Author’s note: Steve McCadams has guided fishermen to crappie on Kentucky Lake for 40+ years. This info on crappie beds comes straight from the accomplished angler himself.
I put out stake beds where crappie can live. I drive wooden stakes—usually 1x1s or 2x2s—into the bottom of the lake. Often, they’re called tomato stakes, because this type of wooden stake is used to hold up tomato bushes. These wooden stakes are four to six feet long, and I drive them into the lake bed about 12-to 18 inches deep. I want the stake beds to stick up three to four feet off the bottom. I use a 12- to 14-foot manual-power stake driver made of either PVC pipe or light aluminum. Then, I use a small handle so I can drive the stakes down into deep water.
I also like to plant wooden shipping pallets—either 4×4 or 4×6 pallets. I put a concrete block in the middle of the pallet. I nail my stakes around the sides and/or attach them to the middles of the pallets. On a wooden pallet, I like my stakes to be about six to eight inches apart, and I try to put 40 to 50 stakes on each wooden pallet—about the same number of stakes that I drive into the bottom when I’m using my homemade pile driver to create a stake bed.
Where to place stake beds for crappie
Certain factors determine where I put out brush or stake beds for crappie. The first factor is wind direction. If there’s a really strong south wind, northeast wind, or northwest wind, I decide how many stake beds I have where my clients and I will be out of the wind on those different wind directions. I try to make sure that I have several stake beds or brush piles that I can go to with my customers that are in protected waters, so we don’t have to fight the wind to fish.
Another very important factor to consider is the depth at which I want to put my stake beds. I’ll get a lake map and look for humps, drop-offs, creek ledges, river ledges, and any other type of irregularity in the bottom of the lake. I like to sink beds in those kinds of areas, because bottom irregularities are generally highways that crappie travel to get to and from spawning regions. These same places are usually great spots to locate crappie during the fall and winter, when crappie travel back and forth to shallow water and deep water areas.
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I look for two different extreme depths on the bottom. For instance, on the top of the underwater drop-off, eight to 10 feet of water may drop off into 20 to 30 feet of water. I’ll search for shallow water that’s really close to deep water. When I find those locations, I don’t just place one crappie attractor there, but generally will put out at least three. I’ll put one fish attractor on top of a ledge, maybe five to 10 feet away from the drop-off. The second fish attractor I’ll place right on the edge of the drop-off, and the last fish attractor I’ll sink on the deep side of the drop-off. This way, I can let the crappie decide which one of those crappie attractors they want to hold on, the day I’m trying to catch them. Also, by using this system of putting out fish attractors, you easily can fish your shallow attractor, move 10 to 20 yards, fish the attractor on the edge of the drop-off, and then move out just a little bit farther and fish your deep water fish attractor.
When I’m building stake beds using my pile driver and driving the stakes into the bottom, these type stake beds generally will usually be no deeper than 12 to 18 inches deep, because that’s as deep as my pile driver will let me put in stake beds. To put stake beds in deeper water, I use pallets with stakes attached to them and a concrete block in the center of the stake bed. If I need to, I can build a stake bed in even deeper water, or I can sink treetops in the deeper water. If I’m putting in a brush shelter from 18 to 25 feet deep, I’ll usually sink a treetop in that depth of water. The shallowest I ever have put in a stake bed is in about 4 feet of water. These stake beds that are just barely under the water are so shallow that I often hit the stakes with my trolling motor.
Why tend to a stake bed garden
Stake beds don’t last forever. I have a procedure I call “Tending to my garden.” When I create a stake bed, I log where each stake bed is located with GPS coordinates. So, when I refurbish the stake beds, I easily can locate them. About every three to four years, I return to the sites where I’ve put stake beds, and I’ll add new brush or stakes to each stake bed. If a stake bed hasn’t been producing very well for a couple of years, instead of refurbishing that stake bed, I’ll create a new stake bed somewhere else. In an average year, I’ll either refurbish 30 stake beds or put out up to 30 new stake beds. I tend to my garden in this way every year. If I don’t keep constantly trying to improve some portion of my crappie farm every year, I can’t expect to harvest a crop of crappie every day I fish.
What’s the pay-off for sinking beds and attractors?
I can honestly say I think the time and effort I’ve put into sinking beds and attractors for crappie has paid off with crappie dividends. For instance, I never fish my shallow water stake beds, except when crappie move up to spawn. I never fish my extremely deep brush tops, except in the coldest parts of the winter. I have some fish attractors that I may not fish aside from two weeks per year.
Even small crappie attractors may produce 30 or 40 keeper-size crappie in one day. I have caught 50 or 60 crappie off a small fish attractor a few times. I try to build these fish attractors, so they’ll produce six to eight keeper crappie every time I fish them. To keep these numbers up, I don’t put too much fishing pressure on any one spot, at any time of the year. On an average day of crappie fishing, I’ll plan to fish 18 to 20 different fish attractors. Most of the time, if the crappie are biting aggressively, they’ll take minnows or jigs as soon as the bait hits the water.
To receive for free the Crappie Catchers’ Cookbook by John and Denise Phillips that offers free recipes, go to http://johninthewild.com/free-books.