Baitcast skipping with Buck

Dave Mull photoBuck Mallory of Lawton shows a bass that ate his Denny Brauer Structure Jig after he skipped it way back under a pier Wednesday evening. 

Fishing is a sport that always has room for its participants to improve. Maybe that’s why some of us are so obsessed with it. 

Bass fishing in particular has so many different presentations and tactics to learn and practice that no one, really, can claim perfection in all of them. 

Wednesday, I asked my buddy Buck Mallory, of Lawton, to teach me how to skip lures under piers and pontoon boats with a baitcasting combo. 

Bass of all sizes hang out in the shade of docks and pontoons when the weather is hot, and skipping is the best way to get a lure to them.

The baitcast reel, with its levelwind spool, is not the ideal reel for skipping a lure along the water’s surface. This style of reel is prone to backlashes, a phenomenon that creates what anglers call bird nests of their fishing line.

Basically, the angler casts, and the weight of the lure pulls line off the spool, causing it to spin, but when the lure stops moving, the reel spool keeps spinning, and the line has nowhere to go. It just bunches up in and around the reel.

The resulting tangle can take a long time to rectify. Sometimes it can’t be untangled and the angler just takes the reel home and cuts the line off. 

Skipping is just asking for trouble with this gear. When the angler skips lure with a baitcaster, the lure slows down as soon as it hits the water for its first bounce, and continues to slow down as it approaches its target under a pier or pontoon boat. 

I first learned to skip with a pushbutton spincast reel back in the mid-1980s. The first person who showed me the technique used a short rod to fling a triple-hook plastic nightcrawler lure called a K&E Plow Jockey under piers. He fished it without any added lead weight, standing on the front deck of his bass boat and whipping it sidearm at the end of piers with considerable force.

I got my own push-button reel to skip with for awhile, but eventually graduated to an open-face spinning reel. Tube jigs and double tail hula grubs (Yamamoto brand) were the lures of choice and the technique almost always yielded some bass from the dark recesses of docks. 

I’m not sure when it became popular to skip with a baitcaster. I reckon pro-level bass anglers started skipping heavier lures tha would plummet past an idle bass’s face as it hung out under a pier, provoking a reaction strike.  I had tried to skip now and then with a baitcast reel, and always had an instant backlash. So I asked for the instruction from Buck, who has been fishing Bassmaster open tournaments for several years. I’d seen him skip jigs under piers with great skill. 

“The first thing is to use the right shape of jig,” Buck told me as he ran his bow mount trolling motor in front of piers at Reynolds Lake east of the small town of Lawrence. “It’s just like skipping a stone. Flatter stones skip better. So the best jigs have a decent size flat surface on the lead head.”  His favorite jigs are from the Strike King Lire Company and called the Denny Brauer Structure Jig. He usally adorns the back of it with a Baby D-Bomb soft plastic, which has a kind of panfish profile, with flappers and a tail that incites strikes when it drops past a bass’s nose. 

“The other key is to use your thumb a lot on the spool as you skip,” Buck said. “Feel that spool the whole time while watching what your jig does and be ready to stop the spool from spinning as soon as the jig stops moving across the water’s surface.” 

Buck was using a 7-foot, 1-inch G. Loomis rod with a medium heavy action and a slightly floppy tip. 

“The extra bend in the tip is so the bass doesn’t feel me right away when it grabs the lure,” Buck explained. “The fish doesn’t usually spit it out before I have a chance to set the hook.” 

I didn’t have a rod that quite matched that unique action, but actually was able to skip adequately with the heavy-action, 7-foot, 2-inch Shimano baitcast rod I had brought. I got up to speed as soon as Buck gave me the pointers—and a Denny Brauer Structure Jig.

Buck put on quite a show, skipping his jig way back under pontoons and piers and catching more than a dozen bass while I just watched and practiced the technique—and picked out the occasional backlash.

While Buck was able to zip his jig through the narrow space between an outboard motor and aluminum pontoon, I didn’t even attempt such casts. I knew the loud “gong” sound of a 1/2-ounce lead jig blasting into a hollow pontoon would likely raise the ire of the pontoon boat owner. 

So skipping with a baitcaster and a jig is something to practice, which means I’ll just have to spend some more time on the water doing so.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at dave.sportfish.mull@gmail.com.