As I launched my boat on the first day of a recent PAA Tournament Series event on Old Hickory Lake, Tennessee, I was trying to decide where my starting spot should be. You see, during practice I had put together four different patterns that where working and my decision came down to the two that were working early in the morning – grass and docks. Since the first day of this event was going to be bluebird skies, I decided to run a stretch of grass where I had shaken off three quality fish and one close to six pounds. I figured I needed to run the grass first since it was the shallowest cover and the pattern that might dissolve the quickest. I was right on one level, it dissolved quicker than I thought; I only managed one keeper and a small one at that.
My next decision proved to be what I should have chosen from the start. After wasting nearly an hour and a half in the grass, I headed to a string of boat docks where in practice I had numerous bass strike a Bassdozer 3/8 oz. double willow spinnerbait – I had the hook covered as not to hook any fish and had no idea of their size. This series of docks were in the mouth of a pocket and had seven slips and slightly deeper water than the rest of the docks in this small space. My second cast accounted for a keeper about 2-½ pounds and much fatter than the fish in the grass. By the time I finished my first pass through the seven slips, I had a limit in the boat. I spent the rest of the day looking for an upgrade and more potential docks for day two. I started to see something developing and I wanted to make sure I did not overlook the dock pattern.
Docks are some of the most complex structures we have to catch bass and perhaps a type of cover that many anglers fish but the question is, how effectively? In any given day bass will use certain portions of a dock and even specific docks while others remain void. You must pay close attention to bait presentation and bass location if you desire to master the art of dock fishing.
Places to Hide
One of the reasons I like boat docks is it gives the bass many options for places to hide and ambush prey. Docks offer cover, structure, shade and a food supply giving the bass everything it needs to be happy. With all of these attributes, it follows that boat docks offer a myriad of potential options and patterns for catching bass. One such pattern involves targeting suspended bass on docks and was the very such pattern that was working for me at the above-mentioned PAA event. It is also perhaps the easiest to master once you find out the specific portion of the dock the bass are using. I discovered the bass were using a very isolated portion of the docks I was fishing and this may change from lake to lake and time of year. The bass I was catching were located on docks that had a boat lift on the inside and every bass was located in between the floating pontoon of the lift and the edge of the dock. The key was to pitch the spinnerbait in these small openings, let it fall for a second or two and start winding. Many times the bass were on when I would begin my retrieve. Spinnerbaits are just one great tool for targeting suspended bass on docks. Lipless baits, crankbaits, swimbaits, chatterbaits and even topwaters can be great choices for this pattern but overall I do prefer spinnerbaits much of the time. They may look ungainly but they’re surprisingly snagless, especially compared to treble-hooked lures.
It’s important to fish many different docks in diverse areas both in creeks, pockets and main lake areas and it’s equally important to make as many casts from different angles to figure out what portion of the docks the bass are using any given day, which can vary depending on cloud cover, recent change in water clarity due to rain or runoff, etc. Once you figure out these puzzling pieces, you can duplicate it with confidence on other boat docks that day. To unlock one dock is to unlock all similar ones. Certainly the particular pattern I was fishing was one instance but sometimes bass will relate to the front or back edge, a shaded side, underwater crossbars or even the back side cross walk. One other thing I do prefer to focus on is selecting docks that are wooden rather than metal or plastic PVC. The reason for this is wooden docks attract algae and that in turn attracts bluegill and other small fish and of course the bass follow completing the chain.
Go in and Get ‘em
When the bass are not suspended on the boat docks, my next step is obviously going to be casting a slower moving bait like a jig, creature bait or shakey worm in and around the dock to catch the bass that are more bottom-related and although the same principles apply to covering all portions of the dock, a couple of other features will really key you in to the specific bass holding locations; one being the most shaded parts of the dock and another being the presence of brush, rocks or other similar forms of co-existent non-dock cover or structure. Visually you can tell a lot about the cover potentially under a dock by the boats or even fixtures located in and on the dock. A telltale sign is a small aluminum or jon boat or pontoon with rodholders or other gear such as floodlights or fishing poles that suggest the dock owner fishes for bass or crappie. Many times the owners will plant brush under and out in front of the dock so they can attract bass and crappie. Sometimes though, these structures are not so easy or obvious to find and it would take forever to fish and find all the good docks – but that’s where my electronics come into play. Using my Lowrance Structure Scan I can simply idle down the bank and look out to the side for docks that have brush, rocks or other fish-holding qualities and once I locate these, I can save each dock with a waypoint to return and fish later.
One last thing and maybe the reason some anglers stay away from fishing docks is that they are hard to cast to. Sure you can go around a dock and cast along the sides and maybe send a few baits in the center of the slips but it takes time and practice to master the ability to put a bait way up under a platform or up under a cross walk covered with ropes, cables and other securing devices. The only way to get better at this is to practice and master the art of skipping a lure up under the docks. Jigs and small compact baits do skip easier so that would be a great starting point. With a little practice on learning to pitch and how you need to keep your boat positioned, only then will you be able to truly put your bait into places where other anglers miss – and start catching some dandy boat dock bass.
Mike DelVisco is sponsored by Texas Roadhouse, Phoenix boats, Mercury, Thorntons, Rapala, Sufix, VMC, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Browning Eyewear, Motorguide, Gemini, Wired2Fish and Lowrance.
This story was written by Mike DelVisco and provided to PAA by Russ Comeau. It was originally posted on http://www.finsntales.com/all/dont-overlook-boat-docks/.