West Point Kid-Friendly Crappie In April
West Point crappie are shallow and easy to catch for all ages in the springtime.
Don Baldwin | April 1, 2009
Spring is probably the best part of the year to introduce a kid to fishing. Warm sunny days make the time on the water special, and the fish are moving in for the spawn. With the crappie heading for shallow water, they are concentrated, feeding aggressively and easy to catch. On a good day in March or April it isn’t unusual to boat more than a hundred fish in a relatively short period of time on most any lake, and West Point Lake, on the Georgia/Alabama border, is no exception.
With that in mind, I loaded up my youngest granddaughter Madison Gudger, of Dallas, and headed to the lake for a day on the water.
Luckily, we were going to have some expert guidance as to how to approach this excellent fishery in the spring. Full-time guide Bobby Wilson, of Newnan, was taking us out for the day. Bobby has been fishing West Point for as long as he can remember and has been guiding on the lake for more than a decade. He specializes in crappie and striper/hybrid fishing and is well known for his ability to locate fish and put them in the livewell. Bobby’s friend and associate, Darian O’Neal, brought along his daughter Shelby, and we set out from the Yellow Jacket access early on a foggy, but warm, morning in mid March.
Leaving the ramp, Bobby turned his big Carolina Skiff upstream and headed to the vicinity of the Highway 219 bridge.
When we stopped near the YC 22 marker, Bobby put the trolling motor over the side, and he and Darian began setting an array of rods in rod holders staggered around the gunwales. The rods varied in length from about 5 feet to about 10 feet, and each was fitted with a light spinning reel spooled with 4- to 6-lb. test line. The terminal end of the line was fitted with a double-jig rig with the upper jig on about an 8-inch dropper and the bottom jig about 3 feet below the top one.
All of the jigs were 1/16-oz. in weight in various types and colors. Bobby likes Money Maker Jigs, Hal Flys and Jiffy Jigs. Each jig was tipped with a bright-colored nugget of Berkley Power Bait, called Crappie Nibbles.
“During the prespawn the water is still pretty cold, and the fish can be sluggish,” said Bobby. “I tip the jigs with these nibbles, and the extra flash and smell can make a big difference in getting strikes.”
Bobby said that if the crappie are really finicky he will tip the jigs with live minnows to entice a strike. He likes to use the crappie shiners available at most bait shops.
Bobby had the Power Bait Nibbles in several colors, and each jig was tipped with one. The jigs were of several different colors, as well, and Bobby told us he would keep changing them until he found a color combination the fish preferred. He said sometimes the crappie will key in on a certain color combination and won’t hit anything else. Then, like throwing a switch, the fish will stop hitting that color and go after something else.
“It is important to keep several colors on and to switch colors around so you can keep the fish interested,” said Bobby.
With all the rods in their holders, Bobby started a slow troll over about 15 feet of water on a flat near a creek channel. He told us the fish should still be relatively deep and close to the mouths of creeks because they were just beginning to stage in preparation for the spawn. As far as which creeks he recommends, some of Bobby’s favorites include Yellow Jacket, Whitewater, Bird, Wilson, Maple and pockets off the Chattahoochee. But, he tells us, most creeks and pockets will be loaded with crappie this time of year.
On the morning we were out, the surface-temperature gauge registered a cool 53 degrees. Even though the full moon was only a few days away, the water temps were likely to delay spawning until early April unless the temperatures surged upward rapidly.
The first spot produced pretty quickly. We hadn’t been trolling for five minutes when a rod bent under the pressure of a hooked fish. The girls went after the rod, and soon we had our first keeper crappie in the boat. That strike was soon followed by another, and a second fat crappie came aboard. The action continued, but it was spotty at best, and many of the fish were small.
We tried a couple of other spots in Yellow Jacket Creek with similar results, so Bobby decided we should go up river and try a location where he knew fish had been holding. After a ride of about 20 minutes up the Chattahoochee arm of the lake, Bobby shut down the big outboard, and we again set up for the troll.
We worked the edge of the channel in about 15 feet of water for about 30 minutes, and, while the action was slightly better, there were still long pauses between strikes, and the fish were small on average.
“With these last few warm days, they may have moved in a little shallower,” said Bobby.
He moved us into position to troll along a bank where the water was 3 to 5 feet deep. Before putting the lines over the side, Bobby clipped small floats on the lines about 2 feet above the upper jig.
“In water this shallow it is almost impossible to troll without a cork on the line to keep the jigs off the bottom,” said Bobby.
Soon there were eight floats dragging along behind the boat and bobbing across the surface in the shallow water.
In almost no time the first cork went under and then another. At times, when the action was quick, multiple rods bounced frantically at the same time, and, laughing, the girls scampered to be the first to snatch them from the rod holders. Both girls landed fish that were larger than any we had caught up to that point.
In the shallow water the action continued to be good, and we landed several bigger fish, but nothing heavier than about three-quarters of a pound.
“The big females just haven’t moved up yet,” said Bobby. “But in a couple of weeks, if the temperatures remain high, you’ll be catching fish of a pound or better in water just like this.”
Throughout the day we had pretty good success trolling but only managed to land about 40 or 50 fish, 18 of them keepers. Not bad in my book, but well below spring standards according to Bobby.
By early April the surface temps should be reaching about 60 degrees, and with the full moon on April 9, the crappie should be hard on the bed. For bedding fish, Bobby recommends you fish in the backs of pockets and coves in 1 to 3 feet of water over sand or gravel bottoms. The crappie should be in thick schools, fanning the bottom and laying eggs.
“When the crappie are on the bed in the shallows, you can actually see the schools,” said Bobby. “It looks like a dark cloud in the water as much as 10 yards or more across.”
Bobby recommends you cast jigs or minnows suspended under corks to the schools, and be ready to set the hook. The fish usually strike as soon as the bait hits the water. In the shallow water, Bobby recommends a single-jig rig, rather than the two-jig arrangement he uses when trolling in the prespawn period.
If there is not too much brush in the area, you can also cast jigs to the spawning fish without a cork and drag them back through the school. This will almost always result in a strike.
During the spawn, Bobby drops down to 1/32-oz. jigs in the shallow water, and he doesn’t pay much attention to color.
“Usually any color will do, and you don’t need to waste your Power Bait,” said Bobby. “This is more of a reaction strike, and the crappie will usually hit anything that comes by them.”
Bobby offers the jigs on ultra-light tackle spooled with line as small as 2-lb.. test.
“Just keep your drag loose, and the 2-lb. test will do just fine,” Bobby advised. “With the lighter line you will be less likely to spook the fish in the shallow water.”
When the fish are packed in an area during the spawn, the techniques Bobby describes will almost certainly produce a limit of fat slabs in a very short period of time. During the spawn is when you are likely to catch your biggest fish. Bobby describes a “good” fish as one in the 1 1/2-lb.. range, but crappie of 2 pounds or more are not uncommon during the spawn on West Point.
But the spawn only lasts a few days, and then the crappie begin to transition back to deeper water. Later in the month of April, after the spawn, Bobby says you should look for crappie in 10 to 25 feet of water out toward the main lake from the spawning area.
“The fish will usually stack up on brushpiles or stacks of rock and feed on the shad as they come by,” said Bobby.
During this postspawn period, good electronics are essential. You need to be able to locate brush and other cover in the deeper water and also mark fish holding on the cover. When Bobby locates brush with fish on it, he drops his bait down to just above where the fish are holding. It is generally agreed that crappie feed “looking up” and don’t usually go down for a bait. So, if you see fish holding at 10 feet, just above the top of a brushpile, drop your bait down to no more than 9 feet, and let it suspend over the fish.
Bobby rigs to fish the brushpiles with a downline similar to a Carolina rig. The rig consists of an egg sinker of about 1/2-oz. above a barrel swivel and a 2- to 3-foot leader terminated by a No. 1 or No. 2 wire hook (if fishing minnows), or a 1/16-oz. crappie jig like a Hal Fly or curly-tail grub on a lead-head jig.
Bobby doesn’t anchor in the brush but keeps the boat stationary with the trolling motor.
“If you aren’t marking fish on your graph, or you don’t get bit quickly, move on and find some other brush,” said Bobby. If the fish are feeding they’ll usually bite right away.
One technique Bobby uses when he is marking fish on the graph and they won’t strike is to snag the brush with a hook and shake it slightly. He tells us moving the brush a little will often turn the fish on and make inactive fish start to feed.
According to Bobby, the crappie will continue to hang out in the brush through April and May before they begin to move out to deeper water for the hot summer. He advises you keep looking for brush in the 10- to 25-foot range throughout the spring, and you’ll continue to catch numbers of good crappie sometimes as late as early June.
So why not head out to West Point this month and experience some of the great spring crappie action this excellent fishery has to offer? Whether you are there during the spawn, or just ahead or behind it, you are likely to have some of the best fishing action that is available all year. And remember, take along a kid or two. You won’t find a better time to get out there with them and teach them to fish.
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