(Editor's note: The following is the latest installment in a series of fishing tips presented by The Bass University. Check back each Friday for a new tip.)
When it comes to choosing a fishing technique that’s been a constant in his life, Mark Zona said that docks play a special role. “They’re probably the closest thing to my heart as far as how I grew up,” he said.
He loved them when he was a kid, and he still loves them today.
“I do 12 Zona shows a year,” he explained. “I do 12 shows for The Bass Pros. All of those could be dock shows.”
In the 30-plus years since he plucked out his first dock bass, his exuberance hasn’t waned, but his favorite techniques have clearly changed. Like many anglers, he uses certain basic lures much of the time. For example, he characterized a Strike King Ocho, rigged wacky-style, as “the best thing on earth to put on a spinning rod” and skip under a dock. He’s also a huge fan of the jig, specifically a Denny Brauer Structure Jig with a Rage Craw, which he calls “one of the most powerful weapons on Planet Earth.”
On Michigan’s pressured waters, though, his bait preferences change around the Fourth of July, a time at which many of the bass can identify popular stick worms and jigs by name. At that point, he said, the windows for the big fish get smaller. They go into “zombie mode.” Accordingly, he pulls out new weapons, such as a ribbed swimbait like a Strike King Rage Swimmer 4.75. He puts the “tube” of a pop rivet in its nose and threads a treble hook into the belly, and then shoots it up around docks. “It’s amazing how far they’ll come out and then commit to it,” he said, adding that some of the short-line strikes will be so vicious they’ll “scare the crap out of you.”
Another favorite is the KVD Sexy Frog, usually green pumpkin with some orange on the throat, which replicates a bluegill flawlessly. He’ll trim one side of the skirt by about half an inch to make it walk better, and flare the hooks out a bit. The biggest thing to get used to is skipping with straight braid rather than mono or fluorocarbon. Once you learn, though, you can put the lure in places where you’ll hear, rather than see, the explosions.
He mentioned that the best stretches of docks are considered as such for a reason – they may have produced big fish for decades – but if you’re going to fish them you’d better do so early, because many other competent anglers will target them. The docks he loves are “the ones that are a pain.” They might be isolated, they might be far back in a pocket, they might be super-shallow, they might have blown-in vegetation on them, or perhaps all of the above. Those are the ones you want to target, pulling up, making a few casts, and then moving on to the next one. He also believes that you can get closer to many fish than most anglers believe is possible. “They’re not going to let you hug them,” he cautioned, but they’re often not as skittish as we’ve been led to think.
If you want to learn some of Zona’s other dock fishing secrets, including his tackle choices and strategies for how to avoid antagonizing pontoon-boat owners, check out his full video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.