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Logan Martin Is Tops For Big April Crappie
Here’s why this Coosa River lake produces more big crappie.
 
By Mike Bolton
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of AON
 
Two-pound-plus crappie are pretty uncommon on most Alabama lakes, but Lake Logan Martin has an abundance of what biologists say are 7-year-old fish in the 12- to 15-inch range. In fact, more than half of the crappie sampled on Lake Logan Martin last fall were 7 years old.
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Jonathan Phillips says Lake Logan Martin is not his home lake, but if you ever watched the weigh-in of a Crappie USA tournament at the lake, you’d have to wonder if Jonathan was pulling your leg.

Jonathan and wife Alecia won the 2016 tournament on the lake with a seven-fish catch of 13.22 pounds, almost a 2-lb. average. In February of this year, they returned to the lake to defend their title. Quirky weather dealt them fits, but they still managed an 11th-place finish with a catch buoyed by the tournament’s biggest crappie, 2.43 pounds. Jonathan said that fish would have won the big fish in any tournament in the U.S.

How a lake ranks against others in terms of big fish is often nothing more than fishermen’s conjecture based on anecdotal evidence. Mike Holley, the fisheries supervisor in the district that includes Logan Martin, said fishermen’s claims that Logan Martin has bigger crappie than other lakes is not just fishermen’s talk. He says he has proof.

“We just sampled crappie on Logan Martin last fall, and the size structure of fish was impressive,” he said. “A total of 51 percent of the fish we collected were from that very strong year class we had in 2010. Those fish are now 7 years old and are 12- to 15-inches long.

“Logan Martin has the numbers, too. Our catch rate for the fish we take when sampling there has been 20 fish per hour higher on Logan Martin than anywhere else over the last five years.”

Mike believes something is happening on Lake Logan Martin to give the lake an advantage over other lakes.

“What’s interesting is that Weiss Lake and Lake Neely Henry both had that same strong year class in 2010, but they haven’t experienced that high survival rate like crappie on Logan Martin have,” the biologist said.

Jonathan is a firefighter for the city of Montgomery, and he calls Wetumpka home. The part-time crappie fishing guide fishes the Alabama River most often followed by Lake Jordan. He says Lake Logan Martin is his favorite, however, and he hopes the lakes regular crappie fishermen realize what an incredible fishery that it is.

He says he believes there are a number of reasons that a crappie fisherman can go the lake and catch 2-lb. fish.

“The Coosa River, in general, has a healthy supply of shad,” he said. “Logan Martin has plenty of baitfish. The lake has a lot of small shad in the 1- to 3-inch range that are the perfect size for the crappie. Those shad travel in huge schools in late winter and early spring.”

He says the available food no doubt plays an important role in the average size of the crappie, but still the crappie there need to live long enough to reach that 2-lb. size so common on the lake. He says the lake has several things going for it in that respect.

“You see a lot of man-made structure on the lake that protect the crappie when they are growing,” he said. “There are a lot of brushpiles, Christmas trees and stake beds. And Logan Martin has the right kind of piers. For some reason the lake has a lot of piers supported by old telephone poles rather than smaller 4x4 posts. That seems to make a big difference for some reason. You’ve got to have piers made from the right materials to hold big fish.

“Those piers usually have Christmas trees and brushpiles around them and under them. The crappie love that. The piers are natural landmarks for the crappie fishermen on Logan Martin.”

What many bass and crappie fishermen refer to as the “Logan Martin curse” probably helps the crappie population there, too, Jonathan says.

“The bass boats, pleasure boats and jet skiers probably cause a lot of crappie fishermen to fish elsewhere,” he said. “On Weiss Lake, you have so many things under the surface of the water that can tear up a boat that people don’t run up and down the lake like they do at Logan Martin. Weiss is always covered up with crappie fishermen. Weiss Lake may have more crappie than Logan Martin, but it can’t compete with Logan Martin in the size of crappie.

“At Logan Martin my blood gets pumping every time the rod goes down.”

Mike Holley said Jonathan may be on to something with his belief that Lake Logan Martin doesn’t get the fishing pressure from crappie fishermen that Weiss Lake and Lake Neely Henry receive.

“I think there is some evidence that Logan Martin isn’t fished as hard for crappie as the other lakes,” he said. “Our sampling showed that Weiss and Neely Henry both had a much higher harvest rate than Logan Martin. We saw a much higher proportion of older fish at Logan Martin.”

Mike believes another factor may play a role in the Logan Martin numbers, and that factor may explain why fewer crappie are being taken from the lake.

“I believe that has a lot to do with the fish consumption advisories for PCBs on the lake,” he said. “ I think a lot of crappie fishermen go other places to fish.”

There are currently no consumption advisories for crappie on Lake Logan Martin other than on Choccolocco Creek, a major tributary that feeds the lake’s upper end. The Alabama Department of Public Health warns that no fish of any species should be eaten from that tributary.

Mike cautions that even though current ADPH fish consumption advisories do not warn of eating crappie from the lake, that may be misleading if no crappie were caught and tested during the last sampling in 2016.

Mike suspects crappie fishermen may have long memories. In the 1990s, warnings about PCB contamination in crappie caused a mild panic on the lake among crappie anglers. It was not that big of a deal for bass fishermen, who do not typically eat their catch, but for crappie fishermen it was a different story.

The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of ADCNR posted signs at boat ramps telling of the advisories. The ADPH said no crappie in some areas of the lake should be eaten, while crappie from other sections of the lake should be eaten in limited quantities. There were warnings that women of child-bearing age, pregnant women and young children should not eat the crappie from the lake. Homeowners and business owners successfully sued Monsanto, who in the 1970s operated the plant that discharged PCBs into a creek that feeds Choccolocco Creek.

Amid that confusion and fear, many Logan Martin crappie fishermen chose to switch to Weiss Lake, Lake Neely Henry and Lay Lake, and they may not have ever returned.

Lake Logan Martin’s reputation as a big crappie lake is well-founded, but that doesn’t mean just any weekend crappie fisherman can show up and automatically load the boat with slabs. Those who only fish the community holes and fish the only pattern they like often have predictably bad results.

As is true on any lake for any species, a fisherman who learns a lake’s characteristics will usually be more successful. As an example, Jonathan says, both Logan Martin and Lake Jordan are both Coosa River reservoirs, but they fish nothing alike.

“Logan Martin is so much different than Jordan,” he said. “Jordan is a deep lake. The fish go shallow so much quicker on Logan Martin. Logan Martin has those shallow flats and shallow creeks that Lake Jordan doesn’t have. The flats on Logan Martin warm up quicker. The back of creeks are shallow, and they warm up faster.”

Jonathan says many weekend crappie fishermen know how to fish shallow in the prime crappie fishing time during the spawn, which typically takes place in March. The mistake they may make is not altering that pattern as changes take place in April. Others believe that the crappie just don’t bite outside of the spawn. They only fish for crappie in March.

He says he prefers crappie fishing on Lake Logan Martin in April best of all.

“Personally, I think the crappie are a lot more predictable when the weather warms up in April,” he said. 

The fish will typically lose some weight between March and April, but in April the numbers go up.

“In April, I dare say that a number of crappie may not have spawned, but a lot will have and the ones that have will be feeding heavily. That’s when I look to the bigger creeks and coves. Some will be actively chasing shad in the big flats. They will stay in those areas until late May when they move to a summer pattern.”

Jonathan says Cropwell Creek is one of the best places to start looking for April crappie. It has a lot of big flats with a lot of brushpiles that crappie congregate around. Rabbit Branch and Clear Creek also play home to a lot of big crappie in April.

You can, of course, catch crappie at Lake Logan Martin without having good electronics or even a depthfinder at all in your boat, but good electronics are imperative to taking your game to the next level, Jonathan says. And just owning a good fish finder won’t guarantee you anything. Understanding how to differentiate crappie from bream, bass and other species on your electronics, and how to tell the difference between big crappie and small crappie, will save you a lot of wasted time on the water.

“I use electronics with side and down imaging,” he said. “It takes awhile to learn what to look for and what’s not just crappie, but big crappie. Big crappie will look a big round leaf, a big maple leaf.”

There are a number of ways to fish for crappie in April on Lake Logan Martin, but Jonathan says he has found that the best way for him is a modified form of spider-rigging he calls “pushing.” He and his wife fish eight rods at once out of the front of the boat, and those rods vary from 14 to 16 feet in length.  They keep the boat continually moving, and they push jigs as they seek out crappie over brushpiles in April.

“Many of the postspawn crappie will be relating to structure, and they can be on brushpiles from 6 to 12 feet deep depending on the water temperature,” he explained. “You’ve got to figure out what they are doing around those brushpiles on each day. On sunny days, they’ll be tight on those brushpiles, and on cloudy days they may be 10 feet off of those brushpiles and moving around.”

Not all crappie will spawn at once, he says, and often when fishermen believe the spawn is over in April, it is still going on.

“Not all crappie will be on the deeper brushpiles in April,” he said. “Other crappie may still be shallow on the flats, and that’s when it gets tricky the way we fish. Those crappie may be in less 5 feet of water. The shallow water is usually stained, so you can’t see them under the boat, but they can be there.

“It’s trial and error learning to fish like that. The fish can spook easily with very little noise. Just a little commotion can scatter them. That’s why you fish with the long poles out of the front of the boat. It’s a patience game.”

Rigging for Jonathan’s type of fishing is relatively uncomplicated. His boat is outfitted with Driftmaster Crappie Stalker rod holders. He uses eight ACC Crappie Stix graphite rods ranging from 14 to 16 feet in length. He uses small, lightweight spinning reels with a good drag system. He says a good drag system is important.

“There’s an art to getting a crappie into a net using a 16-foot fishing pole,” the firefighter said, “especially when it’s a 2-lb. crappie. You may need to feed him 3 to 4 feet of line to get him in the net.”

 On his spinning reels he uses 8-lb. test Suffix Siege high-visibility monofilament. On the line he adds a 3/4-oz. egg sinker before attaching a three-way swivel. To the two open swivel eyes, he adds a 2-foot leader and a 2 1/2-foot leader using clear 6-lb. test line on both. He typically uses a 1/16-oz. jig and controls the jig’s depth with the boat’s speed.

The obvious question is how can you push 16 jigs through the water without on occasion getting them entangled in the brushpiles?

Jonathan says the answer to that is simple: You can’t.

“We stay hung up quite a bit,” he said. “You’re not crappie fishing if you don’t get hung up some.

“You can usually just pull the jig in the opposite direction than it went in, and it will pull right off. If that doesn’t work, you can drop that heavy weight, and it pulls it off.

“The real problem is when you catch a bass or stripe, and they tangle all your lines up. That will make you ill real quick.”

Most every crappie fisherman agrees that crappie are more color-conscious than other freshwater species. Books could be written about lure color selection for crappie. Jonathan say some days crappie appear to be in a mood where jig color doesn’t matter at all. Other days, they can get down-right picky.

He says a good rule of thumb is if the water has an almost orange stain, go with a chartreuse or a chartreuse or black combination. If the water is clear, go with a white or pearl color with a lot of flash.

“Some days it is going to be overcast, and on those days go with a dark color,” he said. “On sunny days, go with a jig that has some flash to it. Remember the flash only works when you have sunlight to flash off of it.

“The colors of lures change throughout day with different sun angles. That’s why you can be catching fish on one color and all of a sudden they quit. That’s when it’s time to change colors.”

Jonathan says he realizes that not all fishermen are going to rush out and outfit there boats with side-imaging electronics and eight rodholders.

He says “one-pole fishermen,” as he calls them, can find success by drifting over brushpiles and tightlining jigs. For that type of fishing, he recommends 10-lb. braid and a 1/16-oz. Roadrunner jig.

“Being directly over the crappie allows for a much better hookset in the top of the mouth,” he said. “Casting and retrieving a jig across a brushpile often results in a jig pulling out of the crappie’s mouth.”
 
 
 
 
 
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