Every so often, disparate innovations come together to revolutionize a fishing tactic anglers have practiced for many years. Last year, it was shooting crappies.
Actually, the tactic is better known as shooting docks—or slingshotting, skipping, or arrow-casting, depending on where you're from—for crappies lurking beneath. Lew's new Wally Marshall Speed Shooter rods (two models, 6- and 6.5-foot) have IM8 blanks with tapers designed for arrow-casting with greater accuracy. Other rods designed for shooting docks have appeared recently, including the B'n'M Sharpshooter Deluxe 6. They have guides designed for easy line flow, and light blanks with fast recovery for accuracy and distance.
Bobby Garland Crappie Baits recently introduced the Crappie Shooter, a flat-sided lure with a long, flat tail and an accessory called Dock Shoot'R Pull Tabs—flashy little tear-proof "fins" that slip over the hook, providing a positive grip and easy release after drawing the lure back and creating enough tension to skip a bait 30 to 40 feet. Pull Tabs, offered in Natural Fin and Holographic shades, add natural appeal in clear water, and additional flutter and flash in murky water. And they help prevent hooks from penetrating fingers on the release—a point that should appeal to parents of dock-shooting beginners.
"I use Crappie Shooters and Baby Shads a lot," says Alabama crappie guide and longtime dock sharpshooter Lee Pitts. "Their flat shape—everybody looks at it suspiciously the first time, like it won't catch fish, but that's the shape that skips best. Remember when you were a kid looking for the right rock to skip? That's the idea. The Crappie Shooter shoots farther and stays on track. It falls slowly, stays horizontal, and quivers on the drop. Every time you shake the rod tip, its tail waves. Hold the rod up at a 45-degree angle and give it a little shake once or twice as it falls—it's a universal trigger."
The new rods are an improvement, though dock-shooting can be accomplished with a variety of sticks. "Lew's Speed Shooter does a great job," Pitts says. "It does all the work. The light tip loads smoothly. You can pull back and get a more precise shot, even when fighting the wind or from a moving boat. It has great sensitivity for feeling subtle bites. I've been skipping docks for a long time, and it helped me, but the Speed Shooter makes it much easier for clients that don't do this a lot. They can be successful with little expertise."
Softbaits that work best for Pitts have a small profile and no appendages. "Legs, arms, and tentacles make a lure tumble," he says. "They won't skip as far and they don't stay on track. Smaller baits skip farther. When the bait skips along it creates a trail of surface noise and disturbance. After a long skip, predatory instincts fire up and crappies can't help but snatch it when it finally stops and drops.
"Skipping can be hard on plastics, so the new Bobby Garland Dockt'r Head Jigs have soft plastic holders to lock lures in place. Crappie Shooters and Baby Shads offer little resistance, so they skip farther with less wear-and-tear. You can fish longer without replacing baits. And they're not just for docks. I sometimes longline them. Shooters and Shads have great action when pulled—a different vibration. When it's cold, crappies don't like a big thumping tail. I put a 3/32-ounce head on the Crappie Shooter and it moves differently on a horizontal plane. It produces a kind of Rat-L-Trap vibration." A dense, disc-shaped plastic skips farthest. Plenty of softbaits perform well, including the Creme Lit'l Fishie, Beaver Bottom Baits, and the 2.5-inch Lunker City Fin-S Fish. Knock-offs of the Crappie Shooter are likely to appear when people discover how well it skips.
Lake of the Ozarks guide and crappie pro Terry Blankenship agrees that technique-specific rods make it easier for clients to be accurate. "I like a longer, stouter rod, though," he says. "I use the 7-foot Lew's LWS Walleye Rod. You find differing opinions about the ideal rod for shooting docks. I like a 7-footer with a little backbone because you can shoot a jig farther under a dock with a longer rod. My rods also are stouter than most. I use a 1/16-ounce head and 6-pound mono to achieve a drop speed of a foot per second. I want to know how deep I'm fishing so I count it down. I use hi-vis Vicious Panfish Line, which has almost no memory, and that's critical. Coils absorb vibration. Crappies often slide up and hit so light you don't feel a thing. Though supple, it's a tough mono, standing up to dock structure. Limp line skips farther, no question."
How and Where to Skip
Mono stretches, releasing energy when the "arrow" is released. "The trick is to release the line a split second after releasing the lure," Blankenship says. "I don't use them often, but clients find the Garland Pull Tabs helpful for that critical timing. Tabs are important for people starting out. They make it easy to get familiar with the technique. The added flash helps at times, too, especially in murky water. I tell folks to grab the tab, load the rod, point the blank at the opening, and pull the lure back to the gathering guide. A smooth, quick release is essential, and a split second later you release the line. I open the spool and hold the line the same way I would to cast. You can shoot sidearm, underhand, overhand, but typically the way I start people out is to hold the rod parallel to the water, draw the lure under the rod, point at the target opening, and hold the rod still on the release. It's like the follow-through on a golf swing. All your motion should be in the same direction."
Pitts also uses a golf analogy. "Everybody is different," he says. "Arm length, torso size, and height come into consideration. If you play golf you have your feet in a certain position every time you swing. As an archer you want the same anchored position every time. Find that swing with the same grip, same stance, and same rod position. A consistent approach to foot, hand, and arm position gradually builds confidence. That's where the pull tab comes in. I hold it parallel to the water and when I load it, the butt of the rod is pointed at the target. I won't load it as much for a shorter skip, but the rule of thumb is to draw back to about 12 inches from the reel. When I hold the rod straight up before shooting I want the bait to dangle a foot over the reel."
Blankenship fishes the Crappie Masters circuit and has been a guide since 1986 in the Lake of the Ozarks region. "Lake of the Ozarks has thousands of docks of every type over all water depths. The best docks, year in and year out, are big platform docks—wide ones on pontoons that create maximum shade. Crappies are light-sensitive and the shade allows them to hold near the surface—where the food is."
Shade and wind also are important. "Wind coming into the shaded side of the dock—that's a best-case scenario," he says. "Wind transports food, and crappies position in the shade under the overhead cover waiting for food, so they're on alert. When a bait skips overhead close by, they feel it, they hear it, then they see it, and they eat it."
Blankenship likes the Crappie Shooter and Baby Shad, but says his favorite lure for skipping is the Bobby Garland Slab Slay'R. And he uses his Humminbird 1198c to look under docks before shooting. "It tells me how many fish are present and if they can be reached," he says.
An Extreme Dock Shooting video on the Blankenship Guide Service website shows him firing a bait into a hole 12 inches wide after skipping it 36 feet. "It's incredible when the bite is on," he says. "Shooting docks is the most exciting crappie fishing I've done because it involves specific skills, like bow hunting or golfing. It's a skill you can always improve. Like anyone else, I picked it up from the experts that came before me. Once I learned how much farther and more accurate shooting can be with practice, I was hooked. If you're set up for it, it's the most fantastic way to fish for crappies.