Lesson learned – Long-lining jigs for crappie at Okatibbee Lake

Adonis Terry, fished Okatibbee with his dad Don Terry and Bernard Williams. Adonis has become quite a fisherman on the Magnolia Crappie Club trail.

OK, I admit it: I’m not nearly as mad at the crappie as I used to be. Officially, I’m a senior citizen, and the older I get the less trouble I have passing up a trip to the lake.

Funny thing is that before I retired I was very busy running a successful chemical sales territory, and I fished all the time — or at least every chance I got.

Back a few years ago, when I was working for a living, I kept track of the number of days I fished, and the total was more than 250.

That’s five days a week, friend! Thank goodness for great customers and the invention of cell phones.

Now, as a retired, happy and healthy senior citizen with every opportunity to fish absolutely all the time, I find other things more important than wetting a hook today.

Oh, I still love catching’ em as big as they grow — just not as often as I used to.

And I’m still learning — even at my age. Let me tell you what I learned about crappie fishing lately.

The last crappie tournament I fished was a January tournament on Okatibbee Reservoir. And, boy, did I get a lesson.

Okatibbee is a 5,000-acre lake located northwest of Meridian at Collinsville. The lake is managed by the COE out of the Mobile District.

Okatibbee is loaded, and I mean loaded, with crappie. There are so many crappie in the lake that anglers are being urged to keep every crappie they catch in an effort to thin the population.

Well, let me tell you that I did my part on T-Day with thinning down the over-populated lake, and so did practically every other tournament team. The bite was on, brother!

So what did I learn at Okatibbee?

The lesson actually started a year ago in January over at Okatibbee. A year earlier, MCC held a tournament on Okatibbee, and the pre-fishing bite for me was tough. I was catching a few fish with straight minnows on Thursday and Friday, with “few” being the operative word.

And on Friday around the tailgate at about dark-30 I overheard a competing team talking about the 200 crappie they caught that day. I probably caught half a dozen, and here was another team whispering about getting ready to catch another 200 on T-Day.

I eased around to their boat and took a look at what they had tied on. This team was long-lining jigs, and, frankly, I’ve never given long-lining much of a chance. The few times I’d tried it had ended quickly with all my jigs in a big wad together 100 feet behind the boat.

So I asked my two new best buds a couple of questions about how to set my trolling stuff up for the following day, and thankfully they walked me through what they were doing, mostly — close enough.

The next day I started out minnow fishing with no success, and after about an hour I converted all my stuff to long-lining jigs.

And, the bite was on. That was lesson No. 1.

This year, same month, same lake, I went better prepared to long-line jigs. Look, as a result of the one success I had with long-lining last year at Okatibbee, I really geared up.

I called a tournament buddy of mine who had gotten in the business of making and selling jigs and blades for long-lining, and I bought $400 worth of new bladed jigs — got some in every color and size the fellow makes.

Now, you know how I love to pull crankbaits, and I surmised that if they hit jigs at 1 mph last January they’d probably hit crankbaits pulled slowly, too. So, I broke out the cranks, knowing that the surface temperature was lower than any time that I’ve ever had success pulling crankbaits.

Up until last month, I would have told you that if the surface temp is below 50 degrees, don’t waste your time pulling crankbaits. I advised folks that at below 50 degrees the fish are just too lethargic to hit a crank bait. Boy, was I wrong.

Now, I didn’t catch 200 on T-Day, but I caught over 70, I’d say.

Our tournament fish have to be longer than 10 inches to weigh, and I didn’t keep anything shorter. In fact, by the end of the day, I didn’t have any fish under 12 inches in my livewell — and I had a livewell full of fish.

Culling down to the tournament weigh-in limit of seven fish was a chore. They all looked alike.

My best seven fish weighed almost 8 pounds and were good enough for sixth place. I was happy with the Top 10 finish, especially since I had competed in this tournament without a partner.

And, they all came on cranks.

The surface temperature was at 47 degrees at sunup when I started fishing. I purposely put on shallow-running cranks in mostly black and other dark colors for the first hour, and immediately started catching crappie.

As the sun got higher in the sky — and it was a clear, blue sky day all day — I switched to medium- and deep-running lures in white and other light colors.

Eventually, I ended up with Storm Thunder Cranks and Hot Shots in white and chartreuse on all my lines. These lures run about 12 feet deep at 1.1 mph, with a wider wobble than most. And as long as I stayed in 15 feet or deeper water, I was steady reeling one in — all day.

When I’d run through a school, I’d have three or four on at one time. And more than once I had to retire a rod or two because, being by myself, I just couldn’t keep up with the action.

What a terrific problem to have, right?

Lesson learned?

Crappie are not lethargic at temps below 50 degrees. Pull cranks whenever you want to.

I learned that if I slowed down a little — I usually pull cranks at 1.5 mph up to 1.9 mph — and stayed in water depths where the crappie were holding, they will eat it.

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