On a cool spring morning before the sun has even shown its face, Jeff Amos and his father, Bobby, head out on Jeff’s new 210 Montauk. Steam rises from the surface of Pickwick Lake in Alabama, creating an eerie scene as the pre-dawn light begins to set the inky surface aglow. Like a ghost ship, the Montauk drifts in and out of the fog bank looking at times as if it’s only half there.
The rising vapor is an indication that the water temperature is warmer than the air. And the warmer water temperature is an indication that the crappie are feeding aggressively in preparation for spawning. Jeff and his father aim to take advantage of this sweet spot in the crappie season over the next two weeks. In fact, Jeff has even taken time off from work so that he can camp with his father on the banks of Bear Creek, a tributary of Pickwick northwest of the Muscle Shoals-Florence area, and fish every glorious morning in his brand-new Boston Whaler.
Jeff bought the Whaler from MarineMax Chattanooga after doing plenty of research about what would be the best fishing boat to get into. “What I had in mind was a boat I could use to fish in both freshwater and saltwater,” he says. “I kind of knew what I wanted. Performance and safety were the main things. I saw the Boston Whaler at the dealership and really liked it.”
Jeff had his mind set on a center console layout for easy maneuvering while fishing onboard and had been specifically eyeing the Montauk, which he says has “top-of-the-line” customer reviews. Once he took a look at a few key options, like adding rod holders in the bow, he was sold. “The guys at MarineMax in Chattanooga were so professional,” he adds. “They understood exactly what I was looking for.”
This morning, Jeff and Bobby set to work targeting a slough. Here they have a good chance of finding hungry crappie en route to shallower waters and shoreline cover. Crappie aren’t picky when it comes to bait; worms, minnows and artificials will do just fine. The fish are, however, a bit finicky when it comes to color. So the lure of choice—depending on water clarity and amount of sunlight—might make all the difference between simply fishing and actually catching. Darker lures are best in clear water, but brighter presentations work well in murkier depths. On cloudy days, rumor has it they prefer darker lures, and on brighter days, they opt for color. Obviously, the most important rule is to switch it up if the fish seem bored.
“This time of year, I go for chartreuse and whites,” says Jeff, “but lately they’ve been hitting on blues.” Jeff and Bobby swear by Go-Getter lures. In the early spring, they troll the flats at about 10 to 15 feet down. “We’re actually getting ’em at about 6 feet now,” he says. The guys fish Pickwick all year for crappie, but they switch to trolling with crankbaits in the summer. “I like the rod holders off the back,” Jeff says. “They work really well for trolling.”
The Whaler’s versatility was a huge selling point for Jeff, who wanted something that can get in the shallows on Pickwick but also work well for plying the coast for redfish and trout. “Anywhere I go and for whatever I want to catch, I should be able to use this boat,” he says. While he hasn’t had a chance to test it out on the sea yet, Jeff says that massive Pickwick holds its own when it comes to rough waters, and the Montauk has proven its mettle so far. “When it gets real windy out here, it gets rough,” he says. “But I feel really safe. The boat is sturdy.”
The 200-hp Mercury. Verado also does a stellar job of getting the guys from location to location on the big lake. “It’s very quiet and it gets up on plane easily,” Jeff says. Aside from the Montauk’s merits in durability and performance, Jeff says he doesn’t mind the fact that it earns him lots of compliments, too.
The sun finally peeks its head above the high banks, casting a sheen on the blossoming shoreline. Among the evergreens are the showy violet shades of the redbud trees and the white sprays of dogwood. As the temperature climbs, the guys peel off their outer layers. They use the morning light to reconfigure their setups, and it’s not long before Jeff hooks up with a bite. The prize is on the smaller side, but soon he snags another. Although Pickwick is also known for its bass, Jeff and Bobby simply prefer going after crappie. “They’re good eatin’,” Jeff says. Ultimately, that’s what the choice comes down to. The guys are also big into hunting deer, turkey, rabbit, squirrel and anything else that pleases their palates. But there’s more to fishing than just catching dinner. “It’s relaxing to get out on the water, and it’s a lot of fun,” Jeff adds.
With the sun on his face, Bobby smiles at his son. They work around each other on the boat as if they’ve been doing the exact same thing together forever. In truth, they have. Bobby used to take Jeff out on his boat when Jeff was a kid, and now Jeff gets to return the favor. Jeff, who grew up in Muscle Shoals, now lives in Chattanooga, where he works for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), but he makes it back to Alabama as often as possible to fish with his father.
“This boat hasn’t been broken in yet,” Bobby says to his son with a smile. “I think you’d better leave it with me.” Bobby, now retired from working as an electrician for the TVA, has just a little bit more time to get at those crappie these days.
The Chattanooga area has a lot to offer for an angler as well. It’s situated on the Tennessee River, and TVA reservoirs like Chickamauga and Nickajack are in close proximity. Jeff says he hasn’t had a chance to fish them yet. He claims he prefers Pickwick because it’s terrific for crappie, but now that the sun has burned off the fog, the truth is a little clearer: He simply likes having his number-one fishing buddy onboard.