Lake Jackson & The Crappie Ninja
Guide Joe Partenza says October to March are the best months for crappie on Jackson.
It was Sept. 7, 2021, and the air temperature at 4 p.m. was hitting 90 degrees when we launched the boat into 4,700-acre Lake Jackson outside of Monticello. It was hot, steamy and not a hint of a breeze. Not ideal conditions for crappie fishing by any means, yet I was still optimistic that we would catch plenty of fish before the sun set.
I had two secret weapons with me. My primary ace in the hole was my fishing guide Joe Partenza, well known as the Crappie Ninja guide on Jackson, Sinclair and Oconee. He earned the Ninja title when a fishing friend commented one day that he was a crappie fishing machine as he methodically put one crappie after another in the boat in rapid succession, like a ninja fishing warrior. Joe liked the comparison and decided to name his guide service after the unique handle.
However, Joe is also a rock-solid citizen who is the manager of Ingles in Gray. When he’s not fishing, he is juggling 180 employees who are doing their best to keep the store shelves stocked with groceries in a time of shortages. Joe understands real world issues, and crappie fishing is his passion that he enjoys sharing with others. A heck of a nice guy, he can converse on any subject and makes his clients comfortable, whatever their fishing skill level, as he helps them put fish in the boat. That brings me to our other secret weapon—Garmin LiveScope.
Without a doubt, LiveScope has set the fishing world on fire. The advanced underwater sonar allows you to see fish, structures and really anything underwater in real time and high resolution. Probably the biggest benefit and draw to the LiveScope technology is that you can see under the surface in real time. If a fish swims by, you are able to see it as a blob.
Then cast your crappie jig and you can see it dropping down on the screen and you can adjust your retrieve and drop rate and land right on the fish.
With LiveScope, you can be stationary and see up to 200 feet in any direction. The transducer can be mounted to your trolling motor, and as you turn it, the image turns with it.
Having good equipment and knowing how to use it properly can be two different issues. Joe is a master in using the LiveScope and the Humminbird Mega Live imaging technology, and we used both during our fishing trip. He had both units hooked up in the front of his boat using The Ultimate mounting frame, made by Beatdown Outdoors beatdownproducts.com), which he highly recommends.
Joe can teach you how to use both the LiveScope and Mega Live on one guide trip. He does this by having two seats in the front of the boat so clients can see the screen and understand exactly what’s going on.
Joe has lived on Lake Jackson since 1990 and is intimately familiar with the year-round fishing rhythms of the lake. We focused our trip on open-water crappie but also found some on structure near the mouth of the Alcovy River. The water temp was 82, and we fished in water from 6 to 21 feet deep.
As the water cools, the fish will get more active to fatten up for the winter months. You will start to find them in the mouths of the coves and in open water chasing shad.
Joe said that Jackson is well known for being a great winter lake, so things will start to get better in October. He says October to March are the best crappie fishing months on the lake. Shooting docks with jigs is a good year-round strategy and will also get better as the water cools, but more on that later.
We had hardly moved the boat from the boat ramp when Joe turned on the LiveScope and we started seeing crappie around a submerged treetop.
The crappie looked like small green blobs floating in the water, and Joe said, “Watch this.” He cast out his shad-colored jig, and we could easily see it on the screen dropping down near the fish. He slowed his retrieve and soon the jig was very close to the fish and then, bam, he had a crappie on the line.
It was a hand-sized crappie that went into the livewell, and we continued to see crappie every time we moved the boat a short distance. We could see them hugging the bottom in submerged schools and around bottom structure. Crappie were everywhere. Of course, seeing fish and getting them to bite an artificial lure can be two different things. Sometimes the crappie would ignore the jig but usually they either bit it or followed it without biting.
Joe said the biggest crappie are usually just out of the school of fish, while smaller crappie normally appear in close proximity. We concentrated on casting out to what appeared to be the bigger crappie, and our efforts were often rewarded.
As Joe moved the trolling motor, he would say, “cast out 20 feet from the direction the trolling motor is pointing,” and soon I would be looking at my jig sinking into the group of crappie that I could see on the monitor. As the jig worked by the fish on the retrieve, we probably had a 30% chance of catching a crappie, which I thought were pretty good odds on such a hot summer day.
We worked up the Alcovy River arm of the lake probably about a half mile and were constantly in crappie.
We also tried shooting a few docks with our crappie jigs and had good luck. Joe said that most anglers think of shooting docks as only a springtime activity, but crappie can be found under docks year-round where they can find shade and plenty of schooling shad to munch on. If the gap between the dock bottom and surface of the water is a foot or more, Joe can make a cast parallel to the surface of the water and skip a jig under the dock. However, if the gap is smaller, he prefers to shoot the jig under the dock with a high degree of accuracy.
To shoot a jig, just grab the jig between your thumb and index finger. Release the reel bail, hold the line against the rod with your other index finger and leave just enough line so that when you pull back on the jig, it puts a nice bow in the rod tip.
This preset tension allows him to aim the rod tip at the dock and release the jig a half second before he releases the line against his right finger, thus the jig shoots under the dock. It is sort of like shooting a rubber band off your fingertips and is less complicated than the description. Practice the skill and you can be shooting jigs accurately under boat docks like a pro in short order. With thousands of boat docks on Jackson, this technique alone can fill your fish cooler, said Joe.
Finding docks that consistently hold crappie is a trial-and-error process, said Joe. Some are always good, while others are hit and miss, and the LiveScope can help you find the docks with submerged structure and fish. If LiveScope does not reveal any fish, he does not waste time fishing the dock.
Similar to previous years, crappie will be abundant in 2021, according to the Georgia WRD report on Lake Jackson. The average size fish caught in 2021 should be 7 inches in size. However, if anglers are patient and target deep holes near the dam, crappie in the 1- to 2-lb. range are available.
Flooded timber in the Tussahaw arm provides excellent habitat for anglers seeking crappie.
However, instead of fishing the shallows near the shore, concentrate your trolling efforts with small jigs around drop-offs, points and creek channels in deeper water. Live minnows, small crankbaits and pitching jigs all work great in the fall. Joe said crappie are spread out all over the lake, so pick an area, study the topo maps and watch your electronics for fish activity. He said there are blowdowns and submerged trees all around the banks that are easy to find, and most will have some crappie holding around them.
A well-known hot spot is the bridge crossing at Highway 212. Anglers should also target deep water near the dam where crappie caught in this area have been reported to weigh up to 2 pounds. Another popular spot for crappie fishing is the area where the powerline crosses the lake.
Joe likes in K9 fluorocarbon fishing line in 6-lb. test so he can see what the line is doing. Many times just a slight twitch of the line will make a fish bite. He also likes Pflueger light-action open face reels, paired with Todd Huckabee Rods, an Oklahoma based company (toddhuckabeerods.com).
The baits we used were Sugar Bugs tied by Ricky Willis in Gray ([email protected]) and Bayou Bob’s 2-inch shad. These plastic-bodied, monkey-milk-colored jigs were hooked into 1/24-oz. eyehole jig heads.
We only fished with jigs, but if the crappie are not really biting, try live minnows or tip your jigs with minnows, especially if a passing cold front slows the fishing down. To get the jigs down in the water column, we pinched on a bb weight about 2 feet above the jig. But as fall progresses, Joe says you might want to press on a heavier weight to get the jig down to where the crappie will be holding, and they might be just off the bottom.
On this short afternoon fishing trip, we caught about 30 keeper crappie with about four that were over a pound, a very good trip!
For more information on the Garmin Live scope, go to https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/p/591379. For Humminbird, visit www.humminbird.com/MEGALive. Expect to spend about $1,500 to $3,500 to get one of these systems equipped on your boat.
To contact Joe Partenza, the Ninja Crappie Fishing Guide, give him a call at 706.819.3515 or email [email protected] or https://www.facebook.com/joe.partenza.
Also check out his many videos on YouTube. He is a great crappie fishing guide with a wall full of winning plaques from the tournaments he has competed in, and I highly recommend him.
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