Though we’re still experiencing some colder weather, the crappies are beginning to school in Lake Lanier’s northernmost areas, and will soon be feeding frantically! All that is needed is an increase in air temperatures, which always equates to higher water temperatures. Other changes, however, have a more direct impact on the water. The most profound of these are the warm rains that accompany storms traveling north out of the Gulf of Mexico. This warmer water has an immediate effect on the lake and its tributaries. These rains also wash warmer topsoil into Lake Lanier which acts like a blanket that can be easily seen in the muddy stain of the water.
Most expert crappie fishermen would consider water temperature to be one of the most important factors that induces movement of crappies. Therefore, the use of a water temperature gauge can be very helpful in finding schools of these tasty fish in the changing waters. The most important instrument for locating crappies at this time of year, however, is a very good sonar device, or fish finder.
I have found that huge schools of crappies tend to hold over old creek or river channels when the water is still cold. These crappie bonanzas can normally be located by crisscrossing these channels in a boat until they are seen on a dash-mounted sonar unit. Then, toss out a visible buoy marker, and begin to fish.
Most of the crappies 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 much of 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.
Most 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. Like my Dad told me a long time ago, “You ain’t gonna catch anything unless you’re out there trying, and the best time to go is when you can!” Throughout the next month is one of the best times to catch lots of tasty, feisty, slab crappies at Lake Lanier!