Advanced Seasonal Structure: Winter Docks
By Tim Huffman
“Shooting gives you so much more accuracy and lets you get into spots you can’t get by casting or flipping.” Travis Bunting, 2017 Crappie USA Champ
Winter dock shooting may be foreign to many crappie chasers. Some fishermen don’t have lakes with docks while others choose to fish in warmer months or simply don’t know about the dock action.
Docks are usually hit-and-miss any time of year. Fish are there or they’re not. It doesn’t take long to find out by fishing or with side imaging electronics.
There are four major dock types: floating; floating with a roof; piling; and piling with a roof.
Fishing can be different at each one. A dock with no roof provides less shade but that’s not always a bad thing in the winter. These docks are easier to fish so may be a top pick for a weekend fisherman. Flipping or short casts can be used for working along a boat or walkway. Floating docks offer more floatation to heat up with the sun. Piling style docks give the most underwater vertical cover.
Covered docks provide walkways, boats and underwater cover. Sunlight might be limited but is an important factor. When the sun is high, the shaded areas near the sunny spots can be good.
A third type dock is a covered or uncovered piling dock on lakes or rivers with winter drawdown. When water is down it places more space between the water surface and the walkways giving more room to get baits into prime locations. Water may be shallow but it will warm quickly drawing baitfish and crappie, especially when the dock is near deep water.
Pitching & Casting
Fish are suspended somewhere between the bottom and the top of the surface so along with shooting, a more simple pitching or casting technique can be often be used. Open docks are the easiest for these techniques but the edges and under pontoons can be worked under covered docks with boats.
Pitching and casting along the walkways or underwater covers are the most basic of fishing. All depths must be checked but after a couple of crappie are caught at one depth the remainder of the presentations can focus upon the strike zone. Keying in quickly on the strike zone is important because a float can be used to maintain the right depth.
Baits with actions tails can be good but in the cold water a tube jig, shad with a straight tail or other less-action bait might be best. presenting different baits will show which the fish prefer.
Probe corners and areas under the dock. Shade can be critical but so can sunshine in the winter. Hit both sun and shade areas at each dock.
Pitching equipment includes a 7- to 10-foot pole rigged with a spinning reel. A lightweight, sensitive pole is very important for less fatigue, easy handling and maximum sensitivity. A shorter rod is best for short pitching and casting while a long pole is best for pitching and flipping.
Shooting allows a jig be shot back into the darkest reaches where big crappie often hide. Shooting 25- to 30-feet is possible when room allows. A jig can be shot between floatation that has a 6-inch opening under a walkway by an experienced shooter.
Shooting is nothing more than a bow and arrow technique. Line is released to let out about three or four feet of line. The reel’s bail remains open and the line from the reel is held with the pointer finger against the rod to hold it in place. The jig is grabbed by the head, hook kept clear of the fingers, and then pulled back. The rod is held pointed at the target with the jig underneath and pulled tight to bend the rod. The rod is aimed, the jig released and the line released to keep the bait close to the water with a fast trajectory. It takes practice but it doesn’t take long to get a basic level of proficiency.
Typical shooting baits are 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jigs. The depth of the fish is a major factor for jig weight. Although winter crappie are considered to live in deep water homes, the heating of floatation might have fish at six inches to three feet from the surface because of the warmer water around the floatation. Other times the fish might be suspended or on bottom. Six-pound test line is a good size for most waters to give bait control while offering enough strength.
More Winter Dock Tips
>Don’t hesitate fishing the cables running up from anchoring points to a floating dock. These are often used by crappie as cover.
>Keeping a bow in the line when using a lightweight jig gives a good strike indicator. Any jumping of the line indicates a strike.
>In general, the further back you get a jig the better the chance of catching a big crappie.
>A lightweight head and a big plastic body gives a slow fall rate. Great shooting jigs do not easily slide down or foul the hook. They skip. A few good examples are: Muddy Water Jig; Bobby Garland Shooter; and Brewer Crappie Slider Grub.
>No matter the season, a cold front will slow the bite.
>The clearer the water the further a crappie will come to a bait.
>Put a tube body inside the head or use a solid plastic body.
>A good rod is important when shooting. It should be sensitive while being somewhat stiff to allow power shooting of very light jigs. Example, BnM Sharpshooter Six.
>Electronics can be huge for winter dock shooting. A side scan is a good way to eliminate many unproductive docks.
>Crappie may be at two feet from the surface but deep water under or near the dock or very close is important.
>Repeat casts to a spot that produces.
>Don’t stay with a dock that is not producing. There are others that will be productive.