Jeff Collum eased his boat into a shallow-water cove filled with buck brush, willows and grass while searching for crappie on Okatibbee Lake during a spring outing.

Collum was just about to pass a bush top when he dropped his jig-and-cork rig by it, popped it slightly to the side and the cork disappeared in an instant.

Collum jerked a slab crappie out of the bush and promptly put it in the boat.

Over the next few minutes, Collum and his sons really worked the papermouths over with their rigs.

"When they're up in the shallows and feeding actively - or spawning - then it's time to take the kids out to the lake," Collum said. "That's when you can really have some fun."

Collum, an avid bass angler and tournament competitor, knows a thing about catching crappie, and has found that the quickest way to catch a limit of shallow-water slabs is with a jig-and-cork rig worked on a crappie pole - preferably a graphite rod.

"I'll take that jig pole and put a small cork on my line, and position it above the jig about 12 inches to 18 inches to start with, depending upon the actual depth of the water," Collum said.

If the fish are up in the button bushes or willows, Collum will stay up in there with them, staying on the move until he locates a school of crappie or an area where they're spawning or holding tight.

"I prefer a No. 4 sickle hook, originally designed by VMS, on a Slater-style jighead with a Lake Fork Live Baby Shad," he said. "I'll put a drop of Super Glue on the jighead to hold the plastic on there, and start fishing."

According to Collum, the keys to catching springtime crappie are the water temperature and determining if they're up in the shallows spawning or feeding yet.

"If we go back in there and the crappie are up and spawning, we're going to go as shallow as we can and start fishing," he explained. "We're going to fish around wood or vegetation, and keep (his lure) in the water and on the move as much as possible."

With the drought that occurred on the lake a few years ago, there has been an explosion of vegetation - including grass, willows, button bush and several forms of grasses that at weren't previously here. And that has made a significant difference in the spring.

"The game has changed now that there's a lot of vegetation on Okatibbee, and a lot of the veteran anglers will have to change the way they think," Collum said. "You can't count on (the fish) being in either wood or rocks like it used to be; the new vegetation has changed everything, and the crappie are really using the grass for cover and to spawn in."

The key is to probe all available cover.

"I'll work around wood cover, rocks and grasses until I find some fish," he said. "A lot of the crappie are relating to the grass during the spring now, and if you have wood, bushes and grass, then you really have the makings for some fine crappie fishing."

 

Collum's techniques

Collum prefers a jig-and-cork rig because it's so easy to use and allows him to keep the lure in the strike zone a long time.

"I'll cover a lot of water and, once I find an area that has fish in it, I'll nail down the depth they're holding in and we'll adjust our corks to just the right depth," he said. "Then you can really cover some water and catch a lot of fish, once you get the pattern down."

Just as with his bass fishing, the angler also pays close attention to locations in which he is getting bites.

" If they're relating to bushes then hit the bushes, or if they're relating to grass or rocks then just work that jig along those hotspots and keep on the move until you catch one," Collum said. "Once you catch a few and establish a pattern, you can really mop up and have a ball with the kids."

Popping his jig helps generate bites, but Collum has developed what he thinks is just the right popping technique to what many might consider an insignificant factor.

"I like to pop my cork sideways in a quick sweeping motion so that the jig will sweep behind it and jump up like a fleeing minnow," he explained. "I'll let it lie motionless beside my target for a second or two, and then do it again.

"If I don't get a bite, I'll move to the next bush or grass patch and repeat the process until I start catching them."

Collum prefers fluorocarbon line for its sensitivity and toughness.

"I'll use as big a line size as I can get away with," Collum said. "I like the Seagar 10-pound fluorocarbon line when I'm working around wood and in thick brush."

As far as lure colors go, Collum likes orange-and-chartreuse or hot pink-and-chartreuse.

"If you have those two colors, you can hardly go wrong," he said. "You'll catch fish anywhere."

If the wind's blowing and it's tough working a cork around the brush, Collum changes tactics slightly.

"If the wind's blowing, you might want to take that cork off and take that jig pole and tight-line a jig, and drop it right beside a stump or bush and try to keep control of it," he said. "You can even drop that jig right down into the bush with a precision that allows you to catch crappie not otherwise accessible when you have a cork on.

"Of course if it's really windy and you have children with you, then you might want to get out in the flats or shallows and start fan-casting with lightweight tackle. You can work the area over by fan-casting with a Road Runner until you find them, and then anchor down and catch them. We've actually caught a limit of crappie in less than 30 minutes once we got on them."

He said the diminutive spinner is a great search lure, especially when it's matched with a specific body.

"I'll also use a Road Runner with a Lake Fork body, which makes it wiggle from side to side and attracts more strikes," Collum said. "That Road Runner's a good one, and will catch plenty of crappie, bream and bass, too."