Fishing Docks as Cover

If you have fished for any period of time, you have realized by now that our competition in fishing,
the Largemouth Bass, like and feel comfortable relating to cover. Fish use cover much like people
do. Have you ever noticed that people will migrate near the edges of and near other people before
they will venture out on their own? I am not saying that people and fish do this for the same
reasons, but it is something to think about. Docks can be the ultimate jackpot when talking about
cover, mostly because more than one kind of cover can and, usually, will be in the area at the
same time. In this article, I hope to share a few techniques that will help you pick out and learn to
dissect the great cover that lines so many of our most popular natural lakes. You will see far fewer
docks in reservoirs due to the flux in water depths in areas controlled by dams, but regardless of
where you are fishing, keep this in mind: docks are cover. Any strategy that you pick up from this
article should be able to be adapted to the variety of cover that you are fishing. 

To begin, let's talk about what makes the best dock THE BEST DOCK. If you look with an
untrained eye, most docks can very easily look alike, but in truth, they are very different. Some are
higher off the water than others. Some are used more often than others. Some have large
canopies, while others are made of wood. Some are located in deep water, while others are in
shallow. With a little knowledge, you can pick out just which docks will be most productive. 

If I were to design a perfect dock and its location, it would be this: a wood, permanent dock.
Why? A dock with wood legs will usually have moss or some kind of weed growing on it which
will attract plankton, minnows, and the rest of the food chain. Furthermore, wood dock posts
usually need cross members to reinforce the legs in order to keep them upright and strong. These
cross members provide diagonal cover in addition to the horizontal cover provided by the dock.
The legs of the dock supply vertical cover. The closer a dock is to the water's surface, the better it
is. Close proximity shades the dock's underside more and, if the water is clear, it helps to conceal
your movement which may spook the fish. My utopian dock would sit as close to the water's edge
as possible yet still allow me a chance to get a cast underneath it. It would also have a bend of
some type in it, perhaps a 'T' created when two dock sections intersect. This perfect dock would
undoubtedly have some kind of emergent vegetation nearby as well as access to deep water
("deep" being a term relative to any given lake), and a point or channel would be near it.
Unfortunately, if you live anywhere near me, the beautiful dock I've just described is practically
unheard of. You will find very few wood docks because the ice will destroy it as it leaves the lake
on a windy day during the spring thaw. But if you look at a dock, and it has any of these
characteristics, it's a fishable dock. 

On to fishing the dock. There are two different ways to attack a dock. One is with the finesse
approach of a vertical presentation, the other the more aggressive horizontal presentation.
Depending on the weather, I will chose one of the two to begin with and redefine my approach
from there. When pre-fishing for a tournament, I will almost always chose a horizontal approach
because I can cover more ground and hit more docks during a given time period. This allows me
to find the areas of the lake in which the fish seem to be using the docks most. It also keys me in
on the docks with the most potential, the ones that are most like the optimum dock. 

With those thoughts in mind, let's begin by examining the horizontal approach. The two best
horizontal lures when fishing docks are the spinnerbait and the crankbait. Choose colors and
weights that best suit the cloud cover and water clarity as well as the depth that you which to
achieve. When using this approach, try to remember that you are striving for a reaction strike from
the fish. To prompt this reaction strike, try to make contact with the dock posts. You can achieve
this easily by using boat position to your advantage, but you can also tune your baits to help in the
cause. To do this, purposely tune two identical crankbaits to run slightly off center in each
direction. When making your cast, choose the bait that will run into the post. When the bait comes
in contact with the cover, stop it for an instant and then continue the retrieve. It's during this brief
stop, or shortly thereafter, that the strike will occur. You can get a spinnerbait to hit a dock by
using the rod tip to drive or direct the spinnerbait so that it comes in contact with the dock. If you
are noticing a lot of fish coming out to chase the baits but not hitting, you should switch to a more
subtle horizontal lure or switch or approach entirely to a vertical approach. Some examples of
more subtle horizontal approaches include the floating worm or R.T.Slug (fluke) type lure. These
lures are nice because they can be skipped into areas that the crankbait and spinnerbait cannot
reach. I will discuss skipping a little later in the article. 

Vertical lures can be any kind of jig. It may be a soft plastic Texas rig, a dropshot rig, or a jig and
pig. These lures are usually easier to skip and can be fished rather slowly if not at a total stand still.
Try to keep in mind that the more smooth and uninhibited the jig, the better it will skip and the
further under the dock it will go. A perfect example of this is a tube jig. A tube is probably the best
skipping bait ever designed. It is go to bait around docks. I like to fish the Exude tube on a 2/0
hook with an 1/8 oz worm weight pegged in front. I have used the Shaw Grigsby HP hook and do
like it. However, I think it takes up way too much of one's valuable fishing time to re-rig when one
of these baits is chewed up by the large amount of bass you are pulling out from under docks.
When planning to skip vertical lures under docks, it's important that they are rigged weedless
because most docks have chains and other fun fish holding stuff under the dock. On many days, I
will use these underwater treasures to my advantage to help me get more fish. If you can skip a
bait under a dock and over a chain just under the surface, you can get the bait to vertically jig in
place thus staying within the strike zone longer which will result in more fish. A motto I like to
carry with me is this: "Don't worry about getting the fish out of where it is until after it is hooked." I
say this because many anglers won't cast into scary places because they are afraid of not being
able to get the fish out. Yes, you are going to lose some fish when using this more daring
approach, but it's the fish that you will get that are going to help you place higher in your

When approaching a dock, have a plan. Take notice of the wind so that it won't blow you into
the dock. Keep adequate distance depending on water clarity, if the water is muddy you can get
really close to a dock without spooking fish as long as you keep your movements and boat noises
to a minimum. Observe where your shadow falls. When at all possible, make sure your shadow is
nowhere near where your cast is. Places where you want to cast on a dock include: dock posts (hit
them all, you never know where they will be, too many angers will only hit the outside ones, it's the
inside ones that can be killers), the "T's" where two or more dock sections intersect,
ladders (ladders can be great fish holding structures because they have multiple rungs), boat
lifts (boat lifts usually contain cross members that hold fish), and I always try to cast at a boat
engine (if the boat owner lets the engine run in place, there could be a small drop off right at the
engine creating cover that can hold fish). 

I have talked about a skip cast before. Many can do it , but few have mastered the technique. I
have the best luck with a 6' MH Spinning Rod with a soft tip (many may want to start with a
shorter rod, I am 6'3" and have met with much success using a 6' rod, but I know many others
who skip best with a 5'6" rod) with #10 test CXX-Xtra Strong P-line. I have found P-line to be
the most abrasion resistant monofilament on the market, which is important when working with
dock posts and chains. With an underhand roll cast, you can achieve great skips. It just takes a lot
of practice. 

Most importantly when skipping docks, respect the dock and boat owner. Make sure you
practice around open water first and use lures that are weedless. There is nothing more harmful to
the reputation of our sport than to make property owners mad at us by scuffing their nice boats
and allowing our lures to hang up on their docks to get stepped on or otherwise. Play it smart and
abide by a variation of the golden rule: "Do unto other's property what you would like done to
yours", or something like that. 

The fishing of docks is an extensive subject, and I have left a lot uncovered that perhaps could
take the form of an advanced dock fishing article in the future. Regardless, I hope these few
pointers will head you in the right direction. Have fun, and happy skipping!

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