The reputation of Lake Weiss as one of the country’s most consistent crappie producers is well deserved. Slab after slab, year after year, the 30,000-acre lake in northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama at the head of the Coosa River chain reinforces its reputation and its nickname of Crappie Capital of the World.
April is perhaps the month that reputation best manifests itself. The month is replete with possibilities for crappie diehards and novices alike.
Veteran Weiss guide Darrell Baker calls April “a transition month,” meaning that the crappie population can be found at all stages of the spawn. The early spawners have already done their thing, a large segment of the population will spawn at some point during the month, and plenty of postspawn crappie will be holding around docks and shallow-water feeding flats.
“That’s what makes it such a great and productive month,” Darrell said. “Early in the month, you’re still fishing prespawn. The spawn usually doesn’t occur over here until the middle of the month, the second or third week of April.”
Darrell, who lives in the small town of Centre, Ala. targets Weiss crappie this month with two basic techniques, longline trolling and dock shooting. Certain days during the month provide an opportunity to sample both techniques.
“The first part of April, you’re in a position where you can still do the longline trolling,” he said. “You’re still fishing shallow, working in the very backs of the creeks and coves fishing over stump flats and along creek ledges in anywhere from 2 to 5 feet of water. The water temperature is up in the mid to upper 60s, if not hitting the low 70s.
“Some of them are already spawning early because they are coming in in waves. You can still longline troll because they don’t all come in at one time. That’s going to give you a week or two of prespawn fishing at the first of April.”
Darrell actually got his longlining started in February before the extreme cold hit the region. The ideal longlining period is from mid-February through mid-April and possibly beyond. He said his catch rate early in February was excellent, with the fish already moving toward the shallows. Then the extreme weather hit with repeated icy fronts raging through the region even into early March.
“It actually probably hinders the fishermen more than the fish,” Darrell said. “I had to cancel a lot of our guide trips. People from Missouri or Kentucky or Ohio simply couldn’t get here.
“Regardless of the weather, they are still likely to be up there shallow, waiting to spawn.”
Darrell longlines in a fairly standard way with a spread of poles cutting a 30-foot path as he moves over the stump-filled shallows and edges of the creeks. His lineup includes a 12- and 10-foot B’n’M Richard Williams Series rod extending from each side of his Ranger boat. Complementing the four rods up front are four more—7 1/2-foot models in the same B’n’M series—in the back of the boat.
Pairing the rods with Abu Garcia Cardinal spinning reels, Darrell spools with 6-lb. Gamma co-polymer in optic yellow, a high-visibility line that makes strikes more easily detectable. He normally trolls tiny jigs rigged with Southern Pro plastics.
“I use all 6-lb. Gamma because I know where my jigs are with that size line,” Darrell said. “I’m fishing 1/32-oz. up to maybe 1/24-oz. jigs. I’m moving about .9 to 1.2 mph fishing shallow in those stumps. If you don’t speed up and stay moving along, you’re going to be tying jigs all day. I’ve probably got 30 to 40 feet of line out in ordinary longlining situations. That means I’m fishing in the top 2 feet of water pulling a 1/32-oz. jig at one mph.”
Because of the endless possibilities, Darrell is almost able to utilize his full repertoire of crappie-fishing techniques in April, however. He said even old-school anglers can cast and catch fish throughout the month.
“If longlining is not their cup of tea, they can kick back with some minnows or some jigs, put a float on, and fish the backs of some of these stumpy coves and find some brush,” Darrell said. “There should be plenty of fish shallow for those people who want to catch them with a fly-and-cork rig. If someone wants to cast for them, April is a good month for that.”
Aside from longlining and casting, Darrell said another technique has surged in popularity in recent years. Shooting docks is not a new technique but remains one that average crappie fishermen might find a bit daunting.
Darrell said that many of his clients have seen the technique on TV shows and on videos and want to try it.
“Shooting docks is an excellent postspawn technique,” he said. “Once these fish spawn out, they are still stressed from the spawn. They will get up in the shade, get in the slightly cooler water and will lay under those docks and recuperate. The more they recoup, the more they will be active and feeding. They are going to eat anything they can up under those docks. That’s what makes the dock shooting such a deadly technique postspawn.”
Darrell shoots docks with a specialty rod made by B’n’M, a 5 1/2-foot Sharpshooter. He uses the same spinning reel and same Gamma line used in longline trolling.
Identifying docks with up to 7 feet of water on their front in the backs of coves and creeks, Darrell positions his boat about 10 feet off the dock. That space provides a good angle for shooting and also allows him to see his line better.
Depending on the amount of time the fish have been away from the spawning bed, the mood of the crappie may range from totally passive to wildly reckless.
“They’re not always going to be aggressive,” Darrell said. “Many of these fish holding on the docks are females, and once the females spawn, they are going to get under those docks and just lay there. The bite will be light, way more lethargic than if they have been recovering for a period of days.
“The fight won’t always be great with that type fish. In fact, sometimes it’s almost like pulling a dead stick in. They don’t have that energy to fight. But after a few days, the fight’s right back in them.”
Darrell, who highly favors the Southern Pro Stinger Shad for dock shooting, works the dock from all angles, front to back or back to front and also from the sides. At times, older wooden docks appear to hold the most fish, but perhaps a more important quality of a good dock is the amount of shade available underneath. Docks with large decks or platforms are ideal.
Darrell offers a few other pointers for shooting docks. A main one is a safety concern. He definitely advocates safe shooting.
“Let the jig down to the bottom eye on the rod,” Darrell said. “I get it with my thumb and pointer finger. Turn the jig head with the hook toward the rod. People want to hold the body of the jig or the back of the hook or the front of the head. If you do any of those things, you’re going to end up with a hook in you.
“If you turn that hook toward the rod and pinch the lead, that hook is going to be sticking out an inch from your fingers. It can’t get you.”
From that starting point, shooting effectively becomes a matter of practice. Anglers can practice just about anywhere or with anything that provides them about a foot of space. One practice opportunity is available to many anglers; raise the garage door a foot or so and fire away.
Anglers should become adept at shooting the jig in a space a foot high because the actual technique is often applied in very confined conditions. In fact, Darrell notes that many anglers bypass hard-to-reach spots under decks in favor of easier shooting. Ignoring a small opening can be a mistake because those spots will hold crappie that haven’t seen as many jigs.
“Let the jig go a split second before letting the line come off the bail,” Darrell said. “It’s just like a sling shot or bow and arrow, but it’s not uncommon to shoot 30 or 40 feet up under a dock.”
Darrell also suggested that shooting docks demands not only precision casting but also vigilance after the cast.
“When I shoot that jig, I fish with a little bow in my line,” he said. “The reason for that is the bite is so light, you might not feel it but you will see your line jump. That’s one reason I use that optic yellow (Gamma) line. It’s really bright, and you can see that line barely twitch.
“Sometimes the line will just stop, sometimes it will barely twitch, and sometimes it will jump 6 inches when they are real active.”
Darrell said he often combines longlining and dock shooting on trips, particularly as the month progresses. He trolls early and then moves to the dock as the sun rises in the sky.
“It gives you the opportunity to get a good limit of fish without doing the same thing all morning long,” Darrell said.
Normally, Darrell can be found practicing his craft in the mid- to lower-lake areas of Weiss, although he does move into Georgia waters occasionally. He’s likely to be found in places like Church House Slough, Yellow Creek or in the Bay Springs area. Other major tributaries include Big Nose, Little Nose, Cowan, Spring and Mud creeks.
Once on the lake, Darrell said a visiting angler can expect to see a crappie population that is cycling to a peak of productivity. Only a few short years ago, anglers were concerned about missing year classes. Darrell said some years produced 8-inch or smaller crappie or 13-inch crappie but little in between. That issue has been resolved as a result of productive spawns over the last five years. Darrell said Weiss now has a healthy population of 10- to 13-inch fish. The minimum length limit on Weiss is 10 inches.
“We have an outstanding crop of fish right now,’’ Darrell said. “It takes three years for our fish to be 10 inches. You can count it back three years to know what kind of spawn you had. From the looks of things so far, we had an outstanding spawn in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
“Last year was probably the best overall year we’ve had in the last seven or eight years. Last year and this year have just been phenomenal. Every lake goes through cycles with good spawns and bad spawns. We happen to be at a peak right now.”
To book a trip with Weiss Lake Crappie Guides, visit their website at weisslakecrappieguides.com. You can also contact Darrell via e-mail a firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (256) 557-0129.
“We’re certainly going to catch large numbers of fish in April,” Darrell said. “I get a lot of people who want to book their trips when the dogwoods bloom.
“Anybody who wants to come can e-mail me, or I even book some (trips) text messaging. I still have a few dates available but very few left through April, but I might have a cancellation.
“April’s always a super month. It’s a perfect time to be here because the fishing is so hot in April.”