A recent road trip to North Carolina and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association annual meeting found me in Georgia on my way back home to Florida. I had an invitation to fish some brush piles on Lake Blackshear for some fall crappie.
Fall crappie fishing in Georgia can be some of the best of the year according to B’n’M Poles pro-staffer Scott Williams. Scott is a virtual encyclopedia of crappie fishing knowledge, some of which he got from fishing with his dad. Scott and his dad, Billy Williams are frequent competitors on the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters All American Tournament Trail.
In addition to other tournament accomplishments, the father/son team won the Crappie Masters Florida State Championship in 2014. Scott and his friend Jacob had competed and won a local tournament just one week earlier doing exactly what we were planning on Lake Blackshear.
The fall crappies were migrating to brush piles, some of which had been place by Scott. “Most of the structure I fish in area lakes is natural brush, but it is a tree that had been cut down, drug out into the lake and sank in an isolated area,” explained Scott. “I like brush in areas where there is no other structure around.”
Placing additional brush on standing timber is not helpful to Scott. “If you have standing timber I don’t like to put brush in the middle of it. The fish are just scattered, three or four fish on each tree. I like putting stuff on a clean bottom, a hard bottom, so when the algae gets there, the bait goes there and the fish will all go to that one spot instead of being scattered.”
Given the limited time we had to fish Scott headed directly to some brush piles that he already had marked on his GPS. “The fish are in their fall pattern,” explained Scott. “The fish are really going to stack up on brush. We have a good algae bloom and the baitfish are feeding on the algae and drawing in the crappie and other predator fish.”
Scott demonstrated the use of his Humminbird Side Image Sonar on the way to the first brush pile. He had the unit set to view 70 feet out each side of the boat. “You don’t even have to be over a brush pile to mark it,” stated Scott. “Just move the cursor over to brush that you see on your screen and drop a waypoint.”
Once a waypoint has been logged you can go back anytime and check it out for the fishing possibilities it holds. Humminbird side image technology also allows you to zoom in on a particular brush pile and take a closer look. Scott says part of an angler’s time on the water should be spent looking for new locations to fish. When he finds one he marks it so he can investigate it further if one of his honey holes gets fished out.
The target locations on this trip were predetermined isolated brush piles. He used his Humminbird in dual screen mode with side imaging on one side and a chart on the other to locate the first brush pile. When he found the brush pile he was looking for he threw out an orange marker buoy on the upwind side of the brush.
If the marker ends up in the wrong place just leave it there. “When throwing out the marker buoy and it is not where you want it, just leave it there and throw another one to avoid spooking any of the fish that may be in the area. Always try to throw it just upwind of the structure you are fishing.”
With the orange buoy marker set, Scott circled around to prepare his approach to the brush pile. He rigged his B’n’M rods and stationed them in Driftmaster Rod Holders for the push towards the marked brush pile. “I use B’n’M 16-foot BGJP rods to keep a fair distance off the top of the fish. I use a single minnow rig for fall crappie fishing,” said Scott.
Believe its or not, the single minnow rig is used to keep from catching too many fish. “I use a single minnow rig on brush for two primary reasons,” instructs Scott. “First, fall brush pile fishing can be so fast and furious that you may catch two fish at the same time using double rigs. I don’t want that, because problems can arise when trying to land them. You may not realize there are two and you net the top one. By the time you realize you have one on the bottom hook as well you could lose them both. Secondly, there is the possibility of a hooked fish diving in the brush and getting the free hook hung up and not being able to retrieve the fish at all. It is just better to use one hook.”
The depth of the water above the brush is determined from the sonar to establish the drop on the first pass. “I like to start out fishing just over the brush, and then working my way down in it.”
With the rods rigged with #2 Tru-Turn Hooks and baited with a small minnow, the front sonar is used to approach the buoy marker and the underwater brush pile from the downwind side. The idea is to use the marker buoy to line up the boat and then push the baits into the area just short of the marker.
“Boat control is much easier when fishing upwind, unless it is flat calm (Scott actually prefers a little wind). When I am fishing brush piles I take my i-Pilot off and put the foot-controlled Minn Kota on the boat. It provides quicker and better control of the boat, especially in windy conditions.”
Scott uses his front mounted sonar to find the sweet spot on the brush pile. “I know where the brush is because I marked it with the orange buoy, but I also want to find it with the transducer on the trolling motor. I want to see the brush so I know where the bait needs to be. I use both the sonar and the visual reference of the buoy marker to hold the boat where I want it.”
The trolling motor is adjusted often to stay over the fish. “I find the biggest concentration of brush on the sonar and keep my eye on the buoy marker. When I am setting on brush and want to set real still I like the foot control trolling motor better than the autopilot trolling motor. I can handle the boat a lot easier with a cable driven trolling motor, especially in windy conditions. Electronic steering is only going to turn the head so fast. If I want to go to the left real fast, or if the wind shifts me over, I can immediately correct my position to where I want to be with the foot control trolling motor.”
On this particular day we were seeing fish all over a brush pile, but the bite was slow. The wind was throwing big waves at us and the bow of the boat was lifting and falling pretty severely. Under these conditions Scott likes to hold the pole in his hand to reduce the bounce of the baits and feel the strike.
“The wind was terrible today,” stated Scott. “It made boat control hard. We had waves rolling over the bow and we were running the trolling motor wide open just trying to hold over the brush. We actually had to hold the poles in our hands to detect the bites because of the violent bounce we were getting.”
The bounce was so bad it would rip the minnows off when the bow came up and crashed back down. “I believe if the wind had not been so bad we would have caught a lot more fish,” commented Scott. “The brush piles we marked and looked at had a lot of fish on them.”
The fall pattern isolates the crappie and makes them easy to catch if the weather permits. “You will catch a lot of fish real quick if you get on the right brush pile,”says Scott. Fall brush pile fishing is all about keeping the bait in the strike zone as long as possible. When you succeed – BINGO, fish on.
Scott and Billy Williams are sponsored by Johnson Outdoors, B’n’M Poles, Driftmaster Rod Holders and Tru-Turn Hooks.