February marks the beginning of serious crappie fishing season for many anglers. This is the month when the water temperatures typically begin to warm and that puts the slabs on the move.
But, because of the unstable weather patterns, crappie fishermen are often faced with a number of challenges and decisions that have direct bearing on success or failure. Coping with these challenges determines those who score big on crappie and those who make sporadic catches.
Two common challenges are coping with muddy water and dealing with high water. Also, crappie anglers struggle with the dilemma of when to use live bait or artificial lures. Plus, making the tactic transition from pre-spawn to spawn is a key.
Jay Bruce and Carolyn Reeves, a professional tournament team that has fished together for years, have some sound advice in terms of dealing with these issues.
COPING WITH MUDDY WATER
Jay Bruce said that high and muddy water sometimes go hand in hand, but not always. You need to have separate game plans for each. Frequently there are places on crappie waters that get muddy, but are chockfull of fish.
“Muddy water can be successfully fished,” Bruce said. “One key to success is with limited visibility by the fish, your presentation has to be right on target. Typically, we find fish in muddy water will be holding very tight to brush or vertical structure.
“The good news is you can use your graph and knowledge of the water to determine exactly where the best cover is located,” he added.
Reeves said that pink is a favored color for lures in muddy water.
“There are various shades of pink and we always try to match the color with the degree of mud,” she said. “If the water is very muddy, we use a hot pink grub. If moderately muddy, then we back off to a mid-range pink. Chartreuse is another effective muddy water color pattern.
“An outstanding tactic for muddy water is fishing around docks,” Reeves continued. “Flipping and casting small 1/32-ounce jigs around the docks in various depths of water will produce excellent results. This is particularly effective late in the pre-spawn and into the spawn when dealing with muddy water.”
Focus on ledges, timber, brush and docks with pinpoint lure or bait presentation for muddy water success.
DEALING WITH HIGH WATER
“High water can be a real boon for crappie fishermen, but fishermen must re-think where they fish,” Bruce noted. “High water simply opens up a lot of new areas and territories for crappie. A lot will depend on the period of the spring migration at the time of high water.
“If we’re just beginning to transition from cold water to pre-spawn,” he continued, “the fish still relate to deeper water cover, but likely not the same places where you find fish under normal water conditions.
“If the water floods back into timber, then work the vertical edges along the outside of the cover,” he said. “If the situation has progressed from pre-spawn to spawn, you need to get right up in the heavy cover and work the small openings and holes in the cover.
“Some of the very best catches we’ve made on lakes we don’t fish a lot, but are experiencing high water conditions, are on flooded docks,” Bruce concluded.
Reeves said long line trolling is very effective in high water conditions, too.
“With more water available, sometimes simply covering water will help you quickly get on fish patterns,” she offered.
TRANSITION TO THE SPAWN
Knowing just when crappie are in the spawning mode is a key to a successful transition of tactics. According to Bruce, many anglers hang on to pre-spawn tactics too long.
“My key for spawning fish is sustained 55-degree water,” Bruce said. “By sustained, I mean the temperature when I get to the lake in the morning is 55-degrees, not the peak temperature for the day.
“When the spawn is under way, tactics must change.”
Bruce added that when the fish begin to spawn, he heads to the shallows with them.
“Not all fish migrate all the way to very shallow water to spawn, but many do,” he said. “Some fish spawn in slightly deeper water, so don’t forget those fish, especially if you are dealing with high or muddy water.”
WHEN TO USE LIVE BAIT
“There’s always some overlap on live bait and artificial lures, but there are times and places when live bait is simply more effective,” Carolyn Reeves said. “We’ve found that live bait is better in the cooler water from the cold winter pattern into the pre-spawn period. Based on weather and water conditions, this productive live-bait fishing may last a fairly long time during the early spring. When water temperatures are in the 48- to 55-degree range, we’ll fish live bait on tight-line rigs.”
Jay Bruce noted that live bait is ideal for slowly working along drops, ledges and humps where crappie are holding in a general area. Reeves said it is preferred when fishing over specific targets such as brush piles and sunken debris.
“Suspended fish are a live-bait type of fish,” Bruce emphasized. “A key to success with live bait and tight-lining is to keep adjusting the bait to fish at different depths. If crappie are suspended you need to fish the entire water column effectively to find the right depth on a given day.”
ARTIFICIAL LURES THE KEY?
Bruce said that the period from late pre-spawn into the spawn is the time to use artificial lures, primarily jigs with soft plastic bodies.
He went on to say that the focus area of where to fish in the late pre-spawn and spawn gets tighter than in the pre-spawn.
“Some of the best places to fish artificial lures are shallow water main-lake flats, and around anyplace where different types of shoreline substrate meet,” Bruce described. “Also, bridge pilings and docks are ideal places to work jigs vertically and quickly cover different depths.”
Using jigs under snap-on floats or
slip floats, and working ultra-shallow water during the spawn are perfect uses of artificial lures.
“Crappie attack jigs dropped into their staging areas and you don’t have to re-bait,” he said. “This can be the time to literally catch them as fast as you can drop a jig into the water.”
Crappie fishing during the early spring is the prime time of the year for great fishing, but you have to make choices and contend with challenges. Armed with these keys, you can make 2011 your best crappie fishing year ever.