Slabs On The Savannah

Slabs On The Savannah

Spring is here and with it comes the crappie spawn. Here are the places along the Savannah River to match wits with the bedding papermouths on our eastern border. (April 2010)

Guide Dereck Fulton and Will Gentry show off the kind of slabs that Clarks Hill Lake gives up.
Photo by Phillip Gentry.

Providing a scenic border between Georgia and our neighboring state of South Carolina, the Savannah River is impounded in three impressive and unique bodies of water. For crappie anglers these three impoundments -- Clarks Hill, Russell and Hartwell -- offer loads of hot papermouth action. That's especially true during April when the dogwoods bloom and crappie move into the shallows to spawn.

Clarks Hill Lake
Being the largest manmade reservoir this side of the Mississippi River at more than 70,000 acres, Clarks Hill is well known for its long, sprawling creeks that are home to numbers of both black and white crappie. From his home in Grovetown, crappie fishing guide and B'n'M Poles pro staff angler Dereck Fulton looks forward to the arrival of spring when multitudes of papermouths move into shallow waters.

"Starting in late March, I look for black crappie to start suspending in the creeks all up and down Clarks Hill," Fulton said. "This will start once the water temperatures reach about 55 degrees. The fish come up and suspend and I usually start looking for them about halfway down one of the major creeks that dumps into the Savannah River."

For Fulton the go-to tactic when crappie are staging for the spawn and even when the males are on the beds and he's looking to catch bigger fish is to long-line troll using multiple rods with 1/16-ounce jigs. Using a variable speed trolling motor, the guide pulls eight to 10 lines at a distance of one long cast behind the boat, a technique also known as flat-lining. He then trolls at less than two miles per hour down the middle of the channel looking to find scattered and suspended fish. He typically finds them holding close to breaklines or the edges of the creek channel in 15 to 20 feet of water. Long-lining can be productive throughout the month of April since not all crappie spawn at once.

"When the water temps get up to 60 to 62 degrees, that's when I go to the float and fly," said the guide. "Basically that's casting a crappie jig suspended under a cork to the bank around stickups and standing weeds along the bank, targeting males on the nest. Once you're on them, it's a lot of action. Those males run about 3/4 to 1 1/2 pounds, but the numbers and the fight is all you could ask for."

For long-lining, Fulton recommended trying Fishing Creek and Soap Creek, both near Lincolnton. He indicated that Fishing Creek is typically murkier, so fish tend to be shallower there. Soap Creek is characterized by numerous brushpiles that attract and hold a lot of baitfish. He likes Cherokee Creek farther down the lake past Bussey Point for the float and fly tactic because it has a number of productive boat docks. It then turns weedy toward the back, providing a lot of surface structure to target.

Lake Russell
Lake Russell is in the middle of the Savannah River impoundments Because of all its standing timber and abundant structure, the fishing is often viewed by crappie anglers as trying to find a needle in a haystack.

However, for local angler and crappie guide Wendell Wilson of Elberton, Russell is not the mystery it is to some.

"Most of the bigger crappie will spawn in late March," Wilson said, "so during April we're looking for the rest of the population to come in to the bank. This is the time to catch numbers, and there are three ways to fish for them."

The first tactic that Wilson employs is the previously described float and fly method. The guide prefers a curlytail jig to the standard marabous or tube jigs that are popular. He also downsizes his jig from a 1/16-ounce to a 1/24-ounce jighead. He suggests looking for any shore-bound structure that sticks out into the water, especially on steeper banks. He then works the jig alongside them.

The second tactic is to use a 12-foot jigging pole with 12 feet of line attached to the end. Rig it with a float, split shot and small crappie minnow on a No. 2 gold hook. The object is to work the bank, placing the cork rig straight down into the middle of blown-down tree limbs that cannot be reached by casting the float and fly rig.

Wilson's third approach is to use the long-line trolling method, but cautions that there are not a lot of creeks that are suitable for trolling on Russell. Most of the timber was either cut just below the water's surface or left standing, so there's plenty to snag on.

"I like to fish Beaverdam and Coldwater creeks on the Georgia side either when casting or dunking minnows. Then I move way up the Rocky River above Lowndesville on the South Carolina side to long-line troll," the guide said.

Wilson added that the average size of the black crappie on Lake Russell is between 10 and 14 inches, which is a good pound-plus fish and bigger if the fish has got some "shoulders."

Lake Hartwell
Lake Hartwell is the northernmost of the major impoundments of the Savannah. It is often overlooked as a crappie lake because of its deep, clear waters, which some anglers find intimidating. Danny Williamson of Camilla has done well on Hartwell through the years and typically has good finishes in the national crappie tournaments on Hartwell. He and his wife, Beth, are sponsored by Cumming-based Show Down Jigs on the tournament trail.

"I'll start out trolling on Hartwell, and in the process we usually find a number of brushpiles that we come back to and vertically jig," he described, "It's also important not to overlook boat docks this time of year. All of the docks on Hartwell are floating docks, and they can be very productive as fish attractors when crappie come in to spawn."

Some of Williamson's favorite spots at Hartwell are Payne and Gumlog creeks on the Georgia side of the lake and Fairplay Creek on the other side of the Tugaloo River in South Carolina. He indicated Hartwell had potential for some big fish of 2 pounds or more, and catching a 30-fish limit was an all-day event.

"For docks, my preference is to have them over 15 feet of water with deep water nearby, so if you find a creek that rises out of 60 feet and has houses along the bank with boat docks on the water, that's a good place to look," Williamson offered. "Because Hartwell's water is so clear, we typically don't find fish spawning on the bank. That's where long-line trolling along a channel edge in 8 to 10 feet of water will really pay off. And another secret is that Hartwell crappie love a

purple jig -- purple head and purple body. That's about all we tie on at Hartwell."

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