Zebco 33s & Custom Jigs For Lanier’s Spawning Crappie

Larry Cross doesn't need expensive spinning reels to shoot docks. He loads his Zebco 33s with Custom Jigs and fills a cooler.

Larry Cross of Buford was feeling down right puny on the Friday I met him. Nauseous, headache, feverish, he had all the symptoms that would eventually put him in the bed for the entire weekend.

“Man, I’m ready to go fishing,” was one of the first things he said when I met him at his Buford home.

He may have felt bad, but he’d worry about recuperating once the sun went down and the crappie quit biting. Along with an approaching flu, the lake was muddy and it was so cold and windy that I stayed in my coveralls the majority of our day on the water.

Sick, nasty water and a cold day didn’t matter. On my first crappie-fishing trip to Lanier, Larry gave me a great preview on how he plans to catch shallow, spawning crappie this month. His techniques are easy, but they work.

“April is the big spawning month on Lanier,” said Larry. “I’ll catch them all the way up in two feet of water. We shoot docks every time; they’re always on docks. There’s a few docks up there that have fish on them every time.”

Although Larry lives in Buford, on the lower end of the lake, he trailers his boat to the upper end when he wants a mess of crappie — which is about three times a week.

“I’ve just never caught many crappie on the south end of the lake — it’s too clear maybe,” said Larry. “My luck comes from Balus Creek up the Chattahoochee River above Clarks Bridge and in the Chestatee River up to Yellow Creek.”

Larry and I put in at Clarks Bridge and headed up the Chattahoochee to fish a few pockets off the main river run.

“In April you can fish right across from Clarks Bridge in Limestone Creek,” said Larry. “I catch fish on about half the docks in there. Try the pockets and creeks above and below the no-wake zone at Clarks Bridge. Also, fish all those pockets and creeks in Wahoo and Little River; those pockets are real good this time of year — that’s where your best fishing is.”

We stopped about three docks from the back of a long pocket to target our first dock of the morning. In the bottom of Larry’s boat were a half-dozen rods, all equipped with classic fishing reels, Zebco 33s. I had shot docks before but never with a 33.

“Most of the guys around here shoot with a spinning reel, I don’t,” said Larry. “I just learned on the 33, and that’s what I stick with. I’m sure I could learn to shoot with a spinning reel, but this works for me. I know one thing — I don’t get all tangled up when the wind is blowing, like you do sometimes with a spinning reel. You can have a heck of a bird’s nest.”

Larry said the Zebco 33s made in the 1970s are the best reels to shoot docks with. He says the reels are stronger. On some of the newer models, the force of pulling on a crappie jig, especially with a short, stouter rod, strips line from the reel.

“Sometimes the newer Zebcos will slip; those old ones will hold,” said Larry. “You can find the older reels on eBay.”

Equipping the fleet of 33s were 6-foot Zebco Gold Crappie Rods.

“Bass Pro Shops had a special about five years ago, and we went and bought about 40 of them,” said Larry. “They were $9.99. I don’t know if they even make them anymore, but any 6-footer with medium action, so you get a little whip on it, is good. If all you have one of those newer-model Zebcos, get a rod with some whip to it and you’ll be fine.”

With wakes still crashing on the bank, Larry fired a jig way under a dock.

“I haven’t been in here yet this year,” said Larry. “It may be a little early yet; it’s only 8 feet deep.”

It did seem a little early to be so close to a spawning pocket, but Larry quickly laid back on the first fish.

“There’s a crappie,” he said.

I was still fumbling around trying to get my hand on a rod. Larry’s fish was a small one but a start.

Although Larry was shooting with a Zebco 33, his technique for shooting docks mirrors that of the guys who use spinning reels. With the jig at the bottom eyelet, he pushes and holds the button on the Zebco, grabs the jig and brings it even with the bottom of the rod, creating a big bow in the rod. Bending over, with the jig in his hand, Larry positions the loaded jig about 18 inches from the water. Directly above the jig, he turns his rod over so that his Zebco faces downward at the water and then lets go of the jig and then the Zebco button.

“I use 4- and 6-lb. test, but I like 4 better because it shoots the jig farther,” said Larry. “Right now I’m using Bass Pro Shops Excel in clear-blue.”

Most of Larry’s dock shooting is done with Custom Jigs, which used to be called R.A.G. Fly Jigs. These jigs are still made in Cordele. To order a few cards, call (229) 276-1738.

“I love the Custom Jigs,” said Larry. “They’re real tough jigs. The paint will stay on the head. Other jigs, like the ones from Bass Pro, are good, but if you ever bump them the paint comes off the heads. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but sometimes it means everything.”

Because the water was so dirty, we had several cards of brightly colored 1/16-oz. jigs laying in the floor of the boat.

“I like the red head on every jig I throw,” said Larry. “In any dingy or muddy water, it’s yellow feathers for me. I throw the chartreuse feathers some, but they don’t work as well. I like a black body color.”

Along with a red/black/yellow jig, he says a red/pearl/yellow is productive in dirty water.

“In clear water I like the black and blue body with either the green or blue feathers; whites work good, too.

“To catch them, you have to be willing to switch colors of the jig and your presentation. What works today may not work tomorrow. Sometimes they hit it on the fall, sometimes they like you to twitch it. If the fish are suspended right under the surface be ready to reel quick — they’ll want you to bring it. I work the jig from all angles and at all depths. Also, I will go to a 1/32-oz. when these fish get shallow in April.”

We caught at least one crappie on most of the docks we fished. However, by noon we had yet to boat a fish over a pound.

“Usually if there’s big fish under a dock, they’ll hit first,” said Larry. “They’re funny, those old big ones. You’ll fish 20 docks, and you might catch little fish in all of them and then hit one (dock), and there’s a batch of big ones.”

By 1 p.m., we were sending Custom Jigs under a dock in Little River. We shot it from the front, sending jigs way to a back corner. Larry had one taker — but he missed. He eased the boat around to the back side of the dock to present his jig from another angle. He immediately hooked what he said was a “good ’un.” Bringing it up, it was a very nice slab that would later weigh right at 1 1/2 pounds. For 10 minutes we pitched in there and brought out slabs that were a pound or better. Once we boated the first small crappie, we never hooked up with another big slab.

“The best docks, the ones like we caught those big slabs on, are the hardest ones to shoot, too,” said Larry.

Larry’s precision at sending a jig in a place barely larger than a crack was stunning. It did seem like he’d get bit when he made one of these impressive shots. However, a generally rule is to look for big docks that provide a lot of shade.

“Floating docks with white styrofoam seem to hold more fish,” said Larry.
As the crappie spawn hits its peak this month, Larry said catching hundreds of Lanier crappie in a day is a cake walk. He’ll continue to fire jigs under shallow docks; however, he’ll also focus on blowdowns and brushpiles in between docks in the backs of these pockets and creeks. It’s also worth looking in areas of flooded broomsedge that were established when the lake was down. Fish can be only a foot below the surface in these areas.

“You have to keep your jig in the strike zone, so when the fish get shallow, I put on a float and just give it a steady retrieve,” said Larry.

Larry and I put 40 crappie in the boat; we kept 20 for the grease. The fish were in eight to 25 feet of water. He called me on March 20 on his way back from Lanier.

“I caught fish on 25 foot docks all the way up to docks in 4 feet of water,” said Larry. “The fish were small; the biggest fish I caught was a pound.”

Larry looks for the big slabs to really start moving shallow prior to the April 2 full moon. For the entire month, look for Lanier slabs shallow in the backs of pockets up the lake. They’ll get on docks, brush and in flooded grass.

“Crappie fishing will be wide open when the water gets into the 60s; it’s 58 degrees now (March 20),” said Larry. “Once it gets into the 70s they’ll be on their way back out, and you can shoot docks in 12 and 14 feet of water. When it gets in the 80s, you’ll have to catch them under the bridges at night.”

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