Turn On The Glow For Allatoona’s Fall Crappie
No, this isn't an early Halloween look... it's an Allatoona crappie-catching tool. Here's how to use a Hydra Glow light to fill the cooler with crappie this month.
On a windy Wednesday evening in mid-September, we were nestled under the Kellogg Creek bridge at Lake Allatoona. We had planned to fish the following Saturday, but Hurricane Ivan was due to arrive on Thursday and the lake was likely to be unfishable by Saturday.
Lyndon Kolb, Cy Grajcar, Gary Holt and I had come out in search of a few crappie. While these three Acworth residents are striper fishermen much of the year, they spend a good portion of their spring and fall fishing hours looking for “ol’ papermouth” on Allatoona. They were about to teach me three ways to catch crappie here in the fall — under a light at night, trolling, and from the bank.
Lyndon maneuvered the big striper boat into position under the bridge and dropped anchors front and rear to keep us in place and oriented properly. Lyndon prefers to pursue crappie at night with live minnows and jigs suspended near lights hung over the side of the boat.
“At night the boat traffic, which can be quite heavy on Allatoona, settles down and the chop on the surface dies out. Bait is attracted to the lights, and so are the crappie. On a quiet evening you can use the lights to congregate the fish that have been scattered and spooked during the day.”
There are lots of varieties of lights, everything from a simple car headlight embedded in a block of Styrofoam to the most sophisticated lighting systems which come with their own generators. Lyndon prefers to use a fluorescent model called the Hydro Glow.
“I think the Hydro Glow provides a better color of light and penetrates the surrounding water better than other light systems I have used,” he said.
Lyndon removed three of the big fluorescent lights from their carrying cases and set them out over the side. The lights hung vertically in the water, and when connected to the power supply they emanated a bright, green light that penetrated the water in about a five- to six-foot radius around each light. With three lights over the side, the entire area around the boat was well illuminated.
“Keep watching the graph,” said Lyndon. “It won’t be long before we will start marking lots of bait, and we’ll see them circling the lights near the surface.”
Sure enough, within just a few minutes the graph was black with schools of bait, and there were lots of threadfin shad visible in the cone of light around the boat. We began putting minnows over the side and placing the rods in rod holders along the rail at the top of the gunwale. When we were finished setting out the rods, there were more than a dozen of them spaced around the boat and pointing out in all directions. The rods were all light-action spinning rods and varied in length from about five feet to 12 feet. This allowed the baits to be spaced out around the boat and cover more area. The reels were spooled with 4-lb. test line, and they used a light-wire Aberdeen hook and a small split shot. We hooked a medium-sized minnow through the lips and dropped them over the side.
The boat was sitting in about 25 feet of water, and Lyndon suggested that we drop our baits to within a foot or two of 12-feet deep.
With the rods set out anywhere from about 10- to 15-feet deep, we settled in to wait for our first fish. It didn’t take long before we got some action. One of the long rods near the stern bobbed slightly. I happened to be the lucky one standing closest to that rod, so I lifted the rod out of the holder and cranked in a small crappie. With the limber rods the fish will generally hook itself, so there is no need to set the hook. Just lift the rod out of the holder and start reeling. In fact, a firm hook-set will often lead to a missed fish. Crappie have very soft mouths, and a firm jerk in response to a bite can produce a set of lips and nothing else.
Within a couple of minutes three more rods dipped in response to bites, and we had several small crappie in the boat.
“It’s early in the season yet, and the fish will get a little bigger as we move into October,” said Cy Crajcar. “We caught a few bigger fish trolling earlier today, but the big fish are staying in deeper water until the surface temperature drops a little more.”
Once we found out where the fish were feeding (around 15-feet deep), we lowered several rods to that depth and didn’t have any trouble catching fish. The bites are extremely subtle. Sometimes the rod won’t even move, and you may just see the line swim off to one side. If you see any movement in the line, lift the rod and you are likely to feel the tug of a fish.
Lyndon fishes under the bridge at Kellogg Creek often this time of year. The passage under the bridge is pretty narrow, and he feels that it tends to concentrate the fish as they move from the main lake back into the creek. As we sat there waiting for bites we would periodically see crappie flash through the lights to chase bait.
In addition to the Kellogg Creek Bridge, Lyndon says that the bridge over Little River at Bells Ferry Road is also an excellent spot for fishing with lights at night. It has the same characteristics as the Kellogg Creek bridge and is generally a good producer this time of year. The Little River Bridge is also great for non-boaters because it offers some great bank fishing opportunities. Lyndon also likes to fish the tire line near the Little River Marina, as well as the mouth of Sweetwater Creek. Another great nighttime spot for dunkin’ minnows is the pumping station near the Blockhouse Ramp. Even if you don’t have any lights of your own, this can be a great area. The pumping station is well lit near the water, and lots of bait and crappie are attracted to the bright lights.
On difficult nights when the fish don’t seem to want to take the stationary minnows, Lyndon tries another technique. He places the Hydro Glows on either side of the bow of the boat and suspends minnows from rods in bow-mounted rod holders. He then maneuvers the boat as close as possible to the bridge pilings or marina tires and moves around them slowly. This allows him to cover more water and find fish that otherwise might not be drawn in to the light. The key is to move slowly and carefully so as not to spook any suspended fish. In addition to the minnows, he will often drop a small crappie jig over the side when maneuvering around the pilings.
Cy Grajcar prefers to go after Allatoona slabs by trolling. Either early in the morning or late in the evening, you are likely to find Cy moving slowly over a flat or point in Kellogg Creek or Little River with a bristle of rods sticking out in every direction.
“I think I have more success with trolling because I cover a lot more water and locate fish that I might not catch if I were sitting in one place,” said Cy.
Like Lyndon, Cy uses flimsy rods of varying length equipped with spinning reels for his trolling presentation. In this case, however, the reels are spooled with at least 6-lb. test line. His bait of choice is a crappie jig produced by Hot Grub. He uses either 1/16- or 1/8-oz. jigs depending on what the fish are taking and he offers several color combinations at the start until he gets a couple of hits on a preferred color. The jigs will hang up in the submerged cover regularly and if your line is too light you’ll lose a lot of jigs and spend much of your time retying. With 6-lb. test line you can often straighten the light-wire hooks of the jig and pull out of the brush before the line breaks.
Once Cy has set out his rods with a myriad of jig colors he moves along very slowly on the trolling motor. The object is to keep the jigs swimming just above the stumps and submerged brush on the bottom in 12 to 15 feet of water. The speed at which you troll is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not you catch fish. When trolling, Cy focuses on areas of the lake that have submerged brush that hold fish. “The back of Kellogg Creek is loaded with Christmas trees and can really hold a lot of big fish in the fall,” said Cy. The coves in Little River on the back side of the Bells Ferry Bridge are excellent.
Cy depends on his electronics when trolling.
“If I am not marking bait on my graph, I’ll move on to another location,” said Cy. “If there isn’t any bait in the area, there probably aren’t any crappie there either. Look for clouds of bait on the graph, and you will be much more successful.”
Cy sets his jigs out at varying intervals behind the boat from about 30 to 50 feet. The farther back the jig is behind the boat the deeper it will run. If he starts getting hits on a particular color combination, he will change out several of his rods to match that color. He always keeps several color combinations in the water, however, because the fish can change their taste quickly. A little variety can be very important. You never can tell what the crappie are going to go for, so experiment a little. Vary the color and size of your jigs and the distance from the boat, but be sure to keep the trolling speed very slow. Trolling too fast is probably the most consistent mistake that anglers trolling for crappie make. Sometimes Cy will add a live minnow to the back of a jig to provide a little more attraction, and often that difference will pay off with a fat papermouth in the livewell.
Cy said it is a good idea to have a couple of anglers on board while trolling because if you hit a school of crappie, multiple hooks-ups can occur. If you don’t get the lines in quickly, the result can be a tangled mess.
For those of you who don’t have access to a boat, all is not lost. There are some great locations to catch crappie from the bank on Allatoona this time of year. We already mentioned the bridge across Little River. Another great location is the spillway between Lake Acworth and Lake Allatoona at Hwy 92. When fishing from the bank, Cy said that he either suspends a minnow under a float or casts and retrieves a jig. When fishing the minnow-float combination, he varies the depth to find the strike zone.
Casting the jig requires an ultra-light spinning outfit and a very slow retrieve. Much like the speed in trolling, the retrieve should only be fast enough to allow the jig to “swim” and move the tail slightly.
No matter if you choose to down-line minnows under a glow light, troll, or just pitch a minnow from the bank, Allatoona can be a great place to catch crappie in the fall and early winter. Grab a bucket of minnows, a few jigs and your spinning gear and head up to the lake. With just a tiny amount of luck, you’ll be eatin’ crappie for supper.
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