By Vic Attardo
It’s never the same after lunch as it was before.
We’d been fishing since 6:30 a.m. and broke for lunch at 12:30. I’d brought crab cakes, and we tossed them in the cabin’s oven. We ate our share of salty pretzels, washing them down with something off the shelf while talking about the morning’s fishing.
It had started off slowly, until the sun brightened up the water, then the fishing went gangbusters.
It was crappies that offered the most cooperation. Largemouths occasionally hit the soft stick I tossed, but you could tell the day belonged to crappies – black crappies in water 12 to 14 feet deep. When we got out of that zone, we lost them.
Marking a depth range early makes it easy. I didn’t have to go traipsing all over the lake to find fish, and for some unknown reason, my friend trusted me to operate the boat.
All this was during a waning moon, so the last hours of the previous night had low-voltage light, which carried through to the morning. I watched the sun out-glare the moon sliver as I popped a crappie jig a few inches off the bottom with a strict vertical line.
The heat and sun weren’t too bad for a midsummer’s day. The sun was somewhat curtained by moderately thick clouds that weren’t going anywhere.
The water temperature hovered between 69 and 71 degrees. The wind was light and from the south. Between the two of us, we had 20 crappies apiece.
Then we broke for lunch.
You know the saying, “You should never leave fish to find fish.” I think it needs an adjustment. “You should never break for lunch when you’re catching fish.”
When we got out on the water again, it was nearly 2 p.m. and the clouds had broken up. There were big, blue gaps in the sky, and I searched the boat for sunscreen, not finding any.
Cruising over the area where things had gone well, I didn’t see anything happening on our sonar. The fish were gone. And gone fish don’t bite.
What then transpired was a search for the previously stacked crappies.
There’s going to be a period on a summer afternoon when the fishing gets slow. The brightness of the day and an increase in water temperature can waylay the bite for some time. But crappies are hungry at this time of year. Their digestive process is sped up, so soon they’ll want more food. But the food they ate in the morning can be quite different from the food they’ll pursue in the afternoon.
Crappies will certainly chase and consume this prey when the water is morning cooler. The 3⁄16-ounce jig I used early had a soft-plastic minnow-shaped trailer. All good for the circumstances.
A signal that things had changed in the late afternoon began around 3 p.m. I started to see rings across the surface and birds in the air, swifts in particular, performing like highly sophisticated attack aircraft.
They dipped low over the water, making spectacular and sudden dives, then rising up as if equipped with rockets. Each acrobatic trick was designed to catch a bug coming off the surface. And this was the key.
The water had reached the right temperature so that out in the middle of the lake, over 15 to 18 feet of water, bugs were hatching. They proved to be a collection of midges and gnats and such.
Because I wasn’t fly fishing, the exact identification didn’t matter, and species change through the summer, anyway. Sometimes it’s just midges and sometimes it’s a mayfly. The important thing is a post-lunch hatch was on, and all activity had moved.
In the morning, the crappies had corralled their prey over a hard bottom, a broken bed of rock and marl. But now, the bugs were rising from a bottom that was strictly silt.
This is where the larva had migrated to during some part of their lives. Buried in the silt, they had molted into an emerger status and were now rising like corks from the muck to the surface. Once taking flight, they were attacked by the birds.
Down below, adult crappies had also noticed this activity. The schools that were elsewhere, either through force of habit or immediate attention, had moved to this part of the lake.
Now they had the opportunity to eat minnows that were chasing the rising bugs or to concentrate on the bugs.
They chose to concentrate on the bugs. And this is the key to our post-lunch crappie fishing until early September.
Jigs are still appropriate for the season, but it’s their shape and how you work them that determines success. When bugs are emerging, I barely hop my jigs at all.
Also, I don’t use erratic, flat-headed jigs but simple ball or round-head jigs. The latter don’t bounce from side to side. My favorite is an all-white, chenille-body marabou jig, available about everywhere jigs are sold.
When you tighten the line and stand this jig up, all those marabou tail filaments wiggle like a struggling larvae. Keep your line tight to feel the quick vacuuming action of a crappie. I’ve heard it said: The bigger they are, the less you feel them.
Maybe that’s true, but there is no difference in taste.