Call Tony Adams the antithesis of the typical crappie fisherman.
Unlike many casual anglers who only pursue slabs for a limited period in the spring, Tony longs for the extended days and heat of the late spring and summer months. At that time, starting in late April and running through the remainder of the spring, through the summer, and even into the fall, Tony pursues crappie on Lake Eufaula and regularly boats a consistently better quality fish that feeds seemingly around the clock.
For Tony, May is the perfect month to sample the around-the-clock crappie fishing on Eufaula, a 45,000-acre boundary line between Georgia and Alabama on the Chattahoochee River. By this time, the crappie will have migrated from the shallows and will be headed toward their main-river summer haunts.
“After the fish spawn, they will start leaving the banks,” Tony said. “They start going to the mouths of creeks and back to the channels that lead out to the main river. Usually you’re looking at the end of April or first of May.
“You’ll start catching them in the brushpiles in the mouths of creeks and off the ledges on the lake.”
I teamed up with Tony at the recommendation of Eufaula, Alabama mayor Jack Tibbs, who told me he never has a bad fishing trip with Tony. Visiting Eufaula in mid-March, I found the lake abuzz with crappie fishermen and also with bass fishermen practicing for a couple of upcoming tournaments. The crappie fishermen were a mixture of locals and out-of-state visitors who converge on the lake in March and early April.
“It’s been busy the last couple of days,” Tony said as we launched for a trip at the Barbour Creek Landing ramp just off the main drag, Highway 431, through town.
In fact, Tony had to bypass a couple of his favorite shallow spots because boats dotted the big creek.
“We’ll just go on up in the creek and see if the fish have gotten into the really shallow grass just yet,” he said.
The crappie were just starting a prolonged stay in the shallows that extended well into at least the second week of April. On just about every stop in the creek, we managed to boat at least a few fish, typically exploring stretches of gnarly grass mixed with stumps and laydowns until encountering scattered crappie and occasionally a larger school.
We had fished for about 15 minutes when we found the first congregation of crappie. Tony had offered me the option of casting a small jig with a light spinning rig or dropping minnows into likely locations with a long fiberglass pole.
These crappie seemed to favor the casting approach. The key, however, appeared to be the pink crappie nibble—Tony uses the Crappie Bites brand—used to tip the hook. As long as I kept a fresh crappie nibble on the hook, I got bit repeatedly around a stump in about 2 feet of water and landed several fish in succession.
Tony also got into the act with a couple of crappie on his cork-and-minnow rig fished about 18 inches deep.
The fish were typical of the small males that invade the shallows early in the spring, preceding the bigger female spawners. We caught perhaps 15 fish on our first stop and eventually left them biting to explore other areas.
We hit other shallow, grassy locations in Barbour, including one in a slough that yielded multiple fish. En route, Tony surveyed the underwater structure in the open water of the creek with his electronics, cruising a couple of the ditches and brushpile areas that he will target this month near the mouth.
He even ventured onto the main river, crossing the channel despite a heavy north wind and marked a spot on a flat adorned with multiple tops and other structure. We fished for a few minutes with deep minnow rigs, but the pounding wind made staying on the spot difficult.
“Those deeper places that we looked at and fished are the types of places that I will fish later on in the year,” Tony said. “That deeper brush will hold at least some fish most of the year.”
We quickly retreated to the relative calm of Barbour, where we caught a few more fish before I left. Tony’s day was far from over, however. He stayed on the water and finally found the bigger females on one of the spots we had bypassed earlier in the morning.
“You’ve got to come go with me again tomorrow,” he said later that night. “They really came in there about the last hour or so before dark. We caught them one after another until it got dark.”
Throughout the trip, Tony shared his ideas about the “good” fishing to come. Despite the fact that he probably caught upward of 50 fish during the course of the day, he still insisted that crappie fishing on Eufaula is better as the year progresses.
“Usually in May, I start fishing early in the morning,” he said. “I will start trying to fish at 6 in the morning. Usually by 9 or 9:30, I will have a limit of nice fish.”
A nice limit for Tony includes a majority of fish that weigh 1 1/2 pounds and a few that push 2.
“Usually when I get out there at 6 in the morning, I will catch them about 6 or 8 feet deep,” he said. “Later in the day, the fish will go a little deeper and will hold to the structure a little tighter. When you first get out there in the morning, they might be 6 or 8 feet around the structure. Then as the sun comes up, they will hug tighter, probably 2 foot around the structure.”
Tony scours over “fingers” that run toward the main lake. Whether called fingers, ditches or channels, they are frequently lined with or surrounded by brush that Tony finds with his electronics or plants on his own. Regardless of the type structure that he is fishing, Tony attempts to focus on the shady side. That idea applies to a stump, brushpile or bridge piling.
“I’m always looking for fingers or ditches that come off the main lake,” Tony said. “I will go out to 18, 20, maybe 24 feet. There’s always cover there. The fish can get in shallower water easily, and they will come up shallow and attack the shad.”
He uses three main approaches to target these deeper fish. He catches crappie by casting a small jig, usually a 1/16-oz., paired with either a small “mini tail” swimbait or a curly tail. For May fishing, he favors black/chartreuse plastic paired with a contrasting jig head like orange or yellow.
“I don’t know if there is any particular reason, but if I have a favorite color head, it’s orange,” he said.
He loads his light spinning combos with hi-vis—either blue or green—6-lb. mono, adding that the hi-vis is better than clear for detecting the light strikes of summer crappie, which best hit a slow, steady retrieve.
The Crappie Bites are another part of his jig routine. While he said they are not always necessary, they provide a mental edge and will ignite the bite at times when a plain jig won’t produce.
“I do like tipping the jig,” he said. “It provides a flavor for the crappie to pick up on.
“I guess it’s a mindset. I tell myself, ‘I know that I’m going to catch some if I have the nibbles on my jig.’”
In addition to casting, Tony also uses deep minnow rigs with a float adjusted to the depth he anticipates crappie are holding. His setup is a traditional hook and split-shot with an adjustable cork that allows him to dictate depth.
“I probably catch as many fish on minnows as I do on jigs,” Tony said. “I’m usually prepared to do both.”
A third approach, mainly for deeper crappie, is a small spoon. Tony didn’t have any along on our trip, but he jigs the spoon in water as deep as 24 feet deep.
The same approaches work for Tony at night, as well. At least a few Eufaula fishermen are known to pursue crappie after hours throughout the year, and Tony counts among those diehards who love to night fish. Generally, he gets on the water before dark, clamps two lights to the side of his boat and anchors down near a likely spot.
“Night fishing can be really good,” he said, “and you can do it all year long. Find a brushpile or get around a bridge, and anchor down. I usually fish about 8 to 12 feet deep at night.
“Usually you start catching them about 30 minutes before dark, and you can catch them on and off for as long as you want to stay. They usually bite well until about 8:30. There may be some lulls, but they will come in schools all night. Sooner or later, they will pick back up.”
Tony mentioned the bridges on Highway 431 over Barbour Creek and also at Lakepoint State Park north of town as likely locations for night fishing. The bridge on Highway 82 that connects Georgia with Eufaula is another frequent stop for him, as well as the nearby railroad trestle. Those two structures are located between Barbour and Lakepoint.
Tony said the bridges are actually a good choice whether fished during the day or at night.
Just how good does the crappie fishing get during the late spring and summer on Eufaula? It’s good enough that he catches some crappie early and then devotes a good bit of his time to fishing for shellcracker or catfish while waiting for the crappie to move deep.
“During the summer time—and I mean late April and May by that also—I catch a lot better quality fish than when they are spawning,” he said. “When they are spawning, it’s a little trouble catching the big ones because there are so many of the smaller ones. And they can be anywhere spawning… in the grass, in the trees, sometimes places that are hard to get to.”
The summer offers other perks as well, namely far fewer people on the lake.
“Usually after they finish spawning out, people think they quit biting and that they can’t catch them,” he said. “To me, they bite better. The fish really bite better in the summer than they do in the spawn. There’s definitely not many crappie fishermen on the water, and that makes the fishing that much better.”