The sun was just getting up as Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman reversed their boat away from Water Valley Ramp and motored out of Billy's Creek. It was hot already and promised to be even hotter as the day wore on.

The pair eyed the depthfinder on the Ranger's console as the boat headed out toward open water. Fish were scattered high and low on the screen until the boat made its way around the point into the main lake.

At that point it became obvious what depth was to the liking of seemingly every fish in the lake.

"Looks like the thermocline is set up pretty good down around 10 feet," Capps said. "We'll start right here at lucky No. 7."

If anyone understands crappie, it's Capps and Coleman. The fishing partners hold the distinction of being the only team to have won a Crappie National Championship six times. As pro staff members for West Point-based BnM poles, they have traveled the country winning tournament after tournament, and one of their favorite summertime spots is Enid Lake.

Locate the thermocline

Capps, who is a guide on Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake as well as a law enforcement officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, looks for crappie to suspend during July at or above the thermocline in 7 to 10 feet of water. The pro indicates that the fish will layer out and suspend at these depths in water that is somewhere in the 20- to 25-foot depth range.

"The water at Enid is usually stained, and because of that crappie don't mind suspending out in open water," he said. "Unlike in most of the really clear-water lakes, they feel secure in the murky water, and you don't have to get in a brushpile or tight to cover to find good crappie."

When temperatures get high, Enid, like most other water bodies, will begin to stratify with warmer water rising to the surface and cooler water dropping to the bottom. Because of the nutrient-rich lake bottom, dissolved oxygen in the lower layer is rapidly depleted, and the fish are forced into a thin strip of cooler, well-oxygenated water that is known as the thermocline. This thermocline layer may change as the season progresses, and at times can be difficult to locate.

Capps has discovered two surefire ways to find out the depth level at which the fish are holding once the thermocline sets up.

"Adjust the sensitivity on your sonar graph," he said. "You can actually see where the cooler, denser water is because it will show up as a thin line on the graph.

"The other way is to look at what depth you mark fish at - there won't be much, if any, fish below the thermocline because the oxygen level is so low. Look for the bulk of the fish to be somewhere in the 8- to 12-foot range, and that's where you want your baits to be."

Finding fish

Because fish are suspended and not necessarily relating to cover, locating willing crappie is the next piece of the puzzle. A lot of anglers tightline troll for crappie during the majority of the year, while some anglers go to a tactic of flat-line trolling crankbaits in order to locate fish. The key to both tactics is to be on the move.

Ever the forward thinkers, Capps and Coleman prefer to use a combination of the two methods, a tactic that has come to be known as power trolling.

"We use our basic two-hook rig, but we replace the single hooks with crankbaits," explains Capps. "There are two three-way swivels in this setup. On the elbow to the first swivel is a dropper with about 30 inches of leader. That line gets a broke-back shallow-running Rapala crankbait. Then below that is another 30-inch leader that connects to the second three-way swivel. On the second swivel's elbow is a 25-inch leader tied to a 300-series Bandit crankbait. On the bottom eye of that lower swivel is a 4- to 6-inch dropper that has a 5-ounce bell sinker tied to it.

"When you put the whole rig in the water, that sinker pulls the two swivels tight, and the two droppers have a diving crankbait on the bottom and a shallow crank on top. That keeps them apart."

The method is called power trolling because rather than pull the crankbaits behind the boat, stiff-action rods are positioned in holders from the bow. This gives rise to the term "pushing crankbaits."

The beauty of pushing crankbaits out the front is that there's also room to pull crankbaits out the back. The team says one man runs four rods from the front of the boat and the other runs four rods out the back. With that many crankbaits sifting through the thermocline, it doesn't take long to find willing fish.

"We're covering some ground in the vertical column with this rig," said Capps. "That broke-back isn't diving; it's just trailing, and the 300 Bandit is diving so the cranks will stay apart. We can reach fish at two different depths along the thermocline."

Setting up

Power trolling a 5-ounce weight requires a pretty sturdy rod to keep from bending over double with just the weight of the rig, especially while trolling at speeds up to 2 m.p.h. Capps and Coleman use 14-foot BnM Pro Staff rods that were specifically designed for this type of use. The rod is matched with a sturdy baitcast reel.

"Most of the time we're using some big line on this system to keep from breaking off if we do hang on something," Capps said. "We use 25-pound P-line on the main line and all the droppers, and we can almost always pull the hooks loose and bend them back with pliers. We seldom lose a whole rig using that size line."

The rods are arranged in rodholders in both the front and rear of the boat. The team prefers a Drfitmaster rodholder system that allows them to have a bank of rods at each corner of the boat. With two rigs nearly vertical on either side of the bow, the rear angler can flat-line troll a crankbait from the widest point at each corner of the stern and run a single power-trolling rig inside the flat-line rods.

The whole outfit is propelled with a variable-speed trolling motor mounted to the bow of the boat. Capps and Coleman use a 36-volt Minn Kota Auto Pilot trolling motor with 101 pounds of thrust, the highest poundage the company makes. Capps says he needs all the power he can get to push his 22-foot Ranger and handle any windy conditions.

The variable speed allows him to adjust the thrust to match the conditions. He may start the day at 30-35 percent of the thrust and have to up the dial as the day and conditions progress.

Since the hot weather has the crappie's metabolism at the highest of the year, they will chase a crankbait within striking distance that's trolling at speeds up to 2 m.p.h.

Most often the bite is a reaction strike with the larger crappie in the school going after the crankbaits - which are between 3 ½ to 4 ½ inches long. This eliminates most bites from small fish.

"The way to adjust your speed is to watch that top crankbait," said Capps. "Speed up until you can feel that top bait start to quiver; that's the best action to get a strike and that's the speed you want to troll at."

Where to fish

Like those at most flood-control reservoirs, Enid's crappie will move out of the creeks and will be found this time of year either in the mouths of major tributaries or in the main-lake basin once temperatures rise and thermoclines set up.

Local guide John Harrison has his favorite spots on Enid when this time of year rolls around. Harrison, from Calhoun City, spends most of his July days at Enid on major points between the mouth of Billy's Creek and the dam.

While Harrison is also a BnM pro staffer and tournament angler, being on Enid so much as a guide means he doesn't have to spend much time searching for suspended fish during the summer. He and his tournament partner troll crankbaits a lot this time of year, but Harrison goes straight to the fish on Enid each day and camps out on them using a two-way minnow rig, which was created by Capps and Coleman.

"I usually find those suspended fish in about 10 to 12 feet of water out over 25 to 30 feet of water," said Harrison, "especially down at the dam when it's hot. Those fish will be hanging right out from the rocks in front of the dam."

The guide was quick to point to Wallace Creek and Long Branch Creek as other hot July spots. His other choice was the mouth of Billy's Creek and the marker points at Nos. 7 and 9, which are located between Billy's Creek and Long Branch Creek.

"Right out from Billy's Creek is some standing timber that's up in the air," he said. "I have caught some good fish near that standing timber in July.

"Below that, there's a long point that comes out off the beach and a point that comes off of Long Branch that comes out toward the dam, and those are great July areas."

Live bait choices

Harrison prefers to use live minnows when he knows where the fish are located. Rigging for a double minnow presentation is a little easier than power trolling, but the guide admits that using live bait in July is not without its hardships because it's difficult to keep minnows alive when it's hot.

He uses large minnows in the 2- to 3-inch range, and if he doesn't keep them in an insulated cooler with an aerator running, they won't last long. The guide points out that when fishing with clients he feels he has better success with live bait if the fish are suspended and holding in one area.

Like with power trolling, Harrison will put several rods out the front of his boat and fish them straight down. He moves around using a variable-speed trolling motor, but keeps his pace slower than used for power trolling. He'll move at speeds closer to .5 m.p.h. rather than 2 m.p.h. He feels that sometimes he has to put the live bait right in the fish's face to make them bite. As such, he's using lighter line and a more sensitive rod, which in his case is the BnM Capps and Coleman trolling rod.

"I sometimes have to troll a little slower in July," he said. "Using live minnows in that warm water is tough, and if you drop them below the thermocline for any length of time, they'll be dead. In fact that's a good indicator if you're fishing too deep - your bait won't get bit and it'll come up dead."

But for his efforts, Harrison says he is rewarded with good numbers of crappie in the ¾- to 1 ¼-pound range, and it's very common to get on some big crappie that go over two pounds. Not bad for a day in July.