Peach State Crappie Forecast

Peach State Crappie Forecast

Regardless of where you live in Georgia, there is good crappie angling nearby. Try these destinations for some hot action this spring.

By Don Baldwin

If you read fishing articles, which you obviously do or you wouldn't be reading this, you likely agree that most articles in Southern fishing magazines are dedicated to one species of fish - bass. Bass - whether largemouth, smallmouth, hybrid, striped, Coosa or otherwise - do seem to dominate the angling press.

In the process, another popular game fish gets overlooked in Georgia. In this article, we'll focus on that under-reported species - crappie.

Although admittedly less dramatic, crappie fishing can produce excellent angling action for those who know how to approach it. These fish are plentiful, can grow to impressive size, are relatively easy to catch, and provide some pretty good eatin' when introduced to a frying pan, corn meal and some well-heated grease.

Let's take a closer look at the crappie population in some specific lakes around the state, and discover a few pointers on where to fish and how to catch the papermouths. While there are about as many techniques as there are anglers, some have proven to be consistently productive.

WEISS LAKE
No discussion of Georgia crappie fishing would be complete if it didn't include some information on Weiss Lake. This Alabama Power impoundment of just over 30,000 acres has long carried the moniker of "Crappie Capital of the World," and with good reason. The fertile body of water continually produces "slab" crappie in significant numbers and attracts anglers from all over the South, who come to the lake specifically to try for a trophy crappie.

Actually, only about 2,000 acres of Weiss are in Georgia, but the Peach State's portion of the fishery can be impressive. Kevin Dallmier, a Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) fisheries biologist, lives near Weiss and spends a fair amount of his free time fishing the lake. He feels that while the quality of the crappie population on Weiss dropped off for a few years, it is on the rebound, with several good spawns over the past few years.

"I spend most of my time trolling small jigs," Dallmier said.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By small, he means 1/16- to 1/24-ounce jigheads with plastic grub trailers.

"The best method in the early spring is to drag the jigs slowly along the ledges of creek channels with six or eight lines behind the boat. Keep the boat moving so the jigs don't settle into the brush on the bottom, but moving very slowly is the key."

Weiss is generally very shallow. It is essentially a series of connected flats with creek channels running through them. The ledges of these creek channels are great ambush points for crappie feeding on bait that comes down the edge.

That shallow water in the reservoir also merits a word of caution. Stumps abound on the flats, so be careful where and how fast you run when moving between fishing locations. If you find a stump with the foot of your outboard while running at high speed, you could be in for a long and expensive day.

When a late cold snap comes in, dropping air and water temperatures, Weiss regulars switch to a bottom-bumping method of angling employing dropper rigs and live minnows. The dropper rig consists of a 1/4-ounce weight on the end of 10-pound- test line. A hook is attached about two feet from the end, using a piece of dropper line. A live minnow is placed on the hook. The rig is dragged slowly across the lake floor, with the weight staying in contact with the bottom but the minnow suspended above.

It is a good idea to attach the weight to the main line with a short leader of lighter-test monofilament. That way it can be broken off on hangups without the angler having to retie the entire rig.

The most important factor in bottom bumping is to move slowly. In fact, the best way to do it on windy days is to face your boat into the wind and make a little headway with the trolling motor. Some locals refer to the technique as "hovering." That is a pretty effective way to describe it.

You want to have the boat and bait just barely moving. The fish are extremely lethargic during cold snaps and won't chase a bait very far. This method suspends the bait in front of their noses. It has proven to be very effective on Weiss and will probably be a good choice on other bodies of water under severely cold conditions.

As the water warms in the spring to 55-degree level, the fish move up onto the flats to spawn. Look for them in 5 to 12 feet of water around brush. A minnow fished under a float can be very productive when the fish are on the beds, but jigs work as well.

As you move into the summer months, the fish tend to move into deeper water and look for shade. Sometimes you find them on the deeper brushpiles by dangling a minnow above them, but as the day moves on and the sun gets high, the many docks along the banks are great places to check out, since the fish seek the shade they provide. The only problem is that a lot of those docks offer little clearance beneath them, making it hard to cast a jig or minnow up underneath.

A method called shooting, flipping or sling-shotting can provide a solution to this problem. In this method of casting, a short spinning rod about 4 1/2 feet long is pulled back, and its recoil in straightening propels the jig well under the shade of the dock to the fish. It requires you to bend down near the water, hold the jig between your thumb and forefinger with the hook pointing away from you (that part is very important), pull an arc in the rod, aim and let the jig fly to the spot. It will require a little practice, and you'll probably stick a few fingers, but the effort will pay off.

Once you have the jig under the dock, let it sink, watch the line carefully, and set the hook at the slightest movement. Often the strike will be nothing more noticeable than a pause in the descent of the line.

This method is extremely effective during late spring and summer months.

ALLATOONA LAKE
This lake, just north of Atlanta, has been an excellent crappie producer over the years. While trolling small jigs on Allatoona generally finds a few fish, the best way to pinpoint crappie on this clearwater reservoir is to find brushpiles. The lake bottom in 54-year-old 11, 860-acre Allatoona is bare of natural brush, most of it having long since deteriorated. There are, however, a lot of brushpiles that have been planted by local anglers.

If you can find some submerged brush in the early spring on Allatoona in 15 to 20 feet of water, you are likely to find crappie hanging nearby. Drop a minnow down to the brushpile with a small weight and get ready for the hit.

Jim Hakala, the WRD biologist assigned to the lake, has a project under way to plant artificial fish attracters at various locations around the impoundment. These teepee-shaped structures are made of PVC pipe and are designed to attract fish yet be "fisherman friendly." Their smooth surface is less likely to cause hangups than natural brush and thus eliminates the need to tie on new hooks regularly.

Good locations to try in Allatoona include Little River, Stamp Creek, Sweetwater Creek and Illinois Creek.

NOTTELY LAKE
At 4,180 acres, this Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir is a jewel among the mountains and a fertile and excellent fishery to boot. The crappie population in Nottely, situated west of Blairsville in Union County, is second only to that of the black bass population, according to recent creel surveys. It also offers the best crappie angling of any of the surrounding mountain reservoirs. As an example, the gill-netting results on Nottely showed three times the density of crappie of neighboring Lake Chatuge.

Georgia WRD biologist Reggie Weaver is responsible for Nottely and said that the fall 2003 sampling results showed an abundance of fish.

"There are a lot of small 2-year-old fish in the 1/2- to 1-pound range," Reggie said. "But we also saw a good number of 1-pound-plus fish."

In general, the catch rate on Nottely should be good this year, with fairly large numbers of smaller fish.

Weaver pointed out that the upper half of Nottely consistently produces most of the fish, but there are some good creeks on the lower end as well.

He added that crappie do well on Nottely because they like the more-turbid conditions that the lake provides. The lake is also high in nutrients and supports a good forage fish population for the crappie to feed on.

"Greater groceries equals greater growth," Weaver explained.

Nottely doesn't have a lot of brush, but the sunken debris that is there tends to concentrate the fish. Early in the spring the crappie concentrate over the brush, and this is probably the easiest time to catch them. Creel surveys are consistently better in the early spring than they are any other time of the year, mostly due to that concentration. At that time of year, minnows or jigs suspended vertically over brushpiles are likely to be very productive.

Later in the spring as the water warms, the fish scatter, and trolling is a more effective method to find them. Pull 1/16- to 1/24-ounce jigs slowly behind the boat to find schools of crappie. Once you get a hit, circle back and run the jigs through the area again. Pay attention to how far behind the boat the jigs are and the color combination that gets the hit. Crappie are often finicky and only take a bait at the precise depth and with the proper color combination.

Another aid in locating crappie schools is to pay attention to your electronics and watch for the fish showing up on your depthfinder. A final hint is that crappie almost always move up to feed. If you see fish on the graph, make sure that your bait is at their level or higher, because otherwise you probably will miss out on the strikes.

The Deavertown Ramp is a good access point because it has a low-water ramp that reaches the water at virtually all lake levels. The ramp is also centrally located on the lake, so you can move up and down the impoundment easily and minimize your running time.

BARTLETTS FERRY LAKE
This 5,850-acre Georgia Power Company lake on the Chattahoochee River near Columbus is not often cited as a good crappie-fishing destination. But if you look at the data, you'll see that Bartletts Ferry (or Lake Harding, as it is officially known) consistently produces good-quality fish in the 1/2-pound or better range. Brent Hess of the WRD looks after the lake, and his data show that about two-thirds of the lake's papermouths collected in standardized sampling were in the "quality" to "preferred" categories (using the WRD's terminology). Better than 50 percent of the fish taken are over 10 inches in length, and there are sufficient numbers of fish present to keep catch rates high.

While most of the fish top out at 1/2 and 3/4 pound each, there are a significant number of bigger slabs available for the taking.

As with most lakes, trolling is generally productive, but dropping a jig or minnow over brush or one of the six fish attractors placed around the lake may be the best bet.

BEAR CREEK RESERVOIR
To provide a preview of a "sleeper" crappie destination, let's consider Bear Creek Reservoir, in Jackson County. According to the WRD, this new impoundment, located just east of Winder, looks like it will be a great place for crappie within the next few years.

While there is presently no boating access, limited bank fishing is allowed. The population of crappie in the lake seems to be thriving, and prospects are excellent for an outstanding crop of "slabs" in short order. The fish are growing rapidly, and the survival rate is extremely good.



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