It’s hard to not start this article with “I remember when.” However, I remember when the best fishermen on the lake were bass fishermen. We all wanted to be those guys with the Ranger boats and 100 rods. Tackle boxes overflowing and the cool shirts with logos on them. Times it seems have changed. Crappie fishermen, it seems, hold those ranks today.
I had the chance this month to fish with Richard Malcom, local guide and tournament angler, who lives in Buckhead. Richard, like me, has fished Oconee and Sinclair all his life. He just chases a different fish. We got to talking one afternoon after being introduced to each other by his tournament partner and a friend of mine, Joey Dickens. Richard assured me he could show me how to shoot docks and put good crappie in the boat without the need for the latest and greatest technology.
Well, we met up right after the rain stopped on a Thursday afternoon. Launched the boat over at Sugar Creek Marina and never got above the 44 bridge, my friends. After just a short run, Richard pulled up to a dock and rigged up his rod of preference. A 6-foot medium light action Todd Huckabee crappie rod with a 25 series reel and 4-pound test high visibility line on it. His lure of choice is a 1/24th ounce Jiffy Jig with a little bit of Slabslobber on it (a product Richard makes).
The key to dock shooting, while not complicated, is difficult to grasp at first. Keep your rod parallel to the water, pulling the jig back toward the reel. Bend it enough to get the distance you need, start with the jig at the largest guide, and pull it back from there. Learn to adjust the angle of approach by adjusting the position of the hand holding the jig, all while remembering to let go of the line a split second after releasing the jig. When you manage to get these all lined up and properly executed, the jig will disappear under the dock and go way back in there where few have gone before it seems. But wait — there’s more. The retrieve. Once you manage to get the jig back under the dock, you must retrieve it correctly. It’s a slow, steady retrieve after counting down the lure to the desired depth. That’s all fine but here’s the hard part. Feeling the bite. It ain’t gonna happen, my friend. You got to watch that high vis line. When you SEE that line jump you better swing. Hit him because he’s got it. The way they feed you won’t necessarily ever feel him bite the jig, the crappie will swim up, take the jig, and keep going up for a bit. All you will see is the line jump.
First dock we came to, Richard rigged up and shot back underneath it a good eight feet to the center of the dock. He didn’t turn the reel twice before he had a nice crappie on. Crappie landed in the livewell and Richard shot again. Another crappie. Now, I’m not a smart guy but I sensed a pattern starting so I proceeded to learn how to do this so I can catch a fish. True to my form, the first fish I caught doing this — a bass. Yep. Shooting docks with a tournament crappie angler and my first catch is a largemouth bass. After some more coaching and getting the retrieve down, I managed to finally get in the battle and land some crappie. In the span from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. after almost eight inches of rain that week, we caught around 40 crappie and kept a mess of 20.
Now, here’s the details on how to get started with this technique. If you already do this, I am sure you will have things you want to add to my list but if you are fresh out and just getting started this is a basic list and how to.
- Rod is important. You need a medium light to medium rod with a deep action. You don’t have to spend $90. A Shakespeare or Berkley rod works just fine. According to Richard, you will break a few learning to do this. I can see how easily.
- Reel. A 25 to 30 series reel is best. The reason for a larger reel is line memory and the ease of the line coming off the spool. When you shoot the line back under the dock you need it to come off without twisting and tangling and the larger spool helps with that.
- Line. For starters begin with 4-pound test and HI-Vis. Since with this technique you are not so much feeling a bite but seeing the line jump, you need to be able to actually see it. Berkley makes a good Hi-Vis yellow for instance and even an orange.
- Jigs. Jiffy Jig makes a 1/24and most other manufacturers apparently make a 1/32. Those are the best sizes according to Richard to shoot for beginners. Lighter or heavier and it changes the workings of the whole system it appears. Colors though are not a huge concern for Richard. It’s just the size.
- Boat. You can do this off anything with a bit of creativity. Richard runs an Xpress bay boat and I run a Robalo bay boat. If I stand in the cockpit area, I can get low enough to shoot under these docks.
- Trolling motors. This is important. Boat control is key here. Spot lock certainly helps here and paying close attention to the wind, so you are not blown into a dock are important.
- Electronics. All you really need for this is a map. Richard likes docks for the majority of the year that are 12’ deep or deeper and close to deeper water. So look for ditches, creeks, and channels that run into coves or the main lake. Also, the lower the dock the darker it will be under it. Crappie are light sensitive and will be under the DARKER docks.
There you have it. A 12-month program that you can catch crappie on without spending thousands on new electronics. Go out and catch yourself a fish fry!
Outdoors columnist James Pressley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .