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Driftwood Outdoors: Shooting docks good way to catch winter crappies

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Crappie fishing isn’t the first outdoor activity that comes to mind for most sportsmen in December.

Yet last weekend I was out fishing with professional crappie angler Travis Bunting. It was cold but worth it. We caught fish, and I was able to learn a few lessons from one of the best crappie anglers in the country.

Travis and his father, Charlie, are one of the top crappie fishing teams competitively fishing tournaments today.

They live in Jefferson City, Mo., and travel all over the country chasing crappie. They won the coveted 2012 Crappie Masters Classic on the Tennessee–Tombigbee

Waterway in northern Mississippi, and back in 2005 they won the Crappie USA Classic on Patoka Lake in southern Indiana.

So when you’re in the boat with the Buntings, you’re going to use equipment made by their sponsors. On this docking shooting trip, we used B’n’M Sharpshooter rods, Vicious 6-pound test yellow line and Southern Pro jigs in multiple colors. I asked him about our equipment for the day.

“We use a shorter rod when shooting docks for better control in tight quarters. The yellow line helps you see bites, and I don’t think there is any negative reaction from the fish because of the yellow color,” Bunting said.

As for jigs, we used 1/16th-ounce heads with weed guards on them, and we tried a bunch of different colors. It was tough fishing because we were in the second day of a cold front, so it never really seemed like one color was out-fishing the others.

Shooting docks is a tactic that can and should be used on any water with docks on it. But not all docks are created equal.

“You want to focus on docks with large swim platforms because they offer the most shade. And solid platforms, like ones made out of concrete are better than those made out of wood because the wood ones let light shine down through the cracks into the water. So look for solid platforms,” Bunting said.

What you are trying to do by “shooting” is to get your jig as far back under the dock as possible. You can’t cast your jig under the dock because most of the openings are only a foot high and couple of feet wide. The actual shooting is pretty easy to pick up after a couple of tries.

First, let out enough line so that your jig is hanging about three-quarters of the way down your rod. Then use the index finger of your rod hand to hold the line against your rod and then open the bail. Pinch the bend of the jig hook and pull it back until you have arched the rod like a bow. Make sure to have your thumb and finger tips behind the hook point before letting go, then aim and fire.

It helps to be on your knees for the real tight shots. Once your jig is in the water, start your retrieve.

“When I’m shooting docks, I fish the water in stages. Crappie will often hold right under the floats, so on the first shot as soon as the jig is in the water I’ll start reeling it back in, keeping it a foot or so under the surface. If I don’t pull out a fish, I’ll let the second shot sink for a second before retrieving it. And if I still don’t have a fish, I’ll let the third shot sink even deeper,” Bunting said.

If you like fish fries half as much as I do, then you probably know how good cold water crappies taste after taking a bath in peanut oil. Don’t let cabin fever set in this winter. As long as there is open water you can catch crappie. And shooting docks is one of the best ways to do so.

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler can be reached at

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