I haven’t been posting much in recent years, mostly because of the usual suspects, work, family and the like. I had a decent waterfowl season by the time January was over, but it was crappie season that I’ve looked forward to the most. Since my son was born, now three years ago, I’ve struggled to find time to hunt and fish as much as I used to, and I’ve found out that 90% of success is just getting out there and being plugged in to what’s going on. Crappie season is no different, and my success in the past has been closely tied to the spring spawn and knowing when and where to go get the fish.
We have two fish frys every year that depend on a freezer full of fish from our crappie season. Even in a bad year, I manage to scrape up enough fish for these two gatherings, but I’ve learned enough over the last few seasons to really get the most out of my limited trips to the river.
When the dogwoods bloom
For sure, when the dogwood blooms just start to crack open, the crappie are biting here. Pay close attention to other signs, though. Probably the best indicator in the world, is social media. My fishing buddies start catching fish much earlier than the dogwood blooms each year. Yeah, they work pretty hard for them, but they catch limits as early as January. The fish are in different places that early in the year, but it’s tremendously helpful to track their progress in the weeks leading up to peak season.When we get into March, and linits are showing up everywhere, I start heading out to sample the places and style of fishing that I like to see if their into that pattern yet.
Keep a Record of When
It’s almost like having a journal. I look back at blog posts and Facebook images to see when I’ve had the most success. While I don’t always have a good record of weather, It does confirm year after year approximately when the bite is at its peak. Eventually I’ve come up with a pretty basic system to get the most out of the spawn and put plenty of fish in the freezer. My goal is to get out ahead of the spawn and when the number come up, I hit it hard for about two weeks or until I start to see the number tail off.
It’s not Rocket Science
There are surely as many techniques for catching crappie as there are ways to make a sandwich, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated. I have a nice tackle bag that takes 3600 size compartments. I have these compartments loaded for everything from Redfish to Bluegill and everything in between. When it’s time for crappie I have three 3600 boxes. One has hooks, another jigs and the third has floats. I even have an ultra-simple bag that hold four boxes just for crappie. I load the three boxes of crappie tackle along with pliers, forceps and lead split shot. A good ultra light rod and I’m ready to go catch fish. It’s really all you need unless you want to take it up a notch, but with a basic kit and a place to go, you’re in the money.
Bells and Whistles
I’ve added and modified my game over the years to make crappie fishing productive and easier, but even with the added goodies, it’s still pretty basic. I have a 17 foot aluminum boat and a 12v trolling motor. I use an old Eagle fish finder with the transducer on the trolling motor to find schools and track depth. I would tell you that you don’t need one, but for chasing crappie, it’s worth the extra effort and cost to get basic electronics on your rig. I have a small assortment of green neon lights that alligator clip onto the battery posts. Speaking of batteries, I take two. One for trolling and one to powder the depth finder and lights. For light, I use an old Coleman propane lantern that has a steel mesh globe (can’t break it) and an extra set of mantles at all times. I have a ten dollar brass adapter that lets me refill 1# bottles of propane and keep 2-3 in the boat with the lantern. Throw a headlamp and a bag of chips in and I’m about set. I use a 25qt Yeti both as a seat and as a fish box and a standard minnow bucket with an aerator for bait. It sounds like a lot, and it can get to be a hassle, but if you can keep most of it in the boat, it’s not too bad.
I start my typical outing by dragging a jig across the depths in and out of the channel in the areas that I fish. I’m basically looking for schools and getting settled while I troll around. I’ll throw a minnow into tree tops and structure and sometimes drift at various depths to see what I can figure out. Early in the spawn, most of the fish that I catch are more scattered. As the spawn peaks, I catch the higher numbers of fish in areas that bottle neck and concentrate the fish in a more predictable way. even at peak season, it’s a constant adjustment in depth and presentation. I try to use as little weight as possible, but sometimes you just have to get the bait down there at all costs.
This year has been typical. I started out with one keep on a long cold evening. Next trip was even colder, but with six decent keepers. My third trip out, was milder and despite a very slow start, after 9pm I hammered out most of a limit of nice fish before getting cold and tired and shutting it down at midnight. Based on past experience, the next week or two will be good. I’ll keep hitting them in my spots until it slows down, and then I’ll start looking for bluegill.
The point is, that you don’t need much to enjoy crappie fishing, and that a basic approach with some attention to the spawn cycle can make it easy to load the freezer year after year. My methods are pretty basic, and i don’t have near as much time to pursue them as I used to, but a few more trips and I’ll have 100+ fish fillets ready to fry!