When spring arrives, crappie head for the shore to spawn, offering some great fishing action. Here are the places to join the action this year in the Peach State. (March 2010)
Mark Bowen took this double handful of crappie from Heath Lake in the Rocky Mountain PFA near Rome.
Photo by Kevin Dallmier.
Even the most jaded angler can be a sucker for the pure joy of a sure thing. Although the rest of the year may be spent matching wits with black bass, wily trout, or some other species with the well-earned reputations of being tight-lipped more often than not, when the crappie bite is on, the fishing is easy. When the spawn arrives, most anglers won't hesitate to join in on the fun of catching this tasty species.
Let's take a look at what crappie anglers can expect this year on some of the Peach State's best crappie waters.
Anglers interested in good crappie fishing should focus their efforts on reservoirs and rivers. Small lakes and ponds may have crappie, but the fish usually run small.
Crappie are one of the first fish to spawn in early spring, when they are easily caught around shallow, woody cover. Light spinning or spin-casting gear is well suited for crappie fishing. Six-pound-test monofilament works well, although 4-pound or 8-pound may be more suitable in certain circumstances. Lighter line results in more strikes, but heavier line results in fewer hooks lost to snags.
If you prefer artificial lures, small jigs are the way to go. A 1/16-ounce jig with a small plastic grub or tube body is a good choice. Retrieve the lure slowly around woody cover. If fish are suspended in deep water, count the lure down to the desired depth before beginning a slow retrieve. Small spinners can also be effective crappie lures.
A small minnow fished on a No. 1 light wire hook suspended under a small bobber probably catches more crappie in Georgia every year than any other technique. The float should be small enough to be easily pulled under so the fish on the other end does not feel resistance and drop the bait.
Crappie holding shallow in thick cover offer a perfect setup for a long limber bream pole equipped with a small reel or just a length of line slightly shorter than the pole. The long pole is used to drop the bait vertically right into the middle of the cover. When a fish strikes, a quick lift hooks the fish and brings it straight up out of its snag-infested lair.
Spring is a perfect time for this style of fishing, as the crappie are shallow and the water is usually stained from spring rains. That allows for a closer approach without spooking the fish.
Crappie do well in Georgia because of the temperate climate and plenty of reservoirs with strong shad forage bases, the main ingredient for a strong crappie fishery. Not all lakes are created equally, 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. Fish can be off a little bit on your favorite lake, but just down the road, anglers may be enjoying their best success in recent memory.
Lake Walter F. George is a huge reservoir spanning the Georgia-Alabama state line. The lake's 45,180 acres are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and cover 85 river miles of the Chattahoochee River drainage between Columbus and Ft. Gaines. There are plenty of public access points, so finding somewhere to launch close to where you intend to fish shouldn't be a problem.
The last several years have been good ones for crappie anglers on this lake in terms of both numbers and size, and this year should offer good fishing, with plenty of 8- to 10-inch fish. Also expect some real slabs that easily go a couple of pounds.
Favorite spots are creek mouths and under bridges. Good areas that are consistent producers are Pataula, White Oak, Rood and Grass creeks. Bank-anglers might want to try the fishing piers at Hardridge Creek and Florence Marina State Park, or the marked fishing areas at East Bank and River Bluff boat ramps.
The Georgia side of the lake also has 24 fish attractors that are marked with buoys and are always worth a try. For more information on those, contact the Wildlife Resources Division, Albany Fisheries office at (229) 430-4256.
Heading east brings you to another good Georgia crappie lake. Spreading over 8,515 acres, Lake Blackshear is owned and operated by the Crisp County Power Commission. According to WRD biologists responsible for managing the lake, Blackshear has a good population of both black and white crappie. Most Lake Blackshear crappie caught are in the 10-inch range, but a couple of years ago the lake yielded a 3 1/2-pound crappie proving it can produce the slab of the lifetime for a lucky angler.
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 mouth of Collins Branch, Spring Creek, Gum Creek, Boy Scout Slough, and under Smoak Bridge on the Swift Creek arm.
Blackshear is a riverine lake, less than a mile in width, but stretching nearly 15 miles up the Flint 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.
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. A good choice is around the 10 WRD-maintained fish attractors, which are conveniently marked with buoys. The WRD periodically freshens up these sites with new brush or other cover to keep them producing.
Lake Blackshear is just west of Cordele off I-75. Access the lake from U.S. Highway 280 or Georgia Highways 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. For more information, contact the WRD Albany Fisheries office at (229) 430-4256.
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 lake with 374 miles of shoreline impounds the Oconee River.
The lake is a perennial favorite with crappie anglers, which tells you a lot about the quality of the crappie fishing that draws anglers from all across Middle Georgia. Given the crappie's affinity for wood, the fact that during construction, 50 plots of timber were topped off below water level, and 1,250 acres of standing timber along the channels were left standing.
Spring is the best time of year to be on the lake crappie fishing. In March and early April, the fish are shallow spawning and the fishing is easy on Lake Oconee. Fish a jig or a minnow under a bobber around blown-down trees and other shallow woody cover. A sandy bottom with plenty of wood cover is a good place to find crappie this time of year.
The standing timber in Sugar Creek and the upper end of the lake are good bets. The upper ends of other major creeks, such as Richland, Sandy and Lick, offer good fishing, too.
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 launch a small jig up under a dock and slowly work it back to the boat. Blue and black or blue and 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 what is going on with the fish. The fishing always seems to be better when the current is moving, and that angling truism applies on Oconee as well.
Access is good with several Georgia Power or 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. For more information, contact the WRD Social Circle Fisheries Office at (770) 918-6418.
Lake Hartwell is a 55,950-acre Corps of Engineers reservoir on the Savannah River in northeast Georgia. The lake transitions from Piedmont-type terrain on its lower end to rugged foothill country on the upper end.
During construction, the trees near the shoreline were cleared in the Tugalo and Seneca arms of the lake. In the main body of the reservoir, though, the trees were simply flooded. The result is a virtual forest hidden below the surface anywhere from 10 to 100 feet down.
They say there is a silver lining to every cloud, and the cliché holds true for Hartwell crappie. The recent drought years weren't kind to the fish. With lake levels down, reproduction suffered. On the bright side though, fewer mouths to feed meant more food for those fish that did make it. Anglers can expect to catch a greater percentage of solid keeper crappie.
As the water starts to warm, crappie congregate in the staging areas in 10 to 15 feet of water. When the water temperature hits 65 degrees, expect the fish to move into just a few feet of water in backwater coves.
The best areas on the Georgia side of the lake for crappie fishing are Eastanollee, Gum Log, Shoal and Lightwood Log creeks.
The lake is near the town of Hartwell and is crossed by I-85. Like all Corps of Engineers projects, recreational access to the lake is excellent with numerous boat ramps, campgrounds and shoreline access areas. For more information, contact WRD Burton Fisheries office at (706) 947-3112.
Northwest Georgia's Allatoona Lake, a 12,010-acre Corps of Engineers impoundment on the Etowah River offers fine crappie fishing. Allatoona was completed in 1950, and at the time, it was common practice to completely clear a lake basin during construction.
To anglers' chagrin, the result was a lake with very few stumps or other offshore cover. Anglers have worked to rectify this shortcoming by placing their own offshore brushpiles, and the Corps of Engineers working in conjunction with the WRD has constructed offshore fish attractors at numerous locations around the lake. They also have felled dead or diseased trees in to the water along the shoreline to increase the amount of shallow wood cover.
For more information on the program, including a downloadable map and GPS coordinates of the attractors, visit www.gofishgeorgia.com.
Allatoona's best crappie fishing is in the creek arms. Because they are shallower and the water is usually stained, these areas warm the quickest. Also, creek arms usually have the best variety of woody cover in the form of blowdowns and boat docks.
One trick to keep in mind when fishing the shallows is, if all you 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.
Access to Allatoona Lake is excellent for both shoreline and boat anglers. Allatoona 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. For more information, contact the WRD Calhoun Fisheries office at (770) 387-4821.
Although most good crappie lakes are sprawling reservoirs, medium-sized lakes can also provide good action. Heath Lake and Antioch Lake on the Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area near Rome are popular with local crappie anglers. Both lakes have good shad populations, the key ingredient for good crappie fishing in any body of water.
Heath Lake anglers find plenty of standing timber to fish, since the 202-acre lake's shoreline is practically ringed with it. A good technique is to work your way as far back into the timber as possible, fan-casting with a small jig. For reasons known only to the fish, certain areas are consistent producers year after year. These areas are usually located in the secondary coves on the lake.
Trolling the deeper water is another popular tactic early and late in the season.
Antioch Lake is 357 acres and only has a few small areas of standing timber. These locations produce fish, but also receive heavy attention from anglers. The lake has some good flats and bottom contour breaks, and often the fish can be found relating to these features.
Antioch Lake is open every day of the year from sunrise to sunset. Heath Lake is open the first 10 days of the month from sunrise to sunset. Anglers fishing the area are not required to have a wildlife management area stamp, but a daily parking permit is required and can be purchased at the entrances to the area.
The PFA is located on Sike Storey Road off U.S. Highway 27 north of Rome near the Chattooga-Floyd county line.
Georgia offers great crappie fishing for anglers all across the state. Call your favorite fishing buddy and give some of the waters listed above a try this year for crappie. You shouldn't be disappointed.