Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Thursday, January 26th, 2023

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Crappie bums unite

Crappies of this size become more solitary after the spawn, according to Tertuliani. To catch them, he uses jigs and plastics. (Photo by John Tertuliani)

By John Tertuliani
Contributing Writer

A fishing trip is nothing special and then it is. I head out to see if I can catch some crappies. The goal? Can I figure them out? That used to mean finding fish before running out of daylight. It can have another meaning as well: I have sat for too long in a cramped kayak.

I spend more time bumming around for crappies than other species, it seems. Why crappies? They are delicious. They are fun to catch. The big ones put up a respectable fight. 

Another reason is opportunity. Fish are available throughout the year, if I care to make the effort. After a short drive across town, I’m out on the water in less than an hour. I start paddling while looking for a place to start casting. 

It pays to study the weather, to estimate what conditions to expect while on the water. The weather forecast leads to opinions about how temperature, barometric pressure, sunlight intensity, and wind direction can affect my ability to catch fish within paddling distance. No hardened rules, just an interpretation of the conditions occurring during the past day or two. 

Prepared as I am, nothing goes as planned. I may strike out instead of bringing home a meal or two. 

Described as a pelagic species, crappies have a habit of roaming the open water. I find them cruising around in loose schools rather than orienting tight to physical cover. Here one day, gone the next. The difficulty in finding them is related to how well you know the lake. Knowledge of the bottom contours and the structure on top of it can make sense of your decisions on where to look for your next fish.

The biggest crappies I catch – those over 12 inches – can be solitary. I find them running lone wolf near shad. Other times I feel as if I’m bass fishing for crappies, pulling two or three from prime real estate that has “largemouth” written all over it.

Live bait, minnows, and wax worms are excellent bait choices. I prefer jigs, my forte. I can cover more water and catch more fish when casting jigs. Modern plastics have become so effective that I no longer feel the need to use live bait. Ice fishing may be the one time when live bait is a better idea.

Sink rate is paramount to jigging success. Forget the notion that you can fish a jig too slowly, no matter the temperature or clarity or time of day. Crappies are suckers for a slow-moving jig, either sinking toward them or passing by. I use 1⁄32- or 1⁄16-ounce jigs most often. 

I put swimbaits on the jigs. Color, size, and shape have been narrowed down to four or five colors, about 2 inches long. My concern to change color and shape grows as I stop catching them. I change patterns to see if they are onto me at a specific location. If the action stops, I move to another location – one with similar structure at the same depth, if at all possible.

Proper depth is equal to the sink rate. Both on keys to crappie-fishing success. A jig fluttering down to the fish is the slow rate, in-the-face-of-the-fish presentation I strive for. I need patience to let the jig sink deep enough before cranking the reel. A light jig takes more time to reach the target depth. I may let the jig sink to the bottom before starting a retrieve. 

I have to maintain sufficient tension on the line to feel a strike while I watch for a twitch or subtle change in direction. I prefer casting a short distance, to reduce the chance of spooking them, which happens if I bang tackle against the kayak. With 6-pound-test monofilament, casting is easy. I check the line for abrasion after strafing wood and rock.

I re-tie after catching a toothy, non-target fish. I have had the line cut by the sharp opercle on gill cover of these intruders. 

No matter how you go about it, you know you are a crappie bum when you refuse to give up until you catch some. 

You invest the time and effort needed to find the fish. When you do, you ask yourself, why are they here? And why this depth? It boils down to food and weather. You will catch more and more as you learn the lake and the fish.

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