Dock-Shot Sinclair Crappie

Ronnie Garrison | May 1, 2006

If you think crappie fishing is a matter of dragging dozens of jigs behind a boat on a spider rig or drowning minnows straight under the boat, you will be surprised at the fast action and fun of shooting docks. May is a good month to land a mess of crappie to eat, and Lake Sinclair is hard to beat as the place to catch them with this method.

Sinclair is a good lake for crappie year- round, and May is no exception. The fish have spawned and are moving out toward deep water, holding under docks and feeding. Good docks for crappie fishing are all over the lake, from the dam to the upper ends of every creek. And since Sinclair is a Georgia Power lake where the water levels don’t fluctuate, docks are built on posts, not on floats, and crappie love that kind of vertical cover. Add in all the brushpiles under and around many of the docks, and you have the recipe for excellent crappie fishing.

Corey New was born and raised in Baldwin County and fished its ponds and creeks all his life with his father Randy. Six years ago when he was only 16, Corey bought a boat and started fishing Sinclair a lot. He learned to shoot docks for crappie with some friends and now spends many hours a week catching crappie that way from April through May.

Working part time at Baynes Army Store in Milledgeville keeps Corey in touch with area hunters and fishermen, and he gets daily information on what is going on at the lake. Corey also goes to Georgia College in Milledgeville where he is a senior majoring in biology. He has an internship with Georgia Power, and working in biolo- gy will be his career — as long as he has time to fish and hunt.

Corey took me to Sinclair on an overcast Wednesday in mid-April to show me how he shoots docks for crappie. I had never fished this way before, but his instructions quickly had me getting my jig close to where the crappie were holding. Corey can shoot a jig many feet back under a dock, and he caught about four crappie to every one I caught. In our three-hour fishing trip we kept 19 eating-sized crappie and let about a dozen more go that were a little small for the frying pan.

He may be young in years, but he’s not short on experience when it comes to catching Sinclair crappie. College student Corey New of Milledgeville shows off three-hours worth of dock shooting at Lake Sinclair two weeks ago.

For shooting docks Corey uses a short, stiff spinning rod. He has not been able to find a rod just right for him, so he broke the tip off a Power Pro rod right at the top guide. It looks a little funny fishing with a rod with no tip on it, but it works great for Corey. The rod has a small Zebco Micro spinning reel loaded with 4-lb. Big Game line on it. The short, stiff rod, small reel and light line are keys to making the jig shoot right.

Corey says a rod with a light tip that flexes a lot, bouncing up and down when the jig is shot toward the dock, will make your efforts inaccurate. Since you are often trying to get the jig back under a dock with only a couple of inches of space between the wood and the water, you have to be accurate.

A small Gotcha tube jig is threaded on a 1/32-oz. jig head, and Corey says the tube covering the head of the jig is important. It skips much better than one with the head exposed, meaning he can get the jig much farther under the dock. Often the jig will have to hit the water just in front of the dock and skip back under it when there is just a little opening you need to go through.

No matter what the water color, Corey likes a white tube with a little chartreuse in the tail. He says that color works all the time for him, and he will use straight white when he can’t find tubes with the tips of the tail colored chartreuse. You can dip the tail in dye like JJ’s Magic if you can’t find jigs with the tails already colored this way.

There are some keys to good dock fishing in May at Sinclair. A sunny day is best because it forces the crappie to hold under the docks instead of scattering out like they do on cloudy days. The day we fished was bright but overcast, so it was not perfect. Some of the fish we caught, especially the ones I caught with my amateur shooting, were holding right at the front of the docks. Even on our overcast day the bigger fish seemed to be farther back in the shade. On cloudy days the fish will often roam and won’t be under the docks as good.

Water level is important, too. If the lake is full, there is not enough room between many docks and the water to shoot under them. If the lake is much more than a foot low, the gap is too big and allows too much light to get under the dock, driving the crappie to the darkest part of the shade under the dock and making them harder to get. Water levels between six inches and one-foot low are just right.

Dock location is something else Corey keys on. He hashis best luck fishing docks back in creeks and deep pockets, not on the main lake. Docks in three to 10 feet are where Corey catches most of his May crappie, and he will run about two-thirds of the way back into creeks before starting to fish. The crappie have come off the beds and are moving out this month, but they are still back in the creeks.

Current helps make the fish bite better under the docks, and dropping water when Georgia Power is pulling water is best. Rising water does not seem to make the fish bite as well. Wind is more important to the fisherman than the fish, in Corey’s opinion. It makes boat position and jig control harder but does not seem to affect the fish one way or the other.

To shoot a dock, Corey positions his boat 10- to 20-feet away. He grabs the jig by the head with about half a rod length of line hanging from the tip. Some folks pull the jig to the side, but Corey likes the jig pulled down under the rod. He pulls the tip down and aims, pointing the rod tip where he wants the jig to go, then he lets the jig go. It takes a good bit of practice to get accurate, but if you try it, you can usu- ally learn to get the jig back under docks with some space under them without much trouble.

Try to make the jig hit the water just in front of the dock and skip under it. I was using jigs with exposed heads, and they did not skip very well, and that made it more difficult for me. Skip the jig back under the dock and hit all areas. Usually the crappie will be holding near the posts, but some- times they will be in the middle, especially if there is brush under the dock. Concentrate on the posts, but pay attention to where the crappie are biting. You can often establish a pattern to where they are holding under the docks.

Corey’s preferred jig for shooting docks is a 1/32-oz. Gotcha tube jig, and the only color he uses on Sinclair is white with a chartreuse tail.

Corey starts retrieving the jig immediately, keeping it near the sur- face. Crappie will come up a little way for a jig, but seldom if ever will they hit a jig lower than where they are holding. Start reeling your jig as soon as it stops, and use little twitches of the tip to make it dart.

Pontoon boats under docks or even beside them often hold crappie if they have been sitting in the water a long time. The algae that grows on the floats attracts the baitfish, and the crappie feed on them. It is fairly easy to shoot under a pontoon boat, and you should keep your jig near a float and near the surface.

It is extremely important to watch your line. Corey says you will seldom feel the crappie hit your jig. Watch for a twitch or side movement in your line, and set the hook. On our trip, Corey had caught several crappie and I had not hooked a single fish when he told me about watching your line. I was expecting to feel a thump when the fish hit. I started watching my line and immediately started catching fish.

When you see your line move, set the hook and reel fast. You have to get the crappie out from under the dock and away from posts, brush, hanging ropes and minnow buckets. Crappie don’t fight real hard, but on light tackle they can wrap you up if you don’t get them out quickly.

Any dock on Sinclair can hold crappie, but Corey likes the bigger ones that have more shade. A big boathouse is good if there is room to get a jig under the doors. Open docks with two or more stalls and several walkways are good. Start back in the creeks, and fish these kinds of boat docks in three to 10 feet of water for the best results.

If you fish docks at Sinclair, you will start to find some that hold more crappie than others, and you will develop favorite docks and areas to fish. A dock will often hold a big school of crappie, and Corey will make repeated shots to each dock, especially if he catches a fish. One to three fish from a dock is the usual, but if you catch three from one dock, concentrate on it. There is probably a big school of crappie, and sometimes you can catch a lot more.

Crappie move around under the docks and move in and out from them, too. They also turn on and off feeding at times. Corey will hit a dock where he catches crappie many times, fishing down a line of docks and then turning and coming back up the same docks. You are not going to catch all the fish from under a dock, but don’t be too much of a fish hog on one dock. Don’t try to catch every fish out of a school, and leave the little ones to grow.

You will lose a lot of jigs shooting docks. Sometimes you can get hung jigs back, but a jig hung way back under a dock is going to stay there. Carry a good supply, you don’t want to run out and end your trip early.

You will also lose some jigs to fish that make you say, “What was THAT?” Bass, catfish, hybrids, stripers and even carp will all hit these small jigs. When you hang a big bass under a dock, it is most likely going to wrap you up and break you off. Catfish and carp will often run out from under the dock, and you can fight them in open water. Corey has caught some big cats and carp this way. When you hook one, just enjoy the fight, even if it doesn’t last too long.

Corey says pontoon boats at Sinclair are great places to find crappie in May. Algae grows on the pontoons of boats that haven’t been used recently, and that attracts baitfish, which in turn attracts and holds crappie.

If you don’t get enough fishing during the day shooting docks, Corey says May is also a good month to catch crappie at night. He has a small Honda generator and a 1,000-watt light he uses for night fishing. Anchor your boat in 25 to 30 feet of water out on a point, and turn on your light. It will attract the baitfish that bring in the crappie. You can often see the crappie holding down 10 to 12 feet suspended under the bait. Drop your bait down to that depth, and you can catch them on minnows or jigs.

The day we fished we came back to the dock at Little River Marina to get a stringer to put the fish on for pictures. A man watching us asked how we caught them, and Corey showed  him how to shoot the jig. On his first shot under the dock at the marina, Corey caught a small bass. I think that showed the people watching how effective this method is.

Shooting docks at Sinclair for crappie is an exciting way to catch fish. You are actively fishing, not just sitting back waiting on a bite. And the action is fast. We often caught two or three crappie back-to-back on our trip.

Head to Sinclair this month with a good supply of jigs, try Corey’s methods of shooting docks, then you can fry up the results for some of the best-eating fish in Georgia.

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