Crappie can be tough to catch at times, but one thing that they find hard to resist is a live minnow right in their face.
"Slabs", "specks", "white perch". The name varies from locale to locale across the country, but use the word "crappie", and anglers from coast to coast will know you are talking about old paper mouth.
No matter what term local venacular might dictate, the fact of the matter is that fishermen, who have discovered the spring crappie bonanzas, in reservoirs across the country, call them "fast-action-fish."
Missouri angler Jerry Prewett has been fishing for 25 years, but only became serious about crappie fishing three years ago. This youngster is well beyond his years, however, when it comes to crappie fishing expertise.
"Attitude is everything," Jerry advises. "Crappie fishing is very different from the hurried pace of bass fishing. Folks need to calm down and slow down to both enjoy and become proficient at crappie fishing."
Jerry spends most of his crappie fishing time on Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks. "Lake of the Ozarks is a fabulous crappie fishery," Prewett instructed. "I have learned a number of tactics by hit and miss that improved my success rate considerably while fishing LOZ. Those same tactics will work on most crappie lakes."
Prewett believes it is paramount to have a lake map, especially when approaching a new lake. "I like the Hot Spots maps," Jerry said. "They are available at stores around most lakes and they are invaluable. These maps not only depict the lake and surrounding terrain, they also provide tips from local experts, pinpoint boat launching facilities, list fishery survey results, migration patterns, stocking reports, and suggest baits and lures. They provide a wealth of information, especially for a newcomer."
Anyone can read a map to find fish, but there are other ways to locate crappie. Prewett recommends cruising bank lines to look for markers on trees, rocks or the bank itself that might indicate that there are brush piles nearby. "There are hundreds of submerged, manmade brush piles in most lakes (where it is legal to build brush piles). Crappie thrive in them. The marked brush piles are normally heavily fished, however. A little extra work with a good locator will put anglers onto lots of brush piles that don't see much fishing pressure," Jerry said.
Thousands of commercial and private boat docks line the shores at Lake of the Ozarks. Many, but not all, house brush piles placed there by dock owners. Randomly fishing docks can waste a lot of time. Taking the time to cruise selected coves and noting on your map, the brush piles found on your locator, is a time saving move in the long run.
Visually checking docks will provide clues to the presence of brush piles, too. Serious fishermen often have cleaning tables on their docks. Lights, chairs and rod holders are other signs to watch for. Often, the type of boat occupying a boat slip will indicate the presence of a fisherman.
Crappie can be caught all year. However, the vast majority of fishermen begin prospecting for crappie as spring approaches. Prewett starts around the middle of March. "Day length and water temperatures are increasing rapidly by mid-March," he said. "Fish begin to move out of deep water and stage for the pre-spawn. I begin to look for brush piles in 10 to 20 feet of water. However, as the spawn approaches, crappie will move in and out from the banks. Cool snaps often run fish to deeper water."
Once Jerry locates a brush pile, he anchors his boat on the downwind side. This tactic reduces the risk of spooking fish. He then rigs two ultra-light spinning rods with slip bobbers and baits up with small minnows. Two small split shot are used to hold the minnow at the desired depth.
"I begin by setting my two bobbers for different depths," Jerry noted. "By using this method I can eliminate water quickly. Once I establish the depth where fish are holding, I set both bobbers for the same depth and start catching fish."
The slip bobber is a time saving device for the crappie fisherman. A string or bobber stop is tied on the line at the desired depth. Line passes freely through the bobber allowing an angler to reel up to the end of the line. On the next cast, the weight of the split shot and minnow pulls the line back through the bobber to the stop, placing the bait at the exact depth the last fish was caught. The method sure beats guessing how deep you were fishing.
"One mistake anglers often make," according to Prewett, "is to give up on a brush pile after catching a couple of crappie. Unless the fish are on a feeding frenzy, it takes a few minutes for crappie to settle down after one is pulled out of the brush pile. Patience is important."
Crappie may also relocate just a few feet away after several are caught. Too often, anglers think the action is over. Dabbling minnows into progressively deeper water will often put you back into the action. However, don't neglect checking in shallow water towards the bank. I once fished with a guide who spent four hours on a long sycamore root that ran from the bank out to 14 feet of water. He patiently moved up and down the root, catching fish on every pass.
As a final tip, Prewett recommended that fishermen carry lots of split shot and spare hooks. "Hang ups are inevitable while crappie fishing in brush piles. And, I prefer to break my six-pound line rather than pull limbs out of the brush pile and disturb the fish."
The last time I spoke to Prewett, he had just finished ordering crappie-fishing supplies from his Cabela's catalog. That is a good tip, too!
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