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Loganís Overlooked Crappie Fishing
Shooting docks for slab crappie is an effective technique on Logan Martin.
 
By Mike Bolton
Originally published in the March 2018 issue of AON
 
Rodney Tally targets the narrow spaces between piers and the water to catch numbers of big crappie on Lake Logan Martin.
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Torrential rains had left Lake Logan Martin looking like an explosion at a chocolate milk factory. Floating logs, sticks, plastic bottles and grass littered the chocolate brown water.

Rodney Tally took one look at the mess around the boat dock and smiled.

“This is perfect,” he said. “I just hope it’s like this next weekend.”

Uh, pardon me?

Rodney, who lives just a few blocks off of Lake Logan Martin in the city of Riverside, took to the lake on this day to prepare for an upcoming Crappie USA tournament on the lake.

He explained that the tournament would come down to a battle between those fishermen who like to shoot docks and spider-rig fishermen who like to troll or push jigs. Rodney, who finished seventh on the Crappie USA tour last year by shooting docks, said he hated to wish bad luck on anyone, but…

“There’s no way they can troll with all this stuff floating all over the lake,” he said. “They’ll just stay tangled up all the time.”

Shooting docks is a technique that involves the fisherman holding a jig with their hand, pulling it toward him and bowing a limber rod held in the other hand. The fisherman then releases the jig while simultaneously releasing the line with the other hand holding the rod.

The technique “shoots” the jig in a flat trajectory just above the surface of the water, allowing the bait to go for great distances under piers, docks and pontoon boats. It reaches crappie in dark recesses that can’t be reached with any other technique.

There are those who shoot docks on Lake Logan Martin, and then there is Rodney. On this day, he continually shot his jig 25 or more feet under docks, piers and boats that were no more than 5 or 6 inches above the water. Time after time, he caught crappie that most fishermen could have never reached or even known were there.

Under one 5-foot section of pier that sat just 6 inches above the water, Rodney’s yellow jig came back with eight crappie in about a dozen attempts.

“Anybody can come to the lake and shoot these piers that are 4 feet above the water when the water is down like it is now,” he said. “There are fish there, but those fish get hammered, and they are usually small. I’m targeting those bigger fish that are way back under piers and pontoon boats that most people don’t even try to get to.”

Rodney was asked if centering a pie-plate-size hole with a jig requires natural ability or skill.

“When someone showed me how to do this, I went home and got in the backyard and turned a 5-gallon bucket on its side and practiced hitting the hole for hours and hours,” he said. “I still practice like that.

“The lake isn’t really the place to learn the technique. You’ll just stay hung up all the time.”

Rodney says the equipment needed to shoot docks is not complicated or expensive.

“My spinning rod is a Walmart special,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a 5-foot-6 Shakespeare spinning rod that costs about $15. The key is that it is limber, and it has seven eyes. The seven eyes are important. They help keep the line tight, so it comes out straight when you are shooting a jig. The first thing I do when I get one is to cut the tip off and add a good eye. The one that comes on it is aluminum and will get a groove in it pretty quickly. That slows down the line. A good tip won’t do that.”

He outfits the rod with a small Pflueger spinning reel and 4-lb.-test monofilament. He pours his own 1/24-oz. jig heads and adds a 1-inch tube jig. His favorite color is chartreuse.

Once the jig hits its intended target, Rodney allows it to fall with an occasional twitch.

“The bite is really subtle,” he said. “Most if the time, you’ll just lift the rod tip, and he will be on there.”

For those looking to just have a relaxing day of crappie fishing, it is of course possible to bring a pole, a float and a bucket of minnows and catch some crappie, Rodney said. But the crappie fishing trails have elevated the game to a level that minnow dunkers really stand very little chance, he said.

Being able to fish a lake so close to home so frequently is an advantage because it allows Rodney to learn which piers traditionally holds the better fish. There are literally hundreds of piers on the lake.

Rodney travels across the South and Midwest fishing the Crappie USA circuit, and he says he likes no lake better than Lake Logan Martin.

“You can catch bigger fish in some of the lakes in Mississippi, but nowhere else compares with the Coosa chain, and especially Logan Martin, in terms of numbers of good fish,” he said.

Lake Logan Martin was recently chosen by the Fish Hound website as the 10th best crappie fishing lake in the U.S. Rodney, as well as other Logan Martin crappie fishermen and fishery biologists who oversee the lake, all seem to agree on its reasons for the lake’s reputation.

Primary is that it has a great food base, but lack of crappie fishing pressure is a major factor, too. The lake, because of its close proximity to Birmingham, Pell City and other cities, is considered by many fishermen to be a recreational boating lake because of the water skiers, jet skiers and pontoon boats.

Another major factor, some believe, was a scare two decades ago when the Alabama Department of Public Health issued warnings about eating crappie from the lake. That advisory has since been lifted, but many still won’t eat crappie from the lake.

“I believe there is not as much crappie fishing pressure because of the boat traffic,” says Nathan Hartline, a WFF district fisheries biologist who monitors the lake. “I think the old stories of the fish not being safe to eat influence some, too.

“Our studies seem to indicate that the crappie fishing pressure is low. We had a very good year class of crappie in 2010, and our studies show a 70 percent survival rate of those fish. Those are big fish now. That likely indicates low fishing pressure.”

Rodney says March, April and May are the prime months for shooting docks for crappie on the lake. In mid-February, the crappie had already started leaving the ledges and begun positioning themselves under the docks.

“They have very sensitive eyes,” he explained. “They’ll get under those docks to get out of the sunshine. They’ll even spawn under the docks. If you find a dock on this lake that has some brush under it, there are going to be crappie there.”

There are plenty of docks all along the 50-mile length of the 15,000-acre lake, but Rodney says he focuses on the pockets and creeks from just above the I-20 interstate bridge to Stemley Bridge. There is plenty of backwater in that stretch and hundreds of piers.

On this day, Rodney launched at Riverside Marina and fished the piers in pockets both above and below the launch site. He traveled no more than a mile either way from where he launched, yet he caught and released  more than 25 crappie in a two-hour span.

One might wonder what someone from Ohio might know about crappie fishing on Lake Logan Martin, but Russ Bailey, the host of Brushpile TV on the Pursuit Channel, says Logan Martin’s reputation is known nationwide. He shoots TV shows at Logan Martin most years and has one scheduled to be shot there later this spring.

“I started fishing Logan Martin years ago with a local police officer named Joe Thomas,” he said. “I learned that Logan Martin is a lake where you can fish any way that you like. It doesn’t matter if you like longlining (trolling) or shooting docks.

“The lake has a lot less crappie fishing pressure than Weiss, Neely Henry or even Guntersville. I think it is a sleeper lake in a lot of respects. A lot of crappie fishermen don’t like it because of all the recreational boating, but the lake is full of big fish and good numbers.”

Dan Dannemueller is a huge fan of crappie fishing on Lake Logan Martin. He lives in Wetumpka and calls the Alabama River his home waters, but fishing on the American Crappie Trail and Crappie Masters often takes him to Lake Logan Martin

“It’s a fertile, rich lake with a big food base,” he said. “It’s typical of lakes on the Coosa chain. There are a lot of ledges, stumps and rockpiles.  There are roadbeds, culverts, brushpiles and plenty of docks that are great for shooting. There is plenty of current and a lot of back bays where the crappie can spawn.”

Most important to Dan, however, is that it has plenty of areas where he can “pull baits.” That is what he calls trolling or spider fishing. He says he prefers Logan Martin over Weiss Lake and Lake Neely Henry because there is no limit to the rods you can use on Logan Martin. Both Weiss Lake and Neely Henry have a three-rods-per-fisherman limit.

He says March is the best time to troll on the lake, and it starts out good and only gets better as the month goes along.

“I like to start spider fishing on the ledges in 20 to 22 feet of water,” he explained. “That’s where the fish are going to start out. The big, shallow bays are going to warm quicker, and that’s where the crappie are going to spawn.

“I know the northwest banks are going to get the most sun, so I’ll start trolling there to get an idea of where the fish are. I’ll use sidescan to help me find those fish.”

Dan says most crappie tournaments use Pell City’s Lakeside Park as the launch site, and you don’t have to venture far to find good fish.

“That area is loaded with crappie. The Old Avondale Lake area is good, and I like Cropwell Creek. There’s so much structure people have put in there. There’s a lot of brushpiles and a lot of structure made from PVC pipe.

“I also like Blue Springs Branch. Blue Eye Creek is a great area. There are a lot of flats next to the deep river channel. When the surface temperature warms three to four degrees in March, the crappie rise in the water column, and Blue Eye Creek is one of their favorite places. That creek is usually a little muddy and warms up really quickly. If they are raising the water and you get some 57- to 60-degree surface temperatures, you better watch out because its going to be as good as it gets.”

Dan’s first step to fishing Logan Martin in the spring is deciding what color jigs the fish want. He uses a Color-C-Lector to determine jig color. The second step is to use the side-scan unit to determine the depth the fish are holding. Based with that information, he can start rigging.

“I use eight 12-foot or 16-foot B’n’M BGJP poles with limber tips,” he said. “I like to put all eight poles on the front of the boat in Driftmaster rod holders.

“I use 10-lb. Gamma High-Vis mono. I’ll put a two-way swivel about halfway down to the depth I’ll be fishing and add a 1/2-oz. egg weight. That keeps the rig down. I’ll then add more 10-lb. line and put a three-way swivel at the end. I use two leaders made up from 8-lb. clear mono. One leader is 6 inches, and the second one is 30 inches.

“For the jigs, I’ll usually use a 1/16-oz. head with a No. 1 or No. 2 Tru-Turn hook.

“I am a big fan of the plastics made by Bobby Garland Lures. I love the Baby Shad he makes and a newer one called the Swim’R. I then tip each jig with a live minnow.”

Dan trolls at only 0.2 or 0.3 mph and constantly watches his GPS unit to stay at that speed. He said that allows the crappie to catch the bait.

That speed also allows him time to speed up and make the baits rise in the water and miss any obstacles he sees on his depthfinder, like big brushpiles or rock that could tangle all the lines and make a huge mess.

Once past the debris, he slows back down and allows the jigs to run at the preferred depth.

“Crappie are not loners,” he said. “When you find one fish, you are usually in a school. When I come across a school where I catch big fish, I’ll usually circle around and go through it once or twice more.”
 
 
 
 
 
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