Fishing guide Bobby Wilson has often told me that crappie fishing was hot on West Point, even when most anglers aren’t targeting the species. See, crappie fishing is a popular activity in the late winter and early spring, when giant numbers of the fish are moving from deep to shallow to spawn. But when the spawn ends, so does the fishing activity for all but the most ardent pursuers of the speckled perch.
However, crappie fishing can be outstanding on West Point all year long. There is a reason people from all over the country flock to the Chattahoochee River impoundment each spring: for world-class crappie fishing.
“This place is booked solid for about six weeks,” said Robbie Nichols, owner of Southern Harbor Marina in Lanett, Ala. “People come from Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, even as far away as Michigan, just to crappie fish down here.
“They fill up the campground and rent all the cabins,” Robbie said.
But when the bite can be off by several weeks from year to year, how do all the out-of-staters know when to come? They leave the fishing reports to brothers Billy and Roy Butts of Valley, Ala.
Billy, who is 74, and big brother Roy, 78, fish for crappie or hybrids several days a week, and when Robbie gets to the marina in the morning, Billy is usually in the parking lot.
“I like to come in the morning, get a cup of coffee, talk to people,” Billy told me as we sat at a table in the marina store and talked about his strategy for catching plenty of West Point crappie in June.
“Over the years, we have met a bunch of people from all over,” Billy said. “About the second week in January, people from Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky start calling to find out if the fish are biting, and when we start catching fish, they fill up the cabins.”
When people from other states are calling you to find out when the crappie are biting, you know you have some local knowledge. Billy and Roy have built it through years of experimenting and catching crappie about every way imaginable.
While anglers will fish all day and half the night during the spring to load a cooler with crappie, now is a good time to stock up the freezer with crappie fillets as well.
The best news is, anglers have several options when it comes to crappie fishing in the summertime. Billy and Roy will vertically jig around docks, and you can fish deep brushpiles, bridge pilings, and even find some crappie in the Chattahoochee below the dam.
Billy and his brother Roy will be fishing with jigs.
“Most people like fishing with minnows, but I like jigs,” Billy said. “Even during the best fishing, I prefer to use jigs.”
The colors of the jigs don’t matter as much as their presentation. Oh, sure, Billy is partial to certain colors, such as black and chartreuse. But he said other colors can work just as well. On the day we fished together, Billy caught about 15 fish in an hour on two different jigs, one red/white, and one pink/white.
Billy uses small tube-type jigs on a 1/8-oz. head. He will use lighter jigs on occasion, but he has a lot of confidence in the 1/8-oz. version because he can detect strikes better with it.
“I like for a jig to get down in the water pretty quick,” Billy told me.
So far, we had been sitting inside talking when I asked Billy if he had brought along any fishing tackle.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “You shouldn’t ever leave home without a fishing pole or two.”
Billy and I climbed the walkway to the parking lot, and then walked the 50 yards or so to his car as he explained his style of fishing.
Billy and Roy do take a boat out sometimes, but that’s usually when they are hybrid fishing. More often than not, their crappie fishing is done from dry ground. As we walked up the walkway, Billy explained.
“That rip-rap is a good place to fish in the spring, because the crappie will be up here close,” he said. “Right now, though, they are deeper.”
Billy pulled three ultralight rods with spinning reels from the trunk of his car, and we walked down one of Southern Harbor’s docks in search of crappie.
“I won’t have long to fish this morning,” Billy said.
He had to take Roy to the doctor’s office for some tests. Time didn’t really much matter. I was having fun talking to a gentleman who has been fishing in the area since long before West Point was a lake.
As we walked out onto the dock, I had that distinct feeling us youngsters often get when we head to the woods or the water with somebody who has been alive more than twice as long as we have. Like we are about to get a lesson.
“You just get the jig down 12 feet deep or so, and jig it straight up and down like this,” Billy said as he started making small flicks of the wrist, lifting the jig a couple of inches and letting it sink straight back down, almost like you would fish a jigging spoon.
On his first attempt, Billy wondered aloud if the fish just didn’t want to bite today. I chuckled as I thought about it. A man who has been fishing the better part of seven decades knows better than anybody that the fish just might not bite some days, right?
Second drop, same result. No fish.
On the third drop, Billy set the reel, moved the jig up and down a couple of times, and set the hook on a crappie.
“You make that look incredibly hard,” I badgered him.
“It is,” he grinned as he unhooked the crappie, dropped it in the water and got ready to catch another.
“The key is the jig has to be moving,” Billy advised me. “They won’t touch it if it’s just sitting there.”
Just like that, he hooked another fish. After his third fish, Billy asked, “Aren’t you going to fish? I want you to try this.”
I picked up another one of Billy’s rods, dropped a jig in the water, counted out 12 feet of line and set the reel. A couple of times I got quick strikes and didn’t connect. Soon, however, I was lipping my first crappie of the day. It felt so easy, I was sure Billy just wanted to build a head start on me. Besides, I wouldn’t use a man’s fishing rod without asking.
Over the next 30 to 45 minutes, Billy caught about 15 crappie. I caught four and missed hooking up with several others. I felt like I was watching a clinic.
Billy was standing at the end of one boat slip, and I was standing at another. My back was turned as I tried to fish the darkest corner of the dock. Every few minutes, I would hear the splashing of a hooked fish, followed by Billy’s voice.
“I sure wish I had some help,” he would say good-naturedly. “There’s no telling how many we could catch if I had some help.”
“I wish you did too,” I laughed as I stood catching one crappie for every four or five Billy pulled in.
Soon, Billy had to go, but I had learned a new technique for catching crappie. If you don’t have access to a boat slip at West Point, don’t worry, you can still catch fish around boat docks on the lake.
William Britt, owner of Grasshoppers, a bait-and-tackle store in West Point, says there are other ways to catch crappie this month.
“You can always shoot jigs under docks or pontoon boats,” William told me when I visited him at his store.
Don’t go to West Point expecting to see a dock every 20 feet like you do at Oconee or Sinclair. But there are still plenty of docks to fish on the lake.
“You can usually find a few docks together, and then you might have to run the boat a few hundred yards before you come to the next one, but there are docks to fish,” William said.
If dock shooting with jigs isn’t your cup of tea, get some minnows, wait until dark, and start using your electronics to locate big schools of crappie around deep brushpiles or bridge pilings.
“Nighttime is really the best time for crappie fishing this time of year,” William said. “They might not always bite when you find them, but you can also sit over one brushpile and fill up a 48-quart cooler with fish faster than you think.”
William says the ideal depth for crappie fishing at night is around 25 feet. He cruises around looking on his electronics for brushpiles in deep water, and if he knows there are crap- pie there, he kills the motor, sets an anchor, and downlines live bait.
“I put out as many rods as I think I need according to how good the fishing is,” William said. “When it’s on, you can’t fish with more than one rod because the fish are biting so fast.”
The same tactic applies when fishing bridge pilings, only many anglers tie up to the bridge and set out lights to attract bugs, bait and crappie, in that order. William fishes brush and bridges, and he’ll do either or both, depending on where the crappie are holding. The pattern can be used during the day, but with bright summer days ahead, William said the fish are likely to hold very close to cover, so be patient.
If you want to do some fun crappie fishing this summer, go to West Point and exercise your options. Contrary to angling pressure, the fish are there all year.