John’s Note: Darrell Baker of Centre, Alabama, has been fishing and guiding on Weiss Lake in northeast Alabama for 40 years. He’s seen wintertime drawdowns and droughts and fished in freezing weather during the winter months. The State of Alabama has had one of the worst droughts that we’ve ever seen this past year in 2016. When we went fishing in the middle of November with the lake 6-feet below normal pool, I was surprised when Baker said, “The first thing we’re going to do is shoot docks.”
Weiss Lake is drawn down for the winter each year, usually during December, and then the lake is 6 feet lower than during normal pool. However this year (2016), because of the drought in Alabama and throughout much of the South, the lake was drawn down 6 feet in much of October and November.
According to Baker, “The lake is usually at its lowest level on Christmas Day. But because of the drought this year, the lake was at its lowest level throughout much of October and into November. So, we just started fishing the lake like we would in the winter months of December and January, and we’re catching our crappie on the river channel ledges. With the water levels this low, the crappie have to go to the river and creek ledges, because many of the places where the fish normally hold is dry land. Today, John, we’re fishing a steep ledge along the Coosa River channel. This river ledge has some manmade brush piles, underwater downed trees, stump rows and brush that has been swept downriver is hung-up on the edges of these ledges. You can catch crappie in-between the brush piles and the stump rows, but we almost always catch the most crappie when we troll along the edges of the ledges and come up to a brush pile. Even if crappie are holding in deep water, they’re still going to congregate around brush and other wood structure.”
To fish these river ledges at 15- to 18-feet deep, Baker uses a 10-foot Bucks graphite jig pole (https://www.bnmpoles.com/p-220-the-original-bucks-graphite-jig-pole-redesigned.aspx). Baker either will be using 10- or 12-pound-test Hi-Vis Gamma line (http://gammafishing.com). He attaches a snelled hook to his main line about 12 to 18 inches up from a 1/2 or 3/4-ounce bell weight. The density of the structure he’ll be fishing determines what size line he’ll use. If he’s primarily fishing really-dense cover, he’ll use 12-pound-test line. If he’s fishing more open cover, he’ll use 10-pound-test line. “I know that many crappie fishermen prefer 4-6 pound test line, but I prefer the heavy line when I’m out here on the river channel, fishing dense brush. Then I can pull that crappie out of the brush quickly and not get tangled up.
“As the water falls, either because of the drought or from the winter drawdown, the crappie have to move out to the river channels. Right now in mid-November, 2016, the lake is 6-foot low, and the water temperature is 63.5 degrees. That’s why the crappie are out on the river ledges. Under normal weather conditions, if the lake was 3 to 6 feet deeper, the crappie would be stacked under the docks and not on the river ledges. But as you’ve seen, most of the docks have dry land under them instead of water. Here at Weiss Lake, we’ll be fishing these river ledges usually from the end of October until the middle of February. In the middle of February, the crappie will start moving up the creeks and coves to prepare for the spawn. The good news about Weiss Lake is because there are three river systems that feed the lake; anglers can catch crappie on all three of those river’s ledges. Generally, our winter crappie are some of the biggest crappie of the year.”
To learn much more about crappie fishing, get John E. Phillips’ Kindle eBooks and some print books, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Fall & Winter,” “Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer,” “Catch Cold Water Crappie Now” and “Catch Crappie All Year: Fishing a Single Pole, Using No Boat and Farming Crappie” by clicking on each, or go to www.barnesandnoble.com or to http://johninthewild.com/books/#crappie
To receive and download for free “The Crappie Catchers’ Cookbook,” by John and Denise Phillips, go to http://johninthewild.com/free-books.