Jigs, Jugs For Eufaula Crappie And Catfish
Jesse Bowman knows cold-water crappie and cats on Eufaula!
When I met fishing-guide Jesse Bowman at the Lakepoint boat ramp, I asked him if we would be trolling, pitching, spooning, or shooting docks for crappie, and I liked his answer.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to catch them,” he said.
But weather wise, we faced a tough day. We were fishing the day after the recent ice storm that blanketed north and middle Georgia.
Thankfully the ice had not made it this far south. Still, it was a cold, cloudy day that tends to put the fish in a high-pressure stupor near the bottom. Jesse said his specialties were trolling and jugging, and if the fish were biting, we should catch some. I liked his optimism, and we both agreed that the best time to fish is anytime you can!
Few anglers know Lake Eufaula, or Walter F. George if you prefer, like Jesse. Hailing from nearby Ozark, Ala., he has fished the lake since the 1960s and has guided, primarily for crappie, for many years. Jesse has participated in various crappie-fishing tournaments hosted by the U.S. Crappie Association, North American Crappie Association and Crappie Masters, placing in some and frequently taking home the big-fish pot. In 2002, he pulled in a 2.96-lb. crappie at Lake Nelly Henry near Gaston, Ala., to collect the big-fish prize for the tournament. Jesse, age 67, is retired from federal civil service and the National Guard, but now guides fishermen whenever a customer calls.
When we left the boat ramp, we headed to the confluence of Cowikee and Wylaunie creeks and the Chattahoochee River, a location that Jesse considers among the most productive in the lake. On your Atlantic lake map, that would be near buoy 102 or on your GPS, look for N 31º 58.01 – W 085º 04.87.
Before we started trolling, Jesse wanted to put some extra “pokers in the fire” to see what would heat up first, catfish or crappie. His pokers were 20-oz. Gatorade bottles, painted bright orange. A 16-foot length of 20-lb. test line was attached to the neck of each bottle. To hold his minnows down, he used a 1/4-oz. press-on lead weight on his line. Each bottle was marked with a piece of silver reflective tape around the bottom for increased visibility at night. Jesse also put a one-inch section of bicycle tubing around the bottom to secure the hook during transport. This was high-tech jug fishing!
On the No. 4 hook, we could have hooked a crappie minnow, but Jesse opted to stick on a fresh, small piece of steak, roughly the size of a thumbnail and about a quarter-inch thick. Although you can spray the steak with various kinds of attractants, he says he catches plenty of catfish with steak alone.
Other good baits include small strips of crappie, freshly caught. Mullet or shrimp will work, but always leave the hook exposed or you’ll miss a lot of strikes, he says. Although we could have used crappie minnows to increase our odds on the crappie, Jesse reasoned that one big catfish would make our day and give us numerous fillets for a fish fry to compliment the crappie we hoped to catch by trolling. Sounded like a good plan to me, especially since I consider crappie and catfish two of the best-eating fish to pull into the boat.
We put out the jugs about 30 yards apart in a straight line to keep them confined to one general area. Jesse likes to place the jugs near submerged creek ledges or in coves in fairly deep water where the big cats roam. He suggests that anglers use a permanent black pen to mark their name or initials on each jug to make sure they don’t get mixed up with another angler’s jugs.
With the jugs placed out and in action, we returned to the mouth of Cowikee and Wylaunie creeks to begin trolling. Jesse uses 12 light-action rods and spinning reels. He uses six up front and six in the rear of the boat. Because the water was cold, reading somewhere in the upper 40s, we tipped each 1/4-oz. jig with a small minnow and used a loop knot to tie on the jig to give it a little more action. Jesse makes his own jigs and follows the common approach to use dark-colored jigs in stained water and lighter, brighter colors in clear water, but he tries to establish a color preference if the fish seem to be hitting any one pattern.
He likes various makes of curly-tail, two-inch jigs, tube lures and Hal-Flys. He feels the dominant color pattern on the lake for early-spring crappie fishing is black head, blue body, black tail. Other good color combos are red/white/white to imitate a crappie minnow or the “Christmas tree jig” colors of red/spring green/yellow. Jesse says colors play a role in the crappie bite, but putting the jig right at the fish’s nose when he’s in a feeding mood is the most important factor in filling a cooler with crappie.
With an eye on the depthfinder, we noticed a good number of fish holding in deep water near the ledges. Nothing was more shallow than 14 feet, and most were 18 feet or deeper, which makes for tough, slow trolling. Jesse sometimes drifts more than trolls when he notices a concentration of fish below him. Sometimes he reverses the direction of the trolling motor right over the fish to make sure the jigs drop straight down rather than drifting over the top of them. With a 1/16-oz. jig only dropping down seven to nine feet while being trolled at the slowest speed, it’s important to remember not to troll too fast, Jesse said.
We were getting light bites or nothing at all when we decided to try something different. We pulled in the rods and rigged up for deep-water drifting. This basically involves tying a 1/2-oz. egg sinker on the bottom of the line with two hooks tied on the main line about 12 inches apart. To keep the hook lines from tangling in the main line, Jesse likes to use a wire rig that holds the line out a couple of inches. Another tip to keep the lines from tangling is to use only a 12 inch or less piece of line for your drop line. With the deeper-running jigs, we managed some action with the crappie, but we never could get them in the biting mood.
We checked with several other anglers fishing near us and their fishing luck was similar to ours. Johnny Scoggins and his wife had trolled for several hours and only picked up two hybrids, no crappie. Jim Whitman managed to catch a few crappie on dark-colored jigs, including one nice, 1 1/2-lb. fish. John Coston also had a few crappie.
With the crappie fishing in a lull, we decided to check on the jugs and immediately found one that had been slimed. That meant a big catfish had been on the line, but worked himself loose. After picking up numerous jugs, we noticed one of them bobbing straight up and down, indicating a fish on.
Jesse motored by the jug. I was to lean out, collect the jug and quickly pull in the fish, but the weight felt substantial, and I didn’t want to break the line and lose the fish, so I quickly let it go. I thought that the fish only weighed a few pounds, and after a quick circle with the boat, Jesse reached down and grabbed the jug. Having much experience at this process, he was able to also release the jug quickly with a positive assessment. “That is a whopper” he said.
I hoped he was right!
The fish was now spooked and took the jug under the water’s surface for a while. It reminded me of a scene from the old movie “Jaws” when they had the Great White shark hooked up with two large barrels and the shark took them under for a long time. I didn’t know that jug fishing could be this exciting!
Eventually the jug popped to the surface just like in the movie. Realizing that we had a big fish, we hooked one of our rods and reels to the jug so we could use the reel’s drag to wear down the big fish. But soon the cat tangled itself in an underwater obstruction. Jesse just let the cat have some slack line and quickly the fish worked himself free before we carefully eased him to the surface.
“Hey, we need a bigger net,” Jesse proclaimed, but our small net would have to do.
We eventually got the cat into the net head first with most of his tail sticking out. I quickly assessed that while the crappie might be slow, one bonus whopper catfish can make the day wonderful!
But this is a crappie story, so I questioned Jesse in detail to locate some good crappie-fishing areas for March. First, the chances are good that if you troll in the same area we fished on January 30, you’ll find better fishing conditions, warmer water and the crappie much shallower where you can entice them with your jigs.
“Try to keep your jigs running right on the submerged creek ledge on your first pass and work both deeper and shallower on continued passes until you get some bows in your rods,” Jesse recommended.
He says that fishing the warm-water discharges from the Duck Ponds on Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge is a popular fishing strategy for early spring. When refuge workers start pumping water from the shallow ponds to prepare them for spring planting, the moving water is slightly warmer that the lake water, and it attracts spawning crappie into the area. This is a hit-or-miss proposition, however, because it’s difficult to determine when the pumping will begin. However, once started it can last for several days. Two of these ponds are within a short distance of the mouths of Cowikee and Wylaunee creeks.
If your boat is sitting at the mouth of Wylaunee Creek, look north about 300 yards and you’ll see a small covered shed which is the pump station. The water is discharged out an 18-inch pipe, and it flows down the rip-rap into the lake. The best location to fish is immediately below the outflow, but the space is tight. To avoid other anglers, try this location during the weekdays. The GPS reading right out in front of this discharge pump is N 31º 58.54 – W 85º 04.63.
Another major duck pond is located about one-half mile south of this location, just west of buoy 101.2 on the western shore, but others exist.
Jesse suggests that Georgia anglers who put their boats in at Florence Marina try the mouths of Grass and Rood Creeks.
“Rood Creek, about 100 yards up from the mouth tends to be a good producer of crappie,” he said.
On the north side of the creek, look for the long metal sea wall and troll about 30 yards out from it. The water drops off quick into the old channel and that stacks up the fish, plus there are a few submerged trees or limbs in this area.
Other places that Jesse recommends are the bridge pilings at the Hwy 431 crossing which hold crappie year round. Pitch a jig or drop a minnow right down beside the pilings after you troll around to locate fish on the depthfinder.
Moving down the lake, try trolling the mouth of Tobannee Creek on the Georgia side, or Barbour Creek on the Alabama side, but move upstream from the Hwy 431 bridge for the best action.
The last couple of years, Jesse says he has had very good luck with the crappie in Farmers Slough. This is a small drainage named Gin Creek located on the Alabama Shore near buoy marker 84.4. Give it a try. Normally the ledges on White Oak or Patuala Creek produce good fish also by trolling or pitching jigs along trees which have fallen into the lake. Usually, each fallen tree will produce three to four crappie on the top of the tree at its’ deepest point.
Jesse says if you get totally stumped and have trouble putting a fish in the boat, don’t hesitate to fish the man-made fish attractor sites identified on your lake map. Frequently restocked with Christmas trees and other materials, and well placed in strategic locations near ledges and points, these sites are underrated but easy to find as well as productive, he says. Usually a minnow or jig fished right over the top or dropped along the edges will get a good bite. These sites produce good catches of crappie, bass and catfish.
Jesse would like to invite all GON readers to sign up for the upcoming Southeast Alabama Boys Home Jug Fishing Tournament. He is the primary organizer of the event which will be held on Labor Day weekend this year out of the Lakepoint Marina boat ramp. The home provides a positive environment for neglected or abused children. Since 1978, the home has served 2,100 children. The Boys Home motto is, “It’s easier to build boys than repair men.”
Jesse has been a big part of the home’s success. You’ll learn more about jug fishing and have a great day if you participate. The jug tournament entry fee is $40 with a $1,600 total pay-out. For guide services, Jesse charges $150 per trip with a satisfaction guaranteed, no-fish, no-pay policy.
For more information on the jug fishing or to book a guided fishing trip on the lake, contact Jesse Jesse at (334) 774-4808.
If driving to Eufaula and back in one day is too much, stay the night. Look up Cowikee Creek Resort for rooms. And Jesse’s tips should help you catch a mess of fish on your next Eufaula trip.
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