Kent Driscoll has gotton crappie fishing on this popular and productive lake down to a science.
Some anglers consider Kent Driscoll of Cordova, Tenn., a tournament crappie fisherman who travels the nation chasing papermouths, the mayor of Arkabutla Lake. It’s less than 30 miles from his house, and if Driscoll has three hours of daylight left after work, you’ll more than likely find him fishing at Arkabutla on the Coldwater River.
“The main creeks I’ll be fishing in October will be Wolf Creek, Mussacuna Creek and Kelly’s Crossing,” Driscoll says. “I’ll be slow-trolling with a jig tipped with a live minnow, a jig only and a minnow only. I believe in giving the crappie a wide variety of baits to choose from, and letting them decide on the bait they prefer on a given day. The bait that gets the first bite or the most bites is the one I’ll troll on all my lines.
“I’ll be trolling with 12-foot B’n’M Pro-Staff trolling poles in my War Eagle Predator boat. I like the War Eagle boat because it’s designed for crappie fishing.
“My partner and I will fish eight poles across the front of the boat — four on each side. On one side of the boat, we’ll put a 1/2-ounce weight 18 inches up from the end of the line on the four poles.
“I’ll often use a Road Runner jighead with a tube on one pole. On another pole, I’ll have a Teaser jighead with a tube. On a third pole, I’ll have a hair jig tied on the end of the line. On the last pole, I’ll have a tube with a minnow on it. Each of these jigs will be a different color.
“On the other side of the boat, I’ll have four poles with a 1/2-ounce sinker up each line. Eighteen inches below the sinker, I’ll tie on a red hook. I’ll put live minnows on all four of those hooks.
“I like the red hooks because crappie can see them better than they can spot a bronze or a gold hook. When a crappie looks up and sees that red hook, it either thinks it’s the red gills of a shad or an injured shad. I’ve tried other colors of hooks, and found that I catch more crappie on red hooks than I do on other colors.”
Troll where they won’t
In October, Driscoll will troll the flats in 3 to 4 feet of water.
“Crappie move up onto the flats during this time of year to feed on the shad on these flats,” Driscoll explains. “As the water cools down, the shad will roam the flats instead of holding tight to cover like they do at other times of the year. The real secret to finding and catching crappie is finding the shad. Once you locate shad, you’ll find crappie.”
Because the weather’s cooler, there’s also more oxygen on the flats then than during the hot summer months. Also, Driscoll likes to fish the flats because he has little competition for the crappie there. Most fishermen at this time of year will be fishing underwater structure or drop-offs.
“In October, you can throw the structure in the lake out the window,” Driscoll said. “Crappie fishing at this time of year is all about the shad, because on these North Mississippi lakes, we don’t have any major predators like large stripers or other fish that prey on crappie. The crappie aren’t afraid to roam the open water and seek shad like they are if they have to look for predator fish trying to eat them.”
As the weather warms, and the sun brightens the day, the crappie generally will move off the flats and out onto the creek channels. On the creek channels, Driscoll will fish 2- to 4-foot drop-offs.
“Often on the edges of the drop-offs, you’ll find structure like old stumps, fence lines, stake beds and PVC pipe fish attractors like the Porcupine Fish Attractor,” Driscoll said.
Although Driscoll prefers to spider rig at this time of year, he often fishes with a pole in his hand.
“If we get some really cool mornings during October, the crappie may not be on the flats, but they’ll be holding on some type of wood cover,” he said. “The wood holds the heat it’s absorbed from the previous day. The water around a stump or a log often will be a degree or two warmer than the other water in the lake. Rocks also hold heat.
“So, instead of trolling the open water, I’ll fish with a hand pole around wood or rocks. If the crappie are in a lethargic mood because of the cooler temperatures and don’t want to feed, many times you’ll have to make the crappie bite.”
To cause the fish to bite, Driscoll lowers his jig or minnow to the depth where he believes the crappie have concentrated, and holds his bait dead still until he feels a bite. Most crappie fishermen, instead of attempting to hold the jig or the minnow still, will fish with a float and let the float hold their bait in place. But Driscoll doesn’t.
“At this time of year, when the crappie don’t want to bite on a cold morning, and I have to force them to bite by keeping the jigs or the minnows so still right in front of their noses that they have to eat them, the bites will be real soft,” he said. “The crappie may move up to the jigs or the minnows and simply suck them into their mouths like you’d lick an ice cream cone before deciding to eat it.
“That bite is so subtle that you may not even see it on a cork. However, by holding the pole in my hand and having my finger on the line in front of my reel, I can feel the slightest pressure a crappie puts on the bait.”
Driscoll recommends that if you want to catch more crappie this month, you need an extremely sensitive pole. Also, it’s important to keep your finger on the line like he does. Then you can feel when the crappie sucks the bait into its mouth.
Driscoll uses heavier line on Arkabutla Lake than on most other lakes because of the typically stained or muddy water. He’ll fish 10- to 14-pound-test instead of 8-pound-test.
“You need the heavier line because there are plenty of 2- to 3-pound crappie in Arkabutla,” Driscoll said. “Then when you get one of those big fish on, you don’t have to worry about losing a trophy fish because it’s broken the light line. I strongly recommend using 10- or 14-pound-test line. At this time of year, you should catch plenty of crappie in the 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-pound range, and you may catch a 2-pound-plus crappie.”
Change at Arkabutla
Some major changes took place in August 2007 on several of North Mississippi’s best crappie lakes. After three years of drought and heavy fishing pressure, the state changed the crappie regulations on Arkabutla, Enid, Sardis and Grenada lakes.
As of Aug. 6, anglers may fish only five poles per person, and the state has reduced the crappie limit from 30 to 20 per person, and enacted a 12-inch minimum length on the crappie you can keep.
“These four lakes in North Mississippi are trophy lakes,” Driscoll said. “People travel from all over the nation to catch 2- and 3-pound crappie from these lakes, which has caused the fishing pressure on these lakes to nearly quadruple in the past few years.”
The state has stepped in to improve the fishery with these new regulations and keep Arkabutla and the other lakes producing really big crappie.
“I like the new limits, and I think the state of Mississippi is doing the right thing at the right time,” Driscoll said. “Twenty crappie is a good mess of fish for a good day’s fishing, especially if they’re good-sized crappie. You can feed your family and still have plenty of fish to put in the freezer with a 20-fish limit. I also like that the crappie under 12 inches are being protected.
“I talked with a fisheries biologist, and he explained that crappie generally don’t have a successful spawn until they are at least 10 inches long. Prior to the length and the bag-limit changes on these lakes, probably 80 percent of the crappie harvested were at the 10-inch mark. Therefore, these crappie were taken from our lakes before they spawned.”
With the new length limit and a reduced bag limit, there’ll be more spawning-age crappie in Arkabutla, Grenada, Sardis and Enid, which should result in a more-successful spawn than past years.
From the creel surveys and fisherman interviews, the Fisheries Section of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has learned that anglers have caught more crappie out of these four lakes in the last three years than ever before.
To learn more about Arkabutla, you can write the Corps at 3905 Arkabutla Dam Road, Coldwater, MS 38618, phone (662) 562-6261, or visit corpslakes.usace.army.mil/visitors/projects.
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