Dock Shooting – The Myth and the Magic: Year-Round Dock Shooting for Crappie

Story & photos by Ron Presley

 

Scott Williams does not agree with the myth that dock shooting is only successful in the summer. He is a virtual databank of crappie fishing knowledge, developed as a serious crappie angler. His long history of success on the tournament trail relates to his willingness to think outside the box.

Scott Williams found this dock loaded with crappie.

Scott Williams found this dock loaded with crappie.

“I shoot docks year-round,” reported Scott. “Now I’m not saying that there are not times of the year when it’s better than others, but you don’t have to limit it by season. I am attracted to it because I expect to be able to pull up to a dock and fill my livewell very quickly, any season of the year.”

Scott and his father, Billy Williams, are frequent competitors on the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters All American Tournament Trail (CM). They have had plenty of success in competitive fishing, but none pleased them more than winning the Crappie Masters 2015 Angler Team of the Year (ATOY).

“I am very pound of the ATOY honor because it measures consistency,” offered the B’n’M Poles pro staff angler. “To be consistent and stay up in the top five, on a lot of different lakes, is what it takes. We didn’t win a single tournament all year, but we consistently finished high. To me that’s where it’s at. You have to go out there and beat a lot of excellent anglers, day in and day out. Daddy and I are very proud of the ATOY honor.”

Williams likes to set his rod parallel to the water to consistently hit tiny targets on a dock he expects to hold crappie. Note the red circle and the size of the target he is shooting for.

Williams likes to set his rod parallel to the water to consistently hit tiny targets on a dock he expects to hold crappie. Note the red circle and the size of the target he is shooting for.

Year-Round Dock Shooting

Many crappie anglers turn to dock shooting when the weather warms. The prevailing theory is that the crappies are looking for shade and the docks provide it.

That is a huge myth,” declares Scott. “Sure, they like the shade in the summer, but they like the docks other times of the year too.”

“Dock shooting is especially good in the spring during the spawn,” reported Scott. “In fact, Spring is one of my favorite times because crappie will spawn under docks. You can catch some huge crappie in the spring, shooting docks. It’s just like any other time of the year in terms of locating them. If the dock is located in the water depth that the crappie want to be in, they’re gonna’ hold on it.”

Most all crappie anglers agree that crappies are structure oriented fish. “Are there times that they will go and suspend in open water,” asked Scott. “Sure, but at those same time those crappies are suspended, you can also find them under a dock. The catch is, that a productive dock will meet the requirements of what the crappie are relating to in terms of water temp and water depth.”

“The dock that the fish are spawning under in the spring may not produce in the winter,” continued Scott. “Those docks that produce in the winter may not produce in the spring. You’ve got to be knowledgeable of the crappies’ habits and adjust for the season you’re fishing.”

“. . . be knowledgeable of the crappie’s habits and adjust for the season . . .”

Temperature plays a huge role in finding dock crappie. “As a general rule, the colder the water the deeper the fish on southern lakes,” reported Scott. “I’ve caught em’ under the docks when the water was 85 degrees and I’ve caught em’ when it was 40.”

Time on the water and studious use of sonar will indicate which docks might be productive at any given time of the year. “I’ve caught spawning females under docks that were in 2 feet of water,” offered Scott. “In the winter, I’ve caught crappies under docks that stood in 30 feet of water.”

“It’s hard to look at a dock and tell much,” offered Scott. “They can all look pretty good. You can have two docks, side by side and identical to each other. One will hold fish and the other one won’t. That’s why I rely so heavily on my Lakemaster Charts and Humminbird electronics. I can scan the docks first and then use my 360 sonar to really pin point exactly where the fish are on the dock. Pretty awesome stuff!”

Electronics can be particularly useful on new lakes. Scott explained that with Humminbird Side Imaging you can cruise by a series of docks and mark the ones you want to return to and fish.

“Just move the cursor over to dock you are viewing on your screen and drop a waypoint,” advised Scott. “You can then go back to it anytime and check it out thoroughly for the possibility of fishing it. Side imaging is a tool that I employ on almost every trip. I believe that part of an angler’s time on the water should be spent looking for new locations to fish.”

Scott advises anglers to learn the proper operation of their sonar. “It takes some time and dedication to learn to use electronics properly,” confides Scott. “But, it is worth it and it’s not that hard. It is especially useful to use the electronics on new lakes where you are not familiar with the layout.”

“Once the electronics are set up to proper sensitivity, chart speed and scanning range you can actually see fish under the dock,” instructed Scott. “For dock shooting I usually set my side scan to 3 times the depth. If the water is 10 feet deep, I will set my unit to shoot out 30 feet. I constantly use electronics to find the docks I want to shoot.”

Sometimes being a contortionist helps. Johnathan Phillips knows the importance of shooting docks from every angle before moving on.

Sometimes being a contortionist helps. Johnathan Phillips knows the importance of shooting docks from every angle before moving on.

How to Dock Shoot

An important element of dock shooting is choosing the right pole. “I like the B’n’M sharpshooter,” offered Scott. “It’s got the perfect spine for bringing the big fish out from under a dock and a soft enough tip to detect the slightest of bites. More importantly it gives you the control you need to fire precise shots with a very small jig.”

A good rule of thumb is to fit the rod to your height. Taller folks probably want a little longer rod. The Sharpshooter comes in 5 lengths, ranging from 4.5 to 5.5 feet.

Just like using your electronics properly, dock shooting takes a little practice. It could be compared to archery in the sense that you are developing a method of shooting that can be repeated over and over again. Practice makes perfect and time on the water will teach you the proper load on your rod to achieve the shot you want.

Scott says it is mostly about getting the feel for it. “I like to have the rod parallel to the water and load it just enough to get the jig to where I want it. A little practice will help you decide just how much load to put on the rod.”

Jig selection is simple. It should almost always be small, and if you are not getting bites, offer another color. “I use a 1/32-ounce chenille jig from Bass Pro Shops,” said Scott. “I like reds and yellows.”

“Most of the time, to be a successful dock shooter, you’ve got to become an expert at precision shooting,” advised Scott. “You’ve got to be able to shoot the jig under the dock, sometimes through small openings, to the darkest, deepest spot. Missing it 10 to 12 inches can mean the difference in a bite or not.”

The speed of the retrieve and the time the jig is allowed to drop should be varied through the day to determine how the crappie want it. “Sometimes I let it fall like a pendulum, and other times I bring it out fast,” advised Scott. “Variable presentations are the key. You will know when you get it right.”

“I love the thump!” concluded Scott. “Figuring out the right jigging cadence for shooting docks is half the fun and part of the magic of catching them.”

Dock shooting is an excellent way to catch Crappie…Now. Find a dock that meets the requirements of what the crappie are relating to and you are likely to feel the thump, anytime of the year.

Mr Crappie