In less than 30 seconds, my quill sank. I brought a 1-1/2 pound crappie over the gunwales of my boat. For the next 20 minutes, I continued to take crappie. Although the minnows-in-a-glass-jar idea of my uncle’s was strange, I realized that renegade tactics could produce crappie when no other methods of fishing would. From that early boyhood experience, I started looking for renegades in the sport of crappie fishing – both men and women who broke with traditional tactics and utilized off-the-wall strategies to consistently catch crappie. I wanted to find those unusual individuals who used creative alternatives to take crappie.
My uncle and I had been fishing for crappie, but my quill cork had not sunk in more than 30 minutes. I had caught 20 slab-sized crappie earlier as fast as I could get a minnow down between the limbs of the sunken tree. At the time, I assumed I surely would have my limit of 50 speckled sides within the next hour. But as quickly as the crappie had begun hitting, they now had stopped all activity. Anxiously I watched my still cork as I felt the intense heat from the sun. Thinking a cold drink of ice water would quench my thirst, I reached into my ice chest, took out the quart fruit jar full of water and drank deeply. Then I remembered what my uncle Clarence had told me about a trick he had used before to make crappie bite once they stopped. I always had thought the tactic was a joke, but maybe, just maybe, it would work.
I poured the rest of my drinking water out of the fruit jar and filled it up with river water. I punched holes in the lid with my knife, put 15 minnows in the jug and screwed the lid back on it. I tied 30 pound test monofilament line to the neck of the jug and lowered it down to the depth where I had been fishing. Then I baited with a fresh, lively minnow and let my line down beside the jug. That’s when my quill sank, and I caught a 1-1/2 pound crappie with Uncle Clarence’s renegade crappie tactic.
When I fished with Curt Edney, an old river rat said, “Curt Edney is weird. He fishes in the middles of creeks with knitting thread – summer, winter, spring and fall. He’s almost a hermit. He never takes anyone with him when he fishes. No one knows exactly what he does on the lake to catch so many crappie. He leaves in the early morning just before daylight and comes back in just before dark – always with a limit of some of the biggest crappie you’ve ever seen. He’s a renegade all right, but no better crappie angler fishes this lake.”
Knitting thread and mid-lake fishing for crappie were considered unusual tactics 30 years ago. Nobody used depth finders then to locate crappie, and almost everyone fished with minnows – not jigs. I hung around the marina until late in the afternoon when Edney arrived at the dock and opened the lid to his cooler. Inside was a limit of slab-sized crappie. I used my best sales pitch to try and convince Edney to take me fishing with him and teach me his tactic. Finally Edney grew tired of my begging and pleading and said, “O.K., John, be here in the morning before daylight. Bring an ultralight spinning rod rigged with six pound test line. That’s all you’ll need. We’ll catch all the crappie you want to take.” When I offered to bring some minnows or jigs, Edney said, “Nope, I’ve got everything we need to catch plenty of crappie.”
The next day Edney and I left the marina as the sun peaked over a nearby mountain. Then Edney stopped his boat in the middle of a creek and let down his two anchors. “Tie this on,” Edney instructed as he handed me a strange-looking crappie jig. The head of the jig was a piece of lead shot Edney had crimped onto a jig hook with pliers. Squeezed in the middle of the lead just above the hook were three strands of yellow knitting thread braided with a couple of strands of silver-glitter thread. I thought that surely this weird-looking jig wouldn’t catch crappie. But while I was still tying on this homemade jig, Edney’s rod pretzeled as he brought a big crappie to the boat. “Cast right out, John,” Edney told me. “The crappie are there.”
No visible target was above the water to show where the crappie might be, and I could see no signs of brush under the water. When I asked Edney what we were fishing around, he answered, “A big, sunken treetop is between us and the bank. The crappie are holding in that treetop.”
As I inquired how Edney knew a tree was under the water, he explained sheepishly that he looked for big holes on the banks to pinpoint sunken treetops. “Holes are left on the bank when the wind blows a tree down. The root system pulls the ground up, and the top of the tree falls into the water. Although the trunk of the tree may rot away and leave no visible evidence on the bank that a tree ever was there, usually part of the top still will remain out in the water. You can tell how tall the tree was by looking at the size of the hole left on the bank. To determine where the top is, look at other trees on the bank near the hole, and decide where their tops would be in the water, if they fell.”
As I retrieved my knitting thread jig, I felt the lead tick a limb. Then I had a solid strike on my line. My rod curled, and I fought a 2-pound crappie that day before I mustered-up the courage to ask Edney about the jigs. Finally when he had warmed-up to me, I said, “Curt, these are the best crappie jigs I’ve ever fished. Why did you decide to use knitting thread to make your own jigs?”
With an impish smile, Edney explained that, “To catch numbers of crappie, you must lose plenty of jigs. Crappie fishing can be expensive. But I’ve learned that crappie are not particularly smart. Once you locate them, they’ll hit almost anything you throw in the water. However, the fish feed at different depths and like various colors of jigs. To take a lot of crappie on any day you fish, you need a wide variety of both sizes and colors of jigs. By using several shot-lead sizes and various knitting-thread colors, I can change the size and the color of my jigs quickly and inexpensively to suit the crappie’s mood and feeding pattern that day. One day when I couldn’t catch crappie on anything else, I even took a chewing gun wrapper, wrapped it around the hook with the foil side out, pinched the wrapper into the lead and caught crappie on it.” At the end of our day on the lake with two limits of pound-plus crappie in our coolers, Edney had made me believe in the value of his renegade tactics for taking crappie.
For more unique fishing methods for crappie, read part two of this series on rethinking cane pole fishing.
To learn more about successful crappie fishing year-round, buy John E. Phillips’ book, “The Masters’ Secret of Crappie Fishing,” by going to www.nighthawkpublications.com/fishing/masterscrappie.htm.
Images copyright John Phillips