Spillway Fishing – How to Catch Crappie In Moving Water
Phillip Gentry
Bernard Williams and his pal Don Terry compare notes, and crappie, when fishing the Pearl River below Ross Barnett Reservoir.
This illustration shows how crappie orient to slack areas behind shoreline cover in moving water areas like rivers and spillways.
Tube jigs that incorporate bright colors like chartreuse, green, and yellow often work better in dinghy river water.

Question: Bernard, what makes crappie fishing in the Pearl River so good during the winter?

Williams: When they open those gates at the spillway to draw the lake down to winter pool, crappie get sucked out of the lake and washed into the spillway. It’s just like fishing in a pond right after it’s been stocked. For the first mile or two of the river behind the spillway, crappie are behind every tree, every stick up, and every piece of cover on the bottom of the river.


Question: What keeps the crappie from just washing down the river in search of more still waters, what attracts them back to the spillway?

Williams: One thing that draws crappie back up into the spillway is that the moving water won’t be as cold as the still water. Usually you think of moving water as being colder but in the dead of winter, shallow pools of water can get cold enough to freeze overnight. The moving water in the spillway stays just a couple of degrees warmer and that draws the bait and the crappie.


Question:  How do you decide where to fish for crappie in the river?

Williams: One of the factors that confuse many anglers is the effects of rising or falling water. The water levels are rarely stable. You need to know if the water is rising or falling before deciding where to fish in the river. Either situation can be good, but where   to fish will be dictated by either rising or falling water. If the water is rising, it will push crappie further up the creek bank and into any other water they can get to. This means that when the water is rising, I’m going to head into the very back of some of the cuts and sloughs that come into the river. On the other side of the coin, falling waters levels, which coincide with a stable winter pool in the reservoir, will pull crappie back into the river channel.


Question: Is the immediate area behind the spillway the best place to catch crappie in this situation?

Williams: Fishing in the spillway can be easy, but it’s also no secret. When conditions are at their best, it may be quite possible to walk from boat to boat across the width of the river. I much prefer to go a mile to a mile and a half downstream to do my fishing. That gets you away from the crowds and I find that I catch much better fish than I could if I was within sight of the spillway.


Question: What tactics do you use to catch crappie in the river and oxbows along the river?

Williams: The best tactic is single pole jigging. I like to use a 10 foot B’n’M jig pole to fish a 1/16 oz jig on the down side of the cover. Water in the river tends to be murky or downright muddy so I use a plastic crappie tube jig body that has some chartreuse in it. I also like a solid yellow crappie tube. When the water is extremely cold, I might tip the jig with a live minnow or Berkley crappie nibble to entice bites from crappie.


Question: Many spillways and rivers have good bank fishing access. Is there a specific tactic that would work for bank fishermen when crappie are in the spillway?

Williams: Bank fisherman kill the crappie when the water is falling. The fish tend to pull out away from the stick ups and blowdowns and concentrate more along the edges of the river channel. The spillway is full of shad that get sucked out of the lake and migrate up the river and crappie move through eating shad. Bank fishermen catch a lot of crappie casting a jig on a slip cork out into the spillway. The cork holds the jig up off the bottom and it flows with the current. If you don’t get a bite right away, pop the cork a few times to get their attention.


To book a trip with Bernard Williams of Central Mississippi Guide Service, give him a call at (601) 454-0196.


For a look at B’n’M’s  lineup of graphite jig poles, visit our website at www.bnmpoles.com.