Catch Eufaula’s Late-Fall Crappie

Even during the cold-weather months, the crappie on this south Georgia reservoir never seem to quit biting.

Greg McCain | December 9, 2018

Fishing opportunities abound on Lake Eufaula, the big border impoundment on the Chattahoochee River that separates Georgia and Alabama.

The lake has long been labeled the “big bass capital of the world.” Catfish also flourish and grow in size and abundance, and the bream fishing is seasonally great. 

Among all the possibilities, the crappie population might just provide the best bite on the lake when December rolls around. The crappie never seem to stop eating on Eufaula, and the late-fall, early winter window offers one of the prime times to pursue slabs on the lake.

While many casual fishermen target the period from late February to mid April, fishing for crappie on Eufaula remains good year-round. The late fall provides another of the yearly peaks for crappie fishing, and the bite generally remains good unless some unusually cold weather impacts the region.

“Crappie fishing is always good on Eufaula, but the fall can be especially good,” said one of Eufaula’s crappie experts, Mark Martin.

Mark has long fished Eufaula, transitioning from bass fishing years ago to crappie fishing more recently. He mentions several reasons for the good crappie fishing late in the year, one of the main ones being a lack of competition on the water. Eufaula is surrounded in both Georgia and Alabama by prime hunting lands, and the number of fishermen dwindles during hunting season.

Fall weather can also be more stable than that of the spring, regularly offering idyllic days with little or no wind.

I’ve experienced both the spring and fall bite over the last couple of years, and the crappie do indeed seem to prove more finicky at times in the spring, especially when cold fronts roll through the lake region.

The vagaries of weather don’t seem to affect the crappie as much in the fall, when the fish normally hold in deeper water.

“Sometimes you find yourself alone out here later in the year,” Martin said. “Usually the weather cooperates, and the fishing is almost always good.”

Mark and I tested the crappie on Eufaula earlier in the fall, working minnows and jigs through a series of submerged brush structures during a half-day trip. The bite actually started somewhat slow but built to a crescendo with the numbers and quality of crappie peaking on our last stop of the day.

Mark keeps his boat in a private marina in Chewalla Creek inside the city limits of Eufaula, and we idled to the first stop of the day just inside the creek mouth. Mark has dropped an abundance of structure in various locations in the mid-lake area, mainly from the Highway 82 causeway that connects Georgia and Alabama up to near Lakepoint State Park.

“We’re fishing some hardwood and some cedars here,” Mark said. “You never really know from day to day what sort of cover the fish will be relating to.”

The first stop produced a couple of small fish but nothing to Mark’s liking.

“It’s kind of surprising,” Mark said. “At times, you can’t keep them off the hook early in the day. I really like to be out here at daylight. Even when the weather gets colder later in the year, the fish seem to bite better early.”

The sporadic bite continued for a couple of hours as we bounced around to various stops just off the main river channel. Especially when he’s after bigger fish, Mark stays relatively close to the old river run of the Chattahoochee.

“You can catch plenty of fish in the creeks,” he said. “I can’t explain why, but for some reason, the bigger fish stay closer to deeper water near the main channel.”

Despite the relative slow bite, we caught fish on just about every stop. Mark pinpointed the fish with his electronics, and he could call our shots at times. The numbers of fish that Mark had been experiencing on previous trips were missing, however. In fact, catches of white bass or small stripers—or the occasional catfish—interrupted the crappie bite on several stops.

“I was expecting a little more,” he said at one point about mid-morning.

The sustained flurry that Mark anticipated finally occurred late in the morning, the timing a bit unusual considering that the sun was directly overhead in bluebird skies. Mark had worked his way upriver to a flat off the channel on the Georgia side of the lake. He had a series of waypoints diagonally across the lake from Cowikee Creek, where Lakepoint is located.

“This is one of those spots that doesn’t always produce a lot of fish, but it usually holds good fish,” Mark said.

His words about the quality were prophetic, although the quantity showed up, as well. With perhaps 20 fish in the livewell when we started on the spot, we easily doubled that number over the next hour or so. Earlier in the day, most of the fish hit the minnow rigs, but the crappie on this stop liked a slow-moving jig reeled near the bottom and through the structure. Fish after fish produced line-bouncing hits on the jig.

“I love it when they hit the jig,” Mark said. “It’s the easiest type of crappie fishing that there is.”

He got the action started on one of the first casts to his scattered tops. The crappie hit the jig and immediately buried in the top, only to swim into open water seconds later.

“We’re going to need the net on this one,” Mark said.

Mark Martin with the biggest fish of the trip. This Eufaula crappie measured about 16 inches and was estimated at more than 2 pounds, a top-end slab for this lake.

Safely aboard, the crappie measured right at 16 inches and appeared to easily weigh over 2 pounds.

“That’s about as big as they get on Eufaula,” Mark said. “You will catch a few slightly bigger every year but not many. Two pounds is a really good one.”

The big slab ignited the fish for an extended period. Mark had several tops scattered in the immediate area, and once the bite slowed on one set of tops, he adjusted to target others. He counted the jig down a few seconds and then inched it along with slow turns of the reel handle. Rarely did Mark go consecutive casts without a bite.

“This is really what I expected earlier today,” he said. “I don’t know what causes fish to act like they do. Usually it’s a good bite early in the day, and then things taper off. It’s the exact opposite today.”

We left the fish biting, punctuating a productive and informative trip with 20-25 fish in the 12- to 14-inch range on that last stop alone and easily pushing 50 for the entire day.

“Eufaula seems to have an abundance of crappie of all sizes right now,” Mark said. “You can catch smaller fish and plenty of bigger fish. The future really looks good for Eufaula crappie fishing.”

Mark keeps his approach fairly simple. A couple of key elements help him find success regularly. He puts in plenty of hard work in advance of his fishing trips, meaning identifying and building locations that hold fish. He targets his own structure and also shares tops with other crappie fishing buddies.

He also continues to hone his skills with electronics, and the many features of modern technology allow him to find where the crappie and baitfish are located on a particular trip.

“I use different types of materials for my tops, various types of hardwoods, cedars, bamboo, even some plastics,” Mark said. “I like to place structure on staging areas near a ledge. Those fish that just suspend without any structure around are just hard to catch.

“I like to place it where there is a finger, some type of ditch or any other type of deviation that runs to the ledge. Even on bad days, I can catch fish on brush in that type of area.”

Mark Martin constantly attempts different and unusual approaches to complement his crappie fishing techniques. One thing he uses is twine doused in fish attractant and tied around the base of the jig head.

He usually places the structure in waters depths from 6 to about 15 feet. He said he regularly encounters fish as shallow as 6 feet deep, although they tend to drop to deeper water later in the day.

He marks the spots with his electronics and the roughly 5-mile stretch from Chewalla to Cowikee that he fishes regularly is dotted with hundreds of waypoints. Once on a certain location, he uses down and side imaging to detect schools and even the size of fish located there.

“Modern electronics is amazing,” he said.

His tackle choices are basic as are his techniques for the most part. Mark vertical fishes with a minnow rig, adding just enough weight up the main line to get the bait down. He uses two spreads of four rods each—one group in the front and the other in the back—and places the rods in holders out the side of the boat.

One of the points Mark emphasizes is having a free-swimming minnow; thus, he tends to downsize just about all parts of his rigs, even while fishing heavy structure. He regularly uses 4-lb. test line and a No. 4 hook, small by crappie standards. 

“I want that minnow to look alive,” he said. “Put it on a bigger hook with heavier line, and that minnow just doesn’t look as natural as possible.”

He eases the minnow down in and around tops, depending on the depth fish appear to be holding.

Mark also uses a basic approach when casting, although he relies on higher-quality tackle when casting. He fishes the minnow rigs on functional but cheaper spinning and spincast combos but upgrades to a St. Croix Triumph medium-action spinning rod for casting.

Mark said he experimented with several St. Croix rods until he settled on a TR560MF 6-foot model. The rod has a faster tip than others typically encountered on crappie trips, more along the lines of a bass rod used for drop-shot techniques. Although he emphasized some spinning rods are too tip-heavy for crappie fishing, he prefers a slightly faster action for casting over a limber rod.

When casting for crappie, Mark uses a variety of plastic baits fished on a 1/16-oz. jig head. Occasionally, he adds to the presentation by tipping a jig with Powerbait Crappie Nibbles.

“I think you have greater sensitivity, maybe a little better feel, with a rod with some tip to it,” Mark said.

For the most part, Mark relies on 1/16-oz. jig heads paired with various types of plastics. He mentioned Big Bite Baits and Bobby Garland models, most with a curly tail action.

He does experiment with his presentation at times, especially if the crappie are reluctant to bite. He adds a Berkley Crappie Nibble to the jig on occasion.

A bit more unusual is when Mark douses a short segment of small-diameter twine in fish attractant, either scent made by Berkley or by Little Stinker, and wraps it around the base of his jig head and just above the plastic. He suggested that the twine holds the scent better than simply applying it directly to the jig and plastic.

A natural tinkerer and self-taught chemist, Mark is also experimenting with developing his own scents, attempting to duplicate the amino acids excreted by baitfish.

“Sometimes you don’t need anything extra,” he said. “On other days, I think (the scents) improve the bite some and cause the fish to hang on longer.”

The two approaches—the minnow rigs and jigs—are usually the only two approaches that Mark needs on Eufaula. He does mention using a slip cork with the minnows if he wants to target an exact depth. He also occasionally vertical jigs around structure or old standing timber with a jigging spoon or jig.

“Usually the fish will hit either a minnow or a jig,” he said. “You don’t need much else.”

Mark didn’t go as far as to say that the late-fall, early-winter period is best for Eufaula crappie, maintaining that the fishing can be excellent throughout the year. He does reiterate that this time of year is consistently productive and proves at least as good as other peak periods.

To follow Mark’s crappie fishing adventures, friend him on Facebook. He shares photos and trip information regularly.

“Regardless of when you come down here, Eufaula crappie fishing is really good,” he said. “I’m all about getting a little crappie therapy any time that I can.”

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