Dissecting a dock for both spotted and largemouth bass with Gerald Swindle
By Shaye Baker
Alabama native Gerald Swindle has proven himself as one of the most animated and talented pro bass fishing superstars to ever tour the Bassmaster Elite Series. Growing up along the heavily docked Coosa River he became a revered dock fishing angler. Though he is no one trick pony, one thing is for certain: if there is a dock bite on competition water, look out.
Docks are a great, year-round fish attractant that many anglers don’t take advantage of.
“A lot of people get caught up in thinking that docks are a seasonal pattern,” Swindle said. “Dock fishing is not as much seasonal as it is daily, controlled by the weather.”
Bass are always around or under docks. If the sun is shining bright it will have the fish pushed under the dock and make them easier to catch, but they “house” under docks year round.
Perhaps the most puzzling piece to putting together a dock pattern is knowing which docks to fish. For Swindle, it’s a process of elimination.
In practice, he’ll get on a line of docks and fish down through them until he gets bites fishing every variation – main lake docks, docks in pockets, docks in creeks, fixed docks, floating docks and docks with boats tied up.
“Most of the time in practice, all I’ll establish is what type docks they’re using,” he said. “Once I establish that, I’ll ride and look for the same type docks and mark them on my GPS. It’s weird, but a lot of stuff I fish in a tournament, I have never made a cast on before.”
So the question turns from which docks to fish to should you fish the same docks more than once.
“Not in the same day,” Swindle said. “If it’s a two or three day event I will return and make that same pass.”
Most dock fish are resident fish and, although the same dock will attract another bass, it usually doesn’t happen within a couple hours. A lot of docks have the potential to hold bass over and over and over. As soon as you remove that one it won’t be long and another one will fill its spot.
The trick is knowing what to look for without being able to see it. The anatomy of a dock can include anything from drop offs to rock piles and brush to bare shady bottom. What to look for depends on what you’re trying to catch.
“If we have a lake that is mixed between spots and largemouths, you can pattern the type of bass you are trying to catch and not just the docks.”
The docks that primarily hold more spots are the ones that have 10 to 12 feet of water with some sort of structure beneath them. Structure is a point or break beneath the dock.
“I don’t like a lot of brush,” said Swindle. “A lot of times I’m just looking for fish that are in the shadow of the dock because they are so much easier to catch.”
Although bass live on the docks with brush, in a tournament situation, it’s easier for him to fish docks with just shade. He can figure out within one or two casts where the fish are and then repeat that cast on the next dock. This way, if they’re there, he can get them to bite and bite fast as opposed to fishing on both sides of brush, through the brush, and then risking losing the fish in brush if it bites.
When approaching a dock with spotted bass lurking below Swindle makes repetitive casts.
“If I feel like I’m making a good cast and I’m able to fish the majority of the dock by skipping under it and fishing the bait back out I’ll repeat that cast.”
Swindle will “fish the bait more” for spots. He keeps the bait in contact with the bottom hunting the break or ledge, works the bait slower, and fishes the bait all the way to the end of the dock.
A largemouth is generally more aggressive, and if you make the right cast you are usually going to catch him. Largemouths on docks are more of a target deal. He’ll come in from the side and work around the dock making three or four different casts and then move on. The flatter bottom contours are preferred when targeting largemouth bass, with ideally 4 to 5 feet of water beneath them.
Both species are prone to exhibit more aggression in current. Though there aren’t a lot of lakes that generate noticeable current on tour.
“If there is any current on that particular body of water you can almost bet the docks with current on them will be better than the others,” Swindle said.