Clarks Hill LiveScope Crappie
The "Back Page Guy" didn't grow up playing video games, but he may be fixing to start after stepping into a boat loaded with technology.
Somehow, somewhere along the line, the whole video game thing managed to pass me by. Guess there were better things to do with my metacarpus at the time. Making a living, for example. But after a day on Clarks Hill Lake looking for—and AT—bunches of crappie with Troy Thiel, I could easily find myself working overtime to catch up on this thumb-twiddling business. Because this is the most amazing technological advance I’ve ever seen put to near-perfect use on the water.
It was a given, monthly deadlines being what they are, that we were to be on this massive—71,000 acres and over 1,000 miles of shoreline—reservoir two days after the January full moon and with a large and lingering cold front just dragging itself on into South Carolina. Throw in water the hue of weak chocolate milk and the recipe is not all that likely to turn out digestible.
But this is not to whine about January’s capricious cold; we’re gearing you up for March with a trio of methods that will produce 30-fish limits—slabs among them—in no time. Besides, Troy’s in the boat; and he’s the best I know.
For starters, let’s get your mind right about this place, and especially if you’re accustomed to our state’s other impoundments. Clarks Hill, which dates back to 1952, is the third-largest artificial lake this side of the Mississippi River, behind only Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee and Lake Marion on the Santee. Augusta is the town most folks think of when Clarks Hill comes to mind, but tiny Lincolnton provides lodging 15 minutes from the ramps we chose.
Ramps. Plural. Because if you could pick up Lake Sinclair and drop it into Clarks Hill, there would be plenty of room for three more just like it! Sinclair is roughly 15,000 acres of surface water, as compared to that 71,000-plus. Lake Oconee is 19,000 acres, Seminole 37,000, Lanier 38,000, just to give you an idea. You don’t up anchor and run and gun here unless your idea of run is an hour and a half boat ride. It’s far easier and faster, if an initial spot proves unproductive, to load the boat and drive around to another ramp.
But don’t be put off by size. Like any other body of water, this one can be easily sectioned off. The crappie are going to be where they are going to be as air temperatures in March crawl into the 70s, bringing water temps up with them. These fish are going to move from the mouths of creeks—where they are right now—toward the backs. They’re looking for flats to spawn, and it’s simple to locate them with even the most basic depth-sounding devices. That, as we will see, does not come close to describing the toys on Troy’s 20-foot Ranger, which, by the way, slides silkily along like a 70s Caddy in front of its 200 Suzuki.
So… it’s 47 blustery degrees behind this front, and before the day is out will climb all the way to 49. Heading into the dawn, just how does Troy Thiel feel about the hand we’ve been dealt?
“We’re about to go catch fish. We’ll find a way. You can do the same thing we’re about to do on any creek in this lake. Some other folks may like other creeks and areas, because this place is just so big. But I can take you any day in March in these areas that I’ve worked out in the past, and we will catch fish.”
I know better than to doubt him, because this is a guy who has won so many crappie tournaments he can’t recall them all. Two, however, do stand out: Georgia and Florida state championships.
He continues, ticking off a few favorite locations.
“I like Soap Creek, Lloyd Creek and Germany Creek, because all of those have a mixture of deep water, good creek channels and a lot of spawning flats. Those are areas crappie can live in 12 months of the year. We’ll put in at the Amity ramp for Lloyds and Germany, then move to the Soap Creek ramp to check out a couple of other areas if we have to, or just to look around.”
Looking at a lake map provides a perfect example of why you leave the water and hit the ramps. Leaving Lloyds for Soap, you’d run and run and run east to get around a huge curve at the bottom of the lake, then turn about-face and go northwest for roughly the same amount of time. Highway time is about 10% of that.
After a VERY brisk 10-minute ride from Amity, there’s this one long-proven dock that simply HAS to be checked out.
“If they’re here,” Troy says, “we will catch at least a couple in the 2-lb. range.”
That’s the way the mind of an experienced pro works. In times past, we’d ease up and begin shooting jigs underneath the dock, hanging boats, whatever happened to be providing cover and shade. Now? I’m about to be introduced to the Garmin LiveScope.
We’re easing up with the trolling motor whirring when Troy turns with a desultory, “They’re not here!”
He hasn’t even picked up a rod! Hold up. What?
“Look at the screen.”
Ok, so I may not be the guy you’d pick to interpret your depthfinder results for you, but I CAN watch television. Even when there’s nothing on it. Like now…
That’s exactly how complicated the process was. And as we ease out to check another area, we come under the Highway 43 bridge.
“I’ve caught fish on those last two bridge towers,” Troy says pointing, “so let’s take a look.”
Nothing. Including no fish, no casting, no beating the area to a pulp while checking different water depths, jig-head weights, colors, presentation… We’ve eliminated an awful lot of water in mere seconds, in a manner so simple even I could understand it. But we ain’t seen nothing yet, in more ways than one…
“LiveScope is dominant right now on the tournament scene,” Troy said. “It’s fun and growing all the time with the everyday angler. You can go with the LiveScope while casting to suspended fish, trolling or shooting docks. Either of those three will catch you a limit here any day during March.”
Crappie fishermen, pro or not, typically have their own hot spots in any lake. Whether it be docks or submerged structure, natural or otherwise, such as weighted brush or treetops dropped overboard. The fish will find them, as well as the bait minnows flitting in and out. There may be a half-dozen such holes, and crappie can be relating closely to them at any certain time—such as when you’re on the water—or not. That LiveScope will tell you in an instant if you’re in business. The photo shown above demonstrates the most amazing occurrence I’ve seen of just what this setup is capable of. And easy enough for any creek fisherman to figure out.
The screen clearly shows a submerged treetop with fish hovering at top right. Forty-three fish. Exactly. We’ll get to how I know that in a moment.
Note the numbers across the top and down the sides of the screen on Troy’s Garmin. Across, left to right, is measured in 5-foot increments. (Other models differ, down to a width of 12 inches.) This shows distance from the unit’s transducer (mounted on the trolling motor) to the image on the screen.
Numbers down the left side denote the depth of that image.
So what we’re seeing is a pod of crappie 20 feet off to our right, down about 5 feet. There’s no guessing, no figuring it out; there they are.
“Watch the jig,” Troy says. “Keep it just above the fish because crappie always feed up; never let the jig go below the fish. They will NOT go down to get it.”
So I watch the jig. On the screen. I can clearly see it dropping perfectly down into the school. I watch as a fish moves toward it, inhales, and is brought into the boat. It goes into the livewell, because a loosed fish will emit all kinds of slimy don’t-do-its to its buds if released back into the group, shutting down the whole show.
This happens, boys and girls, 43 straight times! There’s no need to watch the line; watch the screen. Every one of those fish was caught in the same manner, on the same jig. When number 43 got snagged, the tree was there—but not a single crappie. At that point, they were all put back into the water so they could tell each other their versions of what just happened!
Now, let’s go find a dock with some fish…
These happened to be—plainly visible on screen—over 30 feet away underneath a couple of pontoon boats at a depth of nearly 15 feet. That’s at first glance. Imagine how long it would take you to figure that out by trial and error, if you ever managed it. I’m watching Troy fire the tiny jig—more later—as far as he can, then watching, watching, watching as it drops down to a particularly large lump of a crappie. It goes by on the left side with the fish facing right.
Again. And again. And again.
“One of the things that Garmin does is that you can’t give up on a good fish when you see it,” Troy chuckles. “It’s so much fun that you can’t give up on a big fish, so you just keep working at it.”
Fifth cast, welcome aboard. And this one’s not going back at all…
Also on the water this day was Troy’s friend Steve Deason, owner of The Crappie Shop (478.283.0458), in Gray. Deason was trolling a couple hundred yards from the dock we were shooting and called to report some good fish coming aboard. We’d been on the water for about three hours, and the temperature had not moved a degree, nor had the sun put in an appearance. Gray, scudding clouds made for a dreary day—except for the fact that the crappie hadn’t noticed and continued to cooperate. Things will only get better with marvelous meteorology.
Before we begin slipping around trolling, let’s take a quick equipment check.
“I like 4-lb. test line, but you may want to beef up your line a little if you’re going to dock fish, say 6-lb. test,” Troy advises. “All my jigs, AWD Baits, come from Steve, who is also one of the very best crappie fishermen out there. Use the lightest jig you can get the job done with. Crappie can be a little snooty-acting and finicky at times; that small bait will catch them when a larger one won’t. If you’re fishing a treetop 30 feet down, you will want to use a little larger jig head to get the lure down quicker to the fish, but still the lightest possible.”
We used 1/16-oz. jigs mostly on the day, because fish were consistently in the 12- to 15-foot range. They shouldn’t be that far down as March rolls in, so think 1/32- or 1/48-oz. jigs. There are only about 2 million colors on the market, but a chartreuse/black body was a good producer for us and some form of that combo is always a good place to start. Fish will let you know if they approve of a white, black, red, bubblegum, etc. jig head.
Troy’s choice for shooting docks is a 5 1/2-foot rod spooled with 4-lb. test.
“It’s a feel thing,” he says. “Go with what’s right for you. Getting a jig to some of these fish, over, under and around things, is not always easy to do. Each individual has to find what works best in a variety of scenarios.”
If you think he’s finicky about that rod, you ought to see the trolling setup!
“The only rods and reels I use come from my friend Eric Howard at HH Rods & Reels (904.315.9716),” he says. “He has just about anything you want for a wide variety of fishing. It’s the best in the business, tournament quality stuff at very reasonable prices. We’ve used HH equipment on everything we’ve done today.”
And now it was time to get busy in the mouth of Soap Creek, because I have a spot set aside in the top-right corner of a freezer. The space is held out for my favorite freshwater table fare, the old white perch. (Which somehow sounds a heap more appetizing than crappie…)
Through further wonders of technology, the trolling motor is set at .86-mph. Speed will determine jig depth as we move, and since fish have shown up a dozen or so feet down, .86 matches the spread.
Out front in 4-foot increments are rods of 18, 14, and 10 feet in length on each side; in the back with me are six 9-footers. Looks like a shrimp boat.
“You’re covering a 40-foot-wide span and you go back and forth until you catch them,” Troy said, his voice oozing with confidence. “They’re going to be here, I guarantee you, in March. Every day it warms up, they’re going to move farther and farther toward the backs of these creeks and up on the shallow flats to spawn. You can sweep through and fill your freezer pretty quickly.”
Which was exactly the case, despite total non-cooperation from the weatherman. There was never a time of hectic activity, but only a couple of half-hour lulls. If you want numbers, I kept 26, with the top three right at 6 pounds. That one-man limit of 30 would have been easy to reach, but I had enough and several were tossed. Speaking of numbers, tournament limits are seven fish per two-man team at weigh-in, nearly all of which are then released.
But at the end of one Clarks Hill event, a game warden advised Troy that it was time to start taking some of the fish home to benefit lake populations. So there are your orders. Since our trip, Troy has already heard of a partner’s crappie topping 3 pounds, not at all uncommon here.
Throughout the day, I kept thinking that this video game stuff is almost unfair. On the other hand, limits are limits, and putting back what you don’t need and leaving some for the next guy in line is what fair is all about in the first place. Too, if we had any idea just how many crappie there are in our favorite impoundments, we’d all be amazed at the exploding populations.
What I can tell you is that this was a tremendously informative, enjoyable trip—as they all are when Troy Thiel is my instructor. At a little better than a couple grand, the LiveScope package is not for everybody. But, in case you’re wondering, this particular model number is 93sv…
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