Fewer hours of daylight, colder nights and soon the days of going fishing in my Carhartt shorts and t-shirts will be replaced with long pants and warm jackets. This annual season of change also signals the perfect time to focus on fishing around shallow boat docks.
Not all Docks Stay Through Winter
Southern anglers probably don’t think about it much, but here in the North, most of our docks are built in a way that allows them to be pulled out of the water in anticipation of the lakes icing over. So if you don’t take advantage of their awesome bass-holding qualities pretty soon, you may lose your chance as homeowners remove docks for winter storage.
I will tell ya’ the very last ones to be removed are often the best, because bass that were once living around the docks that are now in winter storage, stack-up on the last remaining docks in the water. Think about it – if there are 10 docks along a shoreline, and now there’s only two, guess where the bass are forced to live?
Fortunately for many of you, whether they’re floating or piered, most of you have access to docks year round, and early fall is a great time of year to focus on some of the shallower ones because bass are out of their deep summer patterns, and they’re chowing-down shallow in anticipation of winter.
Shady, Gnarly and Algae Covered
Docks in 2 to 10 feet of water provide plenty of shade, as well as algae that’s been growing all summer, which in turns attracts the small sunfish that bass love to eat. In fact, bluegill seem to be thick around the algae on docks at this time of year. And because major winter cold fronts have yet to hit, bass don’t need to be adjacent to super deep water.
This may sound sort of weird, but it always seems like the newer and cleaner a boat dock is, the fewer fish it attracts. Sort of like how trophy whitetail prefer the thick habitat over a perfectly pruned acre of trees, it’s those docks with a minnow bucket that’s been hanging there for years, some old rusty rod holders, along with plenty of algae on the posts and swim ladder, that baitfish and bass seem to prefer most.
Skip it or Pitch it, But Be Thorough
Not all of us can skip a jig under a dock like Gerald Swindle does, but do your best to get a lure under and around as many portions of the dock as your casting skills will allow. The outside corners are easiest to cast to, but you need to do your best to pitch or skip your lure into every shadow, and behind every float, post, or pier.
While you can pick-off a few of the most aggressive fish from the outside corner posts with a spinnerbait or ChatterBait, most times the biggest fish are in the heaviest shade near the inside corners, and those are most easily reached by skipping or pitching.
I “go big” first, because good docks hold both big and small fish, and I’m trying to avoid bites from the smaller ones, so I pitch a 1/2 ounce Buckeye Mini Mop with a Z-Man Flappin Craw as a trailer. This is a very standard jig and trailer that’s as much a part of bass fishing as ribeyes are to steak houses, and I like the fact that this jig has rattles too.
If bass aren’t willing to bite the jig, my next choice is weightless soft plastic stick bait on 12-pound fluorocarbon line. This is more of a finesse presentation that is really tough to beat and will get you bites from quality bass when they won’t eat the jig.
Look for the Loners
Lastly, remember what I said about the last remaining docks in the water up north being the ones that hold all the bass? Well the same theory applies even on lakes and reservoirs where docks are never removed from the water.
Look for the dock that is isolated. If there’s only one dock on 1,000 yards of shoreline, in a portion of the lake known to hold fish, you can be highly confident you’ll get a bite on that isolated dock.
Just hurry. North, South, isolated, or in a row – the prime time for shallow docks is now.