Anybody can catch a crappie when the fish are staging on shallow brush in the spring. Swim a jig past their noses and it’s a safe bet they’ll eat it. But when these popular panfish drop their last eggs, they make a bee line for deep, dark cover like docks. Coaxing them out from under that cover isn’t all that difficult, but putting a lure in front of them can be just about impossible. That is, unless you shoot them.
“Shooting” doesn’t include guns, of course. Instead, it’s a technique that involves short, whippy rods, light jigs and an acquired touch that can present a jig to crappie far up under low-hanging docks. Shooting can put a lure in places no other technique can, and it can mean the difference between fish and no fish.
“Prime time to shoot docks is after crappie spawn, which means I’ll start shooting in April into May where I live,” says Weiss Lake, Alabama guide Darrell Baker. “It gets real good again in the fall when the water drops back down into the 60s.”
Although crappie can stage on just about any dock after the spawn, Baker looks for a few key ingredients before he picks up his rod. First, he wants a dock that is within 15 or 20 feet of a noticeable drop-off, either a ledge, a creek channel or some other abrupt change in depth. Crappie are no different than other fish-they like quick access to deep water. They also like overhead cover, which is why Baker also looks for low docks that provide deep, dark shade. If the dock has brush around it, that’s even better, but that’s not a vital ingredient. He’ll simply run an entire line of docks and shoot every one, paying attention to subtle differences in the ones that produce fish and the ones that don’t.
“The depth of the dock itself doesn’t seem to matter as much as access to deeper water,” adds Baker.
There are as many “right” ways to shoot a jig as there are crappie anglers, but every successful angler does a few things the same, including the way they hold the jig. Baker says it’s critical to hold the lure at the bend of the hook instead of the by the head.
“Gripping the head is a sure way to stick the hook point in your finger,” he notes. “You also have better aim and control when you grip the lure by the bend of the hook.”
Once you grab the hook, open the reel’s bail and place the line over your finger tip as if you were going to cast. Then pull the jig back far enough to put a bend in your rod and release the jig and line about the same time. Some anglers lean over. Others even lay on the deck of their boat to get a better angle, but how you do it depends entirely on how you want to do it. It all works, insists Baker.
Once the lure shoots under the dock, he will slowly retrieve it back to the boat. How slow he cranks his reel handle depends entirely on what the fish want. Some days, Baker will let the lure sink a few feet before he starts reeling and sometimes he’ll allow it to fall to the bottom. It all depends on how deep the fish are suspended.
Baker typically relies on a Crème Lil’ Fishy or a Southern Pro Stinger Shad on a 1/24- or 1/32-oz. jig head. The lighter jigs fall slower, which keeps them in front of the fish a little longer.
The jig color may not matter, but Baker says that the rod you use can make a huge difference. He favors a 5- or 5 1/2-foot B n’ M Sharp Shooter rod, which is designed specifically for shooting docks. The shorter rod is better for beginners, but the longer one is somewhat more accurate and has a little more speed, which can help put a lure farther under a dock.
No matter what you use, shooting can be tough to master. Baker recommends plenty of practice before attempting it on the water. Once you figure it out, though, you can load up on slabs when other anglers can’t.
Contact Darrell Baker at www.weisslakecrappieguides.com or at (256) 557-0129.
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