Thump Timber For West Point Crappie

Casting jigs to crappie that are lighting up the screen is challenging, but it’s very fun and very productive in February.

John Trussell | January 27, 2023

Greg Railey with the best crappie of the day, a 1 1/2-pounder caught on a chartreuse, 1/16-oz. Combat brand jig.

Gentlemen, start your engines! But more appropriately, get your outboard motors up and running and get ready to fish. Spring is right around the corner, and now is the time to get everything in tip-top shape and ready to hit the lakes, streams and reservoirs of this great state. Yes, we are still in the wintertime mode, but Greg Railey never quits fishing.

Greg hits the water just about every weekend all year long, and his favorite species is crappie. He fishes all the middle Georgia reservoirs, and his favorites are Oconee, Sinclair, Jackson and West Point.

West Point has a special place in Greg’s heart because he grew up on the family farm near Woodbury in Meriwether County only a short drive away from West Point. He was lucky to have a small pond on the family land and frequently fished for bass and bream. Greg credits his dad, Robert Railey, who he called Pops, for instilling in him a love of the outdoors, which sustains and inspires Greg today. Like the TV outdoor personality Michael Waddell, Greg says he was raised in Booger Bottom and is glad he grew up with true country roots.

Greg is fortunate in that he has worked hard for many years, and now at age 52, he has long weekends. He works Monday to Thursday for ClubCorp, a privately held company based in Dallas, Texas that is the world’s largest operator of private golf and country clubs in the USA. Over the last few decades, Greg has had the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the biggest names in sports on some of the best golf courses in Georgia. But on this day, we only talked fishing.

Greg likes to fish out of R. Shaefer Heard Park, located near the West Point Lake dam. Greg likes it because it’s less crowded than the marinas and boat ramps in the middle or northern end of the lake and just as productive when it comes to putting fish in the boat. Greg has spent lots of time fishing in the better-known creeks like Yellow Jacket, Wehadkee and Whitewater, which are always productive for springtime crappie, but the calmer and quieter waters on the south end of the lake are more productive for Greg when he wants to target specific fish that are holding close to submerged structure.

Less boat traffic and less wave action make it easier for Greg to use his electronics. He’s got it pegged correctly. On Wednesday, Jan. 18, we were the only rig parked at the Shaefer Heard boat ramp, and we only saw three boats on the lake over seven hours of fishing. Of course activity will increase as springtime fishing starts rolling in soon.

I knew immediately when I approached Greg at the boat ramp that we were going to have a great day fishing. Not only did he have a very nice crappie fishing boat, a 1775 Lund Pro-V Tournament Series boat loaded with matching rods and reels and with the latest and best electronics, on top of his head was a UGA Championship cap and on the floorboard was a UGA rug. When your top state university is two-time National Champions, it gives everyone a little extra bounce in their step and something to smile about, and the good fishing is just a bonus!

Greg knows how to put slabs in the boat! We put in at R. Shaefer Heard Park near the dam and fished deep submerged trees with Combat jigs for these beauties.

To top it off, we had no rain and no wind, which is hard to find on any big lake in the winter, but we did have lots of fog, which meant slow boat speeds until the fog lifted. Greg is always concerned about safety on the water, and has an extra set of bright lights across the bow of his boat to alert other boats to his location.

We had not gone far away from the boat ramp when Greg slowed his 90-horsepower motor and dropped down the Minn Kota Terrova trolling motor and turned on the Garmin fishfinder. Specifically, it was a Garmin Echomap Ultra 106sv chart Plotter/Fishfinder combo with IP Stouch screen display. These new livescope-style fishfinders, whether they are made by Garmin, Humminbird or Lowrance, are the real deal for finding fish. There is a learning curve to figuring out how to use them, but Greg and many other serious anglers say these new electronics have revolutionized fishing.

You can actually see the fish, appearing as fuzzy dots on the screen, around any structure. When you toss out a jig or other bait, you can watch your jig fall toward the fish, and you adjust your approach by retrieving line at the appropriate speed. It’s a trial-and-error method of watching and learning, but very doable for the average fisherman.

Greg’s transponder unit for his Garmin is located on a short pole on the side of his boat. While others prefer the unit on the tolling motor, Greg likes the easy point method of the side unit, as opposed to the noisy trolling motor, which can spook the fish. He quietly spins the unit around until he sees standing trees, and then he slowly approaches the structure until the Garmin lights up with both the trees and any fish positioned around it.

Greg points at two crappie that are suspended near the top of a submerged treetop. Greg targets these specific fish as he watches his crappie jig drop down to their location.

If he doesn’t see any fish, he does not waste time and moves on to the next tree. Unlike trolling, which hopes to put as many jigs in front of as many crappie as possible to attract a bite, Greg is hunting for and targeting specific fish.  Greg used to be a troller, and he still trolls occasionally, but he has found that his “hunt and catch” method is much more productive for putting crappie in the boat, especially when they are in a winter pattern of holding close to the structure in cold water. His method is also a lot of fun, as some skill is required to drop the jig on the fish and get it to bite. Just because you see a fish doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to hit your jig. But when you see the jig falling near the fish, and then you watch the screen as a fish tracks and eats your bait, it is addictive, says Greg.

Our first fish that we located showed up well on the screen, but when it hit the jig very aggressively, Greg smiled and said it’s probably a striper. He was right. We caught several stripers and soon noticed a large group of seagulls feeding and flying near the surface. That activity is a good indication of stripers rushing into a school of shad with the injured shad and escapees rushing to the surface to elude their hungry jaws. Stripers were everywhere on the surface and on the Garmin screen, but unfortunately, we did not have a striper rig in the boat. If we had hooked a big striper, it would take 15 minutes to get it in the boat with our crappie rigs, so we elected to move on and fish for crappie, which was our target species.

Greg’s crappie rig consists of a 1/16-oz. jig with a 1/4-inch chrome spinner blade, free floating on the line, with two red plastic beads 10 to 12 inches above it. The beads are pegged with a wooden tooth pick. Just add your favorite-colored jig— chartreuse or white are good starting colors.

Greg likes to cast his Combat jig well past the fish, and as it drops down on the screen, he either slows up or speeds up the retrieve to put the jig as close to the fish as possible. The small free-moving 1/4-inch spinner blade provides some flash to attract the fish, just like the two red or orange glass beads that are attached to the line 10 inches to one foot above the jig. The beads are pegged to the line with a wooden toothpick. Greg says a lead weight crimped on between the beads will also work but the crimping action can press on the line and weaken it, causing good fish to break off. When you’re using 4- to 6-lb. line, little things can make a difference. He hates to lose a good fish!

Not only do these items attract the crappie, but they also make the rig easier to spot on the screen. Greg says it’s very important to keep the jig slightly above the crappie as they will come up to get a bait, but rarely go down. Greg demonstrated this issue several times as he dropped the jig near and above the fish and often would set the hook on a crappie. We never saw a fish dive for the bait even once, so pay attention to this detail. A fish’s eyes are positioned on the top and side of their heads so they naturally look sideways and up, so there is a biological reason for this strategy.

No minnows? No problem! Greg likes to spice up his jigs with Berkley Power Bait sparkle nibbles that add both sparkle and food scent to the bait.

Greg looks for trees as he eases around coves, and they are literally everywhere, so it’s a method of seeing which trees have clusters of fish around them. We were fishing random treetops all over the lake from the boat landing up to near Southern Harbor Marina. Greg has found that crappie that are here today can be gone tomorrow, so searching and looking for fish is the key. Fish that are near the top branches are generally the hungry fish wanting to feed, while the fish very close to the trees and near the bottom are resting and are probably not going to bite, he says. Those fish that are tight in a lot of structure can be hard to reach, and it’s easy to get  your line tangled up. Larger groups of fish that show up as moving blobs that change shapes and sparkle on the graft are schools of shad. Often, we could see larger spots near the shad that indicated crappie that are chasing shad are ready to feed.

On Jan. 18, the water temperature was 52 degrees, and with the long-term weather forecast showing rainy and generally mild temperatures, the crappie should start moving up by mid-February, says Greg. This is for the prespawn as crappie start to gorge on shad to recover from winter and prepare for the spawn. When the water temperatures get to 61 to 68 degrees, the crappie get into high gear and start moving into shallow water to spawn. By the time the water temperatures gets to 68 to 73 degrees, the fishing should be excellent and everyone who puts a jig or minnow in the water in good locations is catching fish. There is a saying among crappie fishermen that when the dogwoods start to bloom, you should have a hook in the water, and there is a lot of truth in that country wisdom.

If you’re still saving your nickels and social security money to buy a live scope type fishfinder for your boat, you can still find success by just locating the treetops in the area where you are fishing and dropping drop a jig or minnow to the right depth. We will soon be in trolling season, and that’s a great time to put out multiple poles and rake in the crappie from more shallow water.  Greg likes Combat Jigs ( in chartreuse or white, but he’ll mix in a host of other colors to see if it makes a difference. I like Jiffy jigs, ( made by Jimmy and Jamie Brantley in Vidalia. I have a special place in my tackle box for the red-green-yellow combo, often called the Christmas tree jig because it was the favorite of my friends Billy Wilson and Bill Franklin of Warner Robins, who owned Hal Fly for a time. They are now smiling and fishing together in crappie heaven. Hal fly is another great lure, now made by Big Bite baits (

According to Brent Hess, a Georgia DNR Fisheries biologist who oversees West Point, anglers should have another great year catching West Point crappie. He says a recent gill-net survey on the lake showed that 35 percent of the crappie were in the preferred class of 10 inches or better, which means there should be some line-stretching fish out there, if you can find them. Greg does not guide, but you can reach him on Instagram at KrappieKrane.

Greg is an excellent crappie fisherman, and I was truly blessed to have a wonderful day with him on West Point Lake. His final advice to GON readers—life is short, so get out and experience God’s great outdoors every chance you get.

If you use a Corps of Engineers boat ramp, bring your credit card for the $5 launch fee. These pay boxes don’t accept cash or coins.

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