Aggressive West Point Crappie
Mal Gore shares his tactics for catching a mess of fat West Point slabs in April.
April is arguably the best month to catch a nice mess of slab crappie on Georgia lakes. West Point Lake, on the Chattahoochee River near LaGrange, is no exception. In April, the water temperatures are warming, reaching the range where crappie head to the shallows to spawn, and you can find crappie there in large congregations.
The spawning crappie will also be bigger on average than they will be at most other times of the year, so hefty stringers are the order of the day. On a warm April morning you are likely to see the banks lined with hopeful anglers with buckets of minnows searching for a few papermouths to make a nice meal.
One angler who particularly enjoys crappie fishing on West Point in April — mostly because he is very good at it — is Mal Gore of Warner Robbins. Gore, 47 years old when we went fishing in March, 2005, is a well-known crappie angler and frequent high finisher on the crappie tournament trails.
Mal has qualified for the Crappie USA Classic several times over the years and is very successful on the circuit. Mal has been fishing West Point regularly since it was first impounded, and he knows it like the back of his hand. He is also a partner/owner of the B-A-B Fly bait company of Baxley and makes a fine crappie jig.
In short, when it comes to crappie fishing, Mal is one of the best sources in Georgia. He is plugged in to what the fish are doing and can generally find them and catch them in a short time on a lake.
I caught up with Mal on the day he fished a tournament on West Point in mid March. He was good enough to give us some specifics on how to approach the lake for crappie this time of year. To sum up his advice, troll with small, brightly-colored jigs over shallow flats in the backs of creeks.
The technique is pretty simple with no big secrets. The fish will be shallow and active so move fast and cover a lot of water.
“I do nothing but troll for crappie in the spring,” said Mal. “The fish will be in extremely shallow water in the backs of the creeks, and they’ll be hungry and aggressive.”
Mal says he fishes in water no deeper than five feet in April and as shallow as two to three feet. He knows the fish will be up in the shallow flats on the spawn, and fishing much deeper than that is simply a waste of time. While virtually all of the creeks on the middle to upper end of the lake (like Whitewater, Yellow Jacket, and Stroud) will produce well, he says Veasey Creek is his favorite April hot spot.
On average, Mal consistently catches larger fish there than in the other creeks. He tells us that crappie in the 1-lb. to 1 1/4-lb. range are pretty common in the back of Veasey.
“I usually go straight to the back of Veasey Creek on any trip in April,” said Mal. “I head all the way back until I pass under the bridge, then I put my lines out.”
Mal says the water at the back of Veasey is between three- and five-feet deep, so the jigs need to be kept pretty shallow or they will stay hung up most of the time and you’ll lose a lot of jigs.
Mal usually begins with 1/28-oz. B-A-B Flies in three color combinations: red-green-yellow, red-bubblegum-white, or white-blue-white. If the jigs tend to bump the bottom, he’ll switch to 1/32-oz. jigs in the same colors.
Spring rains tend to stain the water in the backs of the creeks in April so the bright colors usually produce the best. If the water is exceptionally clear, natural looking color combinations are more likely to produce, so you should tone the color selection down in those conditions.
The jigs are offered on 4-lb. test line, and Mal typically fishes the jigs on rods of various lengths of up to 14 feet, mounted in bow and stern rod holders. Most of the time, Mal and his partner fish six rods on the bow and six on the stern. He tells us that during April, the action can be so fast that he often cuts back to four rods up front and four in the back.
“Sometimes you will end up with a fish on every rod at the same time, so 12 rods can be a little too much to handle,” says Mal. “With eight rods you’ll still catch plenty of fish and not have nearly as many tangles as you will if you try to fish 12.”
This is a pretty simple and straightforward method of fishing. The most important factor is speed.
“Most people troll much too slowly and can’t fish the shallow water properly,” says Mal. “So they end up fishing deeper spots and won’t catch nearly as many fish.”
Mal says it is almost impossible to troll too fast with the trolling motor this time of year. The fish are aggressive and will chase the bait to get it. You should be trolling fast enough so that the jigs are running about a foot or so under the surface.
Ideally, if you have a GPS or accurate speedometer, you should target about 1.5 mph for your trolling speed. If you can’t measure the speed, Mal tells us that anything up to the five setting on the foot-pedal dial of the trolling motor should be about right. But the best bet is to keep moving so that the jigs are running just under the surface.
Another important point is that you can’t put out much line. “About 25 feet of line is all that you want to let out,” says Mal. “Any more than that and you won’t be able to keep the jigs off the bottom and you will stay hung up.”
So the jigs from the bow-mounted rods will be running just behind the boat and the jigs from the stern-mounted rods will trail them by only a few feet.
Color selection is extremely important. Crappie can strongly prefer one color combination on one day and be on something totally different the next day. Or they can even change preference quickly in the middle of a day without any apparent reason. Once Mal gets a few strikes on a specific jig color, he switches most of the other rods to that same color combination. Pay attention to the colors that produce the most hits to maximize your catch rate.
Again, Mal strongly recommends trolling as the best method to use this time of year. “Sure you can catch fish with minnows suspended under a float,” says Mal. “But sitting still in shallow water limits your catch rate a lot.”
When trolling, you can cover a great deal more water and present your bait to a lot more fish. Save the minnow presentation for when the fish are deeper and more concentrated. This time of year the fish will be spread out over the shallow flats, and you need to cover a lot of water to maximize your potential.
Mal doesn’t even tip his jigs with minnows during the spring spawn. “I just don’t think it is necessary,” says Mal. “The fish are extremely aggressive, and they will hit the jigs just fine.”
One thing that may seem trivial but that Mal swears by is the knot used to attach the jig to the line. He always uses a loop knot as opposed to a more traditional improved clinch or Palomar.
“The loop knot allows the jig to hang freely from the line and move more naturally through the water,” says Mal. “I have seen first hand that it can make a great deal of difference in the strike rate, and I’m a firm believer, so you won’t catch me using anything else.”
Mal watches the water temperature carefully. Surface temperatures need to be in the low to mid 60s to drive the fish to spawn. Anything below that and they will be staging in slightly deeper water just out from the shallow flats. Creek-channel ledges near the flats are great places to try in slightly cooler water conditions.
Mal doesn’t pay much attention to current, wind conditions, or moon phase. He believes that when the water temperature is right, the crappie will be in the flats and ready to pounce on a jig.
This is a great time of year to go after crappie. They are extremely aggressive, and Mal says it is not unusual to catch 100 crappie or more on a normal outing.
Remember, crappie have extremely tender mouths that tear easily if too much pressure is applied. When you are dragging the jigs through the water, there will be more than enough pressure to set the hook when the fish strikes the bait. Don’t jerk the rod to set the hook, just pick up the rod and start reeling. Any more action than that and you are likely to bring nothing more than lips back to the boat.
This April, take Mal Gore’s advice and head to West Point. Take the kids along, put ice in the cooler, and get ready for some excellent fishing action that can also put a tasty meal on the table. The fish will be stacked up in the backs of the creeks getting ready for the spawn, and they are very likely to eat a well-placed jig.
Keep the lines short, the trolling motor on high, and cover a lot of water until you find out how fast the fish want their bait. When you figure out the pattern, keep after them.
If I don’t miss my bet, you’ll head home with a cooler full of crappie for a fish fry and a bunch of happy kids.
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