Shoot-Up Sinclair Crappie in May

Postspawn crappie stack up under boat docks on Sinclair this month. Here's how to "shoot" jigs way under those docks to catch fish.

Nick Carter | April 27, 2011

Ricky Willis, of Gray, shoots a jig into the darkest shade of a Sinclair dock.

Shooting-up crappie can be the quickest and easiest way to fill a limit. Following the spawn, when the fish pack-in under docks like canned sardines, they are hungry. Getting a bait into the deepest, darkest recesses beneath a dock is the only thing standing between the angler and a mess of crappie.

And if you’re fishing Lake Sinclair in May, you better have some dock-shooting skills. The trolling bite on Sinclair ends early on Sinclair each spring, which means most of the best fishing will be found under docks starting in April and lasting well into the summer.

Ricky Willis, of Gray, is a tournament angler who along with his partner Troy Thiel, of Gordon, just came off a big win at the Georgia Slab Masters State Championship Classic at Blackshear in April. In high winds, Ricky and Troy caught their fish shooting mid-lake docks on Blackshear. So the windy mid-April day he spent on Sinclair with a writer in the boat must have been good practice before he went to Blackshear.

“Dock shooting usually kicks off sooner on this lake than any other lake in Georgia,” Ricky said as he battled gusting winds to keep us lined up parallel to and about 5 feet off a shallow dock. “We’re catching fish on this lake in January dock shooting.”

We were fishing a pocket up the Little River arm, hoping to get out of the worst of the wind and catch a few fish. Ricky said he has a milk-run of docks he usually hits as the crappie come off the beds and stage up under docks, but the priority that day was to get out of the wind. His milk-run wouldn’t have been much use for a May pattern, anyway. The fish on Sinclair will have moved deeper by the time you read this.

“The last full moon in April will probably be the end of the spawn this year, and then the fish will start moving out to the main-river docks,” he said.

The water temperature was 68 degrees the afternoon we fished, and the crappie were in pockets under shallow docks. By the time water temperatures stabilize in the 70s, the fish will be out on the main river under docks with 12 or 15 feet of water underneath. Ricky said he spends most of his time up the Oconee River in May and June. He’ll be fishing docks off the river channel on the east bank, where the water is deepest.

Ricky hauls out the first of multiple crappie from the same spot.

After striking out at the first dock, Ricky eased the boat up to another one that had three lights mounted just off the water and rod holders lining the rail. Obviously the dock of a fisherman.

“You see those cypresses up there in the yard?” he asked. “Well, they’re all out in front of this dock. We saw them put them in here.”

Lights and rod holders are good indicators there will be structure placed in and around a dock. Also, old docks have more algae which attracts more baitfish and more crappie.

“I probably catch more fish off of old docks,” Ricky said, “but I’ve also pulled up and caught limits off of brand-new docks.”

Floating docks and docks with posts, both will hold fish, but sometimes floating docks can be tougher to shoot. Ricky likes big docks and boat houses because they provide plenty of shade. This month, shade and proximity to deeper water will be what crappie are looking for.

“They’ll be close to the river channel where they can drop off into deeper water when it gets hot,” Ricky said. “Mornings and evenings will be good. They’ll be up under those docks to feed and get out of the sun. And then, when it gets real hot, they’ll drop off into that river channel.”

Pinching his jig between the thumb and index finger of his left hand, Ricky leaned forward in his chair and pulled the jig back about even with the reel in his right hand to load a deep downward bend in the rod. He released the jig, propelling it forward with the force of the straightening rod. A split-second later he released the line to spool off the reel. The jig shot into the 1 1/2-foot gap between the dock and the water and landed out of sight in the darkness way up under the dock.

“They’re always in the darkest spot under the dock,” said Ricky as he let his jig fall, giving it a little wiggle with his rod tip.

Ricky holds up a pair of slabs. He said it has been an excellent year so far for numbers and size on Sinclair and predicts a good season of dock shooting.

Ricky described his technique as a slow fall. He works the jig, letting it fall and wiggling it a little as he reels. Troy, his tournament partner, prefers a steady retrieve. Ricky said it works out pretty well that way because they’ve got all their bases covered.

A second later he set the hook, and a good 3/4-lb. crappie came splashing on the surface to the boat. With Ricky out-catching me nine-to-one, we caught 10 crappie from under that one dock. He deftly pitched the five or six keepers toward the back of the boat, where I had the lid to the livewell open. Rarely did he even need the lid as a backboard.

From dock to dock, as Ricky continued outfishing me, I adjusted to his style of retrieve and still wasn’t catching many fish.

“Change your jig,” Ricky advised. “I’m fishing a 1/24 (oz.). You’ve got on a 1/32. In this wind, you’ll need something a little heavier, something to keep it down.

“I usually fish with a 1/24. It’s the best all-around. I’ll fish it until summertime when the fish get a lot less active. Then I’ll switch to a 1/32 because it falls a lot slower.”

I dug into a a plastic bag full of cards lined with crappie jigs. Ricky ties and sells his own jigs called Sugar Bug’s. He decided on the name because that’s what his wife calls their grandchildren. He pours his own heads on Sickle Hooks and ties them with feather tails and either chenille or soft-plastic bodies. He said plastic bodies seem to be better for postspawn crappie.

I found the 1/24-oz. jigs but couldn’t decide on a color. I asked Ricky his preference.

“Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “Color doesn’t mean a lot to me. I think it’s more presentation than color. If I had to pick a favorite color, it’s black/white/yellow. Just to make sure, I’ll swap it up sometimes, but sometimes I’ll get it in my head that there just ain’t no sense in doing it.”

In support of his opinion on colors, Ricky fished orange/green/chartreuse as well as several other color combinations. I alternated between several color combos of pink, brown, chartreuse, orange and green as I left about half a card of jigs under docks. None of them seemed to outproduce any other… except for the one Ricky happened to be shooting at the time.

With 4-lb. test line that sees a lot of abrasion from dock posts and brush, a net is a good thing to have for some of the bigger fish.

At one dock on the outside of a small point, Ricky seemed to take a little extra care lining the boat up before shooting his jig. On the first shot, he pulled in a crappie that easily broke the 1-lb. mark. Although Sinclair is not known for its big slab crappie like nearby Lake Oconee, there are some good fish lurking under these docks. Ricky caught several in the 1- to 1 1/2-lb. range while we were out, and three of them came from that one particular dock.

“This is one of the best docks on the lake. It has been for years,” he said. “In fact, it used to be even better before they built that boat house on it. Normally, when they have big fish, they always have big fish. I guess it’s got something to do with some sort of structure under the water we can’t see.”

On the flip-side, some docks in the right places with the right structure can seem barren. That isn’t necessarily because they are bad docks.

We pulled up on a closed-in boat house that Ricky said was usually a good one. We zeroed. Then we proceeded to two more docks on the same stretch of bank and caught nothing.

“I believe somebody has beat us to those,” Ricky said as he hoisted the trolling motor and went to crank the big motor. “It takes them a while to fill up again, but they’ll be back. Catch every single one until they won’t bite any more, come back the next morning, and they’ll be back. I’ve fished one in the morning, come back in the afternoon and caught fish again.

“Get (your jig) in the right location. If you think the fish are there but they’re not biting, twitch it a little. If they still won’t bite it, you can go on to the next dock ’cause they ain’t there.”

Occasionally while going on to the next dock on the trolling motor, Ricky would make a long cast out to the side and reel it back in. He wasn’t trying to catch a fish, he was tightening the line on his spool. He said when the line is wound on the reel without slack, it comes off more smoothly when you shoot a jig.

We hopped over to the next pocket and got back on the fish. By this point, the livewell was filling with fish, we had released more than we had kept, and the qualifications for a keeper had become very selective. I was already looking at more fish than I wanted to clean.

At a well-maintained dock a man was working in his immaculate yard. When he saw us pulling fish from under his dock, he eased down to ask what we were using. Ricky gave him a card of jigs.

This dock, lined with rod holders and lights, is a likely looking spot to catch some crappie. Many anglers brush-up their docks.

“I think I’m going to cut a hole right in the middle of my dock so I can catch some,” the man said.

Ricky responded, “Just make sure you put a lid on it, and keep it closed when you’re not fishing. I’ve seen people cut holes in their docks before. As soon as the sun gets in there, the fish go away.”

Ricky didn’t seem too concerned with whether or not the man would actually cut a hole in his dock. If the fish left that man’s dock, they’d have to go to another, and there are plenty of docks for the crappie to choose from at Sinclair.

And it’s setting up to be a very good dock-shooting season on the lake. In terms of fish size and numbers, crappie populations can be cyclical. According to Ricky, Sinclair is on the good side of a cycle this year.

“It’s been a good year here,” he said. “There’ve been a lot of fish caught this year. It’s also been a good year for size. There’s been some pigs caught this year.”

Although he prefers trolling, because it’s less work for the fisherman, Ricky said there’s no faster way to put more than 100 or even 200 fish in the boat than when they’re stacked up thick under docks.

Take a day to go shoot-up some crappie at Sinclair this month. Chances are you’ll come home with a cooler full of fish and possibly a powerful addiction.


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