How To

Catching Cantankerous Crappie

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Crappie are finicky fish that will bite one thing during one season, and something totally different the next.

Crappie are finicky fish that will bite one thing during one season, and something totally different the next.

Crappie are finicky. Maybe not to the level of trout, but certainly close. One day they are biting red hooks, not silver, only hungry for black jigs with flecks of white hair. As Arthur Farrell pulled in his eighth slab of the night, he leaned back against the rocky bank and stared at the stars overhead. The Milky Way was in full bloom and the cold, flat wind that steadily blew off the water seemed to make the night that much more clear.

A few boats drifted around the causeway where Arthur fished. It was growing colder as midnight neared and from the little he’d paid attention to the others, nobody else seemed to be catching anything.

In this day and age you can learn just about anything with a few clicks of a button. Arthur smirked to himself in the darkness, knowing that he’d outsmarted the fish by what he’d been taught as a young man and things he’d figured out, mostly by accident, in his years as a fisherman.

With crappie, getting your jig color right is paramount. Arthur had arrived just as the sun set, noting the water was rather clear and mostly calm. From his tackle box he selected a red and blue jig that generally got the start for the majority of his fishing career—or since he’d learned that trick, anyways. Except this particular jig was not a mixture of red and blue, rather split down the middle with blue on one side and red on the other. That way if the fish happen to bite, he can tell what side they are striking, thus having the advantage of choosing jigs of either a dark or lighter color.

In the past few years, a jig known as Monkey Milk has worked exceptionally well around the areas Arthur fishes in North Alabama and southern Tennessee. And in the last year, it had become wildly popular. The top is a light blue and fades to white as you slide toward the bottom. Needless to say, crappie will probably become jaded to its power by next year, once it has run its course and gotten on their radars as bad news.

He would have liked to fish more during the day, but with spring on the horizon, Mary kept him busy with chores around the house. Knowing where treetops sat submerged along the banks of a few creeks in the Tennessee River, he’d take a chartreuse jig head, hook a minnow, put on a 1/64-ounce split shot and the smallest bobber he could find, and fish at two to four feet. With their eyes on top of their head, crappie only look up. On his boat, Arthur keeps a spider rig on the front, allowing him to fish several lines with different depths.

But in the treetops Arthur typically doesn’t have to do too much, allowing the minnow (hooked only through the lips) to swim around and provide the action. Some have said and still swear that you can’t set a hard hook into a crappie’s soft mouth, but as Arthur knows, if you have the right set up, you can set that hook just as hard as you please. More often than not, a crappie will simply suck in the minnow unlike a blue gill, which will grab its snack and haul it away.

Of course the best time to crappie fish is in the spring when they begin moving to bed. Early morning and late evening you might find them around the banks and stumps while they’ll move out a bit deeper in the middle of the day. Arthur (again, depending on how many kitchen passes he can collect during the course of a week) usually begins fishing in February but slows a bit as turkey season nears. It’s never a bad way to hole up a slow midday, but then again, a nap never hurts either.

Arthur slowly gathered his tackle when his watch struck midnight. It was time for a warm bed and a few hours sleep. There would be crappie fishing aplenty in the coming months and even into summer when you might catch a few on a crankbait. A crankbait! The smell of fish on his hands was pleasant as he sipped coffee on his ride home. The rolling rocks of ice reminded him of a good supper to come when slab crappie would emerge golden brown from the hot grease. Oh my, he thought, what a wonderful morsel they would make!

Image by Josh Wolfe

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