With spring just around the corner, Georgia crappie fishing anglers start getting a twitch in their arms, and can hardly wait to get on the water to tangle with a finny adversary.
Crappie are usually the first species to become active in early spring and when found, anglers can usually count on catching a lot of fish.
As the days get longer and the water gets warmer, crappie move from deep water to the shallows to begin spawning. Longer days mean water will warm more quickly, and when the temperature climbs to between 62 and 65 degrees, the spawn will begin.
However, those who can’t wait for temperatures to rise can drop baits into the deep areas of lakes, around 15 to 30 feet, to find crappie. Of course, a depth finder is a necessity to locate these fish.
According to John Biagi, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Resources Division, Lake Seminole, in the southwest corner of Georgia, is a good place to start for early crappie fishing. Known for bass fishing, Seminole is also home of excellent fishing for crappie that run up to 2 pounds. In fact, the water may be warm enough in late February for the spawn to begin and continue into early March.
Biagi recommends fishing the main river channels of Seminole around Fort Scott Island, the mouth of the Chattahoochee River between miles three and four, the mouth of Spring Creek and the old river channels, looking for submerged structures.
Another place to look for an early spawn is the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia. There is an abundance of crappie in this river, and they run to good size. There is a strong current in the river, so it might be wise to concentrate on the oxbow lakes. However, local experts can find good spots in the main river, around eddies and other spots where the current isn’t too strong, along with areas where small branches run into the main river.
As spring moves up the state, the next area to hit is the midsection, including West Point Lake on the western side. West Point contains numerous fish attractors, along with bridges, creek mounts and deep areas. Some the best creeks to hit are Beech, Whitewater, Wehadkee and Stroud in the upper parts of the lake. Crappie in the lake typically run just under a half-pound, but fish up to 9 inches and more are not uncommon.
Along the eastern border, Clarks Hill Lake — also known as Strom Thurmond Reservoir — has a large population of crappie that run as large as anywhere in the Peach State. Clarks Hill is the largest reservoir built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers east of the Mississippi River, covering about 78,000 acres.
Good places to consider are Soup Creek on the upper end, Little River around Raysville and Germany Creek. Some anglers work this area at night in summertime for excellent results.
The size of crappie in Clarks Hill is eye-popping, running a half-pound or better on average, with many weighing 2 pounds or more.
More to the center of the state, two lakes on the Oconee River are known for crappie. Lake Sinclair has been around for a long time, and has a great reputation for crappie. Beaverdam is a good place to start, but anglers also should try around the larger islands, such as Optimist, Budweiser and Goat. The riprap along U.S. 441 on Little River is also a fine spot. There are many fish attracters in Sinclair, the GPS coordinates for which can be found at www.georgiawildlife.com/Fishing/Sinclair.
The DNR projects that there will be abundant fish in Sinclair but the average size will be smaller than last year because of highly successful reproduction last spring. However, there will likely be a fair number of 2-pounders caught.
Immediately upstream is Lake Oconee. Much newer, Oconee has in its relatively short existence become a well-known crappie fishery. While there are good numbers of fish, they generally may not be as large as some other lakes. The average sampling last year was 10.8 inches, and this spring crappie should average about a half to 3/4 of a pound. However, there are good numbers of fish up to 1.5 pounds.
In early February, anglers should concentrate on the mouths of creeks near the main lake and as waters warm, moved up to areas where there is timber in the water. There are brush piles in Sugar Creek and the upper end of the lake. There are also brush piles in upper ends of other major creek arms, such as Richmond, Sandy and Lick creeks.
By the time spring reaches Atlanta, Allatoona and Lanier are both hot for crappie anglers. The number of crappie in Allatoona should be slightly better this year, with fish averaging 9 inches and weighing a third of a pound, but some reaching the 1- to 2-pound range.
Spawning usually takes place around the end of March into April. Among the best areas are Kellogg, Illinois, Sixes, Sweetwater and Tanyard creeks. The Etowah River and Little River are also good parts of the lake to fish.
Biagi says that few people realize that Lake Lanier is among the better places in the state for crappie. This year, Lanier is expected to produce good numbers of crappie in the 8- to 12- inch size, but larger fish will be less abundant than usual. Fishing is best from late February through April.
Now the best way to catch crappie is with small live minnows. And while any spinning or spincast rod is fine, some prefer long, limber panfish rods from 10 to 16 feet. This length is especially preferred by anglers who troll. The long rods are placed onto multiple rod holders mounted in front of the boat. Some anglers and guides may have as many as 12 or more rods extending forward of the bow. As they troll, the long rods present the bait to fish at a fairly shallow depth before the boat comes along to spook the fish.
When fishing spawning crappie along the shorelines, a long rod makes it easy to get the bait in close to brush along the shore. Rather than having to cast a shorter rod, an angler can drop a line into tight spots on the shore. A cane pole also works well, but a telescoping panfish rod of 10 feet or more is much easier to work.
During the spawn, crappie are typically found near brush in very shallow water, around a foot. As such, the float should be set very shallow. A slip float rig allows depth to be adjusted quickly by simply moving the knot on the line.
If it is necessary to fish really deep, a slip float is important, because it is far easier to cast than with a fixed float. On this rig a stopper knot is tied into the line, and directly below it a small bead is placed above the float. The bead keeps the float from sliding above the knot. A split shot or two a few inches above the hook completes the rig. A No. 2 hook is a good size to hold minnows for crappies.
Wire hooks are good for this, as a good pull can straighten them to get out of hang-ups. However, light line is preferable, such as 6- to 8-pound test, for reduced visibility on the line.
Some anglers use a two-hook setup in deep water, with a weight on the bottom and hooks tied to loops about 18 inches apart. This type of rig is particularly good to learn where crappie are holding.
Some anglers prefer artificial lures for crappie, with the most often used artificial being a jig with a plastic skirt or tail in a variety of colors. Different days and water conditions may find different colors are better, but it is hard to go wrong with white or chartreuse.
Some jigs have spinners attached to the head or an in-line spinner can be attached the front of the jig. There are also rigs on the market with a V-shaped wire as a spreader, with jigs attached to each arm. Those with spinners are usually fished without a float and are cast and retrieved. And then there is another school of thought that the best way to go is to fish a jig baited with a live minnow.
In addition to small spinners, small minnow-like plugs can be used, with crappie sometimes hitting bass-size lures with abandon. The only way to find out what they’re hitting is to get on the water.
From The Bank
Anglers without a boat who fish for crappies from the shore may want to go to Lake Sinclair on U.S. 441. Riprap along the roadside on the Little River arm of the lake is a spot where anglers like to dunk minnows for crappie. Also, they may want to check out riprap at Twin Bridges and Potato Creek along Highway 212.
Nearby is the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center with Bennett Shepherd and Margery lakes, where there is a good population of crappie and anglers can reach flooded timber and fish attracters from the shore. There is a pier on Lake Margery with a fish attracter within range. Altogether there are 20 ponds from one to 95 acres, and all can be fished from the shore. There is also an area for handicapped anglers. Five other lakes have piers, and more fish attractors are planned for the future. WRD plans are that some shoreline trees will be downed into the water, which will provide excellent cover for fish, and will be the place to fish when they are spawning in early spring.
Lake Allatoona also has some good places for bank anglers seeking crappie, including Cherokee County Park, Payne Day Use Area, the Blockhouse fishing jetty and Proctor Park. There are submerged brush piles within casting distance of the shore.
West Point Lake has public fishing piers at Hardley Creek Park, Rocky Point Park and McGee Bridge Park, which offer good fishing. The piers also offer good access to handicapped anglers. — Dean Wohlgemuth