Lake Weiss fishing guide Kelly Matthews fishes for crappie year round. During the summer, he catches crappie off more than 70 deep brushpiles he has put out. During the winter he uses a bottom-bumping minnow rig to pull slabs from the river-channel ledges. Spring, however, is the time of year he looks forward to, and you’ll find him on the lake trolling tri-colored twister-tail jigs and pulling in limits of slabs.
Kelly, 37, of Centre, Ala., has fished Weiss for more than 20 years. He has been guiding crappie fishermen on the lake for three years.
In February and March as the fish begin to move up ahead of the spawn, trolling jigs on longlines is the most effective way to catch crappie at Weiss, says Kelly.
“The crappie will move into the mouths of the spawning bays and suspend in water seven to nine feet deep over water 12 to 14 feet deep,” he said. “Around the first of March the water temperature will hit the 50- to 52-degree range — that’s the magic mark for trolling. The fish will be active, schooled up tight, and feeding.”
Weiss has a three-rod-per-person limit. With two of us in the boat in mid February when I fished with him, Kelly had two 12-foot Silstar rod-and-reel combos and one eight-foot rod in rodholders in the front of the boat. The longer rods up front help spread the jigs to avoid tangling. I was charged with watching three eight-foot rods out the back of the boat.
Kelly trolls pulling Southern Pro Hot Grubs, a tri-colored twister tail grub (www.southernpro.com).
“There aren’t many companies making a three-color jig, and that’s why they are so good,” he said. “They have a lot of color combinations that nobody else has.”
The company offers 32 color combos, and Kelly’s collection appeared to have them all. Color matters, he said, and that seemed to be the case on the day I fished with him. The rod on the back left corner of the boat, with a black/blue grub with a chartreuse tail received about 80 percent of the bites.
“Black/blue with a chartreuse tail has been the dominant color lately,” said Kelly, but there are several other combos that have been getting eaten lately. The John Deere color combo, a green/yellow grub with a chartreuse tail is a good color, he said. Another Southern-Pro color called Double Trouble (gold/black with an olive tail) has also been effective. The second-best color on the day we were out was likely one called Orange Crush — an orange/white body and chartreuse tail.
Three of our four first fish hit black/blue with a chartreuse tail. The fourth fish hit Orange Crush. Black/blue/chartreuse was clearly the top color of the day, easily out-catching all other colors combined.
Lake Weiss has a 10-inch minimum size limit on crappie. The lake is one of the few in the Southeast where fisheries biologists believe a size limit has a positive impact — meaning enough fish grow quickly enough to exceed the size limit before natural mortality thins them out. Weiss is a relatively shallow lake with lots of structure-filled habitat and expansive spawning flats. Combine that with a spectacular shad population that provides plenty of forage, as well as high numbers of both white and black crappie that cross-breed and create a fast-growing hybrid through something called hybrid vigor, and it’s no wonder Lake Weiss is known across the Southeast as an outstanding crappie-fishing destination.
The fertile waters of Lake Weiss produce a lot of crappie as well some outstanding slabs. Kelly said he and his clients have caught eight or 10 crappie over two pounds. Catching a 3- pounder, he concedes, is a bit more difficult — but he has one. Kelly’s biggest crappie weighed 3-lbs., 4-ozs.
Weiss is an extremely popular crappie-fishing lake, and it gets hit hard in the spring. On one March Saturday last year, Kelly counted 59 boats in Yellow Creek alone. To improve his odds, Kelly looks for little differences that might set his jigs apart from everyone else: like pouring his own 1/24-oz. jig heads.
“Almost everybody else is trolling 1/16-oz. jigs or 1/32-oz. jigs,” he said. “Sometimes the 1/16-oz. runs a little too deep, and the 1/32 runs too shallow. The 1/24-oz. jig head will run at a little different depth than most of the other jigs the fish see.”
Trolling speed is critical. Kelly uses a hand-held Garmin GPS to track and maintain his speed.
“I usually troll between 0.6 and 0.8 mph.” he said.
At that speed, his twister-tails on a 1/24-oz. jig heads run about six or seven feet deep.
How does he know how deep the jigs run?
“You can find out what depth your jigs are running by trolling over a point at a specific speed and watching your depthfinder. You keep making passes and when your jigs start dragging the bottom, that’s the depth your jigs run at that speed.”
When he is trolling, Kelly watches depth more than for baitfish. We caught fish by trolling the edge of a ditch running down the middle of a small cove.
“I like to see schools of crappie on the screen,” he said. “I’d just as soon not see shad. If you see shad, the stripers won’t be far behind.”
Kelly’s rods are spooled with 6-lb. Sufix line, a small-diameter mono.
“Four-pound line is too light, and eight pound is too heavy,” he said. “You are subject to catch a big striper, and if your drag is set right, you can get a 12- or 14-lb. striper in on 6-lb. line.”
Trolling longlines will hold up until the first week or so in April. During April, most of the fish will be up on the banks spawning, and Kelly will follow them to the banks by throwing a “cork-and-fly” rig.
“I’ll tie two 1/32-oz. jigheads about 18 inches apart under a float and beat the banks,” he said.
Kelly starts the spring crappie-fishing season on the lower lake, fishing out of Bay Springs Marina. As the water warms, he will gradually move up the lake, fishing Yellow Creek, Little River, and on up the Coosa. By early April, when the fish are heading for the banks to spawn, Kelly will be trolling 1/32-oz. jigs in six or seven feet of water or throwing a cork-&-fly rig on the spawning flats around Cowan and Spring creeks.
You can visit Kelly’s website at <www.weisslakeguides.com>. For details about scheduling a fishing trip, you can reach him by phone at (256) 475-5238 or on his cell phone at (256) 557-5722.