Augusta’s weather still has a chill to it, but the mouths of major creeks and rivers at Thurmond Lake are hot with crappie.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has announced that hot spots for the state’s second-most popular freshwater fish at the lake include Soap, Fishing, Grays and Newford creeks.
State fishery biologists also pointed to the Little River arm as a place where anglers can expect to find large schools of crappie congregating in shallow water in preparation for “spawning migration.”
“If you can locate them, they’re biting very well,” Georgia fishery biologist Chris Nelson said.
During winter, Nelson said, crappie tend to congregate in deeper water, generally 15 to 30 feet deep, near the mouths of major tributaries and in the main lake.
As the water warms in late March, he said, the fish will start moving to more shallow water toward the middle and back of major tributaries, preferring to congregate around “woody cover” such as stumps, logs, downed trees, fish attractors and creek ledges.
State biologists said that large schools are easily located with sonar electronics and that minnows and small jigs are favored bait. Light spinning tackle spooled with 6- or 8-pound test line was recommended.
“People are catching good numbers and sizes of crappie,” Nelson said. “The average catch right now is about one-half to three-quarter pound, and it is not uncommon for someone to reel in 2-pounders.”
Anglers eager to get out on the water also can prepare themselves for cold-weather striped bass. This time of year, it is common to catch
5- to 15-pounders, with the occasional landing of a 30-pounder or greater, Nelson said. The lake is annually stocked with striped bass and has an abundant baitfish population, including blueback herring and threadfin and gizzard shad.
State biologists said anglers should target the Little River arm or below Richard B. Russell Dam, especially during power generation, which creates a current and stimulates a feeding response.
“Stripers follow much of same patterns of crappie,” Nelson said. “They prefer water temperatures less than 75 degrees and tend to concentrate over river channels and around submerged islands where threadfin shad and blueback herring are abundant.”
Wildlife Resources Division biologists recommend medium-to-heavy 6- to 7-foot rods equipped with 12- to 18-pound test line. Some common striper lures are 3/8-ounce white bucktail jigs, soft plastic jerk baits and large minnow bait. Anglers should cast to the shoreline or try trolling these artificial lures.
For more consistent results, live bait is recommended – 4- to 6-inch minnows or shad and blueback herring where legal (available at many local bait and tackle shops).
Biologists recommend fishing live bait shallow, less than 10 feet, with a large bobber and no weight attached (free-lining), or fishing vertically (down-lining) with a 1-ounce sinker weight at greater depths of 10-30 feet. A size 2-4 hook is recommended for fishing these larger live baits and landing big stripers.
Nelson said crappie are a more popular find than striper and a very tasty fish to eat.
A Southerner, Nelson said he filets his crappie, soaks and marinates them in zesty Italian dressing, then deep fries them in a coating of bread crumbs.
“It kind of gives the fish a little bit of a different taste,” he said. “But to me and everybody who usually eats what I fix, they are pretty pleased.”