Springtime Crappie on Lake Oconee

Expert and tournament pro Terry Talcott shows us how to catch them trolling.

You don’t second-guess the word.

We had launched the boats at the Sugar Creek ramp, and although my fishing partner knew there were some crappie back in Sugar, the word was there was a good bite up the Apalachee.

Apparently, when it comes to crappie fishing, the word carries some weight. And apparently, the word gets around.

We motored up the Oconee, went under I-20 and hooked a left up the Apalachee arm. Didn’t see a boat the entire ride. Past the bridge at the Swords ramp and up the river we went another mile or so until we had the Apalachee Woods subdivision on the left bank and Hidden Point subdivision on the right.

And we had company.

Most of the 20-some-odd boats were clustered in one little area off a point. My partner, Terry Talcott of Gray, stopped 200 yards from the flotilla and started putting out lines — eight from the front position of his crappie-fishing-customized Skeeter walleye boat. In another boat fishing with us as he learned about Oconee was Terry’s friend Clint Williams of Chauncey.

“There are six rods back there for you, just put out what you’re comfortable with,” Terry told me.

Terry uses B&M poles from the front, the longest are two 14-footers. He uses matching Lexus spinning rods in the back rod-holders. All of the poles are equipped with Diawa Regal spinning reels spooled with 4-lb. test Stren Magnathin line.

Since my experience with dragging jigs for crappie was limited, I started with four rods. Terry had pre-rigged all of them, most had 1/48-oz. red jigheads with a variety of colors of Tripple Ripple and AWD jigs.

“This year it’s funny,” he said. “Everybody is catching them on red jigheads. Last year it was black. Sometimes people just use the unpainted lead.”

Terry is in-the-know on what folks are using to catch crappie. He helps his buddy, Steve Deason, at The Crappie Shop in Gray, which has become the jig-buying center of the universe for some of the area’s best crappie-tournament anglers, not to mention scores of weekend meat fishermen. Terry also competes in tournaments.

These crappie guys don’t mind sharing information. For example, we started the morning at J.R.’s Marina, which is located at the Hwy 44 bridge over Lick Creek. As we ate a hot breakfast, we talked to three other groups of crappie fishermen. These guys were comparing notes… one had caught a limit the day before in Richland Creek, but they didn’t have much size to them. Another fellow caught his limit in Satellite Cove, a no-name little creek that Terry knew very well. Still another was headed up the Apalachee like us. It struck me that if these guys were chasing bass, the info wouldn’t be flowing so freely.

Terry had all eight of his lines out and was fishing within a minute of cutting the big motor.

“Just cast them out as far as they’ll go, then let out a little more line,” Terry said.

I was about to set my second rod in the holder when Terry leaned over quickly and picked up on one of the long rods of his front spread. He quickly worked a smallish crappie to the boat and swung it aboard.
As he put the crappie in the livewell, Terry said, “Daddy always told me, ‘No matter what size he is, always keep that first one. Don’t put him back, he’ll go tell.’”

He caught another, little-bit-bigger crappie a few minutes later, and by that time we were getting close to the cluster of boats off the point.
“Both those came on green jigs,” Terry noted, more to himself than to the novice in the back of the boat.

“That must be the spot,” I remarked to Terry as I nodded toward the gathering. He chuckled and looked at me like I had a lot to learn about crappie fishing and crappie fishermen.

“The channel swings in close to this bank [the east side of the river], and it has some bends and turns in it. We’re going straight, but we’re dragging these jigs back and forth across the channel and on the flats to either side,” Terry said.

“Those boats are all right there probably because somebody saw somebody catch a few, and they all started moving in there together.”

We eased past a few boats that were trolling jigs the opposite direction, then I noticed a boat about 20 feet off our port side trolling right along with us. Ahead was a mess… a couple of boats were anchored along the channel, another appeared to be doing small, slow circles while fishing minnows under corks. There certainly wasn’t a cooperative, organized effort.

“How are you going to troll through that,” I asked Terry.

“I’m just going to hold my line,” he grinned.

And mostly that’s just what Terry did. Although he had to swing around the anchored boats, he mostly stayed the course — and we put a few more crappie in the box. After passing the flotilla, Terry continued on and fished across a shallow flat — and we caught a couple more. Soon he turned and went back through the boats. Folks talked to us as we passed.

“Y’all catching any?”

“Yeah, how about you?”

“Not a one.”

And about that time Terry lurched to grab a rod that was bouncing with a crappie bite.

Over the next couple of hours we kept catching crappie, including some 1-lb. plus fish. Most came on variations of green jigs, and in particular black/green and acid rain (green with a dull-yellow) were good.
Meanwhile most of the other boats — we counted 26 at the peak — weren’t catching many at all.

“If you notice, those guys who aren’t catching any are fishing under corks. There’s a few other boats in here trolling, and if you watch, you’ll see they’re catching fish.

“The main thing is how much more water we’re covering. Most of those people fishing corks aren’t moving much if at all. We’re moving up and down the channel, back and forth across it, swinging up on the flats. We’re fishing faster, and we have 14 jigs in the water.”

By then I’d gained enough confidence to fish six rods out of the back of the boat to compliment Terry’s eight from the front. Mostly I was amazed at how well the lines stayed untangled, and when a fish fouled a few, usually you could just drop the jigs back in the water and the lines would straighten out. We did, however, have a problem when trolling through the flotilla. Remember I mentioned the boat doing those small circles? As we passed by trolling our lines, his circle cut our wake and one of his rigs got five out of six lines from one side of the boat. Terry just continued the pull, retied, and we were back at full-jig capacity pretty quickly.

“You just better have a good attitude and be in a good mood if you’re going to get in there and fish with a crowd,” Terry said. “The most I ever saw was 60 boats in Sugar Creek one day when there was a Crappie USA tournament. If you’re nice and have some courtesy, you can meet folks, talk to them, and catch fish together.”

We tried two other spots before calling it a day in the early afternoon, and in both we caught more crappie. We saw one other crappie fisherman in those other spots.

Mostly we were fishing over water five to eight feet deep, and the 1/48-oz. jigs were probably running about three feet deep most of the time, and the 1/32-oz. jigs a little deeper. There were times when Terry would see fish holding near the bottom on his graph, and he would slow the troll to drop our jigs down deeper.

“The trolling motor really helps make it easier,” he said. “It’s a MinnKota Auto-Pilot, and at the shop we build trolling-motor speedometers that are hooked to the graph. If you’re catching crappie at a certain speed going downwind, when you turn into the wind you can match that speed and the jigs should be running the same depth. It’s hard to guess the speed when it’s windy.”

Terry said that in April more crappie will be up on the banks spawning, but he’ll continue to troll, just speeding up a bit and working the shallower flats.

“When they’re really on the bed, the best way to catch them on Oconee is shooting docks, and you can also use minnows then and do pretty good.”
Terry, he’ll still be trolling, showing 14 jigs at at time to those crappie moving in and out of the flats.

For information on what and where the crappie are biting, call Steve Deason or Terry at The Crappie Shop at (478) 743-0058.

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