By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
Jeff Sprague sees a tremendous range of habitat features, but in the Texas Major League Fishing angler's opinion, there’s just something irresistible about a dock. Nearly everywhere he goes, docks of all shapes and sizes call to him like beacons in the night.
“Docks are always in the top 5 of bass habitat,” Sprague said. “They’re great staging areas for fish that are coming and going with the spawn. When they’re moving to the bank, dock floats absorb the sun’s rays and give the fish a place to warm their eggs. After they come off the beds, docks are a great place for them to stop and gain some energy, possibly feed on some bream that are starting to gather around the same floats and then move out to their summer areas.”
Although that big kicker could be sitting under just about any dock, Sprague advises a discerning eye. His plan factors the dock’s physical features, along with the seasonal relevance of its location.
“Some docks have poles, some have cables, some have a combination of both,” Sprague said. “Some have black floats, some have Styrofoam, some have no floats, some have brush. All of these factors come into play for what they’re holding on at a given time of the year.
“Early spring when the water is cooler, we’ll want to look for those docks with the floats, which heat up and give the fish a place to warm themselves as they move toward the bank. During the post-spawn, they tend to use those docks with cables to slide in and out and to move up and down in the water.”
These heavy-duty tethers anchor floating docks and allow for water-level adjustments and are not to be overlooked, says Sprague. The landward ends are clearly visible, but he likes to snoop around the perimeter for telling views of dock cables — as well as brush piles — with his electronics.
Fish can be caught from docks at any time of year, but anglers should be mindful of what fish want to relate to based on the calendar and their own seasonal progression.
“Brush piles don’t always mean bass,” Sprague notes. “Sometimes, you can catch a limit of bass out of one brush pile on a dock, but sometimes the bass don’t want to be down that deep; they want to be above the brush pile. That’s when they’re relating to the shade of the dock, maybe the poles. That way they can move up and down with the water or the daylight.”
Again, there aren’t many times below the ice belt when a dock with reasonable depth is devoid of life. However, Sprague wants to make the most of his time by dialing in the likely areas. The calendar offers general guidance, but attention to actual seasonal bass movement refines the plan.
“Some docks look amazing; they have brush, they have (good structure), they have algae growing there, yet there are no fish,” Sprague said. “That’s simply because it’s the time of year when those fish are transitioning. If a set of docks are in the back of a pocket, that’s an early spring transition; and if there’s a creek channel swing bringing deep water close to them, that’s a super-hot area.
“That’s an area for the fish to travel and set up on maybe three or four dock piers and then move on to their spawning area. It’s the same thing when they come out. For later post-spawners and into early summer, you want to target docks closer to secondary and main-lake points. That’s where dock fishing becomes technical — you really have to understand what the fish want to relate to.”
Sprague acknowledges his intense analysis roots in the mindset of a competitive angler who’s ever mindful of time efficiency.
“We’re talking numbers of fish and patterns of fish, vs. just ‘dock fishing,’” he said. “It’s about determining what the vast majority of fish are doing at a certain time. There are fish to be caught on docks year-round, but we’re talking about staying on top of seasonally-specific deals where the majority of fish will be coming and going from.”
In any season, Sprague warns against presentation laziness. If your first choice gets it done, great; but more often is the case that dock maximization requires multiple baits.
A spinnerbait is one of may offerings that will entice bites from dock-dwelling bass.
Sprague’s faves include:
> Movers – A jerkbait is kind of a sleeper, but a good cast can be deadly. Also, a 3/8-ounce Strike King spinnerbait in the sexy shad color is a solid choice for early spring through the post-spawn/shad spawn period. For spots too tight for accurate spinnerbait casts, Sprague likes the more streamlined profile of a 3/8-ounce Strike King Thunder Cricket bladed jig with a Strike King Blade Minnow trailer.
> Pitch and Skip – Sprague likes a Larew Hammer Craw or Punch Out Craw on a 5/0-flipping hook with a 3/8-ounce Flat Out Tungsten weight. In extremely clear conditions, he may remove the pinchers off a Punch Out Craw for a slim profile that mimics a small bream.
> Finesse – A Gene Larew Tattle Tail worm on 1/8-once shaky head usually gets the call for lighter work, but Sprague also does well with a Gene Larew Pig Head (football-style Ned head) with a Gene Larew Inch Worm, particularly when spotted bass abound.
“What a guy has to do is make a decision on what he’s fishing for; how many he’s fishing for and then go with it,” Sprague said. “You can go down a dock with a spinnerbait and you can turn around and go back down that dock with a jig and you’ll probably get a bite on one of the two. You just have to make a decision on whether you’re fishing for the biggest bites or if you want to fish it slow and catch everything you can catch.”
Now, notwithstanding the value of diversity, Sprague makes this strategic observation: “Ultimately, if a guy goes and throws a spinnerbait and then he turns around and throws a soft stickbait and then he turns around and throws a shaky-head or a jig; by the time you’ve thoroughly fished that dock, you’ve alerted the fish that you’re there. Once you do that, they’re no longer set up in their natural positions to ambush prey. The cat’s out of the bag, so now you’re just trying to make a bass bite.”
Simple solution: Give your best docks a rest and return later with other presentations. Sure, you may risk another boat hitting your spots, but that’s a variable beyond your control. What puts you in the driver’s seat is knowing when to leave — and making the most of your initial approach.
“It’s safe to say that your approach to the dock, your boat control and positioning are just as key as making the proper cast,” Sprague said. “Next to bait choice, that is the number one thing that can make you or break you on dock fishing.”