By Vic Attardo
On the Good Ship Lollipop, anglers fishing Lake Moultrie at “Santee Cooper” show off a terrific catch of winter crappie.
There are some things that just don’t go together — or so many folks once thought. While history doesn’t really record it, there was early opposition to the combination of peanut butter and chocolate, but now where would be without Reese Pieces?
Then, on a biological level, there’s the hybridizing mixture of a muskellunge with a northern pike to create the tiger muskie, or a striper and white bass to Frankenstein the aggressive “wiper,” or a donkey with a horse to make a mule.
While you might not remember it, there was once a lot of opposition when some morning breakfasters added milk to their coffee. Scandalous.
Now there’s the odd combination of party boats and crappie fishing. Yes, crappie fishing on a party boat. How in this tournament world, where one or two anglers sit in the bow and plumb for crappie, are we supposed to accept that a boat load of people can fish for our favored fish.
Kevin Davis, owner of Blacks Camp in Cross, S.C., scans the sonars on his pontoon boat to help locate the brush piles he’s laid for crappie fishing on Lake Moultrie.
Just for the record a “party boat” is not the kind of craft where one breaks out the Dewar’s and gets to sloshing with the sloshing. A party boat, for the uninitiated, is a boat where a substantial number of people get together and fish.
I’ve been on party boats fishing for ocean dwellers off the Jersey and Florida coasts, and even for yellow perch on the inland sea of Lake Erie. But never, until last year, had I been on a party boat on the dual waters of Santee Cooper, South Carolina. And absolutely never had I fished for crappie on a party boat excursion.
That all changed when I accompanied Kevin Davis, and a half dozen other folks on board Davis 34-foot pontoon boat powered by a 225HP Yamie.
“This boat,” said Davis, owner of Black’s Camp, is made for rough water.”
And a good thing too because Lake Moultrie, the “lower lake” of the Santee Cooper’s pair of lakes, is big water that can get uppity on windy days. And no one wants to experience a puking party on a party boat, I’m sure.
Planning pays off as Kevin Davis holds a pair of crown-size crappie caught by a handful of anglers aboard his pontoon boat on Lake Moultrie while fishing his “secret” brush piles.
As it was, we enjoyed a fairly calm day in early winter and to the party’s pleasant surprise, the crappie came up like falling leaves in reverse.
If you’ve never fished shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow crappie anglers, this is a thing to try. With eight to ten foot rods to your right and left, you tend to not only watch your own for the tell-tale twitch, but your neighbors and their neighbors as well.
“Hey, so-and-so, you’re getting a bite.”
On a pontoon boat fishing for crappie you get to stand and lean against a rail or the aluminum sides. That in itself is unusual. Add the fact all these rods are slanting over the rail, pointing down to the water like a teacher at an empty blackboard, well the picture is definitely different. And then when two or three crappie come up over the rail at the same time, I mean how much different can you get? This crappie fishing is not according to Hoyle. But it is very effective.
What makes this party boat experience so successful is Davis’ secret. Out on Lake Moultrie, he has placed brush piles, or cribs, and only Davis, or the people who work for him, knows where they are.
The real key to the secret is that the piles are placed in the ditches, or fingers, that run around Moultrie and the crappie travel up and down the ditches from pile to pile. The piles are placed in water depths from 10 to 40 feet. With this range, they can appeal to traveling crappie schools across a span of water temperatures and seasons.
While the location of Davis’ brush piles are a closely held secret, you can set a brush pile anywhere the law allows and then, you too can take folks out on your pontoon boat and have a party.
What isn’t a secret is how well Davis tends his brush piles making it possible for the party to catch a boat load of crappie. Overall, the brush piles are four times the size of his boat, he told me, and his 34-foot boat is nine feet wide. Must be a heck of a party just setting all the brush down.
Davis refreshes his brush piles every winter or else they would collapse and loose their effectiveness. “We sweeten them up,” he says with a party smile.
The base of the pile is constructed of concrete blocks tied together with galvanized electric fence wire — “which seems to last forever.”
The brush itself is a combination of wax myrtle and various hardwoods. “It last long and jigs comes out easier,” said Davis.
When the crappie bite is strong, feeding fish will often be on the peak of the brush piles. Often, said Davis, the crappie feeding on the top will excite the fish that are further down and around the pile. When this happens, crappie fishing can be a really hot party.
In the cold weather and water we faced this winter day, the fish were down off the side of the brush, but fortunately they were aggressively hitting.
If you got out with Davis, you don’t even need equipment. He has enough eight-to-ten foot B’nM rods for everyone and he prefers that you use his stuff because the rods are specially rigged.
The spinning reels are equipped were lines of 10-pound braid prefaced with a three-or four-foot leader of 6 pound fluorocarbon. The two lines are tied with an Albright knot.
On this winter day we were fishing in 25 to 35 feet of water and the braided line was important for its no-stretch characteristic.
To get out baits down, the line were rigged with one or two 1/8 crimp on bullet weights. When two weights were needed the conical-shaped weights were placed back to back, broad bottom against broad bottom. As they were crimp-ons, it was easy to add or subtract the weights so the bait could reach bottom.
The bait of choice was a “baby” shiner. The shiner got to the bottom on the back of a round-head jig with a contrasting soft-plastic tail, a Rockport Rattler
For a time I sat with Davis in the pontoon’s wheelhouse. Even in winter it was good to have the protection of a sheet of aluminum over the roof to reflect away the strong sun. It was doubly necessary because Davis has to watch his sonar and other devices to exactly locate the brush piles in open water.
On this day he had to hold the boat steady over the intended structures with his controls. With the wind and moderate waves it wasn’t easy.
During all this he orchestrated how you should fish — if you wanted to be successful.
All in the party were instructed to reach the proper depth by pulling out line from the reel to the first guide. This was our unit of measurement.
For most of the day, we pulled the line 12 or 13 times, getting us the proper depth. Davis shouted out the number of pulls by studying the sonar.
If you really paid attention, you got the idea that the jig and shiner should be in a specific area — on, around or above an individual brush pile and you’d lower the bait accordingly. It may have been a party boat but the fishing was taken very seriously.
Frequently, if the party at your right elbow lowered their bait to 14 or 15 pulls, or maybe the reverse just 11 pulls, then got a hit, you’d ask how many pulls, repeat the procedure and be rewarded with a good strike. It seemed that if one good crappie was caught at a particular area on a brush pile, another fish could also be taken close to this spot.
(Just look at the photos to see the quality fish that were caught.)
Through all this Davis chimed like an auctioneer encouraging both the anglers and the fish.
“Fishy, fishy in San-tee
“Please, please come home with me”
If that song, and catching all these crappie, doesn’t put you in a party mood, I don’t know what would.
Blacks Camp is located in Cross, South Carolina. It includes a motel, marina, restaurant and more. For information call 843-753-2231; www.blackscamp.com