Crappie fishermen know they are headed to the right lake when they get near Weiss and start seeing signs proclaiming it is the “Crappie Fishing Capital of the World.” Those signs on the roads leading to Centre, Alabama give you an idea of the importance of crappie fishing in the area.
Weiss is on the Georgia/Alabama state line. It is an Alabama Power Co. reservoir, and it is the first in the chain of lakes on the Coosa River that are famous for great fishing.
Weiss consists of vast stump-filled flats on the river and in major creeks, and the entire lake seems to offer perfect fish habitat, particularly for crappie.
Adding to that great natural structure, working to make the lake better are state agencies, local businesses and fishing groups. Many fish attractors have been added to Weiss. In addition, Weiss and Logan Martin—the next lake downstream on the Coosa—are the only two lakes in Alabama with a 10-inch size limit on crappie protecting smaller fish.
Groups like the Lake Weiss Improvement Association, made up of fishermen, businesses, Alabama Power and the state of Alabama, work to improve crappie habitat on the lake by putting out brushpiles and ensuring length-limit and 30 crappie per day creel limits are observed. The group also promotes crappie fishing on the lake.
Mark Collins grew up near Weiss and got started fishing the lake for crappie when his parents bought a house on the lake when he was young. He has been guiding full time for crappie, stripers and bass on Weiss for 23 years. Mark has learned the lake well and knows how to catch crappie year-round.
Mark also is a member of the Lake Weiss Improvement Association and helps pick the right locations for the group to put out fish attractors made out of cane. The association also puts on a tagged fish Crappie Rodeo with a variety of prizes. The rodeo is going on right now and lasts until the end of April, and anglers can enter and get a badge from most local fishing businesses.
Mark is the only guide just about anywhere who guarantees “No fish, no pay.” He will even call clients and postpone trips when the crappie are not biting good. As he says, he wants their money, but he wants it more than one time. And it works out; most of Mark’s clients are repeat business, which demonstrates his skill at catching fish and care for the folks he takes fishing.
When he is not on a guide trip, Mark is usually on the water checking conditions and trying to find good schools of fish. He is on the water almost every day of the year. That is what it takes to really keep up with the fish and provide good trips for guide clients.
Right now is a good time to troll for crappie, and trolling is one of the most efficient ways to catch large numbers of quality fish. Crappie are suspended over the channels of the river and major feeder arms from October through April, and you can find schools of crappie around baitfish in deeper water. In the winter, there are more fish out on the river, but now most of the crappie are headed to the spawning areas.
In late March through April, the channels in Little River and Cowan and Spring creeks are some of the best places to troll. Near the end of April, crappie will be shallow in those areas— and in other, too. When the fish get shallow, Mark catches most of his crappie by shooting docks. He uses his rod like a sling shot to propel crappie jigs way up under docks, catching fish spawning around the docks and feeding under them.
Mark will continue to troll, too, but he will focus on stump beds in more shallow water. Then, as the crappie move back toward deeper water after the spawn, trolling works well until most of the fish set up on brushpiles and stump beds on the river channel. That’s when it is better to sit over them with tightlines almost straight down under the boat. That works through the summer until they start suspending again in October and trolling picks up again.
On Weiss, anglers are limited to three poles per person at one time. Mark does not troll more than 10 lines at one time, saying that’s plenty to catch a lot of crappie, and fewer lines are less trouble getting tangled and are easier to manage. Mark will take one to four clients at a time in his center-console NauticStar boat equipped with a Minkota IPilot trolling motor.
Using B’n’M rods that range from 6 to 14 feet long, Mark covers a wide swath of water while trolling. The longer rods are put in rod-holders at the front of the boat, with shorter rods toward the back. The shortest rods are used to troll straight behind the boat.
A reel with a smooth drag is important when using light line. Mark likes the Daiwa spinning reels for his fishing. They handle the light line well.
Mark keeps it simple when trolling. He uses one size Jiffy Jig and varies the color based on water color. In clear water, he goes with translucent colors. But in more stained water, he goes to either darker colors or bright colors like yellow and chartreuse.
Jiffy Jigs are made in Vidalia, and you can order them for $6 a dozen from their website at www.jiffyjigs.com. They make a wide variety of colors and sizes to meet any kind of fishing you prefer.
Mark uses 6-lb. test Ande monofilament line on all his reels. If he wants his jigs to go deeper, he adds a split-shot to the jig rather than going to lighter line or heavier jigs. Mark says it is much easier to crimp on a split-shot or remove it than to re-tie all his lines with different size jigs.
Monofilament line has some stretch to it, which is important to keep from tearing the hook out of a crappie’s mouth. Crappie are called papermouths for a reason. Long, limber rods helps prevent hooks from pulling out, too.
Boat speed is critical for effective crappie trolling. With a good depthfinder and GPS, you can control the speed, or do as Mark does—he sets his IPilot to maintain the right speed. Mark likes the user-friendly Garmin electronics to find fish and bait and to watch his speed. In late March, he is trolling about 10 to 14 feet deep in the feeder creeks for crappie suspended at that depth over a deeper bottom.
When the water hits a consistent 58 to 60 degrees, the crappie will move to the shallow stump flats, usually in early April at Weiss. That’s when Mark puts a cork on his lines and slowly trolls water 4 to 8 feet deep where crappie are holding around stumps. The corks keep the jigs above the stumps.
Keeping your bait above the stumps keeps you from getting hung, but you have to keep your jigs above the fish no matter how deep they are holding. Crappie will come up to eat a bait, sometimes several feet when they are real aggressive, but they won’t go down to hit. That is why it is important to see the fish on your electronics and know what depth they are holding at. Keep your bait just above them, and keep baits as close to just above them as possible.
Mark starts trolling at 0.8 miles per hour, and then varies the speed depending on what the fish tell him. He will vary the speed from that starting point until he starts catching fish, and then he stays at that speed. It is hard to keep a constant speed in windy conditions without a trolling motor that can be set to hold a speed, otherwise you are constantly watching your GPS.
Often while trolling for crappie you will hook a big striper, catfish or bass. Unlike many guides who instantly break off those fish to keep them from tangling all the other lines, Mark quickly reels in his other lines so his clients can have the fun of fighting a big fish on light line and rods. And they usually land them. The only exception is when a big gar eats the jig. They will almost always cut the line with their teeth.
Mark says many people plan a multi-day trip to Weiss and go out with him the first day of the trip to find out where and how deep the crappie are holding. That is a good way to get current conditions and information on the lake.
Be warned—you will have a lot of company trolling for crappie. It is not unusual for more than a dozen boats to be trolling a small section of the river or a creek. Many folks don’t go looking for crappie, they just look for groups of boats and join them. Be considerate of others when trolling.
The upper Coosa River extends into Georgia, where you will need a Georgia fishing license. To fish the main lake, you will need an Alabama fishing license.
On his website, Mark has the GPS coordinate for the brushpiles put out by the Weiss Lake Improvement Association. He makes sure they are put out in places the crappie already use, so the brushpiles enhance those already good places. There are about 17 fish attractors in Little River and 20 in Spring and Cowan creeks. Five local high school fishing teams help put out the brushpiles, and the state of Alabama and Alabama Power Co. help with expenses. These brushpiles typically hold good numbers of crappie from late May through the summer.
Mark will show you exactly how he catches crappie year-round. He also guides for stripers and hybrids, mostly in June and July, by trolling live shad. You can book a trip with Mark by visiting his website at www.markcollinsguideservice.com, or call him at (256) 779-3387. He charges $300 per day for an eight-hour trip for one or two people, and $100 each for an additional one or two people, up to four total. A half-day trip is $225 for one or two, with each additional angler $100 more.
Mark does not clean fish for his clients, but there is a cleaning service at Little River Marina and Resort. Mark fishes from there, and they are the only full-service marina on the lake. They have rooms for out-of-town fishermen, as well as anything you need for fishing.
Bass fishermen will be excited to know the state of Alabama is stocking Florida strain largemouth in Weiss. If you prefer bass fishing, Mark can fill you in on current details on bass, too.
If you are a crappie fisherman, plan a trip to Weiss in the next few weeks. Hire Mark to show you exactly how to catch crappie. You can’t go wrong with a trip to Weiss… after all, it is the “Crappie Fishing Capital of the World!”