Twenty years ago this month anglers enjoyed some of the finest crappie fishing in the history of the world at four of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs that grace the landscape of northeastern Kansas.
Of the four reservoirs, Perry Lake was the most fruitful and popular. In fact, there were several days that all of the parking lots at Perry's many boat ramps were packed with vehicles and boat trailers. Virtually all of the best river and creek channel bends and edges, brush piles, submerged levees and humps had a boat load of crappie anglers hovering above them. A goodly number of these anglers caught crappie hand over fist.
Anglers also caught astonishing numbers of crappie at Clinton, Melvern and Pomona lakes during December of 1991 and throughout the entire winter of 1991-92. Council Grove Lake, which lies about 50 miles west of Topeka, also yielded prodigious numbers of crappie and big ones to boot.
The fishing was so outstanding that it even allured professional bass anglers such as Jim Rogers of Lamar, Missouri, and Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Missouri, and they relished it a number of times. In addition, the Flack family of Kansas City brought Al Lindner to Clinton Lake, where he created a segment for In-Fisherman's television show.
This crappie bonanza reached its zenith in 1992 and early 1993, and it began to peter out in 1994, and to this day, the crappie fishing remains a mere shadow of its glorious past. Now, when old-timers occasionally reminisce about those stellar days, today's anglers and fisheries biologists pooh-pooh those recollections, thinking that it is categorically impossible for fishing to have ever been as bountiful as these old-timers remember.
After the demise, some anglers blamed the dastardly flood of 1993 as the culprit that put an end to those glorious times. Others thought that crappie were overharvested. A number of other anglers complained that wipers wreaked havoc with the crappie populations at Clinton and Pomona.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s the late Elden Bailey of Lawrence, Kansas, who created the once reknowned Bailey Magnet, and Terry Bivins of Lebo, Kansas, used to call the wintertime crappie fishing at these waterways an angler's paradise. During these heavenly days afloat, Bailey, Bivins and several other talented crappie anglers became as proficient at using their paper graphs and flasher units as they were at employing a jig. These anglers became masters at pinpointing the whereabouts of big concentrations of crappie that inhabited difficult-to-find offshore lairs. Bailey often proclaimed that catching crappie was the easiest part of every outing; in his eyes, the most difficult part was finding them. Consequently Bailey and the other masters would often spend more time searching for a mother lode of crappie than they would spend catching them. In fact, on a few outings, Bailey spent so much time searching that his paper graph would consume a roll or two of paper.
Dave Schmidtlein of Topeka was a member of that cadre of expert crappie anglers during those incredible heydays, and to this day he is at the top of the heap when it come locating and catching crappie in the flatland reservoirs of northeastern Kansas.
On an August 30 blog (http://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/08/30/finesse-fishing-for-cats/), we featured Schmidtlein in a story entitled "Finesse fishing for catfish," in which we declared that Schmidtlein's incredible prowess at catching astronomical numbers of catfish parallels his extraordinary expertise at catching amazing numbers of crappie. Except for his bait, he fishes for crappie the same way he fishes for catfish. Moreover, it is interesting to note that on several of his catfish outings in 2011, Schmidtlein experimented with his favorite crappie lure, and this lure garnered a surprising number of bites from blue and channel catfish.
During the winter of 2010-11, Schmidtlein's favored crappie lures was a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man Fishing Products' ZinkerZ. The ZinkerZ is five inches long; therefore, he cuts it in half to make it 2 1/2 inches long. This year he is trimming the five-inch ZinkerZ into thirds, which makes it 1 13/16 inches long. He also creates four tentacles on one end of these shorten ZinkerZ. His favorite color is a laminated-pumpkin-and-chartreuse.
Back in the winters of the 1980s and early 1990s, Schmidtlein, Bailey, Bivins and other experts spent their days probing submerged offshore humps, ledges, roadbeds, creek and river channels and channel edges, looking for massive concentrations of gizzard shad and crappie, which they found with astonishing regularity. And on many outings, they found unbelievable numbers of crappie and shad suspended in the heart or gut of a river or creek channel. During their many explorations of the underwater terrain, they rarely encounter a man-made brush pile. But since then, thousands of brush piles have been anchored in Clinton, Melvern, Perry and Pomona lakes.
These brush piles were rarely anchored in the creek or river channels or on the channel edges, or on a roadbed or on top of a hump. The reason for that was that those locales were too easy for other anglers to examine with a sonar and find the brush piles. In essence, the brush piles were created by each angler as a secret and private place to fish for crappie.
Besides brush piles, tires, PCV pipes, bales of hay, concrete blocks and boulders have been placed into these reservoirs in order to attract crappie. Nowadays, some anglers are complaining that the anchoring of brush piles and other items have become a mania that has gotten out of hand. For instance, Perry Lake, which consist of 11,000 acres, is littered with thousands of man-made brush piles, and the other reservoirs are embellished with a multitude of brush piles, too.
All these brush piles, according to Schmidtlein, have changed the wintertime locations of the crappie and gizzard shad. Consequently, he rarely finds any appreciable numbers of crappie and shad abiding in the guts of the creek and river channels as he used to find before the advent of the brush-pile phenomenon. Nowadays all of the wintertime crappie that Schmidtlein catches are associated with man-made brush piles, which he has found with his state-of-the-art sonar devices and marked on a GPS unit. (According to Schmidtlein, there are no more secret brush piles; that's because today's downscan and sidescan sonar devices quickly reveal their whereabouts, and then they are stored on GPS units.)
Schmidtlein thinks that the vast number of brush piles that clutters the terrains of the reservoirs has caused the crappie, as well as the gizzard shad, to become scattered, and that's why anglers can longer find the massive concentrations of crappie and shad that anglers used to find 20 years ago.
This year the shallowest brush pile that he has extracted cold-water crappie from was seven feet deep. The deepest was 20 feet. The average depth has been 12 to 14 feet. Most of the time, the crappie have been on the bottom, and when they are on the bottom, it's a chore to present a bait and extract one from the labyrinth of limbs once a crappie is hooked. When the crappie are on the bottom and under the brush, Schmidtlein employs a vertical presentation with either a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jig. The size of the jig revolves around the depth of the brush, velocity of the wind, and disposition of the crappie. The jig is attached to either eight- or 10-pound-test braided line.
There have been spells, however, when the crappie were suspended near the top of the brush piles. Then Schmidtlein employs what he calls the "'pendulum flip retrieve." Which he executes by positioning the boat slightly away from brush pile. He works with a nine-foot fly rod that has a ZinkerZ affixed to either a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jig. He makes an underhand flip of the ZinkerZ, tossing it on the other side of the brush pile, and then he slowly swims it across the top of the limbs. He gradually lifts the rod as the ZinkerZ and jig swims and glides towards to boat.
So far this winter, only one of the four reservoirs has been productive, but as the winter of 2011-12 unfolds that should change. So, Schmidltlein will keep us informed about his endeavors, and we will periodically post some updates about what has transpired.
Here's a link for some information about Elden Bailey's Magnet: http://baileymagnetlures.com/lures.html