Most anglers, regardless of skill level, can catch a few big spring crappie as a matter of luck, regardless of where or how they fish. But catching lots of big slabs involves more than good fortune.
Anglers who know where spring crappie will be and what tactics will catch them usually have in-depth knowledge of crappie-fishing patterns acquired during years of fishing. If you don’t have that experience, however, you can shorten the learning curve by studying these innovative tips from pro anglers who share some of their methods for finding and catching trophy-class crappie.
To reach spring crappie in extreme shallows where a boat won’t go, Grenada Lake, Miss. crappie guide Brandon Fulgham dons his waders and carefully makes his way along while jigging around big cypress trees.
“When fishing lots of look-alike cypress trees, you have to remember not all trees are created equal,” Fulgham says. “I look for big trees with lots of knees around them and long limbs overhanging the water. These usually produce more fish than smaller trees with fewer knees and branches. Fish slowly, and cover every angle of each cypress. And be sure to fish around underwater knees away from the trees as these often hold big slabs. After catching a few fish, you’ll start noticing a locational pattern and can fish specifically in those spots where crappie are holding that day.”
Muddy Water Tactics
Crappie pros Jim and Barbara Reedy of Charleston, Mo. don’t avoid muddy water when fishing in spring; they head right to it.
“Muddy water usually warms up quicker than clear water,” says Jim, “so crappie there may be feeding more actively. We catch a lot of them on flats near creek channels close to spawning areas by spider trolling with eight 12-foot B’n’M poles rigged with 6-pound Vicious HiVis line. Each pole is outfitted with one of B’n’M’s Capps & Coleman Minnow Rigs, but we replace the bottom hook with a chartreuse or orange Blakemore Pro Series Road Runner head tipped with a live minnow. This Road Runner’s willow blade gives it extra flash that helps in muddy water. And the HiVis line allows us to detect more bites we might otherwise miss.”
Try a Dinger
Oklahoma crappie guide and pro angler Todd Huckabee often targets big spring crappie in flooded willows using a very unconventional technique.
“I catch a ton of crappie by wacky-rigging a 3-inch Yum Dinger and fishing it around willows,” he says. “They can’t resist the slow fall and wiggle of a Dinger rigged this way with the hook run through the center of the lure. Four-inch Dingers work, too, but I get a better hooking ratio with the smaller lure. This is a fun way to fish because of the numbers of crappie you catch.”
Smaller Hooks, Cod Liver Oil Equal More Slabs
Sometimes a slight change in terminal tackle can help you catch more spring slabs.
“Instead of the big gold minnow hooks most crappie anglers use, I prefer No. 6, light-wire, Aberdeen cricket hooks because they allow me to fish brush with fewer hang-ups,” says Lake Greeson, Ark. crappie guide Jerry Blake. “Snagged cricket hooks also will straighten on the 8-pound line I use without disturbing my brush piles, and they allow me to use smaller minnows, which often are more effective than large minnows.”
When fishing jigs (he prefers hair jigs), Blake has another trick. He keeps a squeeze bottle full of cod-liver oil on hand and places a drop or two on his jig periodically. “Cod-liver oil works just like more expensive scents,” he says, “encouraging crappie to hold the lure longer so I have a better chance of hooking them.”
Learn to do it right, and you can almost double your spring catch by fishing with a pole in each hand like Truman Lake, Mo., crappie guide and pro Barry Morrow.
“I use 10- or 11-foot poles with Tennessee handles and baitcasting reels,” he says. “I hold the poles with my hands in front of the reels (reel upside down) and lace line between my first two fingers. The rod-handle butts rest on my elbows, and I keep the rod tips about 2 inches above water. Detecting a bite is all about feeling the bite and the weight of your jigs. Set the hook like a mouse trap going off, and lift fish by raising your rod high and swinging the crappie into your boat.”
Try a Roadrunner
Greenville, Miss. crappie pro Brad Taylor uses a unique rig for nabbing slabs just after the spawn.
“I put a 3/8-ounce egg sinker on my main line and loop the line through the weight four times,” he says. “Then I tie a Blakemore Road Runner spinner 12 to 15 inches below the sinker and tip it with a lively minnow. This creates a deadly combination. I use 16-foot B’n’M poles to get these rigs as far out in front of the boat as I can. Then I push them along swiftly to cover as much water as I can and catch these scattered crappie. This tactic produces good numbers of fish, including some heavyweights.”