In July, when he launches onto a lake that is lined by deep boat docks, pro angler Chad Brauer's anxiety level rises like a thermometer in a midsummer heat wave. "Man, I get excited," says Brauer. "I know there are some real quality bass living under those docks, and I also know how to catch 'em. It's usually not a question of if, but how many and how big."
For instance, Brauer, of Osage Beach, Mo., recalls a few summers back when he and his dad — Elite Series pro Denny Brauer— routinely caught several bass a day averaging 4 pounds from beneath deep docks on Lake of the Ozarks. "They were really stacked in there," he recalls. "Now this pattern may not always be that good, but it's very consistent. In summer, flipping and pitching around deep docks is by far my favorite technique."
And, Brauer says this works elsewhere besides Lake of the Ozarks. "I've also caught fish off deep docks on Table Rock (Missouri), Logan Martin (Alabama), Guntersville (Alabama), Norman (North Carolina) and other reservoirs around the country. Wherever you go in July and August, if you can find docks over the right bottom features, the fish will be there."
So what, specifically, does it take to concentrate bass beneath deep docks?
Brauer answers, "First of all, the term 'deep' is relative to each lake. In an upland clear water reservoir, 'deep' might be 15 to 30 feet under the docks. In a mainstream reservoir with dingy water, 'deep' might be 10 feet. But the important thing is that the water beneath the docks is deep compared to the rest of the lake."
Next, Brauer looks for stretches of bank that would hold bass even if no docks were present. "I'm talking about good structure, where a channel runs next to the bank or where there's a bluff end or an extended point. There needs to be some depth change or bottom feature to attract these fish in the first place. Then add in the cover provided by docks and pilings, and you can see why bass pull into these spots."
Before hitting the water, Brauer identifies likely fish-holding areas through intensive map study. Then when he launches, he motors to each spot to see if docks are present. "Again, I'm not fishing randomly. I'm very specific about the areas and docks that I work. I'll fish only those key places with the right combination of docks and bottom structure."
Brauer's method of fishing these docks is simple: flipping or pitching a jig or tube into all shaded spots. "I'll start out working around the entire dock, pitching to the back, the sides, the boat slip — anywhere there's shade. I'm trying to set the pattern for that day. Some days the fish will be on the outside corners. Other days they'll hide back under the walkways or the main platform of the dock."
He continues, "Usually the darkest spot under a dock is most likely to have a fish. This is the hardest place to get a bait, and they hang out there to avoid pressure. But you can hit these spots with an underhand cast (i.e., flip, pitch or skip)."
When Brauer flips/pitches his jig into a spot, instead of engaging his reel, he strips off more line so the bait will fall vertically to the bottom. "I feed out line until I've got slack. Then I'll engage my reel and work the bait back in like I would fish it anywhere else."
He adds, "I'll try different actions to see which one the fish like. Sometimes I'll work the jig with little hops. Then I might try big hops, or I might leave the bait on the bottom and shake it. You've just got to experiment to find the best presentation for that day."
Brauer says sometimes a strike will be a hard thump, while other times the bait simply "disappears." "If it feels like the jig stops sinking before it should hit the bottom, I'll engage my reel, take up slack, then 'weigh' the bait by lifting slightly. If there's any weight or pull on the line, I'll cross his eyes! This is usually the way a big fish takes a jig. You don't feel the strike; they just suddenly have it and start swimming off with it."
As a fishing day wears on, Brauer says he works to refine his pattern and concentrate on the most likely spots and presentations to improve his efficiency. "Again, I try to identify precise areas on the docks where they're holding. They may be on bottom or suspended along pilings or under flotation logs. I'll also switch back and forth between the jig and the tube to see which one the fish prefer. I just try to fit all these pieces into the puzzle, and when I do, I'm in for a very good fishing day."
Brauer says sunny days are better for fishing deep docks than cloudy days, because the sunshine pushes bass in tight to the docks' shadows. Also, he's always alert for rod holders, bait buckets and other indicators of dock fishing, because brushpiles — magnets to bass — are likely to be sunk there.
"One final tip," Brauer concludes. "If you catch a fish or two from a spot on a jig, pitch a tube jig in there before you move on. Sometimes that different bait will provoke one more fish to bite. You'll never know unless you try."
Chad Brauer complete the following tasks prior to launching his boat for a day of fishing deep boat docks.
1. Map study, map study, map study! "This can't be stressed too much. Look for areas with structure close to the bank that should hold fish. Then when you get on the water, run to these places to see if docks are present."
2. Pre-rig four rods: two with identical jigs and two with identical tubes. "I like one backup of each version. If I catch a bass, I'll pick up the other rod and pitch another bait in there immediately. There may be several fish present, and I want to get another bait down to them as quickly as possible."
3. Re-spool all reels, or strip off 10 yards of old line before rigging your rods. "When fishing docks, there's a lot of things to nick your line on."
Chad Brauer lists three simple steps to learning the underhand pitch-cast necessary to get jigs into hard-to-reach spots under boat docks.
Adjust spool tension so, when the free spool button is engaged, the bait will drop at a speed so there's no backlash when it hits the ground. This means keeping some tension on the centrifugal brake instead of setting it so the spool spins freely.
Point the rod straight up, push the free spool button, and let the bait fall to where it's even with the reel. This sets the proper line length for making a pitch-cast.
Dip the rod tip and swing the bait pendulum-style so the bait pulls out line with its own momentum. Also, keep the bait low to the water so it'll make a quieter splash.
Work Current Areas With Crankbaits, Carolina Rigs
If Chad Brauer's dock fishing pattern fails him (which it rarely does), he reverts to bumping crankbaits and Carolina rigs over mid-depth structure that is washed by current.
He explains, "I'll look for points or bars that are in current when they're pulling water through the dam. Or, I will hit places that are exposed to wind currents. These could be shallow bars or maybe a narrow area where the water speeds up as it's pushed through by the wind, sort of like an hourglass. The moving water pushes baitfish into these places, and bass collect on them for the easy pickings."
He works these spots with standard crankbait and Carolina rig tactics. "I'll use a crankbait that'll get down and dig the bottom; that's crucial. And I'll work an area thoroughly with both baits to see if fish are present. I usually start out with my boat downwind of the structure, casting upwind and retrieving the bait back with the current. But then I'll move out and try crosswind and even upwind retrieves to cover all my options."
Gear To Grab
Following is a list of tackle, baits and accessory items Chad Brauer uses when fishing deep boat docks in midsummer:
Daiwa TD-S76THFB flipping rod
Daiwa TD-X103HSD baitcast reel
20-pound-test fluorocarbon line (steps down to 15-pound test if water is superclear)
Strike King Denny Brauer's Premier Pro-Model Jig, 1/2-ounce, green pumpkin; and Strike King Denny Brauer's Flip-N-Tube, green pumpkin
Humminbird 787C graph recorder mounted on front deck with transducer attached to trolling motor