Find Old Wood And Spawning Slabs At Weiss

When the crappie move onto the flats to spawn, fishing guide Jerry Sims is looking for wood cover that the slabs spawn around—and the older the wood, the better.

Kevin Dallmier | February 1, 2006

It’s nearly spring, and springtime means crappie. There is no better time of year to catch slab crappie, and there is no better place in the Southeast to do it than Alabama’s Lake Weiss. This 30,000-acre Alabama Power impoundment spans the Georgia-Alabama border on the Coosa River. Although the lake spills into two states, all but about 2,000 acres falls on the Alabama side of the line. The Georgia portion of Weiss is the extreme headwaters, made up mostly of the main river channel, but with several large backwater sloughs.

Lake Weiss bills itself as the “Crappie Capitol of the World,” and with good reason.

Weiss is full of slab crappie, and according to guides and local anglers, 2006 is shaping up to be the best crappie fishing this old, flooded river bottom has seen in many years.

To get a taste of how to catch Weiss crappie when they are moving in for the spawn, I recently took a trip with Jerry and Donnie Sims, of Calhoun.

Fishing wood structure—especially old wood—is the key to catching crappie at Weiss in the spring, says fishing guide Jerry Sims, of Calhoun.

Fishing with this father-and-son duo for an afternoon was an enjoyable trip and a great learning experience, not just about how to catch Weiss crappie, but also about the life of a fishing guide.

Jerry Sims has centered his life around fishing. Jerry’s success as a full-time guide on Lake Seminole for two decades means the man understands how to catch fish. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have made it in the guide business that long.

Repeat customers are the name of the game if you want to make it in the guide business. You might be the greatest fishing buddy the world has ever seen, but if you are a fishing guide, you better be able to both catch fish and entertain your customers.

After moving back to north Georgia, Jerry began to call Lake Weiss his home lake and learn its  secrets, too. Between fishing for fun, and guiding part time on Weiss, Jerry used his skills to learn the best way to catch crappie, bass and stripers from this tremendous fishery. Health issues have slowed Jerry down some, but he still loves to put clients and friends on fish when he can.

“Anybody that knows me knows I don’t make nothing up,” Jerry said. “The crappie are going to be moving up the rivers this time of year. Coosa River, Chattooga River, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same deal, the crappie are coming up to spawn.”

Jerry has learned the ways of crappie, and he confidently believes, “90 percent of crappie will find some kind of wood to spawn around. On the main lake, go back in the coves and find some wood. Brushpiles, stumps, even docks. Up in the rivers that feed the lake, fish the backwater sloughs and look for wood there.

“Everyone has their favorite holes,” Jerry said, “but really just about anywhere can be good. Ride around the lake for a few minutes, and it won’t take long to figure out where the best areas are at. Just look for the boats.”

Weiss crappie fishing is no secret, and a quick look at the trailer tags in the parking lot will tell you that the fishing draws anglers from all over the Southeast and even the lower Midwest.

Some of Jerry’s favorite areas include several coves in the Chattooga River arm, and Deadboy Cove and some of the other sloughs up the Coosa River arm of the lake near Riverside Campground. Another favorite is the backwater sloughs that fall on either side of the state line.

Donnie Sims, of Calhoun (left), and his fishing-guide brother Jerry with a pair of Weiss Lake crappie. Crappie fishing at Weiss should light up in February.

Although this portion of Weiss is more like a river than a lake, the shallow backwater sloughs have plenty of wood the crappie find to their liking. Finally, another favorite of Jerry’s, and many other Weiss anglers, is the Yellow Creek arm on the north side of the lower half of the lake.

“When crappie first move in,” Jerry said, “they stay close to the channels. Early in the season, look for wood on the edge of the channels in about four to six feet of water. Once the spawn really gets going good, crappie will spread out on the flats. But, you can bet they will still be around wood.”

Jerry’s favorite way to catch crappie in the heart of the spawn is as tried and true as they come. A simple minnow fished under a bobber has probably put more crappie in the boat than any other technique, and that is how Jerry recommended we start our trip.

As we cast out our baits at the first treetop, Jerry said, “When the crappie are up in the wood, fishing with a bobber is hard to beat. Just use a No. 6 hook, small bobber, and a split-shot about a foot above the hook. Set your bobber anywhere from 2 to 4 feet deep. Try to get your bobber where you want it, and keep it there a little bit.”

The bane of all early spring crappie anglers is the wind, and true to form, on the day of our trip it was blowing about 20 mph out of the south.

“The wind is making it hard to stay where we want to today,” Jerry commented.

With the wind blowing, accurately casting the minnow and bobber combo took a little Kentucky windage to get it in the right spot. Sometimes the safest bet was just to lob a cast well upwind of the target and let the waves push the bobber into the sweet spot. Once you had it there, the trick was keeping it there.

“Keep your line off the water,” Jerry suggested, “the water on the line is what moves the bobber. Use your rod to keep the line up in the air off the water, and your bobber won’t drift off the spot so fast.”

As Jerry’s bobber dipped then disappeared on the first tree we hit, Jerry set the hook and after a short fight, boated a throwback crappie.

“It’s a start, but that’s not what we’re huntin’,” Jerry grinned as he tossed the fish back. After a few more minutes with no action, we moved.

“Someone’s probably been on this one,” Jerry said, pointing out several shiny new bobbers hung up in the treetop and swaying in the stiff breeze. “Let’s try another spot.”

Jerry gives each hole about 15 minutes before moving on.

“Crappie fishing is notorious for catching four or five fish bam, bam, bam, then nothing for 10 minutes,” said Jerry. “Then bam, bam, bam again. Sometimes it pays to wait a little bit, even after the bites slow down after the first few fish,” said Jerry. “A lot of folks like to move down the bank just like they were bass fishing when looking for crappie. That works good, but you want to be smart enough to listen to what the fish are telling you. If you get a couple of hits in the same spot, don’t keep going. Might be a good idea to keep an anchor handy that you can ease into the water real quiet to keep you there. If you catch one or two fish, you can bet there are a lot more there that might bite in a few minutes.

“Same deal goes when trolling jigs, which is the way a lot of people like to fish when the crappie are on the flats. I don’t know how many times I have seen people trolling, and they catch a few fish quick, and they just keep on going. When I see that, I make a note of the spot, then go hit it myself later on. When I catch a few fish, I throw out a buoy and turn around so I can troll back and forth over the same spot several times. No sense going off and leaving fish you know are there and willing to hit.”

Jerry always has his eye out for wood structure in the lake that might attract crappie.

When the crappie are biting, they will usually take a jig as readily as a minnow, says Jerry.

“Wood is absolutely the key to spring crappie fishing, but all wood is not alike,” Jerry believes. “The older the wood, the more fish it seems to hold. I’ve got spots I have caught crappie from for years, and they just seem to keep getting better.”

Jerry had another hint for finding prime crappie holes. “The best way to find good spots is get out there in the winter when the lake is down,” Jerry said. “Weiss is drawn down 6 feet in the winter, and on a shallow lake like this, that is a lot. You can find a lot of good stuff that way. If you haven’t done that though, one other trick is to keep an eye on what is on the bank.

“Folks on this lake like to go out when the lake is down and cut shrubs and small brush on the shoreline, drag it out on the lake bottom, then stick the cut ends down in the mud. When the lake fills, you won’t know it’s there, but the crappie sure do. If you see somewhere on the bank where it looks like someone was trimming brush, it might pay off to spend a little time looking for where that brush went!”

Jerry’s favorite crappie technique is simple, but very effective. If fish are hitting good, Jerry will give up his minnow in favor of a small crappie jig though.

“When the fish are hitting good, a small jig under a bobber works just as well,” Jerry believes. “Saves buying minnows, too.”

Jerry doesn’t have any hard-and-fast rules when it comes to color, but goes with a lighter color when the water is clearer, a darker color when it is dirty.

“Pearltreuse, kind of a lighter chartreuse with a pearl finish, has been good for me in clear water,” Jerry said. “I like black/blue, blue/white or black/chartreuse when the water is a little dirtier. Nothing special about those, just my personal favorites. But, blue/white is always really popular with everyone on Weiss, so that probably tells you something since everyone seems to like that color. Just follow the general rule of the darker the water, the darker the color, and you’ll catch fish though.”

Jerry’s favorite time to fish is anytime he can go, but given his druthers, he believes you will catch more crappie in the morning and midday than the afternoon and evening. But, since it is early in the year still, no need to get too anxious. When the night chill is still on the water, fishing is likely to be slow. Wait until the sun has had a few hours to warm the surface layers, and the bite should pick up.

Although the wind kept us from effectively fishing the spots Jerry really wanted to fish, we did manage to catch a few keeper crappie and several throwbacks.

“Back when I was young, this lake was just unbelievable crappie fishing,” Jerry said. “My two biggest crappie I ever caught were back then, one a 3 1/4-lb. fish, the other 3 3/4-pounds. Caught them both on one trip. Nowadays, there are a good many 3/4-lb. crappie, and you’ll probably catch some that go a pound to a pound and a half. A 3-pounder is really something special that will get people talking back at the dock, and anything over two pounds is a heck of a crappie. There are still some big fish out there though. Two years ago I caught one that went 2 3/4 pounds.”

Although the crappie fishing may not quite be as good as the old days, Weiss can still hold its own with any crappie lake and then some. By all accounts, anglers are saying the winter of 2005-2006 was the best crappie fishing they have seen in many years, and there is no reason to believe that the spring won’t be even better for good numbers of keeper fish. There is no better time to catch a trophy either than when the biggest females have moved in to spawn.

This year, pencil in Lake Weiss on your spring crappie-fishing calendar. Several things anglers wanting to make the trip might want to keep in mind. First of all, be careful.

“This is the most dangerous lake to run I have ever seen,” Jerry said. “Get outside the channels, and I mean it’s bad, especially when the water is down. If you don’t know the lake, take your time and then you won’t have any problems. Get in a hurry, and you could do some damage.”

The Alabama portion of Weiss has a 10-inch minimum-length limit on crappie. Also, anglers are limited to using no more than three rods apiece. There is no reciprocal agreement on Weiss, so anglers need to have a valid license and meet all creel and length limits for whatever state they are in at the time, regardless of where the fish may have been caught.

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