Story & Photos by Tim Huffman
One of the obvious visible wood structures on many lakes is a stationary dock. Vertical, along with horizontal timbers, makes a dock a prime spot
Visible wood structure…we’ve all been guilty of motoring past it thinking, “Not going to fish that because everyone has hit it.” Maybe, or maybe not. There are many good reasons to try it and you might offer just the right bait and presentation to make the crappie hit, no matter how many fishermen have tried the spot.
Simple can be good. Finding visible cover is a matter of keeping your eyes open. Some lakes, like Truman, has visible cover everywhere. Other waters may have none. However, most have scattered wood spots.
Wood comes from several sources. Some lakes have trees that were left when the lake was created. Others have laydowns that fall into the water from the shore. These same lakes also have laydowns along drop-offs because high water washes them off the bank and into the channel. A third source is manmade beds where fishermen pull smaller trees out into the lake and sink them. This is rare because most manmade stuff is placed deep enough it won’t be visible at any lake water level.
River-formed lakes can have lots of visible cover. Visible cover in rivers change rapidly because of the ever-changing addition of fallen trees, periodic floods, and varying water levels. The cover visible today may not be seen a few days after a good rain. But when the water drops below normal, you’ll see more cover than any other time.
Sam Heaton, long-time fishermen and Johnson Outdoors Field Promotions Manager, says, “Visible cover is the easiest to find and fish. Just because it’s visible doesn’t mean it’s not good.”
Heaton says you can pull up and start fishing. That’s fun and it won’t take long to know if active fish are present. Or, if you are an electronics user you can scan around the visible cover to see the exact placement of the wood below the surface and find nearby wood that’s not visible. You’ll also learn if fish are holding on it.
One key factor is water depth. You may have to search to find the depth where crappie are holding. Once found, that’s the depth you need to keep your bait. Therefore, if fish are suspending on cover at 8 to 9 feet, don’t waste time fishing cover in 6 feet of water. Stick to water 8 feet or deeper always keeping baits at the strike zone depth.
Visible wood can be fished a variety of ways but vertical jigging is usually the best. The reason is the straight up and down presentation. Any wood with horizontal limbs will hang a bait if not dropped straight down and back up.
Factors for Visible Cover
Old vs. New: Old wood is easier to fish because only the larger limbs remain. This doesn’t mean it’s not outstanding for holding crappie. A newer laydown has the advantage of thousands of small twigs and limbs. There is more cover but it is more difficult to fish and no guarantee it will be better than older wood.
Baits: A jig is preferred because it can be handled a lot easier. A 1/8-ounce is good for better feel than with a light bait. It’s also easier to shake free when hung. Minnows are always a great bait and can be fished vertically with a slip-float. The third option is a jig tipped with a minnow. You get fewer hang-ups compared to a straight minnow rig but still get the action, look and smell of the minnow.
Equipment: Fishermen often prefer to go a little larger with line when fishing in the wood. Line that’s 8- or 10-pound test is the standard. Some fishermen prefer the tiny diameter super-braid lines in 15- or 20-pound test. Vertical fishing with a 11- or 12-foot pole is standard.
Clouds/Sun: Sun is often preferred because it pushes crappie tighter to the cover so they are easier to find and target.
Water Color: Water with tint or stain is often preferred by jigging experts. Dingier water allows a fisherman to get closer to the cover without spooking the fish. Also, some experts say the bigger fish often come from the water with the most color.
Wind: A little ripple means better fishing because the fish are less spooky. The ripples break up the silhouette of the boat. Too much wind is a problem. Boat control becomes difficult and aggravating.
Current: Not a good vertical jigging condition. Presentations are more difficult the deeper the baits have to go. Slight current might not be bad and will place crappie to the down-current side of cover.
Fishing Pressure: Fishing pressure varies from lake to lake but April is a busy time at the lake. Heavily fished lakes can be a problem if you fish visible cover. Try to get away from the other boats whenever possible. A different bait and a different presentation can still mean good fishing within an area with other fishermen.