by David Hart
It’s crappie season, and the good lakes are crowded. It seems like every beaver hut, laydown and dock has a boat sitting on it. All those spots hold crappie this time of year, but the easy crappie, the ones on the outside edges of the obvious cover, tend to get picked off in a hurry.
That’s why Darrell Baker, a crappie guide on Alabama’s Weiss Lake, prefers to fish far up under docks and other low-hanging cover by shooting a lure under that cover. He can put a jig in places other anglers can’t, and he can catch crappie that haven’t seen a hook all season. Dock shooting can be a tricky technique to master, but once you get the hang of it, you can put more and bigger fish in your cooler.
“It’s really just a matter of practice. Do it enough times and you’ll get good at it,” says Baker.
Ready, Aim, Fire
Dock shooting for crappie involves nothing more than carefully grabbing a lure by the bend of the hook, pulling the lure back so the rod bends like a bow, and then releasing the lure and the line in your other finger at the same time. As Baker says, the basic technique can take a little practice, and shooting a lure accurately can take even more time.
“The most important thing is how you hold the lure. Make sure you pinch the bend of the hook between your thumb and index finger with the hook point clear of your fingertips,” he explains.
Open the bail on your reel and hold the line over the tip of your finger just as you do when you make a standard cast with any spinning reel. Pull the lure back toward your waist so the rod forms a tight bow, and then let go of the lure and the line at about the same time. Keep doing it, and you’ll strike a balance between when to release the line and when to release the lure to get the maximum velocity from the lure.
“Try holding the rod different ways until you find a position that’s comfortable and that works well,” says Baker. “Once you get the basics down, you can work on accuracy.”
You might have to drop to your knees or even crouch low and hang over the edge of the boat a little in order to reach the tightest spots, especially on low docks.
Choose Your Weapon
While some crappie anglers will make a snappy sidearm cast and put a jig a few feet under a dock, anglers like Baker can shoot a jig even farther under the structure. That’s because he uses a rod specifically designed for the technique. It’s a short, whippy rod with just enough backbone to withstand the stress placed on it when it’s bent like a bow. The B’n’M Sharpshooter is just 5 feet long and has an extended butt designed for dock shooting. The guides are also made specifically for this technique.
“Shorter rods allow you to control the jig better. They also won’t slap the water when you shoot the jig like a longer rod might,” says Baker.
The weight of the lure is less important the rod choice, but Baker favors jigs as light as 1/32-ounce only because the fall through the water slower. A slow moving lure stays in a the strike zone of the crappie longer. They also skip across the surface better, a great way to get even more distance from each “shot.”
Choose Your Target
His weight choice also depends on the depth of the water. Crappie will congregate under almost any dock, but Baker looks for a few ingredients before he breaks out his shooting tackle. He likes docks over at least 4 feet of water and within 10 to 20 yards of a deeper ledge or creek channel. Crappie like quick access to deeper water.
“I like larger docks that sit low on the water and that have lots of posts and crossboards,” he says. “If the dock has brush under it or out in front, that’s even better.”
He also favors isolated docks only because he can work them thoroughly before moving on to the next one. Docks that sit alone tend to hold more fish than those on a long stretch of docks.
Don’t spend all your time looking for a single dock with all those ingredients, though. Just fish. Crappie fishing, like most types of fishing, is a process of elimination. You may have to spend some time figuring out a pattern before you can zero in on the right spots. Baker will shoot a jig from a variety of angles, covering each dock thoroughly before he moves to the next one. Eventually, he’ll hit a bull’s-eye.
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