For many of Peach State anglers, the spring fishing season begins when the dogwood trees turn white with blossoms and the crappie head for the shoreline to procreate.
It’s a time that promises fast action on the water and great fish fries in the evenings, so it’s little wonder that anglers flock to the lakes in search of slab crappie.
Georgia offers plenty of good waters for this fishing, and now is the time to start figuring out where you want to have your line in the water when the action kicks off. Anglers should have multiple options this spring.
“Crappie populations are doing pretty good across Georgia,” explained Brandon Baker, a fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division’s Fort Valley office and a one of the lead managers monitoring crappie in Georgia.
That should be true for a while, at least in North Georgia, based on this past spring. We had an abundance of rainfall this year up north. Down in the south, not so much.
“While North Georgia was getting all the rain, South Georgia experienced much dryer conditions,” the biologist said.
The heavy rains mean that more nutrients get into the water, making for a better food chain, while flooded vegetation along the shore provides more spawning areas and sanctuary for resulting fry. On the other hand, low water associated with droughts puts food and spawning space at a premium, which restricts the fry produced and the numbers that survive to adulthood. The spring conditions from this year, however, are all about the future, and not this year’s fishing.
Of course, anytime you are forecasting, it involves educated guesses about where the angling is going to be hottest. Fortunately, with crappie, there are some factors for making that guesswork easier and more accurate.
“Crappie populations go through a 3- to 5-year boom-and-bust cycle,” Baker noted. “The year when crappie spawning is extremely successful can comprise up to 80 percent of the population. This boom year will make the majority of the fish in the population until the next booming spawn.”
Based on that assessment, knowing where individual lakes are in the crappie cycle provides a fairly good idea of what kind of fishing will be available. For instance, the cycle has been down for a year or two on lakes Hartwell and Lanier for crappie. The heavy rains of the last spring make it likely they will begin to improve, but probably not during the coming spring season. They will have crappie available, but are not likely to be the best places to find slabs.
We’ll dispense with talking tactics, since for spawning crappie, they are simple. Either toss them a live minnow or cast small hair jigs or ones with plastic grubs.
Here we’ll take a look at a half dozen of the state’s popular major reservoirs that should be on the upswing, based on recent WRD assessments. Also, we’ll explore where on those lakes the crappie are most likely to be found. These lakes are listed in alphabetical order, rather than making any guess as to exactly which ones are going to provide the best crappie angling.
Situated just northwest of Atlanta, Allatoona gets a lot of fishing pressure. Despite that situation, the lake has been trending upward with average to slightly above average fishing for crappie. A lot of the fish run in the 9-inch range, but some 1- to 2-pound slabs are also present.
It’s also worth noting that this reservoir is one of the few in the state that holds both black and white crappie. The black species is the most abundant.
The best areas for targeting crappie on the lake this spring according to the WRD are mostly on the northern side of the Etowah River arm of the lake. Look for the fish in Kellog, Illinois, Sixes and Sweetwater creeks. Down on the Allatoona Creek arm of the impoundment, they also expect Tanyard Creek to produce well.
Other areas that are traditionally good for crappie in the spring are on Stamps Creek, also on the north side of the Etowah River and near the dam, from Wilderness Camp and upstream on that arm.
In the Little River arm of the lake, check out any flooded wood cover from the mouth of Blankets Creek, upstream to the I-575 bridge.
Additionally, look for similar cover on the Etowah River headwaters of the reservoir upstream of Knox Bridge on State Route 20.
Tip from crappie pro brad Chappell
CLARKS HILL LAKE (STROM THURMOND RESERVOIR)
This massive 71,535-acre lake is on the Savannah River, providing part of the border with South Carolina. Fall monitoring by the DNR in recent years points to more great crappie action this spring. The population there features fish averaging around half a pound, with lots of slabs reaching the 2-pound mark.
On the Savannah River arm of the impoundment, the WRD recommends Newford and Pistol creeks on the Georgia side of the lake as potential hotspots. Both of these are on the upper end of the reservoir, just south of the mouth of the Broad River. On Georgia’s Little River arm (there is also another Little River flowing in from the South Carolina side), they point to Grays Creek, or the portion of the Little River upstream of Raysville Marina at the SR 43 bridge, as good places to begin your search.
A traditionally good area is along either shore of Fishing Creek on the upper lake. Look for brush piles or downed trees in the shallows to find the papermouths. On the lower Savannah River portion, the back of Wells Creek on the west side of the lake is another potential hotspot, as is the cove on the same side of the impoundment just to the south that is known as Daniel Marshall Camp.
This impoundment on its namesake river covers 19,050 acres and is known as a perennial crappie honey hole. This year should be no different. The WRD expects the fish to be comparable to the 10 1/2-inch average size they have found in recent surveys. Those fish tip the scales at 1/2 to 3/4 pound each. Good numbers of 1 1/2-pound slabs also are present.
The best areas recommended by the biologists are the regions holding standing timber or brush piles in the upper ends of Lick and Sugar creeks on the Oconee River arm of the impoundment, or Richland and Sandy creeks on the Richland arm.
The traditional areas that yield slabs on this reservoir are found in upper Beaver Dam Creek on the Richland arm. Target any sunken wood structure along the shore for the fastest action.
Other good areas are found in the Apalachee River on the upper Oconee River arm of the lake. Target the inside of the first patch of standing timber on the west shore, north of the Swords Boat Ramp. Another potential hotspot in this part of the lake is the flooded timber farther up the Apalachee.
LAKE RICHARD RUSSELL
Positioned just upstream of Clarks Hill Lake on the Savannah River, Lake Russell forms the border with South Carolina and covers 25,650 acres. One factor improving its habitat for crappie is that 1,500 acres of timber were left standing in shallow water when the lake was formed. That’s a lot of wood to attract spawning papermouths.
In recent years the WRD has reported that Russell crappie run from 8 to 12 inches long, and average from 1/2 to 3/4 pound each. Good numbers of those fish exceeding 12 inches reach 1 1/2–pound sizes.
As to locations, the biologists point to the standing timber areas in Beaverdam and Coldwater creeks on the Georgia side of the reservoir as likely hotspots. One traditionally good place on the South Carolina side of the reservoir is up the Rocky River arm and just south of the SC State Route 64 bridge. Target the shallow standing timber in the first major cove on the eastern shore downstream of the Falker Access. Also, on the Georgia side of the Savannah River arm and immediately north of Beaverdam Creek, the upper end of Indian Creek has standing timber that is noted for holding spawning crappie.
WALTER GEORGE RESERVOIR (LAKE EUFAULA)
Whether you call it by its formal name or refer to it as Lake Eufaula, this 45,180-acre reservoir on the Chattahoochee River in southwest Georgia should provide good crappie action. Despite being in South Georgia, the mandate to provide year-round water flows in the river makes it relatively resistant to the dry conditions in that region.
This spring should continue the lake’s good crappie fishing, with lots of 8- to 10-inch fish mixed in with a good number of 15-inchers. Areas that the WRD point to as possible hotspots are Pataula, White Oak, Rood and Grass creeks, along with Moccasin Slough. Of these, Pataula Creek is the most renowned. Look for the fish along the south shore, or at the mouth of the creek around the sunken highway bridge and power dam just to the west of that bridge. Additionally, the fishing piers in Hardridge Creek and Florence Marina State Park should hold crappie, along with the shore access areas at the East Bank and River Bluff boat ramps.
Sandy Creek on the Georgia side of the lake, just north of the dam, is noted for holding slabs in the spring. On the upper end of the lake on the Alabama shore, Barbour Creek upstream of the U.S. Highway 431 bridge can be another spring crappie hotspot.
WEST POINT LAKE
West Point is on the Chattahoochee River where it becomes the border with Alabama and stretches across 25,900 acres. It is another reservoir that flooded a lot of woodlands when formed and those areas offer good structure to attract crappie in the spring.
According to recent WRD monitoring, this is not a lake to fish if you are interested only in slab-sized papermouths. On the other hand, if you want a limit for a fish fry, West Point can suit your purpose. The crappie population is stable and healthy, with 9-plus-inch fish common. Those fish, however, are likely to average just under 1/2 pound each.
Areas to target that are recommended by the WRD biologists are the standing timber along the north side of Beech Creek near its mouth on Yellowjacket Creek, along with brush piles and wood structure in Stroud Creek on the Alabama side of the reservoir. They also like the area along the north side of the peninsula holding Autry Park on Whitewater Creek. Another recommended arm is on Wehadkee Creek. Look for the extensive standing timber patches on both sides of the state line in the upper end of the creek.
An area that local anglers regularly head to for spring spawning crappie is found on Yellowjacket Creek. Upstream of the U.S. Highway 27 bridge and downstream of Youngs Mill Road bridge, there is an extensive stand of flooded timber offering a good option for some papermouths. Similarly, a couple of spots on the main Chattahoochee River arm in the upper reaches of West Point offer standing timber that is good for crappie in the spring. One is to the east of the community of Owensbyville on the outside bend of the river where it turns east. Farther upstream, the standing trees on the south side of the river across from the mouth of the New River can often provide plenty of papermouth action.
SUMMING IT UP
While these six options offer plenty of crappie action for the coming spring and are all popular destinations, they don’t comprise the entire world of crappie fishing in the Peach State. Simply put, they are the most likely choices for the best action. All our major reservoirs, some smaller lakes, as well as larger rivers can produce some slab fishing.
And, of course, the best time and place to go crappie fishing in Georgia is when you can and where it’s convenient. Just be sure that you don’t miss out on the spawn for a boatload of fun this spring.