Every angler searches for the foolproof pattern: something reliable that consistently produces fish. In the sport of bass fishing, this is a very elusive thing to find. Fish are constantly on the move, changing instinctively with every aspect of nature. While there are thousands of baits, techniques and patterns, most will work one time of the year and not the other, or sometimes one day and not the next.
If there is one pattern that I would say will always catch fish, it would have to be fishing docks. Winter, spring, summer, fall – it doesn't matter. There is a fish on a dock somewhere in whatever lake you fish. Now don't think docks are extremely simple because on a single body of water there might be 10 different types of docks and 20 different ways and baits to fish them with. But there is a rhyme and a reason to which docks fish are currently using.
Let’s start out with wintertime bass fishing. The water is cold – in the mid 40s to low 50s – and the fish are slow and lethargic. In this situation in the dead of winter, I would be looking for deep docks. Not only do I like the docks to be deep, but I like to know that they have current on them when the dam generation turns on. This means generally I will search for fish in the main river channel or in the main channel of a creek with some flow.
I almost always start out fishing docks such as these with a jig. One of my favorites is a bait that is subtle, yet still satisfying to the fish. A War Eagle Heavy Finesse Jig fits the mold. A few characteristics I like about this jig is its fairly small size and the fact that it does not have rattles. Another jig I really like for this situation is the Stanley Finesse Jig. Both work great; I like to rig them with a Zoom Super Chunk Trailer to add some extra bulk to its profile. With these jigs, I will fish around the deep docks starting with the front of the docks, working my way farther back and around the sides, pitching my baits up under the dock around the poles. Although most of your bites in the winter will be off the front of the dock, you never know when one might be tucked way up underneath the dock in shallow water.
I always fish my jigs slow this time of year remembering that fish are cold-blooded, yet opportunistic. A jig fished slow is easy for a fish to slowly swim up to, and it is also worth their while and energy that they are going to expend because of the size of the meal.
As the water begins to warm up, there are two things on a fish's mind: eating and, most of all, spawning.
Some fish are residential on a specific dock, never leaving the area no matter what the season, as long as there is food available. They will simply work their way up to the shallow protected part of the dock in the springtime to spawn and then slide back out in the summer.
But the majority of the fish will make their way in from the deep water and position on shallow docks. A shallow dock in the springtime is great for many reasons. A dock gathers heat – especially a dock with shallow sand or clay bottom. Fish in the springtime love warmth and will really hold on these specific docks. I will generally search in the back of pockets or creeks, flipping baits quietly against the edge of the dock. Often, the fish will hold in extremely shallow water, so don't be afraid to pitch your bait up under the ramp or walkway of the dock.
Springtime docks can be fished with a variety of different techniques. Crankbaits can be a fantastic way to cover a lot of docks quickly searching for a aggressive fish. If there is brush or cover around the dock, I prefer a square-bill-style crank such as the Spro Little John. The small profile catches a lot of fish, and the square bill allows the bait to come through cover with very few snags. For clean bottom, I will throw a Rapala Shad Rap – with no rattles, this is a fantastic way to catch fish in the early spring. Another hard bait I throw on shallow docks is a Spro McStick Jerkbait. I fish my jerkbait very slow, twitching it parallel to the docks with long pauses, watching my line for the strike. If they won't eat a moving bait, then falling back on the jig is foolproof for catching fish on shallow docks. Make sure your jig isn't too heavy and fish them slow up under the shallow part of the dock.
When the water warms up in the summer, the fish again migrate out to the deep docks. The main thing fish are looking for in the hot summer is baitfish such as shad or brim, as well as oxygenated water. In the hot summer, much of the lake becomes stagnant, especially if there has been little current flow. You will almost always find your big bass located around docks that have current flowing past them.
A lot of the time I will fish the exact same docks in the summer that I fish in the winter – the ones that are out on the main river or creek channel. The only difference is that instead of throwing a jig, I prefer flipping soft plastics such as Bass Pro Shops River Bugs or Magnum Flippin' Tubes. I feel like I get more bites going with the soft plastics, although sometimes the jig will still get bigger bites.
When fall comes around, a lot of the fish return to the same docks they were using in the spring of the year and can be caught on very similar techniques. I have had a lot of success in the fall fishing docks with a jerkbait, targeting the aggressive fish that are feeding heavily and preparing for winter. You will find fish on shallow docks as well as mid-depth transition docks that fish will use for a short period of time on there way either shallow or deep. Don't let the transition fish suck you in for too long, because those fish are somewhat here today, gone tomorrow.
You can see no matter what the time of year it is, fish docks. Learning the way fish move from season to season is very important to consistently catching fish, and once you know this, docks are just a common piece of cover that you can always rely on. It is really interesting and beneficial knowing that fish will use the same cover in the winter and summer, as well as the same cover in the spring and fall. You can always get your fishing needs met at Bass Pro Shops; from the baits you want to tips and information from accomplished anglers, Bass Pro has it all.
Also remember that the Leeds Bass Pro Shops offers fly fishing classes every month. Our tying classes are the first Monday and the third Monday of each month, with our casting classes the second Saturday and fourth Saturday of each month – both are at 6 p.m. You can sign up in store for any of our classes while space is available. We'd love to see you there, and I'll see you on the water!!!
by Joey Nania
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