Russ Bailey displays a crappie taken from Dale Hollow. He says August crappie will be deep,
so a slip-cork and minnow rig will catch fish like these. (Photo: Tim Huffman)
Destination: Dale Hollow Lake
by Tim Huffman
Clear-Water Tactics for Summer Crappie
Ultra-clear lakes can make good fishermen shudder with fear. It takes special care and stealthy presentations to avoid spooking crappie and convincing them to bite. On a trip to Dale Hollow Lake out of Cedar Hills Marina, two experts described successful tactics for tackling clear water crappie.
“August crappie will often be super deep,” said Russ Bailey, host of Brushpile Fishing TV. “The fish are often difficult to see on electronics because they can be so tight to the bottom. That’s when a slip cork and live bait setup is so important. It doesn’t take a big piece of cover to hold a fish.”
Late summer is a great time to fish because the fishing pattern is stable. The thermocline (a steep temperature/oxygen gradient) is critical because that’s where you’ll find the fish, just above it. A lot of water can be eliminated by knowing the depth range to focus.
Most modern depth finders can usually see the thermocline, especially if you turn the sensitivity setting up.
“When water heats up in the summer, we’ll be catching them at 25 to 40 feet deep here,” said Bailey. “However, most lakes will have fish shallower than here because of the super-clear water.
“I recommend looking for slides. If you look up on the banks here, you’ll see they are steep. You’ll see what looks like a mud slide and that’s what it is. You’ll usually see the tree that went with it. Sometimes the tree goes in and is still upright, but usually you’ll see the base of the tree on the bank. The rest of it is down in the water. You don’t need fancy electronics to find these places. Pay close attention to the bank for slides and scan them with sonar,” explained Bailey.
“A trick for these laydowns is to look on the bank and find another tree with the same size base. Look how tall a living tree is that has a similar size base. You can estimate how far out the tree will be in the water by estimating how tall it would have been before falling in.
“Slip floats are great when fish are deep.”
“Slip floats are great when fish are deep, no matter what lake you fish. The floats will catch fish suspended up or in the tops of cover. Check main lake areas just off the main channels. Use a slip float with a small minnow and be patient. A bobber stop allows you to set to any depth, just make sure to keep the minnow above the fish. Don’t look for a float to disappear, but rather just a slight bobble. That’s when it’s time to set the hook. The technique works on Dale Hollow and will work on other lakes, too.”
“I live in Nashville so most of the lakes around me are clear,” says Kent Driscoll, tournament fisherman and pro staff manager for BnM Pole Company. “We are fishing Dale Hollow today. Crappie in any clear lake tend to like cover because it’s protection. It’s their home base and shad are often around this cover, so a crappie can have everything it needs in one spot.
“I use two basic setups for casting,” says Driscoll. “The first is a weedless jig, usually a B&D Jig. I personally like the hair jigs, with gray ghost being my favorite color. I use a 1/16-ounce in 10 feet of water or less, but switch to a 1/8 in deep water like we have here.”
A trick he uses is to put a 1/32-ounce worm weight and bead right above the jig head. He pegs the weight with the bead right above the head. It gives him a little more weight to get down faster while making the bait much easier to see on LiveScope. That’s a big factor. He catches fish 20 to 25 feet deep using this setup.
“The special rig with a small worm weight doesn’t have a big profile,” says Driscoll. “That makes it a good bait for black crappie, a fish that prefers smaller baits. And the idea can be added to different sizes, too. This morning we were catching fish 10 to 15 feet deep with a 1/16-ounce Pop-Eye jig with the small 1/32 wright above it. It would get down quickly and I could see it.
“The other rig I like is a bottom bouncer rig. I tie a 1/4-ounce bell sinker on bottom, come up 10 inches, tie a loop knot and put a red TruTurn hook on it. I’ll use this minnow rig when fish are spooky and on bottom. I just hold the bait still in whatever cover they are in. This rig will work in most covers, but when there is too much cover, I switch from the hook to a weedless jig. It’s sort of like fishing a Texas rig. You really must put it in the brush when the fish are difficult to catch like we are finding here on our trip.
“I like six-pound-test line most of the time, but here at Dale Hollow I switch to two- or four-pound. Also, a clear lake like Percy Priest or Old Hickory, I’ll be using P-Line high-vis, that’s my go-to line because I can see it much better.”
Driscoll likes a BnM 75th Anniversary combo spinning outfit. He says the multipurpose rod is good for casting jigs, using the bottom bouncer rig and casting floats. The 7.5-foot design is great for long casts and handling different baits.
“An all-year rig I like,” explains Driscoll, “is a double-jig rig. I often put a 1/32-ounce Pop-Eye jig on bottom and a 1/32 or 1/16 B&D weedless hair jig on top. I cast it to brush piles. It’s something that works in almost any lake in any season.”
Things to Do
Dale Hollow, Cedar Hill Marina & Cabins (931-243-3201) is a good home base for fishing or family water sports. It has cabins, launching and a good marina. You can rent a pontoon or fishing boat. Cedar Hill Marina is off the beaten path, about 10 minutes from the small town of Celina, TN and about an hour north of Cookeville, TN.
One great getaway is to visit the Dale Hollow National Trout Hatchery. The facility near Celina is open to visitors during business hours. Anyone can step inside and marvel at 25 raceways, each one filled with at least 60,000 trout fingerlings.
“We provide trout mostly for Middle and East Tennessee,” said Steve Arms, Asst. Dale Hollow Hatchery Manager. “About 60 percent of the trout stocked in Tennessee come from here. We produce roughly two million trout a year, give or take.”
That means if you get tired of crappie fishing (if that’s possible), you can also go in search of trout downstream from Dale Hollow Dam.
Tim Huffman is CrappieNow co-founder and senior writer. His crappie-fishing books are available in Kindle or paperback at Amazon.com.