Docks and crappies go together like baseball and hot dogs. Offering panfish a fine mix of cover, comfort and forage, these ubiquitous shoreline structures attract fish from ice-out to ice-up.

Sadly, few slab seekers fully reap a dock’s fish-producing potential. Worse, many anglers overlook them altogether, especially early in the year and again later in the summer when water temperatures soar.

But not Paul Fournier. The central Minnesota panfish fiend stalks docks all season, and has developed surefire strategies for targeting the sweet-filleted hordes holding in and around them.

“Docks hold crappies from the time the first fish move shallow in 38- to 40-degree water temperatures right through the spawn and into summer,” he says. “The trick is finding the best structures your favorite lakes have to offer.”

Fournier’s first step is searching a detailed lake map for relatively fast-breaking banks. Such near-shore drop-offs are a good sign that docks along the break offer enough depth and easy access to even deeper water to attract crappies.

“Docks that extend into 4 feet of water or more are ideal,” he says. “That’s not to say you won’t catch crappies in a foot of water at times, but overall, the extra depth attracts more fish on a regular basis.”

Being adjacent to deep-water sanctuaries allows the fish to quickly slip into the abyss during severe cold fronts or other harsh conditions. If you don’t have a map, Fournier says to just look at the shoreline.

“If there’s a nice, steep shoreline leading down to the water, it’s a safe bet the incline continues out into the lake. Docks along the bottom of that hill are definitely worth checking out.”

Fournier also assesses the structural amenities each dock has to offer. For example, large wooden pilings can be fish magnets. By attracting an abundance of algae, insects and baitfish, such posts are literally fonts of aquatic life. Naturally, such a smorgasbord attracts hungry panfish, too, including crappies. Though not as common as in years past due to the popularity of easy-to-deploy metal dock frames, wooden pilings are still worth seeking out and noting for future milk runs.

Fournier says he also looks for more-complex dock over simple structures. You might pull a few fish off a no-frills straight section, he says, but L- and T-shaped docks typically hold far more crappies.

“Add a boat lift and canopy to the mix and a dock’s stock really goes up. The real finds are multi-section, wishbone-shaped monsters with marina cutouts for large boats—you can find the mother lode of crappies under big docks like these.”  

Fournier also focuses on swim rafts moored just beyond a dock or at the edge of a beach. When not in use, these structures can be hot zones for crappies, along with various sunfish plus bonus bass. Swim rafts really shine when water temperatures warm in June and July as crappie seek the cool, shady refuge.

Docking panfish requires no special tackle. Fournier is quick to note that even boats are optional accessories for his top dock presentations. In fact, you’re as apt to see him stalking the shoreline in waders as you are bobbing over the waves.

Afoot or afloat, standard panfish spinning gear is hard to beat. Fournier typically spools with 4-lb mono, although he beefs up to 6-lb when targeting slabs tucked tight in the branches of woody cover. With both setups, he adds a 24- to 36-inch leader of light fluorocarbon to limit visibility.

Suspending live or artificial baits beneath a small float is deadly. Standard presentations such as a lively crappie minnow or panfish leech on a light-wire Aberdeen hook will draw plenty of takers, but Fournier ups the ante with a 1/32- or 1/64-ounce, feather-tailed Lindy Little Nipper.

“You can tip them with waxworms or small soft-plastic trailers, or fish them straight,” he says. “If you choose the latter option, be sure to spice things up with twitches and pops.”

A 1/32-ounce Lindy Watsit Jig is another Fournier favorite. “The bulky plastic body slows the jig’s fall rate, plus the flappy tail and wiggly legs add subtle motion.”

There’s more to successful dock fishing than randomly lobbing bobber rigs. You want to pick off the most active crappies first. On a cloudy day, these fish patrol the front and sides, and may even roam out into open water nearby. Pitching a bobber and jig along dock edges is a great way to pick them up.

Key casting targets include inside and outside dock corners, along with posts, cement blocks used to anchor the dock, and other fish-attracting features.

“Don’t forget to fish blowout holes beneath boat and jet-ski lifts,” Fournier said. “The depressions can be several feet deeper than the surrounding bottom. Crappies love to hold in them and sometimes spawn there, too.”

On sunny days, slabs sulk in the shady inner sanctums well inside the perimeter of a fixed dock or swimming platform. To reach these fish, use a crisp side-arm cast to pitch your rig beneath the dock—the farther back the better. Standard floats are fine in open environs, but Fournier likes the Thill Wobble Bobber for skipping far underneath a dock.

“The extra weight skips well, and the pear-shaped body adds a jigging motion with the slightest of rod movements,” he said. “Always keep a tight line when fishing beneath docks. You might not be able to see the bobber go under, but with a tight line you can feel most bites. Once a fish is hooked, apply steady pressure and quickly pull it away from the maze of dock posts and other water hazards that will otherwise claim your catch.”