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Crappie Fishing in Chattanooga, Tennessee

I haven’t been posting much in recent years, mostly because of the usual suspects, work, family and the like. I had a decent waterfowl season by the time January was over, but it was crappie season that I’ve looked forward to the most. Since my son was born, now three years ago, I’ve struggled to find time to hunt and fish as much as I used to, and I’ve found out that 90% of success is just getting out there and being plugged in to what’s going on. Crappie season is no different, and my success in the past has been closely tied to the spring spawn and knowing when and where to go get the fish.

We have two fish frys every year that depend on a freezer full of fish from our crappie season. Even in a bad year, I manage to scrape up enough fish for these two gatherings, but I’ve learned enough over the last few seasons to really get the most out of my limited trips to the river.

When the dogwoods bloom

For sure, when the dogwood blooms just start to crack open, the crappie are biting here. Pay close attention to other signs, though. Probably the best indicator in the world, is social media. My fishing buddies start catching fish much earlier than the dogwood blooms each year. Yeah, they work pretty hard for them, but they catch limits as early as January. The fish are in different places that early in the year, but it’s tremendously helpful to track their progress in the weeks leading up to peak season.When we get into March, and linits are showing up everywhere, I start heading out to sample the places and style of fishing that I like to see if their into that pattern yet.

Keep a Record of When

It’s almost like having a journal. I look back at blog posts and Facebook images to see when I’ve had the most success. While I don’t always have a good record of weather, It does confirm year after year approximately when the bite is at its peak. Eventually I’ve come up with a pretty basic system to get the most out of the spawn and put plenty of fish in the freezer. My goal is to get out ahead of the spawn and when the number come up, I hit it hard for about two weeks or until I start to see the number tail off.

It’s not Rocket Science

There are surely as many techniques for catching crappie as there are ways to make a sandwich, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated. I have a nice tackle bag that takes 3600 size compartments. I have these compartments loaded for everything from Redfish to Bluegill and everything in between. When it’s time for crappie I have three 3600 boxes. One has hooks, another jigs and the third has floats. I even have an ultra-simple bag that hold four boxes just for crappie. I load the three boxes of crappie tackle along with pliers, forceps and lead split shot. A good ultra light rod and I’m ready to go catch fish. It’s really all you need unless you want to take it up a notch, but with a basic kit and a place to go, you’re in the money.

Bells and Whistles

I’ve added and modified my game over the years to make crappie fishing productive and easier, but even with the added goodies, it’s still pretty basic. I have a 17 foot aluminum boat and a 12v trolling motor. I use an old Eagle fish finder with the transducer on the trolling motor to find schools and track depth. I would tell you that you don’t need one, but for chasing crappie, it’s worth the extra effort and cost to get basic electronics on your rig. I have a small assortment of green neon lights that alligator clip onto the battery posts. Speaking of batteries, I take two. One for trolling and one to powder the depth finder and lights. For light, I use an old Coleman propane lantern that has a steel mesh globe (can’t break it) and an extra set of mantles at all times. I have a ten dollar brass adapter that lets me refill 1# bottles of propane and keep 2-3 in the boat with the lantern. Throw a headlamp and a bag of chips in and I’m about set. I use a 25qt Yeti both as a seat and as a fish box and a standard minnow bucket with an aerator for bait. It sounds like a lot, and it can get to be a hassle, but if you can keep most of it in the boat, it’s not too bad.

Chase Fish

I start my typical outing by dragging a jig across the depths in and out of the channel in the areas that I fish. I’m basically looking for schools and getting settled while I troll around. I’ll throw a minnow into tree tops and structure and sometimes drift at various depths to see what I can figure out. Early in the spawn, most of the fish that I catch are more scattered. As the spawn peaks, I catch the higher numbers of fish in areas that bottle neck and concentrate the fish in a more predictable way. even at peak season, it’s a constant adjustment in depth and presentation. I try to use as little weight as possible, but sometimes you just have to get the bait down there at all costs.

This year has been typical. I started out with one keep on a long cold evening. Next trip was even colder, but with six decent keepers. My third trip out, was milder and despite a very slow start, after 9pm I hammered out most of a limit of nice fish before getting cold and tired and shutting it down at midnight. Based on past experience, the next week or two will be good. I’ll keep hitting them in my spots until it slows down, and then I’ll start looking for bluegill.

The point is, that you don’t need much to enjoy crappie fishing, and that a basic approach with some attention to the spawn cycle can make it easy to load the freezer year after year. My methods are pretty basic, and i don’t have near as much time to pursue them as I used to, but a few more trips and I’ll have 100+ fish fillets ready to fry!

Photo Mar 20, 12 25 33 AM (1)

Second time out in 2016 saw a very hard earned 6 keepers

Crappie fishing in Chattanooga

Third time out in 2016, and we’re in the money. 11 fish all over 11 inches. Limits from here on out!

There’s Still Hope! Crappie Bite Is On

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Well I’ve managed to get out twice for crappie this year. In recent years it just seems like the crappie have gone bananas in our waters and after a fairly weak run at the bounty last year, I’ve hunkered down to fill the freezer better this year. My first outing three weeks ago was perfect. The temps had crept up into the low seventies and as soon as I saw that everyone else was consistently catching good fish I went after them. It was a solo Sunday evening trip and I had little trouble filling my limit, culling only four fish. I could tell that even though the bite was good and the fish were keepers, we were barely in range with water temps. I fished jigs until dark and switched to live bait when the sun went down.

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Of course the very next weekend I set out for a repeat performance, only this time I brought another angler to back me up. Temps dipped during the week and while I was a little worried about it, I had to go. We fished hard from 5pm until after 1am culling dozens of fish and keeping only nine. The water temps were just down too much and the bite was very lethargic. The good sign was that there were way more fish on the finder than the week before.
This last weekend temps dipped way down below average, so I left it to the pros. Fortunately the low temps were short lived and I’m seeing great posts of crappie catches this week, already. So hopefully we can make another good strong run or two before they start spooling down post-spawn.
My guide buddy Richard Simms has absolutely been hammering crappie for a few weeks now and serves as a pretty good indicator of bite activity this week. Granted he does it for a living and all-importantly gets out on weekdays, you can see in his and others successes that it’s another strong year for crappie in Tennnessee Valley.

Fishing Tackle on a Budget

Gearing up for fishing after a few winter months on the shelf is one of my favorite times of year. You start seeing new boats and crappie turning up on Facebook pages, and you start looking at the fishing instead of the hunting sections of your favorite outfitters. Coincidentally, it’s a good time to snag deep discounts on any hunting gear that needs replacing or upgrading to be ready for next season. I usually look for bigger ticket items like parkas, rain gear or waders under “End of Season” sales. Sometimes you get a real peach of a deal with a little patience and homework.

If you fish like we do, you probably went deep into the fall fishing season and put your gear up late one night in a hurry and haven’t touched it since. February is a great month to start dragging out tackle boxes, bags and re-spool your reels. You can decide right now if you need to add a rod or reel and start budgeting to roll new gear into the mix without the burden of last minute purchasing later when the bite is on. If you’re broke like me, you know how simple trips to the lake can chew through your spending cash in a hurry all summer long.
Carefully planning out your gear purchases early in the year or even at the end of the previous seasons can take the money sting out of fishing. Buy your license on the very first day eligible to get the full value, or even look into a lifetime in your area.  I still fish with pretty basic gear and use as few rods as possible to get the job done. Even staying lean and mean in the gear department requires a little planning and maintenance to avoid surprises and wallet shock later on. Continue reading »

Late Summer Saltwater

Despite a crushing schedule, we managed to get our annual beach trip in this month. We didn’t really pack heavy, just loaded up and made a run for it. I took just one rod and my tackle bag (prepped for saltwater).
I managed to fish every day we were there and chased that with cold drinks and sunsets on the beach. It was a good trip, a welcome break from the strangling effects of work and life.
I met a guide down there last year but didn’t manage to get out with him. So this trip i made sure that he and I connected right up front. It was good to fish with someone that really knows the area and techniques and besides that he’s a cool guy. Continue reading »

Turning Down The Volume

The dance we do to make ends meet, connect with appointments and satisfy the endless stream of things everyone else needs blurs our vision from time to time. We start thinking in terms of the scoreboard. Spending more and more money and effort to get as close to perfection as possible. Blah blah and blah.

I’m no stranger to slowing things down, but sometimes I even surprise myself. I’d been on the sideline for fishing for about a month due to work and who knows what else, when we planned to fish last weekend. Those plans dissolved and we swore we’d get out this weekend.

We decided to get shiners and bass tackle and go for a state record spot at Parksville lake. We loaded up and drove 20 minutes before i realized I’d forgotten one of the trolling motor batteries. Continue reading »

May River Fishing

After a couple weeks off of crappie spawning we decided to run the Tennessee river in the tail race below Chickamauga Dam. Good rainfall had the flow around 25,000 and the weather was sunny and calm otherwise. We really didn’t set the river on fire but I managed to hook a couple of beautiful smallies and one cranky catfish before the daylight ran out. Nothing special other than a great evening on the water.

Chickamauga Lake Crappie Fishing Report

We’re still basically going twice a week these days. The fishing has been consistent, not great but consistent for a couple of weeks now. I took my kayak bass fishing buddy out last night for his first crappie run of the year. It was miserably slow from afternoon until about 10pm or later. I knew the dam was drawing very little water until midnight and just assumed it would be a bad trip altogether. We ended up picking up enough short fish to keep us interested until some keepers came along. Between 11pm and midnight someone let the dogs out and we nearly ran out of minnows in a firestorm of biting crappie. We walked away with 17 keepers and were almost shocked at how much the fishing picked up that last hour.

To be fair, our average catch was closer to 10″ than 14″ but we had a blast trying to keep minnows on hooks.

Surprise!

Aaron and two of the nicer keepers he was catching

Chickamauga Lake Crappie Fishing Report

This weekend was too busy for me to get any fishing done. Ironically, frying fish on Saturday night prevented me from catching fish to eat. As the weekend wound down on Sunday, I made my way to crappie spot and met my neighbor on his way home from the golf course. Our medium shiners were extra large and possibly contributed to the lack of fishing action. I’d picked up some fluorescent submersible lights on Saturday as well as a replacement globe for a donated Coleman lantern. So a full lighting package was employed soon after sunset. We’ve decided that fishing for crappie at night without them is a significant disadvantage. We didn’t catch near as many fish as we did a few days before, but almost every fish caught was a keeper. Larger bait catches larger fish. It would seem like a no brainer, but we look for a balance between catching a bunch of fish and the more boring version like Sunday’s trip that ended up yielding 9 keepers between 8pm and 11pm. We’re still finding plenty of fish with eggs, so we can only assume to be on the first half of the spawn cycle.

Chickamauga Lake Crappie Report

The mid-week crappie trip was bitter-sweet. We made some adjustments to our game and caught a ton of fish, but the pollen is at an all-time high and it’s trying to kill me. The good news is we’re seeing signs of fish in all phases of spawning, so now is the time for sure.

After Monday’s adventures we started working through the validation that you must have underwater lights to have the most success at night. Last night we went full lighting package. We also decided to use smaller minnows after some investigation and discussion. What we learned was that you have to use lights, and as many as you can afford to use. We also learned smaller minnows will keep you busier but definitely average smaller fish in the process. We boated over 70 fish but only about 12 of which were keepers. This is a stark contrast to Monday where we had 6 nice keeps and only caught about 30 fish total. Bigger minnows for keepers, case closed.

Chickamauga Lake Crappie Report

After a few weeks of consistently warmer temperatures, we’re starting to expect more and better results. I took the duck slayer out with the neighbor for a Monday evening sneak attack at Wolftever creek. The electronics showed modest groups of crappie everywhere in six to twenty feet of water. With jut two keepers to show at 10pm we started packing up and leaving. As we rode by the only other boat and asked about their luck, those guys told us to drop anchor and fish with them. The action was significantly better on their spot, possibly due to the arsenal of water lights they had employed. It’s was borderline pink Floyd lazer light show and it was working. We bumped our keeper count to six in an hour or so and filled our limits with their fish they didn’t intend to keep. It was a ton of fun fishing with those guys and yet another bit of proof that crappie are hard to figure out.