Picking Apart Cover with Weedless Jigheads
By Josh Gowan
Fishing for crappie has as many tactical approaches as any other game fish, including bass, and anglers are only limited by their own effort and capabilities. Although most “old school” fishermen began by utilizing a single pole and a bobber, suspending a minnow or hair jig over their favorite springtime honey hole, today’s avid angler employs a myriad of equipment and techniques to put fish in the boat year-round.
Two mainstays when locating crappie are cover and structure. Cover refers to any object in the water providing – you guessed it – cover for a fish (tree, stump, rocks, etc.), and structure is the contour of the lake or river bottom. Experienced anglers are always on the lookout for one feature in particular when it comes to both cover and structure: anomalies. An anomaly is just a difference, an irregularity, a glitch in the matrix and could constitute anything from an isolated patch of lily pads to a steep drop on a ledge. These anomalies often hold fish, and the only thing better than one anomaly is two, often combining to create fishing hotspots.
Fishing guide and tournament angler Gerald Overstreet knows how to find these hotspots, and just as importantly, he knows how to put fish in the boat, even during a negative bite. Overstreet’s Guide Service operates on the Alabama River at Prattville, the Lower Tombigbee, and Millers Ferry, and aside from professionally utilizing many different techniques to put clients on fish, he also offer on-the-water tutorials on Humminbird electronics. Although his overall knowledge and fishing prowess makes it tough to pin down Overstreet’s “specialty,” finding out his favorite way to catch crappie is simple – just ask him. “Pitching a weedless jig into tight cover on the Alabama River is just about as fun as it gets for me,” said Overstreet.
Weedless jigs have been around forever, but have historically been much more prominent in bass fishing. Over the last ten years, crappie fishermen have been catching on to the advantages of going weedless, and with social media becoming an information sharing hub for anglers of all ages, the trend will only continue to grow.
Find the Anomalies
Overstreet utilizes his Humminbird Helix Mega 12’s and 360 transducer as well as anyone, but when looking for fish on the river, the most important tools at his disposal are good old-fashioned eyeballs. “I look for current breaks in the river first; that’s the most important thing,” said Overstreet. “I want to find areas with slack or slow-moving water over the ledge, usually created by bends or points in the river. Once I’ve located the right water, I’ll look for wood, first above the water’s surface, then underwater with my side imaging. Finding a single stump or log in the right water will hold fish, but locating a downed tree is generally what I want, because that’s where you’ll find numbers of crappie, and there’s no better way to get them out than with a weedless jig. A big downed tree in an eddy is almost always going to hold fish.”
When to Fish Cover
Cover on a river ledge, especially downed trees, will often start in a few feet of water and end up in 20-plus feet, making it possible to catch fish there all year long, but for Overstreet’s weedless presentation, he targets these areas in the spring and the fall when fish are actively feeding. “You can definitely catch fish on the bigger trees all year, but crappie concentrate in these areas in the early spring when they’re feeding on shad, when they’re looking for wood to spawn on, and, in the fall, when they start moving back up chasing baitfish,” said Overstreet.
How to Go Weedless
Overstreet prefers the weedless heads because he often finds more and larger crappie in the thickest part of the cover, and by avoiding hang-ups, he’s able to spend more time catching fish. “I use B&B Weedless Jigs and Heads, 1/16 oz. if the fish are shallower than 15 feet and 1/8 oz. if they’re deeper,” said Overstreet. “I look at the tree and position myself at the end of the branches with the trunk of the tree pointed toward me, and I cast up to the base of the tree and let the jig fall to the bottom. Once it’s there, I reel slowly over the next branch, letting the jig fall after pulling over every limb. Most of the bites occur right as the jig is pulling over a limb. The base of the tree can be fished thoroughly in one or two casts, and after that I’ll pitch into the middle of the tree, the thicker the better, and let my jig fall through the branches, slowly retrieving it after each time it stops. Once I’ve covered the base and the middle, I’ll fish the deeper limbs under the boat, usually by just vertical jigging.”
The Right Equipment for Bite Detection
Overstreet uses either a six-foot B’n’M Sharp Shooter or seven-foot Sam Heaton Super Sensitive with a B’n’M Pro Staff 100 reel with eight-pound Hi-vis Gamma line. “The Sharp Shooter works great, and the Sam Heaton is even better, especially when there’s a light bite, but sometimes you still have to depend on the line to see the bite,” said Overstreet. “Aside from being able to see the line and where it’s at across limbs that are out of the water, if you have an extremely light bite on a 1/16 oz. jig 30-feet from the tip of your pole, there’s just nothing to feel, but Gamma’s hi-vis line will show you the bite. If you keep just a little slack in your line, you can see the line “jump,” and that’s when you need to set the hook. A jig falling off or bumping a limb doesn’t have the same effect on the line.”
Plastic or Hair, Chartreuse or Not Chartreuse
Overstreet prefers B&B’s Weedless hair jigs in chartreuse because of their effectiveness and toughness, but he will move to a soft plastic and change colors when conditions dictate it. “In the spring, we generally have stained water, and I use the brightest chartreuse I can get with an orange head and black thread on it; it just works,” said Overstreet. “As the water clears, I’ll move to a school bus yellow, then to a green chartreuse with a little bit of black in it, and if it gets real clear, I’ll go to a grey and white. There are times when plastics work better than hair. If the fish want the bait moving a little faster, I’ll put on a curly tail and drag it through, and sometimes I’ll go to a Bobby Garland Baby Shad if I’m not getting bit. If the water gets really muddy, I’ll use Midsouth’s glow tube on a pink head. The main thing to remember is if what you’re using isn’t working, try something else!”
Regardless of the water you’re on, looking for anomalies in cover and structure like Overstreet’s downed trees in river bends will help you locate more fish, and there’s no place crappie would rather hide than in the thickest cover available. Utilizing a weedless head will keep you fishing longer and hung up less. To get a first hand tutorial on how to employ this technique, contact Overstreet’s Guide Service at 251-589-3225, and to show up with his favorite jigs already tied on, call B&B Weedless Jigs at 205-544-0197.