Sunday, December 12, 2010

Crappie at Speed

  Today the first snow of the year is beginning to fall, winds are close to 30 mph and temps are dropping. Wind chill warnings for frost bite and hypothermia have been issued so ,of course, I am thinking of fishing. Not the warm weather fishing of late spring and summer but the sometimes you have to bundle up fishing of early spring. Where my fishing begins each year, heading out for crappie.

  Crappie, a member of the sunfish family, cousin to bluegill and black bass, is one of my favorite fish for the table. In lakes where they are found these are a much loved species that many a folk spend countless hours pursuing. I, on the other hand, being short of patience or maybe just lazy have found a way that works for loading a freezer in just a few trips with minimum effort and cost. Of course, I found this after I spent a bunch of money.

  Like most fishermen I enjoy acquiring new tackle and baits to chase each species I fish for under whatever conditions I find. When I decided to start crappie fishing it was no different. You can buy quantities of crappie related baits on sale if you do a bit of looking. Local stores mark down jig heads and trailers, Bass Pro and Cabela’s run sales early each year featuring crappie rods ready to go, rod, reel, even line plus an extra spool. I would get one or two each year when I saw the sale in 11 foot lengths. High dollar reels aren’t needed since they just store line. Crappie aren’t known for their drag ripping runs. I bought packs of trailers, jigs along with massive sets of jigs/trailers where I found them marked down and soon had all I needed. I read magazines, watched pros on TV, researched how guides caught fish and then promptly threw it all out and did it my way when I realized it wasn‘t working. One thing I did was research how Europeans use floats. I was amazed at the information which I incorporated into my fishing with great results.

Just the basics. 11 foot rod, hooks, floats and sinkers

My panfishing basics box.

 After trying techniques learned from “pros” I found it not only boring but slow to produce with many hours of nothing. This, I knew, wouldn’t do. There had to be a better way, so, what was I missing? I care less about fish stacked up in 25 feet of water then waiting forever as a 1/32 oz jig falls down to their level. Trying to keep baits down while fighting my boat just wasn’t worth it. The lakes here don’t have many places to hide from early season winds. Even a relatively light wind moved the boat too fast. What to do? Easy, find aggressive fish other people were missing. While most fish this time of year are down 10-20 feet I wanted shallow, aggressively feeding fish I didn’t have to work for. I found them being passed by every fisherman, right under big commercial boat docks next to the boat ramps. Hundreds of slips, walkways and boats holding tons of fish and I didn’t even need to start my big motor.

Small jig assortment
  At this time of year crappie are starting to move into creek channels where they stack up 10-20 feet down. The dock near the ramp I use has a creek channel running under it that averages 25 feet in depth. The fish moving along it can be caught as they stop to rest and feed under the dock. Many are caught suspended 8-10 feet down but this takes time, too. I found that the end of walkways between boat slips, the spaces between boats, even the lower units of motors and boat hulls held actively feeding fish at less than 3 feet of depth. Now we have fish, what does it take to catch them at speed? I fished jigs in all types of combos which worked but I was still missing something. Small spinners were out because there isn’t room to cast and retrieve. Then it hits, you can’t beat nature. I went and bought some minnows, rigged up to fish them, returned to the docks and held on.

  It was amazing. After a very short learning curve finding the right depth it was literally fish after fish after fish. Crappie feed best on bait that is slightly above them in the water column. I rig my float to hold the minnow just below the walkway, boat, whatever then very lightly place it in the water. These fish are active but shallow and easy to spook. Letting out line to match the length of rod I am using I slowly ease the boat along placing the bait carefully within an inch or two of cover by swinging the bait like you would with a cane pole. Then count to 20, if I haven’t had a hit I move the bait a foot or two and repeat. Many times the float barely has time to right itself before being pulled under. Because the fish seem to hold tight to a very small area you need to try each corner, end, motor and hull you come to but only in water that is 15 feet in depth or more. The shallow water rarely holds fish. This is easy to explain but takes some trial and error to figure out each trip since the change of a couple of inches in depth means catching fish or not. Even during a trip you might need to adjust your float a few inches to keep catching fish.

Nice near limit

Good start for a day. Half a limit already and bonus 'gills.

  My favorite rigging is simple, a small foam float, a #1 gold wire hook and small sinker. I use a bobber stop if I am using Thill floats to make depth adjustments since they are sliding floats. The minnows are hooked lightly through the lips and the livelier the better. If a minnow looks weak swap it out for a fresh one don’t be cheap here. 4-6 lb line is plenty but remember that good bass like to hit crappie minnows so be prepared when a 4 or 5 lber latches on. Use the smallest float you can so the minnow can move freely and bait shy fish won’t refuse your offerings. This is the time for KISS. Small lines, no swivels or snaps, small sinkers, light floats, no casting and a lively bait. The results speak for themselves. What is a nice bonus when the legal size crappie move out bluegill are hitting so downsize your hook, go to worms, meal worms or my personal favorite, crickets and you are back in business. I can average close to 80 bluegill an hour doing this. Bluegill fillets are right up there as table fare, too.

  Even if you don’t have the big docks we have here smaller private docks can hold fish in the same way. It’s common to find brush piles near private docks so people tend to leave the fish holding shallow under the dock itself alone. Try this simple, back to basics technique and you might be surprised how well it works. Refine the idea to fit your area and get ready for some great fishing and good eating.


Casey said...

This is my favorite way to fish, Tommy! When I'm not spinning for trout, I should say. Live bait has always been most productive for me. Minnows, crawdads, worms in that order. For Smallies, catfish, pike, whatever. I like a mixed bag.

Nice article.

Gary said...

Outstanding article Tommy, has brought back some good memories.Good selection of baits you got for em.

Functioning said...

Great article good to see some fishing action on the site!

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Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.



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