B’n’M Poles Pro Staffer Travis Bunting is so in to dock shooting that he designed a plastic bait especially for the purpose. Travis and his dad, Charles Bunting have teamed up in the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters All American Tournament Trail for years, with great success. When it comes to crappie, they know what they are talking about.
The father-son duo from Missouri teamed up to win the Lake of the Ozarks Crappie Masters crown 3 different times. They won the Crappie Masters National Championship in 2012 on the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway in Columbus, MS, a body of water they had never fished before.
Speaking of his creation, Travis said, “I actually designed this bait to replace some of the baits we were currently using to shoot docks. We wanted a bigger bait, a 2 ½ inch bait.” He explained, that if you take a 2 ½ inch shiner and look at it from below you will see the profile he put in his bait. “I give that example because crappie feed up and I want them to see the same profile in my bait as they do with a shiner.”
The new Muddy Water Bait is designed to eliminate problems associated with dock shooting. “We put a solid tail on it as opposed to a lot of the split-tail plastics that are on the market,” explained Travis. “Anglers sometimes get a bite and miss it. When they pull up they see that the tail has come up around the hook, maybe even stuck it, and protected the fish from being hooked. I wanted to eliminate that with my baits.
The Muddy Water tail is designed to stay straight so the hook will not catch the tail and prevent a hookup. The result is a plastic bait that stays on the jighead better and last longer. “When you are shooting docks that lure is bouncing off things and 30 to 40 percent of the time the hook will stick one of the plastic tails,” says Travis. ”When it does, it cancels out the presentation. You may still get the bite, but probably won’t get the hookup because the hook is stuck in the plastic tail. My design virtually eliminates tail hooked lures.”
The other benefit of the shape of his creation is its ability to skip under the docks. The ability to skip depends highly on the size and shape of the plastic. “The bigger the bait the easier it is to skip,” says Travis. “The smaller baits just don’t skip as well and you don’t get the distance you need to get back in there to the fish. They are often at the far back end of the dock. That is why we went with a solid body 2 ½ inch bait.”
With that explanation of his lure complete, Travis explained the teams rigging and strategies for dock shooting. “We use a 6-foot 6-inch B’n’M Buck Graphite Spinning Rod.” He doesn’t name a favorite reel, but wants one with taller and wider mounted spool so the line comes out at a high speed. “One trick we use, especially in the winter, is applying Blakemore Reel Magic spray on our line. It helps peel that line off faster, which gives you more distance and accurate casts.”
His reels are spooled with 6-pound Vicious Hi-Vis line. “We want to be able to see our line when shooting docks. When you shoot back under a floating dock, which is about all we have at home, you only have about 6 inches from the water to the dock. Once you shoot that line in there you lose sight of your bait. When those bites are light, or when they just grab it and swim sideways the hi-vis line pays big dividends.”
He explained that anglers can watch the loop in the line and when it ticks or jumps you know you have a bite. “Same thing, when you see that line going sideways, especially with black crappie, you know you have a bite and you might never have felt it. It’s all visual.”
Travis begins his cast just like you would any cast with a spinning reel by opening the bail and placing the line under the index finger. “What I like to do is have the jighead about a foot above the reel without any tension on the rod. I grab the bend in the hook and pull it back behind the reel to load the rod. With the tension now on the rod you let the jighead go. As the jig passes your hand, release the line from under your finger.”
The idea is to make the bait skip across the water and up under the dock. He differentiates between skipping and jumping, with jumping being a higher, lifting path of the lure. “You don’t want it to jump because it may hit the dock or even go up on top and you have wasted a cast.”
Dock shooting is easier if you have a pole dock like you see down south, because you have more room to play with. With those docks you can even shoot it all the way to the back and work it out. “Most of my shooting is at a 6-inch clearance between the dock and the water and there is no room for error.”
Successful dock shooting requires keeping the cast low, and the position of the shooter can help. “I do a lot of shooting off my knees,” explains Travis. “I even bend over to try and get the right angle. The closer you can get that jighead to the water, the flatter the trajectory you have. If you shoot it downward the bait will jump up. If it jumps up you are likely to go over the bar joist and be hung up. You may end up tying on a lot of jigheads.” Practice makes perfect, and with plenty of practice most anglers can change those jumps into skips and put the lure right where they want it.
Travis has perfected a 3-cast system to find hungry crappie. He will shoot anything from 1/32- up to 3/16-ounce jigheads, depending on where the bite is in the water column. “When I shoot docks I use a 1/16 ounce round ball type jighead. I want something as streamline as I can get so when it hits the water it continues on a straight path. The round heads also give a more consistent skip instead of jumping or rolling over and stopping.”
Cast 1: “On the first shot, as soon as that bait quits going forward, I close the bail and start reeling. That first retrieve is fairly quick. Sometimes the fish are as shallow as 6 inches, right below the dock. I don’t want to reel back beneath them. Normally, the higher the fish are in the water column, the bigger the fish you catch.”
Cast 2: “I want my second cast to go far back under the dock. In this case I count to 2 or 3 and crank back slowly. This cast and retrieve will cover the middle water column targeting those fish that may be a little deeper, but not real deep.”
Cast 3: The third cast is the easiest. “I shoot the bait to the far back of the dock, close the bail and let it fall like a pendulum all the way back to the boat. That cast will cover the lower water column and the deeper fish.”
In three casts Travis has covered the top, middle and lower level of the water column. If he doesn’t get a bite on any of those three casts he is off to the next dock. Thay’s why it’s shootin’ and scootin’.
When you find fish you might pull up to the dock and catch 3 or 4 quickly. However, Travis warns anglers that when the water is clear enough you may see other fish around the dock, but they drop down the water column and go inactive. “They go lower, their mouths tighten up, you ain’t gonna’ catch em’.” His advice, “You need to leave them alone and come back an hour later. Chances are they will come back up and you can catch 3 or 4 more.”
The Bunting team uses Humminbird Side Imaging in their pursuit of crappie. “In the fall and winter when the fish stack up together all you have to do is run down the shoreline looking at your locator to find productive docks. You can say that dock has fish, those three don’t, etc. You know exactly where you are going to catch fish and it cuts your search time in half or more than half.”
By learning side imaging and figuring out what you are looking at your fishing will be much more efficient and productive. “We use it on brush piles and laydowns too. I don’t just find structure,” comments Travis. “I find structure with fish in it. We are normally structure fishermen. We have often fished 50 brush piles a day to find two that are holding fish and one that is holding the right fish. Now we eliminated all those bad ones and are fishing only structure that has fish in it.”
In a final tip to anglers, Travis suggests having some Super Glue on the boat.. “Shooting docks or jigging timber puts a great deal of stress on the bait,” says Travis. “It is hammering, it is skipping, it is getting bit and it is repeated over and over again.”
Once an angler has caught 4 or 5 fish the plastic will start sliding down to the round part of the hook. “When that lure slides down like that the fish comes up and bites on the plastic, you set the hook, but the plastic has now covered up the hook and you are missing the fish.”
One drop of super glue eliminates the bait slide and improves the life of the bait. “It takes a little time to glue it, but we have always felt that eliminating that plastic from sliding on that jighead is worth the extra effort.”
Travis prefers his B’n’M Buck Graphite Spinning Rod, but mainly advises anglers to choose an outfit and stick with it. “Dock shooting is like trap shooting,” says Travis. “If you keep changing guns you won’t become consistent at it.”
Muddy Water Baits are available at Grizzly Jig Company and Waypoint Outfitters.
Travis is sponsored by B’n’M Poles, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Mercury Motors, Muddy Water Baits, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Engel Coolers, Vicious Fishing, Ballz Out, Tite-Lok, and Southern Pro Tackle.
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