Minnows Early, Jigs Late Catch Sinclair’s Transition Crappie

Robert Sellers used to crappie fish for money — now he fishes for the fryer. This old pro said October is a great time to heat the grease.

October is a fantastic time to fish for crappie on a Georgia reservoir for several reasons. With the ranks of fishermen thinned by the call of deer stands, and with the last of the skiers and summer pleasure boaters gone for the season, a die-hard crappie angler will find plenty of uncontested water waiting for him, there will be no line at the boat ramp, and he won’t have to take a beating from boat-wakes. Plus, on Lake Sinclair, crappie are in a transition, making them vulnerable to a number of tactics — take your pick of your favorite method for catching them, and it will work in October on Sinclair.

Robert Sellers of Bolingbroke knows all of this well. Though bass fishing and bowhunting have both called him away occasionally, his passion is crappie fishing, and it has been that way for years. He fishes for them year-round, and his fishing equipment is geared with one species in mind. Robert and his brother Tommy Sellers were once a team to be taken seriously when it came to Crappiethon tournaments, and together they were among the top teams at almost any event on any lake in Georgia and neighboring states. But Robert doesn’t fish competitively anymore — he just enjoys the fun of catching them and keeping the fish-fryer hot.

“We eat crappie two, sometimes three times a week all year,” said Robert. “I don’t like to eat fish that has been frozen. I only eat them fresh. So, I pretty much have to know how to find the crappie and be able to catch a mess any month of the year.”

Robert’s boat tells you in a glance that you are dealing with a serious crappie angler. It’s a Ranger 620 VS walleye-style boat with a deep V hull. Next to a Mercury 200 hp engine is a smaller gas-powered outboard for special trolling conditions, but most of the trolling is done with the auto-pilot Minn Kota mounted on the bow. Of course, there are rod holders. These are special rod-holders that Robert and Tommy manufacture themselves under their Sellers Tackle Co. name.

“We used to make jigs and other tackle, but now we just make a few of the rod holders for specialized fishing,” said Robert.

The rod holders are sold only through a few Georgia sporting goods stores. Robert’s boat features a set in the bow and stern — a total of six rods can be fished in the front of the boat and eight more out the back. And the rod holders can be customized with extra attachments. For example, one of the front tier of rod holders has a stain- less-steel extension to which Robert attaches a remote hand control for his Minn Kota. Preferring to manage the trolling motor with his hand rather than with a foot pedal, Robert can keep the control right at his fingertips as he sits up front, between the rod holders, and keeps an eye on his poles.

The nice thing about a deep V -hull like Robert’ s boat is the roominess and comfort compared to a regular bass boat. Front and back, an angler can work his fishing rods from a comfortable swivel seats and have lockers, controls, and even a built-in min- now tank within easy reach. The fishing seats are mounted on curved poles rather than straight ones, so the seats not only spin, they can swing on a wide arc, allowing the fisherman to cover a broad spread of rod-holders without having to get out of the chair. There are depthfinders everywhere, plenty of electronic gadgets and buttons, and even a sensor mounted on the trolling motor that shows Robert his trolling speed on the depthfinder readout.

“When you’re trolling for crappie, sometimes just the slightest difference in speed, slowing down from 1.6 to 1.5 miles per hour, can make a difference in the bite,” said Robert.

All of this high-tech array of equipment in one well-suited boat makes this a deadly rig on crappie. Robert’ s familiarity with the boat and his tackle, and his obvious eye for crappie water, make it clear that this man knows crappie.

What he knows about Sinclair crappie in October is that the first half of the month is likely to be significantly warmer than the second half, and that two techniques will be required to meet the conditions. The first half is likely to find water still in the 70s and 80s in temperature, and the crappie will still be in a summer pattern — hugging structure. This includes brush- piles, docks and blowdowns. The keys to catching these fish will be tactics that put lines in the structure with the crappie — shooting jigs under docks or straight-lining minnows into brush- piles and the tops of fallen trees along the shoreline. By the latter half of October, water temperatures will be cooling off, and the crappie will be loosening their attachment to structure and spreading out across coves and creeks — following the bait that is doing the same thing. When this hap- pens, trolling begins to work because it allows an angler to cover more area and find both scattered fish and concentrations of fish in open water.

First, let’ s cover early October and tactics for structure.

“You can shoot docks this time of year and catch a mess, but that’s just not my favorite way to fish,” Robert said. “In tournaments, if it got to be time to weigh in and I needed a limit, I’d go shoot docks just to have some- thing to weigh in.”

Most crappie anglers are familiar with this method, and it has been described in GON articles many times — the angler slingshots a jig as far beneath a dock as possible by using the rod as a catapult. Then, after letting the jig fall a few feet, the angler makes a slow retrieve. Many times, on docks with brush and fish, the bite occurs while the jig is still falling.

While Robert’s preferred method doesn’ t sound as exciting — straight- lining live minnows into brushpiles — there’s a lot more finesse and strategy involved than you might think.

“This time of year, if you can find some trash to fish, you’ll find crap- pie,” he said. “Sinclair’ s old enough now that there’ s no standing timber worth anything, but people have put out all kinds of brushpiles and there is a world of boat docks and fallen trees you can fish.”

When Robert is ready to fish brush, he is working six poles on the front of his boat — three on each side in rod holders. While some anglers might look at this “spider rig” as an overkill — a way of deploying a curtain of lines to sweep up any fish unlucky enough to get caught in the path — it actually requires more finesse and skill than you might think, at least the way Robert fishes. Think of this array of poles and lines as more like the long fingers of a hand, probing the water for crappie. Robert finds a large creek-arm that looks promising and a depth he likes — usually 16 to 20 feet this time of year — and sets out his poles. Then he creeps along, watching his depthfinder and his poles, looking for trash or brushpiles, and fishing the open water along the way. This isn’t trolling. Like I said, Robert creeps. He bumps the trolling motor now and then just to keep the boat moving in the direction he wants, but most of the time you can hardly tell the boat is moving at all.

Likely places to look for artificial brushpiles include areas in front of boat docks, along creek channels, and out in the mouths of creeks. You can also move in on visible brush — watch for tree trunks and rootballs of fallen trees that indicate a submerged treetop. Steep banks are the best places to find fallen trees, because the water will be deep enough for the entire treetop to be submerged, and the treetop will be in the right depth for good crappie attraction.

Often, you can simply drift along past blowdowns and boat docks, covering all of a good creek, and circling back to areas where you found brush or picked up crappie. To home in on the structure faster, Robert sometimes enters an unfamiliar creek and idles this route with the big motor, watching his depthfinder for brush just out from boat docks, before stopping and deploying poles and lines.

When Robert is drifting with lines deployed, and he begins to see brush on his bow depthfinder, he takes it slow, approaching the brush cautiously and fishing his way up to it, letting his lines show him whether fish are there, whether they are biting, and where on the brushpile they are located.

“What I normally do is just ease around until I find trash, and then I take a buoy marker and throw it 10 to 15 feet into the wind,” said Robert. “Always throw the buoy upwind so you fish up to the brushpile.”

This month, Robert said crappie will most likely be found in brush 16 to 20 feet deep, and the fish will likely be about 10 feet down. So, Robert starts out fishing with his minnows eight to 10 feet down and adjusts based on what he learns on a given day.

A word about tackle here: The six rigs that Robert is working on the front of the boat are spinning reels spooled with 6-lb. test and mounted on seven- foot, six-inch Eagle Claw Feather-light spinning rods. Each line is tied with a No. 5 Eagle Claw Aberdeen hook; 12 to 18 inches up from the hook, Robert pinches on two No. 5 Eagle Claw split shot. Two No. 5 split shot are enough to keep the liveliest minnow right where you want him — if the minnow has too much freedom, it will seek the cover and safety of any brush that is within its reach. Robert hooks his minnows through the bridge of the nose just above the eyes.

“When I fish a brushpile, I try to fish all sides of it,” said Robert. “The fish won’t always be all the way around it. A lot of times current or bait will keep them on one side of the brush. Almost always, the fish will be on one side. It might be a big brushpile, but the place where you’ve got to put the minnow is small. Sometimes it’ s like putting the bait in a 50-gallon drum to get a bite, but if you put it there you’ll get a bite every time.”

Robert fishes a brushpile slowly, letting the lines show him where the brushpile is. Yes, this includes both catching fish and getting hung.

“That’s the thing about this, there’ s going to be some line-tying going on,” Robert said. “That’ s the reason I use 6-lb. test, and it’s also a good reason for using four to six rods at a time. When you’re fishing timber you’re going to stay hung up or broken off. You might have four rods down and trying to tie new hooks on and get baited up, but two rods are still fishing.”

This is particularly true of fishing blowdowns. Oak tree tops are much easier to get hung in than Christmas trees placed for fishing. In some cases, man-made brushpiles have been sculpted for less snagging.

As he fishes a brushpile, Robert is constantly adjusting to conditions — moving the boat to keep lines in productive areas of the brushpile; taking up a little line on his reels to keep the minnows in productive depths.

“Sometimes when you get in a good brushpile that comes up close to the surface, your fish will move up shallower, too. If you see brush on the graph and you’re not getting bit, try fishing the brush a little shallower.”

Having an array of rods lets Robert feel for fish more carefully and pinpoint the hotspots on a brushpile.

“Some people grumble about people having too many rods,” said Robert. “In my opinion, using more rods means you can go home earlier. You can catch a mess and go on and get out of everybody’s way and let them ski.”

As the weather cools, Robert will begin to quicken his pace and go to trolling jigs to find scattered crappie that are venturing out from structure. When he begins trolling, Robert swaps out his straight-lining poles for his trolling rods. On each side of the boat, he fishes a 12-, 10-, and eight-foot rod to keep his jig lines spaced farther apart and make them less likely to tangle. He ties on 1/32- or 1/16-oz. jigs. His favorite Sinclair jig is a Hal-Fly with a black head, green body and yellow tail, but he also adjusts with the water color. In a heavy stain, he likes dark colors, including reds, oranges and dark purples. In clearer water, lighter colors are best.

With this spread, and with a fishing partner’s six to eight lines added in off the stern, Robert is ready to cover some water.

“I start out in the same zones where I look when I’m straight-lining — right off the fronts of docks and off of blowdowns,” he said. “As I cover that zone, I move farther out in the cove as I circle around. You can’t ever be sure where the fish are likely to suspend and concentrate, so you keep covering water until you find them. This time of year they’re going to be scattered.”

So, when you head to Sinclair this month to round up the supplies for a fish fry, be flexible. Be ready to straight-line minnows, fire jigs under docks, or troll jigs. Each method is likely to be productive this month, and you’ll be prepared to catch crappie no matter which approach they prefer. Combine this diversity of successful tactics with crisp, cool weather and a relatively quiet lake, and you’ve got the makings of a very memorable day on the water.

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