By Vernon Summerlin
Ted Kramer of Morristown became a guide by accident. Anglers saw how many fish he caught and started asking him to take them fishing, and, of course, they were willing to pay him for the privilege. He booked his first trip about two years ago and has kept on booking. He has the knowledge that comes with fishing Cherokee and Douglas Lakes successfully for over 30 years.
You can reach Ted at 615-587-4931 for your choice of crappie, bass or stripers.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: How’s the crappie fishing in March on Cherokee and Douglas?
TED: You have to be an absolute maniac to crappie fish on Cherokee Lake because it’s tough.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Nothing like getting started with an encouraging word! What’s wrong with Cherokee?
TED: You’ve probably heard the claims that the stripers have eaten all the crappie, well, that’s a bunch of garbage. The crappie numbers are down due to a natural cycle. I’ve seen their numbers cycle up and down over the years. I’ve been fishing since I was 10 and I’m 65.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: I understand that crappie have been on a downward cycle all across the United States for several years but they are increasing again.
TED: That’s right. I’ve talked with Dave Bishop, fisheries biologist with TWRA and he agrees. Last year TWRA stocked Cherokee with, I think, 32,000 crappie fry in Ray Creek. We are starting to catch smaller crappie, not the stocked fry, and it’s obvious the crappie have spawned in the last few years. Thirty years ago you could go to Cherokee Lake and catch a 100 crappie per day with no problem. But right now it is not a lake I would take clients too.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: If our readers want to give Cherokee a try, what are the best areas on that lake?
TED: German Creek, absolutely!
FISHINGTENNESSEE: What’s next best?
TED: Ray Creek is being used as a spawning ground – that’s where TWRA put the crappie fry. Ray Creek is right back of German Creek. The lake sort of divides at Point 17 and from there you can see German Creek Bridge. Go into German Creek, keep on going and you’ll come to Ray Creek. Ray has a lot of brush and the Lake Users Association planted grass on the shoreline. Cherokee is a rocky reservoir and the flooded grass brings in the crappie.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Do you mean a grass like you would plant in your yard?
TED: I think it’s something like that. What it’s doing is helping the crappie rebound. Crappie need cover for spawning. Cherokee is a hard lake to fish but once you know the spots you can catch crappie. Wa-Ni Village, toward the dam from German Creek, is another good spot. I think Cherokee will be a good crappie lake in a couple of years, but, right now, I would go to Douglas.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Where are some hot spots on Douglas?
TED: Taylor Bend all the way to Muddy Creek will be the best places once the water starts clearing up. But the water never gets real clear on Douglas; it’s always a little dingy because it’s fed by the Nolichucky and French Broad Rivers.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: What makes Douglas such a good crappie lake?
TED: I think it’s the willow trees. When the water is up, they move in there to spawn. They even get into the gravel around the willows. I can see them on my depth finder and you can tell they are crappie because they stack up like playing cards lying on top of one another. Douglas has always been good from Swan Bridge to Taylor Bend. Nina Creek, Muddy Creek and McGuire Creek are all good places.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Describe your technique.
TED: I’m strictly a tight-line angler. I use a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jig with a curlytail grub. Some people use a float over their jig and may tip the jig with a minnow. I don’t use a minnow. I only use chartreuse colored grubs. Maybe I’ll use white sometimes but you can’t go wrong with a chartreuse grub.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: How long are the grubs you use?
TED: Two inches. If I’m getting hits, little taps but nothing’s there, I’ll bite off a little. I keep making it shorter until I catch them. I still want the tail to wiggle though. I use the 1/16-ounce jig in shallow water and, if I have to go deep, I put on the 1/8-ounce.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Do you jig vertically for crappie?
TED: No, I cast to my target and let the jig hit bottom. When it hits bottom, I start to reel it in very slowly. I may vary my retrieve. Sometimes I give it a little hop to give it a little action. When they are biting, the jig won’t hit bottom, you have to watch your line for the “tick.” You can’t stay over crappie. Once I’ve found them I back off. You must let your anchor down very easily at least 30 feet away, especially in Cherokee because there aren’t that many crappie and they spook so easily. If your anchor hits hard enough to make a cloud of mud, they’re gone.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: What depths are the crappie this month?
TED: They’ll be moving up. It all depends on the water temperature. The key is to watch for 50 degrees, that’s when they start moving up. Fishing will be good from the middle of March through May.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Do the cold fronts that zip through in the early spring disturb the fishing?
TED: The cold fronts don’t affect it as much as the snow. When it snows, that snow water runs out the mountains like crazy and it kills the fishing. It’s cold and muddy, and those two conditions shut the fish down for two weeks.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: When you fish for pre-spawn crappie do you alter your technique?
TED: I use the same technique, only I fish deeper. In the last couple of years I’ve gone back to using a cane pole when fishing for them on the beds. I got a plain old 11-foot jig pole and jig around the bushes with my chartreuse grub. I’ll tell you, you don’t need any more than that.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Do you find crappie in the same places year after year?
TED: I’ve found them in the same places for the last 30 years. One thing some fellows and I did that improved fishing in some places is to put down Christmas trees. We found out that if we burned the trees first, the crappie come to them much sooner, within a week.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Do you use scent or flavor enhancer on your grub?
FISHINGTENNESSEE: What equipment do you use?
TED: I use spinning gear with six-pound test line. I like Stren’s green Magna Thin. I think I catch more fish with it because I can see the tick in the line when they are hitting light.
FISHINGTENNESSEE: Thank you for talking with us. Are there any last thoughts?
TED: March is when things start to happen. The water is warmer in the creeks. I’ve found them to be three or four degrees warmer. If you want to catch more crappie, go to Douglas. But you can catch them in Cherokee at the places I’ve mentioned.