One of the first articles I ever wrote was more than a decade ago and was about a small, 170-acre public lake named Lake Mayers near Baxley. Before the trip I had never met him, but during the day on the water, I began a life-long friendship with Tommy Davis and his family.
Tommy fishes for anything that bites, but his passion is for crappie. I would estimate that Tommy has caught 25,000 crappie since the 2004 article.
I usually fish with him a couple of times each year and was fortunate to hop in his boat on a warm Friday evening in October. As I pulled into the public landing, my eyes fell on a boat just 100 yards from the ramp. It looked like a porcupine with crappie poles sticking out the front and sides. I confirmed that it was Tommy because he was swinging a crappie in the boat when I pulled up.
In short order, I loaded my rods and we started easing along looking for fish. With just two hours before dark, I was hoping we timed it right… and we did. Just as soon as we got out into the channel, crappie dotted his fish-finder screen, and the floats started going down. For the next hour, there was a float down almost constantly. Sometimes Tommy would have three or four out of commission because there were several crappie (or white perch as they are called in the Baxley area) flopping in the bottom of the boat. Eventually he would have a lull and remove the hook, release or ease the fish in the livewell, rebait a minnow through the eye sockets, and drop the offering back into the drink.
In the back of the boat, my most important job was to keep feeding him minnows out of my larger bait cooler and into his bait bucket. I did a great job of that and even caught some fish myself. Swinging 9- to 11-inchers over the gunnels is fun, but the fish of the night (pushing a pound) fought then dove and pulled off my hook.
From my past crappie fishing experience, they usually bite right up until dark, but not that night. As the sun hit the tops of the trees, the bite actually slowed down.
Coming from a bass fishing background, I wanted a little more casting action, so I picked up an ultralight spinning outfit rigged with a tan shad-colored Specktacular Jig and float. As we slowly pulled the spider-rigged minnows through the fish, I zipped a cast about 40 feet behind the boat and gave it a twitch every few seconds, letting the jig swing back underneath during the pause. Within just a few seconds I was reeling into a crappie. Tommy commented and into the box the speck went. Another cast… another fish, and so it went until dark. Occasionally, the floats would go down, but the little tinsel and chenille jig was the ticket as dark approached. We mused that the little pop of the float must be getting their attention better than the silent minnow moving past them. Whatever the reason, the minnows were the deal during the bright light and the jig was the ticket at dusk. When the dust settled, we had a limit of 60 fish averaging 10 inches in the livewell. During the evening, we also released a limit of fish in the 7- to 9-inch range.
I was in the area a week later and we tried to duplicate our trip. Between our trips, the water temperature had dropped from 76 to 70 degrees, but the fish were still active. We hit the water at exactly the same time, and the fish were still very willing to eat spider-rigged minnows and Spectacular Jig-minnow combinations, but in the cooler temperatures, the late jig-float bite did not materialize. After releasing several smaller fish, we ended up with just more than 30 crappie that evening.
Catches like these are common all winter on this small, Appling County owned lake. As with any fishery, winter cooling trends will slow the bite, but a warming trend will spur the activity level of the fish. My favorite approach, and the presentation I typically use when I am not fishing the lake with Tommy, is to longline troll. My usual presentation is to set up two rodholders in the middle with short ultralight spinning rods and two facing out the sides with 10- to 12-foot-long jig poles. All of my reels are spooled with 6-lb. test Trilene XT monofilament. Stagger the distance of line out to keep from tangling when you make turns.
The business end is a double-rigged (about a foot apart) 1/32-oz. round or minnow-shaped jig head with a sickle hook or a 1/16-oz. Flashy Jighead if I want a little more flash on a sunny day. The sickle hook is great for holding big fish that come up and shake their head at the boat. My trolling lure is simply a 2-inch Assassin Curly Shad. The little lure is unique with the tail coming out the side. It has great action, and the sideways tail imparts a wobble to it as it is pulled along. I love that little bait for a multitude of species, but it is deadly on crappie.
Trolling speeds vary based on the activity level of the fish and the depth I am fishing. In Lake Mayers, you will be fishing less than 14 feet deep (that is the deepest water I have found), and the lower end of the lake has very little cover to snag. I typically start at 0.9 mph and adjust from there. The upper half of the lake contains stumps and hangs, so I usually troll just one 1/32-oz. jig head or move the boat a little faster in that part of the lake. In the upper end, I have had very good luck trolling Satilla Spin spinnerbaits, as well. They create a little more thump and do not get hung as much as an exposed-hook jig head. I have caught crappie more than a pound by trolling the spinnerbait, and some days they eat it better than the Curly Shad. Shad hues usually work best for me. The whole key is to dial in the right speed/lure combination. When you get it right, it is a ton of fun.
As the spring progresses and fish move shallow to spawn, traditional crappie fishing techniques work. I like to cast to the docks and natural shoreline cover with an Assassin 2-inch Pro Tiny Shad suspended underneath a float. Fish cannot stand it suspended in their face with that float, and a quick pop every few seconds gets their attention. The black/chartreuse and bluegrass hues have been most successful for me that time of year, because the water is usually stained in the spring. Fish are very scattered during the spawn, so keep moving until you find a concentration of fish. I suggest starting the search on the main-lake docks first and then move back into the coves and upper end as spring progresses (usually by early March) and the fish are spawning heavily.
Bass: While crappie are Tommy’s usual quarry, there are other species in numbers worthy of targeting. Bass populations fluctuate, but you can generally hook up regularly in the spring. Winter can be tough, but once the water warms, you can catch them by throwing topwater early and Texas-rigged worms and swimbaits to shoreline cover once the sun gets up. If you bass fish this month, look for offshore humps and points and slowly work jigs along the structure.
Bluegill and Catfish: Bluegill and catfish are in good numbers, but the bite will be better later in the spring and summer than right now. The size of the bluegill is impressive. I have caught 10-inch ‘gills by working Satilla Spins (crawfish has been the best color for me) around spawning flats and docks. A big bluegill is a handful on ultralight tackle.
Catfishing can be productive from the bank or boat. Worms or shrimp fished on the bottom are most productive for whiskerfish. Good bank fishing options exist around the public area near the boat ramp. When boat traffic in and out of the landing is light, you can catch catfish from the bank on either side of the ramp. The fish are typically on the small side, but you can catch enough for a meal when they are biting.
The lake is situated just a few miles west of Baxley, and there are directional signs from Highway 1 just south of the center of town and also from Highway 341 in Graham, west of Baxley. The coordinates for the boat ramp from Google Earth are N 31º 47’19.92 – W 82º 28’39.38. There is no launch fee or access fee for the public area, and a Georgia fishing license is all that is needed to fish the lake. Statewide size and creel limits apply to all species.
While most of the crappie fishing attention is focused on the big reservoirs, small waters often fly under the radar. Check out some of the smaller county-owned waters near you or road trip to Lake Mayers this winter.
Editor’s Note: Capt. Bert Deener makes a whole host of custom-built lures, such as the Specktacular Jig. For a catalog of his lures, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (912) 288-3022.