Humps, Docks Attract April Clarks Hill Crappie

Dennis Outlaw is looking for postspawn slabs at Clarks Hill in April, and he's got three techniques he says will work.

Roy Kellett | April 1, 2008

At Clarks Hill in April, Dennis Outlaw expects a lot of the bigger female crappie to be off the bed and headed back toward deep water.

If you’re a gambler (which I am not due to a streak of bad luck as wide as the Savannah River), there aren’t many things you can make easy money on. However, were you to place a friendly wager with a fishing buddy you could start counting your winnings on a few facts. First of all the weather in Georgia in the early springtime is screwy; warm, beautiful and sunny one day; cold, rainy and possibly snowing the next. The second thing you can safely count on is the fact that the crappie will be in a feeding mood in April. Finally, if you wanted to go to Clarks Hill this month and catch them, Dennis Outlaw of Camden, S.C. can give you a few pointers that are likely to fill your limit with fat slabs.

Dennis, who lives a couple of hours from Clarks Hill, fishes there enough to know where to find fish this month and how to catch them. He knows the lake well enough that when the Crappie USA tournament trail stops at the massive impoundment, he can usually be found near the top of the leader board when all the fish have been weighed. Dennis has won tournaments on West Point and Talquin, two of the best crappie-fishing lakes in the South, and he finished second the last time the circuit was on the Hill.

“Clarks Hill is a great lake to fish, especially this time of year,” Dennis remarked. “It’s easy to weigh 12 to 14 pounds of fish there on the right day.”

Considering crappie-tournament anglers weigh in seven fish a day, that’s a pretty impressive two-pounds-per-fish average. Enough of those and you had best have a big bag of cornmeal handy for a fish fry.

Along with his presence on Crappie USA, Dennis owns AWD baits, a popular maker of crappie-fishing lures.

Take quick notes and remember the bite is on for crappie. Load up your gear, and head over to the Georgia-South Carolina line for some of the best fishing action of this year.

“The best thing about April crappie fishing is there are a few really reliable patterns that can put fish in the boat,” Dennis said. “In April, I will stick with three distinct styles of fishing to catch crappie on Clarks Hill.”

This is the time of year when many crappie anglers think of trolling minnows behind the boat on expansive, shallow flats near river channels. And while that technique is something Dennis will use when the time is right, he is more apt to move slower, spider rigging over underwater humps and drop offs, shooting hair jigs into the shady recesses beneath boat docks or even poling, an interesting technique that many South Carolina crappie fishermen prefer.

“As far as long-line trolling with jigs behind the boat, the boys in Georgia are the best in the world at it, and if I have to catch fish that way I will,” Dennis said. “I’m just more comfortable doing other things that are equally effective for me.”

Dennis believes that by April a lot of the big female crappie have laid their eggs and moved back toward deeper water. Given the right weather patterns, many of the male fish are likely to be off the beds as well.

“I’ve found that this time of year the fish seem to be coming out of the creeks back to the big water,” Dennis allowed. “They are looking for structure, looking for shade and looking to feed.”

Dennis’ favorite way to crappie fish, regardless of the time of year, can be a killer on Clarks Hill crappie in April. When Dennis starts a day on the water, he is most likely going to be pushing a series of jigs on long poles off the front of his boat over deep-water humps. Like a lot of other species, crappie feed while looking up. Slowly pushing jigs above the fish in the water column is vital and often the most effective way to locate schools of feeding fish.

“My favorite spots to spider rig on Clarks Hill are on the lower end,” said Dennis. “I like Buffalo Creek where it meets Little River (S.C.), and around the Hwy 378 bridge is very good. I also like Little River just off the Savannah River where the large elbow is. There are a bunch of humps there. The fish like to find pockets behind the underwater hills and can be caught near the bottom during the midday and up suspended during the morning and evening.”

Dennis’ poling technique means sticking his arm in the water and putting a 10-foot B&M jigging pole under a dock. This technique puts his jig back in the shade where crappie escape light.

Spider rigging is simple with the right gear. Dennis uses B&M rods, which are specifically designed with crappie fishermen in mind. The poles, which vary in length, have soft tips, but plenty of backbone to support the kind of weight needed to effectively push jigs.

“I prefer 14-foot rods, and I’ll go to 16-footers if the water is really clear,” Dennis said. “The long poles get the baits away from the boat so the fish don’t spook as easily because you are essentially fishing straight down. When the trolling motor comes through the water, the fish will just move to the side, and those rods out the side usually get the majority of the action.”

There are many likely humps on Clarks Hill you can fish. Dennis likes to fish humps that top out in 18 to 20 feet of water with a river or creek channel swinging in close by. Dennis said crappie will cruise the river channel and pull up around the humps periodically to ambush baitfish.

“I’m fishing my jigs about 8 feet deep in 18 to 20 feet of water,” Dennis said. “I use my electronics to see how deep the crappie are holding and fish a little above them.”

When Dennis is pushing jigs in shallow water, he’ll use a rig that employs a 1/2-oz. weight above a three-way swivel. Off the terminal end of the swivel, Dennis ties on a leader a couple of feet long and puts a heavier jig head, typically 1/16-oz., at the end of the line. Off the other part of the swivel Dennis ties on a short length of line, usually less than a foot, and ties on a lighter jig.

“I don’t like to use anything heavier than a 1/48-oz. head, and I’ll usually go with a 1/64-oz. up the line,” Dennis instructed.

Of course, since he owns AWD, Dennis likes the company’s selection of jigs. He’ll also use Charlie Brewer Sliders. When the water is clear, which is usually the case at Clarks Hill, Dennis sticks with lighter colors such as chartreuse or acid rain, a combination of white and yellow. In dingy water, Dennis goes with more natural tones. He prefers junebug, blue/black or tomato.

Controlling the speed of the troll is important for success when spider rigging. When Dennis is spider rigging over deep-water humps, he likes to keep the boat moving at 1 mph or less. Moving too fast means the jigs, which should be hanging straight down, will swing under the boat and decrease your chances of hooking up.

Another thing Dennis is keen on to increase his fishing success is being extremely cautious about dispersing too much scent on his jigs.

“When crappie are a lethargic, they might follow a jig for awhile to get the scent of it. If you put sunscreen on your hands, fill up with gas the day of a trip or anything else, that scent gets transferred to the jigs, and the fish aren’t as likely to bite,” Dennis said.

Later in April, Dennis starts looking for crappie around Clarks Hill docks.

“Clarks Hill is a great lake for dock fishing,” Dennis said.

Many of the docks on the lake are on floats, and Dennis loves shooting jigs under the docks to catch crappie that are looking for a dark place to while away the bright daytime sunshine. Dennis prefers a hair jig when shooting docks. He says it’s easy to tear up rubber-bodied grubs bouncing them off docks and letting them go repeatedly through your fingers. Typically, Dennis will shoot docks with a 1/48-oz. jig.

To shoot a jig, lean forward, hold your rod horizontally to the water, grasp the jig between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you like an archer drawing a bow. Hold the line from your reel with the index finger of your other hand and simultaneously let the jig and line go. It takes some practice to get it right, but when you start getting jigs underneath docks, you’ll be surprised how many crappie you can catch.

Dennis said to start on one side of the dock, and shoot your jig at every single opening you can find. When the bait hits the water, let it fall and watch your line for any irregularity or sudden movement. If you see the fall stop or if your line shifts one way or the other, it likely means a fish has taken your offering.

“You have to shoot the whole dock and really concentrate on the shadiest areas,” Dennis related. “A couple of feet can make or break your day because a lot of times the fish will all be holding in one little spot. Always know that crappie will relate to structure, and they will be on the shady side of whatever you are fishing.”

He recommended Fishing Creek back toward the bridge in April. You’ll find good docks all around, but the water is clear. Plan to shoot the high docks, but on the low, floating docks he employs a technique called “poling.” Poling is so plumb simple you won’t believe it, but you should try it out.

When Dennis described the technique I said, “did you just say you stick your arm up under the water.”

That’s what he said.

Dennis takes a 10-foot B&M jigging pole and lets out about 18 inches of line. With a 1/32- or 1/48-oz. jig head tied on, Dennis hooks an AWD crappie grub, lowers his rod, arm and all into the water and moves the rod very slowly from the front of the dock toward the back. Dennis believes that when done properly, poling doesn’t disturb fish and can be very effective.

“Those fish are back there in the shade, and if you do this right, they just think it’s a stick in the water,” Dennis said. “When you get a bite poling, it’s like a little thump. You’ll know. If a bass happens to hit your jig, they’ll about rip your arm off.”

When either shooting docks or poling, Dennis will stick to darker-colored jigs because the fish are in the shade. He says the best docks to pole on Clarks Hill are the floating docks in water 6 to 10 feet deep.

One aspect of Clarks Hill that makes the lake fun for crappie fishing according to Dennis is the lake has plenty of current.

“The crappie there are used to that current. They live in it,” Dennis said. “They’ll chase a bait, and they’re strong.”

Dennis says anglers should learn to use their electronics to their advantage. With the new technology on the market, it is easier to read depths, see structure and recognize fish. In addition, Dennis is a big believer in today’s wireless trolling motors, which can be controlled from anywhere in the boat.

“Mine is mounted on a pedestal, and I run it with my hand while I keep an eye on my graph or my lines,” Dennis said. “It’s second nature to use it now.”

Whether or not you have all the latest gadgets, Dennis Outlaw’s tactics can catch crappie on Clarks Hill in April. Find some underwater humps and a few docks and start filling the livewell.

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