Chad Brauer grew up fishing under the tutelage of his father, Denny, one of the most accomplished BASS pros of all time. Given his dad's success with a flippin' rod, it's no surprise that his strong suits are flippin' and pitchin'.
The Brauer family motto should be President Theodore Roosevelt's diplomatic strategy: Speak softly and carry a big stick.
When Brauer was 12, his parents bought him an aluminum bass boat and parked it at the family dock behind their house on the bank of Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks. Brauer was often out in the boat before and after school. His favorite targets were the lake's many boat docks. He soon learned that these man-made bass hideouts produce fish throughout the year, and he continues to refine tactics for plucking bass from docks in any season.
Brauer's dock fishing skills have helped him qualify for three Bassmaster Classics and claim more than $300,000 in winnings. He pocketed a nice chunk of that change at Lake Guntersville during a Bassmaster Tour event in February 2004. The water temperature was a frigid 45 degrees, and the bass were sluggish. Though the bite was slow, Brauer coaxed lunker largemouth from docks with a suspending jerkbait.
His most productive docks were at the mouths of creeks and big coves, and they had 10 to 26 feet of water beneath them. Most of the docks were supported by pilings, but he also caught bass from floating docks in a marina. He would cast or pitch the jerkbait parallel to the side of a dock, work it down 5 feet or more and let it suspend for up to a minute at the outer edge of the dock.
"Then I'd barely move the bait 3 to 5 inches and let it sit again," Brauer says. "About five seconds after that a bass would eat it, and I'd see the line pop."
At that event, Brauer's line popped to the tune of 83 pounds, enough for a fourth-place finish. The super-slow jerkbait presentation is just one of many dock fishing
methods Brauer has taught himself at Lake of the Ozarks and applied to other waters.
Brauer explains that the key to dock fishing in any season is to concentrate on where the bass would be if there were no docks. Yes, big docks that provide abundant shade are more appealing to bass than smaller docks, but what's under a dock is more important than the dock itself.
In the winter, Brauer focuses on docks along steep bluff banks. These can be on the main lake or in deep creeks. A dock that has at least 20 feet of water beneath it can hold bass during the coldest months. Planted brush near or under such a dock is a big plus.
If the water is 48 degrees or colder and has at least 2 feet of visibility, Brauer opts for a suspending jerkbait in a shad pattern, such as clown or chrome with a blue or black back. He fishes painfully slow, as at Guntersville, because he wants the jerkbait to mimic a dying shad.
"You have shad die-offs when the water temperature drops to the mid-40s," Brauer says. "The bass suspend 5 to 10 feet below the docks and feed on the dying baitfish."
By working a jerkbait like a listless shad near death, Brauer consistently catches big bass during the winter from boat docks. He fishes the jerkbait on 10- or 12-pound fluorocarbon line. The line sinks, which gets the jerkbait deeper, and its low visibility doesn't put off bass in clear water.
When he thinks wintertime bass are hanging deep or around brushpiles, Brauer bumps the bottom with a 3/8-ounce brown or green pumpkin Strike King Pro-Model Jig. He dresses the jig with a Strike King Denny Brauer Chunk and fishes the bait in slow motion.
"The jig works well on sunny days when the bass are holding in the shady areas under a dock," Brauer says.
An advantage in winter dock fishing is that you often can catch more than one bass from one location. For example, during the Guntersville tournament, one dock produced at least two big bass for Brauer on all four days of the tournament. He hit the dock three times each day, and it gave up bass on almost every visit.
"It's not unusual for a big dock to hold a lot of fish in the winter and summer," Brauer says. "But that normally doesn't happen in the spring and fall because the bass are more spread out then."
Many docks that yield bass to Brauer in the winter also produce for him in the summertime. In both seasons, bass like deep water under or near the dock, such as a creek channel drop, along with planted brush.
The bass are more active in the summertime and tend to hug the bottom, rather than suspend. Brauer goes down after them with the same jig he uses in the winter, but steps up from 3/8 to 1/2 ounce and often dresses the jig with Strike King's bigger Denny Brauer Magnum Chunk. His other primary summer dock fishing baits include a 10-inch worm and a 4 1/2-inch tube, both rigged with a 3/8-ounce sinker. He fishes these baits with a more aggressive hopping action than in the winter, and to depths of 30 feet on clear waters such as Lake of the Ozarks.
Brauer regards autumn as one of the best times for fishing docks, though he rarely finds bass stacked up then. This season generally runs from late August through mid-November, with water temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to the mid-50s.
"In the fall I look for docks that have lots of shad in the area," Brauer says. "That's usually in the backs of creeks and on flat banks on the main lake where there's less than 5 feet of water under the docks."
Even when he hits docks in creeks that have 20 feet or more of water beneath them, Brauer fishes no deeper than 5 feet. He claims that bass suspend under docks in the fall so they can ambush shad swimming near the surface.
Three baits catch most of Brauer's dock bass in the fall. One is a 1/4-ounce Strike King Pro-Buzz. He likes white in clear water on sunny days and black for dirty water and low light conditions.
A Strike King Premier Elite or Premier Plus spinnerbait is another player. In clear water, Brauer generally opts for white or some other natural shad color and nickel willowleaf blades. In stained to muddy water, he prefers a pattern with chartreuse in it with one gold and one nickel blade, either Colorado or Indiana for more lift and vibration.
Bait No. 3 is a white 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jig dressed with the Magnum Chunk to slow its fall. He swims the jig for bass suspended under docks, and fishes it on the bottom in shallow water.
"Spring is a tough season for docks because the fish are in transition due to the spawn," Brauer says.
On a big reservoir like Lake of the Ozarks, Brauer claims the bass could be in the prespawn, spawn and postspawn mode simultaneously in different parts of the lake. For example, in one section of the lake you might need to fish for prespawn bass relating to docks over chunk rock bottoms that drop at a 45 degree angle.
Elsewhere, the bass may be near docks in the backs of spawning pockets that have pea gravel banks.
To determine what the bass are doing, Brauer starts at the mouth of a large cove and fishes the docks all the way to the back of the cove. He works each dock thoroughly from front to back. After he fishes two or three coves in this manner, the bass should tell him which section of docks to fish in other coves.
Brauer's workhorse bait in the spring is a 1/2-ounce jig, brown or green pumpkin in clear water and black and blue in dirty water. He stays with the jig until the bass start bedding. Then he switches to a tube and works it slowly through beds he can see, or, in dirty water, near the backs of docks where the beds should be.
"I'll also have a big topwater bait tied on, like a Zara Spook," Brauer says. A big female will often be just outside of a bed waiting to move up.
"I usually pitch to a dock no matter what bait I'm fishing," Chad Brauer says. "It's more effective than an overhand or sidearm cast for getting your baits up under a dock."
Brauer pitches jigs and tubes with a flippin' rod and rarely less than 20-pound line. But, he pitches other baits with the same tackle he would use to cast them. For example, he pitches spinnerbaits and buzzbaits with a 7-foot medium-heavy baitcasting rod, matched with 15- to 20-pound line.
You can't beat skipping for getting a bait far up under a dock that's inches above the water. Alabama's Tim Horton is a master with this method.
With spinning and baitcasting tackle, he says he backs 20 to 25 feet from the dock and lets about 24 inches of line hang from his rod tip. Then he makes a backward loop cast and releases the line as the bait whips forward just over the water's surface.
"You want the bait to kiss the water about 3 feet in front of the dock," Horton says.
Horton stresses the importance of not hitting the dock with your lure. He always bends over and looks under a dock before he skips to see whether there are crossbeams or pilings he needs to avoid.