Slabs on Stage
March on Tuckertown and Badin means top-drawer, prespawn crappie-fishing action.
Guide Maynard Edwards said that either Badin or Tuckertown can produce impressive stringers of crappie during March, even with the spawn still weeks away.
But fishermen need not wait until April when the pink and white blossoms start to bust on the state flower. For big fish and full coolers, March may be an even better month, especially on two of North Carolina’s better crappie fisheries — Tuckertown Lake and Badin Lake — if you can take tips from a couple of experts.
Maynard Edwards of Lexington operates Yadkin Lakes Guide Service on High Rock, Tuckertown and Badin, and March may be one of his favorite months. He concentrates on crappie because he feels like it’s one of the best times of the year to do battle with really big fish, as well as good numbers.
Ed Duke of Concord is of the same mindset. Winner of dozens of crappie tournaments, Duke is the former director of the Southern Crappie Association. Mention the month of March to him, and he gets a twinkle in his eyes, because he knows that fish will be feeding aggressively, getting ready for the spawn, and they’ll be fairly predictable in their locations on both lakes.
“Crappie will be staging in March, and that’s the kind of fish you’re looking for,” said Edwards. “Usually, that’s when you catch your biggest fish of the year. They’re like bass; usually the biggest ones are the first ones to go (shallow) to spawn.”
And, he added, when they’re staging, getting ready for the water temperature, moon phase and dogwood bloom to all get lined up, they tend to gather in fairly large groups. Find one and you’re likely to have as many fish flopping around in the bottom of your boat as you can handle — the size of the Chinese fire drill is entirely up to you.
“Both lakes fish about the same way,” said Duke. “I think the biggest fish will be caught in the upper end of both lakes.”
Before crappie move toward the backs of creeks and bays and into shallow water to spawn, they head from their wintertime haunts in the deep waters of the lakes’ main river channels to the mouths of those creeks and bays. There, they’ll sit tight until the water temperature gets into the mid- to upper-50s, then make their way in waves back to their spawning areas. Both Edwards and Duke target them this month before they make their big moves to the shallows.
“Tuckertown is such as shallow lake, and there’s so much structure and cover, that they’ll get ready and go in to spawn and nothing will bother ’em,” Edwards said. “It will be into April before they go in, but they’ll be getting close to those areas, and there are such great numbers of fish in Tuckertown, you can catch a lot of ¾- to 1-pound fish — like you will at High Rock. You aren’t gonna catch as many 1½- to 2-pound fish as you will at Badin, but you can catch a hundred fish a day.”
With a daily creel limit of 20 fish and an 8-inch size minimum, that can mean some serious catch-and-release and culling to get the most fish-flesh for your efforts, but you can still expect to wear the edge off your filet knife at the end of most every trip.
Tuckertown is just downstream from High Rock Lake and upstream from Badin on the Yadkin River. The most-popular access areas are at the NC 49 bridge southwest of Denton — just upstream from Tuckertown Dam — and the Flat Creek access area well up the lake on the Rowan County side.
In fact, that’s one area that Duke pinpoints in March.
“A lot of people will fish Ryles Creek and Newsome’s, and those are fantastic places to catch big numbers of fish. You can go into Ryles and Newsome’s and catch a hundred ¾-pound fish,” he said. “But the last couple of years, the fish have really concentrated out in front of the Flat Creek landing. It’s not a deep creek, but the last few years, they’ve really been moving into Flat Creek.
“Two years ago, in March, we got into Flat Creek, tight-lining in about five feet of water, and we went through 15-dozen minnows by 12 o’clock,” he said. “And every fish we caught was a 1-pound fish.”
Duke starts “tight-line” trolling out in the mouth of the creek, working the deeper water with live minnows or a jig-minnow combination, before easing his way into the creek. He said that not all crappie will spawn at the same time, so fishermen should be able to find them from the area on the main lake outside the boat landing to the mouth of the creek and well back in the creek. Adjusting the depth of your baits and keeping an eye on your depthfinder is a key.
Edwards concentrates on Newsome’s and Ryles Creek. Newsome’s is a large bay off the main lake on the Davidson County side, a few miles upstream from the dam. The mouth of the bay is crossed by a railroad trestle, and that keeps it generally fairly clear, even when spring runoff muddies the rest of the lake.
“Tuckertown is a pretty stained lake, but it’s not horrible,” he said. “There will be some clear water in the backs of the creeks and especially in Newsome’s, because the river won’t push into there because the water’s got to go through the bridge.
“Both Ryles Creek and Newsome’s have a lot of grass and protected stumps where the crappie are going to spawn,” Edwards said. “They know that stuff is in there, and they’re heading to it in March. They’ll be in deep water around the mouth of those places, ganging up. I like to swing the boat in and come back out the other side; sometimes, I’ll just make circles in the mouth of the creek or the big bay, and usually, I’m fishing in 12 to 20 feet of water. In Ryles, as the banks get steeper, that’s where you’ll find a lot of fish.
“If it’s been exceptionally warm and sunny, they’ll suspend over deep water, but in a typical March, they’ll be hugging the bottom. I just ease around, and most of the time, my baits are going to end up about two feet off the bottom.”
When it comes to Badin, both Edwards and Duke are looking for big fish, much bigger than at Tuckertown. Badin is managed with the same 20-fish, 8-inch regulation, but crappie at Badin tend to get bigger, if not as numerous.
“I tend to stay more out on the main lake at Badin than I do at Tuckertown; it doesn’t have as many creeks as Tuckertown — Gladys Fork is the exception — but it’s got a lot of bays off the main lake,” Edwards said. “The places you fish at Badin will be similar to Tuckertown, but I’ll fish deeper. The fish will be deeper at Badin year-round. It’s a fairly clear, well-oxygenated lake, and the bait is usually deeper there than anywhere else. I’ll usually be fishing in 20 to 25 feet of water. And they’ll go in a little late, because clear water doesn’t warm up as quick as dingy water will, except around rocks.”
Duke has one area of the lake he spends most of his time in March — large bays on the west side of the lake in the upper end upstream from a railroad trestle that crosses the lake close to the mouth of Garr Creek.
“At Badin, the biggest fish will come from Garr Creek and up, above the trestle,” he said. “Most of those fish will be suspended, and you can catch ’em long-line trolling or tight-line trolling.
“That’s their main spawning area up there, in the big bays on the (west) side. I think 80 percent of the crappie in Badin will wind up above the trestle. You’ve got the edge of the river channel, and a lot of structure off the channel, little valleys that run through there, and you’ll wear ’em out on top of some of those humps.”
Duke generally starts at the edge of the river channel and works back in the bays toward shallow water. The edge of the channel will be 30 feet deep, and the tops of the humps and ledges will be 20 feet deep. He finds most crappie suspended about four to 10 feet deep.
“Not all of the crappie will spawn at the same time, so you’ll find and catch fish from the channel all the way back to the bank,” he said. “Last March, the only dingy water was up around the trestle, and crappie want dingy water; it’s their best cover.”
When it comes to Badin, Edwards drastically up-sizes his offerings in terms of baits and hooks.
“I’m after bigger crappie, so I’ll use larger baits,” he said. “A 2-pound fish at Badin is not out of the ordinary, and if you look at one, you can about put half your fist in his mouth — and you want to catch him on a No. 6 hook? I never go smaller than a No. 2, and I’m going to use something bigger, like a bigger minnow or a 3-inch grub instead of a 2-inch grub.
“I remember trolling 3-inch grubs for stripers one morning. I saw my depthfinder light up, but I said to my partner that it didn’t look like stripers. When we started bringing some of the fish to the surface, I thought they were largemouth bass, but they wound up being 2- to 2½-pound crappie. We caught at least 20 of them between 1½ and 2½ pounds.
“When it comes to crappie fishing, I think most jigs on the market have hooks that are too small, and I feel like I’ve lost a lot of fish because the hooks were too small.”
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