During March and April, it seems like everyone I meet asks me how many crappie I’ve been catching. When I reply I haven’t been crappie fishing, half of them walk away thinking I’m lying to protect my secret hotspot, and the other half assume my mental tackle box must be a jig or two short of a load.
A good part of the reason for my present lack of enthusiasm for spring crappie fishing is that I’m a victim of my own past success. (I was in position to enjoy Tuttle Creek Reservoir’s new-lake crappie boom in the last half of the 1960’s and was again at the right place in the early 1980’s, when then newly filled Truman Lake’s crappie population exploded in both size and numbers.) Then too, there are a lot of other fun things to do outdoors in the spring.
But when it’s time to turn the calendar page from May to June, my crappie rods start jumping up and down in their rack, screaming for attention. And why shouldn’t they? Having completed their battle against the weather and variable water levels in order to reproduce, crappie will have retreated offshore, where they’ll establish patterns and locations that will remain more or less stable until at least mid July and often longer.
Some of Missouri’s Corps projects–including Truman, Pomme de Terre and Stockton–have been the subjects of a very successful experiment regarding the placement of manmade fish attractors, consisting of submerged cedar trees, hardwoods, rocks and other materials. These structures are heavily used by crappie the first few weeks after they leave the bank, and some fish remain near them all summer long.
I recommend starting your search for these crappie magnets before leaving home. Go to the Missouri Department of Conservation website, www.mdc.mo.gov, and click the “fishing” tab. Then click on the “where to fish” tab. Finally, click on the “fish attractor map” tab. Clicking on the symbol representing a specific man-made structure on Truman reveals full information about it, including its GPS position. This is not the case on Pomme de Terre, but it’s possible to get a printed map from the lake’s Corps office that does provide this information.
Truman was the last of Missouri’s major water projects. It began storing water in October, 1979, so it should come as no surprise that the timber left standing in all of the state’s Corps lakes is beginning to show its age. Nevertheless, there’s still enough standing timber in Truman, Stockton, Smithville and Mark Twain to hold more crappie than all of us put together would want to filet.
When I (used to) fish for spring crappie I used jigs exclusively, and I know a lot of good crappie fishermen who use nothing but jigs in the summertime as well. Even so, I switch gears and use minnows at least 95 percent of the time once the crappie have moved to deep water.
I credit a lot of my summertime success to a bait presentation rig that’s a slight variation of one a guide showed me 20 years ago. Begin by threading some type of float stop on high visibility running line testing at least 12 pounds. If you even think you might use a float, add a bead and a #10 swivel snap. In either case, add a three-eighth ounce bullet weight and finish by tying one end of a small barrel swivel to the end of the line. Tie your favorite size and type of hook–I use a 1/0 or 2/0 Aberdeen–to the end of a length of eight pound test line and tie a loop about eight inches above the hook. Use the loop to attach the “snelled” hook to the other end of the swivel.
If you choose to use a float, attach it to the swivel snap. Some slip floats are designed to be attached this way as is the old fashioned round bobber. Other slip float can be modified.
Floats can’t be beat for fishing minnows over submerged brush piles. Just set the float to hold the minnow no more than a foot above the brush. Cast across the brush pile and retrieve in slow motion with plenty of 30 second pauses.
Jigs with curlytail tips can be retrieved just above the brush. Usually a steady speed works best, but don’t be slow to experiment when necessary.
There are two secrets to success when fishing vertical standing timber. The first is to keep your jig or minnow within no more than three inches of the wood, because inactive crappie often face the tree trunk they’re holding on with their noses almost touching the wood. That, by the way, is the reason for using a relatively heavy sinker. Give a lively minnow freedom to roam that close to wood, and it will find something to tangle your line in.
The second is to keep probing the cover. A minute is more than long enough to leave a minnow or vertically fished jig in one spot before raising it straight up out of the water and dropping it in a new opening, even if that omening is only a few inches away.
Well, now you’ve done it. I’m thinking about crappie fishing, which means I’ll be going crappie fishing the first chance I get.
Gerald Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org