Serious About Jackson Crappie

Competition erupts while longlining for Jackson slabs.

Nick Carter | April 29, 2008

Tim and Cathy Langham, a crappie tournament team, are very serious about their crappie fishing. But that doesn’t stop them from having a great time on the water. Friendly competition, after all, is an integral part of fishing.

For most anglers, crappie fishing is an enjoyable way to spend a lazy day on the water filling the freezer with delicious table fare. Not so for Tim and Cathy Langham. This husband-and-wife tournament team takes crappie fishing very seriously. Even when they’re not fishing one of the Crappie USA events they frequent, they are competing. If there’s not another boat on the water, they’ll start competing with each other.

Tim has been fishing crappie tournaments since there were crappie tournaments. He started on the Alabama Crappiethon trail in the early 1980s, and he’s made a name for himself doing it. When Cathy got the kids out of the house and grew tired of being left at home, she joined Tim on the tournament trail. Since they started fishing together in 1995, they have had a lot of success fishing Crappie USA and Crappie Masters tournaments all over the country. They have finished in the money at every event they have fished this year and qualified to fish the Crappie Masters National Championship. They are huge fans of the family atmosphere promoted at these tournaments and love the male/female and adult/child divisions. They should love them. They finish near or at the top of the heap every time in the male/female division.

Tim and Cathy took a little time from their hectic tournament schedule last month to teach me a little about catching Lake Jackson crappie. Although this reservoir is not known for big slabs, there are definitely enough fish here to fill a limit, and the crappie-fishing lore runs deep.

“I believe this is one of the oldest reservoirs in Georgia — 1911,” Tim said as we cruised out of Reasor’s Landing in Tussahaw Creek. “Hal Barber, the guy who invented Hal Fly, revolutionized crappie fishing right here on Jackson Lake. He started trolling for ’em here probably in 1970 or 72.”

As we pulled up to our first fishing hole of the day, the first cove on the left in Tussahaw heading east out of Reasor’s, Tim couldn’t say enough about what crappie-tournament fishing has done for his marriage.

“It’s an enjoyable thing. It’s kind of a family thing to do. It’s really an asset to our marriage, having some common ground to talk about,” Tim said. “It’s a great thing for any husband and wife to do together. I can’t tell you how much it’s done for us. We just enjoy being out here together.”

“We have a lot of fun,” Cathy added. “There are a lot of other couples, and we fish, go out to dinner and just have a good time.”

With the obligatory pleasantries out of the way, Tim and Cathy put their game faces on and got down to fishing. As soon as Tim kicked the trolling motor on, Cathy got busy letting six lines out of the back of the boat. She started the day with a mix of Kalin, Slider and other curly tail jigs on ultra-light, 6-foot setups spooled with 6-lb. test.

“I’ll try everything. I’ll put different color heads on and try all sorts of different color bodies until I find what they’re biting,” she said. “I fish different colors or different types of jigs than he does to start with to see what works best. If he starts catching more, I’ll switch to what he’s fishing.”

In the meantime, Tim was putting his spread out of the front. From the front of the boat back, he staggers 14-, 12- and 10-foot rods from rodholders on either side of the bow for a total of six rods. He likes Jiffy Jigs and Hal Fly jigs, which Hal makes custom for him, and he will often tip his jigs with a minnow because he says the larger profile and the smell tempt the larger fish. He fishes shiners almost exclusively, and said they are especially effective on a lake like Jackson, where their silver flash looks like the resident baitfish.

Tim pilots the trolling motor from the front of the boat. Using the speed indicator on his graph, he likes to maintain a speed between 0.9 and 1.3 mph. Sometimes, if he knows they are over fish, he will kill the motor to let the jigs drop on the fish. He said Cathy gets a lot of hook ups out of the back of the boat that way.

In clear or green-tinted water like Jackson’s, Tim prefers a green or aqua jig. He also likes a black/green jig, and sometimes he’ll fish them in yellow. He likes the action that a hair or feather tail gives his baits. They both pull a mix of 1/32-, 1/16- and 1/12-oz. jigs to cover different depths in the water column.

Before Tim could finish putting his jigs out, Cathy was reeling in the first fish of the day, a small fish that took one of Cathy’s pink/green jigs with a red head. That color combo ended up being the best producer of the day.

Cathy nets a slab for her husband, just one of the many ways the two work as a team during crappie tournaments.

Cathy never would give me an answer on her favorite colors to fish. Maybe she wanted to keep it a secret or maybe she just likes too many colors to choose a favorite. She keeps seven big boxes of jig bodies with her on the boat, and she probably has every color in the spectrum represented.

“The way to put that is, she likes to fish the pretty ones,” Tim joked.

Apparently the fish also liked the pretty ones. By the time Tim had put two fish in the boat, Cathy had landed six mostly on the pink/green jigs, and it was time to move on to another spot.

“That’s what always happens,” Cathy quipped. “If he’s not catching them, it’s time to move — especially if I am catching them.”

We ran southeast down Tussahaw toward the main lake and stopped in the basin where Kersey’s Marina used to be, just past the Barnetts Road bridge. Cathy and Tim put their lines out again and started catching fish.

“The fish have already spawned out, and in May they’ll be back out at the mouths of the creeks on the creek ledges and channels at 12 to 14 feet over 18 to 19 feet of water,” said Tim. “You can catch them pushing jigs or shooting docks, but I’m a longline troller because I can put the jigs where I want them. A lot of times I’ll stop the boat if I know we’re on the fish, and a lot of times she’ll catch one. I also like the turns because the jigs on the outside will drop, and the jigs on the inside will rise. It’ll tell you how deep the fish are. If you get one on the outside, you’ll know you need to slow down.

“Getting down on your knees and shooting all those docks is too much work for me, especially now that I’m retired,” he added.

Tim watches his depthfinder unit mounted next to him on the front of the boat to keep up with bottom contours, fish, temperature and the speed he is trolling. He likes to stay between 0.9 and 1.3 mph, and he’ll mark it on a separate GPS unit when he catches a fish.

“At a seminar one time, someone asked me who runs the trolling motor, me or Cathy,” Tim said. “I said, ‘She does, from the back of the boat.’”

Cathy has her own depthfinder mounted on the steering console in the middle of the boat. That way she can keep an eye on it to tell her if she needs to bring her lines up when the depth comes up sharply. She lets her lines out a long way, sometimes 50 yards, behind the boat. She said it gives the fish time to settle down and regroup after the boat passes over them.

We had spent a little more than an hour fishing this second spot of the day when Tim decided he wanted to show me another spot, a spot Hal had showed him. Cathy was not surprised it was time to move again. She had caught more fish than he had, but the total fish count seemed to have blurred. I thought I had lost count when my tally differed from Cathy’s count of 14 for herself and six for Tim. But strangely, Tim had a third and different fish count. He admitted Cathy was winning, but insisted the score was more like 12-8.

No matter what the truth actually was, history will probably adjust to Cathy’s count since she keeps a running journal and has been for four years now. In it she notes the date, lake fished, weather conditions, water temperature, water color, fish caught, what they were caught on and, most importantly, whether or not she caught more fish than her husband.

“He’s had to get out my journal when he’s fishing a tournament and I’m not there,” she said. There are probably a few other crappie-tournament anglers who would like to get their hands on that book, too.

To get to the next spot, we motored out of Tussahaw and headed north up the Alcovy River arm to a place Tim called “Crappie Neck” on the east side of the lake just south of the Hwy 212 bridge. On the map it is Will White Neck.

At Crappie Neck, Cathy again out-caught Tim, and she was catching them pretty fast, but they were mostly small males, not quite big enough for a filet. At one point, Cathy asked Tim to rig her a pink/green body on a red jig head.

“He keeps a private stash of the good ones up there,” she explained. “He just leaves me to fish with all the old junk back here.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about a fun day spent on the water .. and who caught the most and biggest fish.

Tim took the opportunity to show me a little trick about rigging crappie jigs for other people. He pierced the body through the top and ran it up the hook shank to the jig head like normal. Then he took out a pair of needle-nose pliers.

“If you clip the hook right here it helps,” he said, nipping the curve of the hook off. “Cut the hook off right here, and I’ll catch up with the catching.”

Cathy didn’t fall for it, and continued to outpace her husband. He then decided the fish were too small and it was time to head back to the first spot, where the fish were bigger on average.

Back at our starting point, Tim was right about the size of the fish. Cathy caught a nice slab that probably weighed a pound. Tim had a 1 3/4-pounder, the biggest fish in the livewell. We spent a short time fishing before it was time to call it a day. Cathy’s final scoreboard was: Cathy-21, Tim-12. Tim’s final tally was: Cathy 18, Tim 14. I had given up keeping score and was just happy that I wasn’t doing any of the fishing. They would have flayed me with the friendly back-and-forth ragging.

The two assured me they get serious and work as a team when it’s tournament time. Which led me to wonder why Tim had said, “She got to where she didn’t care whether we beat anybody else so long as she catches more fish than I do.”

“I’m pretty competitive,” Cathy admitted. But she did graciously point out that Tim had caught the big one.

Tim does a little guiding on the side, and he was certainly able to put his wife on the fish. To book a trip with him, call (770) 483-6970 or e-mail <[email protected]>.

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