Advanced Seasonal Structure: The Right Fishing Spots…Have a Game Plan

By Tim Huffman

Finding the right fishing spots is what separates most fishermen. When fish are in a neutral feeding mood, fishermen putting the bait in the right spots are the ones who will end the day with a better stringer of crappie.
Who better to ask about this than tournament fishermen who travel to new lakes around the country and face many different fishing situations? Their insight to forming a game plan can help you at your local lake or when you travel to a different lake.

To catch crappie, Ronnie Capps says, “A weekend fisherman should learn how to use a map and his electronics. Spend some time with it. It’s your underwater eyes and the key to success.”

Pre-Trip Info
One of the best ways to know where to fish is to have a buddy who is fishing the lake. Whether a fisherman is going to a new lake, or, he hasn’t been to his local lake in months, current information you can trust is important. A fishing buddy can fill you in on details and save many wasted hours searching for fish.
The next choice is to find fishing reports; usually from searching the internet. The information is only as good as the source. If a bait shop owner says the crappie are hitting black-red jigs, it could be that he has a big stock of that color that he can’t sell. Or, the crappie are hitting best in the area of the lake nearest his shop. Hopefully this isn’t the case but it happens. It boils down to some fishing reports are accurate and some aren’t. When several sources report the same information the chances are good the information is correct.

A third way is to ask fishermen at the ramps for tips. If non-invasive questions are asked you can get some good help. Good questions are (1) How deep are the crappie, (2) What general areas should I look? Never ask him where he caught his fish!
2008 Classic Champ Mike Parrott agrees that fish reports are important and he always gets as much information as possible before going, especially when he is fishing a tournament at a new lake. “However, it takes a lot of hard work and hours of fishing, too. When you get to a lake it’s best to keep an open mind. I still use a paper map to study. You can pick out places to fish based upon information you get ahead of fish. But, if those don’t work keep an open mind and don’t overlook spots just because you don’t think fish should be there.”

Having a game plan allows fishermen to try different structures and depths to learn what the crappie are doing. Slow trolling is a great all-year technique for searching and catching.

Forming a Game Plan –part 1
You have information you’ve gathered before hitting the lake. You know where fish are suppose to be located. Use your map to pick specific spots to fish. For example, fish are on creek channel ledges 15 to 18 feet deep. Look at your map. Pick a couple of spots on a creek channel. Maybe choose a bend, an intersection and a stretch where the map shows stumps along the edge, all in the 15 to 18 foot depth range.
Get to the first spot and use your electronics. Seven-time classic champ Ronnie Capps says, “A weekend fisherman should learn how to use a map and his electronics. Spend some time with it. It’s your underwater eyes and the key to success.”

Studying electronics is a necessity to gain maximum knowledge of what is going on under the surface. Finding the right structure, cover and fish creates high-potential fishing situations.

Electronics will show you differences in contours, cover and fish. Pick a good area along the channel, toss a marker buoy and test-fish the first spot. If you immediately catch fish that’s great. If not, before picking up the marker and leaving, fish deeper water and up shallower in case the fish have changed depths.
Fish at least two more spots along the creek channel to give it a good try. While test-fishing you’ll also be trying some different depths.
It’s time to change plans if you don’t find active fish after four or five spots. You can’t keep fishing the same type spots and expect different results. Choose some different structures, areas and depths.
The right technique can vary for different lakes, spots and personal preference. If you like to cast and can catch fish that way it’s great. However, the majority of tournament fishermen agree that slow trolling is a huge advantage that should be included in your game plan.
“The best all-around technique is slow trolling. It works all year and at most of the lake around the country. More baits in the water and precision control with the trolling motor are what a fisherman needs to learn if he want’s to catch more fish.”

Game Plan –part 2
You’ve spent a day or two fishing and it’s time for a revised game plan.
Roger Gant and his brother won the 2011 Crappie Masters Classic. He says, “Start by learning as much as you can about the lake and then spend a lot of time fishing. You can’t replace time on the water. Use what you learned to form a game plan especially if looking to catch bigger fish.”
Ronnie Capps says, “In a tournament we have to decide which spots we are going to fish and for how long. A game plan may change if we are catching fish but we usually stick close to our plan. A weekend fisherman doesn’t have to be in a rush but he would probably catch more fish by following the same strategy. It would force the prime spots in an area to be fished in a timely manner. The time restriction will force a move that otherwise might not happen. To move you have to think about another spot, get all your poles in, put on life jackets, make your move, re-biat and place all your poles. It’s work so without a game plan we can get lazy and stay in a spot too long. A key for a weekend fisherman is to maximize your time while on the lake.”

Final Comments
Finding and fishing the right seasonal structure is an important key element to fishing success. Electronics plays a much bigger role for tournament fishermen, but it should be a big part of weekend fishing, too. Tournament fishermen often catch more fish because they don’t waste time fishing as many dead spots. They play the odds by forming a game plan based upon experience, seasonal fish movements and pre-trip information they gather. Once they spend time on the water using electronics and test-fishing different spots. Weekend fishermen can do the same thing.
A game plan isn’t something complicated so everyone should have one. Plan your trip based upon current fishing reports and experience. Several spots are fished. One of two situations will evolve: (1) you won’t catch fish so revisions to the game plan will be made to test other structures and depths; (2) if fish are caught, the pattern learned can be used to catch other fish on similar structures with the same presentation.