Each week, his television audience tuned in to watch Dance battle huge smallmouth bass from the high-bluffed reservoir. Quickly becoming the authority on fishing instruction, Dance couldn't wait to introduce the country to Pickwick guide Roger Gant, a man he called "the best crappie fishing guide in the country."
Several years later, the combined influence of these two fishing icons found their mark, leaving a lasting impression on a part-time fishing guide.
Brad Whitehead of Muscle Shoals, Ala., shares both a love of Pickwick Lake and a passion for promoting the fishing industry with Dance. Like Gant, Whitehead has an understanding of crappie in general and, specifically, how these fish relate to Pickwick's deep, clear water.
Whitehead has even adopted Gant's technique of side-trolling, a tactic that catches tons of crappie at Pickwick.
And May at Pickwick finds both white and black crappie migrating from the shallows toward deep-water flats, as well as natural and manmade structure near cooler water, where they will spend the summer.
Whitehead offers the following 10 hotspots and a variety of methods crappie anglers can use to find and catch crappie.
1. The Lodge
N 34 48.627/W 88 06.301
Out in front of this massive two-story lake house is a stump field on a flat that averages 10 feet deep. A typical casting location, Whitehead favors a Mr. Twister grub on a 1/16-ounce jighead to work the structure.
"You can cast and retrieve the jig, and it's also a good spot to just throw out a minnow under a cork," he said. "When you see a stump on the graph, mark it with a buoy and work that area pretty thoroughly.
"Each stump should be good for five or six crappie; then ease around until you find another stump."
Whitehead also pointed out a local landmark: The gray house in the background behind The Lodge once belonged to Elvis Presley back in the '70s.
"I don't think he ever lived there," Whitehead said. "It was a week-end getaway. He'd come down here waterskiing."
2. Yacht Point
N 34 48.092/W 88 05.377
Like the stump field at hotspot No. 1, this area offers natural crappie-holding cover on a flat that meets a feeder creek (Bear Creek).
Whitehead said the creek channel has 18 feet of water and the flat is 9 feet deep. Where they meet, crappie will congregate around the stumps that were left over from when the lake was built.
"It's a good place to long-line troll," Whitehead said. "Bear Creek provides a constant supply of well-oxygenated water, especially during spring rains, and fish tend to stay here through the summer because the water temperatures will be cooler in here than out on the main lake."
For long-lining, Whitehead recommends using single 1/8-ounce heads with a plastic grub or hair body.
Troll parallel to the creek at speeds from .8 to 1 mph. Depending on your setup, this should put your baits right off the bottom, where crappie will be holding around the stumps.
Another option is to single-pole jig a 1/8-ounce hair jig. Find the stumps with your graph, and then get on top of the stump and fish straight down.
3. Fish Trap Hollow
N 34 51.847/W 88 06.600
Spot No. 3 is a location where Whitehead uses a tactic he claims has changed his outlook on crappie fishing: side-pulling.
During May, crappie will suspend 18 to 20 feet deep over 30 feet of water on this flat. The GPS coordinates mark the western end of the trolling run.
Putting out 1/8-ounce hair jigs tipped with minnows, Whitehead and his clients will side-pull with the wind, allowing the jigs to cover the targeted depth.
"Side-pulling is so much more effective than tight-lining because everybody in the boat gets an equal shot at the fish," Whitehead said. "If we were tight-lining with three people, the one or two anglers in the front get first crack and anybody in the back gets leftovers."
Whitehead sets his jig depths by precisely pulling off line from the reel, and then placing each rod in a holder when he gets the right depth. As the boat drifts sideways with the wind or moves sideways using the side-mounted electric motor, anglers keep sharp watch on their rod tips for the slightest indication of a bite.
4. Summer Flat
N 34 51.943/W 88 06.368
The area along the mouth of Bear Creek typically starts off the crankbaiting bite toward the end of May - or earlier, depending on rainfall and prevailing water temperatures.
White crappie will come out to suspend and feed up from the spawn that occurred in April.
As the sun gets higher, the fish will go deeper, so Whitehead targets this area between daybreak and around 10 a.m.
"A 2-pound crappie is fairly common from this location," the guide said.
Due to Pickwick's clear waters, Whitehead trolls crank baits with his electric trolling motor and downsizes his line from 10 – 12 pound hi-vis line that's typical of other Mississippi crank baiting waters and uses clear mono in 6 – 8 pound test.
"I use a number of crankbaits like Bandit 300s, Strike King's Series 3 and another variety made by Bomber," he said. "I space them out from 60 to 90 feet behind the boat and pull 1 1/2 to 2 mph.
"My best colors are red, black and chartreuse, and fire tiger."
5. Bear Creek Docks
N 34 52.574/W 88 06.447
Whitehead claims that a number of Pickwick crappie will choose to suspend underneath deep-water boat docks rather than out in the main lake.
He prefers a sunny day, and will wait until the sun gets up to push crappie into the shaded areas of the docks.
The GPS coordinates mark the centralized location of a line of docks in Bear Creek.
"I'll take a rod and shoot a 1/16-ounce jig on 6-pound-test line," Whitehead said. "What makes these docks so good is that there's nearly 30 feet of water under them and the owners put out brush piles around their docks."
Shooting docks takes a bit of practice, both in delivering the shot and seeing the bite as the jig falls, but once mastered is a lot of fun and is an effective mid day strategy to catch crappie.
Go to http://ow.ly/9XEbO or tag the QR code in this story with your smart phone to watch a video on this technique from MS-Sportsman.com.
6. Eastport Marina Docks
N 34 53.011/W 88 06.218
Marina docks like the ones located at Eastport Marina on Bear Creek offer a wealth of shade for crappie and the baitfish they feed on. Whitehead tries to time his fishing of these docks after the sun gets up but before the crowd gets moving.
"By late afternoon there will be a lot of foot traffic up on the docks, and that tends to spook the fish," he said. "I like to fish the deepest slips, the first four to five on the outside ends. The water is 25 feet deep under there, and sometimes the fish will suspend and sometimes they'll be right under the overhead cover."
Shooting docks is the preferred method, as getting out of the boat and onto the docks will put you in jeopardy of trespassing.
Any dock, but especially marina docks, will offer a multitude of tight corners that most often hold crappie.
Whitehead especially likes shooting a jig between the pontoons of moored party boats, especially ones that haven't been moved in a while and have collected some algae on the hulls.
7. Main Lake Flat – East
N 34 53.434/W 88 06.261
The first of a two-part hotspot, this main-lake flat near the mouth of Bear Creek and adjacent to the Tennessee River channel is a mecca for crappie starting in the month of May and running all the way through the summer.
The entire flat is over 400 yards long and is punctuated with numerous rock piles that have collected driftwood and other wood debris washed down the main channel.
A red cone channel marker denotes the approximate start of Whitehead's trolling run along the main channel.
"You can do just about anything on this flat - troll crankbaits, long-line, tight-line or side pull," Whitehead said. "The key to fishing in open-water places like this is finding the right depth the fish prefer.
"Once you find that depth, either by trial and error or by actually marking fish on the graph, then you have to make sure your baits - whatever they are - stay in that strike zone."
8. Main Lake Flat – West
N 34 53.533/W 88 06.785
One thing that stands out in Whitehead's mind about this particular stretch of flat is that the depth changes down to 16 feet less than 50 yards from the Tennessee River channel, which holds 50 feet of water in the channel.
Whitehead moves his finger over the graph to indicate the tight topographic lines that show the steep drop-off where the flat suddenly drops down into deeper water.
"It's like a rest stop on the interstate," he said. "You have all these crappie that are moving out of the shallows after the spawn, and they aren't quite ready to go into the deep summer pattern so they stage on this flat next to a major travel route. And they are hungry.
"Baitfish move in and out, up and down, and the crappie stay right there with them."
9. Indian Creek Campground
N 34 55.618/W 88 10.153
Pickwick Lake has a majority of white crappie in its waters, but black crappie are present, as well. White crappie are more prone to suspend in and over deep-water flats during the summer, while black crappie seldom stray from cover, whether that cover is in the manmade form of boat docks and brush piles or natural cover like rock piles and bluffs.
Whitehead claims spot No. 9 is a favorite of Pickwick's black crappie population. The rock bluffs that line the shore from Indian Creek all the way down to the campground are great places to work down the bank like a bass angler, casting small curly tail grubs to the structure.
"Some days I like to just go down the bank casting a 1/8-ounce curly tail grub," Whitehead said. "I believe there must be some underwater springs that come out of these bluffs because the water is a little bit cooler, and that will hold these black crappie in here through the summer."
10. Power Pole
N 34 55.094/W 88 09.965
The last location on Whitehead's list of Pickwick crappie hotspots is one of his favorite crankbait trolling runs. It's locally known as "The Power Pole" for the old pole that marks the south end of a 14- to 17-foot flat and marks the start of Whitehead's trolling run.
The guide trolls crankbaits from south to north along this flat that sticks out into deeper water in Indian Creek.
"Shad pull up on this flat early and late in the day," Whitehead said. "Crappie will suspend in there and wait for the shad, and when six or eight crankbaits come rolling through they think it's time to eat."
Guide Brad Whitehead can be contacted at (256) 483-0834. A list of public access points for Pickwick Lake can be found on the MDWFP Web site at http://www.mdwfp.com/applications/rampspiers/search.aspx