Late February and March can be spotty when it comes to catching crappie in Middle Tennessee. So many factors are involved in the fish moving up and congregating in a pre-spawn pattern. But they can be caught.
The weather is a huge factor. We need a few warm, sunny day to bring the water temperature up and melt the ice off the boat ramps. Many of our lakes are behind hydroelectric dams and the water level is constantly changing with power demands. Old Hickory is especially prone to drastic water changes overnight. It is for that reason, crappie fishing may be great one day and terrible the next on Old Hickory. Heck, 58 one day and 8 that night, got me confused, too.
Two of Tennessee's top crappie guides are friends of mine and in spite of that, I was able to get some tips from them that will work on any lake. I asked Steve McCadams, famed guide on KY Lake what he thought about early spring crappie fishing. Here is what he said.
"In March, the fishing is more in the deeper waters." Steve said. "The first half of the month finds crappie still in a winter pattern and relating to the deep ledges of the main lake in depths zones of 15 to 25 feet. Bottom bumping rigs are used to stalk the submerged stump rows and creek channels where some hefty, pre-spawn crappie reside. By the middle of the month, crappie begin moving into secondary bays in a pre-spawn pattern using depths of 6 to 12 feet. I start out at the mouth, fishing deep ledges and creek channels but finish up working fish attractors such as brush piles/stake beds in 12 foot or less depths."
For Steve, April is the prime month of the year for crappie. "Spawning occurs when the water temperatures reach the 62-66 degree range. This means the fish will begin to move up, seeking shallow habitat to spawn in 2-8 foot zones. This is when casting grubs and vertical presentation of jigs around manmade or natural structure is a hot method." Steve said. "Another deadly tactic is fishing live minnows under slip bobbers.
"For me, it is a matter of finding the right structure in the right depth where I have the optimum water temperature." He concluded. I asked him what his favorite lure was and got standard answer for a guide. "I like whatever they are hitting that day." All of that information will work on our lakes, especially Old Chickory.
I do 99.7% of my crappie fishing on Old Hickory and Steve is dead on regarding water temperature. However, recently, one method that has become popular on area lakes for fishing early crappie is trolling multiple poles and following creek channels. I have not tried it and don't see many anglers doing it on Old Hickory. I just don't have the setup for it. However, Richard Simms (www.ScenicCityFishing.com), is becoming an expert at it and relies on it during the early season on Chickamauga. He gave his tips on why it works.
"All winter, crappie have in general, been camped out in or near the main channel in deep water holding areas. In the spring, they begin staging just outside the creek mouths, bays and sloughs. They are not orienting to structure as much as food. They are putting on the feed bag and stocking up for the spawn."
"As April approaches, they begin moving farther up into the creeks. But throughout this period, they are often suspended in open water and scattered. That is why long-line trolling is so effective. You are putting multiple baits in the strike zone and simply covering lots of water."
"Speed is critical. Most people try to troll too fast. My preferred speed is 0.8-mph. Less than one mile an hour. It requires a good trolling motor and GPS." Richard uses a Minn Kota Terrova with Pilot Link. It has cruise control and Record Track. "If I get on a good circle, I can just tell it to "Repeat Track" and troll on auto pilot all day without ever touching the controls again."
Richard trolls six rods with 1/16 oz. jigs on 6-pound line. He controls the depth with his speed and usually trolls 7-8 feet deep. Jig colors vary depending on water clarity.
Jack Taylor and Jerry Reed are two fishing partners of mine and they fish O.H. as much as five days a week. They catch a lot of fish and as it is with most anglers on O.H., one of the problems is catching fish that measure over the 10" minimum length. "We have had days when we might boat as many as 40-fish" Said Jack. "Out of that 30, we would be lucky to have 10 keepers." As a general rule, right about now is when they start boating some fish. Maybe I better call one of them.
It is about time. It is time to start hitting the water on the warmer days and see if I can find me a couple or six nice slabs. I am craving a fresh crappie dinner. I have plenty of jigs, line and the boat batteries are hot. Now, just give me the right day.
Contact John L. Sloan at email@example.com