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Outdoor Life - It's time for anglers to consider crappie
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A few weeks ago we talked about a monthly calendar for outdoor activities, and March is one of the top months to go crappie fishing. Crappie will be one of the first kinds of fish to begin their pre-spawn feeding preparation and they are one of the best species for the frying pan. We’ll take a quick look at some of the top methods for catching them and a few of the top places to go around the state.
    When slab crappies are your target the two best bets to catch them are jigs and minnows. There are virtually hundreds of different kinds of jigs and your fishing location and water color will determine what size and color jig to use. One of the best things to do if you are fishing an unfamiliar place is to drop in one of the local bait shops or marinas and ask the guys there what’s hot.
    Most of the really good crappie fishermen are going to favor jigs just because they are a lot more versatile in size and color, and it’s easier to cover more ground with them. One of the most popular ways to find and catch crappie in March is known as spider-rigging, which is simply a method of arranging several rods in rod-holders across the bow of your boat and then slow- trolling them. You can vary the depths and types of jigs, and when you figure out which ones are working best just change all your rigs to that type. This is a great method as long as the fish are in open water. As an aside, there are many top fishermen who fish jigs tipped with minnows, and will tell you that it’s the only way to go.
    Once the water warms up into the 60s, the fish are going to head for shoreline cover and then you will be better off target-fishing that cover with a minnow or jig under a cork. If you use a jig just cast it into the cover and then pull it back a foot or so at a time to make the jig rise and fall. You can leave minnows in the cover for as long as you need to.  It is noteworthy to mention that if you are fishing heavy cover a little heavier line is a good idea. Braided line is a good option.
    Fishing with minnows can be just as effective and are probably more so if the fish are a little less willing to bite. You don’t have to give up the spider-rigging idea if you fish with minnows, just slow it down a little more and vary your depths until you start catching fish. If you wind up fishing with minnows, the two most popular ways to hook them are through the lip or through the top-middle of their back. Both ways have advantages. Those hooked through the lip tend to live longer and those hooked through the back seem to swim a little more naturally.
    Now onto the question of where to go. For North Georgia, Lakes Oconee and Clarks Hill are two of the best. Clarks Hill, which is also known as J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir, is about 30 minutes north of Augusta on the South Carolina line. This huge U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment of more than 70,000 acres is one of our state’s top producers of large numbers of crappie that will typically average between three- quarters of a pound and two pounds. I lived on the lake for a number of years and can tell you from firsthand experience that Soap Creek is a dependable location to find fish, but as I said the lake is huge and there are tons of places. Just head for any of the big creek arms and work your way toward the upper ends.
    Lake Oconee, a 20,000- acre reservoir located between Greensboro and Madison, is one of the most popular crappie destinations in Georgia. The average crappie is going to run about 10 inches, with a good number of fish in the pound-and-a-half range, as well as two-pounders. Typically, the standing timber and brush piles in the creek arms on the upper end of the lake are going to be the best choices.
    If you want to fish in the southern part of the state, Lake Blackshear is a dependable location. Located on the Flint River, west of Cordele, this smaller impoundment is a consistent producer of plenty of 10-inch fish and the lake record is more than three pounds. In March, boat docks, cypress trees and bridge pilings are all good bets but any kind of structure will hold fish.
    Paradise Public Fishing Area is another good place in South Georgia to try your luck. Located east of Tifton, this PFA is home to a large number of large and small ponds available to the public. If you go, be sure to check for special regulations and take a good look at the information provided because some of the ponds will be stocked with crappie and some are not.
    Just remember that March is one of the best times of the year to catch a mess of slabs, and there are plenty of places to catch these tasty fish.
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    Articles and columns by Alvin Richardson about hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports appear weekly in the Statesboro Herald. Richardson can be reached at