UPCOMING EVENT: Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

Dock cranking

Randall Tharp works his way around a Beaver Lake dock.

(Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the 2013 October issue of Bass Fishing magazine. To read more compelling articles from Bass Fishing magazine each month, become an FLW subscriber member. If you'd like to sign up for a digital subscription to access articles online, click here).

You fish crankbaits in shallow water. You fish docks in shallow water. But do you ever fish shallow docks with crankbaits?

If your answer is yes, then you probably already know how effective crankbaits can be for drawing reaction bites from dock-dwelling bass.

If you answered no, then you're missing out. Crankbaits might not seem to be the best choice for fishing docks, given their snaggy support structure, but such hazards can be overcome. All else being equal, crankbaits are great for fishing docks for the same reason they're great for fishing just about anywhere else: they trigger strikes. The fact that bass seldom see crankbaits under docks and consequently might be more susceptible to them is another reason for anglers to try them there.

To be sure, well-honed casting skills are required to send a crankbait deep into the reaches of a dock. It can't be skipped on the surface easily, but even an average caster can make a crankbait go where dock bass are likely to be if he employs a trick that Walmart FLW Tour pros Bryan Thrift and Wesley Strader call "driving," or "steering." By using the rod tip to direct the crankbait on a path in one direction or the other - or even opposite directions on the same cast - you can guide the lure to make contact with posts, cross members and other parts of a dock that bass use as cover.

What you get is a unique presentation that offers control like few other lures - not a bad combination.

Casting class

Learning to cast crankbaits under docks is like learning to ride a bike without training wheels: When you screw up, it hurts. But that's OK. Knowing that the hooks of a crankbait are exposed provides extra incentive for you to be more precise and careful, which is what's necessary in order to get the lure into tight, hard-to-reach spots under docks.

The best casts are backhand or sidearm roll-casts that keep the lure close to the water and accelerating quickly. Skipping a crankbait is not impossible, but it's also not practical. Dangling hooks and the bill tend to "grab" the water and halt forward motion, which usually results in a backlash. So the key is to make low, direct casts just above the water's surface. Feathering the spool with your thumb helps to guide the crankbait into just the right spot.

Walmart team pro Wesley Strader `steers' shallow crankbaits into dock structure to get reaction bites from bass in fall.Rod selection plays a critical role in this technique, more so than many others. A rod too long is cumbersome in tight spaces, and a rod too stiff will rip out the hooks when a fish strikes. It's important to find a rod that balances moderate backbone with medium length.

"I like to use a 723 Powell," Strader says. "Basically it's just a medium-action rod, more like a spinnerbait rod. If I know I'm going to be backhanding a lot, I'll go with a 683 Powell rod."

The distinction is based on the space between the dock and the water's surface. The 723 model is 7 feet, 2 inches long, and Strader uses that when he's got 3 to 5 feet of space under the dock (common on many fixed-type docks, especially in low-water periods such as fall) and can roll-cast with ease. When the gap is smaller, he swaps for the 683, which is 6 feet, 8 inches long.

Thrift uses a shorter rod almost all the time. He opts for either a 6-foot, 9-inch or 6-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy Damiki rod. The extra strength of the medium-heavy, coupled with heavier-wire hooks that he puts on the crankbait, helps to get the fish headed out of the dock and surrounding cover in a hurry.

Steer clear

Steer clear: When dock-fishing with crankbaits, the retrieve is just as important as the cast. By holding the rod out to the side, anglers can `steer' the crankbait into the posts. Cast past the end of the dock and have the lure deflect off each post to maximize opportunity.Anglers mainly rely on such popular dock-fishing lures as jigs or Texas rigs because they facilitate the most important part of the cast - the initial fall. If you can skip a lure into tight quarters that other anglers are likely to have missed, you've pretty much made the best bid you can.

When dock-fishing with crankbaits, however, the retrieve is just as important as the cast. Enticing fish to come after the lure requires making contact with part of the dock structure or any cover under it. The best way to do it is to "drive" the crankbait, which means using the rod to steer the lure into part of the dock during the retrieve. You can do this with other lures, such as swimbaits and swim jigs, but because crankbaits float, they allow you the time to set up for the retrieve and offer better speed control.

Set up for the contact by casting 5 or 6 feet past the object you want to hit. This gives you enough retrieve time to get the crankbait down and direct it the right way. If you cast to the left of a post and want to make contact with the post, point the rod out to the right of it. The crankbait will try to follow the line in that direction, and as it comes around the post it will deflect. That's what triggers strikes.

Fishing this way takes some creativity. You have to plan the attack based on where you can cast and the best line of retrieve. Both parts are important.

Fixed dock: Careful casting will allow angler to reach tucked-away parts of the dock, while making contact with solid structure. Target each row of posts and along sides and back of dock. You can also find ways to fish crankbaits on docks that don't require fine-tuned casting skills. Instead of always casting far under docks, try casting parallel to docks, then maneuvering the boat slightly to the side so that your retrieve brings the lure alongside the structure, where it can deflect off several posts along the way. And corner posts are easy. Just cast across the corner, hold the rod out beyond the dock so your line lands in the water, bring the rod back over and retrieve the crankbait back so it hits the corner post. Use this method to fish beneath the corners of floating docks as well.

Try to take advantage of the "reaction-bite" presentation of the crankbait. Thrift suggests a fast retrieve. And you can add action during the retrieve if you aren't able to contact the dock every time.

"Sometimes I like to twitch it, wind it, stop it, twitch it - the same way as you would a jerkbait," Strader says.

Both pros prefer 12- to 15-pound-test fluorocarbon because it can handle the friction of rubbing against the dock structure. An abrasion-resistant line is critical. Check it often for nicks.

When it works

Floating dock: Point rod back toward dock and steer lure under corner to make contact with the brush -which in this example is submerged under the corner of the dock. Cast over dock corner, then hold rod out to right so line doesn't land on the dock.Strader and Thrift agree that there are two scenarios when crankbaits excel for dock-fishing: early spring, when bass are "staging up" to spawn, and again in fall. Both are transition periods, when bass are moving in or out of creeks. Docks are well-used stopping points along the way in either direction.

Cranking docks is primarily a shallow pattern, more productive around docks on flats or in the backs of creeks in about 5 feet of water or less. Otherwise, look for conditions that typically would suggest using a crankbait - murky to muddy water, for instance. Situations where the bank is mostly mud or soft bottom with little cover for bass to set up on are ideal, because the docks become even more attractive since they are the best - perhaps only - cover in the area.

Permanent docks that are footed in the lake's bottom with pilings or wooden posts are the best for fishing a crankbait because there's usually a space underneath for making the cast and the thick pilings constitute great fish-holding cover. But floating docks can also be fished with crankbaits. Look for brush that lakeside homeowners have placed around their floating docks. Also be on the lookout for bass suspended underneath the plastic floats.

Best baits

Bagley Balsa B2 crankbaitCrankbaits offer several advantages over other dock-fishing lures such as jigs and spinnerbaits. Crankbaits run at a specific depth. So you can match the lure to the water depth, as well as matching the color of the lure to the local forage. Also, crankbaits aren't as commonly used to fish docks, which means that bass might be more susceptible to them.

"They [bass] don't see a crankbait as often as they do a jig or a spinnerbait," Strader says. "It's a completely different action. It throws a lot of vibration."

"If the fish are up shallow, sometimes you can get them to react to a crankbait, but they'll let a jig or Texas rig go by them if it's moving slow," adds Thrift.

The pros prefer shallow square-bill crankbaits because they deflect better than other types of crankbaits.

"I really like a Bagley Balsa B2 and Balsa B1," Strader says.

"I like the Damiki DC-100," Thrift says. "It's a heavy crankbait, so you can really get it way under the dock. It's still buoyant, but it has enough weight where you don't have to make a hard cast under there. You can just roll your wrist. If you were casting a light wooden bait you would have to cast it too hard and can't get the low trajectory that you need on the cast."

Fish and fish again

One big advantage of the crankbait over other dock-fishing lures is the speed at which it can cover water. You can burn the bank between docks and pick apart each dock structure quickly, yet carefully.

Chevy team pro Bryan Thrift suggest making multiple casts to the best parts of a dock as bass don't always bite the first time."I always start my day just covering water, because that's what the crankbait is designed to do," Thrift says. "Once you start getting bites you can tell where they're going to be, whether on outside posts or way up under. And if you hit a piece of brush you want to make multiple casts to that. You need to rule out where they aren't."

More so in the fall than the spring, it pays to make multiple presentations on the best docks. Strader and Thrift both use this technique.

"You're going to try to hit everything you can, especially in the fall," Strader says. "If I know the fish are really keying on the corner, I might pull up to the dock and make 15 casts to the same corner. When you're going through that transition from summer to fall and they're really keyed in on that bait, sometimes it just takes a lot of casts to get that fish to eat."

Whether bass are feeding aggressively or are a bit sluggish, repeated casts with a crankbait can get the job done around shallow docks. Its reaction-bite action triggers bass to strike, especially when they haven't seen such a presentation under their dock before.

Set up for success

One of the simplest ways to increase your dock-casting accuracy is to stabilize your boat before the cast. And Power-Poles are ideal for this.One of the simplest ways to increase your dock-casting accuracy is to stabilize your boat before the cast. Power-Poles are ideal for this. They allow you to stop the boat in place and cast without having to man the trolling motor. This is tremendously helpful in windy conditions.

"Power-Poles have made a tremendous difference in the way you fish a dock," Walmart pro Wesley Strader says." You can pull up to the dock, come in from the windy side, push them down and fish that whole dock."

In dingy water, it's possible to stay up close to the dock and cast. But in "medium" water clarity conditions, it's best to keep your distance. Sometimes a little extra distance also offers a better casting angle. So try to select the best distance from a dock based on ease of casting and water clarity. According to Chevy pro Bryan Thrift, casts are usually no more than 30 to 40 feet long.

Tags: curtis-niedermier-illustrations-by-ron-finger  magazine-features  features 

/tips/2016-07-28-flw-podcast-128-mark-rose

FLW Podcast 128 - Mark Rose

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-23-1000-islands-day-3-midday-update

1000 Islands Day 3 Midday Update

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-22-1000-islands-midday-update-day-2

1000 Islands Midday Update Day 2

Day two of the Costa FLW Series Northern Division event presented by Mercury at 1000 Islands got started on a slightly different note this morning when FLW’s tournament directors declared Lake Ontario off limits due to hazardous conditions. The change threw a few of the top pros off their primary plans, but regardless the 137-boat field will be cut down to the top 10 after today, so adjustments need to be made in order to qualify to fish the weekend. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-19-flw-podcast-126-icast

FLW Podcast 126 - ICAST

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-14-2017-walmart-flw-tour-schedule

2017 Walmart FLW Tour Schedule

In what has become an annual tradition at FLW, the 2017 Walmart FLW Tour schedule was announced at a press conference and industry gathering held Thursday on the show floor at ICAST in Orlando, Fla. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-12-si-se-puede-yes-we-can

Si Se Puede ... Yes We Can

Mexico’s Lake Zimapan is different in many ways from the lakes to the north such as Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and California’s Clear Lake, but one element it has in common with those famous fisheries is big bass. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-11-5-rookie-lessons-learned

5 Rookie Lessons Learned

People have asked me what my first year on the Walmart FLW Tour was like. Well, it was like running headfirst into a hurricane for a few months. I came out the other side a little battered, bruised and smelling like fish. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-11-flw-podcast-125-scott-martin

FLW Podcast 125 - Scott Martin

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-review-lew-s-custom-speed-stick-lite

Review: Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Lite

Recently I had the opportunity to try one model in particular – the 7-foot, 4-inch Magnum Pitchin’ rod. After fishing with it several times, I’ve concluded that it performs as advertised, is sensitive and lightweight, and is well worth the money. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-reunited-and-it-feels-so-good

Reunited, and it Feels so Good

This year I really had a reunion with finesse fishing. Most of my better tournaments came from fishing some type of finesse presentation. Finesse tactics seemed to always give me a certain confidence about the day. While finesse tactics are nothing new to the game of bass fishing, this year I regained the confidence and joy of catching bass on smaller offerings. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-2016-icast-preview

2016 ICAST Preview

The doors to ICAST don’t open until next week, when everyone gets out on the showroom floor in Orlando, Fla., but there are already plenty of snippets of information available. FLW’s media crew will be there in full force to bring you coverage of the hottest new products, as well as the annual New Product Showcase awards. For now, take a gander at some of the early birds. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-07-flw-canada-kicks-off-at-tri-lakes

FLW Canada Kicks Off at Tri-Lakes

Among these Canadian all-stars was the eventual winning team of Chris Vandermeer of Peterborough and Jeff Slute of Millbrook. Capitalizing on a strong day one shallow-water smallmouth pattern, the duo took advantage of the slick-calm conditions using a silver-hued topwater popping plug to agitate the lake’s bronzebacks into attack. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-30-flw-tour-pro-cooksey-recovering-after-accident

FLW Tour Pro Cooksey Recovering After Accident

Walmart FLW Tour sophomore Dalton Cooksey of New Concord, Ky., is recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee following a single-car accident that took place Wednesday afternoon. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-30-flw-podcast-124-jeremy-lawyer

FLW Podcast 124 - Jeremy Lawyer

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-29-stetson-blaylock-s-recipe-for-a-wacky-rig

Stetson Blaylock’s Recipe for a Wacky Rig

From March until the end of the fishing season I’m going to have a wacky rig on deck. It’s a really effective way to fish anytime the fishing is tough, or if the fish are up cruising banks. Anytime fish are about 5 feet deep or less, I can catch them on the wacky rig. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-28-morgan-claims-third-flw-tour-angler-of-the-year-title

Morgan Claims third FLW Tour Angler of the Year Title

MINNEAPOLIS – Livingston Lures pro Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tennessee, added to his incredible fishing resume by winning his third Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year title Saturday at the FLW Tour's final 2016 regular-season event on Lake Champlain.... READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-24-three-things-by-dd-kentucky-lake

Three Things by DD: Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake did not go the way I intended. I was pumped and ready to rock out a top-20 finish. I had great expectations of myself, but nothing seemed to come together. Practice was dicey, but I thought for sure I could put something together to make the cut. That was until day one came, and the whole vibe of my day instantly went from eager to agitated. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-23-how-to-catch-smallmouths-with-hair-jigs

How to Catch Smallmouths with Hair Jigs

The “right” hair jig for smallmouths is a small 1/16- to 1/8-ounce marabou jig with a round or mushroom-shaped head. The jig is similar to marabou jigs used by crappie fishermen, but bass models will often have a larger, stronger hook and possibly a longer or thicker skirt. Naturally, anglers have their favorites, and there are subtle differences in jigs that make some better than others. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-22-two-exciting-events-to-look-forward-to

Two Exciting Events to Look Forward To

We are in the last stretch of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour. Awaiting us is the Lake Champlain tournament in just a few days. A couple of things will be settled there: the pro field for the Forrest Wood Cup and the Angler of the Year. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-21-tagging-along-with-sprague-in-kentucky

Tagging Along with Sprague in Kentucky

Through the first four events of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour season, Jeff Sprague finished inside the top 20 every time and challenged for the win at Beaver Lake. After stop No. 4 on Pickwick, Sprague took over the lead in the Angler of the Year race. This is the story of his first tournament as the AOY leader – stop No. 5 on Kentucky Lake. Currently, Sprague is preparing for the finale on Lake Champlain. He’s in second place in the AOY standings. READ MORE »