From the Tennessee border to the Florida line, Georgia is loaded with great crappie waters. Here's a look at the best prospects for papermouths this year! (April 2006)
Spring is in the air and crappie are on the beds, much to the delight of Georgia anglers. The old saying that "If the dogwoods are blooming, the crappie are biting" rings true in the Peach State, as the weather conditions needed for both the dogwood bloom and the crappie spawn are similar.
"A lot of people view crappie fishing in the springtime like opening day of trout season," says Kevin Dallmier, a senior fisheries biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division. "Crappie are easy to catch when they're on the beds, and for some anglers it's the only time of year they go fishing."
From the North Georgia mountains to the Florida border, Georgia boasts a wealth of opportunities to hook a few "slabs." In general, crappie populations are highest in large reservoirs, though it's not unheard of for crappie to be caught in farm ponds or other smaller bodies of water.
The state-record white crappie was caught in 1984 by Theresa Kemp in a Bibb County pond. The fish weighed in at 5 pounds! There's a two-way tie for the state-record black crappie held by Shirley Lavendar and Steve Cheek. Both anglers reeled in 4-pound, 4-ounce crappie. Lavendar's fish was caught in June of 1971 in Acree's Lake, and Cheek's fish was hooked in Lake Spivey in March 1975.
Regardless of whether you're looking for a new state record, or just some good tasting fish to put on the table, Georgia has some great waters for catching this tasty species.
The WRD monitors crappie populations through annual surveys, al-though the species is somewhat difficult to sample. During the spring spawn, some crappie are caught when biologists are electrofishing. Gill nets can also work, but they tend to be size-selective, capturing only the larger fish. Probably the best survey technique is trap-netting, says Dallmier, but many of Georgia's reservoirs are not suited for this type of sampling.
As far as management goes, the WRD and other reservoir management agencies put out fish attractors made of used Christmas trees and other materials that provide good cover for crappie. They also manage the forage species -- usually shad -- that crappie eat.
"If you manage the forage fish, the crappie pretty much manage themselves," Dallmier notes.
Crappie populations are on a 3- to 5-year cycle in most reservoirs. At the peak of their life cycle, there are lots of fish, but they're not as big because of competition for food. While the population is rising or falling, it's the best of both worlds, Dallmier points out, because you have good numbers of fish and they're pretty good-sized too. At the bottom of the cycle, there may be fewer fish, but they're all nice-sized because there's less competition for food.
As noted earlier, there are two species of crappie in Georgia: white and black. However, they're both found in the same areas and are so similar that most anglers don't tend to distinguish one from the other. There are some physical differences between the two species, the most obvious being that white crappie have six dorsal spines, while black crappie have seven or eight.
Depending on the time of year, a variety of fishing techniques can be used to catch these fish. In March or April, crappie move into shallow waters underneath tree branches and other cover to spawn. During this time, they are easily caught by casting jigs or bait-fishing near their spawning areas.
Light spinning gear with 6- to 8-pound test monofilament is the gear of choice for most crappie anglers, though a cane pole or fly rod can also work well during spawning. If you're using artificial lures, choose a small leadhead jig in the 1/16- or 1/32-ounce range, with a small plastic grub or tube body attached. Cast and retrieve the lure under the woody cover where the crappie are bedding, and you're almost sure to tempt a fish to strike.
Bait fishermen targeting crappie use minnows exclusively.
"Minnows under bobbers have caught more crappie in Georgia than anything else," Dallmier offers. He suggests using a small minnow on a No. 1 wire hook suspended under a small bobber.
At the completion of spawning, crappie move into deeper waters where they congregate around downed trees, stumps, and fish attractors. Summer is a difficult time for crappie fishing, and most anglers don't bother targeting these fish when the temperatures are high.
"When it's 100 degrees outside, you don't feel like eating a big meal, and neither do the crappie," says Dallmier.
As temperatures begin to cool off in the fall, the crappie fishing really picks up. In November and December, many anglers troll for crappie. A popular fishing technique called "spider rigging" uses multiple rod holders to troll six, eight or even 10 rods at the same time. If using this method, set the drag loosely so if a rod gets snagged, you have time to release it. Use a trolling motor to move slowly around any offshore structures and channel ledges.
"If you're not getting hung up on stuff, you're trolling in the wrong places," says Dallmier.
Anglers willing to brave the elements during the cold winter months of January and February usually catch fish by "bumping bottom" over a large stump or channel ledge. Tie a bell sinker to the end of the line and a use a No. 1 hook on a dropper tied a foot or so above the weight. This method requires no casting or retrieving. You simply put the bait in front of the fish and "hover" over the target. Many of Georgia's largest crappie have succumbed to this fishing method, according to Dallmier.
As the weather begins to warm in late February and early March, trolling takes over again as the most popular fishing technique and works right up until the spring spawn.
Now that you know how to catch the fish, let's focus in on the "where."
Known as the "Crappie Capital of the World" and for good reason, Weiss Lake straddles he Georgia/Alabama border. The Georgia portion of this reservoir extends along the Coosa River from Mayo's Bar Lock and Dam near Rome to the state line. This section encompasses approximately 2,000 acres of river and shallow backwater habitat. A working knowledge of navigation markers is critical to anglers fishing this section of the lake, since the river channel is a winding path.
Weiss Lake boasts an excellent shad population that provides a great bas
e for the crappie in the lake. Slabs in excess of two pounds are routinely caught from Weiss.
Georgia has no regulations limiting the number of rods that may be used, so spider rigging is a popular method on our side of the border. On the Alabama portion of the lake, on the other hand, you are limited to no more than three rods. Alabama also has a 10-inch minimum size limit for crappie on Weiss Lake, and there is no reciprocal agreement between the states regarding fishing licenses on the impoundment.
Anglers should look for crappie in the many downed trees along the shoreline, as well as around the numerous stumps that dot the lake. The most popular access spots on the Georgia portion are Lock and Dam Park and the Brushy Branch boat access.
Located just north of Atlanta, Allatoona Lake is an 11,860-acre impoundment of the Etowah River, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Crappie fishing is especially popular on this reservoir during the spring spawn. Jigging or fishing with live bait over submerged trees or fish attractors are popular methods for catching slabs. Trolling is an effective method for covering a lot of water. Most crappie taken from Allatoona measure about 8 inches and weigh in the 1/2-pound range, though crappie over a pound are routinely caught.
The most popular areas to fish for slabs on Allatoona Lake are in the Kellogg, Illinois and Stamp creek arms of the lake, as well as along Little River. In the warm summer months, some anglers go night-fishing for crappie using lights shined into the water. Light tackle works best for this angling near docks, bridges and pilings.
Located around the lake are more than 35 access points, most of which have boat ramps.
Heading over to east Georgia, Lake Oconee is another hotspot with crappie anglers. Located in Greene County, this 19,050-acre impoundment is operated along with Lake Sinclair as a pump-storage hydropower generation facility. The pump-back operation keeps a current flowing through the lake for much of the day, which stirs up the phytoplankton and baitfish in the reservoir. Winter and early spring are the better crappie fishing seasons on Lake Oconee.
The state-record white crappie was caught in 1984 by Theresa Kemp in a Bibb County
pond. The fish weighed in at 5 pounds!
As the water begins to warm in late February, a popular fishing method is called "shooting docks," Dallmier explains. Using a slingshot cast, anglers can "shoot" a small jig up under docks and retrieve it slowly. Once spawning activity commences in March and early April, most anglers switch to a minnow under a bobber near downed trees or other shallow, woody cover.
Many anglers like to fish around standing timber in Sugar Creek or other major arms such as Richland, Sandy and Lick creeks. The upper end of the lake on the Oconee River is also a good bet for springtime fishing. In February, anglers should target the mouths of creeks near the main lake and then move back into shallower waters as spring temperatures begin rising. Crappie can be caught on the beds on sandy bottoms with shallow, woody cover once the water temperatures reach the low 60s.
Lying just south of Lake Oconee is Lake Sinclair, the other half of the pump-back operation reservoirs. Like its younger sister lake, the 14,750-acre impoundment is popular with crappie anglers.
Crappie over 8 inches long are consistently caught on Lake Sinclair and according to the WRD, fish over 10 inches make up almost 50 percent of the total crappie harvest on the impoundment. During the spring, many anglers troll along the upper ends of coves with crappie jigs. As the water warms, the fishermen then pitch jigs, small crankbaits or minnows into brush areas and submerged trees to attract crappie. Night-fishing around docks and bridges is a popular summertime activity too.
At 8,500 acres, Lake Blackshear is an impoundment of the Flint River in southwest Georgia. Most of the fish taken from the lake are less than 10 inches long, though anglers sometimes catch a slab weighing up to 1 1/2 pounds.
Crappie congregate in deep water around downed trees and brush piles near river and creek channels. During the spring spawn, you can find many fish on beds around the many boat docks and cypress trees on the reservoir.
Popular spots to wetting a hook are the mouth of Collins Branch, Spring Creek, Gum Creek, and Boy Scout Slough, as is under the Smoak Bridge on the Swift Creek arm of the lake. Dallmier suggests trolling a spread of small jigs, preferably white or yellow, to fill the livewell of your boat.
LAKE WALTER F. GEORGE
In late February, says Dallmier, crappie fishing really begins to pick up on 45,180-acre Lake Walter F. George. Located on the Chattahoochee River along the Georgia-Alabama border, this reservoir has more than 640 acres of shoreline and is more commonly known to anglers as Lake Eufaula.
During the spring spawn, crappie are easily caught on small jigs or minnows fished around shallow cover. In addition, the impoundment has 24 fish attractors offering good cover for crappie on the Georgia side of the reservoir.
Crappie caught in this impoundment average about 10 inches long and weigh 1/2 pound and up. The mouths of creeks and underneath bridges are both good places to find them. Moccasin Slough and Pataula, White Oak, Rood, or Grass creeks are all good places to look for slabs.
CLARKS HILL LAKE
Weighing in as Georgia's largest impoundment, 71,535-acre Clarks Hill Lake -- or J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir if you're on the South Carolina side -- lies along the border near Augusta. According to the WRD, this lake consistently ranks near the top in Georgia for crappie fishing. Crappie taken from this reservoir average 3/4 pounds, with bigger slabs in the 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-pound range also available.
The best time for crappie fishing on Clarks Hill, according to Dallmier, is in late March and April. When the water hits 55 degrees, anglers should search depths of 5 feet or less around woody cover for spawning crappie. Targeting the creek arms, including Fishing, Soap, Grays and Newford creeks, as well as the Little River near Raysville, are all good places to find slabs.
Try casting a jig-and-grub combo around the shoreline cover. Or a minnow under a bobber is always a good bet. If a late cold front drives the fish out of the shallows, Dallmier suggests trolling small jigs in about 10 feet of water near good spawning shorelines.
Once the spawn has ended, multiple fish attractors located around the lake are popular holding spots for crappie.
WRAPPING IT UP
While crappie numbers are highest in Georgia's large reservoirs, there are numerous rivers, ponds and streams in which anglers find these fish each year. Some of Georgia's public fishing areas have decent populations of slabs, especially Rocky Mountain PFA i
n northwest Georgia. Anglers have also reeled in some nice-size fish at High Falls State Park and the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia.
For more information on fishing destinations covered in this article or for other great places to hook a slab, visit the Wildlife Resources Division at www.georgiawildlife.com.