Trolling Hugh Gillis PFA Crappie In March
These tactics from Hugh Gillis PFA will show you how to catch crappie on other southern Georgia PFA lakes in March.
When Tony Allen told me the night before our early February trip that he had some new “goodies” to try out the next day, I knew I was in for a treat. As owner of A&R Jigs and More, a crap- pie-specialty business in Danville, he has access to some of the top crappie tackle in the country. Over the last quarter-century, Tony has honed his crappie-fishing skills on systems around the Southeast. Armed with decades of knowledge about where the bite is hot, his choice of lakes for our trip was Hugh M. Gillis Public Fishing Area (PFA) near Dublin. Since sum- mer, he has caught numerous limits of the delicious panfish from the 109-acre, intensively managed lake.
Earlier this fall, I had met Tony at Gillis PFA while he was taking his boat out of the lake with a limit of crappie in the livewell. He shared with me at that time some of his tips for trolling, his favorite method. After that first meeting, I applied his approach to my crappie fishing and significantly improved my catch this fall. Needless to say, I was looking forward to seeing his techniques first hand on our trip.
We backed his Stratos bass boat into the fog-enshrouded lake with high hopes, expecting the low light to spur a good morning bite. Several other boats were already on the lake, and a couple bank anglers were already swinging crappie over the rail of the fishing pier. Tony fishes for crappie by casting at shoreline cover, shooting docks and flipping standing timber, but this day trolling was his method of choice. Live minnows are allowed on Gillis PFA, but Tony likes to fool them with artificials. Tony broke into some of his new goodies, ranging from different-colored grubs to unique jig-head styles. It took only minutes for us to put out our four-rod trolling spread, the maximum number of poles allowed for two anglers on a PFA. Tony fished two Wally Marshall 10-foot-long jig poles in rod holders out the side, while I employed shorter poles out rear rodholders. My favorite Pfleuger Trion 5 1/2-foot, light-action rods worked perfectly as the rear rods. My outfits were spooled with 6-lb. test Sufix Elite mono, while Tony opted for 4-lb. test. We varied our rigs at first, trying to dial in the presentation for the day.
“I use a lot of double rigs for trolling, but you never know exactly which setup will work best until you try them,” Tony said.
The loop knot Tony used to tie his rigs was new to me. I studied his knot intently and mastered it easily after one or two attempts. His method is to thread the line through the jig-head eye and pull plenty of line through the eye (make sure to allow extra line if tying a double rig), wrap both lines around three fingers, tuck the jig- head three wraps through the loop you just made, and tighten it up after wetting the knot. If tying a double rig, repeat the knot with a second jighead about a foot down the tag end of the line. This is a much-quicker knot than the loop knot I had been tying, and it seemed to hold the line strength very well.
“I tie loop knots whether using a single jig head or double rig so that the jig has more action and the fish do not get leverage to throw the hook while shaking their head,” Tony said.
On our first pass in 9 feet of water near the ramp, Tony hooked up with a feisty 10-incher, the typical Gillis PFA crappie. The fish ate a wildcat- colored, 2-inch Hot Grub. Circling the main basin near the fishing pier, we picked up a couple more scattered fish on wildcat and Tennessee-shad Hot Grubs before heading toward the dam to try new water. On the way downlake, one of my rods dragging out the back caught a 1/2-lb. bluegill and another crappie on a firecracker-colored Bass Assassin 2-inch Curly Shad. The bites were slow but steady for the next few hours until midday, when the bite slowed even more. The pattern we dialed in on was a single 1/16-oz. jighead with a firecracker 2-inch Curly Shad trolled at 0.9 miles per hour (measured by Tony’s handheld GPS). Our double rigs and any other colors we tried were sim- ply water-hauls. It was one of the most finicky bites I have experienced, but with all our rigs switched to single 1/16-oz. heads and firecracker Assassins, we picked up a few fish each hour.
Boat handling is very important when trolling for crappie, and Tony is a master at it. He typically speeds up a little when making a turn so that the jigs do not settle to the bottom and get hung. He varies speed until he dials in the most effective speed.
“You have to pay close attention to your presentation,” said Tony. “For instance, when trolling downwind, you have a tendency to go too fast. A handheld GPS unit takes the guesswork out of how fast you are moving.”
Late in the day when the fish moved up in the water column with the dropping light levels, the most effective trolling speed was faster, in the 1.2 to 1.4 mph range. We also switched a couple of the heads to 1/32-oz. models to stay shal- low and were successful. Surprisingly to both of us, the firecracker Assassin remained the color of choice even when light decreased. We expected to have to switch to brighter colors, but that subtle color remained effective. At the end of the day, we had worked hard but managed 27 crappie to 1/2 pound, three hand-sized bluegill, and a half-dozen hefty warmouth. The 10-inchers we caught were from the first strong year-class of crappie in Gillis PFA. A few fish from the original stocking are approaching 2 pounds, but there are very few of them remaining. Several smaller fish were mixed in our catch, indicating that the next year class will be filleting size by late summer.
Gillis PFA is but one of nine PFAs scattered around the state. Crappie fishing typically peaks on the southern PFAs during March.
Paradise PFA near Tifton has crappie in most of the more than 60 lakes on the area. Area manager Charles West recommends lakes Patrick, Russell and Horseshoe 5 for numbers of crappie and Tacklebuster or Horseshoe 2 if you are seeking a trophy crappie. One of the effective methods Charles has noticed is to troll until you find a concentration of crappie, and then stop and cast to them. A curly tail jig suspended about 3 to 4 feet below a small float usually gets the job done. Green, blue/white and black/chartreuse are three of the most reliable color patterns. Live minnows are not allowed at Paradise PFA.
Dan Stiles, area manager of Dodge County PFA near Eastman, says that anglers catch crappie more than 2 pounds each year at the 108-acre lake. It has been a few years since an extremely strong year class of crappie, but the fish you catch are generally quality-sized fish. If you want to target trophy crappie, Dan suggests including a mid-sized crankbait in your trolling spread. Live minnows are not allowed at Dodge PFA.
As the oldest PFA in the system, Evans County PFA has given up good catches of fish for more than 30 years. The best lake for crappie is 84-acre Bidd Sands Lake. While most of the fish you catch will be 1/2 to 3/4 pounds, you will catch an occasional trophy. Steve Mincey, area manager, weighed a crappie last year, which topped the scales at just shy of 3 pounds. Most anglers drift around the standing timber with live minnows suspended under a small float, as live min- nows are allowed on the area.
The 106-acre main lake at Ocmulgee PFA near Hawkinsville is going to be known as a crappie haven in the coming years. Assistant Manager Jimmy Miller says there are currently three year classes of crappie in the lake. Every now and then an angler catches one of the original 880 stocked fish, which are now well over 2 pounds. The largest fish to date was caught in January and tipped the scales at 3-lbs., 6-ozs. The middle year class is present in decent numbers and weighs in at around a pound and a half. The newest year class of fish is only 3 to 4 inches but is present in phenomenal numbers. Jimmy says the small fish are an annoyance to many, with anglers hav- ing to wade through 60 to 70 small fish per day to catch a mess of the larger fish. These small fish should produce many limits of filet-sized fish by this fall.
Jigging treetops is the presentation of choice, as hanging up in the copious cover will frustrate most trollers. Live minnows are allowed on the area, but Jimmy says that artificial lures catch just as many crappie.
To find more information about all the PFAs in Georgia, visit the Wildlife Resources Division website at www.gofishgeorgia.com and click on “Fishing,” “Lake, River, Reservoir, Public Fishing Area Items Menu,” and then “Public Fishing Areas.” More details on license requirements and other PFA regulations are also available on the website.
Crappie in the southern PFAs will get fired up this month. Whether you troll, cast or drift, you will have a blast catching them. To order some of the hottest crappie baits around, call Tony at (478) 962-3367.
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