Clouds Of Lake Blackshear Crappie In October

With tons of great wood structure, use electronics to find the clouds of crappie.

Ronnie Garrison | September 28, 2023

Maurice Van Hall with a nice Lake Blackshear crappie caught during a recent trip with the author.

When crappie are stacked up over brush on the river channel ledges at Lake Blackshear, October is a great time to catch them. Find the right place, and you can catch a limit of good eating-size crappie.

Crappie love wood cover like brushpiles and standing timber. And if that wood is on a channel drop, it is even more to the liking of crappie. But can you have too much of a good thing? Lake Blackshear seems to indicate you can.

The Lake Blackshear dam was completed in 1930 and flooded miles of swamp on the Flint River between Cordele and Americus. Few of the trees were cut, and the entire lake was studded with stumps sticking out of the water.

In the 1994 flood, the dam blew out and was replaced. While the lake was drained, much of the timber was removed from the lower lake. But if you get out of the marked channels above the Highway 280 and railroad causeways, you will likely hit a stump.

With wood cover everywhere, crappie can be anywhere. Even on the lower lake there are acres of water too stump-filled to run a boat, especially on the west side. Most of it is marked, so if careful you won’t have any trouble. But with so much wood, how do you find the best places to fish?

Maurice Van Hall was born in Argentina and moved here when he was 5 years old. His job in the timber industry allowed him to travel worldwide, and he fished all over the world. He loves bird hunting and fishing and has spent much of his life outdoors. He now guides at a deer camp in Alabama, as well as fishing when not guiding during hunting season.

After living in diverse areas from Upstate New York to Idaho, he moved back here to Macon about seven years ago to be close to his family. He started crappie fishing and now concentrates on fishing the middle Georgia lakes.

“Blackshear is a great place to catch some good eating-size crappie,” Maurice said.

After learning to catch crappie on Sinclair and Oconee, helped by experts like Tom Hamlin, he has spread out and started learning Blackshear. His methods and baits can help you learn it and catch crappie.

“I start on a new lake by riding the old river and creek channels to find wood cover on the edges of them,” Maurice said.

Good electronics make this much easier. If you have side imaging sonar, set it on 100 feet and idle along the channel edges watching your GPS map.

Maurice drops a GPS waypoint anywhere he spots likely cover. When first learning the lake, he may mark dozens of places and then go back and fish them to find the right baits and depths for that trip.

“I want to see ‘clouds’ of crappie around the wood on my sonar,” Maurice said.

You can spot these clouds on any good sonar, but quality units will help you tell if the clouds are crappie and baitfish by seeing individual fish in a school of crappie.

Here’s the ‘cloud of crappie’ that Maurice looks for on his electronics when fishing wood structure on the Blackshear ledges.

The crappie often hold right on top of deep wood cover, but they may be on the side of it, too. That can depend on the depth. An old tree on the edge of the river channel that rises from 20 to 10 feet deep might have the fish on top of it, but one that comes up higher may find them locating beside it.

Maurice wants to find the wood in at least 15 feet of water, and he says deeper is better. Man-made brushpiles dot the channels in those depths, and there are plenty of old trees left that top out at 10 feet deep. All can hold fish.

The ideal cover for Maurice is an old tree with many limbs that grew near the channel and has fallen over into it. It has its trunk up in about 10 feet of water on the ledge and limbs from it go from 10 feet to 20 feet deep in the channel.

Crappie do not need a big tree for cover, however. One of the best places we fished looked like a 2-foot-tall stump right on the channel lip. Even though the stump was short, it had a good cloud of quality crappie over it. So pay attention to any cover you find.

Forward-facing sonar like the Garmin Panoptix is amazing for crappie fishing and Maurice utilizes his efficiently. He can watch the fish move and react to his bait. He can tell how they are positioned and how the boat affects them. It is almost like watching them on TV. But you can catch them without it.

A little breeze helps the bite and also helps you position your boat. When Maurice spots likely looking cover, he gets his boat downwind and stays at least 50 feet from it, and 70 feet is better. If you get closer, you are likely to spook the fish, especially the bigger ones.

He then pitches a small jig past the wood and school of fish and lets it swing through them. Maurice rigs a 1/48-oz. to 1/16-oz. Sugar Bug or Slab Snatcher bait about 6 to 8 inches below a No. 6 clam-shot sinker.

The sinker gives him enough weight to pitch the tiny jig easily, even in wind, and get it down to the fish. Maurice says it is important to use an oval clam-type sinker rather than the usual round split shot to help avoid line twist.

Maurice carries boxes filled with a wide variety of colors and weights of jigs. He usually starts with a 1/48-oz. with a red head, whitish body and chartreuse tail. The name he used for the body color is “monkey milk,” it is a milk-colored body with black flake in it. To give the tail the chartreuse, he dips it into dip and dye.

Maurice usually starts with a 1/48-oz. jig with a red head, “monkey milk” body and the tail dipped in chartreuse dye. The body is milk-colored with black flake in it.

Some days one color will out-fish others, so don’t get stuck on one. If the bite is slow, try different colors. Maurice says he does not fish real fast but seldom fishes one spot longer than about 10 minutes. That gives him time to make several pitches with different color jigs and line size and try different actions, too.

The very light jig is important for two reasons. One, it is the size of bait the crappie prefer. But also the light weight allows the crappie to suck it in easier. Maurice says the tiny, light jig is usually well inside the fish’s mouth, but heavier jigs tend to hook the fish just in the lip where the crappie is very tender, not all the way in the tougher mouth, if it hooks them at all. He seems to get more missed bites on heavier jigs.

A 7-foot St. Croix medium-light spinning rod with a quality spinning reel loaded with 6- to 8-lb. P-Line monofilament line works well for Maurice. He likes monofilament since it gives his jig some buoyancy. With several rods rigged with different test lines, he can tell if the fish are line shy that day and which size works best.

Pitch your jig past the cover and let it sink to the depth the fish are holding. Without forward-facing sonar you can count your bait down. Ten feet deep seems to be a good depth on Blackshear so go by that without the sonar. Even a regular sonar will show you the depth the school is holding, but you have to ride over them to find it.

The common knowledge is crappie will only come up for your bait, not go down. And keeping your bait just over them is important. Forward-facing sonar will show you very few fish will follow your bait down to eat it, they almost always come up, so modern electronics confirm what we suspected.

As the jig swings through the school of fish, Maurice watches for any twitch of his line and feels for any tiny bump or slack feeling. A sensitive rod like the St. Croix helps a lot. Often crappie will suck in a jig and move with it—if your line goes slack, set the hook

Maurice sets the hook with a solid sweep of his rod trip, raising it over his head. With the light monofilament line that stretches and light action rod, you need to move your rod tip a good bit to get the hook in the fish, even if they are “papermouths.”

Little action is needed with the jig swimming naturally behind the sinker, but if the fish seem to ignore it, Maurice will try twitching his rod tip a little to make the jig move erratically to entice a bite.

A reel with a good drag system is important. You must keep the drag loose enough that a big crappie will not rip the hook out of its mouth. When you hook a big one, put enough pressure on it to get it away from the wood then let it fight your rod and drag.

Work the fish carefully to the boat, don’t rush it. Crappie are called papermouth for a reason. Maurice keeps a net handy for bigger fish since they will usually rip off the hook if you try to lift them into the boat.

If he is on a school of decent fish and gets hung, which will happen fairly often, Maurice will break his jig off rather than go to it and get it free with a “plug” knocker. He would rather lose a jig than spook the fish. But if he has plenty of fish located, he gets right on top of the hung jig, runs his plug knocker down the line and pulls his jig free.

Maurice showed me how to catch Blackshear crappie in early September, and we located many schools. He says crappie tend to stay in the same areas, so once you find a school you can usually find them nearby later. They may move to another nearby tree, and that is why fewer trees and brushpiles in one area is better. Too much cover just scatters the schools.

The day was ideal with light wind and a few scattered clouds. Maurice says he has not seen a difference between cloudy and sunny days—the fish bite good under both conditions. But lightning did run us off the lake early afternoon when a thunderhead came up quickly.

We fished from near Veterans State Park almost to the dam. The state park is a good place to launch with good ramps and is probably safer than other more isolated ramps might be.

The water had dropped in temperature a little, and that helped the bite the day we fished, but the fish were still on the main river. Now, with cooler water and shorter days, the baitfish will start moving into creeks and sloughs, and the crappie will follow, so the mouths of creeks and sloughs should be better.

We checked out several brushpiles in the mouths of creeks and sloughs like Collins Branch and Gulley Creek, and there were some fish there, but they will be much better now. Start your search on the river channel at a creek or slough mouth and check the secondary channel, too. The points where the two channels meet is often a key spot.

Lake Blackshear usually stays clear through the fall, but the flood in July 1994 caused by Tropical Storm Alberto shows it can muddy up. Maurice says he is not sure if muddy water will make the fishing tougher, since he has not faced that problem yet, but he said the crappie have to eat, so it might as well be your bait they are eating.

Maurice says he seldom uses live bait, preferring the ease and durability of jigs. He showed me one Slab Snatcher jig he caught more than 50 crappie on during one trip. He had to glue the soft body back on a couple times, but it kept catching fish.

You generally can’t catch multiple crappie on one minnow, and if using live minnows, you might have to change your tactic since casting them does not work as well as casting a jig.

Maurice catches both white and black crappie, but mostly black crappie, while fishing at Lake Blackshear.

This fishing pattern for Lake Blackshear crappie will hold through November, so you have plenty of time to take advantage of it.

If you’d like some firsthand tips on how to catch them, Maurice has decided to do some guiding for crappie. You can contact him at 478.719.5678 or find him on Facebook to set up a trip.

You can bring home a mess of crappie to eat and learn his methods in person, as well learn about using sonar, which is key these days.

And you will hear some great stories of hunting and fishing all over the world!


Ever Heard Of A Magnolia Crappie?

Yes, there actually is a third flavor of papermouth in addition to white and black crappie. Mississippi Fisheries have crossed male black crappie with female white crappie in a hatchery to produce a sterile hybrid they call Magnolia crappie. They stock these sterile Magnolia crappie into small lakes where regular crappie could overpopulate. To make their hybrid easier to identify, the black crappie used in this hatchery creation is a “black stripe crappie,” which is a black crappie with a black stripe down its back to its nose and mouth.

A “black stripe crappie” is a unique color variation of regular black crappie, and that’s what anglers occasionally catch in some Georgia waters, including Blackshear, which is where the author and Maurice Van Hall caught the fish pictured above.

Rob Weller, WRD Fisheries Region Supervisor, said Georgia doesn’t have any true “Magnolia crappie,” which are the hybrid cross between white and black crappie produced in the Mississippi hatchery. He said a small percentage of regular black crappie in the Flint River drainage have a black stripe down their nose.

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