The cold weather may still be hanging on, but the crappies are already itching to feed and spawn, so all we need is a few warm days to really turn them on! The largest impact should come with the predicted warm rains that will accompany fronts traveling north out of the Gulf of Mexico. Warmer water from these rains has an immediate effect on the lake and its tributaries. This influx of water will also wash warmer topsoil into Lake Lanier which acts like a warm quilt that can be easily seen in the muddy stain of the surface water.
Expert crappie fishermen consider water temperature to be the most important factor in the movement of crappies. Therefore, the use of a water temperature gauge can be critical in finding schools of these tasty fish in their changing environment. Locating crappies quickly at this time of year, however, can be greatly enhanced by using a sonar device, or fish finder.
I always find huge schools of crappies that tend to hold over old creek or river channels when the water is still cold. These crappie havens can usually be located by crisscrossing these channels in a boat until they are seen on the sonar unit. All that you have to do then is toss out a visible buoy marker, and begin to fish.
Most of the crappies that I find during the colder weather will be suspended somewhere between 15 and 30 feet deep over the channels, and can be caught with several lures or livebaits. The most fun method is to use ultra-light spinning tackle with 4 to 6 pound line and a 1/8th or 1/16th ounce crappie jig, or a flyrod-sized Swirleybird spinner. This is accomplished by marking the spot where the crappies were found, back the boat away just enough to allow casting the lure beyond the spot, and let the offering fall through the area on a tight line. Just watch for any twitch in the line, and set the hook with an upwards sweep of the rod. This same method can be effective with a 1/8th or 1/6th bare jighead with live a minnow that has been hooked through the nose.
Since many anglers are not familiar with the hidden structures below the surface of the water, boat docks are an excellent alternative. Lake Lanier only has floating docks, but these man-made structures are ideal crappie hangouts. Knowing which dock will produce and which one won’t is the key. The best floating docks draw abundant forage and afford plenty of protection from the sun.
Older docks have algae growing on them, which attracts baitfish, and that in turn attracts the crappies. Crustaceans and minnows feed on the small plankton, and the crappies feed on them. The bright sunlight usually pushes crappies into the most shaded area under the docks, so it is not unusual for crappies to be on one side of a dock in the morning and then on the other side later in the day. These docks are greatly enhanced when they are near deeper water, and have brush, old tires, hay bales, or other underwater structures next to them. Also, the best docks at Lake Lanier should have between 15 and 20 feet of depth at the front edge of the floating structure.
As the water becomes warmer, visible blown-down trees along a deeper shoreline are also magnets for crappies. Granted, both the docks and the obvious trees in the water will be noticed easily by other anglers, but they will still hold lots of crappies.
For those of us who love to catch and eat crappies, our time has come! Therefore, don’t let this next month go by without sampling the great fishing for the big slab crappies at Lake Lanier!