By Darl Black
Some anglers may call it a rise or submerged island. Regardless of the local colloquialism, a hump is merely a substantial elevation of the lake bottom that is surrounded by deeper water.
Mid-lake humps are not equal. More so than the size of the hump, the rise must have cover on it to attract and hold crappies as they wait for passing baitfish schools. Cover may be natural – in the form of vegetation, stumps or rocks. Or cover may be man-added, such as brushpiles or cribs.
While no criteria exist in terms of height of the rise, depth of the crest or size to identify a hump, you will know one when you see it. Some humps may be no larger than a living room, while others may cover more than an acre – you can easily find them with sonar. On the other hand, a “bump” is much smaller – let’s say not much larger than a bread box. A bump on a flat may hold a single bass, while a hump may hold a school of crappies. Of course, a hump may contain multiple bumps which certainly enhance its attractiveness to fish.
On man-made impoundments, humps are more prevalent on flatland reservoirs where water has flooded a rather uniform stretch of land with gradual depth change from the shoreline to the mid-section of the lake. On these impoundments, a hump may be attributed to natural contour of the land as well as man-made structures such as the rise around a house/barn foundation, elevation of a roadbed/railroad bed over a low area around a creek, rock spoil piles from mining/agriculture, etc. Regardless of the source of the rise, once it is flooded with water the hump becomes a beacon for fish.
Crappies in particular are attracted to humps during the summer. Mature crappies typically target young-of-year shad, emerald shiners, or other open-water preyfish species. But crappies also have an affinity for certain types of cover. Mid-lake humps with some type of cover (stumps, weeds, rock piles or man-made cribs) are the perfect summer home for crappies. With a feeling of security due to cover, crappies simply hold on the structure waiting for roaming forage fish schools to pay a visit.
Pymatuning Lake on the Ohio/Pennsylvania border is one of several impoundments in the immediate area with both humps and a strong population of crappies. During the spring, anglers fill the shallows to fish for crappies. But with the arrival of summer heat and a shift in forage source, crappies move offshore. Only a handful of anglers follow them.
“Hooker” Brakeman, a partner in Hills Country Store in Westfield, Ohio, is one fisherman who never gives up on crappies.
“When it comes to summertime crappies, every day is Hump Day for me,” says Hooker.
After nearly three decades of competing in regional and national bass tournament circuits, Hooker traded in his high-horsepower gelcoat bass boat for a used tin boat and a 20 HP motor. He fished for crappies as a kid, and after retiring from bass competition, decided it was time to return to his roots.
“Here on Pymatuning there is no shortage of offshore structure and cover for crappies to choose from. Structure is the physical change to the bottom, while cover refers to vegetation, wood or rock located on structure,” explains Brakeman.
Finding the right combination of cover on structure begins with a good lake bottom contour map and sonar. Hooker employs Humminbird sonar to locate likely spots.
“My favorite humps are isolated somewhat from other structural features, and top off between 8 and 14 feet with deeper water around the perimeter. The depth change can be drastic or as subtle as a couple feet. If the hump has had cover such as a few stumps, a rock pile or old building foundation, I’m confident crappies will be handy – either snugged up to cover or suspended above cover, or possibly off to the side of the hump.”
When it comes to marking structure, Hooker is a bit old fashioned. When he finds a hump he tosses out a buoy marker for reference. Even though a mark can be electronically made on the sonar screen, he still prefers a physical floating marker in order to make every cast count.
Using his Motor Guide trolling motor, Hooker works around the area while fan casting a Bobby Garland bait on Gamma 2-pound test line. “I cast the entire area and water column from top to bottom until I find biting fish. On cloudy days, crappies could be anywhere in the immediate vicinity of the hump. But on bright sunny days, crappies will generally be very close to cover and nearer the bottom.
Hooker will vary the weight of his jig from 1/64 to ¼-ounce depending on wind, depth and attitude of fish. Aggressive fish means he can fish faster with a slightly heavier jig, while crappies with lockjaw usually require a lighter, slower-falling jig.
Hooker says he has never found it necessary to run through 20 or more wild color combinations to catch crappies. “Color wise, I keep it simple with black, pearl, blue, chartreuse, and pink,” he adds.
Hooker Brakeman prefers the Garland Slab Dockt’r for late summer when you shad have grown a bit.
“Early in the summer, I have great success with Bobby Garland Baby Shad. But later in summer I switch to a larger profile Bobby Garland bait, such as the Swimming Minnow and Slab Dockt’R.”
When checking out a hump, Hooker generally has two rods in the water. With the first rod he is casting and retrieving a jig. The second rod has a 1/32-ounce jighead with a Baby Shad body. This rod is cast a short distance off the opposite side of the boat and then placed in a Driftmaster Rod Holder.
Hooker explains: “The lightweight jig on the second rod is simply trailing the boat as I work around a hump. The bait rises as I move the boat forward and then drifts slowly downward when the boat slows. The bait is floating in the water column just off the hump. The realistic Garland Baby Shad is something no crappie can pass up – even fish that are suspended and not really feeding. That second rod catches a lot of bonus fish, and it does not require me to anything except to glance at the rod tip now and then.”
Hooker says August is prime hump time for crappies on northern lakes. “You can catch summer crappies right now if you follow the above recommendations.