Modern technology has certainly paved the way for turning a large number of fishermen into “catchermen.” Still there are days when it seems there’s not a fish to be found. Those are the days you wish you could push a magic button on your electronics and have it display the exact location of every fish in the lake. Sound far fetched? Not so far as you might think, and crappie guide John Woods can attest to it.
Woods has volunteered his guide services over the years to biologists seeking to outfit a sample number of crappie in Sardis and Enid Lakes with radio transmitters so their real time movements and locations can be tracked.
Unfortunately, technology does not allow us to do this specifically for readers of Mississippi Sportsman, so Woods offered the next best thing.
This month we head to Sardis Lake, with GPS in hand, to find out exactly where Woods catches his crappie as well as get some insight into how to go about it during the month of July.
1. Engineer Point N 34 23.965 / W 89 47.083
Winds on Sardis Lake play a factor in Woods’ decision for hotspot No. 1. Even in July, afternoon winds can make the lake choppier than most anglers care to brave.
"Engineer Point offers a good bit of protection from the wind and that’s rare on this lake," Woods said. "It’s also the closest put in to several of my other good locations so you don’t have to run across the whole lake in a bad chop."
2. Marina Ditch N 34 24.030/W 89 47.010
Behind Engineer Point is a causeway dug by the Corps of Engineers when the lake was built. This causeway offers deeper water access to Sardis Lake Marina for bigger boats to get in and out of the main lake.
"There’s a flat on either side of the ditch that’s around 16 feet during summer pool," Woods said. "The bottom of the ditch is 25 feet so that sheer drop off is a magnet for crappie."
Woods advised that the ditch has a slight bend that breaks to the right going in. It will also have some current flow in it that also helps orient crappie to the edges.
His best tactic for fishing this location during July is to tight line double minnow rigs from the front of the boat.
"Set your poles to fish about 12 to 14 feet deep; that will put you right at the top of the ledge," he said.
3. Sardis Lake Marina N 34 23.788/W 89 46.712
The shade afforded by the massive roof system of the covered boat docks will attract and hold some crappie year round but especially during the hot summer. Water depths will vary from 16 to 24 feet under the docks.
Woods jigs the shaded area with a single 10-foot pole, pitching jigs in the 1/16- to 1/8-ounce weight class into open slips and between boats and dock arms.
He said better fishing will be found at mid-day when the sun pushes crappie deeper and tighter to the docks in search of shade.
"Crappie tend to move around a lot under the docks," he said. "Even if you fish half a dozen slips with no bites, keep fishing because you’ll find them under there somewhere, and they’ll usually be bunched together."
Hotspot No. 3 is not noted as a big-fish location, but it holds numbers of undersized fish, which must be at least 12 inches on Sardis, along with a few keepers mixed in is the norm.
4. Rock Pit N 34 24.135/W 89 47.005
Hotspot No. 4 is just on the other side of Engineer Point. It’s the shoal barrier island that affords a wind break to the entire Engineer Point Recreation Area.
The barrier is comprised of rocks that range in size from a loaf of bread to the hood of your truck and bigger. The rock ledges stair step off from 4 to 6 feet on the top of the rocks to 20 feet of water.
Woods suggests hand-poling or tight-line trolling the drop-off.
Crappie tend to be scattered all over the point rather than concentrated in just one area.
"Once you determine what depth they’re holding at, you can catch them at that depth all over the point," Woods said. "If the wind is coming in off the lake, many times they’ll be on the back side. It’s a natural ambush location."
5. Thompson Creek N 34 24.181/W 89 46.094
Woods’ next three to four hotspots are tight-line trolling runs. His preferred weapon is a double-hook minnow rig anchored by at least a 1/2-ounce weight.
The specific GPS locations will have some significance to the trolling run, but Woods urges anglers to feel free to move about the areas.
A case in point is Thompson Creek, the next major tributary on the south shore of Sardis Lake at hotspot No. 5.
The specific mark is the edge of the channel in the mouth of Thompson Creek, but the guide admits he doesn’t just troll the edge of the channel: He has more luck going back and forth across the mouth of the creek.
"Don’t just run the channel," Woods said. "During early July, many fish will be scattered out around the mouth of the creek looking for cooler water.
"In fact, some fish never leave the mouth area; they’ll be here almost year round."
6. End of Thompson Creek N 34 23.904/W 89 45.650
This hotspot marks the extreme southerly course of where Woods will troll. Thompson Creek winds its way farther south, but water depths tend to be less than 10 feet and subsequently void of fish this time of year.
Back this far, Woods does tend to orient more to the edge of the channel.
"The creek channel is only about 20 feet wide, but it is well defined and it drops from about 6 to 8 feet on top of the ledge down to 16 to 18 in the channel," he said.
Woods explained that the main lake out in front of the dam was cleared of timber when Sardis was constructed but the tributary creeks were not. Expect to find residual wood cover in the form of stumps, fallen timber, and layovers on the bottom and edges of the channel that will hold crappie.
7. Clear Creek N 34 25.713/W 89 43.141
The Clear Creek boat ramp is situated along the left-hand side of hotspot No. 7 coming in from the main lake.
Like at Thompson, Woods doesn’t just troll the channel edge near the mouth but prefers to work from point to point. He also points out that Clear Creek is the longest tributary on the lake, and he’ll troll three quarters of the way back, which gives him a minimum of a mile and a half of water to cover.
"Clear Creek is an all-day trip in itself," he said. "Don’t be intimidated by all that open water. They do these incremental drawdowns on the lake all summer, and these crappie are steadily on the move.
"Put your long poles out and get to trolling."
Finding and catching white crappie is pretty common all over Sardis, as they tend to be the dominant species. When biologists had filled their quota of white crappie tags at Sardis, Woods directed them to Clear Creek when they were having trouble finding a sampling of black crappie.
"Clear Creek seems to have more than its share of black crappie at times," Woods said. "Most folks don’t care, but if you’re after specks, Clear Creek is a good bet."
8. Point 8 N 34 27.420/W 89 41.184
Woods provided us with a quick exercise in geometry before we get to hotspot No. 8. If you draw an imaginary line from the No. 8 marker up on the south bank of the lake over to the red building on the north bank, the line will intersect the coordinates provided for this hotspot.
The guide said this is the center point for a long mid-lake trolling run. You can go a mile in either direction — north or south.
He said it could be a tight-line run, but he’s not kidding anyone. This is where crankbaiters reign.
"The average water depth is about 28 feet," he said. "The Tallahatchie River channel snakes like crazy through this area. It’s where June crappie retreat to when the weather starts to get seriously hot.
"A lot of folks will already be pulling crankbaits out on the main lake, but this area is where I consider the summer crankbait season really kicks off."
9. Holiday Lodge N 34 29.174/W 89 39.369
The most-popular and productive crappie fishing tactic on Lake Sardis during the month of July is trolling crankbaits.
While Woods admits it may not always be his favorite, he recognizes it for what it is.
This hotspot again marks a boundary of sorts. It lies directly in front of Holiday Lodge, a popular outfitter and launch site, as well as the edge of the standing timber which is no-man’s land for crankbaiters.
"From this spot all the way to the dam is where crankbaiters catch tons of white crappie that suspend just above the thermocline that will start forming in June," he said. "There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to the pattern.
"Crappie are suspended in the thermocline looking for baitfish to feed on."
Sardis has a rod limit of five rods per angler, so two anglers can troll 10 rods and have 10 crankbaits running a search pattern.
Waters depths of 16 to 18 feet are prevalent in the area and get deeper the closer you get to the dam. Woods suggests keying on various channels, creeks and ditches that run off the main channel which may have drop-offs of 6 to 8 feet.
10. Lespedeza Point N 34 25.963/W 89 46.775
The final hotspot in Woods’ listing includes Lespedeza Point. The long, sloping point provides crappie with access to shallow water out in the lake up on the point.
In addition, a sandbar just east of the marked location runs from the north shore nearly halfway across the lake, which affects current flow and baitfish movements, and collects crappie.
The water depth up on both the point and the sandbar is in the 6- to 8-foot range, while the deeper water off the structures drops down to around 26 feet.
"Slow-trollers can work this area, finding fish on scattered structure that dots both the point and the sandbar," Woods said. "Crankbaiters will work the edges of the drop, skirting the sandbar and the point for suspended fish."
Woods pointed out that one of the more attractive features in this location is the valley formed between the two areas that contains a number of bottom irregularities.
Guide John Woods can be reached at 731-334-9669. You can also view his updated Sardis Lake fishing reports on Crappie 101.com at www.crappie101.com/crappie/john-woods-guide-service.