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Crappie
Slab Tactics: Tips from the pros on Georgia’s best crappie waters.
Great fall crappie fishing awaits at Clarks Hill, Oconee and West Point.
 
By Joe DiPietro
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of GON
 
This time of year, Rick Howard, of Warner Robins, longlines jigs in creek mouths on West Point until the sun gets up. Then he’ll switch to shooting docks during the heat of the day, moving quickly to find large docks, which provide the most shade for fish.
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It’s common knowledge among anyone who chases crappie in Georgia that fall is one of the best times of the year to wear out crappie. While the fish are not bunching up in the fall to spawn, like they do in the springtime, they are following cooling water temperatures and food supply.

The Peach State is home to several of the best crappie lakes in the Southeast. Because of this, national and state-level crappie tournaments are held around the state each year. Georgia Slab Masters is a local trail, and its anglers are some of the best on Georgia waters. On these pages, top anglers have spread out around the state to provide solid crappie tactics on their home waters.

Spider-rigging on Clarks Hill

Clarks Hill Lake is not only the biggest reservoir in the state, but it’s considered by many as the top crappie destination.

“It’s by far the best lake for crappie in the state,” said crappie tournament angler Rod Fry, of Winterville. “For some reason, Clarks Hill is just a great lake. It doesn’t really have anything that the other lakes around the state don’t have. But, it may be that it’s so big that the fish don’t see as much pressure. That makes it a very enjoyable place to fish. Plus, there’s a lot of different types of structure in the lake. Personally, I think if (DNR) would put a length limit on the fish we’d see a lot more quality fish.”

The average crappie on Clarks Hill runs around a pound, but Rod said there are a lot of fish between 2 and 3 pounds in the lake. On the Georgia Slab Masters Tournament Trail, Rod fishes with his wife, Jeanne, who won the biggest fish of all tournaments last year with a 2.49-lb. slab that came from Clarks Hill.

In October, Rod said he primarily spider-rigs. He uses rigs with two jigs tied about 3 feet apart on 4 to 6-lb. line with 18-, 16-, 14- and 12-foot rods.

“I prefer spider-rigging because I think you catch a lot more bigger fish that way,” Rod said.

While spider-rigging, rods are arrayed in front of the boat to push jigs slowly enough that the lines remain almost vertical. The reason for using such long rods is not to spook the fish.

“Your bait gets to the fish before they even know the boat is there,” Rod said.

Rod pushes jigs in 1/16- and 1/32-oz. He ties the heaviest jig on the top, which allows the bottom jig to float up behind the front jig as it’s being trolled.

Rod likes feather-tied Jiffy Jigs and AWD curly tail jigs in blue/black, blue/chartreuse and white/chartreuse.

“Pound for pound, anything with chartreuse in it is going to work the best,” he said.

Road Runner jigs, which have a small spinner blade, work well, too. Rod always keeps at least one somewhere in his spread.

Paying close attention to your electronics and water temperatures are going to be critical this month.

“The fish are going to start moving back up into the mouths of the lake’s creeks as the water temperature drops,” Rod said. “Sixty degrees is kind of that magic number. When it hits 60, they’ll head into the more shallow water.”

Once the water is in that prime temperature range, try hunting crappie in 6 to 15 feet of water. Places like Fishing Creek, Pistol Creek and Tudor Creek are almost always good for at least a few crappie, Rod said.

Rod said fishing the Georgia Slab Masters Tournament Trail is about more than just winning prize money.

“It really makes you a better fisherman,” he said. “You can learn a whole bunch, and it’s a really good group of guys fishing. It’s very family oriented; there’s several husband-and-wife teams, father-and-son or -daughter teams.”

Trolling and Shooting on West Point

Tucked right on the Georgia-Alabama border, Lake West Point is another great place for anglers seeking a cooler full of slabs.

“Even though it’s a pretty heavily fished lake, there’s a lot of crappie in it,” said Academy Outdoors sponsored crappie angler Rick Howard, of Warner Robins. “Anybody can come here and catch a bunch of crappie.”

Fred Walker, of Roberta, Rick’s tournament partner, added, “I’ve always been able to find at least a few good fish on this lake, too.”

Rick and Fred employ a couple methods of fishing for crappie during the fall, primarily longline trolling and shooting docks.

When longline trolling, the team uses double-rigged jigs in sizes 1/16- and 1/32-oz., tying the heavier jig on top. Rick and Fred fish 4- to 6-lb. line on all their rigs, which include 16-, 14- and 12-foot rods on both sides of the bow, and four 8-foot and two 10-foot rods out the back of the boat.

“Longline trolling is just a great way to cover a lot of water,” Rick said.

Fred added, “Especially when you get into catching one or two every minute or so. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve had times when all my rods have been hit.”

This time of year, Rick and Fred like to start at the mouths of the creeks and coves, and they’ll work their way back into them until they find the fish with their spread. This month, start searching with your jigs in water between 15 and 25 feet deep.

“Try to start deep, and follow the shad as they move back into the creeks,” Rick said. “Use your electronics to concentrate on points, humps and brushpiles.”

As they troll along between 0.8 and 1 mph, Rick and Fred use an assortment of colors of jigs and prefer AWD Baits jig bodies. Occasionally, if the fishing is particularly tough, they’ll tip the jigs with small minnows. When it comes to jig body color choice, Rick and Fred are also partial to chartreuse.

“Anything with chartreuse is always good,” Rick said. “We usually go through a bunch of different patterns until we find one that stands out. And through the day, that may change.”

On warmer days, after the sun gets overhead, Rick likes to pull in the trolling spread and switch to a 5- to 6-foot light spinning rig for shooting small jigs under the bigger docks that offer the most shade. He said he tends to fish the docks fast, moving from one to another quickly. This time of year, the best docks will have at least 8 to 12 feet of water under them.

“If there’s a fish under a dock, it’s usually going to hit right away,” he said.

Rick fires his jig as far under the dock as he can, lets the jig drop a bit and begins a slow retrieve with a slight twitch or bounce to it.

Tossing jigs at blowdowns in 10 to 20 feet of water may also prove effective in October.

The key to fall crappie on West Point is to stay on the bait and the fish as they move shallower with falling water temperatures.

“As water gets between 60 and 65 degrees, the fish will move back into shallower water because they’re following and feeding on the shad to fatten up for winter,” said Rick. “That’s when you can really catch a bunch of them.”

All of the Above at Oconee

Lake Oconee is another of Georgia’s great crappie fishing reservoirs. Longtime crappie tournament angler and jig manufacturer Ricky Willis, of Gray, brought an Oconee slab to his boat several years ago that went 3.01 pounds.

“I caught that one longline trolling, and it sure was a biggun’,” he said. “Even though most fish are just over half a pound, there are days when you can limit out on 1- to 1 1⁄4-lb. fish.”

Ricky said there are three main tactics he employs to fill his livewell with Oconee crappie — longline trolling, shooting docks and vertical jigging brushpiles.

“On Lake Oconee, anybody can catch crappie,” he said. “It’s one of the best crappie lakes in the state.”

When trolling, Ricky uses a 18-, 16-, 14- and 12-foot rods on either side of the bow, and he runs eight, 8-foot rods out the back of the boat. Concentrate your efforts trolling 1/16-oz. and 1/24-oz. chenille and jelly-belly style jigs around the mouths of creeks and coves.

For shooting, Ricky finds docks in 8 to 12 feet of water to focus on while using a 5 1/2- or 6-foot light spinning tackle.

“You want something that allows you to feel everything when you’re shooting docks or vertical jigging,” he said.

Use your electronics to locate brushpiles to vertical jig over, Ricky said. The best ones this time of year are in 15 to 18 feet of water.

As with any crappie lake in the fall, water temperatures are crucial to what the fish will be doing and where they will be.

“The fish will hold tight to structure until the water gets into the 70s,” Ricky said. “Then they start to scatter and get easier to catch. Usually they’ll be along the breaks off channel ledges where it drops from 8 to 20 feet. They’ll move up on the flats and feed in the morning; then they go back deeper when the sun gets up.”

An advantage Lake Oconee offers over other lakes is lots of structure to fish.

“There was so much structure left in the lake when they made it, which is a big benefit,” Ricky said. “It would seem like it would be over-fished, but it’s not because it’s such a big lake with so much structure.”

Lake Oconee also offers several different types of fishing.

“You’ve got river fishing on one end of the lake and deep water on the other,” Ricky said.

The community atmosphere on Oconee is another aspect Ricky enjoys.

“In October you’ll see some good fishermen on the lake,” he said. “If you see boats, get in there and mix with them. Most of the people here are friendly enough to let you fish around them.”

For information on purchasing Ricky’s handmade “Sugar Bugs,” available in chenille and jelly belly, call (478) 607-1345.

Georgia Slab Masters

There is perhaps no tournament trail that is as avidly promoted by its anglers as Georgia Slab Masters. While they are serious about their crappie fishing, the atmoshphere is laid-back, family friendly, and anglers are usually more than willing to help newcomers.

Also, several Slab Masters anglers have pointed out that there is no better way to learn how to catch crappie consistently than to compete in tournaments and hang out with competition anglers. Anyone can go out during the peak of the spawn and slay crappie on the banks with a minnow and a bobber, but if you want to learn how to keep your freezer filled when conditions aren’t perfect, fish a few tournaments. You might just get hooked.

To learn more about the Georgia Slab Masters Tournament Trail and for a schedule of tournaments, see <www.GaSlabMasters.com>.
 
 
 
 
 
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