As we begin our departure from winter and progression into spring the warming water temperatures tend to increase fish activity. This is a good thing! Warmer water is preferred by the cold blooded fish to aid them in digestion of food and spawning. Better digestion means eating more and usually larger prey.
Before we get into the freshwater fishing techniques, we will discuss some target fish for this type of year leading into spring. Around this area of north Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee we see crappie fishing take a noticeable uptick in activity. Crappie tend to prefer cooler water and are often fished in winter at deeper depths but become more energetic when water temperatures are between 50°F-60°F. This range tends to produce the best bite and their movement will begin slowing back down in the 60’s. Another target fish this time of year is trout. As they are commonly found in cold mountain streams and lakes normally, their preferred water temp is a slightly larger range of 34°F-67°F. I can personally attest to this as I have caught some great trout in areas with snow on the ground at my feet in the early morning while fogging the crisp mountain air with my breath. Good times! Crappie fishing, admittedly I have a lot to learn as I did not begin to target them until 7-8 years ago. However, I have some great friends who regularly fill their boat with a daily limit that have taken me under their wing and often give me priceless advice that I will gladly pass along to you dear reader. Bluegill, sunfish, and perch can be caught around these temps as well but tend to prefer the higher end of the 60’s to mid 70’s as a peak to their movement. Bass and catfish fall into the mid 60’s to mid 80’s.
Now we can get into the fishing techniques of baits and presentation for our above mentioned swimming quarries. First we’ll discuss bait size, then color, and lastly presentation. As a (very) general rule, the colder the water, the smaller the bait. As previously mentioned water temperature has a direct effect on fish in terms the amount of time it takes for them to digest what they eat. For crappie the primary lure being jigs, there’s not as wide of range in terms of size as for say largemouth bass. There is a degree of difference in the size and weight of the jig head used we will discuss more in presentation. The jig heads can be found in different shapes from round to minnow head representation, color, and with or without eyes. Crappie lure sizes probably do not have a large variance simply due to the fact that the record crappie is just over 5 pounds and most of what is caught falls into the 10″-18″ range. A 1″-2.5″ curly tail grub on a 1/8-1/32 once jig head is very popular. However, hair and feather jigs rightfully earn their place as well. The crappie’s natural food is mainly minnows but they are opportunist and will also eat insect larvae and crayfish. The main diet being minnows is a direct correlation to why jigs are a popular lure for them. Trout lure sizes will vary a bit more as mentioned, they are very selective eaters and vary in size depending on location. Mountain streams will produce more “stocker” size fish being 9″-11″ and do not tend to get much larger in the northwest Georgia area. However, lake trout found farther north and in larger streams and rivers average 20″-30″. Trout natural diet is insects (water and the unfortunate that fall in), other fish, and crustaceans. A favorite among larger trout are helgramites which are also popular with smallmouth bass. Fly fishing is well liked among trout fishers due to the typical clear visibility in the water they inhabit and insects being a favorite food. Fly fishing is wonderful fun but takes time, practice, and a clear area to master. I typically fish for trout with meal worms, salmon eggs, or trout magnet lures but have seen good results from rooster tails in difficult conditions.
Now we can dive into colors and presentation. Many fishers, myself included will have “go-to” colors and lures. For crappies a color called “Tennessee shad” fairs well in my area and a black and blue body chartreuse tail curly tail grub. You can watch days worth of YouTube videos on various colors in different water conditions and black can usually be seen the best in murky water. This does not mean it’s always the best otherwise we’d only have black lures like the first Ford automobiles ????. It’s always a good color staple to have in the tackle box though. In clearer water on days with ample sunlight a lure with metal flake or glitter can do well. This mimics sunlight reflecting off of the tiny scales of baitfish. My ultimate go-to color is a watermelon red with red flake. I use this color on grubs, plastic worms, and bass jigs alike and I would have to say is my overall favorite. As for trout, I prefer live bait more but trout magnets and Powerbait have produced for me as well. In areas where they are stocked in corn and multi-colored powerbait nuggets do well simply because they imitate the color, shape, and size of they food they were given at the hatcher before being released.
Presentation of baits to fish can be as varying as all other factors combined. Sometimes a simple cast and moderate retrieve will entice bites while other times a jerking or jigging movement may be necessary to attract a bite. This is also where weight is relevant. For crappie in deeper waters or channels with current flow a heavier jig will be needed to get the bait to the location of the fish and keep it there for visibility. When crappie are staged underneath shallow docks or holding in structure like submerged trees a lighter jig will enable a slower fall and give more temptation that imitates a falling or injured minnow which is an easy meal. Crappie are often a schooling type of fish and will move as such. In this situation having a boat to follow patterns helps. However, bank fishing in my past I have found that they repeat their route and will follow back around to an area if you’re patient. Trout on the other hand in mountain streams and creeks are what I like to refer to as “opportunistic predators”. They lie in wait until food floats by and attack. This is why my best tactic for them is using a BB split shot sinker about 12″ above a small hook and cast upstream. I keep the line slack reeled up but not tight. In moderately moving water the sinker will roll across the rocky bottom with the bait slightly off bottom at a good level where the trout are waiting.
I hope some of these freshwater fishing techniques and insights can be of some use to you in your fishing quests. As always, please feel free to comment or send me an email with your thoughts, suggestions, or questions.