Fish Attractors Work as Advertisedby Larry Woody
Perhaps it’s natural nowadays, when we’re bombarded by slick advertisements trying to sell us something, that we tend to be a tad skeptical whenever we see an ad that seems almost too good to be true.
Take TWRA Fish Attractors for example.
Most fishermen are familiar with the white PVC poles with the green TWRA logo that protrude from the surface of lakes across the state. But how many actually take the time to stop and fish them?
“I guess a lot of fishermen tend to overlook them because they seem so obvious,” says TWRA fisheries biologist Todd St. John. “They see a sign that says ‘Fish Attractor’ and the natural response might be, ‘Yeah right.’ But guess what? They work. They really do attract fish.”
“I’d never paid them much attention to them until a couple of years ago,” says Bob Sherborne, a dedicated crappie fisherman who spends a good portion of each spring anchored on Percy Priest Lake. “I’d pass one Fish Attractor pole after another on my way to one of my favorite spots. After awhile I began to notice that more and more boats were fishing around the poles – and that the people in the boats were catching fish.”
Sherborne decided to give it a try and immediately became hooked – both on crappie and on the attractors. He’s been fishing what he calls the “crappie poles” ever since.
“It’s a very simple concept,” St. John explains. “Submerged stake beds attract and hold crappie and other species. The poles mark the spot so that fishermen can locate the submerged structure and fish it.”
TWRA fish attractors are not new. The agency has been building them for some two decades. The original fish-attractor markers were buoys imprinted with a red fish-and-hook logo and stamped with “Fish Attractor.” Many of those original markers are still in evidence today.
Several years ago the TWRA began constructing the more prevalent shallow-water fish attractors, marked by the familiar PVC pipe and agency logo. St. John says they can be found in Middle Tennessee reservoirs including Cheatham, Old Hickory, Percy Priest, Normandy, and Tims Ford. They are also constructed in Kentucky Lake by the Region I fisheries crew.
They’re not easy to construct. During the winter draw-down, when the water level is at its lowest, TWRA personnel wade out and hammer wooden stakes deep into the lake bottom. In deeper waters the workers sometimes stand in a boat and hammer the stakes down with the aid of a metal driving pole.
Some stake beds are pre-fabricated, hauled out to the site, dropped and anchored. Brush – especially cedar and donated Christmas trees – are sometimes anchored around the stake beds.
When the lake returns to normal pool the stake beds are submerged in 8 to 15 feet of water. A PVC pipe, fitted over a metal rod anchored in the stake bed, protrudes a few feet above the surface to mark the location for fishermen.
Marking the precise spot where the stake bed is located is critical in crappie fishing. As most crappie anglers know, fishing just a few feet away from the cover may not be productive; it’s important to drop the jig or minnow as close to the stake bed as possible because that’s where the fish are holding.
One advantage of wooden stakes over limbs and brush is that a bait or lure can be fished smack in the middle of the stakes with less chance of snagging.
St. John says the obvious purpose of marking the stake beds is to “bring the fish and the fishermen together.” The drawback – if it is a drawback – is that anyone can locate the stake beds and fish them. On a pleasant spring day it is not unusual to see an armada of crappie boats surrounding the TWRA’s “crappie poles.”
The good news is that there are plenty of attractors to go around. And they continue to produce, regardless of fishing pressure. A fish attractor that has been worked over in the morning may hold more fish by the afternoon.
Steve McCadams, a renowned crappie guide on Kentucky Lake, says fish attractors are especially effective on older impoundments.
“A lot of natural cover, like stumps and logs, rots or washes away over the years,” he says. “Man-made replacements can take their place.”
McCadams doesn’t rely on the TWRA attractors, but instead builds his own. He spends many long, cold winter days on the water hammering in stakes, refurbishing old beds and building new ones. Instead of using a pole or buoy to visibly mark them he programs each stake bed on a GPS system.
McCadams doesn’t mind if other anglers occasionally stumble onto one of his stake beds – he has hundreds scattered around his favorite Paris Landing fishing area – but he wants to make sure he can put his clients onto fish. “Working the stake beds,” he says, “is the best bet.”
Nobody needs to elbow in on someone’s private spot. They can find other stake beds, thanks to the TWRA markers.
McCadams offers some tips when fishing the marked stake beds:
Don’t plough right up to the marker; the fish generally are not very deep, and an outboard or even a trolling motor can churn the water and spook the school. Ease up slowly and quietly – maybe even turn off the trolling motor and paddle the last few yards. Anchor just within casting distance of the maker – 10 feet or so if you’re using a crappie pole. Lower the anchor(s) slowly, so as not to disturb the bed. If there’s a breeze it’s a good idea to anchor both ends of the boat to keep it from swinging around and disturbing the site.
Determine the depth of the cover, either with a depth-finder or with a weighted line, and fish slightly above it. For example, if the stake bed is 10 feet, drop your minnow or jig down about nine feet.
If you get snagged – and you will, eventually – don’t give up on the spot. Break off or straighten the hook (light wire hooks are best) with as little disturbance as possible and keep fishing. Even if the fish are temporarily spooked they’ll usually resume biting once things settle down.
Sometimes a dozen crappie can be caught around one fish attractor, sometime only one or two and – yes, it happens – sometimes none. If you work a fish attractor for 10-15 minutes without a bite, go try another. You might come back later and catch fish where there were none before.
Sometimes a school of bait-stealers – small bluegill or yellow bass – will move in and you may be forced to relocate. They will empty a minnow bucket in no time.
Crappie are not the only species that are drawn to fish attractors which provide every species’ two basic needs: food and cover. Algae grows on and around the stakes, attracting minnows, which attract predators. Bass, bluegill and catfish are often caught around fish attractors.
But crappie, and especially spring crappie, are the most prominent denizens of the man-made residences.
“We put a lot of time and effort into the fish-attractor program, and it has been a very successful project,” says St. John. “Ask just about anyone who’s fished them.”
If you do, they’ll tell you that TWRA Fish Attractors are as good as advertised.
Larry Woody is a retired outdoors editor of The (Nashville) Tennessean who writes a syndicated newspaper outdoors column and contributes to various publications. In his more 40 years with The Tennessean, he covered numerous sports and events. Among his honors, is his induction into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, Tennessee Sports Writers Hall of Fame, and the Martin Methodist College Hall of Fame.