It seems like it's been a long winter, but the weather is warming up and with it comes the yearning to go fishing. Now is the time to crank up the boat and head to your favorite lake.
Crappie are always one of the first species to start feeding in preparation of the spring spawn, so they are good targets this month. Let's have a look at crappie hotspots for middle Georgia.
In central Georgia, Jack Ivey of Leesburg really likes Lake Blackshear and currently holds the lake record for crappie. He caught his record 3-pound, 7.52-ounce fish back in December of 2007. Ivey dropped a minnow down into a brush pile and the crappie bit so hard he though he had tied into a bass.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Lake Blackshear is the only reservoir in southwest Georgia where catches of both black and white crappie can be expected. The fish usually average 9 to 11 inches in length, but slabs up to 3 1/2 pounds are available.
To find them, concentrate on shallow backwater areas using minnows and jigs while the fish are spawning this month.
Although the lake record fish was caught on a minnow, Ivey fishes with a wide variety of baits. He sometimes uses with a beetle spin, but prefers to fish with a jig most of the time. It may be a white curly tailed jig, a Hal Fly or Jiffy Jig.
The angler also tries a variety of colors. He normally experiments with an assortment of colors to determine if the crappie prefers one color to the others.
But the key, he said, is to move around the lake and study his depthfinder graft to locate the fish. Once he sees a good number of fish on the graft, the next goal is to drop plenty of lures in front of them to entice a bite. Ivey does this by rigging 10 to 12 long poles around his boat and varying his speed to drop the jigs down to the desired depth.
Several of his favorite fishing spots are in the back sections of Swift Creek, which is located on the east shore near the dam. But for bigger crappie, he likes the more open and deeper water around Campers Haven in the upper reaches of the lake at the State Route 27 crossing.
Ivey said that a lot of times, if you just toss a minnow or jig up next to a cypress tree, you get a bite as the bait drifts down into the tangle of submerged tree roots. Spring anglers can also concentrate on boat docks and other structure. Take a look at the mouth of Collins Branch, Spring Creek, Gum Creek, Boy Scout Slough and Cedar Creek.
Crappie also are often found near the bridges across Swift Creek and the U.S. Highway 280 bridge to the north of Georgia Veterans State Park.
A popular technique during late spring through summer is to pitch or "shoot" jigs under the abundant boat docks. The best docks often are found adjacent to creek channels in 8 to 20 feet of water.
CLARKS HILL LAKE
Over near Augusta, Clarks Hill Lake is Georgia's largest reservoir at 71,535 acres. This U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment — officially named J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir — is located 30 miles northeast of Augusta on the Savannah River.
The numerous creeks feeding the lake, more than 1,200 miles of shoreline and large areas of open water provide a wide range of fishing opportunities. According to the Georgia DNR, crappie caught here average 3/4 pounds, with bigger fish of up to 2 pounds.
Small jigs with or without minnows can be very productive. Bring an assortment of colors to determine what they are hitting.
In spring, target Soap, Grays, Pistol and Newford creeks and the Little River near Raysville.
One of Clark Hills' most successful crappie anglers is fishing guide William Sasser. He said during the spring spawn the Little River area is hard to beat. Just put out your trolling poles and let the fish catch themselves. Other areas he likes are Brey, Amenity and Germany creeks.
Although he prefers to troll, Sasser's most effective fishing method is to anchor over sunken brush piles in 6 to 8 feet of water and drop down a minnow. In this big open water lake, brush piles are havens for crappie. Sasser knows where they are because he has been fishing and exploring the lake for many years. He also has added fresh limbs to many piles to keep them active.
To locate these brush piles, Sasser suggested you pick a small section of the lake and slowly troll, while watching your depth finder for structure. If the structure looks promising, drop down a few minnows or cast some jigs to see if there is any interested crappie.
Sasser recommended Crappie Country Jigs for trollers and especially likes their new feather type jigs. With regards to jig colors, he likes a red head with a blue or black body. But for all-round fishing, he said it's tough to beat an all white jig.
For more information on booking a day of guided crappie fishing on Clarks Hill Lake with William Sasser, go to www.williamsasserfishing.com or call him at (706) 589-5468.
For bait, lake fishing reports, or lodging tips on the South Carolina side of the lake call the Palmetto Angler at (864) 853-3373 check out their Web site at www.palmettoanglerandbait.com.
Located south of Greensboro in Green, Morgan and Putnam counties, Lake Oconee continues to be a crappie-fishing powerhouse. The Georgia Power Company owns and operates the 19,050-acre reservoir as a pump-storage hydropower generation facility.
That unique pump-back operation, in combination with the lake's long narrow shape, produces noticeable current through the lake during both power generation and pump-back periods.
Fish tend to be more active and feed more aggressively when water is moving through the lake.
According to the Georgia DNR, numbers and sizes of crappie are comparable to past years, which is good news. The average crappie sampled in the fall of 2010 was 10 inches. Slabs in the lake should weigh around 1/2 to 3/4 pounds this spring, with good numbers of bigger fish up to 1 1/2 pounds.
Starting in early February, concentrate you search at the mouths of the creeks on the main lake, and then gradually move toward shallow water as temperatures rise. By March, target standing timber and man-made brush piles in Sugar Creek and the upper end of the lake. Also check out the upper ends of other major creek arms, such as Richland, Sandy and Lick creeks. When water temperatures reach the low 60s, target bedding crappie around shallow shoreline cover.
Just west of Macon, Lake Tobesofkee normally produces nice limits of spring crappie. This 1,750-acre lake is owned and operated by Bibb County. The impoundment is 6 miles long, with a 35-mile shoreline.
The lake, which is fed by Tobesofkee Creek, is accommodating for both bank and boat fishing for crappie.
Crappie is a popular species for Tobesofkee anglers, according to the Georgia DNR. And, catch rates should be similar in 2012 to last year's. But, the average fish size should increase slightly. Approximately 80 percent of the catch on Tobesofkee falls into the 8- to 12-inch size range, with some fish reaching 14 inches.
Small minnows hooked through the back or lips using small, long-shanked hooks are good live bait. Trolling with crappie jigs, Triple Ripples or Hal-Flies can be productive, as can pitching jigs under docks or casting small crankbaits.
In the spring, concentrate in the upper ends of coves and on shallow flats. If you're not finding the fish on the shore, look for crappie around the DNR fish attractor sites marked by white buoys.
Property owners have developed the shoreline on the lower end of this lake, but the upper end is still relatively undeveloped above the Lower Thomaston Road Bridge. The Bibb County Recreation Department maintains a large area for bank fishing in "the fingers" area at the very upper end of the lake.
All individuals over six years old must purchase a daily admission ticket or posses an annual permit if utilizing the lake. Admission rates are $4.00 per boat and $3.00 per angler. For more information, go to www.co.bibb.ga.us/LakeTobesofkee, or call (478) 474-8770.
LAKE WALTER F. GEORGE
Lake Walter F. George is a top choice for many crappie anglers in the mid-section of the Peach State. Located in the southwestern portion of Georgia and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this 45,180-acre Chattahoochee River reservoir encompasses 640 miles of Georgia and Alabama shoreline. It stretches for 85 river miles between Columbus and Fort Gaines.
Spring crappie fishing can be spectacular, both for numbers and fish size. Good numbers of these fish are 8 to 10 inches long, but slabs up to 15 inches are not uncommon.
Both daytime and night fishing under lights are effective beginning in March. From mid March through May, spawning fish are found in water as shallow as a foot or two.
For many years, Billy Darby has been one of the best fishing guides on this lake. He likes to troll with 4-pound-test line in White Oak Creek, Sandy Branch and Pataula Creek with a 1/16-ounce Hal-Fly in shad or charturse color.
To arrange a day of guided fishing for crappie on Walter George, contact Bill Darby at (229) 768-2369.
Favorite spots targeted by local anglers are creek mouths and under bridges. Places to look for those situations are in Pataula, White Oak, Rood and Grass creeks or Moccasin Slough.
Bank anglers should try the fishing piers at Hardridge Creek and Florence Marina or the marked fishing areas at East Bank and River Bluff boat ramps. These fishing piers are accessible to anglers with physical disabilities.
Additionally, shoreline anglers can find success at the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge south of Rood Creek.
If you need overnight accommodations, check out George T. Bagby State Park. This resort facility features a 60-room lodge, conference center and cottages.
The Pilot House Grill Restaurant in the park provides a courtesy dock for boaters who want take a break from fishing to enjoy a meal.