Grenada Lake lays claim to producing more trophy-sized crappie than any other fishery in the country, earning the nickname “Home of the 3-Pound Crappie” bestowed by a local tourism board.
Grenada’s fertile waters and intensely managed fishery have become a nationwide success story.
While big slabs can be caught year-round at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control reservoir, March’s pre-spawn phase is the best. That’s when the big females begin moving shallow and when fishermen literally hit the water to enjoy the hottest action.
Wading is so popular and productive that he and other crappie anglers refer to March as Grenada’s “Wading Season.”
Because Grenada is managed for flood control, rising waters in the early spring will bring crappie into the shallows to hide and lay eggs among the undergrowth that has renewed over the winter. Fishermen, like guide and pro angler John Harrison, can take advantage of this movement once they understand how and why crappie move with the rising spring waters.
“Grenada is a shallow, flood control lake; water levels are never stationary on Grenada,” said Harrison, who has fished the massive lake since a child. “More than any other factor, water levels determine where you will find crappie. Bear in mind that a spawning crappie will go as far as water levels will let him.”
According to Harrison, the best fishing on Grenada is found when spring levels of 217 to 221 are the norm. At levels below 217, anglers should concentrate on underwater structure such as stumps and deadfalls on the creek channels leading into the backs of tributaries. As it rises higher, fishermen follow it into the shallow flooded cover where Harrison uses two tactics, both employing a single jig pole.
The first is jigging the bases of the trees from the front of his boat.
The second tactic is identical, but is done in the water. Harrison puts on waders and wades through the area, allowing him to cover more water more efficiently.
“My favorite time to wade is the second week of March when the water temperatures begin to warm into the high 50s,” he said, adding that fishermen should never rule out any water as too shallow to fish during the spawn.
“The males will be up in those bushes building nests in the tangle of roots while the females will hold off in the ditch right on the first drop off closest to the nest,” said Harrison.
Because of that, Harrison feels the ditches and channels play almost as important a role in spawning for crappie as the spawning structure itself.
“Fish move into here out of the river by following these ditches,” said Harrison. “During February, you can slow troll from the boat in these ditches and catch fish staging. In high water, you’ll find the females holding along the channel while the males are on the beds.”
Harrison decides between wading or fishing from the boat by gauging how high the water is on the standing structure.
“The further you move down the Yalobusha (River), the longer it takes the water to warm up to spawning temperature,” said Harrison. “The benefit of this is that when you find the right water temperature, you can follow it down the lake as time goes by and stay in the good fishing.
“A winding creek that runs way back in the hollow will flood if the water gets high enough, but there are plenty of cypress trees and ironwood bushes that have grown up between here and there. A hollow is like a natural funnel and crappie will run it all the way to the back.”
Harrison’s bait of choice, regardless of whether he’s boating or wading is a 3-inch Mister Twister Sassy Shad in chartreuse and black. This bait is fished on an orange 1/8-ounce jighead.
“Big fish want big baits,” said Harrison. “That Sassy shad may look like a mouthful but you look at the mouth on one of these big white crappie and you’ll see that bait will easily fit in there.”
Whether you decide to chase spawning crappie on foot or try to maneuver your boat up into the shallows, Grenada’s shallow water means a change from the typical crappie fishing setup. Shorter poles are more useful since the cover will be up close and personal.
“Eight feet is plenty long enough for reaching out but still allows you to handle the rod in heavy cover,” veteran crappie angler Ronnie Capps said.
In designing his own crappie wade-fishing pole, Capps wanted one he could cast or dip, with a slightly stiffer action designed for wade fishermen. His ideal close-quarters crappie fishing rod is one in either 8- or 9-feet lengths with a bottom-mounted cork reel seat, similar to a fly rod. He also wants something with a blank made of IM6 graphite that offers a blend of strength and sensitivity.
“Your rod is going to take some abuse, and it needs to be light enough to carry all day,” said Capps. “You’re going to have that thing in your hand the whole time if you’re wading so get one you like and that’s comfortable.”
Another piece of wading gear recommended by Capps is a chain or rope stringer that the angler can clip to his waders and string fish on as they are caught.
“If it’s real thick you might want to shorten it up, but most of the time fish the stringer will float right along behind you and be out of the way,” he said.
In place of a bait tank and tackle box, Capps relies exclusively on jigs in 1/16-ounce weights paired with a small selection of Southern Pro plastic tubes. He packs these in a small hand-size tackle box that will fit in the front pouch of his chest waders. On occasion, he may tip the jig with a crappie nibble or other scent providing bait but maintains it normally isn’t necessary.
“The only thing those crappie are interested in is getting that jig away from their nest,” Capps said. “Sometimes they’ll about take the rod out of your hands doing it.”