Lake Weiss March Crappie On Stumps

If you can learn how to troll through the thousands of stumps in Lake Weiss, March is one of the best times to catch crappie.

GON Staff | March 1, 2003

Even for those of us who spent more time daydreaming about fishing instead of paying attention to the teacher, “spring” is an easy word to spell: c-r-a-p-p-i-e.

Nothing spells springtime to an angler like the thoughts of a warm, springlike day spent on the water filling the livewell with a limit of slab crappie. Crappie are a seasonal favorite with anglers. For much of the year, crappie take a backseat to bass, stripers, and others. But, come the first few hints of spring, crappie jump to the forefront of many angler’s minds.

The reason for this change in social status lies with the crappie themselves.  For much of the year, slab crappie can be difficult to catch.  Crappie are an open-water species and spend most of the year tightly schooled in open water.  Too, once the dog days of summer arrive, crappie usually turn up their finicky noses at almost anything the angler offers.  Hot water, crappie and a full livewell just don’t seem to go together. On the other hand, springtime and crappie fit together like a hand in a glove.

What makes spring such an awesome time to be on the water crappie fishing is the spawn. The drive to reproduce influences crappie behavior and makes them easy pickins for anglers. Longer days and warming water temperatures put crappie on the move looking for somewhere to take their best shot at producing the next generation.

Crappie prefer to lay their eggs on protected shorelines with a firm bottom and nearby woody cover. Find a protected cove with good gravel banks, some stumps, docks, or brushpiles, and you have found the crappie equivalent of the juke joint on Saturday night.

Just like juke-joint love though, the situation is fleeting. After a brief stay in the shallow water, crappie are gone again. The crappie angler who depends on the spawn to catch fish is going to enjoy just a few glorious days of fishing each year. Good crappie anglers have learned to pattern the fish from the time they leave their winter haunts all the way through the spawn. Once you have this ability, the window for crappie catching stretches out from a matter of days to several months, of which March and April are prime.

One angler who has perfected this technique is J.R. Tucker, owner and operator of J.R.’s Marina on Lake Weiss in Cedar Bluff, Ala. Weiss is known as one of the hottest places to chase crappie in the world. Editor’s Note: J.R. Tucker passed away in 2007. The business he created continues now as Little River Marina.

Weiss is a fertile, sprawling Alabama Power Co. reservoir on the Coosa River that has been a consistent crappie producer since its impoundment in 1961. At full pool, Weiss covers 30,200 acres and 447 miles of shoreline. J.R. has guided on Weiss for many years and has pulled countless crappie out of its shallow, turbid waters.

“The key ingredient to springtime crappie fishing on Weiss is warm water,” J.R said. “It takes the warm water to ignite the spawn. Until the water starts to warm, crappie will be 10- to 12-feet deep holding tight on the ledges. Once the water warms up to 52 to 55 degrees, crappie will suspend 4- to 10-feet deep and start to roam around the mouths of major coves waiting for the water to get up in the 60s, when the actual spawning will take place.

“That 55 degrees is the magic number when the fishing really starts to get good. The fish are really on the move then looking for the warmest water they can find, and catching them is just a matter of searching until you find them. The best way to fish during this period is trolling. Trolling is effective because it covers so much water.  Spend a day trolling the mouths of major coves, and sooner or later you are going to find some fish.”

Just like chunking and winding a crankbait for bass though, something that looks like a no-brainer is actually more difficult than it looks. There are many subtle nuances to the technique that separate those that catch a limit from those who spend the day aimlessly pulling a spread of crappie jigs through empty water. According to J.R., the key is depth.

“When fish are eight feet or deeper, a 1/16-oz. jig is what you want to tie on,” J.R. said, “but for anything less than that, go with a 1/24- or 1/32-oz jig.”

J.R. at J.R.’s Marina said to make sure you’re using the same size line when you troll. This way, you can make sure all the jigs are trolling at the same depth, and when you do hit the magic depth, the fish should really nail it.

As one would expect, the lighter the jig, the shallower it will run. This is important for several reasons.  Besides being one of the premier crappie lakes in the world, Weiss is also one of the premier stump lakes in the world. Unlike most lakes, stumps are not just scattered here and there, on Weiss, they are virtually everywhere.  Let your spread of jigs get too deep for the area you are fishing, and you are going to get plenty of knot-tying practice. Sometimes the light wire hooks will straighten out before the line breaks, but many times they won’t.  Besides reducing the aggravation level, using the right jig for conditions also means you will catch more fish.

“Keep a close eye on your depthfinder while trolling,” J.R. recommends. “You want to figure out what depth the fish are suspended at, and you want your jigs running right above them. Crappie like to move up to take a bait, they rarely will move down to take one.”

Selecting the proper jig will go a long way toward making sure your spread is running at the right depth, but there’s still room for fine-tuning.

“Use your speed to regulate depth,” J.R. suggests. “If you turn up the trolling motor a notch, your jigs will run shallower. Drop it down a notch, they will run a little deeper. A little experimentation will show you what works best on any given day. If the fishing suddenly slows, pay attention to your depthfinder to make sure the fish haven’t moved shallower or deeper.”

Trolling at the mouths of coves and creeks on the upper end of the lake can be tough with all the wood cover, but it is an effective way to catch March crappie on Weiss.

A few more hints to make your Weiss trolling day a little more productive. Use the same brand and size of line on all your trolling rods. Most anglers prefer 6-lb. test, since it gives you a reasonable chance of straightening the hook on a hung jig, and isn’t so heavy it spooks fish or kills the jig’s action. Different size line on each rod will mean that everything else being equal, your jigs are going to be running at slightly different depths. Heavier line catches more water and will cause the jig to ride up a little shallower. Too, try to keep the jigs an even distance behind the boat. Generally, the more line out, the deeper the jig will run.  The idea is to keep all the jigs at the same depth. That way, when you hit the right formula for the day’s conditions, all your baits are fishing the best they can, not staggered up and down the water column.

When it comes to color selection, J.R. follows conventional wisdom. “I like bright colors on bright days, darker colors on dark days,” he said. “On a sunny day, patterns with chartreuse, lime green, and hot pink are good. On darker days, grey, brown, and blue are usually better. Just keep experimenting until you find what works best.”

When it comes to the best place on Weiss to troll for springtime crappie, J.R. had some suggestions.  “I think the lake’s headwaters are the best, whether it be on Weiss or anywhere else,” J.R. said. “Those areas are going to have the freshest water and seem to hold the most fish. On Weiss, I would recommend the Little and Chattooga river arms. Also, anywhere up the main Coosa River arm can be very good. The mouths of major coves like Deadboy Cove and Trotters Cove are good places to try. Really, the mouth of any major cove on the upper end of the lake should be good.”

The difference between an average angler and one that almost always catches fish is what to do when conditions get tough. Being a successful guide for many years, J.R. knows how to produce fish on bad days when most anglers wouldn’t even bother hooking up the boat.

“Cold, muddy water is any angler’s worst nightmare,” J.R. said. “The only thing you can do is slow way down. When things get bad here on Weiss, we switch from trolling back to winter techniques like bumping bottom with a minnow. Use a vertical presentation to put live bait right in front of a crappie’s nose, and he might hit. When hard cold fronts come through, expect the fish to slide right back to the deep channel drops. Vertical fishing is about all you can do in these cases.”

When it comes to Lake Weiss and an angler’s worst nightmare, J.R. said there is good news and bad news.  “Since Weiss is so shallow, things change quick here. On the good side, just three warm days in the 60s with nighttime lows in the 40s can raise the water temperature 10 degrees, and the fish really turn on. That is when it is time to break out the trolling gear. On the bad side, a cold snap can drop water temperatures real quick too, and then you have to switch back to winter techniques to catch fish.”

Although Weiss is such a strong crappie fishery, it does see its ups and downs like all crappie lakes do. Crappie populations are cyclic, and some years are better than others.  “Right now,” J.R. said, “there are a ton of fish out there from six to nine inches. You can go out and expect to catch 60 to 80 fish a day, but maybe only 20 of those will meet the 10-inch minimum length limit. The two common sizes of fish you will see are 5 1/2- to 7-inchers, and also those fish right under the limit from 9 to 9 3/4 inches.  According to the biologists, the 2001 spawn was the best since 1994, so that is why we are seeing so many of those 6-inch fish. Next year ought to be fantastic, the best fishing we have had in years.”

Weiss is a very fertile lake, and it has a strong shad forage base. With plenty of groceries available, Weiss crappie are quick growers and even short fish show some thick shoulders.

J.R. had some good advice for newcomers to the lake. “The first thing I would do if I were coming to Weiss is get a lake map,” J.R. said. “Study the map, and look for the major coves on the upper end of the lake. Once you have decided where you want to fish, find the closest boat ramp. Weiss is a dangerous lake to run if you aren’t familiar with it. There are plenty of boat ramps. Try to launch close to where you want to fish to avoid a long run through unfamiliar shallow, stumpy water.”

Too, J.R. recommended you ask around what to do when you get to the lake. “Most of the marina and fish-camp owners are just good country folks.  They aren’t going to lie to you about how the fishing is and the best places to try. They want you to catch fish so you will come back, so use them as a source of information.”

You must have an Alabama freshwater license to fish at Weiss. Licenses are available at most marinas and country stores that cater to anglers. Don’t forget the 10-inch minimum size limit, and trollers are limited to three rods per person.

Although there are plenty of boat ramps on Weiss, J.R.’s Marina is a nice clean facility which includes full hookup RV camping, 29 motel rooms, a marine dealership with sales and service, year-round guide service, and one of the few launching ramps on Weiss which is easily usable all year regardless of water level.

This year, it may be time for you to go back to school for a spelling refresher. Spend an early spring day in the boat trolling for crappie on Lake Weiss, and you will find that the word, “spring” really is easy to spell: “c-r-a-p-p-i-e.”

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