Several rods in holders hanging off the stern all bent over at once, kicking off an exciting frenzy in the back of the boat as we passed over a honey hole. Trolling, or pulling as crappie pros call it, can lead to fast action on Crescent Lake when baits flutter over the right spot.
“In my opinion, there’s no better lake in Florida for big crappie, but it also produces solid numbers,” said George Parker, a crappie pro from West Palm Beach. “On an average day, a person will likely catch a dozen or more fish weighing at least one and a half pounds, and three pound slabs aren’t uncommon. Plus, I’ve had banner 150 fish days on Crescent many times,” added Parker.
Also called tight lining, spider rigging involves hanging several rods in a semicircle off the bow.
True to its name, this crescent-shaped natural waterway spreads across 15,960 acres near Crescent City on the Flagler-Putnam County line. It runs about 13 miles long and stretches about two miles at its widest point. The lake connects to the St. Johns River through Dunn’s Creek on the north end, with two smaller creeks entering the southernmost end of the lake.
“The north end of the lake from the mid-lake island to Dunn’s Creek is a great place to fish in the fall. However it is water temperature that really dictates where to fish. If temperatures drop, fish stack up in deeper channels. When that happens, I troll for them with curly tailed jigs and normally go with the wind because crappie like to eat baits flowing with the current,” Parker advised.
The lake averages about 9 feet deep, but some areas drop to 16 feet deep. Associated creeks hold deeper water and a channel dropping 20 to 30 feet connects Crescent Lake to Dead Lake at the southeast end. Anglers who fish here often know that a drop-off runs about 30 yards from shore almost completely around the lake and when they are trying to locate concentrations of fish, the edges of this drop-off are exactly where they focus their efforts.
“Crescent Lake is a well-balanced lake with awesome forage,” said Mike Baker, a professional crappie angler with Crappie Fisherman Guide Service (thecrappiefisherman.com) in Silver Springs, FL. “Crescent Lake has both quantity and quality with plenty of two to three pound fish. We catch crappie all year long in Crescent Lake.”
When searching for fish, Baker sets eight rods ranging from 8 feet long on the inside to 16 feet long on the outside. He hangs these in holders off the back of the boat and tips each line with two different colored jigs until he determines the hot color combination for the day. “These fish are all full of shad, well fed and very healthy,” Baker added.
“I try to match the hatch and pick jig colors that mimic natural baitfish. I may go through 50 different color combinations before I catch a fish, but once I find out what they want I can usually catch a bunch,” commented Baker.
Although not directly attached to the St. Johns River, the water in Crescent Lake does contain a hint of salt. During low water conditions, incoming tides could bring in salty water. Depending on the tides and water levels, the river occasionally runs backward into the lake. The heavier, denser slug of salty water remains closer to the bottom, forcing crappie higher in the water column. In addition, deeper water may contain little oxygen during extremely hot weather. When salty or hypoxic conditions occur, fish the top three feet of the water column. On the other hand, during moderate temperatures in the fall, crappie could range from the surface to the bottom.
“In the fall, I normally troll about three to four feet deep,” Baker explained. “I like to pull double jig rigs, but when I’m fishing shallow I pull single rigs. To start, I put out three different rigs including a single 1/48 ounce jig, a double rig with a 1/32 and a 1/48 ounce jig, and a double rig with two 1/16 ounce jigs. I’ll pull this spread at about 1.2 miles per hour.”
Tides also bring in blue crabs from the Atlantic, creating a thriving crab fishery. Lines of crab trap floats dotting the lake make good navigation marks for trolling. Bait in the traps not only attracts crabs, but minnows, small shiners and other morsels. Crappie often hover near the traps for obvious reasons and anglers in the know run a parallel course to the crab lines with baits in deeper water and some on the shallow side in order to determine exactly where the fish are feeding.
“I pull parallel to the crab traps so I can tempt crappie hanging near them,” Baker advised. “Around traps, I like to pull double rigs with two jigheads per pole, a 1/48 and a 1/32 ounce jig. The heavier jig runs a little deeper than the lighter one. The faster I troll, the higher the bait runs. Crappie always look up to feed. It might not see a bait moving six inches below it, but it will rise several feet to hit something moving above it.”
After locating a school, mark the spot and thoroughly work the area. Also called tight lining, spider rigging involves hanging several rods in a semicircle off the bow. Eight 14 to 16 foot rods arranged around the bow make the entire rig look like a spider web. Gently push the boat along with just enough electric power to give the lures a bit of action, typically less than one mile per hour. Tight lining anglers cut a wide swath through productive water, dangling multiple bait combinations at varied depths to see what the fish want that day.
On the end of each line, hang a 1/2 to 1 ounce sinker about 18 inches beneath a three-way swivel. On the swivel, tie two 12 inch leaders. On each leader, attach a tube, jig or other bait. Below the sinker, drop another 18 inch leader with a third bait. “When tight lining, I always tip jigs with minnows and I push them about .3 to .6 miles per hour,” Baker advised.
When fish go deeper, you can also jig with a single pole. Drop down a 1/32 or 1/64 ounce jig vertically on clear 4 lb. test line next to dock posts. Drop it to the bottom and then come up slowly until you find the depth where the fish are hanging. Just give it a shake going down and a shake coming up. If crappie are there, nine times out of ten they will hit the jig on the way down. Once you find the right depth you can key in on the fish.
Single-pole jigging works wonders around the numerous docks on Crescent Lake. Anglers can also dangle live minnows from a single pole thrust under shady docks. Single-pole jigging also works well around other vertical structure, such as cypress trees growing in deeper water.
“In the fall, crappie stack up around docks when the water hits the mid-60s,” Parker explained. “I use a light 10 foot jig pole and stick it under the dock in the shade. I vertically jig a 1/32 ounce leadhead tipped with plastic. Sometimes, crappie knock the fire out of it.”
Docks can attract many fish, but when too much entangling cover makes fishing them difficult, try shooting the docks. Open the bail on a spinning reel, pinch the line with your right hand and grab the jig by the head with your left hand. Bend the rod tip and let the bait fly. The bending rod acts like a slingshot, flinging the small bait far under cover where most people can never fish. “Shooting docks is a pretty simple concept, but hard to master,” said Randy Pope, a two-time Crappie USA national champion.
“Sometimes the jig skips. Sometimes it just goes straight in. I use a 5 1/2 foot medium-light rod with 4 lb. line tipped with a 1/32 ounce jig,” added Pope.
Whether shooting docks, dangling minnows, or trolling drop-offs, Crescent Lake can provide excellent fishing all year long. The St. Johns River naturally replenishes it with fish and bait daily, so it wouldn’t be surprising if a state record crappie is pulled from this lake one day.