Andy Montgomery was 17 years old when he first saw someone skip a lure across the water’s surface like a flat stone. “I saw him throw a jig under a pontoon boat all the way to the front,” he said. “And I said to myself, ‘Man, I have to learn how to do that.’”
Montgomery, who has fished the Bassmaster Elite Series since 2011, lives in Blacksburg, S.C., near where Interstate 85 crosses into North Carolina. That puts him close to many well-known Carolina lakes, including Hartwell, Murray, Wylie, and Norman. They have one more thing in common — lots and lots of boat docks. These manmade structures are their best and often only shallow-water cover. Each one sees multiple anglers daily, making catching the bass that swim under them challenging. So successful bass anglers in these parts have mastered dock fishing, and their best tactic is skipping their lures far under them.
Montgomery has spent considerable time perfecting his skipping technique, which he used to win the 2014 Bassmaster Southern Open on Lake Norman. He said it allows his lure to reach ambush spots cloaked in the shade created by the overhead cover. It’s there that bass are ready to bite, especially when a lure enters the strike zone from above. While practice — and more and more practice — is the biggest key to becoming a proficient skipper, he shared some tips that can shorten your learning curve and increase your proficiency.
You need the right lure if you want to skip docks well. While Montgomery will try a bladed jig or swimbait, he always reaches for a jig first. “With a jig, you can do a lot of different things,” he said. You can swim, pull or hop them, and sometimes all three during the same cast.
After spending so much time fishing them, Montgomery has defined the characteristics that the best skipping jigs hold. He helped his longtime sponsor, Strike King Lure Co., design one based on them. And they start with the hook.
Frequently, bass anglers choose jigs with wide-gap hooks, which quickly and firmly grab bass. But few consider the hook’s diameter beyond whether it’s heavy or light wire. Montgomery wants one that falls in between. He said it could bend if it’s too thin when it hits something like a post while on its way under a dock. But he doesn’t want its gauge to be so heavy that braid is required to drive home its point.
Head design determines how a jig works in the water. Football heads, for example, roll over rocky bottoms, and cone-shaped swim jigs weave their way through the thickest stands of emergent aquatic vegetation. “A lot of jigs will skip,” Montgomery said, but flat-bottomed ones are easiest to skip the farthest. That surface allows the jig to skitter across the water. If it were pointed or angled, it would dig in rather than skip. The angle of the line tie has relatively little effect on how well a jig skips, though he prefers one that’s 30 or 60 degrees over one that’s straight or 90 degrees.
One aspect of jigs that isn’t often considered is how the skirt is attached. “There is a lot of force when skipping a jig,” Montgomery said. Each time a loose skirt twists, turns, or slides down, it robs momentum, cutting skipping distance. They also can cover the hook’s point, which can ruin a cast or, worse, interfere with a hookset. But they always waste valuable fishing time as you straighten them out.
Some of the best skipping jigs, such as the North Carolina-made Shooter brand, are hand-tied. Several wraps and a dab of head cement make sure skirts stay put. Montgomery said the Strike King skipping jig offers a new solution. The back of the head is shaped to fit the skirt collar exactly. Without room to move, it remains perfectly in place.
There’s one more component that saves Montgomery time while on the water. He wants a jig with a trailer keeper, such as the screw-lock one on his signature Strike King jig. It keeps the trailer in place and makes it last longer. While the time-honored method of gluing a trailer in place creates similar results, the keeper means he no longer sacrifices fishing time fumbling with super-glue bottles, waiting for the sticky stuff to set, or finding a new trailer.
Nearly every skip Montgomery makes is with a 1/2-ounce jig. It generates enough momentum to go further with less effort. If he’s skipping a jig into extremely shallow water, he’ll tie on a 3/8-ounce model.
Montgomery’s favorite color is blue craw, a mix of green pumpkin, powder blue, and pearl. “It works in clear and dingy water,” he said. But you can’t go wrong by matching the local forage. If skipping docks along a rocky bank, try a green pumpkin, orange jig, or another crawfish imitator. And if you’re targeting docks surrounded by bluegill beds in the back of a bay, try one in Texas craw, watermelon with a red flake, or pumpkin seed.
Montgomery’s skipping jig always sports a flat-sided trailer. It works with the jig head, making for better skips. When the water is cold, he will dig deep into his tackle box for an old-school soft-plastic chunk, which resembles a pork frog. But when it warms, he reaches for a Strike King Rage Bug. Its body is flat, and its lipped pinchers flap wildly when pulled through the water.
Rod, reel, and line
The perfect reel for skipping jigs must be baitcasting and high-speed. Spinning reels don’t work nearly as well because of the mechanics of the skip cast and the heavier pound test line that’s needed to get bass out from under a dock. A high gear ratio — preferably 7:1 or faster — lets you retrieve your jig faster, freeing up time to skip more pieces of cover, whether that’s a dock, moored boat, or overhanging tree. And the more places you fish, the more bass you’ll encounter.
Montgomery spools his reels with 25-pound test fluorocarbon. Its lack of stretch makes solid hooksets easy and allows him to winch bass from snag-filled spots. Its abrasion resistance plays a role, too. “You don’t have to worry,” he said. “You’re going to a bad place. With all the junk under there, sometimes it doesn’t end well.”
Montgomery said beginning skippers might find success quicker using a similar monofilament line. It’s limper than fluorocarbon, making it easier to control and more forgiving, resulting in fewer backlashes.
While the right reel is essential, Montgomery said selecting the right rod is vital. First, you want a short rod, which he said is easier to cast accurately than a long rod. But what you consider short depends on your height. That’s why he helped Daiwa design two skipping rods. Both are fast action, heavy power, and rated for the same weight lures and lines, but each is a different length. The shorter one is 6 feet 9 inches. “If you’re a taller guy like me — I’m 6-3 — use the 7-1,” he said.
Your rod needs a soft tip, which will generate more momentum during the cast, and lots of backbone to work with the line, delivering solid hooksets at a distance and pulling bass around the posts, props, ladders, and other obstacles usually associated with dock fishing.
The cast is where most anglers run into problems, including backlashes that only scissors can untangle or landings well short of the intended target. They are usually the result of too much effort, so Montgomery’s first piece of advice is to relax. “You don’t have to make a hard cast,” he said.
Montgomery holds his rod, with its tip pointed down, at a 45-degree angle to the water’s surface. The jig is hanging about a foot below the tip. Instead of a big windup, he gently moves the tip backward on his forehand side before moving it forward with a short, gentle underhand sweep. Here, a short rod shines again, keeping you from catching its tip in the water.
You want to release the line when your jig is closest to the water. That ensures the first skip is only a glance off the surface, leaving enough momentum to continue skipping under the piece of cover you are fishing.
While the mechanics are simple, Montgomery said practice is the only way to develop and maintain the timing that produces longer skips and fewer backlashes. That’s true for all anglers, even professionals. But no matter how much time you invest or repetitions you make, from time to time, there will be skips that go awry. But sometimes, that’s not all bad.
It takes minutes — unless during rush hour — to drive from ever-growing Charlotte, N.C., to 32,500-acre Lake Norman. It’s the largest lake in the state and popular with anglers and people who like to live lakeside. Stretches of banks without docks are rare. Most structures have bass swimming under them and boats tied to their cleats. “I once skipped [a jig] under one there and hit the pontoon [boat] pretty bad,” Montgomery said. Hearing the clank that was indeed loud enough to scare every bass in the vicinity, Montgomery’s fishing partner asked if he had ever caught one after that happens. While Montgomery tried to remember an instance, a 6-pound 9-ounce bass grabbed his jig.