Dockology 101: Tips for Catching Bass off of Docks
By Lynn Burkhead
August 10, 2017
At the Major League Fishing Geico Select event on Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks last summer, it didn't take long to figure out that once again, dock fishing would play a major role in how the event unfolded.
After all, with thousands and thousands of such structures lining the 1,150-miles of shoreline found on one of the Midwest's biggest lakes, there is no shortage whatsoever for dock fishing and boathouse fishing opportunities.
But Lake of the Ozarks isn't alone in that regard since uncountable numbers of boat docks can be found on lakes scattered all across the country.
True to form, many times in the growing history of Major League Fishing, dock fishing has played a key role in the final outcome of a MLF event.
Just ask legendary Texas bass pro Denny Brauer who targeted the countless docks on New York's Chautauqua Lake while flipping his way to victory in the 2013 MLF Summit Cup contested there.
Interestingly enough, Brauer - the 1998 Bassmaster Classic champ - credited his experience on his former home lake in Missouri for enabling him to grab his first MLF Cup title.
"Having lived on Lake of the Ozarks for 20-plus years, or close to it, there's probably as many boat docks there as any lake in the country, so that's what you do there," Brauer said that week. "I've got a great comfort level fishing docks."
Brauer isn't alone in that sentiment since a number of other MLF pros also excel at the technique.
One of those is Edwin Evers, the 2016 Bassmaster Classic champ from Oklahoma, who used his own dock fishing prowess a couple of years ago to capture his second MLF Challenge Cup title.
For longtime fans of the MLF game, they might remember that Evers captured that Cup title while fishing one magical dock that he found on Championship Day in a secluded area of Caddo Lake, the cypress tree lined natural lake that lies on the Texas/Louisiana border.
Since a sizable number of MLF pros also like using dock fishing patterns to their competitive advantage, the question arises as to what separates one dock from another?
"One has fish under it while another one doesn't," quips Major League Fishing GEICO Select pro and bass fishing funnyman Brandon Palaniuk.
Fair enough BP, but why does one dock have bass while another one doesn't?
Palaniuk, a six-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Idaho, said it’s often because of what's actually below the dock, not what can above the waterline.
"It generally has to do with the bottom contour setup underneath the docks," said BP, the 2010 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation national champ and winner of two Bassmaster Elite Series events in his young career.
Meaning that some docks are simply in better locations because of channel swings, ditches, creek channels and/or migrational corridors that exist between deep and shallow water.
For his part, Brauer doesn't disagree.
"Maybe it's a dock on a point, maybe it's the last dock in the back of a pocket or maybe it's a dock that has a little more depth on it or a little more vegetation around it," indicated Brauer, the 1987 BASS Angler of the Year and the 1998 FLW Tour AOY winner.
"That's the whole key when you start getting bit on docks - you need to pay attention to what was the deal on that one and then try to duplicate it (on others)."
If structural features are one reason that one dock excels over another, then a second reason can be because some docks provides bass with more options for protein-rich food.
That's because algae growth on some dock structures attracts the presence of baitfish and bluegills. And if you've been fishing for any length of time, I probably don't have to tell you that where there are baitfish and bluegills hanging around, there will almost certainly be a few bass, too.
A third reason for the productivity of some docks over others is the level of dark ambush cover that they provide.
"The biggest thing is to really try to pick out the darkest areas," Brauer noted. "Once the sun gets up, that's where those fish are going to get."
While the darkened recesses of a dock certainly provide ambush cover, they also give fish the same cooling relief that anglers seek in front of the air conditioner.
If you've ever swam your way across a big swimming pool, crossing from an area bathed in direct sunlight into an area that features plenty of cooling shade, then you'll almost certainly understand the attraction that shady areas have for bass.
"In the summertime, it's all about the shade," said Timmy Horton, the 2000 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year and a regular MLF Cup level competitor from Alabama. "You want to look for and fish the deepest and darkest shaded areas on the docks."
"Skipping the lure into the shaded area is the prime target on most docks," agrees 2012 MLF Challenge Cup champion Brent Ehrler of California. "You're looking to fish the biggest part of the dock with the most shade."
Since Ehrler brought up the subject of lures, the truth is that there really are a number of different baits that will work at various times around docks and boathouses.
And a similar truth is that each MLF pro usually has his own favorite bait that he likes to toss around docks and boathouses.
In Ehrler's mind, there is but one bait that absolutely cannot be left off of the front deck of his bass rig when he decides to target a shady dock.
"My best dock fishing tip is to tell anglers to use a Gary Yamamoto Senko," said Ehrler, winner of the 2015 Toyota Texas Bass Classic and the 2006 FLW Tour Forrest Wood Cup title.
"Whether you fish it weightless on a wacky rig setup, on a spinning rod or you fish it on a jig head with a baitcasting reel, it's hard to beat a Senko, especially when you get it into the shade."
Brauer has his own top selections for dock fishing including the one that he used to win his MLF Summit Cup on Chautauqua.
"I was throwing a Strike King flipping tube (there) that I designed for them after the '98 Classic win," Brauer noted. "It's just a great bait even now, it's a streamlined bait, it's a small profile bait, but yet you can use a big flipping hook in it and that's one of the biggest keys."
While subsurface presentations are certainly good fish producers around docks, some anglers opt for topwater lures ranging from a soft-bodied plastic frog skipped under the dock to a buzzbait rattled down the dock's edge to a Pop-R style bait that spits and chugs its way back to the boat.
For MLF Select pro Randy Howell, the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champ who hails from Alabama, it's tough to beat a walking style bait thrown in such spots.
"Usually in the summer, I'll throw bigger topwaters more consistently, baits like the Livingston Walking Boss Part II or the original Walking Boss," said Howell.
"The Part II has the Jitterbug style face on it, it makes a lot of commotion and it's fast to retrieve, which can be important since you don't want to give them a whole lot of time to look at it."
Howell likes to fish these bigger walking style baits because he thinks they imitate a big bluegill that often hang out around docks. And such big baits often elicit a good strike from the biggest and moodiest of bass hanging out in the vicinity of a shadowy dock.
Another reason that Howell likes to fish these bigger topwater baits around docks is because of the longer casts that he can make.
"I like to throw 70-pound (Daiwa) Samurai braid on top with those long casts," he said. "You can make 50, 60 and even 70 yard casts with that big bait and braid," he added.
"And if you have an instant hook-up on a long cast, with that braid, you can hook them good, have no stretch and still get them in."
And when it comes to early summer bass fishing action, there are few better places to try and haul them in from than a dark, shadowy dock on lakes all across the country.
Just ask the Major League Fishing pros, some of the country's best bass anglers in the practice of fishing's dockology.