One of the first spots to look when seeking out fish during the brutally hot summer months is anywhere the shade is present — namely docks and bridges. The benefit is two-fold, as the water temperature is not only a bit cooler under these structures, but the shade provides a nice place for bass, crappie and other predators to hide and wait for unsuspecting forage fish and bugs to ambush.
Because of this, one of the more effective ways to fish in summer months is to vertically jig from a dock using what amounts to ice fishing gear — a short, light-to-ultralight rod, a sensitive line and small hair jigs or minnows.
Earlier last week, before the rains temporarily cooled the air, minnows fished in about 4 feet of water at the heated dock at Lake Shawnee were cleaning up on crappie, and some nice-sized fish were even chasing fingerlings in the shallows under the shade of trees and near the walkway. I made a short cast off the walkway where the small fish were splashing with a yellow-glow PK Lures Predator Flash jigging spoon tipped with chartreuse Berkley PowerBait Crappie Nibbles, and after about three seconds I saw my line take off as I hooked into a big slab of a black crappie that looked to be about 13 inches long.
I fished a couple times again this week, the first time with minnows under the heated dock. I got several good bites fishing in deeper water this time, and had a nice fish get off when it ran up under the dock beneath me.
The second time I came back, I again began fishing from the heated dock, this time with a black VMC Dominator Marabou Jig tipped with Crappie Nibbles. This was the hottest day of the three I fished at Lake Shawnee, and while other anglers had caught a few crappie, I wasn’t getting bites up under the dock this time.
I walked out onto the walkway again and began making short casts, and when I made a cast into the shallows under a shade tree, my line lurched and I eventually pulled up a freshwater drum. It was smaller than my previous drums I had caught at the lake, probably about 16 or 17 inches. I was surprised how well my ice rod held up as I fought it and pulled it up to over the railing.
I went for a walk around the lake, eventually walking out onto another dock with some shade trees nearby. I tried fishing directly under the dock again but didn’t get any immediate strikes, so I made a few short casts toward the bankline.
On about the third cast, something walloped my marabou jig and took off running, and I knew within about five seconds it was a bass as it came up out of the water and flailed about, causing another angler on the dock to turn around and ask “What the hell?”
The fish dove again and came back up for a second head shake, and this time I saw it was a good-sized smallmouth bass. As I reeled the beautiful bronzeback to the dock, she dove hard three or four times as I tried to get a thumb in her lip, bending my light ice rod under the dock in the process.
Finally, she gave up the fight and I grabbed her lip and pulled her up on the blistering dock, which was burning the hairs off the bottom of my legs as I sat in the direct sunlight. She was my first smallmouth of 2019, and may have been my personal best, as she felt like she weighed about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds — just a great fish.
Marabou jigs are a great early-winter lure because of the subtle movement of their hairs, but they can be just as effective during the hotter months when fish can become lethargic. An old finesse fishing trick during the early winter months is to float them under a bobber to draw in bites from smallmouths, and this application isn’t much different.
Black is also a great color to use in muddy water, which you’re likely to encounter with all of the rain we’ve had. The chartreuse Crappie Nibbles not only add that little bit of flavor to draw a better bite, but they also add a flash of bright color that catches sunlight well and stands out to fish even in murky water.
I quickly snapped a couple pictures and got the gorgeous fish back in the cooler water, only to feel another thump on my jig two casts later as I pulled a good-sized white crappie out, probably about 11 inches long with a nice, wide mouth.
Overall, it was one of the better days I’ve had at Lake Shawnee, and that’s saying something for a lake that’s brought me my first rainbow trout, a trophy white bass, giant freshwater drum, schools of smallmouth bass, shallow-water catfish and even a delicious saugeye.