Against The Grain For Black Shoals Crappie
While the crowds chase shallow fish, big crappie stay out on the main run.
Among fishermen, there are a few maxims that generally hold true regardless of when or where you’re fishing or what you’re fishing for. Targeting structure and fishing where other boats are catching fish are two tactics that usually produce — especially when your quarry is crappie feeding voraciously in the throes of the spring spawn.
That may be good advice at most fisheries at most times of the year, but Phil “Bear” Oglesby, of Conyers, suggests you throw that advice out with the small fish when you’re trolling the serene waters of Rockdale County’s Black Shoals Reservoir for crappie.
Phil has been fishing this 650-acre water-supply reservoir in Conyers since it opened in 2000. Every year, in March and April, he watches boats stack up to push their way into the main spawning creek on the north end of the lake (first creek on the left downstream from the ramp). Those boats, piloted by knowledgeable anglers, return from the shallow creek with coolers loaded down with crappie. But that’s not Phil’s scene.
“When (the fish) go up in those creeks, I won’t go up there. I just stay out here and keep catching ’em,” Phil said. “Those guys come out of the creek with a bunch of fish, but most of them are small. I’d rather stay out here and catch 10 1 1/2- to 2-pounders than 30 little ones like that.”
Phil counts on fish moving shallow into the spawning creeks and flats in staggered waves to keep his fishing hot on the main body of the lake. While some folks do well pitching jigs or minnows under corks to spawning fish in just a couple feet of water, Phil takes it easy. He relies on his hand-held GPS unit full of waypoints that have produced in the past, and he covers water, picking up fish that haven’t moved up yet or the ones that have spawned out and returned from the shallows.
“I’ve got it marked down where I’ve caught ’em all the way down at the dam and full of eggs in the middle of April. They don’t all go at the same time, and there’ll always be a few out here,” Phil said, referencing the notes he has kept on a calendar from every fishing trip going back to 2005. “Sometimes I’ll go back and check for similar conditions, but similar conditions this year ain’t that similar.”
Like on many Georgia lakes, the frigid winter and late spring have the crappie on Black Shoals running a few weeks behind, which should set up conditions for a fantastic April — if the egg-heavy females don’t pop before the water warms enough for them to lay their eggs.
Phil said it takes a little longer for the water temperature to warm up at Black Shoals than at other small reservoirs, because it is a deep for a lake its size. Depths in the main Big Haynes Creek channel run in 30- to 40-foot range, and they drop into the 50s and 60s down around the dam.
The surface temperature was in the high 40s to low 50s when we fished the second week of March. In a typical year, the first waves of fish would have already moved up, but Phil said they’re waiting for the magic temperature of 55 to 60 degrees. With a few days of consistently warmer weather, the fish should start feeding heavily, preparing and moving shallow to spawn.
But that doesn’t mean Phil will be moving shallow. He’ll just keep plying the Big Haynes Creek channel edge, trolling onto flats or into coves where he’s caught fish before and circling his boat in areas where he gets bites. He said he likes about a 5 mph wind, which improves the bite but isn’t quite strong enough to make boat handling difficult.
We circled the basin that used to be Parker’s Lake (first big cove on the right downstream from the ramp) several times and caught fish at the mouth of the cove, but once the spawn gets going strong, the fish will most likely be found farther back in the coves.
Some of Phil’s favorite areas to troll in April are down around the dam. Mainly he wants to get away from the boats on the top end of the lake, but he catches fish while he’s doing it.
“I pretty much stay away from the crowds. On a lake like this, where’s there’re no outboard motors, at least you get a peaceful boat ride,” he said. “I’ll find out what area they’re in, and I’ll just start circling. I must have made 50 circles one weekend catching fish in behind a peninsula down by the dam.”
The secret to his success is covering lots of water with a lot of baits to find the pattern of the day.
“He looks like an offshore shrimping boat out there,” said Frank Hardin, who mans the gate at the entrance to the park.
Phil trolls a spread of 14 rods that range in length from 16 feet down to 5 or 6 feet. The longer rods, the 16-, 13-, and 12-footers, are telescoping Uncle Buck’s crappie rods, and Phil tries to arrange them so he can get the widest spread possible. His short rods are regular ultra-lights, which he keeps right next to him while trolling. His rods are all equipped with ultra-light reels of different makes.
His rod holders, seven on each side, are spaced about 6 inches apart on the gunwales running from the rear seat forward on his 1957, 14-foot, V-hull Alumacraft. The boat was a state-park rental boat for 30 years before Phil got a hold of it and customized it for catching crappie.
“What I’m trying to do is get the best coverage I can,” he said. “Sixteen and 16, plus the width of the boat, that gives me about a 40-foot spread.”
Phil also varies the depth of his baits to cover more of the water column and figure out where the fish are holding. In March and April, he’ll run baits from as shallow as 3 feet down to 10 feet or deeper. Once he gets on a consistent bite, he will adjust most of his lines to the same depth where he is getting hit.
Do you wonder how he keeps all those lines from getting tangled?
The answer is: He’s not longline trolling. All of his baits are right next to the boat instead of behind it. He simply lets out enough line to get it to the desired depth, and he keeps his jigs down with a lot of weight — a lot of weight in crappie circles.
He uses a 1/4- or 3/8-oz. egg sinker above a swivel on his main line, which is 10- to 20-lb. test braid with the diameter of 4- or 6-lb. monofilament. From the swivel, he ties a 2-foot to 30-inch leader of 6-lb. mono and finishes it off with a 1/16- or 1/8-oz. jig tied on with a loop knot.
Again, Phil likes to present choices across the board until he nails down the bite, and it’s the same with his jigs. He goes with hair-tail jigs like Hal Flies, and he also fishes twist-tail grubs and triple-tails. For years, the best color on Black Shoals was blue or a combination of blue and other colors, but Phil said blue has not been producing very well this year. So far this year, he’s had his best luck on a hot-pink jig or a jig that is hot pink with a chartreuse tail. Another jig-body color that has been catching some good fish is pumpkin pepper. All of the fish we caught in March hit either the pink or pumpkin-pepper jigs.
“Good luck trying to find that one in the stores,” he laughed.
For a little added attraction, Phil tips his jigs with crappie minnows, and he always has minnows readily available because instead of dumping the extras out after each trip, he keeps them in an aerated tub in an outbuilding at his house. He said minnows will live for up to a month and stay lively in cool weather, and he doesn’t even have to feed them.
Occasionally, Phil will drop a spinner-jig like a Road Runner back behind the boat on one of the short ultra-lights he keeps next to him, but only if he’s moving slowly.
“If you’re trolling any more than about a mile an hour, you’re really attracting the hybrids with that Road Runner,” he said. “Hybrids will make a mess out of a crappie spread.”
Phil doesn’t much like messing with hybrids, and he likes to take it easy. So typically he watches his speed on his hand-held GPS and trolls between 1 and 1 1/2 miles per hour with his 55-lb. thrust Minn Kota Terrova. The motor has all the bells and whistles, including the auto-pilot feature, which comes in handy while Phil’s rigging his rods.
On the subject of rigging rods, Phil doesn’t like to do it. That’s why he stays out of the timber. There are a ton of stumps and standing timber in the lake, and he’s found the location of most of the wood through trial and error. Even if there are fish in the timber, he prefers to steer clear, run the edge of the cover or just catch the fish that are in open water.
“I guess that’s bad, isn’t it? I guess I’m just a lazy fisherman. Or maybe it’s patience,” Phil said. “This will work sooner or later. It’ll work just as good. And, you don’t have to spend all your time tying on new jigs. That just takes all the fun out of fishing.”
When Phil is fishing Black Shoals, it’s about having a fun and relaxing time on the water and taking a few fish home for the fryer. That’s why he avoids the crowds and timber. However, for as laid-back as his fishing style is, Phil catches fish. Ask any of the regulars on the lake.
“If you’re looking for a crappie fisherman, Oglesby is a crappie fisherman,” said Ray Tant, another Black Shoals gate guard. “He’s one of our regulars, and he sure can catch some crappie.”
There are some big slabs in Black Shoals, too. Phil has caught several that weighed between 2 1/2 and 3 pounds, including one that measured an astounding 18 inches in length.
So, if you’re out on the lake this month, consider trolling right past the boats piled up in the creeks. Take a boat ride down the lake with a spread of jigs. Cover a lot of water, and you’ll be surprised at the fish you catch.
Late in March, a call to Ray at the guardhouse revealed the crappie were starting to move up and the bass were on fire. This month should be perfect to load the boat with Black Shoals slabs.
The summer hours at Black Shoals start April 1. The park will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and boats must be off the water 30 minutes before the park closes. The park is closed on Wednesdays. This is subject to change, so call (770) 761-1611 ahead of time. Frank or Ray will be happy to give you a fishing report.
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