October 04, 2010
By Don Baldwin
The Peach State is loaded with great waters for springtime crappie fishing. The spots reviewed here, however, should provide exceptionally hot action this year.(March 2008).
By Don Baldwin
Photo by Polly Dean.
It's that time of year again: Winter's starting to break, and Peach State anglers are beginning to get the itch to head out for some early-spring fishing action. While the weather's still a little chilly and unpredictable at this time of year, it won't be long until, all across the state, fish of all species start getting some urges or their own and moving toward the shallows to spawn. One of the first species to do so: crappie.
In reservoirs all over Georgia, crappie are staging up and moving shoreward as early as the first part of March. Anglers find stacks of them along river ledges and creek channels where deeper water becomes abruptly shallow. These fish are waiting for the just the right water temperature before moving into flats around stumpfields and brushpiles, where they hatch their young for another year.
One of Georgia's most prolific fish, the crappie offers the added benefit of being relatively easy to catch, especially in the spring. And it's not bad in the table-fare department, either. You don't really need a fancy rig for these fish. A spinning rod and reel tipped with a minnow will do quite well in most places. While there are plenty of very serious crappie fishermen, there is plenty of room in this sport for a family outing or a day of fishing with your kids. During the spring, these fish are close to shore, so they are quite accessible from the bank. A boat increases your access to the fish, but lots of lakes have excellent shoreline cover and fishing piers as well.
Let's explore several great places for catching crappie at almost any time of the year. These reservoirs have excellent papermouth populations.
A statewide crappie forecast wouldn't be thorough without the mention of Weiss Lake. This 30,000-acre impoundment of the Coosa River along the Georgia-Alabama border near Rome is a favorite of Georgia crappie fishermen. While it's technically an Alabama reservoir, a 1,500-acre section of the lake lies in Georgia.
Weiss is nationally known as a great crappie fishery, and has been described by its fans as the "Crappie Capital of the World." People come from all over the country to fish Weiss, and the effort and expense in doing so will generally be rewarded. And Weiss has the history and records to back that claim up.
Jim Hakala, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is the Wildlife Resources Division fisheries biologist in charge of the Georgia portion of the lake, said that the crappie population on Weiss is made up of about 25 percent white crappie and 75 percent black crappie.
"The average fish size is in the 10-inch range and the average weight is 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound," Hakala noted. However, the opportunity to catch a crappie of 2 pounds or more is quite good on Weiss.
"There are plenty of trophy fish in Weiss," the biologist noted. "It probably represents your best chance for a trophy-sized crappie over any other lake in the area."
According to Hakala, the best time to catch crappie on Weiss is in the late winter and early spring, usually from March to May. By March the fish are beginning to stage on the channel ledges and flats where deep water is nearby and are getting ready to head into the shallows to spawn.
Crappie generally spawn when water temperatures reach between 55 and 60 degrees. For the spawn they move into the shallows and lay their eggs near structure like brushpiles and fallen trees. When the water temperature is just below the level required for spawning, the papermouths tend to "stack up" in slightly deeper water and feed aggressively in preparation for the spawn. This is the best time of year to catch plenty of crappie fat with eggs and hungry from the winter fast.
One of the best methods for catching crappie during the pre-spawn period is by trolling small jigs or minnows over ledges near flats. There is a lot of cover on Weiss so the fish may be spread out a bit, but you may find bunches of them in schools. Dragging an array of jigs or minnows slowly behind the boat is a great way to locate fish. If you get a strike or two as you pass a certain section, turn the boat around and drag the baits back through that section. If you hit fish again in the same area, you may want to stop the boat and cast either jigs or minnows to those fish. If you are on a school, you may load the boat in a very short period of time.
Once the fish have moved in for the spawn, it's often tough to troll a bait by them in the shallow cover. In that case, suspending a live minnow under a bobber in the spawning area is a better bet.
Another method that is particularly popular at Weiss is "pushing." This is a method of slow trolling where the rods are placed in the bow of the boat rather than the stern. Extremely long rods of about 12 feet are used to get the baits well out in front of the boat and a heavy weight of 3/4 to 1 ounce is attached to the line to keep the offerings straight down and away from the trolling motor. With the baits suspended in that fashion it is easy to maneuver the boat around the cover and get the baits right in front of the bedding fish.
Abundant cover is one source of Weiss' excellence as a fishery, but it also introduces hazards that can spell real trouble for boaters. Very shallow overall, the lake contains so many stumps that it's impossible to mark them all, so proceed cautiously while on the water. You can be going along in relatively deep water and suddenly find yourself in the middle of a stump-laden flat only a foot deep.
It should be noted that Alabama and Georgia have concluded no reciprocal license agreement for Weiss, so you'll need to have the license of the state whose waters you are fishing in.
According to Hakala, the best locations to find crappie on the Georgia section of the lake are in Brushy Branch, Kings Creek, and Mount Hope Creek. Stay off the main section of the lake and back in the creeks for best results early in the year.
Allatoona Lake, 30 miles north of Atlanta, is a 12,000-acre impoundment on the Etowah River. This is one of the older lakes in Georgia, with the dam completed in 1950. It is also one of the most heavily visited U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes in the nation.
The lake bottom was scraped fairly clean before the dam was constructed, so there isn't a lot of natural cover. As a result, the fishery can be hard to figure out, and the lake has had
a lot derogatory things said about it over the years. The truth is that Allatoona has an excellent crappie fishery. Jim Hakala, who also manages Allatoona for the Georgia WRD, said that substantial numbers of crappie swim this reservoir. "The average Allatoona crappie is about 10 inches, according to our gill-netting surveys conducted each fall," he noted.
But unlike Weiss, this venue sees few real trophy-sized fish taken each year. In order to promote the crappie and bass fisheries in Allatoona, the WRD has been working in conjunction with local anglers and the Corps to place cover in the lake. There are several programs underway including placement of PVC fish attractors; so far 45 of them have been placed all over the lake in areas that are likely to hold fish.
Hakala helped develop and run that program. "The PVC attractors last longer than brush," he pointed out, "and since they are smooth, anglers tend to hang up less often when fishing around them."
Angler reports from recent WRD surveys indicate that the attractors are working, with a high percentage of fishermen targeting them having caught at least one fish. The location of each of these attractors, complete with GPS coordinates, is shown on a map of the lake on the Georgia DNR Web site at www.georgiawildlife. com; follow the "Fishing" link to the Georgia reservoir fishing information section and click on "Allatoona Fish Attractors."
In addition to the PVC attractors, there are parallel programs for sinking old Christmas trees at easily accessible locations on the lake. Also, controlled felling of shoreline trees to create shallow structure takes place. All of these programs are done under the guidance of the Corps. (Note that it's illegal to cut trees along the shore of the lake without COE permission.)
One of Georgia's most prolific fish, the crappie offers the added benefit of being relatively easy to catch, especially in the spring. And it's not bad in the table-fare department, either.
Here as at Weiss, the fish are in the spawning mood in the early spring. Some of the better places to try for crappie in the spring are Kellogg Creek, which has a large Christmas tree pile near the boat ramp. Also, Illinois Creek or Sweetwater Creek on the Little River arm should be good.
PUBLIC FISHING AREA
If some smaller waters are more to your liking, you might enjoy the Rocky Mountain Recreation and Public Fishing Area. This recreation area near Rome has two fishing lakes. Antioch Lake covers 350 acres and Heath Lake takes in just over 200 acres. Both have well-established crappie populations and both provide easy access for fishing. There is plenty of bank access, and several fishing jetties allow those working without a boat to reach more water.
There are no horsepower restrictions on outboards, but idle speed only is the rule for both lakes. Antioch is open every day of the month; Heath is restricted to fishing on the 1st through the 10th of each month.
The best thing about Rocky Mountain PFA is accessibility: plenty of fishing room, campsites and picnic areas. It all adds up to a great family outing or weekend. The fish are small on average but there are loads of them in the lake so it is a great place to introduce a kid to fishing. They won't have to work hard and they are almost certain to catch a fish, especially in the spring.
A $3.00-per-vehicle daily entrance fee gets you access to the park. Bring your minnows, bobbers, and licenses, since none are available on site.
CLARKS HILL LAKE
At the other end of the spectrum is Clarks Hill Lake, an impoundment of the Savannah River straddling the Georgia-South Carolina border near Augusta. Officially named Strom Thurmond Reservoir, Clarks Hill is at 71,000-plus acres the largest reservoir in the state and the second-largest east of the Mississippi River.
Ed Bettross, the WRD biologist assigned to Clarks Hill, describes the lake as having a fairly stable crappie fishery. "Most crappie fisheries are somewhat cyclical, but Clarks Hill seems to be more stable than others," he said. Gill-netting surveys in this lake dominated by black crappie indicate that the average fish here slightly exceeds 8 inches. While most fish are under a pound, crappie in the 1 1/2- to 2-pound range are not at all unusual, and fish between 2 and 3 pounds are boated occasionally.
Bettross said that here, as at most lakes in the area, the peak season for crappie action is from late March through mid-April most years. The timing depends on the weather, of course, but that range is pretty dependable. He recommended that prior to the spawn, jigs and minnows should be trolled in deeper water out from typical spawning areas. As the fish get on the beds, start casting jigs and minnows to brush on shallow flats.
The gill-netting data for Clarks Hill over the last several years indicate a consistently strong population, with the average fish size increasing slightly in the last couple of years.
LAKE RICHARD B. RUSSELL
One of Georgia's newest reservoirs (completed in 1984), Clarks Hill's 26,000-plus-acre upstream neighbor also bestrides the Georgia-South Carolina line, similarly impounds the Savannah River, and likewise boasts a significant crappie population.
Russell is a bit more isolated than is Clarks Hill, so creel data show it getting a little less fishing pressure. The lake's crappie population consists mostly of black crappie, and though the fish are less densely concentrated than they are at Clarks Hill, they tend to on average to be larger. Angling results are pretty good, with slightly over one crappie caught for every angler-hour of fishing.
Again, trolling during the pre-spawn season followed by close-in fishing near brush on the flats should prove productive. Creel data indicate that the middle section of the lake is best when it comes to crappie catch rates.* * *These lakes that we've covered are just a small sampling of what's available for crappie fishing in the Peach State this year. The outlook's good for another excellent year of angling for papermouths -- so grab the rods, a few jigs and head to the lake of your choice. The water's warming, and the crappie are ready to start feeding during their most active time of the year.