Crappies: Small Side Crappienomics
February 16, 2012
Ok, I lied (again). So what's it to ya? Seems the guy that caught the next world-record eel pout doesn't wanna come clean, see? He's holdin' out 'till it's official. So hold yer horses 'cause it's a porker, see? Nyaa.
Edward G. Loved him in Soylent Green. So we're stickin' with crappies, see? Speaking of which, see the tiny jig on the butt of that classic Thorne Brothers Panfish Sweetheart? It's a TC Tackle Girdle Bug (TC Tackle: 406/683-5485). When crappies switch over to an invertebrate diet (as discussed in the previous post), the little rubber-legged Girdle Bug is one of the first jigs I reach for. The tinier the better when crappies won't respond to standard-sized jigs. The rod above is equipped with 2-pound Sufix Fluorocarbon.
Mary, that dog has my lunch. Crappie retriever. Wise guy, ay? You like fish, Knob? Good, 'cause you'll be sleepin' with 'em if you don't let go of that crappie.
Called him Knob partly because of the golf-ball sized lump on his head. Which I suspect his owner placed there with a 2 x 4 because Knob simply refuses to take no for an answer. At one point he came barreling into me while I was focused on a fish rising to the bait on my locater. Knob got wrapped up in my fluorocarbon line and took off, trailing my bouncing rod along behind him. Later he took off with my plastic scoop when I wasn't looking. It's never been seen since (but I do recall Knob belching profusely).
The rod-and-reel Mary holds is a new Tony Roach signature combo from Wright & McGill we'll be featuring in the 2014 Ice Guide. And, no, that's not a fly reel. This nifty little center-pin-style unit has a 4:1 pickup ratio, for those times when something unexpected and truly fast screams into your panfish jig. But it has the same capability to eliminate line twist that made fly reels so popular for ice fishermen the past few years. I've yet to put a swivel on that setup and the 4-pound Sufix Fluorocarbon has yet to curl up on me. The rod has a thin handle, which I like a lot. It makes the package lighter, more sensitive, and easier to manage.
I hear a lot of complaints about fluorocarbon on ice. It's stiff when it gets truly cold out and starts bouncing off the reel. Well, I only put about 25 yards of it on top of some 4-pound braided backing. And I leave a good half inch between the edge of the spool and the line (don't completely fill the spool). And I stretch the living clarity out of it every morning before I head out onto the ice. Hook the jig or spoon on a small branch, back off until you hit the back-to-back uni knots connecting the two lines, grab the spool so the drag can't give, and stretch it. Stretch it good.
The 4-pound line is for fishing small spoons, like the one Mary's using. Which I can't tell you about, because it's a prototype. (One of these days, quite soon, it will be on the market. Or I'll box Knob up and mail him to the guy that designed it. If there's one thing a writer can't stand it's a gag order.)
Next: Bad stuff happens to good people. Seven of Minnesota's best ice fishermen can't catch a single bluegill on one of the state's finest panfish lakes.
6 Arc of Slabs, Northeast Mississippi
Like the Bordeaux region grows world-class wine grapes, the Arc of Slabs is famous for producing giant crappies. Grenada, Sardis, Enid, and Arkabutla — it's a tossup which of these reservoirs might be best for giant white crappies during March and April. Jigging in brush and spider-rigging are the best bets. Wading, too, at times. Contact: Guide John Woods, 731/334-9669; Guide John Harrison, 662/983-5999.
2 Lake Erie, Ohio
The best opportunities are between Port Clinton and Vermilion, says Ohio fishery biologist Travis Hartman. Many marinas and backwaters have excellent crappie fishing in the spring, peaking in late April to early May, and occasionally in the fall. Good open-water spots are East and West harbors and Sandusky Bay. Check connected rivers, too. Lots of fish to 12 inches, with 14-inchers not uncommon, Hartman says. Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters says Lake Erie is a surprisingly overlooked crappie fishery, considering the numbers of fish caught, up to 18 inches, as big as any in the state. Contact: Erie Outfitters, 440/949-8934; Ohio DNR, dnr.state.oh.us
4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
Guide Billy Blakley says the crappie forecast for the 'œEarthquake Lake' is excellent for 2013, with average fish running 1 to 11â„4 pounds and catches up to 23â„4 pounds. The lake contains both black and white crappies. From March through May, spider-rig and jig around underwater wood, and jig around exposed cypress stumps. The bite picks up again in the fall. Top-notch lodging and food at Blue Bank Resort. Contact: Guide Billy Blakley at Blue Bank Resort 877/258-3226, bluebankresort.com
7 Weiss Lake, Alabama
The crappie outlook is very good for 2013, reports Alabama district fisheries supervisor Dan Catchings. Samples indicate one, and possibly two, strong year-classes of crappies in 2010 and 2011. Expect good numbers of harvestable-size fish from the 2010 spawn this spring, with the 2011 year-class contributing to the fishing in mid- to late 2013. Fishing picks up in February as crappies move shallow. March through early May is best, with April being the peak. Contact: Guide Richard Green, 859/983-0673, or book through Little River Marina and Lodge (256/779-6461); Guide Mark Collins, markcollinsguideservice.com
8 Kentucky Lake, Kentucky / Tennessee
Anglers look forward to the 'œCrappie Capital' living up to its name in 2013, says guide Steve McCadams. Expect numbers of quality fish with a shot at slabs over 2 pounds. While action during the spawn in late March into April is outstanding, don't overlook May and June, when stable lake levels and weather patterns find crappies concentrating around fish attractors at midrange depths, he says. Contact: Guide Steve McCadams, stevemccadams.com
9 Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir, Virginia/North Carolina
Numbers of crappies from 1 to 13â„4 pounds with a chance for 2- to 3-pounders. Once the spider-rigging bite wanes in shallower creek channels by April, action turns to jigging deeper brushpiles. Contact: Guide Bud Haynes, 434/374-0308; Guide Keith Wray, 434/635-0207; Bobcats Bait and Tackle, 434/374-8381.
3 Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma
This shallow reservoir boasts numbers of crappies in the 2- to 3-pound range, with 37-fish limits common. In spring, the action is shallow, doodlesocking flooded buckbrush in high water, or working rocky banks and brush cover in low water, says guide Todd Huckabee. Crappies move to deeper brush later in spring. Contact: Guide Todd Huckabee, toddhuckabee.net
; Guide Barry Morrow, barrymro.com
; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528.
5 Lake Fork, Texas
Numbers of slabs from 11â„4 to 21â„2 pounds tend to get overlooked in this lake famous for lunker bass. Mid-May through June is guide Terri Moon's favorite time for crappies, when the fish head to brushpiles and bridge abutments in 20 to 24 feet of water. Pitching Fork Tackle's Live Baby Shads on 1/16-ounce jigs is a top option. Ivan Martin and Rick Loomis also guide clients to Fork's crappies in November and December, when fish are on points and in deeper brush. Contact: Guide Terri Moon, 903/383-7773; Guide Ivan Martin, 918/260-7743; Guide Rick Loomis, rickloomis.com
; Lake Fork Marina for lodging, food, and tackle, lakeforkmarina.com
1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario
The Woods is top-notch for black crappies to 16 inches, says In-Fisherman contributor Jeff Gustafson. Many crappies on this massive water have never seen lures, so once you find them, the numbers and quality are second to none, he says. Action starts in mid-May, with fish moving to shallow areas with cover. After spawning in early June, target them on weedflats in 6 to 10 feet of water. Float-and-jig combinations excel. Also try small suspending jerkbaits and swimming marabou jigs. Contact: Guide Dave Bennett, davebennettoutdoors.com
, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce, brucescanadianangling.com
10 St. Johns River, Florida
The stretch of the St. Johns River south of Lake George offers outstanding fishing. Crappies from 2 to 3 pounds are caught regularly, with average catches well over a pound. This was the scene of an In-Fisherman television episode that airs this spring. Weedflats hold fish that can't resist tubes fished under a float. Or troll channel edges using jigs or minnows. Contact: Lodging at Castaways on the River, 352/759-4522, castawaysontheriver.com
; Guide Steve Niemoeller, 386/846-2861, cflfishing.com