Even in the dead of winter, Lake Lanier can provide some outstanding crappie fishing. In mid December last year, Lanier fishing guide Doug Youngblood of Buford and clients caught more than 100 crappie on a couple of trips before the Christmas deep-freeze set in. In mid January Doug caught 50 crappie off one dock. He caught the fish on small jigs under deep-water docks.
On a late-February fishing trip, crappie specialist Wyatt Wilson of Buford and a friend caught 78 crappie in half a day by shooting docks. That’s good fishing on any crappie lake.
In early January, Lanier was cold, and so was the fishing. With a water temperature in the low 40s the fish — bass, stripers and crappie — were all less active. But with a few warm days and a water temperature easing up into the mid 40s, the crappie fishing will pick up fast in February.
In the May 1999 issue of GON, we featured Wyatt Wilson’s dock-shooting techniques for post-spawn crappie. The crappie are in the same places in February prior to the spawn, but catching them requires finding docks that are still over deep-water when the lake is down 15 feet and making a slower presentation than you would during the late spring and summer.
Wyatt uses a 1/32-oz. jig, either a tube jig or a Hal Fly type. The smaller jig falls more slowly than a heavier jig, staying in the strike zone longer.
Year-round, Wyatt likes a jig with chartreuse in it, but like most crappie fisherman, he’s more than willing to experiment with jig colors.
“For muddy water I have had luck with a glowing orange-colored jig. It’s just about the ugliest orange, but that’s what they wanted.”
Doug also shoots tiny 1/32-oz. jigs on 6-lb. line and he prefers red/chartreuse or solid chartreuse tube jigs.
Your fishing success in February — or any time you shoot docks — will depend on your jig-shooting marksmanship. If you can rifle your jig through small gaps between the dock floatation into the darker recesses of the dock, your chances of catching fish increase dramatically. Casting around the edges of the dock doesn’t put your bait in front of the fish.
To shoot a jig, first spool off enough line so that the jig hangs down to the first eyelet above the reel. Then pin the line against the rod handle just above the reel with the forefinger on your right hand, leaving the bail open. Next pinch the jig head between the forefinger and thumb of your left hand. Extend the rod, pointing toward your target with the rod and line parallel to the water. The bow in the rod tip will put tension on the fishing line. Finally, release the jig — and a split-second later release the line at the rod handle and the jig will sling-shot away.
It takes some practice to get it right and it can be frustrating — comical, at least. A rookie jig shooter will often blast geysers in the water two feet away, or ricochet the jig off boat bumpers, dock floatation or wooden planks.
The experts can shoot a jig through a 3-inch gap at water level 15 feet away and rocket the jig 20 feet or more to the back corners of an enclosed dock. That’s where the fish are.
Once you get the hang of it, and have accurately calculated elevation, windage and jig trajectory, your memory counts, too. Crappie will suspend at a certain level and if you can shoot and count down your jig to the same depth over and over, you are likely to get bit over and over, too.
Once your jig hits the water, you can either let it fall back toward the boat on a tight line or put slack in the line and count the jig down before beginning a slow retrieve. The slower the retrieve the better because the fish aren’t going to follow a jig far or fast in the cold water.
The next trick is the art of detecting the subtle strikes. Crappie aren’t going to knock the rod out of your hands, expecially with the water temperature in the 40s. More often than not the only clue to a strike is a tic in the line and you usually won’t feel the fish until you snap your wrist to set the hook.
Doug and Wyatt prefer docks with 15 to 25 feet of water under them. Right now, with Lanier down 15 feet, there are fewer docks over deep water, but there are still plenty you can fish. Brushed-up docks will be better and so will the bigger, covered “boat-house” docks which cast a bigger, darker shadow on the water.
In mid January, Doug said that the crappie at Lanier were holding under deep docks in four to eight feet of water.
Wyatt prefers docks with a variation of water depth — five feet at the back to 20 or more feet in the front is ideal, he says.
“As cold fronts come through, the crappie at Lanier rise and fall like they are on an elevator as conditions change,” said Wyatt. “At other lakes, like Lake Weiss, they tend to move back and forth from the bank to river channels, but at Lanier they just move up and down.”
Often you can pull up to a good dock and catch 15 to 25 fish before the bite stops. But just because the fish quit biting, don’t think you have caught them all.
“I used to think that if you caught 20 or 25 from under a dock that you had caught them all,” said Wyatt. “But a friend of mine has one of those underwater cameras that he dropped down under a dock and there were still 100 crappie — they just quit biting.”
If you leave a dock when the bite slows, check back later in the day and the fish may be feeding again.
Doug’s best slab of the year weighed 2.2 pounds. Most Lanier crappie, however, will run from 1/2-lb. to a pound, with a lot of fish in the 3/4-lb. range — just the right size for a sharp fileting knife.
Wyatt noted that Lanier is still 15 feet below full pool and can be dangerous. “There are a lot of trees and humps showing up now and more that are just under the surface.”
The low water level has made access a problem too. As of January 23, there were only five ramps open — Charleston, Big Creek, Little Hall, Tidwell and Old Federal. The number of ramps under water will increase with every foot of depth, but that will depend on rainfall.
Both Doug and Wyatt spend most of their crappie-fishing time up the rivers — up the Chattahoochee from Gainesville and up the Chestatee above Little Hall Park. They are looking for the dingy water, which makes the fish easier to catch. There are plenty of crappie on the south end of the lake, but catching them in the gin-clear water is much more difficult.
“I found a huge school of big crappie on the lower end of the lake recently,” said Doug. “There were about 200 of them that were a pound or more and you could see them in the clear water. I caught two or three before they blew the whistle on me and I couldn’t catch any more. It is tough in clear water.”
On the other hand, heavy rain and the mud flowing into the rivers on the upper end of the lake will shut down the crappie bite for a few days.
Doug says the deep-dock crappie bite will hold up until April as the fish stage ahead of the spawn. When the fish move to the banks, he prefers to catch them in the tree-tops with a Hal-Fly under a cork.
Wyatt is a dock-shooter year round and the records he keeps of his crappie-fishing trips prove that there will be crappie under deep docks any month of the year — at least for anglers who like to shoot their crappie.