Weiss Crappie Primed For Good February
The crappie fishing on Weiss is always good, but this February could be dynamite.
Crappie fishing is consistently good on Lake Weiss.
The Coosa River reservoir, located mostly in northeastern Alabama near Cedar Bluff, has long been labeled the “crappie capital of the world.” Fishermen from near and far flock to Weiss, and the crappie generally cooperate. Most years are good; others can be phenomenal.
Local guide and tournament competitor Carlton Teague expects this year to be better than normal.
Despite a rough start to 2019 caused by flooding conditions in the region, Carlton suggested that the crappie population on Weiss is flourishing with good representation across multiple year classes. He bases that observation on his experiences last year when he consistently caught fish throughout the year.
“I’m really expecting a great year,” Carlton said. “I had a really good spring and summer last year. The fall fishing was also good. The crappie population is reaching another of those peaks, so this winter and spring should be really good.
“The fishing is on an uphill swing compared to what it was 5 or 6 years ago.”
Carlton, who lives in Gaylesville, Ala. and serves as a five-term Cherokee County commissioner among various other duties, still managed to slip away for a little crappie fishing in the days after Christmas. His take on the fishing was blunt: “Don’t bother coming.”
Extreme rains in the region created high, muddy, trash-filled water, and the conditions were so bad that he caught only a couple of fish on his first trip. He ventured out a couple of more times in the days to follow and managed to catch “about 10 fish” on one of the trips.
“I finally found some fish around shad back in one of the creeks where the water had cleared up just a little bit,” Carlton said. “It was dirty but clearer than the main lake, but it was still almost impossible to fish because of all the trash in the water.
“With more rain predicted, the water is going to be muddy for a while. It’s never clear on the Coosa, but it’s certainly more stained than normal with all of the rain we’ve had.”
Carlton said he expects the water conditions to return to near normal by February, assuming another deluge doesn’t fall. Stable water conditions generally lead to a frenzied crappie bite this month on Weiss.
“Wintertime is a great time to put a lot of fish in the cooler,” Carlton said. “It’s also one of the better times of the year to catch bigger fish. Traditionally, I’ve caught some of my biggest fish around the end of February.”
Early in the month, Carlton targets fish on the river channel in the main lake and in the mouths of some of the bigger creeks and sloughs. Depending on variables like current, wind, water depth and light conditions, he fishes jigs or minnows from about 5 feet deep down to about 15 feet.
He actually begins fishing only after scanning an area with his Humminbird electronics. He mainly relies on Side Imaging technology to locate balls of bait. Carlton said the key ingredient for crappie fishing success in the winter on Weiss is finding shad.
“I’m going to fish where I find the shad,” he said. “When the water temperature is 48 to 50 degrees, the shad start suspending in the water column. They don’t concentrate right off the bottom. If you fish somewhere and don’t see shad on your sonar and Side Imaging, you’re pretty much wasting your time.”
Carlton said cloudy days offer the most consistent bite, and the shad will typically hold closer to the surface in low-light conditions. On a sunny day with bluebird skies, the shad will hold much deeper. In either situation, the crappie will be found at similar depths.
“The amount of sunlight will cause the shad to move up and down (the water column) during the day,” Carlton said. “An overcast day is going to provide a more consistent pattern unless you have a lot of current and wind.
“An overcast, cloudy, drizzly day is preferable any time over a high bluebird sky. Sometimes you just go when you can, but you can get a little more consistent pattern on a cloudy day.”
Under ideal conditions, Carlton prefers to longline troll for Weiss crappie. Practicing the presentation most efficiently demands a good boat setup. Carlton uses Driftmaster rodholders front and rear in his boat. If he’s fishing alone, he places a 14-foot B’n’M Pro Staff trolling rod out of either side of the front of the boat. On the right side, he places a 10-foot B’n’M Sam Heaton model behind the 14-footer. (Local regulations limit Weiss crappie fishermen to three rods each at a time.)
If other fishermen are in the boat, he adds to his rod lineup in the front and also fishes shorter B’n’M Richard Williams series rods in the back.
All rods are equipped with B’n’M spinning reels filled with 6-lb. Gamma optic yellow line.
“A normal cast is from 40 to 45 out from behind the boat,” Carlton said. “It might vary with jig size and speed to get the jig to the right depth.
“If you get too much line out and start making turns, you’re going to have a mess. Get a couple of fish on with more line out, you’re going to have a mess. You’ll spend more time untangling or re-tying than fishing.”
Carlton fishes a variety of jig sizes up to 1/8-oz. For shallower fish, he starts with a 1/24-oz. jig, tying it directly to the main line with a loop knot. He trolls the jig at about 0.7 mph, which allows it to ride through the water at about 6 feet deep.
“If the shad and crappie are holding shallow, then I will use the lighter jig,” Carlton said. “If they are deeper, then I bump up the jig size or slightly reduce the speed. I’m usually moving on at a pretty good clip when I’m longlining. I’m looking for a reaction bite as well as a feeding bite.”
Carlton said he prefers the longline trolling presentation, but those days occur when he is forced to slow down and fish vertically. Typically called spider rigging, the vertical presentation is achieved with the boat nearly motionless over a school of fish, occasionally moving at no more than 0.2 mph.
“I would probably vertical fish only if I were catching them in one spot,” Carlton said. “There’s no need in wasting time (longlining) another quarter mile and turning around and coming back to the fish.
“There are those days when the fish are concentrated, usually a little deeper, when you have to fish vertically.”
For spider rigging, Carlton rigs three of the 14-foot B’n’M rods for fishing out of the front of the boat when he’s fishing alone. He runs the main line through an egg sinker and secures it about 18 inches above a No. 2 aberdeen hook. He starts with a 1/4-oz. sinker but bumps up to 1/2-oz. if wind or current dictate.
“You want that line vertical and not swept back up under the boat,” Carlton said.
“I like to fish the jig, but I’ll almost always have some live bait with me when the water is cold. When the water warms up some, I will go back to the jig. In the winter, I’m basically fishing a single minnow rig with just enough weight to keep the line vertical.”
When fishing jigs, Carlton rotates through plastics produced by Big Bite Baits, Southern Pro and Charlie Brewer Slider. He favors Southern Pro’s Stinger Shad in the coldest water. He uses Big Bites’ Swimming Crappie Minnr and Charlie Brewer’s Crappie Slider more as the water warms up. With its paddle tail, the Slider creates more motion and appeals to aggressive fish.
Carlton’s favorite colors in Weiss’s stained waters are black-and-chartreuse or blue-and-chartreuse, but he also mentions junebug and the acid-rain color produced by Southern Pro.
Longlining and spider rigging are Carlton’s primary presentations for winter fishing on Weiss. Those special days arrive, however, when the conditions allow him to revert back to a presentation much more popular years ago.
“We don’t get to do it much anymore, but I really love going back to old-school fishing with a cork and a jig,” Carlton said. “That’s where we came from. I really enjoy watching that cork go down.
“I’m looking for the fish to be no more than 6 foot down, a little shallower than normal in winter. You don’t find those conditions much anymore, especially in the winter, but I always look for it. Otherwise, I’m doing some type of trolling.”
Depending on weather conditions, the fish may hold in deeper water for much of the month. At some point, however, the transition toward spring fishing occurs. The fish begin to migrate toward spawning areas, holding on shallower ledges, the outer edges of flats and around boat docks in 6 to 10 feet of water.
In warmer years, the transition starts in late February. Even a series of warmer days at any point in the month can prompt the fish to start moving shallower. If the water ever reaches the mid- to high 50s, a good portion of the Weiss crappie population will make its move.
“There are a lot of variables, and most depend on mother nature,” Carlton said. “Sometimes the fish begin to move in February, but at least by the first week of March, they will be on the move. They will get up on those deeper flats and wait on the water to warm up enough to start spawning.
“They are getting ready to move to the backs of the creeks and sloughs. The warming water feels good to them because they’ve been in the cold water so long. They start to get more aggressive. There will probably always be some fish out deeper, but there will be plenty of fish moving toward the shallows at some point late in the winter.
“It’s one of the absolute best times to fish on Weiss.”
Carlton practices his techniques mainly on the lower end of the lake around Leesburg. Weiss sprawls to about 30,000 acres at full pool, slightly less in the winter months when a drawdown of 6 to 8 feet occurs. If the rains subside, Carlton said the lake should be at winter pool for most of February.
Favorite destinations for Carlton are Yellow Creek and Little River, both near Weiss Lake Dam. Carlton said he fishes all over Weiss during other parts of the year but primarily focuses on those two big tributaries in cold weather.
Multiple launch sites are available nearby, which makes for shorter runs in cold weather.
“That’s one thing you have to remember about winter fishing,” Carlton said. “It may be 50 or 55 degrees, but it’s still cold on the water. Dress warm, and wear your life jacket at all times.”
Carlton further emphasized the need for safety on Weiss because of extensive areas of shallow water. Average water depth is only about 8 to 9 feet, and the winter drawdown exposes more shallow-water navigation hazards.
“Use your maps, and follow the channels,” Carlton said. “You should be okay in the channel, but you can get into shallow water quickly if you get out of the channel.”
Carlton said he has already booked most of his guide trips this year. To check on availability, contact him at (256) 643-5437.
“Weiss is at a good point right now,” he said. “The abundance of shad has made crappie fishing really good, not to mention the bass fishing, also. The potential on Weiss is about as good as it gets in that late-winter, early spring period.”
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