Sinclair Summer Bass Under Shady Docks

Rob Wimberly and Sam Harris catch Sinclair bass with Ol Monsters, Sweet Beavers and jigs.

Don Baldwin | June 1, 2008

Sam Harris swings aboard a hefty Sinclair largemouth.

Rob Wimberly and Sam Harris have been fishing together for most of their lives. First as kids in a jonboat near their Athens homes and more recently as a formidable team on the tournament trails around the state. These guys have an excellent tournament record with top-three finishes in four out of their last eight HD Marine events, including a win at Sinclair last year. While the Athens residents consider Oconee their home lake, they also spend a fair amount of their angling time on Lake Sinclair.

I had the pleasure of fishing Sinclair with Rob and Sam during the middle of May. The conditions were tough, with a major front having come through the day before. Winds were gusting to 30 mph, the air temperature was about 10 degrees below normal, and the water was heavily stained from the previous day’s deluge. It looked like we were in for a tough morning of fishing. Looks can be deceiving.

We left the ramp at Little River Marina at around 6:30 a.m. and turned under the bridge and motored up Little River. Rob and Sam were headed for a location they knew had been holding fish, and they hoped the front hadn’t driven them away.

We planned to approach the lake in just the same way they would under tournament conditions in the summer.

“We are going after a few big bites,” said Rob. “You can catch plenty of small fish on Sinclair, but our strategy is always to go to the areas that are holding big fish and work hard for a few big bites.”

Rob Wimberly with a 4-pounder caught in mid-May pitching docks.

Rob told us that while many tournament anglers will try for a quick limit of small fish and then go looking for a big “anchor” bite or two, their strategy is just the opposite.

“We don’t waste our time trying to catch small fish,” said Rob. “We go after big fish right from the start and stick with it until we connect.”

While that is a risky strategy, it seems to pay off for this team.

Rob and Sam’s summer approach on Sinclair can be summed up in one word, docks. Sinclair’s shore is lined with docks in virtually every section of the lake. During the summer months, these docks hold fish, lots of them. But, as you might imagine, some docks are better than others.

“We like docks that are close to the water,” said Sam. “These provide better shade and protection for the bass and are also harder to get a bait under.”

Most docks on the lake receive a lot of pressure, and the tougher ones to fish don’t get hit quite as hard. The team also favors isolated docks rather than a lot of docks packed closely together.

“Isolated docks tend to concentrate fish better and also don’t get as much attention as big clusters,” Sam explained. “Anglers will usually pass up single docks in favor of a group of docks providing more targets.”

Docks with 5 feet or less water underneath are ideal, and deeper water nearby is a plus but not essential.

Rob and Sam pitch to docks for summer bass.

The first couple of places we stopped didn’t produce, and we didn’t stay long.

“There isn’t any action in the area,” said Rob. “We look for signs of life in an area when we pull up to fish and, if we don’t see anything, we move on pretty quickly.”

Signs of life include feeding herons, shad flipping the surface and bream in the shallows and nipping at the tail of a plastic worm, just to list a few. It is the team’s experience that locations void of this type of activity are not likely to produce strikes from bass. Paying attention to those details allows them to eliminate stretches of water quickly and move on to more promising spots.

At our third stop, things looked much better. As we coasted to a stop, near a couple of docks, two herons spooked and moved a few yards down the shoreline.

“That’s more like it,” said Rob as Sam pitched a Texas-rigged worm under the corner of a small dock. A couple of casts later, Sam set the hook and fought a 4-lb. largemouth out from under the dock and to the boat.

At this point, a word about tackle is in order. Pulling a 4-lb. bass out from under a dock requires that you take control of the fish quickly and never lose it. That means heavy tackle.

Rob and Sam use bait-control casting reels mounted on 7-foot rods to work the docks. The reels are spooled with 25-lb. test fluorocarbon line, pretty stiff stuff.

While it isn’t unusual to use heavy tackle around docks and pilings, particularly when you expect to hook bass in the 3- to 5-lb. range, the method the team uses to work the docks might surprise you.

Rob and Sam skip their baits across the surface of the water to reach far under the shadow of the dock. This technique is usually done with a spinning outfit. Trying it with a casting reel can lead to some pretty serious backlashes. But the team has practiced extensively with the method over the last couple of years, and backlashes are a rarity for them.

Rob is the owner of Big Bear Rods and has developed a casting rod specifically for this purpose that helps. The rod has a heavy action and a fast tip. It provides good backbone for pulling bass away from the pilings, and the top third of the rod is flexible to assist with the pitching and skipping the bait under the dock. Rob calls this rod action “Heavy Fast,” for obvious reasons, and the design really does help master the technique. But a great deal of patience and practice are necessary to get really good at skipping the bait without making a big mess of your line.

As far as baits are concerned, the formula is pretty simple. Rob and Sam recommended three baits for the summer dock action: A Zoom Ol’ Monster 10 1/2-inch worm in green pumpkin or junebug, a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in a black/blue combination or a jig in blue/black or brown/black.

The worm and Beaver are fished Texas rigged, on a 5/0 straight-shank hook, with a 1/4- to 3/8-oz. titanium bullet weight. The jig is generally 1/2 ounce or less.

Rob and Sam’s summer arsenal is simple but effective; jig, Sweet Beaver, Ol Monster.

The team works the baits around the docks and tries to determine where on the dock the bass are holding. They make a mental note of where each strike occurs and focus in on a pattern when one emerges. For example, if they get several strikes or hook ups at a certain location on a dock, say the end, ladder, or where the walkway connects with the platform at the end, they will try that location on other docks in the area. In order to make that work, the two stay in constant communication regarding where the strike occurred, how far under or out from the dock, was the bait sitting still or moving, etc. This way they can combine information and determine an effective pattern more quickly.

“Early in the summer, the bass are likely to be holding near the edges of the docks,” said Rob. “But by mid-summer the fish will be well under the dock, especially during the middle of the day. That’s when an effective skip comes in really handy.”

The retrieve is typically the lift-and-drop method. Sometimes, however, Sam will employ a dead-sticking technique. In this case he will let the bait sit on the bottom for 30 seconds or more to try and entice a strike.

“It is a lot like trying to aggravate a bedding fish into striking,” said Sam. “Only, in this case, you can’t see the fish but are assuming it is there.”

Creek mouths and docks located on main-lake points and shorelines are good candidates to try throughout the summer, according to the pair. The important thing is not to get locked into a “milk run” or relatively small area of the lake you go back to constantly.

“The fish move around, and you need to be flexible and move with them to be successful,” said Rob. “We may be fishing in Little River one day and up the Oconee the next to find that concentration of big fish.”

Rob tells us if they start catching lots of 1- to 1 1/2-lb. fish in an area, they pull up and move on looking for the bigger bite.

“We are always looking for that 1/4-mile section of the lake that is holding big fish,” Rob said.

I can tell you the technique works, at least it did on the morning we were out. Once we got in the right zone, we caught several fish in the 2 1/2- to 3-lb. class, a couple of 4s and a 5-pounder. This isn’t a bad morning in anybody’s book.

The pattern will work through the summer months and well into the fall. Learn how to skip the bait effectively, and you’ll end up with some impressive stringers of bass this summer.

Check out Big Bear Fishing Rods at The rods have a unique and sensitive molded rubber handle that transmits a lot of feel to the angler and drives better control while casting and retrieving the bait. We appreciate that Big Bear Rods sponsors GON’s 2008 Power Rankings.

Rob and Sam work as a tight team on the tournament trail. Communication is key.

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