From the Mississippi River to the Great Smoky Mountains, one common aspect among Tennessee’s reservoirs is abundant crappie fishing opportunities. Tennessee Sportsman contacted some of the Volunteer state’s best crappie resources and asked them about their picks for getting in on the action as crappie make their way into the shallows and prepare for the annual spring spawn. Below are some of their top picks that will help you get on the fish this month.
Created by an earthquake in 1812, Reelfoot Lake is Tennessee’s only large natural lake and is really more of a swamp than a true reservoir, with bayou-like ditches, some natural, some manmade, that connect open bodies of water that are referred to as basins. Reelfoot is said to have more biomass of fish per acre than any other lake in the country owing to its fertile surroundings and myriad of stumps and vegetation for fish to reproduce in.
Wade Hendren from Ripley is a TWRA law enforcement officer in the northwest region of Tennessee, as well as a professional crappie tournament angler. Hendren looks forward to spring time at Reelfoot, when crappie migrate to either end of the lake.
“I’d have to rate March as a better month than April simply because of Reelfoot’s abundance of black crappie that really school up in the shallow stumpfields on either end of the lake,” he said. “They’re still in there during the first weeks of April, but from the middle of March to the first of April is the best time.”
It’s been said that a person could walk from stump to stump across the entire expanse of Reelfoot if the water ever dropped low enough to permit it. Hendren said these massive stumpfields are where you need to look for spawning crappie. Because of the stumps and pre-emergent lily pad stalks that come up in the spring, crappie don’t need to move to the shoreline to spawn and will more often than not lay eggs in the tops of hollowed-out stumps in the middle of Reelfoot’s basins.
“If you’re in the stumps, you’re where you need to be,” he said. “The wind will be the deciding factor on whether you can fish the north side or the south side of the lake.”
Hendren indicates the polar destinations on Reelfoot to be at Gray’s Camp on the Upper Blue Basin on the north end of the lake or Kirby’s Pocket, located on the south end of Buck Basin. Both locations have ramps by the same name for easy access. Most of the water in these two areas will be in the target range of 4 to 6 feet deep and have plenty of stumps and stalks to hold crappie. Like any spring outing, the weather decides what happens next.
“Before or during a cold front, we’ll get strong winds out of the northwest, which makes Gray’s Camp the place to fish,” he said. “Even on warm, sunny days we’ll get strong winds from the south, so Kirby’s pocket offers the most protection from the wind.”
Hendren’s tactics are to tight-line single 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs tipped with live minnows on 6-pound-test line. Dual minnow rigs are popular in other locations, but the number of stumps makes more than one hook per pole impractical. There’s no rod limit on Reelfoot, so Hendren mans six rods from the front if he’s by himself or eight rods split between two anglers when fishing a tournament.
By the end of April, things begin to taper off, even with the white crappie population spawning later than the black crappie. Both species move off to deeper water near the mid-lake regions of Green Island Point, Swan Basin and Caney Island. Here a deeper presentation of double minnow rigs right off the bottom in 10 to 12 feet of water will finish off the month.
Located in part within the city limits of Nashville, Percy Priest is a 14,200-acre impoundment of the Stones River. Priest is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake that is relatively shallow, but very fertile. It’s also a haven for numbers of crappie, and April will find local guide Jim Duckworth (615-444-2283) of Lebanon showing his clients what Priest has to offer.
“Fish don’t have a calendar, so they’re pretty much dependent on water temperature to tell them when it’s time to spawn,” said Duckworth, who is also a fisheries biologist and has authored a number of crappie fishing how-to videos. “When the water temperature gets somewhere between 58 and 62, crappie will be in a pre-spawn mode, and we’ll find them hanging around the 8-foot depths on the edges of the shallow spawning flats where they move into spawn when the temperature comes on up.”
Duckworth applauds the work of the TWRA on not only Percy Priest but many of the state’s major reservoirs in providing numbers of highly productive fish-attracting structures. He targets these areas, mainly stakebeds, when the water gets above 65 degrees.
“My favorite tactic is to anchor my boat downwind from one of the stakeĀbeds that are marked by buoys or poles. I don’t like to tie to the marker, but I use an anchor pole to anchor downwind and then have my clients cast Roadrunner jigs up above the stakebeds and work the jig back toward the boat,” he said. “The stakebeds are pretty large, maybe 10 feet by 10 feet, and we won’t have to work too many of them before we can fill a limit.”
If cold fronts or a late spring cause crappie to still be deep during April, Duckworth will move to deep water and use a heavy-weighted Kentucky rig baited with live minnows. He offers that Priest is like fishing three different lakes because the lower lake is more of a highland impoundment while the mid-lake region is best described as a lowland impoundment. Add to that a riverine environment at the headwaters, which has protected pockets that warm faster because of their northern exposures, and he can follow a spawning pattern for the whole month by working his way down the lake.
“Once they commit to spawning, I like to go to a float-and-fly tactic,” he said. “It’s really simple, tie a 1/8-ounce jig about 2 to 3 feet below a cork. I use a weighted cork that has a lead insert around the bottom so it will cast farther and that barely floats the jig. It takes very little pressure to pull the float under and that keeps it from spooking fish when they feel resistance.”
Duckworth recommends trying major creeks off the Stones River on the northern section of the lake early in the month. His favorites are Spring Creek and Fall Creek. Once water temperatures warm up, he’ll drop back to mid-lake and fish the Four Corners area, mainly around Hong Kong Island, which has plenty of stumprows on the backside and a sharp bend in the Stones River channel out front.
Toward the end of the month, he’ll head for the lower lake and the Seven Points area. Suggs Creek is a favorite ar
ea. He prefers the headwaters where the creek flattens out provides some good spawning flats late in the month.
Good access points are the Falls Creek Recreation area up the lake off Hwy. 840, Long Hunter State Park, which is centrally located just east of the Hwy. 171 bridge crossing, and Seven Points Recreation Area off Earhart Road, three miles south of I-40.
Like Jim Duckworth, B’n’M Poles pro staff angler Steve Ferguson of Puryear prefers to catch spawning crappie using a single rod when the feisty panfish turn aggressive in the spring. One of his favorite venues to pick such a fight is on Lake Barkley. Ferguson indicated the lake has a good mix of both black and white crappie and April will find them staging just before the spawn. Steve and his partner, Joey Briggs, who is from Kentucky, and Brigg’s son, Levi, spent a lot of time on Barkley during this time of year.
“We like to cast slip-corks to them once they move up on the spawning flats,” said Ferguson. “But early in the month the best tactic is to spider rig up in the creek arms that lead back to the spawning flats. Find the edge of a creek channel in 10 to 14 feet of water, then follow that all the way back into the flats in the back of the creek. Fish are typically holding in the 8- to 12-foot depth range and you can pick up scattered crappie as you go.”
Ferguson fishes everyone from the front of the boat, pushing double minnow and jig rigs on long trolling rods. He finds that most pre-spawn crappie will be holding 2 to 3 feet off the bottom and not really relating to anything more than the edge of the channel.
“The water will hang around 60 degrees for a while, but after a couple of sunny days, it can jump up several degrees and those fish will head shallow,” said Ferguson. “That’s when we break out the ultralight casting rods and the slip-corks and start working along the banks. We have a number of stakebeds that we have put out, but one of the best places to catch those spawning males is on the old stumprows that we find and mark with the GPS when the water is down in the winter.”
The team of Ferguson and Briggs favor Donaldson Creek on the Kentucky side and Saline Creek on the Tennessee side for their spring crappie fishing. Both of these east side creeks offer a variety of water depths that end in substantial shallow flats where crappie spawn. On the west side of Barkley, the team fishes Pryor Creek on the Kentucky side and Neville Bay in Tennessee. Easy access to these areas is available at the Neville Bay Access area off Hwy. 49.
When he’s not off bass fishing the Wal-Mart Stren Series or BFL and FLW tours, Nathan Mountain (www.nathanmountainfishing.com) is a full-time guide on many of eastern Tennessee’s outstanding reservoirs. During the spring, the guide enjoys crappie fishing on Lake Cherokee near his home. Mountain explains that Cherokee’s deep, clear waters on the lower end of the lake keep most of the crappie pushed to the east of U.S. Hwy. 25. The exceptions to that rule are German Creek and Ray Creek, which are situated north of the main lake and form a smaller impoundment, of sorts, apart from the rest of Lake Cherokee.
“Tight-lining is getting pretty popular here at Cherokee, especially in the Fall Creek area toward the upper end of the lake,” said Mountain. “My preferred tactic is still to position the boat along the banks and work visible structure by casting crappie jigs to where the fish are holding.”
Mountain indicates that many of the local crappie anglers have planted brush tops in the lake, and when he locates one of these spots on his sonar, he will get over the top of the brushpile and vertically jig for crappie. Another favorite pattern for Cherokee crappie during both the pre-spawn and spawn phases is to look for them suspended over the extended rock points that stick out into the mountain lake along any number of bends that are created by the main Holston River channel.
Veteran crappie angler Roger Collins of Morristown has fished Douglas Lake for years and indicates that April will find Douglas crappie in spawn mode, holding anywhere from 5 to 15 feet deep along secondary points off the main French Broad River channel. Collins suggests starting at the upper end of the lake early in the month as the northern exposures warm quicker.
As the month progresses, Morris will move farther down the lake, fishing such mid-lake areas as Muddy Creek, then McGuire Creek down near the dam and finish up in Flat Creel, which is past the dam on the south side of the lake. The best access area for the upper lake is at the marina at Swann’s Bridge. Public access at Inspiration Point off Hwy. 92 provides access to both Muddy Creek and Flat Creek.
For more tips, techniques and tactics from Wade Hendren, Steve Ferguson, Joey Briggs and a host of other B’n’M Poles pro staff anglers, visit the B’n’M Web site at www.bnmpoles.com.