300 Miles of Crappie
by John Felsher
Diverse River System Offers Many Places to Catch Crappie
With hundreds of miles of rivers and thousands of acres of lakes, Alabama crappie fishermen never have to travel far to find excellent fishing. One of those places is the Alabama River in the southern portion of the state.
The Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers merge near Wetumpka, Ala. to create the Alabama River. From Wetumpka, the river flows another 318 miles. The entire system consistently produces crappie in the 1.5- to 2-pound range with some topping three pounds.
In most of the Southeast crappie anglers figure springtime – March and April – produce the absolute best fishing conditions. However Gerald Overstreet, Jr., a professional crappie angler and guide, says the Alabama River typically reaches its lowest and clearest water levels in late summer or fall so anglers enjoy the best fishing from late August through November. He says as the water drops, crappie concentrate in deeper channels. Look for places where crappie can escape current, but still hover near it, like around sandbars, logs, fallen trees or other current breaks.
“The entire Alabama River system is full of shad and other bait, so crappie don’t need to go far to eat,” said Overstreet, from Gainestown, Ala. “In the fall, crappie feed heavily upon shad. When nights start getting cooler, shad go really shallow and crappie follow them.”
Dams divide the river system into three main pools. The Robert F. Henry Lock and Dam in Autauga County creates the R. E. “Bob” Woodruff Lake, better known as Jones Bluff Reservoir. Retaining much of its riverine characteristics, the northernmost pool runs 80 miles through Autauga, Lowndes, Montgomery and Elmore counties to the Millers Ferry Lock and Dam in Wilcox County. Several creeks branch off from the channel.
“The Alabama system is a river, but it’s also a series of lakes with a lot of tributaries and backwaters,” Overstreet explained. “In late summer and early fall, crappie start their feed-up and move into the creeks. Swift Creek by Prattville is a good area. It’s a big creek with a lot of deep water. Some places drop more than 25 feet deep with flats off the channel that run six to 12 feet deep.”
Near Camden, Millers Ferry Lock and Dam forms the William “Bill” Dannelly Reservoir, but most people call it Millers Ferry Lake. The impoundment flows 105 miles through Dallas and Wilcox counties. Some of the best fishing occurs along the rock walls and ledges near Mill Creek, Alligator Slough and in the Cotton House area.
“Mill Creek is always a good place to fish,” Overstreet recommended. “It has some shallow, mid-depth and deeper water with standing timber in it. Foster’s Creek is another good creek. The water usually stays pretty clear in it.”
The Claiborne Lock and Dam near Monroeville forms Claiborne Lake. From the Claiborne Dam, the Alabama River flows southward another 72 miles until it merges with the Tombigbee River to form the Mobile River near Mount Vernon in Mobile County. Claiborne Lake still contains some standing timber, but numerous fallen trees create additional crappie cover. In most places, tops rotted off, but the trunks remain. Some stand 20 to 30 feet high and sit in water 30 feet deep.
“Big trees that fell into the river make great places to find crappie,” Overstreet advised. “The Cane Creek area has a lot of treetops, laydowns and other woody cover that offer good fishing. It has a distinct channel running through it. Fish hold on the ledge. We use side-imaging to find fallen trees and mark them so we can come back to fish them later. When we see a bunch of trees in a row or a big tree without a lot of small bushy limbs that could snag baits, we spider rig the area.”
In entangling cover or when fishing vertical objects like stumps or standing trees, try single-pole jigging instead of spider rigging. With just one pole, drop a jighead sweetened with a Bobby Garland plastic trailer tight against the object. Let it slowly descend through branches in a fallen tree. Crappie frequently suspend next to vertical cover. Work baits completely around an object at various depths to determine patterns.
“Around really dense cover we use a single B’n’M pole because we can get a bait all the way down through the thick stuff better,” Overstreet described. “We can also pull hooked fish out easier with a single pole. The jighead weight depends upon the current. I like a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce head. In really strong current, I go up to a 1/4-ounce jighead to hold the bait in the strike zone.”
Below Mount Vernon, the Tensaw River and other streams break off from the Mobile River. This labyrinth of interlaced channels, lakes, backwaters, swamps and marshes form the 250,000-acre Mobile-Tensaw Delta in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Although more known for numbers than size, the delta can produce some fish exceeding two pounds.
In the fall, many delta anglers cast jigs, like a Bobby Garland Swimming Minnow or Slab Hunt’r Minnow, toward the shorelines. People can also throw Road Runners, small spinnerbaits or crankbaits around downed trees or stumps. Work baits past the drop-off edges into deeper water.
With so much water, anglers could spend a lifetime fishing the vast Alabama-Mobile river system, never fishing the same place twice and still not hit every crappie honey hole. Pick an area and learn it.
John N. Felsher is a freelance writer living in the Mobile, Ala. area. He has contributed more than 2,700 articles to more than 150 magazines since 1977. He began to write professionally in high school, serving as outdoors editor for four daily newspapers and a chain of weekly newspapers. He served 12 years in the U.S. Air Force and hosted live weekly radio shows in two states.