The games we play - Float-n-fly for crappie
Alabama crappie guide Lee Pitts refers to crappie fishing as a game you play with the fish. He often plays the game on Neely Henry Lake near Gadsden, AL. “Some days you go out there and you can’t do any wrong,” said Pitts. “Other days you get out there and they show you its not that easy. Nevertheless, it is always fun. With crappie fishing I can take someone that’s never even fished and they still catch crappie. They get to enjoy the feel of the fish hitting the line and see the rods load up. I get a kick out of seeing them have fun.”
Neely Henry is a 11,235-acre lake on the Coosa River. It was built in 1966 by Alabama Power Company to provide hydroelectric power and recreation. “Neely is mainly a river system,” explained Pitts. “There are several little rivers that hook up with the Coosa. Canoe Creek and Shoal Creek are good examples. Both are great spawning areas for crappie. Not only spawning spots, but crappie will also summer there too because of the good deep water. Those creeks will hold crappie in the spring and fall, year after year.”
The day I fished with Pitts the weather threw us a curve ball by turning cold and windy. “Don’t worry,” advised Pitts. “One of the benefits of Neely is the wind breaks that exist naturally.” The main body of the lake is narrow and it meanders through the countryside creating numerous areas to hide from windy conditions.
We motored down river and found a small protected bay just off the main channel that was relative smooth despite the high winds. The shoreline was lined with residential docks and the bay varied from 4 to 6 feet deep. “I’ve caught em’ here before,” counseled Pitts. “We will use the float-n-fly technique and see what we can raise.”
“There are a couple of times a year we like to use the float-n-fly,” instructed Pitts. “One is a cold water situation like we have today where fish are not wanting to chase something down to eat. Using the float-n-fly techniques allows you to slow that presentation down and keep it in the strike zone longer.”
“It’s not a presentation that raises up and drops down in front of them,” continued Pitts. “Because the bait is suspended on the cork it is going to drop right in front of them and stay there. We want to give them the best opportunity to eat it without having to chase it.”
“Another time we use it is towards the spawn,” explained Pitts. “When they’re really holding tight to cover, shallow stumps and things like that. The float-n-fly allows anglers to cover a lot of water and keep it in the desired depth with that float.”
Pitts prefers a very light line when using float-n-fly in cold conditions. “I want a line that will allow my bait to have a lot of action. The line has to permit the bait to do what it is designed to do. I am using my Bobby Garland products, my Baby Shad and my Slab Slay'Rs. I’m rigging them on Crappie Pro's Overbite Sickle Mo' Glo Jigheads. These are glow-in-the-dark colors with a larger size 6 sickle hook. It is a larger hook, but it still holds small baits well. I think I get better penetration with the larger hook.”
The float actually adds enough weight that anglers can make long casts with very light jigheads. “I don’t like heavy heads,” exclaimed Pitts. “I want that more natural presentation you get with a light head. I’m using 1/32 and 1/48 ounce heads. That light weight lets the bait move like it is designed to in the water column. It’s not something that looks unnatural. It’s got a natural presentation to it.”
Fishing is relatively easy with the float-n-fly presentation. “The presentation begins with trial and error,” instructed Pitts. “I use a 7-foot medium action rod, but that’s just me. As long as you have a rod you can cast it will work. I spool up my Lews reel with Gamma 6-pound test line.
“I use the Gamma hi-vis because you can see it well. You have to watch that line for even the slightest of movement from side to side. People think you don’t have to pay attention to the line since you are using a float. That is not true. Sometimes that float is just setting there and line below it is moving. Other times the crappie hits so hard the float comes up as the weight is lifted from it. The hi-vis line is important because it will let you know when you have a bite when the cork won’t. You are always watching the line, watching the float.”
Pitts does not use a leader in his rig. “I am tying straight to the jighead, even though I am using a cork between the jighead and me. I can still feel the bite with this rig. Normally I will use a medium torpedo type float, about 3 inches long, with a little weight in the end to keep it upright. Having that cork vertical in the water helps you see the lightest of bites.”
If there is a little ripple on the water Pitts goes to an egg shape float. “I get a better shake from an egg shaped cork in rippled water. More action on the bait usually translates to more bites.”
The basic presentation is to toss the rig out and once the jig settles in the water begin to twitch the rod to invoke a little action on the bait. “I like to start out working shallow and just get the feel for it,” explained Pitts. “I play with different depths while I am fishing. It is a lot of trial and error. I will change depths by 5 to 8 inches as I prospect the waters. All of a sudden you catch a couple fish and you know you are in em’, you know the depth to fish.”
“When you’re fishing for crappie a few inches makes a big difference,” continued Pitts. “If you are going under them by 10 or 12 inches you’re never going to catch them. Crappie feed up, but you can’t fish too shallow either. Unless they’re very aggressive, they don’t want to run things down from a distance. If you’re bringing it right across where they like it and you’re in the strike zone, then you will get em’.
Another thing that’s important in crappie fishing is the color. “Especially with crappie, color makes a lot of difference,” instructed Pitts. “A lot of people say it doesn’t matter, but I have had several people on the boat throwing the same weight and body but a particular color will catch the fish. Experience has made a believer out of me. Even the head color can make a difference so don’t be afraid to experiment.”
Epilogue: Neely Henry and the Gadsden, AL area provides excellent recreational opportunities for visitors. It is not just the crappies that attract anglers to Neely Henry. Other fishing opportunities include largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, catfish, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. For more information on recreational opportunities available in North Alabama visit the website at http://www.northalabama.org.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Walker Street and it was great. The rooms were clean and the staff went beyond the call of duty to make our stay a pleasant one. Plenty of restaurants and stores close at hand made it a most convenient location. I always look forward to breakfast before fishing. Not only was the breakfast good, the attendant made us feel more than welcome. I liked this Inn and will definitely return again.