Targeting Big Southern Crappie
Crappies draw throngs of anglers to Southern reservoirs every spring. All these fishermen hope to fill their coolers with slabs, but only a handful of them do so on a daily basis.
One of these savvy crappie aces is fishing guide Todd Huckabee. He spends over 300 days a year on Oklahoma's Lake Eufaula, a crappie Mecca.
Throughout the year, Huckabee keeps his fingers on the pulse of Lake Eufaula's crappie movements. He knows exactly where to find them during their pre- through post-spawn phases. Whatever the weather or the lake level, he puts his clients in touch with the big ones.
If Huckabee were fishing a new lake, or if he could only fish on weekends, he would start by checking shallow spawning areas. Crappies spawn first in the upriver sections of reservoirs because the water warms there faster, Huckabee claims. By now, late April and early May, these fish have already spawned.
If any spawning is still happening, it will be in little protected coves off the main lakee, Huckabee says. I go to the backs of those pockets and target logjams or any other spawning cover I can find there.
The wind dictates which rig Huckabee uses. If it's calm, he opts for a 1/8-ounce Thill Crappie Cork with a 1/8-ounce Lindy X-Change Jig, dressed with a Lindy Fuzzy Grub body, or Dancin' crappie tube. If it's windy, Huckabee steps up to a 1/4-ounce Thill Crappie Cork and a 1/4-ounce X-Change Jig for better casting accuracy.
I like bright and crazy colors when I'm fishing for spawning crappies, Huckabee says. Crappies don't feed when they're on beds, but they are territorial. They'll attack anything that looks like a perch or a sunfish.
For bedding crappies, Huckabee usually selects an X-Change jig head that has a splash of chartreuse, orange or pink on it. As for Fuzz-E-Grubs and Dancin' Tubes; he has a few favorite colors; Aurora Black, Gator, and "Hot Mess" Dancin' Crappie Tubes as well as the white and pink Fuzz-E-Grub.
Dancin' Crappie Tube in Gator color.
Thill Crappie Cork
The Thill Crappie Cork may be used as a slip float or as a fixed float. It comes in four sizes that are balanced to match perfectly with 1/16-, 1/8-, 1/4-, and 3/8-ounce jigs. The weight of the matching jig size is stamped on the Crappie Cork, so you can't go wrong.
Huckabee rigs the float so it slips on the line. This allows it to slide down to the jig, which makes for fewer snags when casting to branchy cover and better accuracy.
I set the bobber stop so the jig hangs 12 to 24 inches under the Crappie Cork, Huckabee says.
In murky water, a 12-inch-deep setting usually does the job. Clearer water normally requires a deeper setting.
The Crappie Cork and X-Change Jig are rigged on 10-pound Silver Thread monofilament, which runs through the guides of an 11-foot spinning rod. Huckabee holds his rod straight up and lets out line until the Crappie Cork hangs to the end of the rod's handle.
This amount of line lets Huckabee stay 20 feet away from the cover and swing the float underhand with pinpoint accuracy. It's crucial that you get your offering tight to the cover and into any holes or pockets.
You also need to stay back a little bit so you don't stir up the muddy bottom with your trolling motor, Huckabee says.
It won't take long to find out if any crappies are in or about the cover," Huckabee claims. The bites usually come quick. If a bite doesn't happen with the Crappie Cork sitting still, Huckabee slowly drags it away from the cover, often times coaxing a strike from otherwise reluctant fish.
Crappie in Bunches
On a crappie factory like Lake Eufaula, it's not uncommon for Huckabee and his clients to catch 60 to 80 crappies from a single logjam.
The males normally bite first, Huckabee says. When the action slows, I'll leave and come back a little while later and catch the females.
If Huckabee can't find spawning crappies in shallow pockets, he concentrates on flooded, standing trees on the main lake in 5 to 10 feet of water. Lake Eufaula has an abundance of standing timber. In lakes that don't have standing timber, check out sunken brush piles, stake beds and boat docks in the 5- to 10-foot depth range.
Huckabee uses the same 11-foot spinning outfit for standing trees, but he fishes a 1/8-ounce or 1/4-ounce X-Change Jig without a Crappie Cork. The jig is dressed with a 2in. Fuzz-E-Grub body.
Since post-spawn crappies are in a feeding mode, Huckabee switches to colors that mimic baitfish, such as a black and silver Fuzz-E-Grub with a Chartreuse/Glow X-Change jig head.
With 11 feet of line out, Huckabee pitches the jig 3 to 4 feet past a standing tree. As the jig sinks on a tight line, it pendulums back and swings past the tree's trunk.
That's the best way to get a reaction bite, Huckabee says.
After pitching the jig, Huckabee moves closer so he can reach the tree with the tip of his long rod and fish the jig vertically next to the trunk. He does this whether or not he catches a crappie with the pitching presentation.
The Two-Thirds Rule
As a general rule, I catch most of the crappies two-thirds of the way down a tree when I'm vertical jigging, Huckabee says. Say, if the water's 9 feet deep, I'll usually get my bites 6 feet deep.
Unlike spawning crappies in pockets, crappies that relate to standing trees don't do so in bunches. You'll generally catch only or two from a tree. Then you move on. Since not every tree holds crappie, Huckabee might have to hit hundreds of trees in a day's fishing before his clients fill their limit.
Don't Overwork the Jig
Although Huckabee stays on the move when he fishes standing timber, he moves his X-Change Jig and Fuzz-E-Grub combo slowly.
Most people overwork their jigs, Huckabee says. They think they have to hop it up and down to make a crappie bite. That's wrong. When you're working a Fuzz-E-Grub any subtle movement of the rod will make that Fuzz-E-Grub undulate and swim.
Huckabee instructs his clients to move the jig slowly, as if they were fishing a minnow. When they do this, they catch more crappies than they thought possible without live bait.