December 20, 2019
On lakes big and small, in rough water or calm, trolling is a great way to catch speckled perch, a.k.a. black crappie. It's a staple of Florida guides like Jared Leverette, whose family owns and operates the Lake Talquin Lodge, on the reservoir of the same name, west of Tallahassee.
I fished with Jared on a cool winter morning and took notes. His boat was equipped with four Troll Max stainless steel rod holders. These may be adjusted to infinite angles and accommodate eight or more rods. Jared fishes two 16-foot and two 14-foot crappie rods from the bow of the boat and four 8-foot rods from the stern. The rods, equipped with small spinning reels and 6-pound-test monofilament, are staggered at varied angles to fish at different depths and to avoid tangles. The rods are carefully selected to provide just the right amount of flex while still having enough backbone to set the hooks.
We made a short run across Lake Talquin. Jared noted the water temperature was between 60 and 63 degrees, ideal for crappie spawning. There were several boats in the area Jared had planned to fish. To reach what he felt was the optimal depth of 8 to 14 feet, Jared tied on 1/16-ounce jigheads and pinched a No. 7 splitshot onto the line above each jig. Had he wanted to fish even deeper, he would have switched to a diving-style jig with a sloped head.
Jared trolls with a 36-volt remote-controlled Minn Kota motor that enables him to set a course and then regulate the depth of the jigs by changing the trolling speed. When we fished, he maintained a 1 mph trolling speed that he frequently checked on his GPS. The speed he uses most often is between .8 and 1.3 mph, depending on conditions and depth. Sometimes, if the bite is slow, Jared turns the boat in an “S” course that immediately makes the jigs run slightly shallower. If this improves the bite, he decreases his trolling depth by increasing the motor speed.
He also uses boat speed to good effect when he has to alter course or turn around. Speeding up in a turn raises the jigs. After the turn, when the lines straighten out, he reduces boat speed again. This procedure reduces tangles in the lines.
Jared typically fishes jigs in a variety of color combinations to find out what the fish prefer on a particular day. He often chooses from several dozen combinations, settling on colors such as Acid Rain, Stardust, Wildcat, Blue, Black and Chartreuse, K-Bait and AWD. When one color combination seems to get most of the bites, he switches. Jared prefers jigs with lighter hooks for fishing Talquin because of the extensive structure in the lake. Heavier hooks can be used on other lakes with fewer snags.
Lake Talquin has had a 10-inch minimum size limit on speckled perch for a number of years. According to Jared, this has definitely increased the size of the fish being caught. The largest he has caught on Talquin was 2.15 pounds and from his experience, fish usually gather by size. If Jared starts catching a lot of small fish, he moves. If the bite is slow during the day, he suggests fishing at night around docklights where jigs in dark colors and minnows work well.
Where and When
The best speckled perch fishing on Lake Talquin is between October and the middle of May; after that, the larger fish move to deepwater structure. Phone number for Talquin Lodge, which has cabins, RV park, covered boat slips and other amenities, is (850) 627-3822. The trolling technique described is useful on many lakes—Jared Leverette gave nods to the Harris Chain of Lakes in Central Florida, as well as Lakes Monroe and Crescent, part of the St. Johns River system. For more on crappie fishing in Florida, see myfwc.com/fishing/freshwater