Attacking Wooden Docks
By John R. Pulliam
You launch the boat, set the rods around the front deck, and you start thinking about the first place that you are going to start fishing in search of that first bass. Most anglers would start out by throwing topwaters in the shallows, around visible structure. Although this technique is a great one to start out with, you need to ask yourself where you will go to next. As a bass angler, you have to be two steps ahead. That is, you have to be thinking about what you are doing at the present moment, but you also have to be aware of where you plan to fish next, and where you plan to fish after that.
Some of the most overlooked areas to fish are wooden docks. Most lakes and reservoirs have wooden docks on them, and a lot of anglers pass them over in favor of other areas. Wooden docks provide shade and shelter, and since most lakes have great populations of crappie, it's a safe bet that at least 85% of the docks will have brush around them and underneath them.
After that morning bite starts to taper off, look toward the older wooden docks. Docks that have rotting pilings, that have plants growing from them, and docks that have algae growing on the sides of the pilings will produce best. There are times where several of these docks will be in a row, and finding something that is different about one dock will often out produce all the rest of them.
In order to find out which dock will produce the best, it is advantageous to explore as many docks as possible with several different lures. Sometimes, that one feature that makes one dock different from the next will be hidden.
Some of the lures that will give you the edge in exploring docks include spinnerbaits, jigs, Texas-rigged soft plastics, and Senkos. Although Senkos can be put under Texas-rigged soft plastics, I also use Senkos on a wacky-rig.
Use the spinnerbaits by running them along all the edges of the docks; the outsides of the docks, the edges where an inside edge meets the outside edge of the dock. Often times, after the post-spawn, bass will position themselves on these edges and will chase baitfish. The most productive color will by far be white with a pair of willow-leaf blades. If the water color is dirty, switch up to a chartreuse-white spinnerbait, but keep the willow-leaf blades. Fish from depths from 1- to- 5-feet along these edges.
Jigs and Texas-rigged plastics are two lures that can be fished in the same locations within a dock, but both have their own time and place. Both can be fished alongside the pilings on the outsides of the docks, but usually I will fish the jigs in these locations. Both can be fished in the heart of the brush that is put under the docks, but in those places, I feel that the soft plastic lures will produce because the soft plastics will not slam through the brush. Instead, they will gently lay and swim around the brush. Another way to fish soft plastics around docks is to swim them along the edges in deeper water than what you would fish the spinnerbait.
Senkos are one lure that I have had the most success with when fishing docks, especially in summertime. Bass will position themselves in all depths of the water, mostly in the shade of the dock, and will wait for baitfish to swim by. Rig a 5-inch Senko on a #1 or #2 hook, hooking it through the middle of the bait. To find the exact middle, put both ends together, and place the hook where the worm bends. Some people place the hook in the egg sack, but I feel that this will cause the lure to be lop-sided, and will affect the action of the lure.
Once you have the lure rigged, fish it by allowing it to flutter to the desired depth, and then sharply jerking it up with the rod. Allow the lure to flutter back down, and experiment with the retrieve, until you find which presentation the bass prefer.
Fish the spinnerbaits, jigs, and Texas-rigged soft plastics on a 6-foot 6-inch or 7-foot medium-action rod, with a high retrieve and high gear ratio reel. Use braided line, as it will give great feel for what the lure is doing. I would use braided line that is no smaller than 30-pound test, due to the gnarly cover and rough pilings that can be associated with wooden docks.
As for the Senkos, I would use a 6-foot 6-inch spinning outfit, with braided line that is around 20-pound test. Heavy lines on spinning outfits can sometimes effect the presentation of the lure.
Fishing docks are a great way to put a good limit of bass in your livewell, as long as you are willing to be patient and to work each dock thoroughly. Finding the dominant pattern is of great importance. Fishing wooden docks is a great way to find bigger bass as well.
The next time you are out on your home waters, check around for the oldest wooden docks, and start fishing them if you have not done so previously.
As always, best of luck and be safe out on the water.