Jul 10, 2018

Fishing Docks for Bass

Insider tricks and tips to target bass hiding in the shade 

By Glenn Walker

Whether it is a lake or river, there is a common element of fish-holding cover that lines the shorelines…yes, boat docks. These man-made, fish-holding creations offer bass many things, which is why bass will hold on them throughout the year. Most bass anglers target bass underneath or around these structures. While some of those casts may be random, there are some boat dock myths and tricks I can share with you.

Many times a bass angler fishing boat docks will cruise by the front side of the docks and make casts to the openings most accessible. Sometimes they will slow down and fish the sides of that dock. One area that should always be fished on a boat dock is the area located directly beneath the walk way of the dock.

The reason for this is the area doesn’t get targeted by anglers as frequently as the other areas of the dock, resulting in less pressured bass. These areas are also productive for holding bass because the surface area above the bass provides a great deal of shade, giving them cooler water temperatures and prime opportunities to ambush its prey.

To fish these walkways, you’ll need to rely heavily upon your equipment to not disrupt those bass, along with not disturbing the lake owner’s property. I will keep my trolling motor on a low speed to sneak up on the bass and keep me in complete control of my boat. Then once I’m within good casting distance and have the angle I want, I’ll deploy my dual Minn Kota Talon shallow water anchors. By doing this, my boat will stay in one spot, allowing me to focus on making precise casts and keeping my boat from coming in contact with the boat docks surrounding me. With the new 15-foot Talons, I can hold in place around docks in deeper water.


Consider water depth

Many times it is imperative to be quiet when targeting boat docks for bass, as the shallow water means these fish sometimes can be spooked much more easily. But other times the bass that inhabit boat docks on boat traffic-heavy bodies of water are so used to noise that if it’s too quiet, they know something is up. As a result, they often aren’t looking to feed, but instead are on the lookout for things out of the ordinary.

That being said, I’m not saying to go bank your jig off of the pontoon on the boat lift or to rev your outboard. What I am saying is that making normal movements in your boat is fine and sometimes needed to mask the silence and calmness of the water surrounding the dock.

The water depth around and underneath a boat dock plays a huge role if bass will inhabit a boat dock and yes, many times docks with deeper water underneath are usually more productive than docks over little to no water. This isn’t always true – sometimes bass only need mere inches of water to live, and with the overhead cover a boat dock provides, shallow water underneath boat docks isn’t bad.

If you do determine bass are using boat docks located in shallow water, you want to change up your presentation so it makes less of a splash as it enters the water. For me this is when a wacky rigged stick bait is a great option, such as Zoom Fluke Stick Jr, rigged on a 2/0 Lazer TroKar TK97 Wacky Worm hook.

Some anglers get frustrated after not catching any bass or a quality-sized bass after only fishing a few docks. This is a common feeling by many bass anglers, but don’t let this feeling drive you away from the docks. Many times it takes a string of boat docks – all depending on the lake, it could be three to four or it may take 10 to 20 docks – just to get a good sense of the dock bite on that lake.

Anglers also need to understand that revisiting a productive dock run or single dock throughout the day isn’t a bad idea. This is because if a dock is holding bass, there is a reason for that and bass will repopulate under that dock, or the other bass under that dock when you caught your initial bass were spooked off. Lastly, depending on the time of day, bass will use docks more or less depending on the sunlight, water temperatures and boat traffic on that lake.


Finding the right jig

To aid in the ability to better skip your jig underneath a boat dock and get it way back there, you need to select a jig that has a flat spot on its head. To eliminate the drag your lure has on the water and increase the distance you can put it underneath the dock, use a smaller size trailer that has few appendages.

My go-to dock fishing jig is a 3/8-ounce Skip-N’ Jig, either black/blue or green pumpkin with a Zoom Super Chunk Jr. trailer. What I like about this jig is that its head design lets the jig skip across the water’s surface easily and slide way up underneath a boat dock.

The majority of the time when I’m fishing boat docks, I’m flipping a jig, so I have a set up just for that as it allows me to make accurate flips and skips into the openings of the dock. But equally important is the rod’s ability to detect a light bite from a bass and then get a solid hook into the bass’s mouth, followed by turning their head so they don’t have the ability to wrap themselves around the dock poles or supports.

Besides targeting bass underneath the boat docks with a soft plastic stickbait or a jig, many times bass will position their head right on the edge of the dock, or shade cast down on the water from the dock, just waiting to ambush an unsuspecting meal.

Some productive ways to target these bass include using moving baits that mimic the food bass are feeding upon around the docks, and many times this is bluegill or small baitfish.

Early in the morning or late in the day is prime time to retrieve a walk-the-dog plug parallel to the dock’s perimeter, as a big bass will explode on it thinking it’s a distressed bluegill on the water’s surface. Just because it is high noon doesn’t mean you need to put down that topwater – if there’s a good amount of shade along that dock, a topwater bite is still a good possibility.

If the bass are suspended alongside or underneath that dock, fishing a jerkbait alongside it with long pauses to encourage a bite is a great way to milk a few more fish off that hot dock you just found. This pattern comes into play early in the year and then again in early fall as big balls of bait will hold around key docks on a lake. For me the Rapala Shadow Rap in the shallow version has been great for targeting these bass, as I can cast it with ease and its unique action in the water column calls bass in from underneath the dock.

Many times the cover in the immediate vicinity of the boat dock is vegetation and the bass will move back and forth from the protection of the boat dock to the nearby vegetation. To effectively target these roaming bass, I like to use a ¼-ounce swim jig with a Zoom UV Speed Craw or Z-Craw Jr. trailer, in either a white color scheme or bluegill pattern with a green pumpkin trailer, as these color combinations mimic shad and bluegills up shallow.

Another great bait option for fishing around boat docks and the shallow cover that surrounds them is a buzzbait. For one, it’s effective when fishing around submerged and emergent vegetation; and two, it’s distinct noise will bring bass out from underneath a boat dock.

My favorite way to use a buzzbait is as a search lure to determine where the bass are positioned on the cover you are fishing. Making parallel casts to the cover will keep your bait in the strike zone longer and increase the number of strikes you will get.

Deciding on the weight of a buzzbait depends on the activity level of the bass, how far a cast you need to make, and what the bass are feeding on. I use a 3/8-ounce buzzbait in white, black or the War Eagle Buzz Toad in Grey Ghost. 

At the heart of summer, the time to chase bass under and around boat docks is upon bass anglers, so be sure to scout them using your electronics and mapping chip to identify the docks with deeper water.

One way I’m able to quickly identify potential areas on the lake or river that may have productive docks is to look at my ScoutLook Fishing app. By using the app on my phone, I’m able to see what direction the wind is blowing, at what speed, and how that’s going to change over the course of the day.


Glenn Walker has been fishing tournaments for over 10 years, spreading his passion and knowledge of the sport through articles and video. He keeps busy fishing events across Minnesota and on the Mississippi River. For more information, check out glennwalkerfishing.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/glennwalkerfishing.