Spring Crappie On Lake Blackshear
Rusty Parker shares his tactics for catching more crappie on Lake Blackshear.
Jay Chambless | April 8, 2005
When anglers in the state of Georgia think of spring crappie fishing, many thoughts probably enter their minds. Pear tree, plumb and dogwood blooms. Warming weather and the coming of spring. Certain lakes also come to mind. Eufaula, Oconee and West Point are probably at the top of every crappie angler’s list. These lakes are legendary crappie fisheries, giving up both numbers of fish as well as quality.
Lake Blackshear, located near the town of Cordele, is probably not at the top of many angler’s lists. That is, except for those who know the lake and its potential. To these anglers, Lake Blackshear is legendary in its own right.
Rusty Parker lives near Lake Blackshear, and he has fished the lake virtually his entire life. A back injury forced him into early retirement from the fire department, but don’t feel too sorry for him. When he is not working on his PhD in “house husbandry,” he is on the lake doing what he loves — catching slab-sized crappie. He is on the water several times a week, and he knows how to catch crappie as well or better than anyone on the lake.
Other than fishing occasionally for bream or flathead catfish, Rusty’s primary focus is on catching crappie. His love for pursuing this tasty panfish compelled him to hit the tournament trail several years ago. After a brief but successful time spent on the tournament scene, he decided to take a more relaxing approach to his fishing. He left all the hassles of tournament fishing behind, and now he fishes purely for the enjoyment of it, and for the tasty filets.
Anyone who fishes for crappie on Lake Blackshear either knows Rusty or knows of him. His name is synonymous with crappie fishing on the lake, and for good reason. Day in and day out, he consistently catches fish. While he fishes all year long, spring is his favorite time to be on the lake by far.
Spring means spawning time for Blackshear slabs, and at no other time of the year are they more accessible or easier to catch. The fish will be moving in shallow water where they will spawn, and once you locate them they can be caught in large numbers. This is every crappie fisherman’s dream, and Rusty has been kind enough to tell us how to make this dream come true on Lake Blackshear.
“Crappie begin to move shallow to spawn when the water temperature reaches 55 degrees. There may not be a lot of fish in the shallows, but some will be moving in,” Rusty explains.
Crappie, like bass, will often move into shallow spawning areas sometimes well in advance of the actual spawning ritual. There are numerous theories as to why this occurs, but the majority of anglers believe it is to stake out their spawning sites.
When crappie begin their migration from deep water to their shallow spawning areas, they do not move right in all at once.
“Crappie will move to staging areas and hold there until the conditions get right. They will hold on drop-offs, ledges or some of the deeper cypress trees leading into the spawning areas,” Rusty says.
Finding these fish is a game of trial-and-error. First, you have to know where the fish are going to spawn. Once you have determined the spawning location, you must eliminate water until you can find where the fish are located. The first place fish will stage is usually at the mouth of a creek or cove. The first depth change from the deep water of the main lake will usually concentrate schools of fish. This could be a ledge, point or even a hump.
Cover in the form of brush, stumps, or cypress trees will make these spots even more attractive to this cover-oriented fish. Many techniques will work to catch crappie. Trolling, casting jigs or tightlining minnows are all tactics that Rusty uses.
His favorite technique for catching crappie is to slow-troll minnows on a tight line. He will move his boat slowly, trying to present his baits as naturally as possible. He will have several rods placed in rod holders when trolling. His longest rods will be toward the front of the boat, and he will use progressively shorter rods toward the rear. This serves two purposes: to keep the lines from becoming entangled, and to present his baits at different depths. He can cover the water column more effectively this way, and once he catches a few fish to determine what depth they are holding, he can adjust the other rods to maximize his effectiveness.
In some cases the cover is too thick, making trolling impossible. When Rusty encounters a situation such as this, he reaches for a jig. He casts the jig out and counts it down as it sinks. When he gets a bite or catches a fish, he notes what depth the fish was. He can then count his jig down to the correct depth on each cast. Rusty is very particular about the tackle he uses.
He uses 1/16-oz. jigs and 4-lb. test line on all of his jigging outfits. This assures the same rate of fall on each cast, so he knows what depth the bait is in at all times. This little detail is very important, as crappie are notorious for being very finicky. Often they will not move up or down to take a bait. Putting the bait exactly at the fish’s level is paramount to success.
If you don’t find fish at the mouths of creeks or coves, or if you do and they move, it’s time to work your way farther in. Crappie will use channels and ditches like roadways leading into spawning areas. They will stop at various locations along the way. Boat docks, trees or brush will concentrate fish.
Being able to accurately interpret your electronics will definitely help you locate and catch more fish. Crappie gather in large schools, and they are easily identified on a liquid-crystal graph. Not only will you be able to see where the fish are located, but also at what depth they are holding. Trolling is often the quickest and easiest way to locate fish while they are migrating back into spawning areas. Trolling allows you to cover the water quicker, and by varying the depths of your baits, you can cover the water column more thoroughly as well.
After you catch a few fish and determine both the area and depth they are holding, you can often anchor and really load the boat. Once a school of fish is found, you can usually catch them by using whichever method you prefer.
Bridges, as any crappie fisherman knows, are magnets to fish any time of the year. However, there is possibly no better time to fish bridges than during the spring. As crappie move toward the backs of creeks to spawn, any bridge in their path is an automatic stopping point, or staging area. Bridges offer shade, vertical cover and depth changes. Crappie will usually suspend around the bridges. Rusty almost always fishes the pilings by casting jigs.
He fishes each piling thoroughly by counting his jigs down to different depths. Once he determines what depth the fish are holding he usually catches several fish, and many can come off a single piling. There are several bridges on Lake Blackshear, but Rusty regularly fishes only a few of them. He cites both the bridge and railroad trestle in Veteran’s State Park, as well as Smoak Bridge and the old trestle in Swift Creek as being his top choices.
By April, the vast majority of crappie will be in shallow water, either spawning or just having finished spawning. Unlike bass and bream, Rusty says crappie do not fan out a spawning bed on the bottom of the lake. Instead of depositing eggs in a bed on the lake bottom, crappie will “spray” their eggs onto grass, trees or stumps. The sticky eggs will adhere to this cover until they hatch. Because of this, crappie do not necessarily seek out hard-bottom areas in which to spawn as do bass and bream. Crappie on Lake Blackshear will usually spawn in water that is two- to six-feet deep. The males will be the first to move shallow. The females will be close by, but they will usually move in and out until conditions become right for them to deposit their eggs. As with other species, crappie will spawn the strongest around both the new and full moon phases.
When the fish finally commit to the shallows to spawn, the fishing is arguably better than at any other time of year. Crappie spawn together in large numbers, and they will devour nearly any bait they encounter. In sparse cover, Rusty generally cast jigs, but when he finds fish relating to cypress trees or thick vegetation, he will use a live minnow on a slip-float rig.
On the slip-float rig, he will put a stopper above the cork. This keeps his minnow at a certain depth once he determines what depth the fish are holding. To adjust the depth of his bait, he simply slides the stopper up or down. He will make short pitches with the slip-float rig to trees and other cover, leaving his bait in one spot for only a short time. He continues with this method until he locates fish. He then slows down and fishes the area thoroughly.
Rusty’s favorite bait for catching crappie are jigs. As you can imagine, he has literally hundreds of jigs in his tackle box. There are a mind boggling number of different brands, colors, and sizes of jigs made especially for catching crappie.
With that in mind, I asked Rusty how the average angler should go about selecting a few to get started. Much to my surprise, he narrowed the selection down to a manageable few. Rusty said he only uses 1/16-oz. jigs. This size will cover all of the conditions you may encounter, from shallow to deep. He basically uses three brands of jigs; Hal-Fly, Rag-Fly and Tom’s Jigs. These are readily available at most tackle shops.
For colors, Rusty’s favorite is red/chartreuse/yellow. He also suggested keeping a few of the basic colors on hand. Black, chartreuse, white and black/chartreuse colored jigs will handle most any situation you may encounter.
Lake Blackshear is loaded with crappie-holding structure. Nearly, everywhere you look appears to be “fishy.” With such an abundance of quality habitat, an angler could get confused rather quickly. Rusty was kind enough to narrow our search for us, listing some of his favorite areas on both the main lake and up the river. On the main lake, Rusty suggested Swift Creek, Cedar Creek, Gum Creek and Collins Branch, with Collins Branch probably being at the top of the list. Farther north up the river, he recommends Turkey Creek, Parker’s Slough and Smokehouse Slough.
The crappie were scattered deep when Rusty and I went fishing. Even so, we caught a few. We didn’t load the boat, but the fish we caught averaged about 1 1/2 pounds! That’s a pretty strong average on any lake.
Take the advice provided here by one of Lake Blackshear’s most consistent and successful crappie anglers. With a little work, you will have the fixin’s for a good ol’ southern fish fry.
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