Shoot Docks For Jackson Crappie

If you want to learn the productive and fun technique for crappie — shooting docks — Lake Jackson is your training course.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | May 1, 2002

There are two keys to successful “dock shooting” — the crappie-fishing technique that involves using your fishing pole like a catapult to fire a crappie jig into shady crevices under docks. One key is shooting accuracy, the other is hook-setting skill. You can practice the first without even going to the lake — shooting jigs under obstacles in your living room, for instance. But the best place to learn the second part is a lake where your chances of getting bites once you make the shot are high.

“Lake Jackson is an excellent lake for someone who wants to learn to shoot docks,” said Steve Deason. “To start with, you can catch good numbers of fish, which is going to help you build your confidence in this method and learn how to watch your line and see the hits. You’re not going to catch a lot of big fish at Jackson, but the numbers are there. And also important is that 99 percent of the docks on this lake are floating docks. You’ll see why that’s a good thing.”

Steve, who is from Gray, cut his dock-shooting teeth on Jackson’s floating docks more than 12 years ago. He had been a devout troller at the time, but a friend introduced him to dock shooting. Trolling is still an important tactic for Steve when it comes to tournaments, but shooting docks is a favored method. With his partner, Rick Howard, Steve has won South Bend Fishing in America crappie tournaments four times over the past five years, and the two have qualified for numerous regional and classic tournaments.

Steve Deason holds a stringer of Lake Jackson crappie caught on April 10, 2002 from under boat docks and pontoon boats.

Steve won the Georgia Trollers Classic Championship in 2000 with partner Terry Talcott, and he also won several local club tournaments on lakes Oconee and Sinclair in 2001 and 2002. For the past five years, tournament fishing has kept Steve busy all over the Southeast, but he still manages to keep up with the best docks on Lake Jackson. He took me on a tour of those docks on April 10.

Despite working full time at Robbins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Steve operates a fishing shop devoted to crappie anglers out of his home — appropriately named “The Crappie Shop.” If it catches crappie, Steve carries it in every color and size imaginable. He even outfits boats for fishermen in his spare time, wiring in “Auto Pilot” devices for trolling motors and constructing arrays of rod holders for the custom crappie chaser. Steve’s own boat, a deep-hulled Statos 219 walleye-style boat, is fully rigged, of course. On the day I fished with him, though, the rod holders had been removed. Despite overcast skies, we were shooting docks.

“We need some sun,” Steve said. “There’s not a lot of reason for the crappie to be under the docks when it’s shady everywhere. The sun makes them head for any shade they can find, and the best shade, of course, is under docks.”

Nevertheless, we caught crappie, which makes me wonder how good a sunny day must be. Steve had gone out by himself on Sunday, April 7 to test the waters and had caught 85 fish (most were released), 37 of them from under one dock. Our overcast day ended with 60 fish, a 2-man limit.

One of the first things I learned is that the term “dock shooting” can be misleading — that’s because if you shoot only docks and pass up any pontoon boats that are tied to them, you have missed half the crappie. We found as much action, probably a little more, in the dark areas under pontoon boats as we did under docks.

Steve’s advice on how to go about shooting a dock begins before you pick up the fishing rod.

“When you idle toward a dock, approach it so that you can scan underneath the dock and see the structure,” he said. “This way you know where the darkest areas are and you can see any obstacles that might be underneath.”

The darkest parts of the underside of a dock or pontoon boat are always the most likely to hold crappie. Shelter and shade is why the fish are there. This is where the “shooting” part comes in — firing the jig through gaps between dock floats, between the water and dock boards, between the pontoon and the lower unit of the outboard on a boat, targets that are often only inches wide.

The dark shade under a parked pontoon boat is an excellent spot to catch crappie in May, provided you can hit the hole.

Steve always shoots docks with a 5-foot, 3-inch Silstar Lexus rod. He usually pairs it with a Lew’s or Shimano spinning reel. Whatever rod you use, it needs to have backbone — a flimsy rod won’t throw a jig far enough. He spools 4-lb. test line, which is fine for Jackson. On lakes with more brush and more wooden docks with crossbeams, 6-lb. test is better. He shoots home-tied chenille hair-jigs in 1/24-oz. size or a Triple Tail grub on a 1/32-oz. jig head.

To get ready to shoot, Steve reels the jig in, leaving a couple of feet of spare line. If you hold the rod straight up, you want to leave enough line out so that your jig hangs to just between the first eye of the rod and the reel. He grabs the head of the jig between his thumb and index finger with the hook curving up. He approaches the dock to within five or 10 feet, then kneels or bends over to hold the rod close and parallel to the water’s surface. Holding the rod out, he will pull the jig back past the rod handle.

“You want to get the jig under there with a little bit of authority,” he said.

The part that comes next is harder to describe — that’s the part where you release the jig and then, shortly thereafter, the line, so that the jig doesn’t shoot straight down into the water and it doesn’t shoot clear over the dock. The idea is for it to parallel the water and go through a small opening back into shadows under a dock or pontoon boat.

Steve’s hand-ties chenille jigs. The black/white/white and red/yellow/chartreuse were our best for Lake Jackson crappie.

The thought that kept coming into my head as I tried to learn a method for making the jig do this consistently was “use the force, Luke!” I found that the more I consciously focused on timing the release of the jig to hit the target, the further I came from hitting it. Truthfully, as the day wore on, I made my best dock shots with a very simple technique — I focused my eyes on the hole I was aiming for and gave no thought to what my hands were doing.

So, you made a good shot — the next thing to remember is another of Steve’s rules: don’t close the bail on your spinning reel by reeling. Close the bail by flipping it shut with your hand.

“When you close the bail by reeling, you’re pulling out some of the line that you’ve worked so hard to get in there,” said Steve.

Now, with his jig in the water far back under the dock, Steve lets it fall, and he raises the rod tip so that he can both hold the line taut and see it at the same time.

“Never, ever take your eyes off that line,” he said. “Don’t rely on feel. Keep your rod tip up and watch the line for a twitch, or watch for it to stop. When it stops, it’s either in his mouth or on the bottom.”

Although I caught a few crappie that I hooked because I felt a single, light tap on the line, others I caught when I saw the line stop. Most of the docks we fished were in deep water, and when the line stops falling long before the jig can be on the bottom, you know it’s a fish. Whether you feel the tap or see the line stop or move, it’s going to be subtle, so pay attention. You won’t feel weight load up on the line, but the fish will be there when you set the hook.

Steve works the jig back toward the boat with a slight bump-and-drop retrieve, pulling the jig by raising the rod rather than reeling. As it gets to the bottom, he then reels it back slowly, twitching it the whole way.

When fishing a dock, Steve works every angle, side and hole he can find to shoot. Most pontoon boats are tied up with the motor facing the lake, which is the better end to shoot, said Steve. The opening at the front of a pontoon boat is easier to shoot because it’s higher and wider and not blocked by a motor, but this also means that more light gets in. However, we caught fish anyway shooting the front of pontoon boats, so don’t pass them up.

After we had fished a dozen docks, Steve reminded me of the advantage of floating docks that he wanted to show me — he pointed out that we had not broken off a single jig yet. With no crossbeams under the docks, and with no brush piled under pontoon boats, there is little except fish to hang up on underneath Jackson’s docks.

WD grubs and Triple Tail grubs in some favorite Lake Jackson colors.

On the day I fished with Steve, we hit nearly 30 of Steve’s favorite docks, what he calls his “circuit.”

One of Steve Deason’s rules of dock shooting is showing respect for the dock owner. He won’t fish a dock if someone is on the dock when he stops by. If he gets a jig hung on a dock or on a chair or other item, he will break off rather than step onto the homeowner’s dock, or risk pulling something off the dock into the lake.

Steve said that dock-shooting at Jackson will remain good until the water temperature rises into the lower 80s, making most fish seek deeper, cooler water, but until then the action will be hot. Your best plan is to try to go on a weekday, if possible. There will be fewer wakes from pleasure boaters, fewer fishermen, and most pontoon boats will be tied up at the docks for you to fish.

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