Spider Time As Oconee Slabs Hit The Open Water
Spider-rigging for fall crappie is a great way to really catch 'em this month.
After a long summer, fall is finally here, and with the dropping temperatures, the crappie action is heating up in reservoirs all across the state. Lake Oconee is no exception. This impoundment between Atlanta and Augusta on Interstate 20 is well-known as an excellent fishery, and the crappie population is responsible for a good portion of that reputation.
I had the pleasure of fishing Oconee with Doug Nelms, of Covington, in mid October. Doug is a full-time guide, who has been fishing Oconee for longer than 14 years. He guides parties in pursuit of both linesides and crappie, but this time of year, he spends a lot of time chasing the big slabs.
I met Doug at the marina in Lick Creek at midday on a Friday. Aboard were Shane Gaston and his wife Sonia, as well as Sonia’s father Donnie Canady, all of Covington. They had booked a full day of fishing with Doug and had been out that morning. I knew it would be a good day when there were already more than 20 nice crappie in the livewell.
As we motored under the bridge heading for the main lake, Doug told me we would be fishing over deep structure for the crappie.
“The water is still pretty warm, so the crappie have been holding pretty close to the structure,” said Doug. “They are still in more of a summer pattern, and I don’t really expect the action to step up until the water temperatures reach 70 degrees or below.”
As we pulled up on the first spot, Doug cruised over the area on the outboard while looking closely on the console-mounted sonar.
“This is the Lowrance HDS-9, and it allows me to see the structure to the right and left as well as directly under the boat,” said Doug. “This technology is a major factor in my ability to locate and catch crappie when fishing over structure like standing timber or channel ledges.”
As we glided over the structure, Doug pointed out small dots on the screen that were tight to the timber. He threw out a buoy to mark the spot. Moving on, he followed the same procedure and marked two more locations.
“I like to mark a couple of locations and run a circuit,” said Doug. “Sometimes the crappie will just shut down on a spot, and if you move away for a few minutes and then return later, they’ll be biting again.”
With the circuit marked, Doug told us to bait up and drop the rigs over the side. Doug’s choice of tackle included Wally Marshall Tight Line rods and light-action reels spooled with 8-lb. test mono. The terminal tackle is essentially a Carolina rig with a 1/2-oz. egg sinker, bead, a small barrel swivel and a 6-lb. test fluorocarbon leader—about 18 inches long—and terminated by a No. 2 aberdeen hook. Crappie minnows are hooked from the bottom through the top lip, so they survive longer and can swim freely.
Crappie feed looking up, so it is important to get the bait near the fish without going below them, so Doug told us how deep to drop based on where the fish were suspending.
“This time of year I typically keep the boat in 20 to 25 feet of water and place the baits about 12 to 14 feet deep,” said Doug. “But that can vary, so always check the depthfinder and locate the proper depth.”
It didn’t take long to connect, and we soon had several more fat crappie in the livewell. We moved on to other locations in the Richland Creek area with the same results, boating another 20 fish or so during the afternoon.
In November, Doug will change his tactics slightly and go into full spider-rigging mode.
“When the water temperatures cool below 70 degrees, the crappie begin to range farther from the structure, and you’ll find them suspended in open water,” said Doug. “Spider rigging is a great way to cover a wider expanse of water and still have a subtle presentation of the bait.”
Doug has a special bracket that holds an array of 12 rods spread out across the bow, and he puts 16-foot rods in every slot. The rods sticking out in all directions resemble the legs of a spider, hence the name of the technique.
With all the rods on the bow, the baits are pushed along at the chosen depth. The heavy weight on the rig keeps the line vertical and prevents it from sliding back under the boat. This slow-trolling method is actually more like a controlled drift. Doug says his ideal speed is 0.5 miles per hour.
For spider rigging, Doug uses 1/16-oz. Jiffy Jigs, tipped with a minnow in the cooler water. If the fish refuse to take the jig, he’ll try a bare aberdeen hook with a minnow threaded on, but most of the time the jigs produce best this time of year. His favorite color combinations include black/blue/black glitter, black/purple/black and a special order model called sexy red bug (chartreuse/red glitter/chartreuse).
The bug is not available on the Jiffy Jig website, but Doug said if you call the owner J.C. Brantley at (912) 537-4699, he’ll make some up for you. To see all of the Jiffy Jig products, visit their website at www.jiffyjigs.com.
As he did the day we were out, Doug will cruise over a likely area using the outboard and watching the graph for structure and fish. He will do this before he ever puts a bait in the water. If he doesn’t see fish on the graph, he moves on to another location. Likely targets include standing timber, submerged structures and deeper river channel ledges. Again he will generally be in 20 to 25 feet of water, and he expects to see the crappie suspended at 10 to 15 feet. And he always aims to keep his jigs just above the spot where the fish are holding.
In periods of consistently good weather, the fish will move out from the cover and cruise around, but if a front comes through, the crappie will pull up tight to the cover until the weather stabilizes again.
Another pointer from Doug is that gar in the area will shut the crappie down.
“Often after we have caught 10 or 12 crappie in one location, gar will begin to show up next to the boat,” said Doug. “And when they do, the crappie will generally move away.”
If Doug sees the gar near the surface, he’ll crank up the outboard and move to another nearby spot to find active fish.
Some of Doug’s favorite late fall and winter areas include: Lick Creek, Richland Creek, Rocky Creek, Shady Creek, Beaver Dam Creek, Riverbend and the pipeline.
Novice crappie anglers often miss a lot of fish because they set the hook too soon and too hard. It is best to leave the rod in the holder, and let the fish pull the tip down. Then just flick the wrist slightly to make contact.
The crappie action will be heating up on Lake Oconee this month, and there are plenty of them there for the catching. So get your long rods and minnows, head to the lake, and bring home dinner, or more likely several dinners.
Give Doug Nelms a call at (770) 354-0300 or visit his website at www.fishingoconee.com. He’ll be more than happy to show you how it is done firsthand. But if you go on your own, make sure you have good electronics aboard. If you can’t locate fish, bait won’t do you much good.
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