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Shoot or Troll For A Jackson Crappie Stringer

GON fished with Rick Howard last month and filled this stringer after a day of shooting docks and trolling.

Brad Gill | April 7, 2006

I just couldn’t believe it. It was early April, the water temperature was in the high 60s and Rick Howard of Warner Robins wanted to troll in 30 feet of water to try and show me a Jackson crappie. I thought, shouldn’t we be in the backs of the pockets looking for a shallow bite? Ten minutes later rods began to bounce and crappie began to fall into the livewell, and it was then that I realized I was in no position to question such a crappie-fishing expert.
Last year, Rick, along with his partner Steve Deason, won the Crappie USA National Championship for the amateur division in Grenada, Miss.

This year they’re fishing the Semi Pro side of Crappie USA, and their five-best finishes so far this season include three second places, a fourth place and a sixth place. Rick and Steve have already qualified to fish in the 2004 Crappie USA National Championship at Santee Cooper in September.

Since he was half of one of the state’s best crappie-fishing teams, I wanted the opportunity to fish with Rick and pick his brain about how he goes about post-spawn fishing for crappie. We met at Lake Jackson on April 9.
Our fishing began at the mouth of the South River. With eight poles hanging out the front and six out the back, we began to troll jigs of various colors. Rick was trolling fast enough so that the jigs would be holding in eight to 12 feet of water.

“There’s a hump out here where the fish like to stack up,” said Rick.

It seemed almost like a hot, summertime bite, but the change in elevation was putting fish in the boat. We caught fish right on top of the hump and all down the drop.

About 80 percent of the females we caught had spawned out and were already relating to deep water. There was still a small wave of crappie left to spawn at Jackson last month, but by May the bulk of the crappie will be in a post-spawn mode, which means deeper water.

Rick has two patterns that he’ll use to catch Jackson crappie in May — trolling and shooting docks.

“Crappie do a lot like a bass will do,” said Rick. “In May you can find them relating to your points, humps, drops and around the creekmouths. A lot of times we’ll troll the deep coves off the main river, too.”

When you hit Jackson in May, and you’re looking for a trolling bite, water depth in the 15- to 30-foot range should be holding suspended crappie.

Much like the spotted bass on Lake Lanier, Rick said areas like the hump at South River give crappie an ambush spot where they can pull up, feed and pull back out over 30 feet of water.

“Another thing that makes this area (South River hump) so good for crappie is that the South River dumps right into the Alcovy River, which acts like a highway where fish move in and out,” said Rick. “Troll those creek-mouth points where they run out toward the river channel, and if you’ve got brush on those points, it’s even better,” said Rick. “Stay where it drops off, and let your jigs go over the drops, and if you catch a few go back over it.

“What you’re looking for is a pattern. Are you catching them on the ledges or around brush, or on humps? You want to establish that pattern, and stick with it.”

When Rick and I trolled, we had 14 lines in the water. I was trolling mostly 1/16-oz. single jigs, but Rick had a few double jigs, 20-inches apart, tied on the same line. Although there are dozens of jig types on the market, Rick’s favorite grub is a Culprit Paddle Tail.

Troll with different-sized jigs until you find the right depth the crappie are holding. I was getting nailed on single 1/16-oz. jigs that were running from eight- to 12-feet deep. Some days you’ll find they may want a double rig with two 1/32-oz. jigs or maybe a 1/16- and a 1/32-oz. double rig.

“You also have to establish a color pattern,” said Rick. “I like to start off with a black/chartreuse — fish always seem to hit a jig with a chartreuse body. You want to find a color they like. In clearer water I like lighter colors, and in darker water I like darker colors. I troll with 4-lb. test line, so the jigs will run a little deeper — plus, it’s harder for fish to see the line.”

Rick and I hooked into 27 crappie before we left the hump at the mouth of South River. I think we had 10 keepers in the livewell that would later get their chance to roll in cornmeal.

Although trolling is a great way to cover water and figure out where the fish may be stacked up, not every boat is rigged with two-dozen rod holders. Thankfully, there’s another method this month that’ll put plenty of Jackson crappie on the end of your line — shooting docks.

If you’ve never shot docks for crappie, it’s a ball. It’s fairly simple, but like skipping a jig under a dock for bass, it takes some practice. The idea is to shoot, or fling, a jig as far up under a shady dock as you can, let it fall while watching your line, and set the hook on a crappie.

To shoot a dock, Rick uses a 5 1/2-foot, light- to medium-action spinning rod equipped with a Pinnacle Solene spinning reel.

To shoot a dock, reel up your jig until it’s even or slightly below the closest eyelet to your reel. Grab the line with your index finger, and open the bail. Point the rod at the dock keeping it parallel to the water. For narrow spaces, you’ll have to get out of your chair, get down on your knees and get the rod close to the water. Now, pull the jig back even with the rod handle — there should now be a big bend in your rod tip. Let go of the jig and release your line. The jig should shoot way under the dock, at least with some practice.

“The better docks are going to be your larger docks,” said Rick. “These provide the darkest and most shade. Look for the shadiest, darkest parts under the dock, which is usually going to be right in the middle. Sometimes you don’t want to even fool with smaller docks because there’s not enough shade in there. Poonton boats provide good shade, too. If I’m fishing a good dock, I’ll shoot it 15 or 20 times before I move.”

Rick said that he’s found the best dock bite to start in the early afternoon. This gives time for the lake to heat up, and it’ll really push those crappie toward the shady, darker docks.

After we trolled the mouth of South River it was time to test my dock-shooting skills. Heading up the South River, we motored around the first bend in the river, heading northeast. You’ll see a small cut straight ahead. Fish the dock at the mouth of the cut on the left.

“I caught one that went 2.6 pounds off this dock two days ago,” said Rick. “That’s the biggest crappie I’ve ever caught shooting docks.”

Talk about making a guy trigger happy, good grief. After I made a decent shot under the dock, Rick told me to watch the line. If it twitches or all of a sudden goes slack, more than likely it’s a crappie that’s sucked in the jig. Three seconds after my jig hit the water the line froze. I set the hook and put a pretty nice crappie in the livewell.
“Sometimes the fish will be suspended down only a foot, and sometimes you’ll find them on the bottom. Work the jig until you find the magic depth. You can catch 15 to 35 fish off one dock during a good day on Jackson,” said Rick. “One key for May is depth. You don’t want to be on a dock that has less than 10 feet of water in front of it.”
Rick uses 1/24- to 1/32-oz. jigs, depending on how deep he finds fish. He likes white/chartreuse/white and red/green/yellow combinations.

“Jackson’s got some good crappie in it,” said Rick. “I caught some good ones shooting docks last spring — up to a pound and a quarter.”

The docks we shot were some of the few that actually had stained water under them. When we fished conditions were unbelievable clear for Jackson, a water condition Rick does not like for shooting docks.

“The only bad dock-shooting trip we had last year was when we had clear-water conditions,” said Rick. “You want to find stained water on Jackson. The fish won’t be as spooky. If it’s clear, we’ll go back to trolling.”

Another good trolling area where we caught fish was in Tussahaw Creek, about a mile above the bridge where the channel makes a hard-left turn. While you’re there, you’ll find quite a few deep-water docks leading out of the numerous creeks and coves.

Up the Alcovy, go under the Hwy 212 bridge, and look to your right. There are several docks that are big and provide tons of shade, making them good to fling a jig under. When you leave there, head up the Alcovy and check the first series of docks on the left. Rick said there are some good floating docks and pontoon boats that’ll make good targets to shoot.

It was hard for me to complain when I left the lake. We boated 85 crappie, and we had 30 of them in a cooler. We didn’t have any slabs, but 30 eating-size fish will fill your plate. Mostly we caught our fish trolling. It just wasn’t hot enough yet to drive them under the shady docks, but this will change by the first of May.

Whether you want to troll or shoot docks, or do both, you can catch crappie on Jackson this month. Remember the limit is 30 per person, per day, so expect to do a little culling.

“Some days at Jackson you’re liable to catch over 200 crappie just shooting docks,” said Rick.

Rick does all of his crappie-fishing shopping at The Crappie Shop in Gray, which is run by Steve Deason. Steve’s phone number is (478) 743-0058.

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