbook, there are two essential tools for the job: side-imaging sonar and a light-action spinning outfit to fire a jig into the dark recesses under a dock.
The stiffness and length of a shooting rod dictates how far and accurately the jig will travel. Marshall’s rod preference is a 7-foot Lew's Wally Marshall Speed Shooter Series or Pro Target spinning rod with a light/medium tip and fast action. The flimsier action allows Marshall to shoot farther under a dock while positioned in front of, beside or behind the structure.
Marshall uses soft plastics for crappies, and his favorite is a 2-inch Strike King ShadPole. Matching it with a 7-foot rod and 1/16-ounce jig head, he can shoot or skip it about 65 feet.
He adjusts the range simply by regulating the bow he puts in the rod and the length of the line that extends from the rod tip—more line for less distance when he loads the rod, less line for more distance. Carefully avoiding the hook point, he pinches the small jig between his index finger and thumb.
With the other hand, he snubs the line with his index finger against the rod, makes sure the rod is pointed at the target and more or less parallel to the water’s surface and lets the jig fly.
"People can make their own judgment as far as what rod they prefer, based on how well it gets a jig where they want it to go," says Marshall.
"A lot depends on the dock you’re fishing. If it’s hard to get under or you just have narrow shots or small gaps to hit, you might want to go with a shorter rod," he says. "But the trade off is that the 7-footer will shoot it farther and move a hooked fish out quicker."
The rod is matched with a Lew’s Wally Marshall Speed Shooter or similar reel loaded with 4- or 6-pound-test Mister Crappie High Viz monofilament. The line is a loud chartreuse yellow, which helps him see it under a dark dock.
Marshall uses a variety of Strike King crappie baits, but most often he’s got a 1/16- or 1/32-ounce ShadPole jig in bright colors tied on, depending on the weather, light penetration and water clarity.
"I use the 1/16-ounce jig when I start out because it handles better," says Marshall. "But if the fish are finicky I switch to a 1/32-ounce ShadPole. The slower the fall, the more fish you’re going to catch. What I concentrate on is the darkest place under the dock. If there is sunlight showing, there probably won’t be any crappie.
"If I’m on the shady side of the lake and the front of the dock is shaded from the sun, I’ll fish it first before moving in. Otherwise, I’ll just skip into the shady spots under the dock. The harder they are to reach, the more likely somebody else hasn’t already beat you to the fish. It takes a lot of practice, but shooting is fun and a super technique."
MATCH JIG COLORS TO WATER CONDITIONS
Wally Marshall's top-producing Strike King ShadPole color picks for various levels of water clarity.
- Clear Water: Smokey Shad (No. 57), Salt-N-Pepper (No. 164)
- Slightly Stained Water: Refrigerator White (No. 186), Pepper Shad (No. 224), Glimmer Blue (No. 41)
- Dingy/Muddy Water: Tuxedo Black/Chartreuse (No. 183), Electric Chicken (No. 60), Cajun Cricket (No. 193)
HIDE AND SEEK
Use a side-imaging depth finder to locate hidden crappies.
There may be hundreds of docks lining a Southern impoundment, but not all of them will attract staging crappies in the early spring. In the pre-spawn period, cove docks are prime targets, as crappies begin migrating toward the back ends of major bays to spawn.
The fish could be in the deeper water in front of a dock that’s been "seeded" with brush by the owner, or toward shore where they will eventually spawn. Then, too, perhaps they just haven’t showed up yet because the water isn’t warm enough. This is where a side imaging depth finder comes in handy.
Using sonar to check under docks saves a lot of fishing time, as it pinpoints the location of crappies so an angler can be more precise in presenting a jig.
There are dozens from which to choose in various price ranges, but three of the best for dock-shooting are the Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, the Humminbird Mega 360 and the Lowrance HDS Live 12.
"Crappie could be anywhere from a foot deep to 10 feet deep," says Wally Marshall.
"Once you’ve used sonar to locate crappie at a certain depth under a dock, you can figure all the other docks in the cove or along the stretch of main lake you’re fishing will pretty much have the same program."
Otherwise, there are a few visual clues a dock shooter should look for, such as pole holders mounted to railings, fish-cleaning tables, light poles and minnow buckets.