Many outdoorsmen have put their fishing tackle away for the winter and are happily resting 15 feet up in a white-oak tree this time of year. But, Mike Sloan, co-owner of Wingate’s Lodge in Bainbridge, would rather be catching limits of crappie on Lake Seminole than catching up on rest in a cold deer stand all winter.
Mike suggested I be at the lodge, originally owned by legendary Jack Wingate, about 6:30 on an early October morning. Fortunately, safe daylight wasn’t for almost an hour after my arrival, so I had the opportunity to enjoy some early morning conversation with a dining room full of anglers feasting on the mighty-fine country cooking at Wingate’s. I even got the chance to talk with Jack him- self, who locals say is just a “regular guy.” It was hard for me to picture one of the founding fathers of modern bass fishing as a regular guy, but after just a short conversation, I felt like I’d known him my whole life.
As the darkness began to give way to the morning sun outside of the lodge, I said goodbye to my new friends, and Mike and I got down to business. It was time for a lesson in catching November Seminole slabs.
It was early October the day of our outing, but Mike said by late October you can load a boat with crappie on the grass lines in Seminole. There were already some crappie in the grass, and the water temperature wasn’t as cool as it will be this month.
“Right now most of the crappie are suspended in 20 feet of water, but as the water temperature cools to 75 degrees, the majority of the crappie will move to the grass lines,” said Mike as we cruised pass Seminole WMA on our way to the first grass line.
A friend of Mike’s told him he’d caught some big crappie while bass fishing on this particular grass line, and we were going to check it out.
It wasn’t long after we got to the first grass line that Mike hooked up with a nice Seminole slab.
“Throw right there. There will usually be another right behind it,” said Mike.
Another cast didn’t produce another fish, but it is a great way to put numbers in the boat. Mike said if you catch one or two from one spot and can’t get another bite, pick up another rod with a different bait and make a few casts. The different appearance will usually produce another fish. Doing this every time you catch a fish will add up fast, and you’ll have your 30 (the daily limit for crappie in Georgia) before you know it.
Even though there’s a good deal of variation in the depths of the grass lines, Mike said the majority of the fish will be in grass lines 6 to 10 feet deep. The bite will be right off the edge of the grass, but the depth will depend on where the bait is located that day. The crappie are in the grass because the smaller shad will be in it or close to it as well, and the crappie will be where the bait is.
“Some days the bites will be right when it hits the water, and other days it will be deeper,” said Mike. “It just depends on where the bait is. After a few casts you’ll know where you need to be.”
Mike said a lot of guys will float live minnows down the grass lines in the winter, but it isn’t his specialty. He is positive anyone can limit-out on winter crappie on Lake Seminole with little effort if they have the right equipment.
Mike’s specialty is jig-fishing the grass lines, and he knows exactly what to do for the best results. He uses 1/8- to 1/32-oz. jigheads for crappie most days, but sometimes they just won’t bite it like they should.
“I vary the weight depending on the wind, but the fish are pretty picky sometimes. If the regular jighead isn’t working, I’ll tie on a Blakemore Road- Runner bubble-head jig,” said Mike. “You’ve just got to start throwing it and see what is working that day.”
Mike said the primary color grub to use on the jigs is black and chartreuse, but sometimes chartreuse or junebug work well. He usually uses a Charlie Brewer Slider grub because the tail gives a different action in the water than a common curlytail grub. He said sometimes neither will work, and you’ ve just got to mix it up a little bit.
He suggested another good choice for Seminole specks, the Crappie Beaver by Bass Pro Shops. It has a wider tail which slows its descent, offering something different that might turn a watching crappie into a biting crappie. Mike likes to use the Beaver more vertically than horizontally.
“Normally, you will be casting to the edges of the grass and making a horizontal retrieve with the jig,” said Mike. “But when you find a group of fish, you can get over the spot and present the Crappie Beaver vertically from above. It’s a good way to get a few more fish from a good spot.”
Mike uses ultra-light spinning tackle while following the famed speckled perch. He said he is fortunate to get a lot of samples, being co-owner of a fish camp, and has found one product that is a must-have for crappie fishing on Seminole. PowerPro line makes a 10-lb.-test braided line in a 2-lb. diameter. This line is excellent for crappie fishing. It’s strong enough to straighten a hook on a crappie jig when you get hung in the many stumps on Seminole. I witnessed the weaknesses of monofilament first-hand as I continuously snapped my line off in the grass, and Mike just pulled a little harder and straightened a hook. We didn’t have to worry about snapping our rods either. The Shakespeare Ugly Stiks aren’t likely to snap for any little stump. Mike said to be careful with braided line on weak rods, it could be the demise of a good fishing day when you snap a rod. It doesn’t have the flex of monofilament and will break a rod before you break the line in most cases. He said the light but strong tackle has proved to be the most useful tackle on Seminole during the winter months.
One problem you won’t have on Seminole is finding a grass line that holds crappie. The 37,500-acre reservoir has plenty of grass, and plenty of crappie. Mike said the fish don’t prefer any type of grass line over another. They come to grass lines close to deeper water just as they do those closer to shallow water. Mike said after the crappie begin to congregate in the grass, they will be there all winter long and they are yours for the taking.
As we left one grass line on our way to the next, I couldn’t help but envy all the hunters who received an alligator permit this year. We’ d seen several gators longer than 8 feet, and we weren’t even looking for them. Mike interrupted my daydreams of gator boots as he explained his crappie techniques on the way to our next grass line.
“The bite is going to come right off the edge of the grass,” he said. “The fish back into the grass and just stick their noses out. So, it’s really important to be right along the edge of the grass to catch fish. It will be a very distinct bite, like a hard thump. You’ll most likely feel a nibble or two pretty often as well. Those are bream biting at the lure, and you’ll probably catch a few of them also. You don’t need to waste your time fishing the jig all the way back to the boat. Once you’ve gotten away from the grass, you should just reel it in and cast to the grass again. That’s where all your bites are going to happen.”
Mike said to cast a jig to the edge of the grass and let it fall in front of the grass before you start slowly swimming it back to you. Since the grass lines will be in different depths of water, it’s hard to say to what depth you should let the jig fall. After only a few casts you’ll figure out what is or isn’t working.
With the Blakemore Road-Runner you want to let it fall, but instead of quickly swimming it back you want to use a slow, steady retrieve like you would a Beetle-Spin.
“You aren’t going to catch them on every cast, but when you catch one, there will likely be another right behind it,” said Mike. “You might fish a grass line for a quarter-mile and not get a bite, but then you’ll catch a lot from one spot.”
Any grass line will produce fish in November, but Mike offered a few of his favorite spots for anglers to start.
“Butler Creek, Ten Mile Still and Wingate Cut, right out in front of the lodge, are all good places to start,” said Mike.
Mike said this method of crappie fishing is also a great way to get the kids involved in fishing. With some types of fishing you can fish all day with no bite. But, when the crappie start to congregate on the grass lines, you won’t just go home with a boat full of fish, but also a boat full of smiles and memories if you get a kid started fishing.
One thing is for sure, you definitely aren’t going to catch any crappie sit- ting on the couch. Now you know how to catch them, so get out there and fill a cooler. The guys at the deer camp like to eat fish too.
For more information on Wingate’s Lodge and Lake Seminole, visit www.wingateslodge.com or give them a call at (229) 246-0658.