Trolling And Pitching For April Eufaula Crappie

Larry Kennedy is a crappie master on Eufaula. He says you can catch a mess of slabs trolling and pitching jigs in April.

Don Baldwin | May 12, 2006

Larry Kennedy of Fort Gaines holds a pair of slab crappie caught on a recent trip to Lake Eufaula. Larry uses a variety of tactics to target big crappie in April, including trolling with jigs and pitching them to dock posts and other structure. Larry says April is the best time to find big crappie

As the boat glided to a stop, Larry Kennedy started setting rods in the rod holders near the bow.

“You can put those four in the holders on the stern,” he said as he pointed to lightweight spinning rods near the rear seat. “We’ll start out trolling first and see if we can pick up a few more fish in this area.”

Larry had already been fishing for about an hour before he picked me up at the Sandy Branch Park ramp, and he had close to 20 fish in the livewell.

We were on the lower end of Lake Eufaula in Drag Nasty Creek. Yep, that really is the name; check it out on the map. Now we could digress and have a lot of fun at this point; you know “Trolling for Crappie in Drag Nasty Creek” or “Dragging Drag Nasty for Crappie” or something like that. But we’ll just stick to the basics; probably safer ground.

We put 10 rods out in the rod holders around the boat, six in the bow and four in the stern. The rods varied in length from 12 feet to about six feet to allow for spreading the baits out to cover more area and minimize tangles.

Larry is a Fort Gaines resident who spends close to 300 days a year on the lake. Since he retired he has plenty of time on his hands, and he spends a lot of it fishing. While he fishes for bass and hybrids occasionally, his true love is crappie, and this time of year is about as good as it gets for crappie fishing on Eufaula.

In late March and early April, the crappie begin to move into the shallows in preparation for the spawn. While they are scattered at first, they get more concentrated as the water temperatures rise until they bunch up for the spawn.

“The time that the fish move in will vary according to water temperature and weather conditions,” said Larry. “But by the early part of April there will generally be plenty of fish in the shallows.”

As the fish move in to spawn they are aggressive, plentiful, and feeding actively, so if you get in the right spot you can load the livewell pretty quickly.

As far as bait is concerned, Larry keeps it pretty simple. He uses one type of jig exclusively to tempt the crappie into biting. His choice is a 1/16-oz. lead-head jig dressed with a two-inch, curly-tail, soft-plastic grub. While many crappie anglers will vary the weight of jig for the water depth they are fishing, Larry sticks with one weight and changes the depth with the trolling speed. The only thing he varies is the colors of the heads and grubs.

Larry keeps an eye on his spread of trolling rods. Larry and the author started trolling for Eufaula crappie in Drag Nasty Creek.

Larry will also troll with minnows at times. He rigs the minnows beneath a float on a No. 4 light-wire hook behind a No. 4 split shot. The minnows are hooked through the lips or eyes making them track better while trolling.

The day we were out we stuck to the jigs. The water was stained, so Larry had a variety of bright colors tied on.

“Greens, yellows, bright blues, and chartreuse are great colors in the stained water,” said Larry. “When the water is clear, lighter more natural colors work better, like white, and shades of brown.”

The jigs are tied on to 4-lb. test line, and the rods are fairly whippy. The light line allows the jigs to get down and is hard to see in the stained water. The whippy rods provide a gentle hook set and are easier on the soft-mouthed crappie.

“Another plus for the light line is that it breaks off easily when you hang up,” Larry said. “And you will hang up on the brush and stumps along the bottom.

“When you are trolling 10 to 12 rods you don’t want to stop to get a jig out of the brush. If you do, you’ll likely have all 12 hung in the brush before you start to troll again. It is better to break one off and keep going.”

We started our troll at the mouth of the creek near the osprey nest on the stand (you can’t miss it). Working the north edge of the creek channel, we headed to the back of the creek, made a wide swing to the other side of the channel and back out to the mouth.

“I have been picking up a few fish near the back of the creek on each pass,” said Larry. “There seems to be a bunch of fish hanging near some stumps along the channel in this area.”

Sure enough, as our jigs passed over the spot, two rods bent under the weight of fat crappie. After a short struggle two more fish were pitched into the livewell.

Larry tells us that speed is really important when trolling. The ideal speed is about 1.5 to 2.0 mph. That will keep the jigs moving just above the bottom in six to eight feet of water; the average depth we were fishing. Larry varies the speed to keep the jigs in the strike zone.

“If the depth decreases and the jigs start bumping bottom, speed up a little to pull the jigs up,” says Larry. “If you go over a drop off, slow down and let the jigs sink.”

Larry keeps an eye on his electronics while trolling to watch for brushpiles and changes in bottom contours. This helps him keep his jigs as close as possible to the brush without getting them too deep and into trouble.

We made several more passes through Drag Nasty and picked up a few more fat slabs, then the action slowed down.

“Let’s pull up and head down to Pataula Creek,” said Larry. “We should be able to get some action pitching.”

Pataula Creek is the next major creek down lake from Drag Nasty toward the dam on the Georgia side of the lake. It is a much bigger creek and the southern shoreline is dotted with houses and lots of boat docks.

“This is ideal spring crappie water,” said Larry. “The water depth varies from about eight to 12 feet at the end of these docks and comes up gradually as it approaches the shore.”

As we glided across the area near one of the docks we could see lots of brush and stumps on the bottom at the end of the dock and between the docks on both sides. While you can troll the area out at the end of the docks, it is tough to do and Larry has had more success casting jigs around the docks much like you would fish for bass. He calls this technique “pitching.”

“For pitching I like to use whippy five-foot rods with ultra-light spinning reels,” said Larry. “Not only do you need the light outfit to cast the small jigs, but fighting a big crappie on an ultra-light outfit is a lot of fun.”

We moved around the area slowly on the trolling motor casting the same type of jigs we were trolling earlier, again on 4-lb. test line. With the ultra-light outfits and light line it was possible to make a fairly long cast allowing us to cover a pretty good bit of water with each retrieve.

“The key is to keep the retrieve slow and steady,” said Larry. “You don’t want to add any action to the retrieve with jerks of the rod tip. Crappie prefer a slow, steady-moving, bait.”

Like in trolling, the retrieve should be just fast enough to keep the jig out of the cover while staying near the bottom. You will get hung up from time to time, but it won’t take long to get the proper rhythm.

Within just a few casts we started catching crappie, nice ones! And Larry was right; fighting a pound- to pound-and-a-half crappie on a whippy five-foot rod was a lot of fun. We fished around several docks at a few locations along the south bank of the creek between the mouth and the bridge and all of them produced fish. All of the fish came out of water between five- and 12-feet deep both while we were trolling and pitching. The pitching produced more action than the trolling, and we had close to a limit of fish before we quit.

Here is the result of a successful day of trolling on Lake Eufaula.

The fish were still spread out so we would only catch a fish or two at each location.

“As the water warms, and the spawn gets closer, the fish will really bunch up,” said Larry. “It isn’t unusual to catch a limit of fish pitching around one dock at the height of the spawn.”

Most of the docks in Pataula Creek have lights out over the water. These are great spots for night fishing.

While crappie can be caught on jigs at night Larry prefers to use live minnows for night fishing.

“I have more luck fishing with minnows at night under a float,” he said.

He rigs a small float with a “bobber stopper” over a No. 4 split shot and a No. 4 light wire hook. The bobber stopper allows depth selection for the suspended minnow. Like the jig, the minnow should be fished near, but just above, the brush. When stationary fishing with minnows, Larry hooks the bait right below the dorsal fin on the back. This allows the minnow to swim freely and appear more natural to the crappie.

Whether you are trolling, pitching, or fishing stationary with minnows, it is important to avoid making a hook set. While a strong hook set is extremely important in bass fishing, it is absolutely the wrong thing to do while crappie fishing. Crappie have very soft mouths and the light wire hooks will set themselves. If you jerk the rod you will likely tear the fish’s mouth and bring a set of lips back to the boat leaving the fish behind; so learn to have soft hands when hooking a crappie.

Whether you chose to troll, pitch, or dunk minnows, crappie fishing on Lake Eufaula this month is generally fantastic. If you follow Larry’s advice you’ll have a great time and very likely load the boat with some chunky fish. All it will take is some jigs, small equipment and light line for hours of fun.

Take the kids along, the fish are active and the fishing is easy. They are not likely to get bored and neither are you.

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