Georgia Spring Slab Action

The spawn is getting close for crappie in Georgia waters, and that's when the action really warms up. Here are some places it's likely to be the hottest.

If you don't already know this about crappie fishing in Georgia, you should: chartreuse is almost always a good color choice, whether it's the color of the head, body or tail of your jig or the color of the hook you use with a minnow.

Nearly everything else about catching one of freshwater's tastiest fish may be up for debate. That's why we went to a reliable source -- the 178-member Georgia Slab Masters fishing club -- in search of the best places and tips to help you catch more crappie this spring.

As water temps approach 60 degrees and signal the start of the crappie spawn, this is the time to get your chartreuse baits in order, said Georgia Slab Masters president Tony Outlaw, a 30-year veteran of crappie fishing in the Peach State. From now through May, you can find some of the best crappie fishing Georgia has to offer.

"We're a bunch of folks who love to catch crappie, and we have some of the most knowledgeable fishermen anywhere," Outlaw said. "If you're looking for places to go crappie fishing, we're a good place to start.

"We actually put some thought into our schedule. We schedule the best lakes at the best times. Our Web site [www.gaslabmasters.com] is a good, quick finder of where to go at the right time."

With the help of Outlaw and other members of the club here are some Georgia lakes that should offer hot crappie action this spring.

WEST POINT LAKE

This 25,900-acre Chattahoochee River reservoir on the Georgia-Alabama line near LaGrange may be at its best for crappie fishing in March. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reports that West Point has a healthy population of crappie, with average fish measuring 9 inches. The average weight is around 1/2 pound, but there are frequent catches of more than 2 pounds.

The lake is loaded with quality fish, Outlaw said, especially in the top end of the impoundment. He likes New River, Potato Creek and Yellow Jacket Creek in the spring. Beech, Stroud, Wehadkee and Whitewater creeks are also prime locations.

Trolling is normally the way to go in March on West Point, either "pushing" baits from the front of the boat or "pulling" baits from behind. A key is hitting the edges of submerged wood in 10- to 12-foot depths that are close to shallow water. Spider-rigging -- the use of multiple rods while trolling -- is a good way to cover more water.

In March as the water temperature reaches into the high 50s and low 60s, you can expect crappie to be in the shallows spawning or staging on deeper-water structure like stumps, logs and brush piles.

Outlaw didn't compete in the Georgia Slab Masters event at West Point last March, when a seven-fish limit weighing 12.33 pounds won and the big fish weighed 2.46 pounds. Instead, he and a buddy just went "one-pole fishing. It was almost like bream fishing."

They used a simple cork-and-jig rig, with a curly tail jig tied on about 3 feet below the float. Outlaw used a popular West Point color combination -- chartreuse jighead, blue body, and chartreuse tail. That's a chartreuse/blue/chartreuse combo in crappie-fishing vernacular. But when he saw his buddy out catch him two to one with an orange/blue/chartreuse jig, he made the switch.

The tactic was simple. Motor up lake into the New River, Potato Creek or Yellow Jacket Creek areas, cast the jig around wood in the creek channel in 10 to 12 feet of water and let the cork sit.

"You need to get close to the wood, and when you get there, let it be still. I caught 45 like that on Saturday [during the tournament]," Outlaw said. "It's just another style that not many people use."

LAKE LANIER

There may not be anybody more in tune than Tracy Tompkins when it comes to crappie fishing in this 38,000-acre Chattahoochee River impoundment northeast of Atlanta. While better known for its spotted bass and striper fishing, Lanier more than holds its own for crappie anglers, where numbers are good and fish are common in the 1/2- to 3/4-pound range.

Tompkins, a full-time crappie guide on Lanier and a Georgia Slab Masters member, said crappie fishing is too often overlooked on the huge lake.

"It's a lake you can catch them year-round," said Tompkins, whose son Connor caught a 3.2-pounder last year. "You can catch 14- and 15-inch fish all the way to July in 10 feet of water. Lanier's a very good crappie lake."

One thing Thompkins likes to do is drift with a live minnow, hooked through the eyes. He starts with hard-to-find chartreuse No. 6 Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp hooks.

"A lot of people think that's too small of a hook, but they hook the crappie in the roof of the mouth and you don't lose fish."

Thompkins targets water 4 to 12 feet deep and often pushes four rods out the front of the boat. He drifts very slowly -- less than 1/4 mile per hour -- and if the wind's too strong to drift, he slowly motors into the wind. He rigs his bait with a 1/16-ounce bullet-style weight, a swivel and an 18-inch leader to the hook. He uses 10- to 12-foot poles on the front of the boat with 6-pound P-Line.

The best Lanier crappie fishing is way up lake, into both the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers. Look for areas with downed trees, stickups and other submerged structure. Find for 10 feet of water and fish your minnow or jig 4 feet deep.

Up the Chattahoochee, Thompkins goes all the way to the back of Wahoo Creek. On the Chestatee, where he said there's lots of big fish, he hits the back of Yellow Creek.

"You can load up your boat [in Yellow Creek] all the way up to April," he pointed out

Crappie fishing on Lanier also means shooting docks, and Lanier has plenty of choices. Tompkins has a bit of a twist to that, too. He pitches right up to the dock with a BB shot-weighted rig with a minnow and that small chartreuse hook.

"A lot of times they hit that minnow instead of a jig."

He uses that same rig when crappie are spawning in skinnier water, except he hooks the minnow under the lip and through the nose. Pitch it right up to the bank and work it back like you would a plastic worm for bass.

When Tompkins uses jigs -- he prefers hair jigs to soft-plasti

cs -- he uses blue/chartreuse, June bug/chartreuse and "one color I just can't tell you about."

CLARKS HILL LAKE

This 71,000-acre Savannah River impoundment on the Georgia-South Carolina line just north of Augusta gets high marks for numbers and quality of its crappie. Ron Wallace, a devoted crappie man from Sandersville, can attest to both contentions. During a three-day stretch last march on Clarks Hill, he limited out before 11 a.m. each day and caught 20 fish weighing more than 2 pounds.

His tactic of choice was trolling a tandem of 1/32- and 16-ounce jigs tied about three feet apart. At the end of the line, he ties on a Pony jighead, a light-wire lure with a spinner blade that is similar to a Roadrunner. A lighter jig is tied above.

His favorite jig body is a Jiffy Jig Crappie Snack in butterscotch/chartreuse. The butterscotch color is just what the name implies -- think butterscotch candy with sparkles. The Crappie Snack has a paddle-style tail. Other good colors are black/chartreuse, bubblegum/chartreuse and blue/chartreuse.

Wallace, who teamed with partner Tim Werkin to win the Georgia Slab Masters points championship in 2010, said March crappie fishing means hitting creeks on the south end of the lake, such as Cherokee, Grays, Germany and Lloyd. Look for the ledges between deep and shallow water and target water in the 10- to 20-foot range, pulling the Pony jigs at 4 to 8 feet while trolling 0.8 to 1.2 mph. As you would anywhere, look for submerged wood.

The DNR's Web site suggests the backs of creeks like Big, Hart, Dry Fork, Knoblick and Cherokee during the pre-spawn and Gray, Soap Pistol and Newford creeks and the Little River later in the spring

One more thing Wallace makes sure he brings on every crappie trip is a container of Berkley PowerBait Crappie Nibbles. He tips a jighead with the chartreuse-colored chunks, and has made believers in the biodegradable bait among his fishing companions.

LAKE OCONEE

Lake Oconee, the 19,000-acre Georgia Power impoundment on the Oconee River in east-central Georgia, has been kind over the years to crappie veteran Robert Huff of Macon.

"I don't believe I have ever come in under third place in any tournament there," said Huff, who won the last Georgia Slab Masters event there two years ago. "It's one of my favorites. It's a favorite lake for a lot of other people, too. The fishing pressure's been up because the fishing's been so good."

The spring is the best time for numbers and sizes on Oconee. Once the water temperature hits the magic number of 62 degrees, the back of nearly any creek will be the place to go for actively spawning crappie.

"Find them in 3 to 5 feet of water," said Huff, who targets suitable water in Sugar Creek and the Apalachee River above Swords Access.But most of Oconee's creeks are good in March and throughout the spring. Some other productive areas are Richland, Sandy and Lick creeks. Look for standing timber and brush piles.

The key, Huff said, is timing, particularly when Georgia Power pumps water out of the lake to generate electricity. Huff always keeps an eye on the water level; as the water is drawn out of the backs of creeks, he backs out, too. The crappie usually stage in 8 to 12 feet of water before returning to the shallows when the water flows back in.

"When they start generating and start pulling water out, they pull out the baitfish, too, and the crappie follow them out, too." Huff explained. "Those crappie move in and out on you, so you've got to be ready to go back and forth with them."

Huff pushes his baits with a double-hook set-up underneath a bullet weight, two plastic BBs and a swivel. His 20-inch leader has a 1/24-ounce Jiff Jig at the end and a No. 2 hook through the lips of a minnow 10 inches above. He pushes the bait slowly, often with no more than two feet of line out.

Huff's go-to color combination is chartreuse/white/chartreuse.

"It has won more tournaments for me than anything else," he said.

Casting minnows or jigs under a float is a good option for those not wanting to troll with multiple lines. Occasionally give the cork a pop, Huff suggested.

WEISS LAKE

Lake Weiss's reputation as the "Crappie Capital of the World" is still strong. The 20,000-acre Coosa River reservoir on the Georgia-Alabama line in northwest Georgia offers both numbers and size. Only about 2,000 acres, however, are in Georgia. According to DNR reports, fish averaging 10 to 12 inches are common, and you stand a good chance at a 2-pounder.

Rod Fry, a Slab Master veteran who partners in tournaments with his wife Jeanne, has finished in the money several times in events on Weiss. He said the key to fishing the lake for spring crappie is hitting the right coves.

"If it's 60-degree water, they're going to be up in those coves," he emphasized. "Period."

Powerhouse Cove near the dam in Alabama, is really good in the spring, especially if you can find some 10-foot-deep water.

"That's a place to spider-rig in the spring," Fry said.

The Riverside area near Godfrey's Island in the upper portion of the lake may be even better. The main river channel is close by, and the water depth quickly changes from 10 to 25 feet.

"You're right on the drop-off where the fish can go back and forth," Fry explained. "It's a good spot year-round.

"If you look on a map on any lake and you see the main channel run close to the bank, that always holds fish, no matter what time of year."

Spider rigging is a good bet with jigs and minnows on Weiss, but don't overlook casting either under a float. Target downed trees and other submerged wood, like brush piles. Fry uses Jiffy Jigs and AWD curly-tails in chartreuse color combinations. Black/chartreuse is a good start.

"You can't go wrong with chartreuse," he confirmed.

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