The gift that keeps on giving — sinking old Christmas trees makes great crappie structure

DSC 1189If crappie anglers are looking to get a jump on the spring crappie season, they should start soon.

According to Sam Rayburn guide Stephen Johnston, if anglers are going to sink a Christmas tree or two for crappie structure, they need to do it within the next few weeks.

“Sink those trees within a month or two (after Christmas),” he said. “If you wait, those trees will dry out like cork and it takes triple the weight to sink them.”

The Hemphill native would know, having sunk hundreds of trees and brush piles over the years to improve fish habitat on the lakes where he guides.

While sinking trees, he has learned a few tricks to help simplify the process and make it easier for anglers looking to improve fish habitat.

“Sink the tree upside down,” he said. “If you sink it the regular way, it folds in on itself and the fish won’t get up inside of it. If the tree is upside down, the water will pull the limbs apart to allow fish to get in between them.”

Johnston said he sometimes takes three or four trees, ties them together and puts a 2-liter coke bottle on the tree to hold the trunk off the bottom and stand it in the correct position.

“A lot of people thin the trees but I don’t really do that,” he said. “I actually prefer to sink sweetgums or willows, but you have to be careful about local laws and cutting those trees on public land.

“But Christmas trees are good for a lake.”

Johnston said he doesn’t spread his trees out very much, saying the tighter trees will hold more fish.

“I like to put my trees or brush in a 12-foot area,” he said. “I have a 24-foot boat that I take clients out on, and I like to get right on top of the trees and have the anglers fishing over both sides of the boat on the edges of the trees.”

For depth, Johnston recommends putting trees in one of three depths: 19-22 feet for early summer fishing; 23-27 feet for late summer; and 30-31 feet for winter.

“For most people, I would say 22-27 feet would be about right,” he said.

Once an angler is ready with a tree or trees, weighting them down is a big piece of the equation. Johnston recommends sand bags.

“A lot of people use concrete blocks,” he said. “I use sand bags because you can find sand on the bank and fill them right there. I always have a friend or two to help out. You just get a shovel and start filling.

“I fill each bag up to about 45 pounds.”

Johnston said to always wear a life vest when sinking trees because of the lines and weights involved.

“If you get wrapped up in a line with a couple hundred pounds on the other end, you will go to the bottom,” he said.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department district biologist Kevin Storey said anglers should check with the controlling authority of the water body before sinking trees.

“It is a common practice that has been going on for years, and most don’t have any objections unless it becomes a navigational hazard,” Storey said. “But it does help, especially in reservoirs without a lot of structure.”

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