by Stan Fagerstrom
The first two keys to catching crappie is first to find them and then fishing at exactly the depth where the schools are holding.
I've detailed these two essentials in my last two columns. In this, the third and final column in this series, we'll deal with another factor of equal importance. That factor is the speed of retrieve regardless of the lure being used.
What is the right speed? It's not at all involved. What you need to remember is that you simply can't fish too slowly if it's crappie you're after. That sounds simple enough, but some would be crappie fishermen never do figure it out.
I've fished crappie a few times with one of these guys. He's one of those nervous individuals who just isn't happy unless he's jerking and twitching his rod tip and retrieving his lure so fast a starving barracuda would have trouble catching up with it. That flat won't work where crappies are concerned.
Sometimes the best speed of retrieve for a crappie bait or lure is simply not moving it at all. One of the most effective methods to catch crappies under many conditions is to suspend a little jig, fly or miniature plastic worm beneath a float. Cast your float out where you know the crappie are holding and let it set. Now retrieve it a couple of feet. Then let it rest again.
Now and then, depending on how rippled the surface is, most of your hits come while the lure is seemingly dead in the water. Just the up and down movement of the float as it bobs on the surface is sufficient to attract crappie---sometimes lots of crappie.Big crappies like this dandy are down there but they can be hard to come by
Tiny tube worms, flies dressed with marabou feathers and miniature plastic grubs are all super crappie baits. Use all of these lures with a leadhead jig of appropriate size and remember that the best size weight isn't necessarily always going to be the same.
I prefer to use the lightest leadhead I can get by with and still fish efficiently. I say efficiently, because while I might generally favor a 1/32nd-ounce leadhead, I don't want to use something that falls as slowly as a 1/32nd- ounce jig does if the fish are feeding at 25 feet.
I recall fishing some bushes on a favorite lake that always hold crappie in the spring. The guy I was with couldn't figure out why I was catching one fish after another while he wasn't getting a bump. I had given him lures identical to my own.
Finally, knowing something was haywire and wanting to see him get his share of the action, I asked to see his jig. One glance was enough to discover his problem. We were fishing water only three to four feet deep. While the miniature grub he had been using was the same as my own, the little jig he was using it on was 1/16th ounce. Mine was only 1/32nd ounce.
His lure was falling so fast the crappies didn't have time to get to it before it hit bottom. As soon as I gave him a leadhead the size of my own he started catching fish. To an inexperienced crappie fisherman that slight difference in jig size might not seem significant. It was and is. Little things can make a really big difference in any kind of fishing. The sooner you make that discovery, the sooner your catches will increase.Jig heads like those pictured are super crappie lures when used with a tiny plastic grub. You'll want to vary your jig size depending on the depth at which the crappie are holding
If you have read my book, "Catch More Crappie," you will recall a chapter in which I mentioned a man named Tom Jones, of Longview, Washington. Tom has been gone a long time now, but I always regarded him as the best all around crappie fishermen I ever met. He went after crappie the way us bass nuts go after largemouth.
I used to see him often at a favorite lake I fished 50 years ago. He had the crappie holding spots pinned down. Every now and then I'd take a break from bass fishing and run by to check how Tom was doing catching crappie.
I did that one day and thought my eyes were deceiving me. Tom had a burlap bag attached to both sides of his boat. He showed me a couple of fish out of the bag on the starboard side. They were average fish. Then he reached into the bag attached to the port side. In it he had a bunch of crappie larger than anything I'd seen in that part of the world. They were beauties. For that matter, I've not seen any as big since.
I asked Tom, he was as nice a guy as he was a good angler, how he caught those fish. He showed me. He had a small bucktail fly that looked something like a cross between a Royal Coachman and a Cowlitz Special. The fly was suspended under a float. Tom heaved the float out and then inched it back. Many of his fish were caught when the fly seemed dead in the water.
I've always remembered the tips Tom shared with me. One of them was how slow you must fish to catch crappie consistently. It's something you also need to remember if you hope to fashion a successful approach to catching crappie.There's a heap of good eating shown here. You'll need to fish your crappie lures at just the right depth and at the proper speed to get similar results
In the last three columns I've shared the three main keys to successful crappie angling. They are location, depth and proper lure speed. They aren't something I read about somewhere. They are based on most of a lifetime of fishing experience.
If you want to get more fun out of catching these interesting and great eating panfish, there's no better time than right now to put these same tactics to work in your own angling.