Plucking wood crappies from fallen trees, brushpiles, and submerged timber is a common theme in spring. The shallows warm, drawing crappies to spots where they feel insecure without cover. Methods that work best for cropping wood-dwelling crappies are determined by several factors, including the layout, extent, and type of cover being used.
Crappies are right at home in cover, but most of the minnows they forage on are not. Young-of-the-year shad and shiners tend to be plankton feeders, which means they feed and school within a few feet of the surface most of the time, in spring. That doesn’t mean minnows won’t use wood cover, because they do. But it often means that crappies have to rise above brushpiles or out to the edges of fallen or submerged trees to feed when highly active — a lucky break for anglers. Still, most of the day we have to probe deep into cover to catch any number of those big slabs we came to see.
Crappies can find other things to feed on in wood, however. Nymphs, freshwater shrimp, epiphytes (aquatic insects that cling to weed stalks and branches), zooplankton, and various forms of insect larvae can be relatively abundant in and around wood cover. Choices crappies make about forage and how to go about capturing it also determine how to approach them in wood.
Weather and water conditions can indicate how to approach wood, too. And, when fishing in wood for any species, the ultimate key is to keep fishing. Efficiency is the order of the day. Few crappies come aboard while we re-rig or tie knots. Efficiency means not only avoiding snags, but using the simplest possible system. The best rigs and lures in wood involve the fewest possible components and knots.
When the weather is stable, the winds light to moderate, and the water is warming and fairly clear, crappies tend to hold above or out on the edge of wood cover, where casting and pitching works best. Crappies feeding primarily on minnows can be caught on lures at almost any point during the season, even in early spring. Even though many lures can be fished efficiently above and through the edges of wood cover, lures are generally overlooked options for crappies in spring. In some areas, however, guides have come across some valuable presentations that involve small spinnerbaits, spoons, minnowbaits, and jig-plastic combinations that imitate the natural forage to a ‘T’ and work efficiently around timber.
Kerr Lake, which sprawls across the Virginia-North Carolina border, is one of the most prolific big-crappie venues in the world. In spring, high water often pushes into shoreline brush, creating the only available shallow cover for crappies in some areas. Guides there have learned that a small spinnerbait, like the Blue Fox Big Crappie Spinner, becomes an invaluable tool because it can be pitched into the wood and, when worked correctly, it comes back out. The V-shaped arm of a spinnerbait deflects wood while being retrieved, so the blade keeps churning along, attracting crappies with flash and vibration.
Equipment and technique become equally critical with spinnerbaits in wood cover. The bait must be stopped over the water and the retrieve started before it hits the surface, so the lure is oriented properly before it has a chance to encounter any wood, with the hook protected. Slow retrieves are essential in spring, and that means heavy line. The lighter the line, the faster a spinnerbait drops — even while being retrieved. The heavier and thicker the line, the slower and shallower a spinnerbait can be worked.
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