The Hottest Cove On Sinclair For February Crappie

In February, guide John Copeland is going to be trolling in Beaverdam Creek's warmer waters.

Brad Bailey | April 27, 2006

It is likely the No. 1 cove on all of Lake Sinclair for catching a cooler-full of crappie in February: Beaverdam Creek.

The reason the fishing is hot, and fires up early in February, is the hot-water discharge from Georgia Power Co.’s Plant Harlee Branch, a coal-fired electric-generating facility, which is located near the upper end of the cove on Hwy 441. The hot-water discharge from the plant raises winter water temperatures to balmy, springtime levels. The significantly warmer water attracts baitfish, which in turn attracts bass, hybrids, crappie, catfish and fishermen for some of the best, early-season fishing.

In February, Beaverdam Creek is usually high on fishing guide John Copeland’s list of fishing destinations for crappie on Sinclair, and that’s where John and I ended our day of crappie fishing on January 10.

John, 54, lives in Covington and he guides primarily on lakes Jackson, Oconee and Sinclair for bass, crappie and catfish. John has been catching fish from these lakes since the early 70s, and the catches have included countless crappie.

“Beaverdam and Rooty creeks are traditionally where the early-season fishing begins,” said John. “Beaverdam is good because of the warm water, and Rooty is good because it has so many brushed-up docks. It’s just good crappie habitat, and it produces a lot of fish.”

Fishing guide John Copeland in Beaverdam Creek in front of Georgia Power Co.’s Plant Harlee Branch with a hot water cove crappie.

John is primarily a troller. On our trip, we started just inside the left-hand side of the mouth of Rooty Creek, one cove up the lake from Beaverdam.

We began to mark fish holding on a break 12- to 15-feet deep on the outer edge of a wide flat — just where the crappie should be holding during the winter. The water temperature was 51.9 degrees.

John’s February strategy revolves around two details: first, a slower, deeper approach; and second — minnow-tipped jigs.

Like most crappie fishermen, John starts with a variety of colors to gauge what the fish prefer on a given day. We started with John Deere-green curly-tails and red/white/pink, black/blue/white and red/green/yellow Hal Flys. Each of the Hal Flys went into the lake dressed-up with a lively minnow hooked through the lips.

“When the water is cold, I like to tip the Hal Flys with minnows to present a little bigger bait with a little more action,” said John. “By the end of February, when the fish become more aggressive, I won’t bother with the minnows, but in this cold water, I think they help.”

A red-and-white float was attached to each line to keep the jigs six- to eight-feet deep, and the lines were staggered behind the boat to reduce the possibility of tangling during a turn.

We began trolling in front of boat docks over water 14- to 20-feet deep. Wind drifting is a better word to describe it. Often, John would hit the trolling motor only long enough to keep the boat moving with the slight breeze.

“This time of year, the fish will be in 12 to 20 feet of water,” said John. “They are usually over a breakline, and the best ones are near deeper water. If there are stumps on the break, you will usually see fish holding next to them. I try to bring the jigs across five or six feet above the fish. If the fish are at 12 feet, and the bait is at six or eight feet, they will usually come up to get it.”

Usually, but not always.

On an unseasonably warm January day, when the fish should have been biting, they were reluctant to hit. We picked up a pair of fish in front of one dock that each weighed just over a half pound. They hit a red/green/yellow and a red/white/pink jig tipped with minnows.

“Those fish were on a break where a flat drops from seven to about 16 feet,” said John. “Any time you find cooperative fish on a spot like that, it is definitely worth making another pass.”

Subsequent passes in front of the same dock, however, produced no more fish.

John fishes his live-bait-tipped crappie jig in much the same way live- bait fishermen go after hybrids and stripers at Lanier or Hartwell. As he slowly trolls along, he casts another jig to the docks to try to pull a fish or two from the brush that is almost always present. As the water warms, and more fish move up onto the flats, they will hold in the brush and this technique becomes more effective.

At noon, after trying several locations in Rooty Creek, we moved into the mouth of Beaverdam Creek. The water temperature was 54 degrees. We fished this area briefly, watching for any surface activity. The fishing report at Little River Marina that morning was that hybrids had been schooling regularly in the mouth of the creek. John recommends that you keep an eye out for seagulls working bait.

“The hybrid fishermen watch for birds (gulls) to locate bait, and crappie will usually be mixed in, too,” said John.

We continued into the creek and by the time we slowed in front of the Hwy 441 bridge, the water temperature had climbed to 62 degrees. On the buoy line in front of the hot-water discharge at Plant Branch, the temperature gauge read 66 degrees.

“If fish like warm water during the winter, they ought to love this,” said John. But despite a graph that regularly showed good numbers of fish, we did not get bit.

According to John, the area immediately in front of the discharge is a great place to catch hybrids, too, although crappie-trollers usually aren’t too pleased about hooking a hard-fighting hybrid when they are pulling eight or 10 lines.

While the hot water is the draw at Beaverdam Creek, there is also good structure to hold fish. Going into the creek, the pocket on your right as the creek bends to the left with docks on the right bank, is lined with stumps. The next, deeper cove with a road and rip-rap in the back is often excellent for crappie, bass and catfish, said John. Stumps line both sides of the old feeder creek, and there are usually high numbers of shad in this small bay. On the opposite side of the creek, the bank along the big, secondary point where the creek bends to the left, drops rapidly to about 13 feet and flattens out before dropping to 30 feet. That first drop is lined with fish-holding stumps. Beyond the buoy line, the shallow flat on the right-hand side is a prime, early-season spawning bank.

Beaverdam Creek’s reputation for producing big strings of crappie is no secret. On a warm Saturday in late February, you can expect to find lots of boats trolling, anchored boats with minnow fishermen working the stumps, and the Hwy 441 riprap will be lined with bank fishermen.

“If you are trolling, you just join the parade,” said John. “There will be a lot of fish caught here.”

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