"I still work at the tackle shop three days a week, but now I'm also fishing three days a week," Phillips says.
Relentless in his pursuit of big slabs, Phillips tries to catch crappie that weigh 2 pounds or more every time he goes fishing.
Louisiana Sportsman asked Phillips to name the best three lakes in Louisiana for catching slabs. Phillips' three picks — D'Arbonne, Caney and Poverty Point — consistently produce some of the biggest crappie in the state.
This water body, located near Farmerville, contains 15,000 acres. Although only a few anglers catch 3-pound crappie there, plenty of 1 1/2- to 2-pound crappie live in this lake.
"If you just want to catch plenty of big crappie, D'Arbonne Lake is my pick," Phillips says. "The water fluctuates a lot in this lake, but it holds numbers of crappie.
"I've caught 3-pound crappie in D'Arbonne, and it may very well be the best crappie lake of the three I'm discussing."
D'Arbonne's a more-traditional crappie lake than Caney and Poverty Point. Fish will hold around cypress trees and bushes and on gravel and sandy banks. At this time of year, crappie will concentrate from 6 feet deep up to the edge of the bank.
Phillips' particularly enjoys fishing around the cypress trees at D'Arbonne.
"I know when I see a cypress tree, the crappie are holding either right next to the trunk or 6 to 8 feet away from the trunk to the root ball," Phillips reports. "The crappie will spawn right in those roots."
If the water's clear, Phillips will fish the gray Black Lake Tackle hair jig. If the water's murky, he'll fish a gray, chartreuse and red Black Lake Tackle hair jig, a 120-Plus Red.
Although D'Arbonne may muddy up from a big spring rain, it also clears up quickly. However, if D'Arbonne's extremely muddy, you can fish Caney Lake or Poverty Point, two others of Phillips' favorites, because they don't muddy up as bad as D'Arbonne does.
"I'd have to rank D'Arbonne as the No. 1 crappie lake in Louisiana," Phillips said. "You won't catch as many big crappie here as you will at Caney and Poverty Point, but you'll catch plenty of crappie here."
This lake, located outside of Chatham, has a reputation for producing trophy bass, huge shellcrackers and monster-sized crappie.
"If you look at the state records for big crappie, Caney Lake has produced five of the top 10," Phillips says. "And, Bobby Nola of Monroe, caught all five trophy-sized crappie.
"The nutrients and the tremendous shad base in Caney Lake are some of the major reasons that the lake produces monster crappie. But Caney Lake is difficult for many crappie fishermen to fish."
When the lake first opened, anglers had few problems catching big crappie in Caney Lake. However, in recent years, the crappie have wised up, and the fishing has become tougher.
"Even though Caney has some of the biggest crappie in the state, I'm convinced those big crappie have gotten smarter," Phillips said.
In most lakes that have crappie fishing as a major sport, you'll see cypress trees, brush and blown-down trees in the water. By fishing this brush in many lakes, you can take crappie, but not at Caney Lake.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has deployed pallets there to create artificial fishing reefs. But anglers rank the brushpiles planted by individual fishermen as the most-productive places to catch big crappie.
"Nobody will tell you where these brushpiles are located," Phillips said. "The only way you can find them is to spend a day riding this 5,000-acre lake, looking for the brushpiles on your depth finder, and then marking these brushpiles with your GPS receiver."
So, once you pinpoint the brushpiles — not the pallets — you can fish them and catch crappie, right?
The crappie in Caney Lake tend to relate to the brush, but they don't hold right in the brush.
"Once I locate the brushpiles, I look for crappie holding 5 to 10 feet away from the brushpiles," Phillips says.
During March and April, anglers will find Caney Lake usually clear, but unlike any other Louisiana lake, you won't locate the crappie in shallow water. These crappie tend to spawn in 8 to 12 feet of water.
"Very rarely will you find a concentration of crappie spawning in one area," Phillips said. "These fish will be scattered all over the lake. Remember that not all the females spawn at one time, and they don't lay all their eggs at once.
"I've found that the most-effective way to catch these big crappie in Caney Lake is to drift-fish or spiderweb-fish in open water."
Caney Lake also homes so many big crappie because spring fishermen assume they'll easily catch the crappie in shallow water. But they'll actually find the Caney Lake crappie out in deep water, not holding on any type of visible cover.
Also, the population of crappie in Caney Lake is skewed more toward black crappie than white crappie.
Under clear-water conditions, Phillips will fish a Black Lake Tackle 1/3-ounce gray-colored hair jig on 6-pound-test P-Line.
"I like the P-line because it's the strongest 6-pound-test line I've found, and you can't break it," Phillips reports. "I also like to fish the really bright yellow-colored Izorline, if the water's muddy. But I never use that bright-yellow line if the lake's clear."
Phillips fishes with a B'n'M Buck's Graphite Ultra-Lite 11-foot pole. However, he modifies it by cutting the foam handle and the reel seat off the pole and replacing them with a cork handle and a fly-reel seat.
"I'll fish by spider-rigging, or I'll hold one pole in each hand and wind-drift," Phillips says.
In extremely clear water, Phillips will wear polarized glasses, stand on the front of his boat and look for crappie out in that deeper water. Then he'll pitch his hair jig to the crappie just like bass fishermen sight-fish for bass.
"If the water's clear enough, you actually can see those crappie pick up the hair jigs and suck them in," he said. "But you have to be careful not to let the crappie see you, or they'll spook and not bite."
This relatively small lake, at only 2,700 acres, is located near the town of Epps, and has produced some 3-pound-plus crappie.
"Like Caney Lake, Poverty Point doesn't have a lot of run-off, so it doesn't muddy up easily," Phillips said. "Also, the water level doesn't fluctuate very much."
This lake holds a tremendous shad population. If you jerk your jig up really fast, more than likely you'll stick a shad and catch it reeling your jig up. The crappie in Poverty Point gorge themselves on these shad, and when you catch one of these crappie, it will look like a hog — short, blocky and thick. When you clean the crappie, you'll get fat between the blades of your electric knife, and you'll have to stop and clean the knife before you continue.
During the spring, Phillips suggests anglers fish the northern end of the lake with the Bobby Garland Slab-Slay'r jig and a Wasshoppah jig, a solid-bodied jig with flat tentacles instead of round tentacles at the back of the jig.
"The cove on the opposite side of the lake across from the marina is where you'll find big crappie in shallow water," he said.
According to Phillips, the fish like 1 1/2 feet of water around bank structure like lay-downs and bushes and also a slough there that has timber and an underwater ridge on this side of the lake where crappie spawn.
"If we can get close enough to the crappie to use our B'n'M Poles, we'll pole-fish for them," Phillips said. "However, if the water's down, we may use a jig and a cork to cast to these crappie."
Phillips also will fish the Southern Pro Crappie Stinger jig and the small 1/32-ounce Black Lake hair jig to catch crappie. Regardless of the jig he uses, Phillips always tips his hook with Berkley Crappie Nibbles with the silver metal flakes because he believes the metal flakes look like shad scales as they melt.
Also, the odor the Nibbles give off attracts the crappie.
Gray/chartreuse, white/black and white jig colors produce best at Poverty Point. Phillips fishes his pole like it's a fly rod. He pitches his jig out and holds the line in his left hand while holding his rod in his right hand. This way, when he feels the strike, he can set the hook either by pulling back on his line and up on his rod, or by simply pulling back on his line, if he's fishing under trees and in brush.
"If I'm fishing under a tree in a real-tight spot, I can set the hook by just pulling the line and not have to pull up the pole," he said. "You want to set your hook by pulling straight up on the line, because if you pull the line sideways, you'll pull the jig away from the crappie."
Poverty Point's the only lake in Louisiana with a 25-crappie limit. All other lakes have a 50-crappie limit. A limit of 25 crappie will average about 1 1/4-pound each, but you'll have some 1 1/2- to 2-pound crappie in that catch, and you may catch a 3-pound-plus crappie.