Well, it’s July and it’s hot. The weather’s hot, the waters hot and, other than brief periods at night or the first couple of hours of daylight, it’s also jet ski/pleasure boat rush hour on the Rez.
But take a closer look: There’s a couple of guys out there who must have succumbed to the heat. One boat is tooling around the standing timber, flipping a crappie jig like it’s the week before the spawn; the other guy must think it’s spring, too, because he’s got eight rods loaded with crankbaits.
The guy in the first boat must be hung up because his rod’s bent over double in that tree.
Surely he’s not fishing. Just about the time you start thinking the other guy out there spider rigging has lost his mind, one of those eight rods bends double, and the guy grabs the rod and lifts a big old slab crappie across the side of the boat into his net.
Glance back at the first guy, and he’s got a fish, too.
Both of these idiots are holding crappie that gotta go over 2 pounds each. To quote Slim Pickens: "What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-going on here?"
Meet Hugh Krutz and Brad Taylor.
Both are professional crappie anglers. When they aren’t fishing in separate boats on the local Magnolia Crappie Club trail, they’re fishing together as one of the top teams on the Crappie Masters tournament circuit.
While most crappie anglers have given up on the sport at least until fall when things cool down, Krutz and Taylor are laying the wood to crappie on the south end of Ross Barnett Reservoir.
Here’s a closer look at the tactics these two guys use, not only to catch crappie but to boat slab crappie that would be welcome in anybody’s tournament at any time of year.
Krutz prefers to take the single-pole approach to summertime crappie angling. The middle and lower portions of the Rez are dotted with submerged and standing timber, some of which is visible from the surface. Water quality and shade are important factors in both locating and catching these fish.
"In 20-plus feet of water, a thermocline’s going to set up at around 12 feet," said Krutz. "That’s where the oxygen level’s going to be at its prime in the lake and all the fish are going to move — not just crappie, just about any fish, is going to stay in that 12- to 13-foot range just because that’s where the most-comfortable water is, temperature-wise and oxygen-wise."
While some crappie might suspend in open water away from structure, Krutz said the next important factor is locating shade out in the open water.
That’s why he heads for the trees.
"The next thing that crappie are looking for is shade, which is used two ways," he said. "A) like us, fish don’t want the sun in their eyes all the time, and B) shade works as camouflage to ambush baitfish.
"But the fish that are suspended in the thermocline, in that standing timber, aren’t going to act like the fish that are suspended out in the middle of the lake. Suspended, open-water crappie will chase bait a little bit. The tree-huggers are going to hide under vertical limbs and wait for the bait to come to them."
Having found the things they need for creature comfort, catching fish in the standing timber is a matter of determining what the fish are eating and matching the hatch.
"Crappie feed on two main things in the summertime," said Krutz. "Naturally, any shad that come by the tree but, also, early in the morning you’re going to have a mayfly hatch and all summer long you’re going to have a mosquito hatch that’s going to happen in the morning. Every morning, before it gets hot, those fish are going to come up, and they’re going to eat those hatching larvae on those stumps. You can tell because when you catch one it’ll have a sore on its mouth."
Choice of bait is meant to mimic these food sources, Krutz said.
"I’m using a 1/16-ounce jighead," he said. "The skirt is going to be a 1 ½- to 2-inch Southern Pro tube jig, most likely chartreuse. Then I’m going to use a Bait Pump, and I’m going to inject that tube full of Crappie Nibbles so I’ve got my taste to make them hold on to it because they’re going to be biting light."
Krutz indicated that finding the right stumps and being able to see the bite were reasons why he catches fish when so many other uninitiated anglers give up in frustration.
"I’m always standing up in the boat," said Krutz. "It gives me a better vantage point to be able to see down in the water. Wearing a good pair of sunglasses is also very important. Those stumps that are a foot or so beneath the surface get skipped over by most of the other anglers. Those are the ones that I want to try to target.
"You also want to only fish the (trees) with horizontal limbs; crappie will line up under those horizontal limbs with just their eyes in the shade."
Krutz couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of using a sensitive jig pole for this type of crappie fishing. His current favorite is a product made by B’n’M and designed by renown crappie angler Sam Heaton. The rod has a cork handle with a cut out that allows the angler to keep a finger on the blank itself so he can feel the bite as well as look for it in the line.
Krutz said crappie are very lethargic in the hot water and won’t move to hit a bait.
"I’ll fish a jig straight down, the length of the rod," said Krutz, "and I’m watching the line the whole time. If the jig drops by a fish, it won’t move: It’ll just suck that jig in and sit there, and the only thing you see up top is the line start to pile up.
"That’s when you have to set the hook."
Not far down the lake from where Krutz is using a single pole to catch crappie, his friend Brad Taylor is using eight rods to troll crankbaits.
"Trolling crankbaits on Ross Barnett used to be unheard of," said Taylor, who loves to troll crankbaits for crappie on almost any lake he fishes. "People just didn’t do it. First of all, they were scared to try to pull them in areas where they normally jig fished or minnow fished because of losing (the lures)."
Keeping control of your baits is a big concern anywhere you fish. Like any kind of trolling, the angler has two options: You can either pull them behind the boat or push them out in front.
"The reason I prefer to push them is, on Barnett, the river turns so many different ways and you have to stay on the edge of the channel," Taylor said. "It’s too easy to get off track pulling them. You get off track, go through a stumpfield and wipe all your crankbaits out.
"I decided to try to push them and watch my digital lake map. That way I can stay right on the edge of the river channel where those stumps are at without hanging up.
For his setup to push crankbaits, Taylor had to go to some long poles. He uses 18-foot B’n’M Pro Staff trolling rods that keep the crankbaits out in front of the boat without fouling in the trolling motor.
He also had to use heavy weights above the crankbaits to keep them vertical in the water column.
"I push crankbaits with 2-ounce weights above them, and I only push one crankbait per line," Taylor said. "I make a 4-foot leader of clear 10-pound line and put a 2-ounce egg weight, and I let it slide up and down in front of an in-line swivel. The main line is 12-pound test so the egg weight sliding won’t cut the line.
"Typically, I troll Bandit crankbaits — either the 200 or 300 series. But because you have a 2-ounce weight, it doesn’t matter if you push 200s or 300s."
How To Get There
There are a number of boat launch facilities and day use amenities around Ross Barnett including the Pelahatchie Shore Park at the south end of the dam just before crossing the Northshore Parkway bridge.
Another good public area on the north end of the lake is Browns Landing. Browns is located off Hwy 43 on the north side of the Hwy 43 bridge about a mile and a half before Natchez Trace Parkway.
One of the most popular boat launch facilities is on the other side of the Hwy 43 bridge at Goshen Springs access which is located beside Tommy’s Trading Post, a bait and tackle shop that caters to crappie anglers and tournaments.
Fishing the stumps at Ross Barnett is a matter of locating the old sloughs and ponds located adjacent to the Pearl River channel. Some of these stumps extend above the surface of the waters and still sprout leaves and limbs, so locating an area isn’t a problem.
These sloughs and oxbows are scattered all over the main lake area, mostly south of the Highway 43 bridge.
Suggested flooded oxbow areas to try include Rice Lake, McMillian, Three Prong and Big Lake.
Most crappie will relate to the stumps and any horizontal limbs sticking out. Because of prevailing thermoclines during the summer, expect the fish to hold between 12 and 14 feet deep on these stumps. Fish for them vertically using a single jig pole.
Some of the old sloughs farther down the lake will have less timber around them, especially where the main channel flows nearby. These locations can be trolled by pushing crankbaits, paying attention to only troll in or on the edge of the channel.
Brad Taylor, Taylor Guide Service, 662-820-4581, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tommy’s Trading Post, 4238 Highway 43 North, Brandon, MS 39047; 601-829-1903
Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, 115 Madison Landing Cir., Ridgeland, MS; 601- 856-6574. www.therez.ms.
Ridgeland Area Tourism Department, 1-800-468-6078, www.visitridgeland.com/attractions/ross-barnett-reservoir.
Navionics Electronic Charts, 6 Thatcher Lane, Wareham, MA 02571
Delorme Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105 www.delorme.com.
Fishing Hot Spots, 1-800-ALLMAPS, www.fishinghotspots.com.