If you want to catch big crappie at Lake Blackshear, Jack Ivey of Leesburg says, “Go up the river.”
The upper end of Blackshear, up to the Hwy 27 bridge, is one of Jack’s favorite places to fish for the solitude, the moving water and the big crappie. Jack, who has been fishing the lake as long as he can remember, says up the river is the place to go at Blackshear for crappie that are bigger on average than what you can expect to catch in the main lake.
“If you go down the lake to somewhere like Swift Creek, you will catch a multitude of crappie,” he said. “You may not catch the quantity up here that you can catch in the main lake, but the ones you catch up here will be bigger.”
One fish, the very biggest crappie on record for Blackshear, came from this part of the lake. On Dec. 9, 2007, Jack and his girlfriend, Angie, were fishing deep brush just upriver from Campers Haven.
“When I pulled the fish up and it flashed, I thought it was a bass,” said Jack. “It was as wide as a paddle.”
When he finally netted the 17 1/2-inch-long fish, it wasn’t a largemouth, but a monster crappie.
The fish was weighed on certified scales at 3-lbs., 7.52-ozs., installing Jack as the new lake-record angler for black crappie.
At 70, Jack still spends a lot of his time hunting and fishing in Georgia and Florida. He remains active: he owns three airplanes — he was once a test pilot and a stunt pilot — and flies often. He owns three airboats and a variety of small boats he uses for bass and crappie depending on the fishing style and destination of the day.
At Blackshear, we rode in his 17 1/2-foot aluminum Rhino. The wide-beamed boat with high gunnels was just right for the river.
Usually Jack fishes with the old reliable for crappie: minnows. The crappie like to hang out in the brush, blowdowns, snags and logs lining the river, and a minnow fished just above the brush will often catch a crappie.
The rig for fishing minnows is simple: a No. 4 or No. 6 gold Aberdeen hook with a good-sized split shot pinched on a foot above it. Jack fishes for crappie with small spinning rigs spooled with Sufix 4-lb. or 6-lb. line. He hooks his minnows either through the lips or through the back just behind the dorsal fin. The hook through the back away from the minnow’s head may provide a slight advantage.
“The crappie want to take the minnows head first,” he said.
The water temperature was 49.5 the day we fished, and we expected any bites to be subtle in the cold water.
“They aren’t going to move much today,” Jack said. “You will have to put it right in front of them.”
Our best slab of the day came from the edge of a blowdown over about 16 feet of water, and the bite was nearly unnoticeable. I had lowered a minnow to the bottom, then reeled it up a couple of feet to avoid the worst of the brush. You need to keep your bait above the brush for two reasons — to keep from getting hung up so often, and because crappie tend to feed upward in the water column.
As Jack turned the boat, my line swung in the current and the rod tip began to vibrate. When I raised the rod tip to set the hook, I felt the weight of a good fish — one we chose to net to bring aboard. The fish weighed a pound, maybe a pound and a quarter.
“That’s a typical fish up here,” said Jack. “You catch a lot of them between 1 and 1 1/2 pounds.”
Jack doesn’t usually anchor or tie-off in the river. He prefers to slowly ease along into the current with his trolling motor watching his electronics for brush and for fish.
“The fish aren’t going to come find us, so you have to move around to find them,” he said.
At mid morning we motored back into Campers Haven to resupply our minnow buckets. We shortly returned to the water with 6 dozen highly motivated, energetic and incredibly slippery minnows. Clever minnows, too.
Fishing with minnows sounds simple. You hook one, drop it into the lake and catch a fish. Not always. Here’s how the real drill went to fish with the minnows: Net a minnow or two with the minnow net. Grab the biggest one from the net. Drop it on the floor. Chase the flipping, slippery fish around your chair. Pick it up. Drop it again, this time catching it between your knees. Pounce on the minnow again, this time securing it on a hook. Lower the rig to the bottom, then bring it up about 18 inches. I said the fish were clever because they apparently know something about tying a half-hitch or maybe an improved double-loop cinch knot around a submerged limb. Often, within a minute — sometimes mere seconds — the line would have somehow become tightly secured to a branch. We must have broken off 3 dozen hooks.
“There is a lot of brush in here,” said Jack with a shrug after snapping off another hook. “You are going to get broke off — it’s just part of fishin.’”
In mid February, the crappie were still holding in deep water. Most of the places we fished were between 10 and 18 feet deep. The banks on the outside bends of the river will generally be where you will find the deeper holes and the most fish.
There are always fish on the deep brush and blowdowns, said Jack, but the fish will gradually move shallower and head into the sloughs to spawn in late March and April. The fish will stage in the deeper water at the mouths of the creeks and sloughs, with some coming and some going throughout the spawn, and minnows on structure will produce most days.
The one thing that kills the bite is muddy water. Jack and I rescheduled our trip a few days later trying to avoid muddy water from a heavy rain in early February.
“If the river is muddy, you can forget it,” said Jack. “The fish can’t see to find the minnows.”
Jack and I fished with three rods apiece and given the amount of time you are hung in the brush, that’s about as many lines as you want in the water. Jack will occasionally do a little fish-finding with a jig.
We pulled into the mouth of a small creek, and Jack tied on a salt/pepper tube jig on a 1/8-oz. lead head. He cast the jig, let it sink into the mouth of the creek then slowly retrieved it.
“The fish are still deep, so I want to fish just off the bottom,” said Jack. “Sometimes I will switch to a 1/4-oz. lead head because it falls quicker and gets to the fish quicker.”
Two-toned jigs produce well.
“Black with a chartreuse tail is a good color,” he said. “They can see it pretty good in this water.”
The jig was bumped a few times, but no fish hooked up.
“When the water temperature moves up to closer to 60 the fish will be a lot more active,” he said.
Throughout March, the crappie — and some good ones — will be in the brush in the same deep holes, ready to be caught. Just remember to bring plenty of hooks.