Load The Boat With Allatoona Crappie

Catches of 100 Allatoona crappie in one fishing trip are not uncommon in March.

Don Baldwin | March 1, 2008

Stringers are common as fish begin to move shallow in preparation for the spawn.

Spring in the Peach State comes early when compared with the rest of the country. By the beginning of March, we are usually having some pretty good weather on a fairly consistent basis. While the occasional cold snap will make its presence felt with plummeting temperatures and brisk winds, there will usually be more than a few nice warm days with blue skies and little to no wind. The warmer days and nights bring with them rising water temperatures in our reservoirs, and fish get the urge to move shallow and spawn. Lake Allatoona is no exception, and the crappie population there starts moving into the rivers and mouths of creeks as early as mid February in preparation for the annual spawning ritual.

Byron Young of Adairsville and Larry Owens (known as Big-O) of Cartersville are two Allatoona regulars who are well acquainted with the lake and the habits of crappie this time of year. Byron works as a Law-Enforcement officer for the Wildlife Resources Division and is assigned to Allatoona, and Larry spends a great deal of his spare time chasing crappie on this reservoir. Both have been fishing the lake as long as they can remember, and they are regarded as a formidable team when it comes to bagging a mess of slabs.

We had the opportunity to fish with Byron and Larry on a bright day in early February. The lake was about at its normal winter pool level, and the water temperature had risen to the mid 40s.

“The fishing was tough last week, but the water temperature was 39 degrees,” said Larry. “Fish aren’t very active in water that cold, so they are tough to catch.”

We had several days of warm weather over the intervening week, and the water temperature was on the rise, so the fishing action should have improved.

By early March, the surface temperature should be in the low to mid 50s and the crappie will have moved onto flats near the mouths of creeks and up the river.

Byron and Larry had started fishing mid morning, and I met up with them just after noon at the ramp in Little River. They already had quite a few fish in the livewell, and said the action had been pretty good. They had caught a few fish in the Kellogg Creek area but had their best luck working the big flats near the mouth of Sweetwater Creek.

Once I was aboard that’s where we headed. After a short ride, Larry shut down the big motor, put the trolling motor over the side and we started put ting out lines.

“We’ll be slow trolling jigs in about 12 feet of water,” said Byron. “The fish have been scattered but pretty active so far this morning.”

We put out eight rods, four in the bow and four in the stern, that varied in length from 12 feet down to about 6 feet. Each held a light-weight spinning reel spooled with either 4- or 6-lb. line.

“As far as tackle is concerned, the size of the line and weight of the jig head are important factors in getting the jig to the proper depth,” said Byron. Each of the rods had a different type, color or size of jig on it. The team uses an array of jigs until they can find something that the fish are hitting consistently.

“Crappie can be very picky when it comes to color and type of jig,” said Larry. “We keep changing things up until we find something they like.”

Byron and Larry told me that a variety of jigs is a key to their success. Their favorites include small tube jigs, Toms Jigs, a slider head with a curly tail grub and a homemade feather jig. They also make many of their own jig heads. They keep plenty of sizes and colors on board and are constantly changing things throughout the day.

Byron Young (left) and Larry Owens, known locally as Big-O, agree that spring is a great time to catch big numbers of Allatoona crappie.

Unlike many crappie anglers, these guys don’t take minnows along. Many crappie anglers switch to minnows when times are tough. Others tip their jigs with minnows to attract more strikes. Larry and Byron have plenty of success with the jigs and don’t feel the need to have minnows aboard.

Once we had all the rods out, Larry started moving us across the flat on the trolling motor. The water under the boat was about 12 feet deep, and the deep water of the river channel was just a few yards away.

“This early in the season the fish will move up on the flats when the water temperature rises after a few warm days,” said Byron. “But if a cold front comes through, they will often back off and suspend over the deeper water of the channel.”

The team suggests that if you have been catching fish over the flats for a few days and then can’t seem to find them, you should move out over the deeper water and troll at about the same depth as you were over the flat. You can often have a great deal of success trolling for these suspended fish.

As we moved slowly across the flat, Larry pointed out fish on the graph.

“There are plenty of crappie here,” he said. “We are still a little early in the season, and the water temperature is a little cool for them to be aggressive. Within the next couple of weeks, the action will really light up.”

Here’s a sampling of the team’s spring arsenal (from top): tube jig, paddle-tail grub, Tom’s Crappie Jig, and a homemade feather jig. Be flexible with head weight and color combinations until you find out what the crappie want.

We crept across the flat, down wind on what little breeze there was. The movement of the boat was so slow it was almost imperceptible.

Larry used a bump-and-coast method to move us across the flat. Larry and Byron like to run the trolling motor for a few seconds and then coast. This causes the jigs to move up and down in the water column and gives them a little added action. They said the strikes will often come just after the trolling motor stops and the jigs begin to flutter down during the coast.

We hadn’t gone far across the flat before we had a fish on. The 3/4- lb. crappie nailed a small green- pumpkin-seed tube jig on a 1/16-oz. jig head.

“This is a good early spring fish,” said Byron. “While most of the crappie we catch this time of year will average about a half pound, fish of this size are common.”

Byron and Larry said in the spring they generally boat at least a few fish of a pound to a pound and a half on every outing.

We caught several good fish on the flat before the wind came up, and things shut down abruptly.

“Wind is your biggest enemy when slow trolling for crappie,” said Larry. “Keeping control of the depth of the jig is very important and almost impossible to do in a stiff breeze.”

If the wind comes up, try to find a sheltered location so you can control your drift. If you can’t maintain a consistent drift, you might as well head to the ramp.

All total, more than 80 fish were boated on our outing. We had several in the livewell that weighed more than a pound, not a bad day when the action hadn’t even gotten good yet.

When things get really hot in March, Byron said it isn’t unusual to hook more than 100 good fish on a single outing. He also advises that you practice catch and release to help maintain a healthy fishery.

Both Byron and Larry commented that they always release the big females that are heavy with eggs and ready to spawn. This is a really good practice for helping to sustain the population.

As far as locations are concerned, there are plenty of good ones on Allatoona. Byron and Larry list Kellogg Creek, Owl Creek, Little River, Sweetwater Creek, McKaskey Creek, Stamp Creek, Clark Creek and Tanyard Creek as excellent locations to try.

Early spring is a great time to catch a mess of crappie on Allatoona. Concentrate on flats 12 feet deep or less, be flexible with jig selection, weight and color, and offer a variety of options until you determine what they want. Control your bump-and-coast speed to keep the jigs in the strike zone.

The fish should remain on the flats through March until the water temperature moves into the mid to high 50s.

On Allatoona, the crappie spawn usually starts by early April and, depending on weather conditions, can continue throughout much of the month. Once the spawn begins, follow the fish into the shallows and cast either jigs or minnows to blowdowns and other cover where the crappie are holding. This is a great time to catch fish from the bank.

So why not take some time this spring to head up to Allatoona and try your luck at boating some crappie? The fish are plentiful and active this time of year, and you can load the boat in short order under the right conditions. Crappie are great table fare, and the ease of catching them in the spring can make for a fun family outing.

One thing is for sure — if you are on Allatoona during March, you’re likely to be sharing the water with Larry and Byron. They make it their business to be on the lake as much as possible during the best stretch of crap- pie action you are likely to find all year.

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