The Key to Catching West Point Crappie Coming Up

For catching plenty of crappie at Lake West Point, Yellowjacket Creek is all you need to know, says Jeff Key. Jeff, who travels regularly from his home in Milner to the lake, says he concentrates on one stretch of Yellowjacket no matter what the sea- son. The areas he fishes change little. From February through April, you are likely to find him in Yellowjacket from the mouth of Jackson Creek to the back of Beech Creek — but he does change his presentation, adjusting the depth he fishes his jigs to follow the fish up through the water column.

Jeff, 65, has been catching crappie at West Point for upward of 25 years. When he used to keep fish-catching records, he says he had years when he caught 1,500 to 1,800 crappie in a sea- son. That’s just the keepers.

He has had some success on the  crappie-fishing tournament trails, too. In 1992, Jeff and partner “Strick” Strickland won the West Point Crappiethon tournament with slabs caught in Beech Creek — just off Yellowjacket.

On Saturday, January 20, Jeff and I launched his 16-foot Grumman from the Sunny Point ramp on Yellowjacket Creek in the heart of Jeff’s crappie- catching territory. We went upstream under the bridge, stopped and Jeff began putting out lines.

Jeff is a troller.

“I enjoy trolling,” he said. “It is a lazy-man’s way of fishing and catching lots of fish.”

In particular, he enjoys the anticipation inherent in trolling of watching several rods, waiting for a rod-tip to bounce. He is also a man patient enough to deal with the tangles and re- tying that trolling multiple lines often requires.

Twin 10-foot-long rods went into rodholders on the front of the boat. Six-foot rods went into rodholders in the middle and back corners of the boat, and two rods were direct- ed out over the stern. The deployment of longer and shorter rods helps keep the lines separated and allows Jeff to troll jigs through a swath of water about 25 feet wide.

The line Jeff uses is an unusual kind: Tectan Premium Plus, a German-made fishing line in 5.1-lb. test.

“It’s a thin, limp line,” said Jeff. “Tough, with not much memory. I get it from Cabelas, and I’ve been fishing it for four or five years.”

The line is expensive, but worth it, says Jeff, and “God doesn’t hold against you what you spend on fishing.”

The air temperature when we start- ed was in the 30s; the surface water temperature was 50 degrees; and the fish were deep. To reach them, Jeff had tandem-jig rigs on all eight rods. He first uses a double-loop knot to tie a 1/16-oz. Jiffy-jig or Hal Fly about two feet up the line. He then ties on a 1/16- oz. jig head on the end of the line that is dressed with a curly-tail grub.

“I am pretty much a curly-tail fisherman,” he says. “The curly-tails allow me to change the color of the jig with- out having to tie on another jig. They are a little more versatile.”

In the stained water, most of the jigs we started with were predominantly dark color combinations. We started trolling over the big flat just above the bridge in water that ranged from 12 to 18 feet deep.

“The water is cold, and the fish are holding in 10 to 12 feet of water,” said Jeff. “With the tandem rig, we are fishing about eight or 10 feet deep — right in their face.”

Jeff set his auto-pilot trolling motor at a speed trying to hit that fine line between as- slow-as-possible-but-don’t- hang-the-bottom, not an easy task in West Point.

“The fish are lazy in the cold water,” said Jeff. “You have to go slow to make it easy for them; they won’t chase a jig far.”

It took only five minutes to get the skunk out of the boat with our first fish of the day. The fish were hitting rapidly and interrupting the process enough that it took 20 minutes to get all eight rods set in the rodholders, a good problem.

“I think there are some fish in here all the time,” said Jeff. “But this time of year they are deep and scattered. I use two jigs primarily for weight to get down to them.”

Beyond the axiom of using dark colors in dark water and light colors in clear water, Jeff doesn’t fuss much over jig color. He does, however, put out a variety of colors to check for a preference.

“The double-jigs also give the fish a smorgasbord of colors to choose from,” he said.

The fish had a clear preference. Of our first 14 fish, all but three hit black/chartreuse jigs. Blue/white was also a productive color; and although we didn’t fish it, Jeff says a reliable color in West Point in any color water is the standard Christmas-tree pattern of red/green/yellow. In clearer water, jigs that are predominantly chartreuse get the nod.

While we caught fish scattered across the flat, differences in the bottom helped. Crappie numbers 17 through 21 came off a ledge on the flat that jumped up to 10 to 12 feet deep from 14 to 15 feet.

Most of the bites were subtle in the cold water. What Jeff likes to see is a rod simply load up with weight.

“If it just bends the rod, that’s usu- ally a bigger fish,” he said. “If the rod bounces and they are shaking their head, it’s usually a smaller fish.”

When we hit a lull before noon, we picked up and made the short run to the mouth of Dixie Creek, the first small creek on the left, downstream from the Sunny Point Access ramp.

“There are some fish here now,” said Jeff. “By the end of February the early spawners will be here. When the water temperature hits 60 degrees they will start moving into Dixie Creek and into Beech Creek. Banks with a west sun are ideal because they will warm up a little sooner. Crappie will find the first 60-degree water.”

Jeff’s deep-running, double-jig rig is effective catching crappie into late February. Then as the water begins to warm, the numbers of fish will increase and the schools will move higher in the water column. When the fish come up, and the extra weight becomes unnecessary, Jeff will switch over to a single 1/16-oz. jig on each line.

The single jig will work fine until late March when the crappie begin to move to the banks. When the water temperature moves into the upper 60s, the fish will move onto the banks to spawn. Jeff continues to troll in April and continues to fish the same twister-tail grubs, but on a 1/32-oz. jig head.

“You can troll in water as shallow as about three feet with the small jig heads,” he said. “When they are in the shallows, they will be much more aggressive, and it can be bedlam in the boat with fish on several lines and fish flopping in the bottom of the boat.”

We finished our trip on another of Jeff’s reliable crappie-producing areas, a red-clay bank across and just down stream of Dixie Creek.

“This is the route the fish take going up the creek,” said Jeff. “The fish are scattered now, but the numbers of crappie moving into this area will increase steadily throughout February.”

We trolled double-jig rigs in water ranging from 12 to 21 feet deep and caught more than a dozen fish. We threw back about two of every three fish we caught, but the average size picked up in the afternoon. Jeff landed the lunker of the day along this bank.

“This one has put its feet down,” he said, enjoying the bow in his fishing rod.

The silvery slab he swung into the boat hit a green/green Hal Fly and weighed about three-quarters of a pound. Later that evening, it would be excel- lent battered and fried.

On two January trips prior to ours, Jeff had caught 100 fish and 80 fish, with 27 keepers and 32 keepers respectively. On our trip, we boated 64 crappie and kept

19 — a good catch for a cold winter day. The good news is that this is just the front end of crappie fishing in Yellowjacket Creek that is often out- standing from February through April.

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