Clarks Hill April Crappie
GON found crappie shallow in the grass two weeks ago. This month, they'll move even shallower.
My dad taught me to fish at the two lakes in Stone Mountain Park. He enjoyed taking me in April — a prime time for fishermen, and kids of all ages, to get bit shallow. He’d give me a canepole equipped with a gold hook, a small sinker, a long-skinny bobber and a minnow. While I stood on the bank, he’d tell me to drop that bobber next to all that brush and watch. On good days I wouldn’t have to wait long for that bobber to start dancing in a tight circle right before disappearing below the surface. I’d set that hook and make my usual announcement — “Got one” — and then bring another beautiful crappie onto the bank. Dad, who usually had a minnow out while he threw a small jig, would come over and say something along the lines of, “You going to let me catch any today?”
I’d laugh, throw back out and catch another one. Man, those were good days.
I guess it was something as simple as watching a crappie bobber sink that got me started down that fun road of fishing and hunting.
Although my outdoor interests now range from working my beagles to catching redfish off Saint Simons Island, it was fun last month to return in search of the silver freshwater slab that got it all started for me over two decades ago. Jerry Moye of Thomson reminded me that the tick on the end of a fishing line from a crappie can be as enjoyable as any outdoor experience.
Jerry is retired from the Department of Transportation, and pretty much all he does now is make his own jigs and go fishing. I met him early on March 18 at Raysville Marina on the Little River arm of Clarks Hill Lake.
Heading east, we hadn’t been on plane five minutes when he dipped into a little pocket on the south bank, and he quickly started explaining his springtime crappie pattern.
“It’s really a no-brainer this time of year — go in the coves, find your cover and fish it,” said Jerry.
Jerry’s reference to cover is any shallow grass or wood you can find in these shallow cuts and pockets. Crappie like to stage and bed around cover — and you’ll find cover all over this giant lake.
Clarks Hill was hammered by the drought several summers ago, and at times the lake was down 14 feet below full pool. It stayed below full pool for over a year, and that allowed for hundreds of acres of grasses to sprout and grow. The lake came back up prior to last spring’s crappie spawn. Wouldn’t that make for an exciting spawning season on Clarks Hill last spring? Not exactly.
“The water was so high, probably three or four feet above full pool, that water was way out in the woods,” said Jerry. “I believe the crappie stayed in the woods to spawn, and nobody could get to them to catch them. By the time the water fell back to normal pool, the crappie had spawned out and were already heading toward the summer spots.”
Jerry didn’t care to dwell on the past much, instead he wanted to talk about this spring — the first spring in three or four years where you can cruise around the banks on the trolling motor and cast to some sort of cover and expect to get bit. He has already got a few shelves in his freezer filled with fresh crappie filets.
“It has been a pretty decent year as far as I’m concerned,” said Jerry. “I’m catching fish about every time I’m going. On a good day in April when they’re really biting you could catch over 100 fish. On most days, if you work at it and fish a jig on light line, you’ll get 30, which is a limit.”
Jerry said he’s been making jigs for nearly 40 years. It’s something he enjoys when he’s not on the water, and he says it helps him pay for his one true vice in life — fishing. Right now his homemade creations seem to be paying off at his dinner plate.
Recently he’s been pouring a shad-shaped grub in a red color. It doesn’t sound like your typical white curly-tail grub with its fluttering tail. Jerry’s bait is very streamlined, looking very much like a shad.
“I don’t know what it is, but over the past year I’ve been trying different styles and colors of baits,” said Jerry. “Every time I use the shad-shaped jig I catch fish, so I decided to pour up some more, and it is working. Everybody has their favorite colors — mine is red for now. Whites and yellows are good colors, too.”
Jerry slids his jig onto a 1/32-oz. leadhead, and he fishes that on 2-lb. test line. He says lighter line produces more bites, and he feels it gives the bait more action. Jerry said he will use 4-lb. test if the water has a little stain to it.
With a light spinning reel, I was having a ball tossing that red-shad jig in the grass and reeling it back to the boat. We had collected about a dozen decent-sized crappie inside the livewell, and I had managed to connect with a few of those.
About the time my line got to the end of the particular grass line we were fishing, I felt a good tick on the opposite end of my line. I knew this fish was a nice one when I saw its silver side flare in the unusually clear waters of the Little River. For the first time all morning I saw Jerry pull a net from the bottom of the boat and after several surges toward the lake bottom, the crappie surrendered, and Jerry was able to dip his net under the fish and fling it into the boat. That fish went 1 1/2 pounds — easy.
“That’s going to be hard to beat today,” said Jerry. “I’m glad you got to catch the big fish of the day.”
To our surprise, we ended up with 10 of the 35 fish we kept right at that 1 1/2-lb. mark. In my book, and in Jerry’s, that’s a good mess of slabs anytime, anywhere.
Jerry said we were pretty fortunate. We just happened to hit a stretch of grassy bank that was holding some really nice fish.
“As far as slabs go, we had a real good day,” said Jerry. “You’ll pick up a few of those big slabs most times you go, but normally I don’t catch that many. We just hit one spot that had those slabs on them. Those Crappie USA tournament guys, where they have to weigh in 10 fish, they’d love to have had a stringer like that.”
Although most of our big slabs came off one grassy bank, we picked up some big fish from a blowdown adjacent to that grassy bank. When Jerry pitches at wood cover, he’ll rig his jig weedless — just like you would hook a plastic worm when bass fishing.
“Everytime I throw a naked jig around a brushpile I get hung,” said Jerry. “When a fish bites you have to set the hook like the bass fishermen do — hard. You miss a lot of fish, but you catch some, too.”
We caught more than half our fish off the grass cover and not from the blowdowns and stumps. All of these grass-related fish were caught toward the outer edges and even off the edges of the grasslines. Jerry said the fish had been in the grass for over a week, and it was the first real wave of shallow fish.
On the mornings of March 22 and March 23, temperatures on the lake were below freezing, but the long-range forecast was calling for stable, warm weather. By the time you read this, Clarks Hill crappie should be getting ready to bust, and you should find them on the bank and all through shallow cover.
“Water temperature needs to stabilize at 60 degrees,” said Jerry. “If the weather stays warm around that full moon (April 5), they’re going to bed. Whether they’ll feed or not I don’t know. I’ll fish either side of the full moon and do fair, but if I fish on the day of the full moon I won’t do nothing.
“I always have better luck with the new moon. The new moon (April 19) is the best week in the month as far as I’m concerned.”
Jerry is a river rat. He usually puts in at Raysville, and sometimes he’ll go up and fish and sometimes he’ll go down — he usually prefers from Raysville down to the pockets in Lloyd Creek. Since Jerry is happy with the results he has produced from the river he doesn’t see a reason to go motoring all over the place — that cuts into his fishing time.
From Raysville south you’ve got Germany and Rosseau creeks on the south side and Lloyd Creek on the north bank. All three creeks are good for crappie this month. Like Jerry said, it’s really a no-brainer. Just keep bumping around these grassy areas throwing jigs until you find some fish. If you’d rather fish up the Savannah River or closer to the dam, you’ll find grass everywhere, and this pattern should work all over the lake.
Jerry actually went back fishing the day after I got off the lake with him. It was a warm, beautiful Friday.
“On Fridays people really get cranked up,” said Jerry. “I don’t go on the weekends because it’s so crowded. There were so many boats in Germany Creek that I had to try some other spots. I still brought home a limit.”
When you’re throwing small jigs to cover this month, expect to put a wide variety of fish species in the boat. We caught largemouths, jackfish, yellow perch, and I was thrilled to put 12 hand-sized bluegill in my cooler. Expect bluegill catches to increase as they too pull into these shallow, grassy areas to spawn.
For putting crappie in the boat, this shallow, grass pattern is about as easy as it gets. Don’t let the spring get away from you and miss out on a great time to load that freezer.
When you go, take your kid. You may be surprised at how something as simple as a crappie-fishing trip could have an impact on a life.
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