October 17, 2008
LAWRENCE, Kan. (MCT) - The way Chatt Martin sees it, he picked the right place to live.
His hometown, Lawrence, may be better known for the University of Kansas and college basketball, but it also is the capital of the state's crappie fishing, Martin will tell you.
And when you love to catch crappies as much as Martin does, that puts you in the right neighborhood.
"I have five lakes I can get to within an hour - Perry, Clinton, Hillsdale, Melvern and Pomona," said Martin, a crappie fishing guide. "Those are some of the best lakes Kansas has to offer. They're all known for their crappie fishing.
"So I have a lot of options at this time of the year. If the crappies aren't biting at one lake, I can usually find another option."
Martin was testing those options the first week of May.
He started by guiding two fishermen to an outstanding day of fishing at Perry Lake. The next day, he hopped to Clinton and found even better success.
He started by searching for spawning fish in the coves of the Wakarusa arm. That met with only minimal success.
But when he moved to the shallows off a main-lake point - a rocky area that had some brush - he sampled the type of fishing that has given Kansas fame.
Slowly retrieving a tube jig under a bobber, he watched as the float twitched slightly. When he set the hook, he felt the heavy tug of a big crappie.
"I've been crappie fishing in Kansas for a long time, but I still get a thrill over feeling that little tap," Martin said as he tossed the 13-inch fish in the live well of his boat. "I fish for crappies year-round. But I never get tired of it.
"I just love fishing for them."
Martin has plenty of company during May in Kansas.
That's the month when spring fever hits its peak in the Sunflower State. That's when the crappies leave their deepwater haunts and head for the shallows to spawn.
Once the water temperature gets into the 60s, the fish will congregate along the banks. And that can result in some of the best fishing of the year.
Martin proved that on a recent outing. After he used his trolling motor to maneuver his boat through some flooded timber and into the shallows, he located every crappie fisherman's dream - a school of big fish.
He and two fishing partners - Bob Roberts of Salina and I - spent more than an hour catching keeper crappies at Clinton. By late morning, Martin estimated his group had caught more than 50 crappies, many of them the large fish that everyone seeks.
An unusual day? Nah. Martin is accustomed to such success at this time of the year.
"When the fish are in and the spawn is at its peak, it's not unusual for a boat to catch 50 to 75 crappies," he said. "And with the females full of eggs, this is the time when you have a shot at a trophy fish."
Martin can offer proof. He remembers a spring day at Council Grove Lake when he landed two 3-pound crappies within five minutes of each other.
"The fish that weighed 3.2 pounds is the biggest I've ever taken in Kansas," he said.
Fish like that, of course, are rare. But Martin knows the Kansas reservoirs are loaded with crappies in the three-quarters to 1-pound range. And that's what he's searching for on warm spring days.
"Cold fronts are the biggest problem in the spring. They will back crappies off the banks for a while," Martin said. "And the wind can cause problems, too.
"But when you have some warm, stable weather, the fish will stay in the shallows and you can really catch them."
So why are the eastern-Kansas reservoirs so good? Fisheries biologists cite the fact that they're fertile, they have thriving shad populations and they have good spawning habitat in the form of gravel and rocky banks.
After almost 25 years of fishing Kansas reservoirs, Martin has devised some reliable methods to catch those spawning crappies.
He often positions his boat so he is within casting distance of the first dropoff. Then he will slowly work a tube jig under a slip bobber along cover.
"The bobber allows you to keep that jig in front of the fish longer," he said.
Martin also will use a long pole and slowly troll along the banks. He will use a bobber stop as a marker for how much line to have in the water.
"That way, I can cover a lot of water," he said.
But Martin knows each day can be different at this time of the year. A depth or a lure color that worked one day might not the next.
So Martin starts by trying to determine a pattern. Once he determines what depth the fish are holding at and what color they prefer, he applies it to other banks he fishes. And more often than not, that results in success.
With the erratic weather, Martin has found inconsistent fishing this spring. A cold front last week backed the crappies off the bank and made the fishing tougher. But with warm weather expected this week, Martin looks for the crappies to be back in the shallows.
"I think we still have some good fishing ahead of us," he said. "May is always a good month in Kansas."
© 2008, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.