It’s sometimes said that no news is as old as yesterday’s news. The same could be said about yesterday’s crappie pattern.
You can figure out the ideal depth, the lure and color of choice and the perfect presentation for one day, only to return the following day or following week to find none of that ideal pattern working.
That’s especially true during the spring because of seriously volatile weather and water conditions and because the crappie tend to stay on the move as the fish work their way through stages of the spawn.
So what do you do when you go to where the crappie should be and begin with the approach that should work — possibly one that worked in killer fashion very recently — and the fish simply do not bite or action is sporadic at best?
DID THEY MOVE?
First, try to figure out whether the problem is that the fish are not where they should be or whether they are in fact nearby and want a different flavor or presentation. If you have a graph and the spots you are searching aren’t super shallow, you should be able to just look and see. Based on fish mark size and a tendency to hold in big schools on brush or other cover and right on the edges of breaks, crappie often are quite recognizable on a graph.
If you can see that the fish are where they should be, that takes one major variable out of the equation, and you can focus on trying to make them bite. Similarly, if you don’t see fish and it’s a place where they should be visible on the graph, you know to keep moving. Lacking a telling electronic view, you have to decide whether to trust your approach and search other spots or to alter your offering or presentation.
The good news is that when crappie make day-by-day movements during the spring, they usually don’t move far. That means you can try several spots to search for fish without having to make big runs. Typically the fish will either be a little farther up or down a creek than they had been or they will have moved shallower or deeper in the same general area.
Recent weather patterns and water conditions can provide clues about where the fish are likely to have moved. Cold fronts push them deeper, whether that means moving down points, into creek channels, or into the deep parts of natural holes that are close to shallow water. Warm snaps, conversely, draw crappie shallower. New stain in the water also will cause crappie to move shallower and tighter to shallow cover. Lacking noteworthy changes in conditions, the most likely place for crappie to have strayed is a little farther up a creek or back into a cove if they have not spawned, or in the opposite direction if they have spawned.
Think logically about the direction the fish should have moved and be gradual with your own moves as you search for willing fish. Also, be intentional about the spots you select, seeking to work different types of spots without traveling far. For example, if your first spot is along the outside edge of a creek channel bend, look next at a place where the channel turns the other way and you can set up on the inside break or maybe at a confluence with a smaller channel. If you’re fishing docks and the crappie aren’t on deep docks, move to a flatter bank with shallower docks instead of continuing to work the deep ones.
Anytime you fish a jig vertically or suspend a jig beneath a float, a very simple way to make your presentations appear more natural is to use a nice snug knot and to position the knot at the top of the eye so that the jig naturally hangs horizontally, matching the posture of a real minnow when it’s not in motion.
Depending on the eye position and balance of the jighead, the actual ideal knot position might be slightly off-center, but that’s an easy adjustment. Starting with it centered, test holding the line just above the jig to see how the jig hangs. Move the knot until the bait hangs horizontal and make sure your knot is extra snug, and you are ready to fish.
If you know or suspect that you are around fish and they just aren’t cooperating or you have already done some moving with no better results, it’s time to start mixing up offerings and/or presentations to try to figure out what they want that day. The good thing about crappie is that once you find the formula, they seem so wonderfully simple, and you often can catch fish one after the other. The bad thing is that they can be horribly finicky and can seem non-existent because you are fishing with the wrong color or your presentations are leaving your offering 2 feet too high in the water column.
Depth may be the single most important variable. Whether you are suspending baits under floats, fishing vertically, casting and counting down baits before reeling, or using some other type of presentation, be intentional about varying the depth of your offering, and then pay attention to depths that produce. Along with the depth where you are presenting your offerings, note bottom depths. If you catch fish well from brush in 6 feet of water, chances are good that other 6-foot-deep cover will likewise produce.
Another important question to answer is that of jig vs. minnow. Some crappie fishermen fish exclusively with artificial lures or live bait, but the crappie are less set in their ways. Some days they want one. Some days they want the other. And sometimes nothing tops a jig tipped with a minnow. Carrying both allows you the option of letting the fish decide.
Other important variables in the offerings themselves include color, size, profile and tail action. If the fish won’t react to the subtle motion of a tube or hair jig, try something extra-active, like a curlytail grub or a paddle-tailed swimbait.
Also consider presentations. If you are using an active presentation, whether by jigging or casting and reeling, it’s easy to fall into a rut with how you move the bait. Mix up things like retrieve speeds, the amount of action you add with the rod tip and whether your jigging motions are snaps, jiggles or slow lifts of the rod tip. Occasionally the difference maker is something as subtle as letting the jig hit bottom again each time you lift it and let it fall.
So many variables might seem overwhelming, but usually you don’t have to get everything quite perfect. Experiment with one or two changes at a time and look for the common denominators every time you get a hit.
Finally, if you are fishing with anyone else, work together to find the right pattern. Start with different colors or by fishing at slightly different depths, and be certain you are each doing things a little differently until a pattern begins to become clear. As that happens, unify your approach. If all goes well, you’ll soon be catching lots of crappie together.
A NOTHING APPROACH
As tempting as it is to jiggle a jig, sometimes the absolute best approach for making finicky crappie bite is to suspend a jig straight beneath the tip of your rod and hold the rod as still as possible.
In truth, most jig bodies and tails wiggle a little when you do nothing intentional to add action, and even sight wave action is going to keep the lure moving up and down a bit. Just as important, baitfish commonly just hold in place, especially during the spring while the water remains cool, and so an absolute do-nothing approach actually creates a natural presentation.
It doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything, but if you stick with it, the crappie are apt to provide that needed affirmation!