Even bass fanatics have to eat!
When we last left Dusty Anders, he was exercising his addiction to largemouth bass in Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Now he was in the mood to eat fish — crappie, or “white perch” as he called them. Anders always did some crappie fishing because he likes to eat fish, but wasn’t keen on keeping bass.
“Have you ever shot any docks,” he threw out, half as a challenge and half as an invitation?
I replied that I had heard of the technique, but had never done it.
“Well, why don’t cha come on up here and we’ll do it?”
Prime times for shooting docks for crappie begin in March, when the fish come in from their deep overwintering waters and last until June, when they move back into deeper waters (but not as deep as in winter) and brush pile fishing heats up.
Dock shooting begins again in late September, ramps up in October and lasts until prolonged cold snaps push the crappie into very deep waters to ride out the winter.
Shooting docks for crappie got started 4 or 5 years ago, he explained. Anders’ first experience with it started with a friend who had been doing it. The pair was bass fishing and the friend’s wife needed fish to fry that night, so they stopped at some docks on the way in.
“I thought that was pretty neat when we did it. Now I go about once a week and catch 15 or 20 to eat. The nice thing is that you don’t have a big investment. You can get a good combo for $30.”
I quickly learned that one of the good things about this venture is you don’t have to get up before daylight. Anders wants the sun to be well up and he prefers bright, sunny days.
His theory on the subject makes sense. “They got them big ole eyes and no eyelids. The sun hurts their eyes. I know one thing — you don’t catch them on the sunny side of the dock.”
Watching Anders fish was comical in a way. Picture a focused bass fishing athlete in a $72,000 boat, loaded with 22 expensive Ardent reels on Duckett rods. Then picture the man picking up a Zebco 33 spincast reel, spooled with factory monofilament, on a Zebco rod.
Then he plopped down on the boat’s bow deck, with his feet hanging over the edge and worked the foot control pedal for the trolling motor with his hand.
He explained that the Zebco 33 spin-cast is the reel with which he started shooting docks. “It still works real good, but now I use an Ardent Krappie Kings ultralight spinning reel just as often.”
A big advantage to using an open face spinning reel is that they are spooled with braided line rather than monofilament. “Braided line doesn’t stretch so I can feel the bite better and the fish often hook themselves.”
Anders’ recommendation is 20 pound test Domin8 Tuf-Line in high visibility yellow.
Anders passed up some docks in favor of others that appeared very similar. Water depth is a factor, he explained, but even with docks set in the same depth water, some are simply better than others.
“You have to hit them all to start,” he drawled. “Learn which ones are best and then hit the high-percentage docks first next trip.”
After positioning himself sitting on the bow and moving the boat into casting distance, he pointed his rod at his target spot and grabbed the jig with the thumb and forefinger of his non-rod holding hand, being careful to hold the jig with the hook pointing away from his hand.
He pulled the jig back towards his body to put tension on the rod, all the while depressing the button of the spincast creel. He completed the cast by almost simultaneously releasing the jig and the reel button.
The procedure was the same when he used an open face spinning reel, but instead of depressing the button, he flipped open the bail of the reel and held the line in the crook of his forefinger.
During the day, Anders bounced back and forth between reel systems often. Both caught fish equally well.
The released lure rocketed under the dock, skipping on the surface several times before reaching its target. It was impressive how far under the dock he could shoot a lure.
He allowed the jig to free-fall, unimpeded by the reel. Most bites came on the fall, appearing as a little tic on the rod or by the line going limp. If the lure fell to the bottom without being eaten, he used a lift-and-pause retrieve to fish it out.
Hooked fish had to be played out of the piling jungle by gently nudging them to swim over the cross members. Seldom did hooked fish get hung up.
Anders uses either 1/16- or 1/32-ounce jigheads. Finicky fish prefer smaller jigheads probably because they fall more naturally. “When the fish are more active, you can get away with the heavier heads,” he observed. “I like the heavier ones because I can shoot them further.”
His choice of plastic tails is Crème Same Thing Crappie Shad, usually in a shad color, although sometimes he will use chartreuse tails as well.
The lithe angler stressed several times the importance of water depth. “A dock needs to be in at least 12 feet of water — 16 or 18 is better. Some are 25 to 30 feet deep.
“That’s in the main lake (rather than up creek arms) where the water is clearer. In arms the water is more stained and you can catch them in 9 or 10 foot depths.
“It’s just like bass fishing. They hold deeper in clearer water because of more light penetration.”
He also showed a distinct preference for large boat docks. “The bigger the boat dock is, the better — more shade.”
He pointed out a dock with an enclosed room on it. “Under the room is usually a really sweet spot. It’s the shadiest spot, what I call ‘fish heaven.’
“The further toward the middle of the dock, the better and the harder it is to reach. Shooting allows you to reach areas you couldn’t by regular casting or with a jig pole.” He positioned his boat as close to each dock as possible, but made it a rule never to touch the privately owned docks with his hand or bump them with his boat.
On the subject of preferences and contrary to first-thought common sense, Anders much prefers shooting docks that do not have brush piles sunk under them to improve fishing.
“You don’t get hung up as much. It’s easier to get the fish out. And I think that the fish can see my bait better,” he explained.
It was amazing how he could bend over and shoot the jig accurately through the maze of pilings and braces with the deck only 2 feet above the water.
“This isn’t something I would bring most charter customers to do, even though you can catch a lot of fish doing it. It takes practice to get the hang.
“I brought my son. I suggested that he practice before we went. He said, ‘oh, if you can do it, I can do it.’ First, he shot it up in the dock’s rooftop; then he got it in someone’s boat. He finally just sat down and took fish off the hook for me.
“But, when you get the hang of it, it ain’t no big deal.
“This will work in any place that has boat docks, not just Toledo Bend. In a lot of those places, you don’t have to look for docks set in water as deep as you do here. They are shallower lakes, but you can still catch white perch.
The action continued all day, with some docks producing more fish than others. After catching his sixth crappie in 8 casts under one dock, he said with a crooked grin, “I like bass fishing, but when they are biting like this — it’s fun!
A cloud in the sky
Dock shooting is a highly effective technique and more anglers are acquiring the skills to do it. But, Anders noted with dismay, some dock owners have become territorial, considering the fish under their docks (which sit on public bottoms) to be their fish.
Many have attached welded wire livestock panels to the exterior of their docks between the dock’s deck and the water’s surface. The panels effectively foil shooters. Others, who want to appear less aggressive, simply leave their empty boat lift cradles down just above the water’s surface, accomplishing much the same thing.
One dock owner with an unwholesome sense of humor on the Texas side of the reservoir has put up a sign reading “Fish Aerator in Service,” coupled with wildly swinging nozzles that spray water out 30 feet from the dock to drench fishermen.
“Either he sees you and turns it on or he has a sensor that kicks it on,” said Anders sourly. ‘What a butthead,’ I thought when it came on. He was standing up on his porch watching.”