Tobesofkee Crappie Trolling
Troy Thiel trolls a rainbow of color to catch Lake Tobefokee slabs.
Roy Kellett | April 7, 2005
“Okay fish, y’all have one more chance to get in the boat today,” Troy Thiel, of Gordon, coaxed.
As if on cue, the tip of the longest rod mounted in a holder on the left side of the bow of Troy’s boat came to life, signifying a crappie had taken a jig. Troy, grinning, reeled in the last fish of the day.
“That’s the way you have to be sometimes,” Troy said. “You just have to set it in your mind that you’re not going home without the fish.”
Troy, 32 years old when he took GON fishing in March, 2005, has been fishing forever.
“Ever since I could breathe,” Troy recalled. “I bought my first boat at 18 years old and, man was I ever proud of it.”
To Troy, the best way to load a boat with crappie is trolling. It is a technique he has learned to use very effectively in all weather conditions. In fact, while many crappie fishermen prefer to downline minnows or shoot docks during certain weather conditions, Troy believes trolling will catch crappie most of the year. His belief was proven on a raw, dreary day on Lake Tobesofkee.
St. Patrick’s Day felt more like New Year’s Day in middle Georgia, with a blanket of dark clouds, brisk winds, and temperatures barely creeping above 40 degrees. A steady, cold rain had fallen just prior to our trip, scattering fish on deep flats when one would expect to find them schooled and shallow. However, when temperatures moderate in April, Troy says anglers should look close to the bank for schools of aggressive crappie in various stages of the spawn on Tobesofkee.
Troy’s dependence on trolling has paid off. He and tournament partner Ricky Willis of Gray consistently finish in the money in Crappie USA events. In fact, the duo qualified for a large, regional tournament on the strength of their first event, and they have earned a spot at the Crappie USA Classic, which will be held on Indiana’s Patoka Lake later this year.
“It’s no gimme to get into the Classic, so we are real proud of that.” Troy said. “You have to work for it.”
His love of trolling came from spending time in the boat with crappie enthusiasts such as Steve Deason, owner of The Crappie Shop in Gray. Troy was invited by his brother to fish in a crappie tournament at Lake Oconee last year. Before entering the event, Troy was a bass afficionado, frequently fishing competitively. But after finishing well in his first crappie tournament, Troy was hooked. And the fact that his best fishing is done by pulling a load of lead-head jigs has caused him to fall in love with the practice.
“I can shoot docks, but I’m not nearly as good at it as some guys,” Troy said. “But I love to troll.”
Trolling allows an angler to cover lots of water in a short period of time. And successful trollers know that the keys to catching crappie are to find fish, try different colors and weights of jigs, and vary speeds until the fish lock on to one specific pattern.
Troy is a big believer in the idea of getting many colors in the water at one time, as evidenced by his duffel-sized tackle bag. While the gear includes spare line and other such items a fisherman needs, it is the assortment of jig heads and soft-bodied grubs that really grabs the attention. And it gives Troy a wide arsenal to choose from to entice crappie into biting. Once crappie begin keying on one or two colors, Troy changes all his jigs to those patterns to increase his catch. On our trip, motor oil with a chartreuse tail was good, but a blue/black body with a chartreuse tail caught the most fish.
“You have to figure out what color the crappie want and give it to them,” Troy said.
In tournament fishing, two-man teams can fish eight rods at one time. For fun-fishing excursions like ours, Troy often trolls with 12 poles. Rod holders on either side of the boat and across the stern allow Troy to get many lines in the water at one time.
In the front of the boat, rod holders mounted on the left and right sides hold four rods each, with the longest rods nearest the front, the next longest second and so on. Across the back of the boat, we fished four six-foot rods. All Troy’s open-faced Daiwa Crossfire spinning reels are spooled with 4-lb. test Berkley Sensation fishing line. Troy prefers Wally Marshall rods.
Troy uses single and double-rigged jigs. In April, because fish will be near the banks and way back in coves, a single 1/32-oz. or 1/48-oz. jig will be much better because it will run shallow, staying at the top of the water column and not getting hung in the brush.
To figure out just how much water can be covered by trolling, consider the rod length on each side of the boat plus the four-foot width of the boat where the rodholders were mounted. For example, fishing 14-foot rods off of each side of the boat placed the outermost jigs 32 feet apart. The 12-foot rods in the next holders on each side covered a 28-foot wide section of water. The 10-footers covered a 24-foot strip, and the eight-footers covered 20 feet. The rods off the back of the boat covered all the water in the middle.
“You have to put jigs out there, and trolling lets you do that,” Troy said. “Besides, the different length rods help keep the lines separated.”
Only a couple of times did we have tangles, when hooked fish would run between lines and twist one around the other. In case of such messes, Troy will often cut the jig off the line the fish was on and re-tie it. Though it sounds like a lot of work, it really isn’t, considering the ideal knot for trolling with jigs is the simple loop knot.
Troy says any fisherman can tie a loop knot in a few seconds. Because the line is not snug against the eye of the hook, the jig can flutter more naturally through the water, giving it lots of action and getting fish fired up. Troy ties his double rigs with two loops — A big loop to hold the top jig and a smaller loop on the end of the line. He often fishes different colored jigs on each loop.
We started our day right as the sun came up. Troy likes being on the water early because crappie tend to bite better in low-light conditions.
“During the low-light times of the day, the fish are up top feeding and they’ll bite better,” Troy said.
When we got to the first spot Troy wanted to try, he tied different colors and styles of jigs on each line. From curly-tails to smaller jigs with paddle tails, the fish got a look at a wide variety of baits. And judging by their reaction, they didn’t like any of them. At least not in the first cove we fished. After a while, we were due for a change, and on another part of the lake, we got one.
Troy is a believer in working for his fish, so after making several passes around the first cove with only a couple of small crappie to show for our efforts, we reeled in all our lines and ran down the lake to a new spot. Back in this cove, Troy couldn’t even find any fish on his electronics. But as we went back toward the main lake, we rounded a small point that protected a stretch of water from the wind, and fish began to bite.
The fish were scattered across a flat that was 10- to 20-feet deep in most places. Suddenly, the action was steady. Out of the 40 or so fish we caught, all but a couple came from this area. As Troy made a pass, we might only pick up one or two fish, but as he turned the boat with his Minn Kota variable speed trolling motor, we would get a couple more bites.
“Sometimes you can catch a crappie on each jig on a double rig. That’s when it can get really fun,” Troy said.
The weather should be more settled in April than it was in March, but there are likely to be periods of cooler-than-normal weather or rain. Troy said drastic weather changes will bunch crappie together close to available cover. When it is warm, with water temperatures in the 60s, they will be up on banks, spawning. It is then that successful anglers will be trolling close to the bank, pulling single-rigged jigs, so the baits run higher in the water.
“The key to catching crappie this month will be to look in the backs of coves in six to eight feet of water,” Troy advised. “Start with single 1/32- or 1/48-oz. jigs, watch your electronics, and hunt until you find some fish.”
Besides having lots of different jigs at the ready, Troy pointed out some other key ingredients to Tobesofkee trolling success. A good trolling motor is obviously a key, a GPS system is important, and Troy believes in having the best quality tackle available.
“The trolling motor is the most vital piece of equipment for this type of fishing,” Troy said.
He prefers a variable speed model, which not only gives the operator a choice of speeds one through 10, but also countless tiny adjustments in between. Troy believes in the importance of not only having the right weight and color of jig, but also maintaining the speed that triggers bites.
“As a day of fishing wears on, trolling-motor batteries lose a little juice and the speed of the motor at a particular setting will slow down,” Troy pointed out. “With a variable speed motor, I can maintain a speed, even when my batteries are getting weaker.”
It is also for this reason that Troy is such a proponent of having GPS on an electronics system. Not only will a global-positioning-enabled system allow an angler to mark structure that holds fish, it makes it easy to monitor speed. Because crappie can be so picky, the difference between 1.1 and 1.2 mph can often make or break a fishing trip.
Additionally, Troy believes in having the best possible jig heads, which means having sharp, strong hooks. The jig heads Troy uses are flat and triangular with rounded corners. The heads, Troy said, tend to run better when trolling.
“These jig heads stay straight ahead when you are trolling, and they help the jig run a little better,” Troy said.
While all of this might sound sort of complicated, Troy gave some tips to help simplify things so anybody with a little “want to” and a few jigs can go to Lake Tobesofkee this month and catch plenty of crappie. First, he suggests looking shallow, especially when water temperatures reach into the 60s.
When water temperatures get right, the fish will move up into spawning areas. Troy suggests watching your depthfinder for structure, which crappie relate to well.
“Around docks, you’ll often find brushpiles. Check those,” Troy said. “Also, sandy or clay stretches of bank will serve as great bedding areas which means they should hold some fish.”
Troy’s advice is to start with many colors of jigs, stay on the trolling motor, and pass through an area several times to locate crappie. If you pass through at one speed with no success, go faster or slower until the bite turns on, and stay at that speed. When you catch fish, note which color jigs are the most productive and get as many of those in the water as possible.
Most of all, Troy said crappie fishermen should be willing to change to fit the probable likes of the fish.
“Let the water color dictate which color jigs you use,” Troy said, advising dark colors for stained water and bright colors when the water is clear.
If you are looking for slabs, they will be with other big crappie most of the time. When Troy catches lots of small- to medium-sized crappie, he moves to another area to see if he can catch some bigger fish. With tournaments allowing a seven-fish limit, Troy obviously wants to catch as many big fish as possible.
“With any competitive fishing, it is a game of ounces, and with crappie fishing, that statement is especially true,” Troy said.
Troy will troll most of the year. During his tournaments, which run from September through April, trolling is usually the best method for catching good numbers of fish.
Using Troy’s tactics for presenting many colors and maintaining the correct trolling speed, you can catch more crappie from any Georgia lake this month. And if you can make a drive to Macon, give Lake Tobesofkee a try.
If you are looking for the best crappie-fishing gear, call Steve Deason or Troy at The Crappie Shop at (478) 743-0058.
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