Fish Blackshear’s Trees And Docks For Early Spring Crappie

Steve Powell said February kicks off the easy months when you can really fill a cooler full of Blackshear crappie.

John Trussell | February 5, 2006

The one-trick pony returns to Lake Blackshear during late February to the first of April. Now what exactly is a one-trick pony that relates to fishing?

As you know, crappie can be caught year round, but during the early spring spawn, the green light comes on and crappie move into the shallows where we can actually find and catch them. During other times of the year crappie can be remarkably fickle, but during the springtime their hunger in preparation for the spawn drives them to chow down on anything that resembles a minnow. That’s when they become a one-trick pony, they bite, we catch them!

If you are a dedicated angler, it’s not so much a matter of if you will catch fish, but where you want to go and how you want to catch them. OK, they will not jump in the boat, and there’ll be some off days where the cooler goes home nearly empty. But your chances of putting fish in the boat are better now than any other time of the year, says Steve Powell, who lives in a lakeside cabin on Swift Creek at Lake Blackshear.

Steve has been an avid angler since he was a little boy, and he enjoyed fishing on Lake Blackshear with his grandfather, Bertram James.  Steve says his grandfather taught him a lot about fishing, and that’s a lifetime gift for which he will always be thankful!

Dock fishing at night will produce this month. Here, Steve Powell holds a white bass that he caught after dark on a lighted dock.

He specializes in catching shoal bass in the stretch of Flint River from below the Blackshear Dam to Albany, and in crappie fishing on Blackshear. Steve is a heck of a nice guy, and we had a great day on Lake Blackshear recently. On January 10, Steve and I teamed up to see what the crappie were doing and map out a strategy for readers to catch fish during the spawn. I must tell you that Steve warned me prior to my trip that the crappie had not been biting, but we were not deterred. We launched his boat at the Cedar Creek public boat ramp and immediately went over to some boat docks on the lake’s west bank. Steve usually has good luck casting tube jigs or minnows around these docks, but the fish were not there yet but will be shortly after you read this, so load the boat and get ready. Steve likes to “action fish” and that means casting and staying busy to put his fish in the boat.Although Steve sometimes trolls and says it’s a great way to catch spawning crappie, he prefers pitching to docks and cypress trees to earn his dinner. We saw several groups of anglers trolling, but the pickings were slim.

We spoke to Bill Frazier and Mr. Bennett in Cedar Creek, but they said the crappie had not moved up yet but would by mid to late February. We also saw Robert Perry and Ernest Williams of Albany trolling near the mouth of Boy Scout Slough, and they had a few crappie for their efforts.

First let’s discuss dock fishing, since this is one of Steve’s preferred methods of catching crappie. He says that docks will hold some crappie year round, but spring is normally the best time to find them hanging around docks, especially those that have been “sweetened” with brush that crappie will spawn around. Even during the daylight hours he targets docks that have lights on them because he knows that those docks have improved structure around them. Generally, if a dock owner has gone to the trouble of lighting his docks, he wants to catch fish and has taken other actions, such as sinking structure to attract fish.

Steve Powell says the key to catching Blackshear crappie is to fish around the cypress trees, shooting jigs into hard-to-reach areas that other anglers pass up.

There are several key points about fishing docks to remember, says Steve. Naturally, some docks are better than others, and he concentrates on those near deep structure drop offs that offer short distances between sanctuary areas and feeding areas. On Lake Blackshear, a quick look at a topo map reveals that the old Flint River channel runs close to the bank from the Boy Scout Slough on the south end of the Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park down to Cedar Creek on the east side of the lake. These are some of Steve’s favorite docks to fish. Other good spots to hit the docks are near Lakeshore Way on the main lake or in Swift, Cedar or Flournoy creeks or Cannon Branch, according to Steve.

He prefers artificial lures to cast to docks and says that “hang time in the strike zone” is critical to success, thus he uses very light 1/32-oz. lead-head jigs and a one-inch plastic crappie tube lure in white or chartreuse color. Although many anglers use 1/16-oz. jigs, Steve says these sink too fast around shallow docks and have to be retrieved too fast to keep them from picking up trash on the bottom. He also sometimes uses small Hal-Flys, Jiffy Jigs or Little Fishy lures.

If a slow steady retrieve does not draw a strike after a few casts, he’ll try a short jerky action on the rod to impart a little action, which might be seen as an injured minnow to the crappie, to get the fish excited. Either way, most docks will only get 10 or 20 casts if they produce no fish before he’ll move on. The key to dock fishing is to pull a few good fish from the dock, and when the fishing slows down and you’ve caught the fish willing to bite quickly, it’s time to move to the next dock.

Robert Perry (front) and Ernest Williams, both of Albany, were having a great time trolling with live minnows near the mouth of Boy Scout Slough.

Steve will often shoot his jig under the dock structure, but he does not let it sink far because many docks are stuffed with brush which attracts crappie but are also a magnet for snagging lures. He says that the position of the boat is very important so casts are made parallel to the dock on either side then across the front. If the fish are biting they’ll hit the jigs, but if the action is slow, put a minnow about three or four feet under a cork and float it next to the dock to increase your chances, suggests Steve.

He uses a light-action spinning reel with 4-lb. line which makes the situation dicey if a big crappie, hybrid or stripers gets on, so he sets the drag very light. The use of the small 1/32-oz. jig makes the light line necessary for effective casting, but he compensates by using Magna-thin or Spider Wire line, which gives him small-line castability in a stronger-than-average line.

After Steve and I fished several docks without much luck, we decided to check out the bridge at Boy Scout Slough that goes over to the state park. The anglers fishing from the top of the bridge were catching a few fish, mostly small bass and hybrids. We noticed some nice fish slamming the hordes of threadfin shad in the area, but with so much live food in the slough, they were not interested in our baits. There were so many shad in the area we were repeatedly snagging them with our hooks. However, we did manage to hook a nice fish, a 5-lb., 12-oz. striper that was caught on a chrome and  blue Rattlin’ Rogue. With that one good fish to our credit, we left the Boy Scout Slough.

On a side note, if you don’t have a boat, try the bridge or the fishing pier that sits right next to it. Under the bridge, drag a minnow up next to the bridge pilings where the water is about 12-feet deep, or fish around the submerged brush off the end of the pier.

The other fishing method that Steve uses routinely on Blackshear is casting to cypress trees. Crappie like to get up in and around the spider-like network of roots to feed and spawn in the spring. There is no shortage of cypress trees in Blackshear, and Steve says he could catch all the crappie he wants in Swift Creek, not far from his cabin. There are many cypress trees in Swift Creek, mostly in the back water.

Steve says the older, more mature trees have a more complex root system and usually hold the most crappie, so he makes sure they get plenty of attention from his jig. Most anglers just cast around the roots casually, but Steve likes to shoot his jig into tight places, just like he would shoot the jig under a dock, up into the tangle of groups of trees that most anglers pass up. He uses the same light jigs that he uses to cast around docks, but around the cypress roots he prefers the Little Fishy lures, and he dips them in J.J.’s Magic Scent in garlic flavor.

“They must really like that scent because it increases my catch, and I believe in it,” Steve says.

Fishing around the cypress roots is not complicated, he says. Just cast right up next to the root, let the jig drop about one or two seconds and begin a slow and steady retrieve. On good trees, it’s not unusual to pull two or three fish from the roots. However if you don’t like casting jigs, a minnow fished about two or three feet below a cork and dabbled around the roots will pay off, too, says Steve.

Steve caught this 5-lb., 12-oz. striper in Boy Scout Slough on a 5-inch Rattlin’ Rogue. Bank and boat fishermen can catch crappie and stripers around the bridge leading into the state park.

Steve suggests several Blackshear locations for this type of action. In Swift Creek, try around the old train trestle which reaches about halfway across the creek and is loaded with cypress trees. There are also numerous trees up the creek from this area. Another good location is the trestle crossing on Cedar Creek that is loaded with cypress trees, and work the other trees upstream. Also about 75 yards upstream on the north shore, you’ll notice a long pier that juts out into the middle of the channel, you can’t miss it. Steve says this is a hot dock, loaded with bush out front, so pull a few fish from it on your way by. On the northern end of Blackshear there are so many cypress trees you could never fish them all!

On the north end, Steve recommends fishing around the cypress trees at the mouth of Cannon Branch where the water is only about five-feet deep. Also good are the mouth and shoreline of Limestone Creek and Parker’s Slough. Parker’s Slough is very shallow, so proceed with caution and ease along with your trolling motor.

Although you can cast a jig into the open areas, this is minnow-dabbling territory, too, says Powell. You can cast a minnow into the open pockets around the lily pads, but it requires a very accurate cast.

A quieter and highly effective method is to take a short cane pole and rig a minnow about two feet below a small cigar cork. Then drop the minnow into every open pocket you can find among the lily pads and floating vegetation. This one location and method can easily fill your cooler with crappie, although you’ll probably pick up some bass and bream too, says Steve.

Another good location for crappie, according to Steve, is the fingers section of the lake just north of Campers Haven. Often overlooked by anglers, this shallow section of the lake is the remnants of the ancient Flint River channel as it eroded and moved over the centuries. The area is more than one-half mile wide and probably composed of 300-plus acres of oxbow waters, marshes, and wildlife. Don’t be surprised to see some little alligators chasing your bait, but don’t let that scare you away. It’s a great place to find spawning crappie.

Need more locations? Steve suggests the west end of the Highway 280 bridge or railroad trestle. Drop a minnow down next to the pilings at a depth of 12 to 18 feet. If you have fished all day and don’t have enough fish for your dinner, wait until the sun goes down. Steve says the lighted docks on the lake are very productive year round and proved it when we caught numerous fish within an hour after sunset just moving from one lighted dock to another on the main lake, casting 1/32-oz. jigs. The crappie were finicky, but the white bass and stripers were cooperative. The next day they were tasty on the grill!

This month and through the first of April, come down to Lake Blackshear and join in on the fishing fun and ride the one-trick pony!

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