Coastal River Crappie

Though Magnolia State anglers eagerly anticipate spring crappie angling on our lakes, the potential for papermouth action on the rivers of south Mississippi goes largely untapped.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Robert Brodie

When it comes to fishing for delicate-mouthed crappie, the majority of information in the Magnolia State pertains to angling on large lakes and reservoirs. Closer to Mississippi's coastline, however, is another type of environment harboring impressive numbers of these delicious fish: our coastal river systems. These gorgeous rivers and their numerous tributaries can yield up some pretty nice catches of springtime crappie to in-the-know anglers.

With the coming of spring, Mother Nature drives the papermouths out of their deep confines and into shallower water - 2 to 6 feet. The impelling force: the instinctive urge to spawn. During this seasonal warming trend, anglers can reap the reward of plenty of these tasty panfish.

Some of the more notable coastal rivers offering residence to the southern populations of crappie include the Pearl, Jourdan, Biloxi, Tchoutacabouffa and Pascagoula river systems, as well as Fort Bayou. Besides having considerable quantities of the natural structure to which crappie are attracted - stumps, treetops, ledges, and various other sorts of submerged deadfall - these waterways are also loaded with artificial structure in the form of piers, bridges, boathouses and wrecks, all offering haven to the river-dwelling crappie.

Unlike reservoirs and lakes, these costal systems oblige anglers to factor in daily tidal fluctuations. Also, local heavy rain or large amounts of run-off from rainfall in the northern regions of the state will often muddy river systems.

The presence of brackish water is another odd aspect of fishing these rivers. At times the salinity level may determine how far up the rivers the crappie will venture, and at what depth in the water column they'll hold. During periods of little rain, expect to see salinity levels rise and the slabs move farther up the rivers; during periods of heavy rainfall, look for the opposite to occur as the saltier water is flushed back down the rivers. Additionally, salt water is heavier, so it settles to the bottom of the water column, driving the crappie shallower.

GARY GARDNER
The quickest way to get a feel for this fishing is to talk with veteran crappie anglers from the area. Gary Gardner of Vancleave is a good guy to start with.

Although his first passion is catching coastal river bass, Gardner's also a highly skilled river crappie angler, with more than 25 years of coastal river fishing under his belt. He says that when the coastal rivers heat up to the 62- to 70-degree level, it's time to seek out spring river crappie. "At times they may bed in colder water," he noted, "but generally they bed in the warmest water they can find during the spring."

When on the prowl for coastal river crappie, Gardner prefers fishing a high tide, since more water is available along the shoreline. "In the spring I am looking for clear water when hunting crappie," he explained. "However, rain can affect the spawn by lowering the temperature and clarity of the water. If you are forced to fish muddy water, then go with black or chartreuse baits. If the water clarity is good, then go with more natural-colored artificials.

"Off the main river, concentrate on areas like ponds, oxbows, lakes, sloughs - any similar type of water off the main river that offers slacker water. Concentrate fishing efforts on structure like treetops, stumps, old piers and boathouses. Depending on water clarity, you may find most fish in 1 to 4 feet of water. If the water is clear, they usually bed deeper, and if clarity is poor, they bed shallower."

To catch these river delicacies, Gardner recommends going with ultra light spinning equipment or long telescopic fiberglass poles. Also, light action rods are the key to pulling in the soft-mouthed crappies. As for baits, live shiners are his first choice, with small 1/16-ounce jigs his second pick.

"When it comes to jig-fishing, I like to use a cork," he offered, "and recommend the lightest jigs you can cast. Some excellent jig hues are black/chartreuse, blue-and-white, and white-and-white." The combination refers to the color of the jighead and the plastic trailer on the hook.

"Also, a small Beetle Spin is excellent for prospecting. As you go along the bank, casting the Beetle Spin, stop once a fish is caught and switch to live shiners. Or you can simply drop fish while trolling along the banks using either jigs or shiners."

When fishing shiners, Gardner prefers using 6- to 10-pound-test monofilament line, a small cork, a BB-sized weight, and a No. 6 long-shanked crappie hook. To attach the shiner properly, he says, hook the minnow through the lips from the bottom and out the top.

"When fishing for crappie," he remarked, "I like to throw out the bait and let it sit for a few seconds. If nothing happens then work the bait 6 inches or so, and repeat the process."

Gardner is quick to stress the importance of gently lifting fish out of their underwater dwellings once they bite. Once a strike is detected, this well-seasoned freshwater angler simply lifts the pole slowly, thus putting as little pressure on the soft-lipped crappie as possible.

To find coastal river crappie, Gardner recommends that you fish lakes such as Parish, Ward, and Weir off the Pascagoula River in the Poticaw area. On the Pearl River, he suggested the Waste House area north of I-10, Log Town Bayou, Mike's River, and English Bayou. Finally, on the Tchoutacabouffa River, try fishing Doctor's and Cedar lakes.

STATE-RECORD CRAPPIE


WHITE CRAPPIE
5 pounds, 3 ounces
Fred Bright
Enid Reservoir
July 31, 1957

 

BLACK CRAPPIE
4 pounds, 4 ounces
Gerald Conlee
Arkabutla Reservoir
March 19, 1991

 

JIMMY AND DODIE BRODIE
The highly experienced crappie-fishing duo of Jimmy and Dodie Brodie have fished the Magnolia State's Biloxi and Tchoutacabouffa rivers for more 35 years, and in that time, the Biloxi residents have honed their fish-catching prowess to a fine edge.

Although the Brodies' forte is winter crappie fishing, they catch their share of these panfish in the spring as well. According to Dodie (nicknamed "the Crappie Queen"), they catch early-spring crappie 4 to 6 feet of water.

"In the spring, right before the fish head into the shallows, Jimmy and I catch plenty of fish schooling at the mouth of bayous, creeks, and sloughs dumping into the main river," she stated.

On the Biloxi River, the successful fishing team advises crappie fans, try areas such as Fritz Creek and Horse Shoe Lake. Back to the east, on the Tchoutacabouffa River, they suggest that you fish locations such as Cypress Creek, Doctor's Lake, Anthony's Lake and Swanzey Lake. In the lakes, the Brodies fish around submerged structure like treetops, logs, and stumps.

"At times, we've had good success just drifting or trolling across the shallow lakes," Dodie noted. "It seems that many fish take up residence amongst the thick grass that blankets the bottom of many of the shallower lakes."

When it comes to rigging for crappie, the Brodies like to keep their tackle simple, using 12- to 16-foot telescopic fiberglass jigging poles and a piece of 10- to 12-pound-test monofilament that only stretches the length of the pole. Next, they slip on a small to medium-sized foam cork that can be adjusted by means of a peg. At the very end of the line they tie on either a gold No. 2 hook or a fluorescent red or green, No. 2 Gamakatsu Octopus hook. A foot or two above the hook, the rig is completed by the addition of one or two small split shot weights.

Pay close attention when you're cork fishing for crappie, advises Dodie. Even the largest of crappie barely makes the cork move at times; quite often, the cork barely bobs as a fish inhales the bait. This occurs when a fish has risen up with the bait, lifting the split shots and taking the weight off the cork.

Dodie also suggests always giving the fish a few seconds to engulf the live offering and then gently lifting the fish out of the water in a smooth steady motion. Anglers who jerk to set the hook will lose the tender-mouthed fish, especially the bigger and heavier ones. Just in case you've hook a really big fish, it'll be wise always to keep a long-handled landing net close at hand.

For the Brodies, the bait of choice for catching river crappies is a live shiner. To fish the shiner, they, like Gardner, insert the hook through the bait's bottom lip and push it out through the top lip. According to Jimmy, small live grass shrimp are topnotch crappie baits, too; they work especially well when used to tip a jig. To catch the wee shrimp, you have to set small mesh bait traps in bayous down in the saltier regions of Biloxi's Back Bay.

Speaking of jigs: At times the Brodies will test the waters with these artificial offerings as well. In their tackle boxes you'll find an assortment of 1/16-ounce jigs in hues of white, chartreuse, yellow and green, and combinations of these colors. As mentioned, when using a jig they not infrequently sweeten it with a shrimp or lively shiner for added attraction.

Although the Brodies fish various coastal river systems, most of their catches come from the Biloxi and Tchoutacabouffa rivers. Primarily, they launch at Lil' Joes Cedar Lake Bait Camp when fishing for crappie. The camp's bulletin board holds photos of some of the team's impressive catches of crappie. From the Cedar Lake area, they have the option of fishing the numerous hotspots in the Tchoutacabouffa River, and can also making a run downriver to the Biloxi River on the same day.

When it comes to fishing the tides, the Brodies like to target a falling or low tide. The ebb-tide level works well for them, exposing many stumps and treetops that are out of sight during higher water.

LOCAL FISHING CAMPS
As often as not, it'd be wise to contact bait shops and fish camps in a specific area that you intend to fish. Camp owners can steer you in the right direction and provide tips on the latest fishing action. You can also check river conditions while you're at it.

Not that many camps or boat launching facilities on the rivers have live shiners available, so make sure you get some in advance, or check to see if they are available at your destination before heading out.

CREEL AND SIZE LIMITS
The daily creel limit on crappie in Mississippi coastal river is 30 per angler per day; the possession limit (which only applies to anglers who stay overnight) is twice the daily limit. Note that either a freshwater or a saltwater license is valid between I-10 and U.S. Highway 90; this would be more of an issue for crappie anglers.

For further information on fishing regulations pertaining to crappie, visit the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks' Web site at www.mdwfp.com.



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