Floating docks, however, present specific challenges to anglers. These aren’t your old-fashioned wooden post docks like many of us are familiar with. They’re often found on highland reservoir-type fisheries hovering over water that can exceed depths of 50 feet. When you combine deep water with microscopic casting windows, things can get a bit overwhelming.
FLW Tour pro Patrick Bone is no stranger to floating docks. They’re a common site on his home lake of Lake Lanier and played an integral role for him as he worked his way through the ranks of professional fishing. According to him, some basic knowledge of floating docks will open endless opportunities to elevate your bass fishing.
Ambush points and camouflage
It’s fairly common knowledge that bass love to position themselves on wood cover. Whether it’s a laydown, stump or wooden dock, it’s hard for a bass to pass on it. Floating docks are constructed largely of metal and plastic, so what makes them so appealing to bass? Why should anglers even consider targeting them? The answer is twofold in Bone’s eyes.
“Bass use floating docks for two primary purposes—they’re an ambush point and provide great camouflage,” Bone said. “You hear a lot of folks talk about the black floats holding heat, but to be honest, I’ve never stuck a thermometer right next to a float so I don’t give that theory much credence. It’s important to understand that bass are ferocious predators and are always looking for a way to ambush their prey. They can snug up to these floats and take advantage of any little bluegill or shad that happens to pass by.”
If you pay close attention around these docks, you’ll often see the bass sitting right on the edge of the shade, underneath the floats—especially as the weather begins to warm. Bone believes such positioning gives them an edge over their prey.
“Fishing floating docks gives you an outstanding opportunity to catch bigger than average bass, whether it’s a spotted bass or largemouth bass,” Bone said. “Whenever you swim a jig or bladed swim jig past one of those floats, they can’t help themselves. They think that something is getting away from them and they will absolutely hammer it.”
Easy to pattern
Your success on floating docks is very dependent upon your ability to find the ones bass are using most often. The most productive docks aren’t always going to stick out like a sore thumb, so it’s important to fish them all to begin with. As the day progresses, the bass will make their exact locations very obvious, which can lead to excellent catches.
“Floating dock patterns are very easy to duplicate,” Bone said. “The best way to develop a solid pattern is to put your trolling motor down and fish an entire creek or short pocket, from front to back. You’re not going to catch a bass on each dock, but when you do catch one, make mental notes. Was it in the front of a pocket? What was the water depth? Was the bass sitting on the front, side or back of the dock? When you answer these questions, you’re slowly putting the puzzle together. Eventually, it gets very repetitive and you can cherry pick the exact docks you need to fish. That’s when it gets fun!”
Never overlook the loners
We’ve all seen them on our favorite fisheries—the docks that look to be sitting on an isolated island. There’s nothing around them, it’s a relatively bare bank and there’s not another dock within hundreds of yards. These docks may not look like much, but you should never overlook them.
“Single floating docks sitting all by themselves are always incredible places to hit,” Bone said. “It’s just like a lone stump—essentially, it’s an irregularity on an otherwise ugly bank. Bass are always going to seek cover and if a bank is void of it, they’re going to congregate on that floating dock hanging out by itself. These are the types of docks on which you can catch several big bass in just a few casts.”
Community docks are bass magnets
It’s not an uncommon sight to see several “community” docks on heavily developed lakes. These are floating docks you’ll often find near campsites, neighborhoods or marinas. They’ll have dozens of boat slips and, again, may not look very “sexy” per se, but they can produce some monster limits of bass in a hurry.
“Anytime you can find these community docks, you should expect to catch a fish on them,” Bone said. “They’re huge structures that put off a ton of shade for the bass and give them plenty of places from which they can ambush prey. The second time I made the BFL All American by qualifying on Chickamauga, I weighed in 26 pounds of bass in three days from a single community dock. It had about 12 slips on it and kept reloading with bass each day.”
Because these big clusters of floating docks tend to replenish throughout the day, don’t be discouraged if they don’t produce fish on your first pass. These community docks are places you can hit several times throughout the day until you finally hit the mother lode.
Winter floating dock tactics
Bone uses a small section from discarded plastic worm to keep his trailer from sliding up the shank of the jig's hook.
As we’ve discussed throughout this winter, it’s important to focus on cover or structure close to deep water in the winter months. Not surprisingly, the same theory applies when finding the most productive wintertime floating docks.
“When it gets cold, I really like to target floating docks on or near channel swings,” Bone said. “These are places in which the bass can change their depth very easily—they can slide up and feed in the shallower water and seek refuge in the deep water without exerting much energy. The water doesn’t necessarily need to be deep right under these docks, but they at least need to be close to deep water.”
When dissecting these docks in the colder months, Bone primarily uses bottom-oriented presentations such as a 1/2-ounce Booyah Boo Jig or a shaky head with a Yum Houdini Worm. Because the bass’ metabolism is much slower, they’re less apt to chase your baits, making a slow, deliberate presentation most effective.
“I’m going to cover these docks very slowly and methodically to match the inactivity of the bass,” Bone said. “I’ll come across the front and skip it under the pontoon, then focus on the shadiest areas I can find. To keep ‘em honest, I may hit the walkway a few times to see if I can catch one sunning itself.”
Spring floating dock tactics
As the bass “thaw out” from a harsh, long winter and begin feeding more aggressively, floating docks are great places to find big fish. Instead of slowly working his baits on the bottom near these docks, Bone picks up the pace to entice vicious reaction strikes.
"Swimming a jig is one of the best ways to take advantage of those big bass that suspend under the floats."
“Spring is when it’s time to cover water as quickly as you can,” Bone said. “This is when I start swimming a jig, which is one of the best ways to take advantage of those big bass that suspend under the floats. The fish are active and wanting to feed upward, so I want to do my best to emulate a bream or shad passing by one of the floats. In the early spring, I like to imitate bluegill and I’ll do so with a green pumpkin Boo Jig with a Yum Craw Chunk. You’ll be able to see the bass come from under the floats and annihilate it.”
As the spring progresses, Bone switches gears and begins targeting the shad spawn. Although most anglers primarily target rocks and grass during the shad spawn, floating docks are overlooked hotspots for this yearly occurrence.
“If you can find a floating dock on which the shad are spawning, you better be ready because you’re about to catch a lot of bass,” Bone said. “The shad will spawn right on these floats and you can absolutely crush them in the first hour or two of daylight. I use a Booyah Boogee Bait with a Yum F2 Boogee Tail and fish it as close as I can to the float. If you can skip it across the top of the water on the cast, it’s even better—it sounds like a shad or bream trying to get away, which really gets the bass’ attention.”
Summer floating dock tactics
If you plan on trying your hand at fishing floating docks this summer, focus your efforts in the mouths of major creeks and on main lake docks. As long as the dock is located in deeper water, you’re in business.
- Rod: Dobyns 705 Champion Casting Rod
- Line: 15 to 20-pound Seaguar InvizX
- Reel: 6.4:1 Lew's Tournament Pro Speed Spool Casting Reel
“This is when I’ll start focusing on the bottom again more so than the floats,” Bone said. “I also make it a point to target docks adorned with brush piles, which is when the thermocline—the most comfortable area of the water column—comes into play. A lot of times you can actually see the thermocline on your Lowrance represented by a straight, horizontal line across your screen. The bass may be over 30 feet of water but sitting in 20 feet because that’s where it’s most comfortable. When you see this, start targeting brushy docks in that specific depth range for the best results.”
Bone’s primary tool throughout the summer months is the jig. If he’s unable to get a bite with it, he’ll quickly downsize to a more subtle shaky head.
“It’s all about constant experimentation, especially in the summer,” Bone said. “The bass’ preference can change by the day, or even the hour, so it’s important to keep changing things up. They may want a shaky head in the morning and a jig after lunchtime and the only way to know is by alternating casts with different presentations until you find one that works.”
Fall floating dock tactics
Much like his springtime game plan, Bone increases both his fishing and presentation speed throughout the fall. Because the bass are much more active and capitalizing on the shad migration, he’ll start swimming his jigs more often.
“In the fall, it’s so important to use a bait with a shad profile,” Bone said. “For this reason, I’m going to start utilizing my white jigs and bladed swim jigs. I’ll start at the mouths of creeks and work my way in so I can find the largest concentration of bait. When you can find the bait in the fall, you will definitely find the bass because they’ll hide under the floats of these docks and wait for a big ball of shad to swim by.”
"I never overlook a brush pile, regardless of the time of year. If I know one's down there, it's going to get a bait in it."
Brush piles remain a big part of Bone’s strategy in the fall months as well. Although he may not catch the numbers from these piles, he knows the kind of quality they’re capable of.
“You can almost always catch big bass in brush piles,” Bone said. “They can always be a major factor in tournaments. I never overlook a brush pile, regardless of the time of year. If I know there’s one down there, it’s going to get a bait in it. I never skip one.”
Don’t let the deep water and small casting windows intimidate you—floating docks are excellent places to find big bass throughout the entire year. If you can spend some time learning how the bass position on them in different seasons and how to locate the most productive areas, you’ll enjoy continued success and add another weapon to your bass fishing arsenal.