Story & photos by Greg McCain
Crappie hate current. Even knowledgeable anglers agree on this fact. Given a choice, crappie prefer water with little or no movement.
There are fishermen who have little choice but to deal with current most times they are on the water. They are forced to adapt to it just as the fish acclimate to the turbulent environment as well.
Alabama pro Gerald Overstreet is one such angler. The majority of his non-tournament fishing takes place on the Alabama River, mainly on Millers Ferry. The secluded impoundment, which runs from near Selma to just below Camden in south Alabama, is a moving river for most of its 100-mile length.
The entire fishery, from near Montgomery down to the Gulf coast region, is synonymous with current. The moving water is created at dams along the course of the river, and the current ranges from mild one day to raging the next. Rarely does lake-like fishing exist for extended periods during daylight hours.
The changing current conditions, however, rarely stop Overstreet from consistently boating tournament-caliber crappie throughout the year. Through his years of experience, Overstreet has learned that crappie indeed become conditioned to moving water and become fairly predictable in their behavior.
“Current is something that I deal with on an average day,” he said. “It’s not something to be afraid of because the fish are generally going to do things you can predict.”
The crappie move with the waxing and waning of the current, and Overstreet changes tactics based on where the fish are positioned. Ultimately, the moving water is just another tool that helps Overstreet become a more efficient fisherman.
“The days when there’s not at least a little current are few and far between,” he said while fishing Swift Creek, an Alabama River tributary on Jones Bluff Reservoir. “Even on a big creek like Swift, you can expect the water to be moving some based on what the main river is doing.”
Overstreet’s approach is methodical and systematic. Upon launching, most of his initial time is dedicated to using his electronics.
“The first thing I do is scan the river channel and the bank, usually looking for 15 to 20 feet of water over the old river channel bank before it was impounded,” he said. “Scan and look for wood and mark waypoints on that wood. Once you have current, the fish will sometimes bury up in the brush, get behind logs or behind bigger limbs from an old rotten treetop, anything they can use to break that current. They will drop down and get behind that stuff to break the current and use it as an ambush point when the current pulls shad by.”
Overstreet, who operates Overstreet’s Guide Service (251.589.3225) and offers both fishing and electronics training trips, relies on the Humminbird Helix G2N technology for his electronics needs. The Side Imagining and Down Imaging features of his units, one forward and one on the console, allow him to pinpoint both wood and fish.
Various structures, not just wood, provide ideal locations for current breaks. Overstreet definitely seeks out tops, logs, stumps and any other wood on his electronics. Rock and dirt can serve the same purpose.
“A rocky point, a rock pile, a clay ledge that has cutouts in the face of the ledge, they all break the current and hold crappie,” Overstreet said.
Only when he determines where and how the fish are holding does Overstreet begin to formulate a more detailed game plan for a day’s fishing. The crappie may display on electronics scattered around the current breaks or buried in and behind wood structure, depending on the volume of the current.
When the water is moving at a moderate to high rate, crappie tend to “bury up” in tops to avoid the full force of the current. Overstreet uses techniques that will get down to the fish. His go-to approach is a one-pole method using a weedless jig adorned with either a Midsouth Tackle Company (www.midsouthtackle.com) tube or with hair. He has also been known to weave a minnow rig down into wood.
“When they bury up, my main thing is a B&B Weedless Crappie jig,” Overstreet said. “I usually use a 1/16th-oz. I will drop it straight down into the thickest stuff I can find. It comes through the limbs good. That little weeder works perfect.”
The B&B products (B&B Weedless Crappie Jigs on Facebook) are normally hair jigs tied one at a time. However, Overstreet gets some of the bare jigs and pairs them with Midsouth tubes in black/chartreuse, orange/chartreuse, and junebug/chartreuse for stained water and blue/chartreuse and green/chartreuse for clearer water.
He fishes the jigs on a B’n’M Bucks Graphite Jig Pole (www.bnmpoles.com) and a reel spooled with six-lb. test line. The small line is necessary to cut through the current. Bigger line creates a bow or pushes the jig back under the boat. A near-vertical presentation is necessary to prevent snags. The same is true of a minnow rig dropped into a top.
Adding a split shot above his jig is sometimes a necessity to maintain the drop angle. Overstreet adjusts the weight based on current volume and pinches on just enough split shot about a foot above the jig to keep his presentation vertical.
“Whether I am fishing a jig or a minnow rig, I want to use the lightest weight possible,” he said. “Sometimes a bigger weight interferes with the bite. But I don’t want that bait pushing back under the boat. That’s why more weight is necessary at times.”
Overstreet rarely anchors, instead attempting to gain some forward momentum in the current with his trolling motor. As he nears a waypoint, he backs off to a “slow and steady” pace and may eventually be motionless. A MinnKota Fortrex 80-lb. trolling motor allows him to maintain boat control and position in all but the most extreme current.
Overstreet finds crappie in the moving-water current conditions almost every month although he said May through December are the absolute best to pinpoint main-river fish.
“You can find fish out there on main river systems year-round,” he said. “Some of those fish are dead set on staying on the main river channel. At least a few of the fish will stay out there or very close every day of the year. There are a few times that they begin to scatter, especially in extremely heavy current in the winter.”
Changes in current dictate a change in tactics, and Overstreet adjusts his approach accordingly.
The fish tend to re-position just after a reduction in current. Crappie will be found at the top or on the perimeter of a current break in no or very slow current. For Overstreet, his main considerations then are adjusting depth and presentations.
He will still use one-pole tactics, dropping a 1/8- or 1/4-oz. jig with a Midsouth tube just above the structure.
“You might have wood with the top at 14 feet. I drop that jig straight down to 12 or 13 feet just above the wood,” he said.
“People say they can’t catch them when the current slows down or is not running. They are still fishing down in the brush. If it’s a slower current, the fish tend to suspend up. The people who are still fishing down in the brush are under the crappie. That’s why they are still not catching them.”
Overstreet also spider rigs in a light to moderate current when he has located fish on the perimeter of structure. He uses the same BGJP jig poles for his spider-rigging and tends to favor a B’n’M Capps and Coleman Minnow Rig in those situations, opting for the lightest weight and lightest line possible to complete his spider-rigging set-up. Overstreet adds a snap to the end of his main line so that he can change weights quickly if necessary. At times, he even carries two separate sets of trolling rods equipped with different weights, 14-footers with 1/2-oz weights and 12-footers with 1-oz. weights.
If the current kicks back on to a higher volume, Overstreet reverts to fishing back down in the wood. Only in extreme conditions – floods, for example – does he abandon his main-river approach and change locations.
When flooding occurs, Overstreet said the fish tend to move to the bank and seek shelter behind rocks and laydowns or move to the mouths of feeder creeks.
“I actually experienced that this past winter,” he said. “The river was moving so fast that the fish toughed it out for a few days, and then they were gone. All of a sudden, they were hard to find.
“Either get in there beside the bank or move to the mouths of feeder creeks or big sloughs, especially those that have deep channels and are not silted in. A feeder creek with a 15-foot channel feeding into the main river is ideal.”
Those fish can be caught using the same one-pole and spider-rigging techniques. The fish may also remain in those locations if spawning time is near. Some will eventually spawn around protected areas near the bank or move deeper into creeks to spawning areas.
Overstreet always attempts to determine current conditions. He said the same principles that guide his main-river fishing also dictate what he does in slower water on lakes. The ideas apply regardless of whether the water is moving out due to run-off or backing up due to rising water on the main river.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Overstreet said. “It can be good when the creeks rise due to high water on the main channel. It helps the fish know where to go. If they are close to the mouth, they will move back into the creek with the rising water, especially when they are coming up on spawning time.
“The same can be true when you are back in a creek that opens up into a lake and there is water coming in.”
“Last year, we were on Neely Henry, fishing with minnow rigs with one ounce of weight in 20 feet of water,” he said. “The water was clear, but they were really moving it that day.”
Regardless of location, he views current as an asset and not a negative. Certain elements figure in to success – a strong trolling motor and dependable batteries, for example – are givens when fishing in current.
“It’s something that I sort of take for granted,” he said. “There are other times that you don’t encounter it. It’s not bad though. Crappie fishing in current can be great if you know how to fish it and get used to it.”