Preston Hardin of Bucktail Guide Service is primarily a striper guide who excels in cold-weather striper fishing, but occasionally, when conditions are not ideal, he has an extraordinary backup plan and starts plucking large strings of crappie out of Hartwell's water.

That action is going great right now, and the key to his success is targeting docks.

"Docks offer everything a crappie needs at this time of the year," Hardin said. "There's ample cover for the fish whether there are brushpiles located below the docks or not. The shade from the dock itself will attract crappie. I prefer sunny days, because the fish will better orient to the docks, but we'll catch them on cloudy and rainy days as well."

Hardin (706-255-5622) is using soft-plastic grubs on small jigs in 1/32- and 1/16-ounce sizes. Most of the fishing is vertical jigging in and around the nooks and crannies of docks. Hardin uses light action rods with 4-pound test line.


"I'll ease up to a dock and Ill flip the jig in and work it back along the floats and edges of the dock, "Hardin said. "Next, I'll slingshot the jig back in the tighter pieces of cover and under the docks or boats and swim the jig back. Then, I'll literally just drop the jig vertically in and around tight, dark places, especially if there's a boat in the slip.


"Often, the crappie will be holding in big bunches in the these small, tight, dark areas. I'll fish the jig vertically by dropping it to the bottom. I'll jiggle the rodtip a bit and slowly reel it in until I find a depth preference. At this time for the year, we may find the fish holding on docks that float in 20 feet down to 40 feet of water. As the water warms, the fish will move shallower and toward the back of the creeks.


"It's not unusual to find crappies deep near the bottom or in only four or five feet of water right under the boats or the dock floats," he said. "Sometimes, I can just swim the bait just below the float in four or five feet of water, even if the dock is in 20 to 40 feet, and crappie will be holding tight to cover in the shallow part of the water column. You can catch a limit of hefty crappie in short order doing this."


Hardin said the key is to keep moving from dock to dock until you find the right pattern, or just finally find a dock that's loaded with crappie.


"Sometimes, we'll catch scattered fish on several docks, then find one dock where the fish are stacked up and you can limit out in a hurry," he said. "It's great fun and easy fishing for some great eating fish. Of course, I'll keeps some rods rigged for the occasional school of strippers that school on the surface as well. It's definitely a win-win situation at this time of the year."