Photo by Scott Maloch
Crappie are one of Georgia’s bread-and-butter species. Legions of anglers consider partaking of the spring crappie run a sacred duty. Crappie, which thrive best in large reservoirs with a strong shad forage base, do well in Georgia because of the abundance of lakes in our state and our temperate climate. Long growing seasons and plenty of small shad lead to slab crappie aplenty.
Not all lakes are created equal, though, and crappie populations are notoriously cyclic. Numbers often fluctuate up and down on a three- to five-year basis, leading to some years being better than others on any given lake. Fishing may be down a little bit on your favorite lake, but just down the road anglers are likely to be enjoying their best success in recent memory. Mother Nature has a way of maintaining balance when it comes to papermouths, and as long as the forage is there, the crappie are there too.
The key to any predator management is forage management, and reservoir managers actively work to maintain strong, dynamic baitfish populations. A dynamic forage base producing an abundance of shad fry is one of the key ingredients in keeping a crappie population healthy. Add in efforts to improve habitat and keep spring reservoir water levels conducive to successful crappie spawning, and you have all the necessary elements for good crappie fishing.
All across the Peach State, April is a prime month for crappie angling. While these tasty members of the sunfish family are distributed all across Georgia, a few lakes stand out for crappie-catching potential. Let’s take a tour of some of Georgia’s premier crappie holes.
Starting in the northwest corner of the state, Allatoona Lake, a 12,010-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment on the Etowah River, offers fine crappie fishing. A deep lake nearly devoid of cover, Allatoona can present some tough fishing, which has led to its unfair nickname, “The Dead Sea.” Deep lakes with barren bottoms are always tough to fish. There may be plenty of fish available, but finding and catching them is the hard part. During certain periods, though, the odds even up a little.
For Allatoona crappie anglers, April is one of these times. The fish are shallow, concentrated around what little woody cover can be found, and ready to bite minnows or jigs.
Preliminary site work on this reservoir began in 1941, but the project was put on hold with the outbreak of World War II and was not completed until 1950. At the time of construction, it was common practice to completely clear the lake basin. The result is an impoundment with very few stumps or other offshore cover. Shoreline cover is not abundant, but between boat docks and blown-down trees, crappie anglers can find some targets.
To help out both the fish and the fishermen, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, the Corps of Engineers, and local angler groups are working on an aggressive program to improve the lake’s habitat by the construction and placement of fish attractors. These structures made of PVC pipes are situated in the mid-depths and are ideal for attracting crappie.
To date, 36 attractors have been placed. For more information on the program, including a downloadable map and GPS coordinates, visit www.gofishgeorgia.com or call the WRD Summerville office at (706) 857-3394.
The reason April is such a great month for Allatoona crappie is that the fishing just doesn’t get any easier. Crappie spend most of the year in deep water. With the first hints of spring, though, water temperatures start to climb and the fish move shallow, looking for suitable places to spawn. Crappie love to bed around wood, and that trait has led to the demise of many papermouths. Find shallow wood in early spring, and it’s almost guaranteed that there will be at least a few crappie around.
The best fishing is in the creek arms. Because they are shallower and the water is usually stained, these areas warm first. Also, creek arms usually have the woodiest cover in the form of blow-downs and boat docks.
One trick to keep in mind when fishing the shallows is that if all you can catch are small males, do a 180-degree turn and start casting to open water on the other side of the boat. The bigger females may be in deeper water. Try counting down your jig to different depths until you find the fish.
Although Allatoona anglers can catch crappie anywhere on the lake when conditions are right, there are a few prime places to try. The Little River arm is a consistent producer, as is the upper Etowah River arm. Both have plenty of cover. A hard rain really muddies them up, though, so they are best after a few days of stable weather.
Other good places to try are the smaller creek arms. Kellogg, Illinois, Stamp and McKaskey creeks are all good choices. Search these areas for the right combination of shallow cover and stained, but not muddy, water.
Access to Allatoona Lake is excellent for both shoreline and boat anglers. The reservoir has more than 35 access points, most of which have boat ramps. More than 10 public campgrounds are found on the lake’s shoreline. Several private marinas also provide launch facilities. Some public areas on the lake charge a daily user fee, so be sure to check area rules and regulations.
Angling at Allatoona Lake is managed under standard Georgia creel and length limits. The lake is situated between I-75 and I-575 north of Atlanta.
Moving across the Piedmont to Georgia’s eastern border brings us to Clarks Hill Lake. At a whopping 71,535 acres, this inland sea on the Savannah River approximately 30 miles from Augusta is operated by the Corps of Engineers. Crappie fishing has been excellent the last several years and should continue to be so. According to recent WRD fishing predictions for the lake, 1-pound crappie are abundant, and fish exceeding 2 pounds are possible.
Creeks like Fishing, Soap, Grays and Newford, as well as the Little River near Raysville, are good choices for crappie. When fishing these creeks, look for shallow wood during the spawn and then follow the fish deeper once the bedding concludes.
Clarks Hill anglers also benefit from a fish attractor program, and more than 30 structures are maintained throughout the reservoir. The attractors are excellent places around which to find crappie as the fish migrate from the shallows to deeper water after the spawn. Shore-bound anglers are not left out of the
fish attractor program either, since a cast from shore can reach the sunken Christmas trees at Lloyds Creek and Ridge Road. Maps showing the fish attractor locations are available from the Clarks Hill Corps of Engineers office by calling (800) 533-3478.
Access is excellent on this lake, with numerous boat ramps, public use areas and campgrounds to choose from. Clarks Hill Lake forms a portion of the Georgia-South Carolina border. The two states have a reciprocal agreement that allows anglers holding either a Georgia or South Carolina fishing license to fish the waters of the lake.
About halfway between Augusta and Atlanta on the I-20 corridor is Lake Oconee, one of Georgia’s most popular crappie lakes. This 18,791-acre Georgia Power Company lake with 374 miles of shoreline impounds the Oconee River. Crappie run a close second to largemouth bass in terms of popularity at Lake Oconee, which tells you a lot about the quality of the crappie fishing that draws anglers from all across Middle Georgia.
Given the affinity of crappie for wood, the fact that during construction 50 plots of timber topped off below water level and 1,250 acres of standing timber along the channels were left behind may help explain the lake’s well deserved reputation.
Spring is arguably the best time of year to be on the lake crappie fishing. In March and early April, the fish are shallow for the spawn and the fishing is easy. Fish a jig or a minnow under a bobber around blow-downs and other shallow woody cover. A sandy bottom with plenty of woody cover is a good place to find crappie this time of year.
The standing timber in Sugar Creek is a good bet, as is the upper end of the main lake. Also, the upper ends of major creeks such as Richland, Sandy and Lick offer good fishing. Oconee has plenty of boat docks, and shooting the docks with a small jig is an effective technique. The best docks are going to be on or near deeper water. Use a slingshot cast to “shoot” a small jig up under the dock and slowly work it back to the boat. Blue/black and blue/chartreuse are two favorite color patterns for Oconee crappie.
Since Oconee is a power generation lake, what is going on at the dam has a lot to do with how good the fishing is going to be. The angling always seems to be better when current is moving, and this holds especially true on Oconee.
Access is good, with several Georgia Power and U.S. Forest Service access points from which to choose. There are also several campgrounds available in case you have an extended trip in mind.
Heading south onto the Coastal Plain brings us to another good Georgia crappie lake. Spreading over 8,515 acres, Lake Blackshear on the Flint River is owned and operated by the Crisp County Power Commission. Blackshear is a riverine lake, less than a mile in width but stretching nearly 15 miles up the river valley. When the lake was constructed, plenty of timber was left behind, so woody cover is not in short supply on Blackshear. Add in the estimated 1,200 docks found on the lake, and if you can’t find somewhere that looks like a good crappie hole, you need to have your eyes checked.
According to WRD biologists responsible for managing the lake, Blackshear has a fair population of both black and white crappie. Most of the fish caught are less than 12 inches long. Anglers can expect to catch an occasional fish up to a pound, though.
Fish the shallow wood — especially boat docks — during the heart of the spawn. Shooting a yellow or white jig under docks is a favorite technique.
Cypress trees are also consistent producers, and a lively minnow fished under a bobber around the cypress knees is hard to beat during the spawn. Favorite spots include the mouths of Collins Branch, Spring Creek, Gum Creek and Boy Scout Slough, and under Smoak Bridge on the Swift Creek arm.
Before and after the spawn, woody cover in deeper water is going to be the best bet. On Blackshear, look for crappie to be holding in 4 to 12 feet of water. Good locations are around the 10 WRD-maintained fish attractors, which are conveniently marked with buoys. Most of these sites were refreshed with new brush in 2004. Maps showing locations and GPS readings for these attractors are available by calling the Dawson WRD office at (229) 995-4486.
Lake Blackshear is just west of Cordele off I-75. Access to the lake is available from U.S. Highway 280 and state routes 300 and 27. Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park, midway up the lake on the east side, is a good access point, with boat ramp facilities, shoreline fishing, camping and lodging.
Swinging back north to nearly where we started on our circular tour of Georgia crappie fishing brings us to the Coosa River on the Alabama-Georgia state line west of Rome. Although located mostly in Alabama, Lake Weiss, the self-proclaimed crappie capital of the world, has its headwaters in Georgia. Here the impoundment fishes more like a river than a lake. The now-flooded, fertile river bottoms once grew cotton, but now they grow crappie.
The fertile ecosystem and strong forage base on Weiss helps the fishery maintain its quality even in the face of heavy fishing pressure. Crappie angling on the upper part of Weiss means fishing the sloughs. When the main lake filled, even in the headwaters, the river backed up into low areas, and shallow sloughs were formed. The sloughs have plenty of woody cover like stumps and blow-downs, and the best ones have a distinct creek channel running through them. A couple of good sloughs for crappie are formed on Mount Hope and Kings creeks on the north side of the river, just downstream from the Georgia Highway 100 crossing.
Another slough, and perhaps the most popular, is Brushy Branch, a large appendage on the south side of the river just upstream from the state line and near the town of Cave Spring. You could spend a solid week fishing Brushy Branch and still not hit every good stump lying underneath the fertile waters.
Although the area is generally very shallow, fishing deep is still a good idea for most of the year — deep being a relative term, of course. While your competitors fish the shallow brush in just a few feet of water, spend some extra time to find the creek channels. Fish deeper stumps in 6 to 10
feet of water to catch the most fish. Even during the spawn, going deeper usually puts you on better fish.
Two techniques are favorites for springtime crappie fishing on the Coosa, and both are very simple. The minnow-and-bobber routine around shallow brush always catches some fish. Try to ignore the obvious, though, and search for the subtle. The crappie fishing on the Coosa is no secret, and the river gets hit hard. A little time spent searching for stumps and logs just deep enough to escape notice of the casual angler can pay off handsomely.
Jig-fishing is arguably even better than the “soak and wait” approach of bait-fishing. A 1/8-ounce leadhead tipped with a small plastic shad body in pearl or chartreuse is a killer. The jig allows you to cover more water in search of those hidden crappie condos, and the slightly bigger lure should lead to bigger fish in your livewell at the end of the day. Take plenty of jigs, though, because the Coosa stumps eat them like candy!
The main river itself can offer good fishing at times, but spring’s high, muddy water and strong current tend to complicate matters. A better tactic is to head into the sloughs.
Access is available at Montgomery Landing in Brushy Branch off State Route 100 between SR 20 and Cave Spring. This ramp is the best choice for fishing Brushy Branch and the area near the state line. For Mount Hope and Kings creeks, there is a boat ramp on the Coosa River off River Road, just downstream of the SR 100 bridge.
Keep in mind that there is no reciprocal license agreement regarding Lake Weiss. Venture too far down the river and into Alabama water, and you must meet the licensing and creel requirements of that state.
Georgia anglers have been blessed with some of the best crappie fishing to be found anywhere in the Southeast, perhaps the whole country. This spring, put on your traveling shoes and make the rounds of some of the best crappie fishing lakes in Georgia.