Slab Time In The Peach State

Springtime's the time for crappie angling, and Georgia's blessed with plenty of places in which to find the tasty fish. Read on for some destinations that should be above average for slab action this year! (March 2007)

The author shows off the kind of crappie that Peach State waters give up this month.
Photo courtesy of Ronnie Garrison.

If you haven't experienced the ritual of catching crappie in Georgia in the spring, you've missed one of the most enjoyable fishing experiences that our state offers. The action's fast, the fish taste great, and thousands of your fellow anglers take advantage of some of the best fishing Georgia has to offer.

Growing up near Clarks Hill, I experienced that excitement each spring. Word would spread around McDuffie County like pine pollen blowing in the April wind: The crappie are in the bushes! Everyone -- from farmers who got in a boat once a year, to bass fishermen who concentrated on largemouths 50 weeks a year, to mommas and young kids -- would head to the lake to catch a mess of crappie.

This was the time to fill your freezer for fish fries that would last for months. For a two- to three-week period every cove at the lake would have several boats full of fishermen easing round the bank dropping minnows or jigs beside buttonbushes and pulling out crappie. Everyone had a big smile on his or her face.

In lakes all over Georgia, crappie go through their spawning cycle, and fishermen show up to catch them. With a little effort, you can expand the two-week spawn, when the fish are shallow, into a full spring of slab action. And you can do it at almost any large public lake near you.

During the winter, crappie are suspended out over open water, usually around some kind of wood. They hold over brushpiles or sunken treetops, and you can catch them -- trolling and jigging will prove the most effective approach -- but the weather's not very much fun, and the fish are hard to find.

As the water starts to warm in late February and early March, the fish start to move toward the spawning areas. Depending on how fast it warms up, some crappie may be back in the spawning areas in late February, but by mid-to-late March you can count on some laying eggs. The period from late March through early April is usually the prime time to catch them shallow.

Ordinarily, the shallow action is over by mid-to-late April, and the fish are heading back to deeper water. As they work outward, you can troll for them, or shoot docks on lakes that have lots of such structures. You can also find them in blown-down trees on deeper banks toward the main lake. Then, by early summer it's back to trolling and jigging in deeper water.

Spring's the time for bank-fishermen to catch their share of crappie, too. From late February to late April the papermouths are more likely to be near the bank and in reach of fishermen without boats. Find access at boat ramps, parks, fishing piers and roads that run near the water. Of course, make sure that it's on public land, or, if it's private, that you've got permission.

When you're fishing from the bank, have several rods or poles, so you can cover a fairly wide area. Keep some baits near the bank, but make long casts with others. When you catch one fish put all your bait in that spot, because a school of crappie is likely present there.

One exciting way to catch crappie on all our lakes: night-fishing. Tie up under a bridge or beside a treetop in deep water, hang a lantern over the side or drop a light into the water, and wait for the shad to come to the light. Crappie will follow them, and you can load your boat. Lit up by dozens of boats, many bridges look like small cities this time of year.

You can catch crappie all around Georgia, but some lakes are better than others. Clarks Hill seems always to be good, as do most of the bigger lakes. But don't forget the smaller public waters like public fishing areas and state parks. Some of those lakes are large enough to host worthwhile slab action.

The following six lakes should all be good for crappie this spring. Choose one near you, hook up the boat if you have one, grab some poles and enjoy this ritual of spring.

LLATOONA LAKE

Although not known as a crappie hotspot, this venue harbors a solid population of papermouths, and many anglers take advantage of it; the early-spring fishing here is very serviceable. Also, the infamous pleasure-boat traffic is quite light at Allatoona, so you can fish it in relative peace.

The crappie fishing at Allatoona has been consistent for several years, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division. The crappie you catch should average about 1/2 pound and be just over 8 inches long. Some fish weighing a pound or better should be in your catch, too.

Unless the water's unusually high, very little shoreline cover (like bushes) is available to fish, so look for shallow crappie around blowdowns and brushpiles put out by fishermen. Fishable docks will be found in the creeks.

When the crappie start spawning in the early spring, troll the creeks, dropping a jig or minnow beside any kind of wood cover.

Look for papermouths back in Kellogg, Illinois and Stamp creeks, all of which the WRD has declared to be promising for crappie action. You're likely to catch some of the biggest slabs of the year while the females, full of eggs, are back in the spawning areas in the early spring.

As the water warms, follow the crappie back out by trolling toward the mouths of the creeks. By early summer they'll be schooled up on fish-attractor brushpiles put out by the WRD or other cover put out by anglers on drops and humps on the main lake. Fishing at night will help you avoid most of the boat traffic as the weather warms and give you the best chance of catching some crappie.

LAKE HARDING

Swimming Lake Harding -- better known as Bartletts Ferry Lake -- is a big complement of big crappie. According to the WRD, at least half the crappie in the lake are in the 10- to 14-inch range and weigh about 1/2 to 3/4 pound. There are many larger fish that you can catch as well.

In late February, crappie start moving into the many pockets and small creeks on the lake. Almost all these locations have docks in them, and many of those have brushpiles around them. Catch crappie on the move from deeper water by trolling jigs. Then the fish hold on the shallow dock posts and brushpiles to spawn; at this time, shoot jigs under the docks and dabble jigs and minnows around the shallow cover.

Also look for the cypress trees planted by the WRD and Georgia Power in shallow areas on the main lake. The knees that spread out from these trees often hold spawning crappie. Fish all around them with jigs and minnows, just as if you were fishing shallow brush in the creeks.

As the crappie start to move out, they hold on deeper docks. In late spring, shoot jigs back under the docks into the shady areas where they're feeding. Try to get all the way back under the structure to the heaviest shade on bright, sunny days. Respect dock owners by skipping docks that they're fishing from; plenty of empty docks are available for you to work.

Six fish attractors put out by the WRD offer excellent fishing as summer approaches. Drop minnows and jigs around them during the day, or anchor and fish over them at night with a light. You can do the same kind of fishing along the old river channel by targeting flooded treetops and logs in deeper water.

LAKE BLACKSHEAR

When you first see Lake Blackshear, you can't help but think that you're looking at crappie heaven. And you are: The acres of cypress trees standing in shallow water and numerous docks and bridges all look like papermouth hotspots -- and they are. Add to those places the 10 brushpiles put out by the WRD and you can find crappie all over the lake.

According to the WRD, you can catch both black and white crappie at Blackshear. Most of the fish are less than 10 inches long, but a good many 1- to 1 1/2-pound fish are there to be caught. Early spring's the best time to get the bigger fish.

Blackshear's far enough south that many of its fish are spawning by late February. Look for them in the cypress tree knees and around the docks in Collins Branch, Spring Creek, Gum Creek and Boy Scout Slough. Up the main Flint River arm, all the backwaters feature welcoming spawning habitat.

Drop jigs and minnows beside cypress tress, but remember that the root system may extend out several feet. Fish from right beside the trunk out at least 3 feet or wherever the knees are showing; a minnow swimming around just over the roots should get a strike. Or you can drop jigs down to the same areas.

By late March, appreciable numbers of crappie still hold around docks, but you can also catch them off the state's fish attractors or around the bridges. Also, troll creek channel ledges for them. Fish both areas day or night from late March on through the summer.

LAKE SINCLAIR

Probably our most popular wintertime crappie fishing lake -- thanks to the warm water released from Georgia Power's steam-powered Harley Branch plant -- Sinclair's a good bet all spring long, too. Year after year it produces good catches of crappie, and that should continue in 2007.

Some 2-pound-plus slabs are caught each year at Sinclair, and most fish run more than 8 inches long. About a third of the crappie at Sinclair are 10 inches or longer and weigh more than a half-pound. In the spring, the slabs will be fat and heavy.

You can start trolling for crappie and catching them early at Sinclair if you concentrate in water warmed by the outflow of the power plant on Beaverdam Creek. By early March many papermouths are found in the backs of coves looking for spawning areas around docks, brush and bushes. The region from Beaverdam Creek downstream to the dam sees fish move in earlier with those up the Little and Oconee river arms moving in shallow a little later.

Although the crappie that you catch at Hamburg average about a half-pound, a good many 2-pound-plus fish swim the lake.

Check out Rooty Creek for good spawning areas all during the spring. The lower creek is warmed when water is being pumped back into Lake Oconee, drawing the heated water out of Beaverdam Creek and upstream into Rooty. Fish minnows and jigs around dock posts and brush back in the creeks at this time. The upper third of the creek channels should be best when the fish are spawning.

When the water hits the mid-60s, the fish have mostly finished spawning, and are moving back out. Start shooting docks in the coves, concentrating on the structures in the outer two-thirds of the creek. When you catch a crappie around a dock, stay there; others should be around, as they school up at this time of year.

Several WRD fish attractors are promising for fishing in late spring, and the main-lake docks hold crappie, too. Troll the open water around the brushpiles or shoot jigs up under docks on deeper water in late spring to find the fish. Many crappie are also caught under the Little River bridge from late spring to summer.

HAMBURG LAKE

One of the most peaceful venues for the crappie angler may also be the best at which to target big slabs. At Hamburg, a 225-acre millpond on the Little Ogeechee River in Hamburg State Park just north of Sandersville, boat motors are limited to 10 horsepower, so the lake stays quiet and calm. You can camp there, and boat rentals are available.

Although the crappie that you catch at Hamburg average about a half-pound, a good many 2-pound-plus fish swim the lake. The pond's full of stumps, and as crappie love wood cover, you can usually locate the fish fairly easily.

In the early spring, look for stumpbeds and brush out from the bank and either troll carefully through the area or cast jigs around the structure. When the water warms, cast jigs to all the shoreline cover or dabble minnows in it. In late spring, troll the old river channel and fish the standing timber along it with jigs and minnows.

When fishing standing timber, try to find the depth the crappie are holding at by spotting them on a depthfinder. If you can't see the fish for the forest, drop a live minnow or jig down and work it deeper and deeper until you catch a crappie. When you catch one, note the depth; that's where most of the other crappie should be as well.

LAKE HARTWELL

The many arms of this big reservoir all offer crappie fishing of substantial quality. Different parts of the impoundment warm at different rates, so you can usually get into a variety of types of fishing at the same time. Once you find the crappie, you can follow them as they move in, or try to hit spawning crappie over different areas and extend that catch.

A few years ago, an excellent crappie spawn took place in the low-water conditions brought on by a period of drought, and the individuals within that year-class get bigger every year. They should be around 10 to 12 inches long this year and weigh about 3/4 pound, although bigger slabs are in the lake. Hartwell should be excellent this year, especially for taking an average fish.

Start looking for crappie over structure like sunken roadbeds and standing timber near the mouths of coves and creeks in early March. As the water warms follow the schools back into the creeks and coves, trolling for them. Watch for schools of baitfish as well as the crappie as you troll. The papermouths follow the shad as them move in.

By early April the crappie should be back in the coves spawning around bushes and other cover. Check out Eastanollee, Gum Log and Shoal creeks for better chances at crappie, since those creeks have more color to the water. That usually makes catching the fish easier. If the water's too clear, it can be hard to get them to bite when they're really shallow. The stained water's also more fertile, and supports more fish.

Late in the spring, follow the fish back out trolling the creek channels and over standing timber. Night-fishing's excellent in the clear water under bridges or in the flooded timber. Try different depths until the fish start hitting and tell you where they're holding.

All of these lakes offer great crappie fishing this spring. Pick one near you or head out to find new waters. Don't miss one of the best times of the year for catching some slabs.

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