For the pure joy of fishing, nothing beats April. Most anglers would not trade this month for all the rest of the year combined. The fish are active, hungry and predictable. Often, they are swimming in shallow water where fishing for them is more fun than at any other time of the year.
Two of our most sought after fish this month are bass and crappie. Both offer opportunities for fast action and memorable adventures on the water. Here’s a look at some of our top places to fish this month.
“It’s time to fish for crappie in West Alabama,” reported District III Fisheries Biologist Jay Haffner. “Aliceville and Gainesville on the Tombigbee River and Demopolis and Warrior reservoirs on the Warrior River probably have as many slab crappies as any other period in my lifetime. The number and size of fish are exceptional and have been for the last couple of years.
“Typically, we see a few more big slab crappie on the Tombigbee, and it has good numbers of older fish — 3- to 5-year-old crappie. I expect terrific fishing if weather conditions allow anglers to get out on the water.”
Jesse Wright, a successful competitive crappie angler and president of the West Alabama Crappie Association, agreed with Haffner, but rates Gainesville as his favorite lake to fish in April. Wright’s reasons for picking Gainesville this month are the lack of fishing pressure and the availability of big fish spawning in the shallow grass.
On his best day last April, Wright and his wife Nonna caught more than 40 crappie, with many weighing 1 1/2 pounds. Their big fish weighed 2.2 pounds.
To find spawning crappie, Wright eases his boat along the grass line near shore and reaches out with his 12-foot B’n'M pole to work an orange and chartreuse, 1/16-ounce hair jig down over bare spots in the grass. He does this as quietly as possible. Wright rigs the jig on 10-pound-test monofilament with a bobber fixed 12 inches above the bait to keep it off the bottom.
If crappie are on the edge of the grass line, he pulls-and-stops, pulls-and-stops the jig and float combination parallel to the curtain of vegetation.
Located between Aliceville and Demopolis lakes on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, Gainesville Lake stretches for nearly 47 miles and covers 6,400 acres. It lies north of Interstate 59 and west of Tuscaloosa. In addition to the Tombigbee, Gainesville is fed by seven creeks and the Sipsey River.
Wright recommended launching at Vienna, which is south of the city of Aliceville off State Route 14. Within a few miles of the ramp, he said you find great fishing at Lubbub Creek, Sipsey River, Lost Lake, Round Hole and the Buzzard’s Roost.
For information on the West Alabama Crappie Association, visit their Web site at www.westalabamacrappie.com or call club president Jesse Wright at (205) 932-3997.
Biologists and anglers agreed the crappie fishery is doing well on the Tennessee River as the lakes hold several good year-classes of fish. And according to guide Keith Dodd of Madison this is especially true of Pickwick Lake.
“Crappie fishing improved again this spring on Pickwick,” Dodd explained. “A few years ago, we caught smaller crappie, but this year those fish have matured to measure 12 to 13 inches. Last April, we caught good numbers of quality fish in the 1 1/2- to 21/4-pound range.”
As our last lake on the Tennessee River, Pickwick flows northwest for most of its 49-mile length. About a quarter of the lake’s lower waters belong to Mississippi and Tennessee. However, anglers find the best crappie fishing in Alabama on Bear and Second creeks.
Pickwick’s crappie move to the banks to spawn in April, but their timing depends on water temperature.
“Usually,” Dodd revealed, “crappie start spawning when the water reaches 68 degrees and peaks at 72 degrees. As water temperatures warm into the upper 60s, the fish cannot decide whether to hold over deep water or move onto the flats.”
To locate and catch crappie, Dodd rigged his boat with rod holders to troll six rods on the bow and another six on the stern. The rods vary in length from 10 to 14 feet to provide spacing for his lures, which are 1/16-ounce Jiffy Jigs or Blakemore Road Runner lures.
He begins by trolling the lures 30 to 40 feet behind the boat and watches his GPS to maintain a speed of 0.4 miles per hour. The combination of speed, line length and lure weight allow the baits to travel 12 to 14 feet deep. Dodd then varies boat speed to control lure depth.
Early in the morning, Dodd probes the deeper water off the flats and over the creek channel. As the water warms into mid-morning, he checks to see if the crappie have moved onto the flats and increases speed to adjust the lures depth for shallower water. If the flats do not produce, he returns to the creek channel.
“Check the flats all day long,” Dodd suggested, because they move shallow as soon as the water warms enough to feed.”
For details on booking a guide trip with Keith Dodd, visit www.keithdoddsguideservice.com or telephone (256) 679-1826.
To learn more about crappie fishing and tournaments in northwest Alabama, check out the Shoals Area Crappie Association Web site at www.shoalscrappie.com.
Last April, Marvin Sheffield of Camden placed third in the annual Wilcox Area Chamber Big Fish Crappie Tournament with a slab weighing 1.93 pounds. Even so, his luck could have been better. The week before, he caught a slab that tipped the scales at 3 1/2 pounds.
During an average day of fishing in April, Sheffield reported anglers can expect to catch a limit of crappie weighing 1 to 2 1/2 pounds, with an occasional bigger fish. Two years ago, Sheffield and his wife Sherian landed a couple of giant papermouths weighing more than 4 pounds.
The second of three flood-control reservoirs on the Alabama River, Millers Ferry lies between Jones Bluff Res
ervoir and Claiborne Lake. The lower half of the lake is a flatland impoundment with flooded feeder creeks, fields, and timber — perfect for growing crappie.
To find crappie from late March to late April, Sheffield targets prespawn fish. The veteran angler said these fish stage in predictable locations and eagerly strike artificial lures.
“Crappie stage at creek mouths and points leading into their spawning areas,” Sheffield explained. “Look for treetops or heavy cover near a drop-off or creek channel at depths of 8 to 15 feet and not far from spawning flats. To hold crappie, the cover should also have baitfish nearby.
“The place where I caught the 3 1/2-pound fish in mid-April was a flat with two treetops at the mouth of a creek. The flat was 8 feet deep and next to a channel 14 feet deep.”
Sheffield’s fishing rig is a spinning rod rated for the 1/16-ounce weedless jigs he favors for working heavy cover. A few years ago, his rig included a slip bobber with stopper, but the bobber limited the jig’s depth and did not produce as well as the weedless jig worked through the limbs.
To probe deep heavy cover, Sheffield casts past the target, lets the jig descend to depth and then with a quick arm-lift propels the lure straight up. He allows the jig to free-fall and repeats the action.
Sheffield recommended anglers fish Pine Barren and Foster creeks, Alligator and Dale’s sloughs and the Buzzard Roost.
For information on the Wilcox Area Chamber Big Fish Crappie Tournament scheduled for April 9, 2011, or their Jackpot Crappie Derby running from April 9 to May 8, telephone the chamber at (334) 682-4929 or visit their web site at www.wilcoxareachamber.org.
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