Catch Blackshear Crappie Pulling Up
Following one of the best winters he can remember, local crappie guru Rusty Parker is expecting an early spawn.
Longtime Blackshear crappie angler Rusty Parker said the lake is fishing as well as he’s ever experienced. And this month, he expects crappie to pull up early for the prespawn and spawn. There are a lot of different methods that will catch them this time of year, and Rusty wasn’t heistant about serving up several of his favorite areas to catch crappie.
Rusty is one of Lake Blackshear’s most knowledgeable and consistently successful fishermen. He said this past fall and winter were the most productive he has ever seen, due to mild temperatures and good water conditions. He expects the spawn to get going a little early, and then turn on like gangbusters.
WRD Biologist John Kilpatrick helped explain why Rusty and other anglers are seeing good things from the fishery.
“We have had a good spawn every year, so there are no missing year classes, meaning there are no gaps in the reproductive cycles on the lake. Good news for anglers,” John said. “Blackshear is one of the only lakes where anglers can catch good numbers of both black and white crappie. The ratio is 60 percent black and 40 precent white.”
Crappie anglers might also run into some white bass, and hybrids and stripers are still stocked into the lake. So if your line starts a wild run off your reel, it’s more likely one of these muscle fish, and probably not a new lake-record crappie.
Last March, a new Blackshear black crappie record was set by Bubba Smith, of Cordele, with a 3-lb., 8.5-oz. wall-hanger. Rusty is the one who first brought Bubba’s fish to GON’s attention. Rusty is the kind of guy who is on the lake frequently and keeps up with exactly what is going on. He grew up around the lake, where his uncle, George Green, was superintendent of Veterans State Park back in the 1960s. Rusty has built a lifetime of fishing experience on the Blackshear.
In his crappie-fishing career, Rusty has been a successful tournament angler and the host of a local TV fishing show. But over time he has learned he much prefers to fish for fun and food and no longer competes in tournaments. He does participate in family oriented, social fishing events like those put on by Crappie.com.
At age 55, Rusty is a retired Crisp County firefighter, which allows him plenty of time to fish. And, like a lot of crappie anglers out there, he gladly shares his knowledge with anyone who asks! That includes tens of thousands of GON readers across the state. So, I got in the boat with Rusty to pick his brain about locations and techniques to fill a stringer with heavy prespawn and spawning crappie on Blackshear.
The day we fished, the water was 52 degrees, so we concentrated on river ledges. The crappie were suspended in 15 to 20 feet of water. We put in at the small Crisp County boat ramp at the mouth of Cedar Creek and fished about 300 yards upstream, along the eastern bank.
Trolling about 30 yards out from the bank, Rusty’s depthfinder lit up, but the crappie were slow to bite. It took a little patience, but we were able to put some nice crappie in the boat.
Normally Rusty fishes by himself and likes to push minnows from the front of the boat. He prefers to rig six spinning outfits with 4-lb. line and double hooks on each rig.
He starts by threading two 2/0 crappie hooks on the line. With the hooks still free to slide up and down the line, he ties a 1/2-oz. teardrop sinker with a brass fitting to the end of the line below the hooks. He then comes up a foot and ties the first hook off with a small loop of line and a double overhand knot. This knot leaves a loop of line with the hook on it perpindicular to the main line. He then comes up another foot and ties off the second hook with the same knot.
The idea is to put twice as many minnows or jigs in the water, while sticking with a manageable number of rods and reels. Rusty said the advantage of pushing minnows or jigs is you can easily manage the baits, which are straight down under the rod tips, and better control the depth. This works well in the winter, when the fish are out on ledges, but it is also effective for pushing your baits up into shallow brush when crappie pull up in the spring.
Naturally, if Rusty has a fishing partner in the back of the boat, he can pull jigs straight down on the weight, as I did, or omit the weight and just troll 1/16-oz. jigs on longlines. Rusty sometimes tips his R.A.G Fly Jigs with minnows but finds it’s usually not necessary when the fish are biting agressively during the spring. We trolled slowly and then tried some dead-motor drifting with the light wind and got bit enough to keep us interested.
After a short while, we moved to the Loren Williams Park area. From the park, we moved up about 1 mile, where the old river channel comes closest to the east bank and started fishing. We could tell the action was on here because there were several boats already in the area. Soon we too were on fish. We ended up with 22 nice keepers after just a few hours, and we added to our stringer when Freddie Widner, a lake resident who had a good day fishing, pulled close to our boat and donated several more nice fish.
Rusty will use the crappie to feed the residents at the Cordele senior citizens center this spring, a much anticipated event he puts on a least once a year. A rain storm hit and ended our trip, but it had already been a great day.
These two areas are worth a try early in the month or during a cool spell, but Rusty expects by the second week in March the spawn should be in full gear. Here are some great spots to catch crappie in March and April.
On the lower end of the lake, try Swift Creek. Put in at the 280 bridge. Go upstream to the railroad trestle, and troll the deeper water that is about 9 to 11 feet deep. Then ease in around the many cypress trees.
Pitch jigs into the bases of the cypress trees, and let them drop for a second or two. Then start a slow retrieve.
A minnow rigged about 2 feet below a cork and tossed in close to the trees works great, too, but don’t waste too much time on any one spot, said Rusty. Move around often, as the fish normally hit within a very short time if there are any present.
Also, Rusty said to not overlook the pilings under the 280 bridge. Usually fish are within a foot of the bottom, right up next to the concrete. The DNR fish attractor on the northwest side of the bridge is always good for a few crappie. All attractors shown on a good lake map are located in good areas.
Collins Branch, on the west side of the lake, is one of Rusty’s go-to spots for spring trolling, and he has found crappie here consistently every spring. Just start trolling around the DNR attractor site at the mouth of the branch, and move upstream in the middle of the channel. Then work both north and south banks with a close eye on the depthfinder because it can shallow up quickly and snag your jigs. You’ll find more cypress trees near the upper end for pitching jigs and minnow dabbling.
Moving up the lake, try the upper end of Cedar Creek. About halfway up the creek, you’ll see an old tram line left over from logging operations. Start trolling on both sides of the tram line, where the water is about 5 feet deep. It can get a little crowded here on the weekends, so just be patient and enjoy the friendship of other anglers, said Rusty. A lot of good information can be gathered and shared, and some lies will be told.
For anglers staying overnight or fishing around Veterans State Park, Rusty recommends the bridge straight across from the campground as an overlooked spot that always has some crappie around it. Just dunk a minnow or cast a jig along the edges. The dock at the campground is another spot that always has a few fish, so not having a boat does not necessarily mean going fishless. Straight across the lake is Pecan Slough. It’s a good place to cast up around docks and cypress trees.
Just up from the state park, the pilings and rip-rap around the main railroad trestle always hold crappie. Rusty likes to cast his R.A.G. Fly past the pilings and then lets it sink a few seconds before he brings it through the pilings. Once you have a fish on, just work it gently through the pilings or your fish will break off.
Along the rip-rap, move along the bank and cast parallel to the rocks where your jig is always in about 4 to 6 feet of water and you will find fish, said Rusty.
On the north side of the trestle, along the east bank, the map shows a large area of shallow submerged timber, and Rusty said this is a great place to troll. But back in the far east corner, along the trestle, there are a lot of stacked logs that have washed in over the years. Crappie always hang out in and around that timber, so check it out. Cast jigs around the edges or quietly drop a minnow around floating timber.
Now let’s take look at the lake above the 280 bridge, where the main lake and its open water becomes more like a south Georgia mill pond.
Rusty said this section of the lake can be very productive, but the many submerged and floating trees can tear up a boat in a heartbeat. Proceed with caution. Good locations are Cannon Branch and Limestone Creek, small backwaters that don’t get too much pressure on the weekends. They’re worth checking out with a quick troll.
Farther up the lake, Rusty likes to get back into Parkers Slough or Barren Lake and dabble a minnow around the thousands of cypress trees. He said you can almost fish a lifetime and not fish the same place twice there are so many little openings and pockets of water and lily pads that are constantly changing.
Trolling jigs is a great method for catching Blackshear crappie, and Rusty has a preference for his home-tied R.A.G. Fly Jigs. He started making jigs years ago with fishing partner Alton Hayslip, who Rusty called a “river rat who could catch fish in a bathtub.”
When it came time to name their jigs, they settled on R.A.G. Fly. The R is for Rusty, the A for Alton and the G is for gadget. So you have Rusty’s and Alton’s fishing gadget, the R.A.G. Fly. Alton passed away recently, but Rusty is carrying on the R.A.G. Fly tradition.
Rusty’s favorite jig for Blackshear consists of a black head, chartreuse body and a black-feather tail, and yellow or white bodies are good choices also.
For more on the R.A.G. Fly or a Crappie.com get together scheduled for March 24 on Blackshear, call Rusty at (229) 322-6864.
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