April 16, 2021
The spot looked like prime frogging waters, but while the likelihood of hefty largemouth bass haunting this backwater pocket was inarguably high, Matt Morgan and Kent Watson had other plans. Skipping the dramatic build-ups, the crappie pros spent their time reaching far into the field of spatterdock and dipping tiny baits into random gaps where aggressive crappies gladly obliged.
Throughout the South, spring finds crappies using a variety of shallow cover for spawning and the jungle of stems and umbrellas offered by spatterdock, nuphar (aka “water lily”) and American lotus, fit the plan nicely. Such habitat abounds throughout southern waterways and crappie potential runs congruently.
“Pads are great habitat for black crappies to spawn in once the water temperature hits around 56 degrees,” Morgan said. “Males will go up first and females will stage out along the first drop.”
The Right Neighborhood
Spring often finds crappies utilizing shallow vegetation for spawning cover, but don’t be surprised to find the fish moving into this shallow cover again when summer arrives. Shelter and feeding opportunities always matter, but healthy plants providing plenty of shade while emitting lots of oxygen makes for cozy digs throughout the warm season.
Proximity to deep water offers the attractive blend of favorable habitat with a safe fallback zone. Pay attention to where the bites occur, as crappies often identify a depth preference, which remains constant throughout the pad field.
“I’ve found that very rarely will you see a long stretch of pads and catch fish right in the middle of it,” Morgan said. “Most of the time, they’re relating to one end or the other and from the outside in. They may be relating right to the edge of those pads, but there may be times when they might be relating 3 to 7 feet in.”
A pad field’s density generally prevents sonar peaking; and while trial and error will eventually lead you to productive areas, front-end recon will narrow the search. Specifically, look for points, breaks and isolated pad clusters.
Pads near creek channels and drop-offs can be particularly promising, because spots with quick access to travel lanes tend to reload regularly. Morgan also points out the value of blended habitat—duckweed, alligator grass, etc. growing adjacent to pads—in conjunction with an eddy.
“I look for a current break like a sand bar because it produces slack water and baitfish will hold there in big numbers,” he said.
Tackle And Baits
Morgan said the same 10-foot B&M Rods BGJP spinning outfit and 15-pound braid he’d use for trolling works for pad jigging. However, for better precision, he’ll use an 11-foot B&M Rods rear reel seat jig pole with a size 4 to 5 Daiwa fly reel (better balance and a large spool capacity) filled with 20-pound mono backing and 15-pound braid.
Jigs are the ideal presentation for dipping into holes and gaps amid the pads, but consider a few key points:
-In moderate to sparse pads, a 1/16-ounce jig provides ideal sensitivity, while a 1/8 does a better job bullying its way into thick cover and quickly traversing deeper water. Morgan said he also prefers the 1/8-ounce jig on windy days because a 1/16 blows in the wind too much to hit a narrow target.
-Curly tail and swimming style bodies aren’t necessarily wrong, but you just don’t have enough room to make those styles do what they were made to do. Rather, tubes or simple carrot style bodies are best suited for this habitat.
-In dingier water and/or dimmer conditions, the flash and vibration of a Road Runner style head will make sure the fish see your bait.
-Tipping jigs or underspins with minnows is usually an improvement but use this enhancer sparingly around pads. Tight spots require bumping your bait through the cover and that’s likely to bruise, kill or detach your minnow. Broader gaps in pad fields, cuts between main sections and the deeper outside edges—those are the zones where tipping can work in your favor.
What’s That Smell?
Are the fish playing hard-to-get? Maybe a little front passed through and has ‘em in a funk; or perhaps, it’s just the midday lull? Don’t give up on a promising area, just dial up the attraction by adding a little nose-appeal.
That’s particularly important when wind, rains or excessive boat traffic stir up the target waters. Crappies are primarily sight feeders, but when visibility declines, scent enhancements ring the dinner bell—particularly for those slow, stationary presentations, where concentrated aromas expand your range of influence.
While plastics like Berkley Gulp! and the Mr. Crappie line includes natural fish-tempting aromas, some prefer scent enhancers like Bobby Garland’s Mo’Glo Slab Jam, Fish Sticks KVD Lure Enhancer, Kick’N Crappie Oil, Kodiak Paste, Pro Cure Gel, Smelly Jelly and Bang Fish Attractant. Most formulas emulate natural forage, but Anise oil and garlic sprays such as Spike-It dye are proven crappie tempters.
Another option: Soak a dozen or so baits in Anise oil, garlic oil (strained from a jar of minced garlic), or excess Gulp! Alive liquid. Avoid carpet stench by transferring baits into resealable cellophane bags (Amazon) offers an airtight option for soaking in your choice of scent.
When the plan comes together, Morgan stresses decisive response: “The harder you set the hook, the more likely that fish is going to come out of that vegetation. Set the hook hard and set it fast.”