Chuck McClendon has a passion for fishing. He started off catching bream and bass in small ponds before a fateful day over three decades ago.
“A friend of mine took me crappie fishing and started what has become a life-long passion,” Chuck said.
Chuck chases crappie in lakes across middle Georgia and for his money, Lake Sinclair is the place to be in November.
“November is a month of transition for crappie as the water temperature gradually changes from warm to cold,” Chuck said. “I call their November pattern the ‘yo-yo effect’.”
Chuck says that during the next few weeks, crappie will move up and down in the water column as water temperatures and light conditions change during the day. When fish make these vertical moves, anglers must employ different strategies to keep catching fish while other guys are giving up.
“The versatile angler is the one who will be successful on Sinclair in November,” Chuck said.
Chuck likes to troll with jigs for the first few hours of the day. Once the sun gets up and the fish move deeper, he’ll slow the presentation down by poling. He’ll shoot docks in the middle of the afternoon, and for the last couple of hours of daylight, it’s back to trolling.
Chuck trolls like a lot of other crappie fishermen. Rod holders on either side of the bow of his Ranger boat bear a spread of six rods, while four rods are fished straight off the back of the boat. Chuck uses three Wally Marshall crappie rods on each side of the bow. He has two 16-foot rods at the very front of the spread, two 12-footers next and two eight-foot rods in the third rod holders. This configuration allows Chuck to cover a swath of water about 35 feet wide. The different lengths ensure his lines won’t tangle as he moves his boat along looking for concentrations of fish. The four rods hanging straight back off the stern of the boat cover the segment of water not taken by the rods in the front.
Chuck uses Shimano spinning reels spooled with 6-lb. test line, and he pulls a variety of jigs — or bugs as he calls them — to entice crappie to bite.
On his 16-foot rods, Chuck likes to rig 1/48-oz. jigs. He uses 1/32- and 1/16-oz. jigs on the shorter rods. Off the back of the boat, it’s a pair of 1/48- and 1/32-oz. jigs. The different size jigs run at different depths, so Chuck is not only covering a wide stretch of water, he is covering various depths as well.
Early in the day, Chuck starts off with bright colors like acid rain, John Deere, white/white or chartreuse. Later he might go to a combination of green hornet, John Deere, black/chartreuse and blue/chartreuse. Chuck says all colors will work, those are just some of his favorites. Like most crappie fishermen, Chuck has a wide assortment of jig heads, but chartreuse or lime lead are his best producers.
This time of year, crappie are starting to stack up in the mouths of creeks, so that is where Chuck will start his day, but he won’t be limited to just creek mouths.
“Just because the fish are supposed to be in the mouths of the creeks, don’t limit yourself,” Chuck said. “I can’t tell you how many times I have caught bunches of crappie way back in a creek in shallow water this time of year.”
Chuck says his key piece of advice for successful trolling is to get an early start. Chuck likes to be on the lake at first light, and he says the first three or four hours of daylight can make for the most productive trolling. This time of day, the fish will be higher in the water column, and even when they are in 25 feet of water, they might only be holding 10 feet under the surface.
When Chuck gets to a creek he wants to try, he will start looking for fish on his graph. If there aren’t crappie there, Chuck isn’t going to stick around. If he marks fish in the creek, he’ll put out some lines and troll for a few minutes. If he doesn’t get the fish to bite, he’ll pick up all his lines and move again.
“You can mark fish all day long, but if they aren’t eating, go find some more,” Chuck said. “The key is finding concentrations of feeding fish.”
Chuck often starts trolling in eight to 10 feet of water and gradually works his way deeper as he fishes a creek. One thing he always pays attention to while he trolls is features on the bank.
“The most successful crappie fishermen will watch the bank and understand how features you can see can tell you what’s under the surface of the water,” Chuck said.
He emphasized that crappie are structure-oriented fish, so if you note a ditch running in from the bank, or a long point, work those areas carefully. Also, note what you see on your electronics so you can determine if these areas are going to be productive.
Many times if Chuck sees a feature on the opposite bank from where he is trolling, he’ll move the boat toward it, taking his assortment of jigs over deeper water and new structure as he goes. He’ll fish a creek from one end to the other and down both sides when the water cools off.
After the sun has been up for a while, the crappie will move deeper in the water column, and the trolling bite will slow considerably. You could put the boat on the trailer at that point and call it a day, or you could do like Chuck and just keep on fishing.
“The mid-day drop in depth will definitely slow the bite down,” Chuck said. “You must slow down your presentation to be successful in this mid-day slump.”
Chuck slows down by poling for crappie. He uses the same gear, but he ties a different rig. He likes to put a 3/8-oz. sinker above a glass bead and ties a barrel swivel to the end of his line. To the other end of the swivel, Chuck adds a three- to four-foot leader and ties on jigs which he may or may not tip with live minnows.
To pole, you move the boat, but just barely. The idea is to get your bait spread right above the crappie. Chuck said you will know you are moving at the right speed when your lines enter the water just a few inches back of the rod tip. Having such a slight angle means your jigs or minnows are hanging close to vertical and they should be above the fish you are targeting.
“An easy way to set up is this,” Chuck said. “Say you are marking fish down at 12 or 15 feet. Let out about nine feet of line, and drop your bug in the water. Because it is on that leader, it will be slightly above the crappie, which will come up to eat,” Chuck said.
Depth is critical when poling. Be sure not to let your jigs or minnows get below the fish you are trying to catch, because crappie don’t chase bait below them.
Because crappie love shade, it will be critical to your fishing success to be able to get to them where they congregate when the sun is high in the sky in the middle of those crisp November days. Get out a rod, rig up a good chenille jig and start shooting Sinclair’s multitude of docks and boat houses.
This third technique keeps Chuck in the fish when the trolling and poling bites turn off. Dock shooting is a deadly tactic and can produce some stringers of nice slab crappie when you hit a good dock. Try shooting docks from the middle of the day on into the latter part of the afternoon, and you might be surprised at the number of fish you’ll put in the boat.
To shoot a jig, open your bail and hold the line against the rod. With your other hand, hold the bend of the hook with the hook point facing away from you and pull the rod tip back (it’s like drawing a bow). Let go of the hook and the extra line at the same time. It will take some practice to get good at shooting, but don’t give up.
When he first pulls up to a dock, Chuck will shoot his jig to the shadiest place first. When his jig hits the water, Chuck will count it down a foot or two, reel it in and shoot again. If the line jumps or moves, he’ll try to set the hook on a fish. Chuck counts the jig down a little deeper each time until he pinpoints the depth at which the fish are holding. For shooting docks,
Chuck prefers a 1/32-oz. jig because the rate of fall is easy to gauge.
“They fall about a foot every second so it’s pretty easy to determine when your jig reaches an approximate depth,” Chuck said. “ If you catch a fish at six feet, tell your partner to count down to there and most likely you’ll start catching a bunch of fish.’
Chuck said he has watched many times as crappie fishermen would pull up to a dock, shoot a jig two or three times and leave. He cautions against this, saying fishermen are selling a dock short if they don’t fish it thoroughly and from every angle.
“I’ll pull up on one side and hit every part of it and fish all the way around it like that,” Chuck said. “Sometimes the fish will be piled around one dock post.”
If a dock has a swim ladder in the water, Chuck will pay extra attention to it.
“I don’t know what it is about a ladder, but I have sat and caught a bunch of pound, pound-and-a-half fish off a ladder,” Chuck said.
Chuck said some of the unlikeliest looking spots can be the best crappie producers on occasion. Just keep trying docks until you find one where the fish are stacked up.
Later in the day, crappie will come out from under docks and the ones in deep water will head back toward the surface. This is when Chuck ends the day the way he started. At about 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Chuck will go back to trolling for the last few hours of the day.
“Stay on the lake all day if you can, and don’t be afraid to try these tactics,” Chuck said. “It can mean the difference between loading a cooler and catching 10 or 12 fish.”
As the water continues cooling this month, the crappie fishing will get better and better according to Chuck, who said, “the fish will be much more aggressive at the end of the month than they will be at the beginning.”
As the water temperatures stabilize in the 50s, crappie will stay for longer periods of time in what Chuck calls the red zone. When that happens, trolling will remain a viable tactic for a longer period of the day.
“The red zone is the first 10 feet from the surface of the water,” Chuck said. “This is the zone the proficient troller wants his fish to be in.”
When the trolling bite slows down Chuck will try something different to keep catching fish.
Chuck had a couple more pieces of advice for anyone who wants to give Sinclair’s fall crappie fishing a try.
“Be courteous to the boats around you, and idle in and out of an area,” Chuck said. “And start a kid fishing today.”
Chuck puts in at the Chevron station right across Hwy 441 from Plant Branch. During cold weather, the heated water coming from the plant can make for some extremely thick fog on the water, so be extra careful and always use running lights. Many bass tournaments are held this time of year, so if you want to be at your spot at first light, launch the boat early.
Try Chuck’s tips on Lake Sinclair this month. Everybody else will be in the woods, so spend a little time on the water.