By Tim Huffman
Good wood covers, including trees, stumps and snags, are always high-potential spots for catching fish.
Stump and snags…the love affair never ends for the fish or fishermen. Fish love the safety, ambush opportunities, and shadows offered by the wood. Fishermen love wood because they know it’s where crappie hide.
There are many lakes and rivers that are full of trees, stumps and laydowns. Don Brooks fishes all over the country but Truman is his home water and he likes fishing there. He notes that waters vary from region to region but the vertical jigging he uses at Truman works in many of the other lakes with similar type covers.
“This time of year,” says Brooks, a team member of the 2013 Crappie Masters Angler Team of the Year. “Water temperatures are up and fish often move out to 8 to 10 feet of water but you have to check different depths to know for sure. The key is to fish fast from stump to stump and area to area. I’m looking for active fish so the more wood I fish the better the chances of catching more fish.”
Brooks keeps his equipment simple beginning with a 10-foot BnM Sam Heaton Super-Sensitive. The sensitivity helps when bites are very light and it’s light enough to hold all day long. Line is 10-pound test Spider Wire for strength, sensitivity and small diameter. He uses three different jigheads depending upon the mood of the fish. A 1/8-ounce is the typical jig for getting down quickly and giving good feel. He switches to a 1/16-ounce jig for a slow fall when fish are not aggressive. When just looking for a bite in an area, he’ll use a 1/4-ounce to draw a reaction bite.
Everything might look the same when gazing across the water at a group or field of stumps and snags. However, there are many differences including the sizes, types of woods and underwater depths and contours. Your job as a fisherman is to find the specific bottom depths, strike zone and type of wood that the crappie prefer.
“Presentation depends upon the wood and aggressiveness of the fish,” says Brooks. “Some trees have thick limbs. Drop straight down in thick stuff. Other might be old with fewer limbs so pitching the jig and letting it swing down to a stop can be good.”
“Fish will often use the outside edges, isolated wood, or a long narrow patch like an old fencerow. There will usually be some place that the crappie will gather in numbers. Once you find that you can stick to that pattern and catch more fish. No need to fish the wood that doesn’t have fish.”
Brooks still recommends using electronics. The deeper the fish the more important it is to have a good sonar to find drop-offs, underwater wood and fish.
There are a lot of stumps that allow trolling. Reelfoot Lake is one place a lot of trolling is done immediately over the top of the stumps. A few years ago the Crappie Masters Championship was won by slow trolling at Truman Lake. Snags and trees laying on bottom was the winning structure. Finding submerged wood is the key although it’s okay to have some of the wood sticking up.
Slow trolling puts more baits in the water and gives a wide area of coverage. Typical set-ups include long 12- or 14-foot poles with single jigs or double-hook rigs. Minnows are a great summertime choice. Straight minnows on light-wire hooks with a ½-ounce sinker in between the hooks is a popular choice. Jig-minnow combinations are also a good pick when fish want a little color. Single hook rigs are easier to fish because of fewer hang-ups.
The most important part of slow trolling is boat control. Experts often go against the wind. This allows a very slow presentation and the trolling motor can be stopped when a bush is found or a fish caught. This stops the boat right on the spot. Strong winds call for going with the wind using chains, drift socks, Drift Paddles or some other device to slow the boat and keep it straight.
Factors for Stumps & Snags
Thick or Scattered: Presentation will often determine the required technique. For example, thick standing timber calls for jigging. A field of submerged stumps might be best slow trolled. Anything in between has to be determined by the situation, conditions and the crappie’s preferred presentation for the spot.
Old vs. New Wood: Old wood is easier to fish because only the larger limbs remain. It can still be outstanding for holding crappie. Live wood like a new laydown or fishing flooded shoreline wood can present tougher fishing but excellent results. The key is being in the right depth of water.
Clouds/Sun: Sun is preferred because it pushes crappie tight to the cover for shade.
Water Color: A stain or tint is preferred by jig fishermen. Less visibility allows a fisherman to get close without spooking the fish.Wind: A little ripple means better fishing because the fish are less spooky. The ripple breaks up the silhouette of the boat. Too much wind is a problem. Boat control becomes difficult whether jigging or slow trolling.
Current: Slow current is fine. Fast currents are bad. Presentations are more difficult and fish pull tight behind cover or go to areas with less current.
Fishing Pressure: Fishing pressure makes a difference. Most lakes have fewer fishermen in the summer.
Boating Traffic: Summer is a time when non-fishermen are playing on the lakes. Each lake is different but those with skiers, jet skis and other boating traffic can be a problem.