April 14, 2022
Spring brings glee to all who enjoy crappie fishing. As the water warms and days get longer, our favorite panfish swarm shallow edge areas to spawn. Locating them now is as simple as fishing along a shallow shoreline until we find their beds. Well, sometimes it’s that easy.
On many Southern waters—oxbow lakes, for example, and many large, shallow reservoirs—Mother Nature throws a monkey wrench into our plans for a worry-free spring crappie-catching junket. Crappie nests typically aren’t in open waters we can easily fish. Instead, they’re buried in gnarly tangles of dense cover that seem impossible to tackle.
To catch spring crappie this season, we must find ways to present our baits and lures in everything from willow thickets and weed beds to stump fields and even beaver lodges.
Fishing these hideaways can be daunting, even for experienced anglers. But as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way—and the way may be simpler than you think.
Crappies instinctively build nests where their eggs will be sheltered from wind, waves and predators. The ideal bedding site may simply be shallow water at the back of a protected cove. If such sites are unavailable, however, crappies must adapt and find other locales where their eggs have the best chance of surviving until they hatch. Start your search by fishing along the banks of pockets, coves, bays and backwaters that are sheltered from prevailing winds and have bottoms of sand or fine gravel (another key feature of prime nesting sites). Where such places are lacking or heavily fished, however, look for other features that might shield highly vulnerable crappie nests.
In small lakes and big upland reservoirs, open pockets in weed beds and edges of man-made fish shelters may be the best places. In oxbows, key areas include willow stands and shallow, cover-filled water on inside edges of cypress and tupelo flats. On flatland reservoirs, stump beds and log piles often provide the best protective cover.
Such places are tough to fish, and you’ll probably lose lots of crappie tackle when you try, But crappies always nest where their eggs will be safest, and that’s where you must fish to enjoy success.
BUCKBRUSH: Button willows, often called buckbrush, grow in dense stands on many blue-ribbon crappie waters, and spring slabs often nest smack-dab in the middle of these bushes, away from the heavily pounded edges.
To get at them, use a 12- to 16-foot jigging pole and a small reel. Tie on your favorite crappie jig, then let the wind push your boat against the brush. Or, if you’re using a small boat, pull it into the thicket as far as possible. Next, grab your fishing line near the reel, pull the jig tight against the pole’s tip, carefully work the rig back into the brush and release the jig into an opening.
Try to hold the jig still so it “breathes” like a nervous baitfish. When a crappie hits, set the hook with a jerk of the line, pull the fish snug against the tip of the pole and back the pole out until you can land your catch.
SWAMPY COVER: Swampy areas in many Southern lowlands are often covered with dense mats of floating aquatic vegetation such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.
The vegetation may look as tangled as a backlash in a baitcaster, but a jon boat will usually pass through surprisingly easily, allowing the angler to reach little openings and drop in a jig to get at the crappies beneath.
A garden rake can be used to create bigger openings in the vegetation. As the plants are moved, grass shrimp, insect larvae and other invertebrates are stirred up. These small forage animals attract minnows, which in turn attract crappies.
BEAVER LODGES: Few anglers fish beaver lodges, but these big woodpiles are always worth checking because spring crappies often hide in pockets between the timbers. A belly boat provides a good way to approach, then you can use a long pole to lower a jig into every nook and cranny. Hold your line so a big slab can’t dash farther into cover and break you off. Fish slowly and methodically, and always be ready for action.
WEED BEDS: Crappies spawning within pockets in shallow weed beds often can be located by sight fishing (wear polarized sunglasses to cut down on glare). Position your boat to drift across a possible spawning area, then carefully stand, shield the sides of your sunglasses and watch for movement or fish as the breeze moves the boat. When you spot crappies on a nest, drop a marker buoy nearby, then keep moving and marking additional spots to return to later. You’ll know exactly where the beds are and will be able to slip in close without disturbing the fish.
FISH ATTRACTORS: In many lakes where standing timber has rotted away, shallow, man-made attractors of cedars, bamboo or old Christmas trees often draw spawning crappies. A top rig here is a Thill 1/2-inch, pencil-style slip float rigged beneath a bobber stop and above a No. 6 Eagle Claw Aberdeen hook. A split shot is added between the hook and float, and the hook is baited with a live minnow. Several rigged poles are placed in holders, and bobber stops are positioned at the depth where crappies are likely to be. Use the trolling motor to slowly circle each attractor. Crappies often pull several floats down simultaneously, a testament to this tactic’s effectiveness.
STUMPS AND SNAGS: In waters where thick cover is sparse, look for spawning crappies hiding in the middle of snags or stumps clustered together in shallow water. The best of these spots are separated from similar clusters of woody cover and may give up half a dozen or more good fish.
DOWNSIZE HOOKS: Instead of the big, gold Aberdeen crappie hooks used by many anglers, try tying on a No. 6 or 8 long-shanked Carlisle cricket hook like those made for bream fishing. Few crappie anglers try them because they’re considered too small for slabs, but these smaller, lighter hooks work just fine on 2-pound-plus crappies.
The thin wire lets minnows remain lively longer when hooked through the lips or behind the dorsal fin. And, best of all, the wire bends easily when a hook snags in the brush, so there’s seldom a need to break off and re-rig.
UPSIZE LINE: Another lost-rig avoidance technique is upsizing your line. For example, use 12-pound line instead of 6. You’ll pull hooks off snags more easily, and while bigger line may spook some fish in clear water, crappies don’t seem to notice where water is stained or muddy. One friend of mine uses 17-pound line exclusively and catches tons of slabs. He argues that if he should hook a big bass, he’s got a good chance of landing it, too.
MINNOW RIGS: In many dense-cover situations, fishing minnows is tough because the baitfish tangle you. One remedy is a rig consisting of a 1/4-ounce bullet weight on your main line, followed by a barrel swivel and a 3- to 6-inch hook leader (shorter leader in thicker brush). This rig is excellent for dropping a minnow into thick brush. The short leader keeps minnows from swimming to nearby limbs, and if the hook snags, the sinker can be dropped to knock it free.
SLIDER TIME: Any angler targeting crappies in dense cover also should consider fishing with Charlie Brewer Weedless Crappie Sliders (sliderfishing.
com). These unique lures are as integral to crappie fishing as plastic worms are to bass fishing.
When properly rigged, with the hook point of the special-made jighead buried in the grub, they can be worked through almost any cover without hang-ups. Cast and retrieve them around stumps and logs, work them like jigs in brush or fish them beneath a slip float in weed-bed pockets. There’s simply no better snag-free lure for fishing spring hideaways.
These crappie rigs designed specifically for the task.
Specialized crappie tackle helps immensely when pursuing papermouths, and some of the best new pieces are from B’n’M Pole Company.
The 75 Series Combo ($110; bnmpoles.com) features a 7 1/2-foot, 1-piece, graphite pole with gold-alloy guides and a Portuguese cork knob handle. The rod is paired with B’n’M’s machined (no plastic parts) 75 Reel with 7+1 ball bearings, a 4.9:1 gear ratio and reversible right- or left-hand retrieve. The combo is perfectly balanced, offering excellent strength, sensitivity and castability. It’s available in Diamond White, Gold and Silver.
B’n’M’s new Diamond Jig Pole ($75) is available in 8-, 10-, 12- and 14-foot lengths (all two-piece construction). Made of high-modulus graphite, it provides a stiffer backbone while maintaining tip sensitivity. Features include a high-quality aluminum-oxide frame with stainless-steel inserts and ergonomic carbon-fiber-and-cork handle.