Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Crappie Fishing Article

Now that we've gotten the bad joke out of the way , I had a request on the blog's Facebook page today for an article about crappie fishing. I'm always glad when my readers interact with the blog by making comments and requests , so I am more than happy to oblige , even though I am by no means an expert on crappie fishing.

The crappie is a wildly popular game and panfish confined mostly to the Eastern half of North America , though it has been widely introduced elsewhere. There are two types of crappie , the White Crappie and the Black Crappie , most easily distinguished by the number of spines in the first dorsal fin with the White Crappie having 6 and the Black Crappie having 7 or 8. Both types are often found together in the same body of water and in the same areas , but Black Crappies usually prefer clearer water. As with other sunfish , hybridization frequently occurs and several would be world record fish have been disqualified when the fish were discovered to be hybrids. Even without hybridization , both White and Black Crappie are capable of reaching weights of 4 to 5 pounds , though these fish are rare.

A more common size of crappie would be fish ranging from 8 to 15 inches , but this too varies from one body of water to the next. In most bodies of water , crappies go through a natural cycle where there will be years with fewer numbers of crappie and more large fish caught followed by years with an abundance of small to medium sized fish. This natural cycle is almost always more obvious in smaller lakes and ponds.
A stringer of Black Crappie
Crappie are often found in and around brush and other types of cover. I normally try to establish a pattern when crappie fishing , concentrating on the type of cover and water depth. In my experience , crappie will hold on similar types of cover at almost the exact same depth in most bodies of water. So if you find a big school of crappie holding at the end of a fallen pine tree in 15 feet of water , it's a good bet that other trees at the same depth will also hold fish.

White and Black Crappie can both be taken on a wide variety of both real and artificial baits. My two personal favorites are the use of live minnows fished under a float and jigs. Recently here on my home water , trolling with tiny spoons and plugs has been gaining popularity but it's something I just haven't tried.

When I am float fishing with live bait, I normally use a 6'6" ultralight rod and reel spooled with 6 lb. monofilament. I usually attach a small swivel to the main line and then add a 4 lb. fluorocarbon leader and a small size 6 hook. I like to use the smallest minnows I can get and I've also used feeder goldfish from a pet store with great success. I cast this rig into likely looking spots until I catch my first crappie and then I normally anchor my boat 15-20 feet away from the area that coughed up the first fish.

Once I've caught that elusive first fish , I start jigging. I set out my float rod and then start jigging around it. I use the same setup for jigging as I do for float fishing , but I tie the jigs directly to the main line and don't use a float. You can use a wide variety of jigs but 1/16 and 1/8 ounce hair jigs are my favorites. I tie my own out of white calf tail and red thread. Because of the crappie's affinity for small baitfish , you only need a small amount of hair on these jigs. I cast them out and let them sink for 4-8 seconds , depending on how deep I've been catching fish on the float rig. When the jig is at the desired depth , I bounce and twitch the rod to trigger strikes while reeling in the line slowly to keep it at the desired depth. Besides hair jigs , you can also use maribou jigs , small tube jigs  , small curly tail grubs and just about any type of small spoon or plug.

I'm going to finish this off with an interesting tidbit of scientific BS that I have never tried , but have always been intrigued by. We all know that crappie love small baitfish. So it stands to reason that if you can find the small baitfish you have a better chance of finding the crappie. Simple enough , but not as easy as you might think. I read somewhere a long time ago that you could go by light penetration to determine the most likely depth that crappie would actively be feeding at. It works like this : algae and other phytoplankton can only survive as deep as the sunlight penetrates the water , zooplankton that feed on phytoplankton will only be as deep as their primary food source , tiny baitfish will only be as deep as their favorite meal the zooplankton , and crappie will be underneath this whole mess picking off any unwary minnows. You could always go out and buy a Secchi Disk , but I've always wanted to take a solid white ceramic coffee cup and a piece of string out on the water to test this theory. Supposedly , you lower something white into the water until you can just barely see it and then measure the string to see how deep the light penetrates , then fish at that depth. Don't laugh , it might work.

Have a great weekend!

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