by Ron Presley
Whether you want to enjoy the fishing or take in the sights, it would be hard to find a more beautiful place than the Alabama River near Prattville, AL. The Coosa River and the Tallapoosa River come together near Wetumpka, AL to form the Alabama River. The meandering river offers plenty of nooks and crannies for serious fishermen to investigate and scores of amenities that support other tourist activities.
Crappie Now and Catfish Now magazines recently hosted a Press Camp for outdoor writers with the expressed intent of highlighting the great fishing and tourism possibilities that accompany the river. It was quickly evident that anglers and nonanglers alike could find activities that suit their fancy. The beauty of the area and the size of the crappie are reason enough to visit.
“Crappie Dan” Dannenmueller, Crappie Now/CatfishNow Publisher, describes the Alabama River as a nutrient rich river that supports the rapid growth of both white and black crappie.
“The river is formed by a series of locks and dams that form pools,” indicated Dannenmueller. “Depending on current, power generation, river stages and weather, numerous crappie fishing techniques will work on the river. Crappies exceeding two pounds, with some more than three pounds, are caught in the Alabama River.”
The river can have strong current when power is being generated or when the river is being pulled down for flood control purposes. Tributary creeks like Swift Creek and places like Cooter’s Pond give Prattville area anglers easy access to the river and also backwater fishing opportunities. Plenty of habitat, and plenty of bait in the river, give the crappies everything they need to grow and be healthy.
Three Methods That Work
Regardless of your favorite method of catching crappie, it will work on the Alabama River. Three of the most productive methods are spider rigging, single poling, and longlining.
Spider rigging the river and its tributaries is a very fruitful and favorite way to put numbers of slabs in the boat. Single pole jigging is probably next in popularity among local anglers, because of the fun it entails. Finally, the method known as longlining or pushing will also bring some nice crappie to the boat, especially when they are scattered and suspended.
Spider Rigging (Tightlining)
As awesome as it looks the first time you see it, spider rigging is a relatively simple way to put lots of baits in front of the crappie. A set of Driftmaster Rod Holders and B’n’M poles are a good place to start. The Driftmaster have the reputation for holding up to heavy use and keeping the poles in place. The are several good brands of poles but B’n’M is the pioneer and still the leader of crappie fishing poles.
The length of the poles is usually a personal choice based on fishing conditions. Fourteen-footers, and longer, are normal. Water clarity and depth are major factors in determining pole length. Clearer and shallower water call for longer poles that place the baits further away from the boat.
It is always a good idea to begin a day of spider rigging by probing different depths of water with different colors of baits. Road Runner jigheads with various colored plastics are a great way to begin, with each line set at a different depth. Well-informed crappie anglers understand that the number one rule of thumb with crappie is to place the bait above them, because those big old crappie eyes are looking upward for their next meal.
Sonar can help you determine the depth to start fishing. If you locate bait balls and fish on the sonar you can make your first set near those depths. Once you have discovered a pattern, by actually catching fish, you should set all your baits to that same depth. Likewise, pay attention to color and re-tie with the most productive color.
Speed is another important variable. Some days they like it fast, some days they like it slow. A good starting point is about .5 mph. Slow down and speed up until you determine the correct speed by catching fish. Windy conditions, or heavy current may require some help to slow down. Most anglers use a drift sock or heavy chain to slow their speed.
Single Pole Jigging
The next most productive method on the Alabama River is single pole jigging. If you have ever heard the expression “I like to feel the thump,” it comes from one pole jiggers. In the opinion of many crappie anglers, single pole jigging is probably the most fun of all crappie catching techniques.
Sonar is just as important in single pole jigging as it is in spider rigging. Many anglers will spend hours scanning the river in search of wood or at least artificial crappie attractors. Many anglers put out their own brush piles and mark them on their charts, but once found they become other angler’s spots too. The idea is to have as many marked spots as possible in different depths of water. Once the leg work is done, more time is spent fishing than marking, but it is still a good idea to mark a few new spots on each outing. Over time, fishing the marked spots will separate the best ones from the mediocre.
The process is simple enough. The angler holds a single pole and fishes vertically over and around structure. Using a double hook rig or a single hook rig will depend on individual preference. Some crappie anglers prefer the single hook simply because it gets hung less. Those that use double hook rigs prefer light wire hooks that will straighten and come lose before breaking off if they do become snagged.
The next choice is artificial or natural baits? The advantage of artificial baits is not having to dip a minnow and place it on the hook after every bite. The advantage of live minnows is the success rate that they produce. Both methods work and there may be some days that the fish will tell you which one they want.
One big challenge on the river is current, or lack of it. The spot that is productive one day may not be the next, because the current flow stopped. This likelihood is why it is important to locate and mark plenty of spots, in different depths of water. When the bite’s off at one depth, move to another.
It is usually a good idea to fish vertical structure by starting shallow and working deeper. This method eliminates the possibility of catching a fish deep and then spooking the school as you pull it up through them to the boat.
Single pole jiggers should also realize that once the bite stops they can leave the brush they are fishing and come back later in the same day and catch several more.
The first task of any crappie angler is to find fish and determine where they are suspended in the water column. Depending on fishing conditions, crappie may be caught at three feet where the river is 18 feet deep, they may be on the bottom, or they may be somewhere in between.
Longlining, or pulling, can be adapted to reach the fish wherever they are in the water column. The method consists of trolling single or tandem jigs behind the boat at a speed and distance that targets the feeding fish. This method covers more water that other crappie fishing methods, mainly because of speed.
Like spider rigging, pulling requires rod holders, and in most cases, multi-length poles. It is common to see six to eight rods pulled out the back of the boat. Although rod length is a personal choice, a typical eight rod setup could include all the same length rods or multiple length rods.
One multiple rod length example would be two each 8-, 10-, 12- and 14-foot B’n’M rods. Each side of the boat would feature the longest rods on the outside and the shortest on the inside next to the motor. Staggering the length of poles in the rod holders creates a distance between each rod that minimizes tangles.
Once the choice of tandem or single jigs has been made, make a normal cast out the back of the boat while moving at trolling speed. Remember, it is not the distance that the line is behind the boat, but the depth the bait is running that is important, so that initial cast may have to be adjusted.
Sonar is used to determine the holding depth of the crappie. Your goal is to present the bait at a level above the fish. Remember, crappies are normally looking up to feed and bait placement is crucial to a successful day. The real challenge of pulling is finding that right depth.
Several factors affect the depth. Suppose you make a normal cast (about 50 feet), using 6-pound test mono, two 1/16-ounce Road Runners that are being pulled at 1.5 miles per hour. According to crappie pro, Jim Reedy, that combination will run your bait at about 6 to 8 feet deep. Slow down to .8 mph the baits drop to 10 to 15 feet deep.
The distance of the cast, the size of the mono, the weight of the lures, and boat speed will all affect the depth of the bait. If you are marking fish on the sonar, a few passes through the area at different depths will determine the combination of variables you need for that spot. The trial and error process becomes more intuitive as you spend time on the water using the longlining method.
The shear amount of water covered by longlining allows anglers to quickly eliminate unproductive waters and catch fish that are scattered. When a group of suspended crappie are found, simply troll back and forth through the school until the bite slows.
The Alabama River is a world-class crappie fishing destination. Whether your favorite way to catch crappie is spider rigging, vertical jigging, or pulling, the Alabama River has something for you.
There is a lot more to do in the Prattville area than fish for crappie. Old Town Prattville is full of history. It is known as being one of the first planned communities in Alabama. The architecture features graceful arches, soaring ceilings and vast open spaces. It is hard to miss the interesting brick and stonework that characterize the buildings and the old mill waterfall on Autauga Creek.
Other interesting attractions include the Capital Hill Golf Course. Capital Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones, one of the premier golf course architects in the world. The course is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail that currently consist of 468 championship holes at eleven sites it the state of Alabama. Capital Hill is a beautiful course and currently host to an event on the LPGA Tour.
The Alabama Wildlife Federation operates a unique educational facility near Prattville. Kids and adults can learn about Alabama’s vast natural resources. Visitors can explore five miles of trails with experienced Action Nature Center naturalists. There are ponds, creeks and woods to investigate. Visitors can picnic on the grounds and check out the educational movies in the hands-on Discovery Hall.
The area near Interstate 65 is full of shopping, eating and lodging opportunities. The Hampton Inn & Suites is just a stone’s throw from the Interstate and minutes from Cooter’s Pond. The Hampton offers clean and comfortable rooms, great Wi-Fi, and efficient workspace in every room. If you prefer you can use their computers and printers in the Business Center and get your daily exercise in the handy workout room. If you like to eat a good breakfast before fishing or sightseeing you will be offered an excellent free hot breakfast every morning. They describe their facility as “Small town charm meets big city convenience.” It couldn’t be said any better!
If you need gear while on your trip the Prattville Bass Pro Shops is just minutes away. They have a complete line of fishing attire and equipment. You will also find the world-famous Islamorada Fish Company located inside BPS where you can enjoy a little bit of the island life without travelling to the Florida Keys.
Whether it is fishing for crappie (or other species), playing golf, engaging in other water based activities or simply a restful family vacation, the Alabama River at Prattville, AL is a bucket list destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
For more area information visits the Prattville website at http://www.prattvilleal.gov/visitors/attractions.html.