How many times have you been told, "You don't know the first thing about" something? Welcome to the club. We've all been there — on both ends of it. Nobody's ever told me I don't know the first thing about crappies under the ice. Maybe it's because I know what I think that first thing is.
The first thing I try to determine, on new water at least, is the forage factor. In fact, that's pretty much the first thing to determine for any species on new water anywhere. But you can go into new water and catch bass, pike, and a lot of species without really needing to research the forage base too extensively. With crappies, I try to gather as much information as possible when heading to a new lake.
If the minnow population is strong, and stays strong all winter, I'm going to focus on presentations involving spoons and crappie minnows all day. But in lakes where minnow populations rise and fall like a roller coaster every year, I'm going to focus first on presentations involving small jigs tipped with plastics, waxworms, or maggots.
I know a lot of anglers. Tell some of them, "We're going crappie fishing," and they'll bring minnows and fish them all day long. It's certainly more prevalent than the opposite scenario.
Could be fishing pressure or the disappearance of minnows in some lakes by mid winter, but it seems obvious to me that you have to scale down to catch crappies in some lakes.
The other day we had a rather disastrous outing for bluegills, but the crappies were biting and they were hitting both jigs and spoons. We could see minnows on screen, so we knew the baitfish population was strong, prompting me to break out a spoon since we had no crappie minnows with us.
I had a prototype of a spoon that's not on the market yet, so I'm not at liberty to discuss it in any detail, but if a crappie was in the vicinity, it would swim over, appear about a foot under the spoon, slowly rise, and the tip of the rod would dip. Every time. Others were catching them on relatively large jigs tipped with maggots. When they bite both, they're just highly active. Not a very good indicator of how they'll behave most days.
Finding minnows with the underwater camera or by keeping the gain on your sonar unit up there on the highest setting you can stand is, of course, job one no matter what you're fishing for. When you can't find minnows but keep seeing crappies or suspended fish on the sonar screen, they just might not have any minnows to relate to. That usually indicates a switch to lighter line and smaller jigs tipped with a few maggots, because those suspended fish are hoving on veils of plankton. When you keep finding crappies right on bottom, that's another indicator that the minnow population is low.
Even on lakes where minnow populations are healthy, fishing pressure can practically force crappies to respond better to tiny jigs with hooks so small you can't really set them — you just end up grappling them in. That's when some of the longer, lighter rods we're seeing for panfish this year come into play. We take a look at some of those jigs and a couple of those rods in an upcoming post.
Next: A world-record eel pout? (Burbot. Ling. Whatever — it's big.)
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 'Earthquake Lake ' is excellent for 2013, with average fish running 1 to 11„4 pounds and catches up to 23„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 'Crappie 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 13„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 11„4 to 21„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