When everything goes right, Russ Bailey says pulling fish from cold, low water docks is a fun way to catch crappieBy Tim Huffman

Docks are often associated with hot weather fishing but that’s not the only time they can be good. Check out these ideas and tactics that can work now.

Where
Many waters across the country are drawn down to prepare for spring rains. Some may fall a little while others drop many feet. A five foot drop is typical for many lakes. This may be a small drop for a deep lake but in a shallow lake it’s huge. No matter which situation, if the lake has docks they could be good crappie hang-outs during low water periods.

Strategies
Russ Bailey is an Ohio fishing guide (419-733-4527). He is also a seminar speaker and the host of the new TV show, BrushPile Crappie (facebook: Brushpile TV). Although a strange-sounding tactic to many fishermen, he likes to hit docks when water is low.
“In February and March in the middle and northern states where water is open, the fish mood is lethargic,” says Bailey. “This relates to a slow presentation. But even up north where you find open water a warm day or two can make a big difference. A slight warm-up will bring baitfish up into shallower water areas. Three to five feet water can be good because it warms quicker than deeper areas.”
Bailey continues, “The best docks during low water are the piling docks because the walkways are high enough to make them easy to pitch and shoot. Boats may be out this time of year or you might find a pontoon. A boat, especially a pontoon, will help warm the water quickly, at least a degree or two, when the sun is hitting it. Sun makes a big difference in fish activity.”
Bailey believes in using a float so the presentation can be slow or stopped yet keep the jig at a shallow depth in the water. A slip-float is best because a pegged float makes pitching difficult. The space from float to jig reduces accuracy and eliminates some of the tight spots where you need to put the bait.
Equipment includes his signature series 10.5-foot BnM pole, 6-pound high-visibility Gamma line and a small jig. The long pole allows long pitches to get the jig back into tight places. He starts with a Southern Pro Stinger Shad with a 1/48-ounce head. The bait is very light but has a good profile.


At low water, the space between walkways and the water makes for easier pitching, flipping and shooting under the dock.

“Bait action should be very slow so use the rod tip to give short hops. On a day when fish are very aggressive you an use a Hot Grub for more action.”
“Pay attention to where fish are coming from,” says Bailey. “I try to cover all areas of the dock but the fish will usually come from one type area. Pay attention and learn. You can concentrate casts to those spots and use the same pattern on other docks. Look for shade verses sunny areas, outside edges verses inside, and other factors you can use to your advantage.”

Factors
Clouds/Rain: “Most people don’t want to be out on a rainy day this time of year when it’s cold. Clouds can be okay but check areas 5 to 10 feet outside the dock because the fish will often come away from the cover when it’s cloudy.”
Sun: “That’s the best. Sun positions fish somewhere on the dock and on all except rare occasions it will be in the shade. Look for specific spots the fish like paying attention to the sun.”


Bailey flips a jig under a small float into the hiding places around the pilings of a dock.

Fishing Pressure: “There might be some fishing pressure but it depends upon the lake.”
Wind: “Wind can be a big problem. It’s difficult to present baits but it can be difficult to control the boat, too. Pick locations where it’s safe and less windy.”
Temperatures: “The water is cold so a degree or two warm-up in the shallower water can bring the shad in. Shad means all fish that feed on them will come up too.”

10 Tips for Low Water Docks
#1- A slip-float can be pitched further with less effort because the float stays
near the bait until it hits the water.
#2- Keep your float small. Fly fishing type floats work great.
#3- Go to a slightly larger float and heavier jig on windy days.
#4- A small float is difficult to see so have a bright color like orange or yellow.
#5- A 1/32- or 1/48-ounce head is good for flipping cold water. The small jig is
easy for the crappie to take. The jig looks more natural than heavier ones.
#6- Try different colors. Start with a shad color in clear water. Try an orangechartreuse
in stained. A black-chartreuse seems to work in any water.
#7- A Bobby Garland or Bass Assassin shad imitator body is great for a realistic
look.
#8- Bait action should be very slow hops causing the float to wiggle. This hops
the jig.
#9- Docks near a channel are usually the best.
#10- Have fun with the dock. Working around pilings and horizontal bracing can
be challenging. Don’t get frustrated. Win or lose you can enjoy the challenge.