Shoot Docks For Sinclair Postspawn Crappie

The month of May is a time when Lake Sinclair crappie seek out shady boat docks. Shoot a jig under there and expect to get bit.

Brad Gill | May 1, 2001

There’s plenty of different techniques you can use to load up a stringer slap full of crappie — corked minnows, tight-lining, trolling, jigs, jigging spoons and probably even a few more that I haven’t tried. Last month on Lake Sinclair I got to learn a different and very enjoyable crappie-fishing technique — shooting docks.

Shooting a light-weight crappie jig under a boat dock is not new for some crappie fishermen, but it was for me, and I had a blast learning a new and very productive way to catch crappie. On April 5 I went to school with one of the best dock shooters on Lake Sinclair — Mike Hayes, of Warner Robins. Mike is a crappie-fishing veteran who’s been crappie fishing Sinclair since 1966 and has been shooting docks there since 1981. Needless to say, he had a wealth of information to share with me about how and where to shoot docks for Sinclair crappie in May.

May is the last month of spring and water temperatures begin to make a significant climb upward. Crappie are in a post-spawn pattern, and they start retreating to their cooler, summertime homes — deep-water boat docks.

Here are some of the Sinclair crappie that Mike and the author caught on their trip. They released at least this many. Shoot jigs under boat docks in May, and you to can expect to fill a stringer.

Mike says when water temperatures get above 70 degrees, you can start finding good schools of crappie under deep boat docks in the Oconee River between the mouth of Rooty and Crooked creeks. On that same stretch of the lake he’ll also fish the deeper creeks like Crooked, Rooty and Island. On the west side of the lake you’ll find good numbers of boat-dock crappie in the Little River and in Potato and Cedar creeks.

When I talked with Mike over the phone, I told him that I had never shot docks before, and he’d have to spend some time teaching me. When I met him at daylight at Lakeside Bait & Tackle he told me that he’d have me successfully shooting docks in a matter of minutes, and he wasn’t kidding. We pulled into the mouth of Rooty Creek, and he gave me some simple instructions about how easy it was to take a spinning rod, shoot a jig under a dock and pull out a crappie.

“Bring your jig down to the first eyelet up from the reel,” said Mike. “Click your bail and pin the line with the end of your right forefinger against the rod handle. Now grab the jig head with your left thumb and forefinger with the hook facing away from you. Pull the jig toward your stomach until it’s about a foot behind the rod handle. You want that good bend in the rod tip. That’s what’s going to get that jig way up under a dock. Now, keeping the jig and rod parallel to the water just let go of the jig and then the line.”

After three practice shots in open water I already had built up enough confidence that I was ready to shoot my first dock. Within minutes both of us had our first crappie of the morning. Both hit on a slow-falling, 1/32-oz. jig.

“I like using a jig called the Slab Slammer,” said Mike. “A friend of mine, Allan Brown from Warner Robins, makes them and they’re better for shooting docks than any jig I’ve ever used. He uses powder paint on the jig heads and then cooks them in the oven. This way they won’t chip every time you hit a dock.

“I really like the 1/32-oz. jig because it falls slower and stays in the strike zone a little longer. I’ll use different colors until I find just what they like. Both blue/pink and black/pink combinations seem to be good colors most of the time on Sinclair. Until you pinpoint a good color for that particular day try blue/black/blue, solid blue or red/pink/blue.”

On the day we fished the lake was low, and this made my first dock-shooting experience a more enjoyable one. I hit my share of docks, but most of my time was actually spent fishing under them and not smacking the sides. On days when the water level is up you’ve only got a few inches between the bottom of the dock and the surface. Mike assured me that these are the days that can be very frustrating. This is when some serious experience and practice can pay off.

“When I’m shooting a dock I like to fish it from several different angles,” said Mike. “The fish will be facing a certain way and sometimes the crappie just want that jig presented from one side. If I know I’m fishing a good dock, I’ll spend a little time and fish it from all sides until I find what the fish want.”

I actually saw this happen while we fished a dock in Crooked Creek. We had fished the dock from the front for a few minutes and the boat drifted around to one of the sides. We started shooting our jigs under the side boards and we quickly picked up about 10 fish. We would have boated a few more, but I missed a couple of strikes.

“A lot of times crappie will hit the jig as it slowly sinks and you can detect this by simply watching your line,” said Mike. “Sometimes you’ll just see a slight flick in your line, and that’s when you know to set the hook. Other times they don’t want the jig until it falls all the way to the bottom and you lift it back up. It just takes a little practice until you get better at what to look and feel for. When you find what the fish want, you have found what pattern is working for that particular day and you can quickly put some fish in the boat.”

When Mike shoots docks he prefers using something other than an ultra-light rod. He’ll use a rod with a light/medium action. These stiffer rods will shoot the jig farther and more effectively than if you were just using your ultra-light bream-fishing rod. Mike rigs his rod with either 4- or 6-lb. test line, depending on how much brush he’ll be shooting around.

“If you know a dock that has Christmas trees or some type of brush either around or beneath it, it’s a plus for catching crappie,” said Mike. “There’s a couple of different ways to find these particular docks. One, look for docks that have lights on them or maybe some rodholders attached to the railings. These dock owners usually are fishermen and have some of this fish-attracting structure below their dock.

“Another effective way to find the more productive docks on Sinclair is simply by doing your homework. I’ve been dock shooting on Sinclair for about 20 years and have fished plenty of docks. I’ve learned that there are docks that never hold crappie, sometimes hold crappie and there are those that always hold crappie. Finding these docks helps me eliminate the non-productive docks, and I can spend more time catching fish.

“It’s so important to know your docks. Since crappie will sometimes change depths on a day-to-day basis you need to be able quickly pinpoint a particular pattern and then move to those specific docks where you know that pattern will be effective and you can catch fish. For example, when you fish a high-pressure day the fish will go to the bottom. That’s when I’ll search out docks in the 10- to 12-foot range. When water is being generated the fish move up to the surface and I’ll fish docks not as deep.”

Mike’s advice in May for the first-time dock shooter is to fish the areas mentioned earlier, get on the trolling motor and just go. You’ll quickly find the deeper, more shaded docks are the ones you’ll get hit on most. You may find some docks in only a few feet of water. You’ll know next time to go right on past these and to the next good dock. Take a map and take notes to help you remember which docks are the more productive ones.

When I fished with Mike we caught more than 100 crappie in less than a full day of fishing, and some of these were in the 1 1/2-lb. range. Mike assured me that those in the 2-lb. range won’t be uncommon this month.

“May is the best month for crappie fishing on Sinclair,” said Mike. “Water temperatures are getting warm enough where these fish will start to leave the shallows and head out to the summer docks. The post-spawn will be here and these fish will be ready to slam these jigs.”

When we shot docks in early April the crappie were not yet on a deep-water pattern. However, crappie were already congregating under boat docks, but they were more scattered and much more shallow. We caught the majority of them fishing under shallow boat docks back in the creeks. Don’t be surprised if during the first part of May, especially if we have a few cold fronts, that the fish can still be caught under these shallower docks. As water temperatures begin to climb toward that 70-degree range back off and start looking for the big schools to move into their summer homes — deep-water boat docks.

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