It's that time of year again. The weather is hit and miss at best, the temps are cold and the boat ramps are icy. Worst of all it seems the coffee never lasts as long as you wish it would either. With that being said though, the Crappies are schooled up in force and every would be Crappie wrangler in the area is out to fill his livewell. Here in Kansas where our lakes are relatively small that equates to being forced to chase after some highly pressured fish. While that can make for some tough fishing, it isn't the end of the world if you know how to adjust your game to the mood they are in. Here are a few simple steps you can take to put the odds in your favor and avoid making situations harder than they have to be.
The only thing that seems to school up tighter than Crappie in the Winter is Crappie fisherman. Between all the sonar noise and banging around in the boats it won't take long for those fish to get wise. It won't take long for them to start ignoring jigs or completely up and push out of an area either.
Try and remember to turn off any sonar units not in use to reduce sonar noise and be as quiet as possible in the boat by not letting rod butts, pliers, or fish checkers hit the floor. If you have multiple boats running multiple sonar transducers, the noise to the fish is similar to the neighbor kid with the drum set. It doesn't take long to start getting old.
Another common mistake I see is guys circling over a pile with outboards before they fish it. Now that we have Livescope, I have seen schools of fish run from the boat as far as 25 ft away and that was while using the trolling motor, so coming in hot on the outboard can, and will send them running. You should've already done your homework, scanning areas prior to the season and knowing what pile you are wanting to fish before you get there.
Once you're there, cut the big motors off and sneak in with the trolling motor. If the wind direction and position of the sun make it at all possible, try to avoid letting your boat cast shadows over the brush pile as well.
If you are one of those boaters that sees guys in an area then heads over and starts scanning around in circles while guys are fishing, not only are you doing it all wrong, you're part of the reason articles have to be written about pressured fish to begin with. Stop being lazy, take a day and just do your homework. That means leaving the rods at home and just going scanning, or even better, putting in your own brush from time to time. The Corps office is usually eager to assist and will provide permits as well as information on the matter along with the local biologists. This one simple step will greatly increase your odds. Fisherman are usually eager to help other guys out, but getting in the way and motoring around on top of guys isn't going to do you any favors in getting that help.
Fisherman aren't always quick in this area either. Some will sit on top of a pile vertical jigging for hours complaining the fish are slow or not active but never seem to stop and consider changing presentations. Just because it worked well last time doesn't mean it will work this time. When targeting pressured or inactive fish, sometimes both, the longer they look at a jig the less likely they are to hit it.
Instead of trying to lure him in, try flipping out and letting the jig fall across the top of the fish or slow rolling it up thru the pile. If they aren't actively feeding there is a good chance that vertical jigging may not be the best way to go, by slow rolling and flipping across the top of the fish you are able to trigger reaction bites with a moving target instead of waiting on him to decide he has been "lured" in.
Upsize those jigs-
We have all heard the saying "match the hatch" before. What's amazing is how few anglers pay attention to it.
By this time of year the shad and baitfish have grown to be pretty good sized. Something I've learned from fishing tournaments is bigger baits result in bigger, and better bites. Also, as a full time Crappie Guide I have cleaned more than my fair share of Crappies and regularly see shad over four inches long in them so don't be afraid to go for a three inch bait or bigger. With livescopes, or even a good 2D Chirp sonar, video game fishing is where it's at, and big jigs with heavier heads is the way to get there.
Tournament anglers refer to them as commitment baits due to the fact Crappies will have to commit to the strike and hit it hard enough to kill it so to speak as opposed to something small that it will just swim up on and nibble at.
I regularly fish with jigs up to 3.5's and push them on 1/4oz heads. When the bites are happening fast or money is on the line I like the ElaZtech baits from Z-Man fishing products. Trick ShotZ, Slim SwimZ and the TRD TicklerZ are among my top picks. Add a drop of super glue on the hook shank and you can easily boat over a hundred crappie on a single plastic bait without having to stop and check or adjust the jig body after every missed hookset or snag. Often, as a fisherman you're put in situations where you are forced to think, and sometimes fish outside the box. Remain flexible and remember a few of the steps in this article and you will have plenty of fun this Winter. Never take more than you need and please, always wear your lifejackets.
On a recent outing with David Harrison, I was introduced to the ice reels from Clam. I have to admit, I doubt they were ever intended to be on a 10ft jig pole but that is where this particular one found itself and they sure are a perfect reel for it. With the trigger, dropping a jig down to a brush pile in twenty foot of water a one handed breeze. Easy to operate, smooth drag system, and very durable. I really like mine after fishing with for a few weeks and plan on owning several more in the very near future. They have several versions to choose from in varying price ranges but the gravity elite has my vote.
It's gotten down right cold here lately in NE Kansas. We just had a fresh layer of snow fall on us that has had me housebound the past few days. I've been going crazy sitting here itching to get the boat back out and lay back into the amazing Crappie bite we have had around Kansas lately. With the flooding that hit us back in the Spring, we were set up for a Fall and Winter bite that will be talked about for years around here. With that being said, I have also found myself sitting here looking back and thinking about a few of the road trips I made this year fishing the American Crappie Trail and some of the pit stops along the way. I was lucky enough to fish in seven different States during the 2019 season and ended up on some Crappie fishing that I will never forget and absolutely can't wait to get back to, below are my three favorite.
Lake Guntersville, Alabama-
Everyone knows Ole G-ville is a world class Bass fishery, but that place makes for an awesome Crappie trip as well. With much of the grass that Guntersville is known for dying off over Winter, the pre-spawn Crappie bite was insane. Huge Black Crappie hide away for the Summer tucked away in the grass mats, when it dies off and they school up it really makes for some amazing fishing. There were schools of two pound Black Crappie tucked in around every bridge on the place. Being a fairly clear lake, we looked for and found some dirty water in Town Creek and fished minnows and hair jigs vertical off the front of the boat. The bridges around the clearer parts of the lake held fish too, but they were a bit on the spooky side if you got to close, so casting hair jigs was the way to go on those.
I ended up at my Grandma's house for a few days in South Carolina on my way home from Alabama. Since I was already there with a boat in tow, it only made sense that Pe-paw and myself found our way down to the low country for some Slabbin'. Even though they only live three miles or so from a ramp on Lake Murray, we blew right by it to go beat a path through the moccasins and chase swamp donkeys around.
I must admit, as much as I hate snakes, Santee was worth the trip. It's not everyday you get to set PB's, and I got to do it twice in the same trip, First one was with a 2. 38 then a 2.77. For a guy that fishes mainly White Crappie out here in Kansas, those big ole Black Crappie were a real treat, and getting to spend time with family in the process was icing on the cake. With every cypress tree in the place hanging with snakes, I opted for long lining jigs out the back of the boat along the channel edges near Taw Caw Creek. Slim SwimZ by Z-Man fishing products in Space Guppy was the deal.
Ross Barnett Reservoir-
Way down in Mississippi is another swamp donkey factory referred to as the Rez. This stop on the American Crappie Trail reminded me of being a kid fishing the swamps in central Florida. Not being much for spider rigging open water, I took off for the upper end where it turns back into a swampy maze of backwater cuts and bays. This was by far the easiest pre-fishing I did anywhere the entire 2019 season. My boat was off the trailer a grand total of twenty minutes and I was holding a 1.7 or so in my hands sending pics back to Kansas to my buddy at work. I spent that week playing chicken with the alligators for patches of cat tails next to a deep cut along the banks. Being there just before the spawn the reed beds were loaded up with fish getting ready to hit the beds. Getting anywhere near them with a jig resulted in hits so hard you almost had rods ripped out of your hands. This was one place my ElaZtec baits from Z-Man saved me. I could fish them in the reeds and let the fish pound on them without going thru two packs of baits a day.
All three of these lakes were really fun and worth every penny spent on them. I fell from 23rd to 35th out of 192 teams in the ACT points race after missing Grenada, so I can only sit here and wait until March 2020 for the ACT National Championship on Sardis to get out of the snow and make up some ground. I need that Top 25 status to get my golden ticket to the 2020 Crappie Expo. After fishing the 2019 Expo there is no way I want to miss that. Until then I can only sit and wait for the chance to hook up and roll out again. Any Crappie angler that enjoys a good thump on the end of a jig pole would be in for the trip of a lifetime at any of these three lakes. It really isn't as expensive as commonly believed. Let's hear your Top 3 lakes if you could pack up and go, leave them in the comments.
We just had quite the cool snap here in Kansas recently. Several of the lakes formed a layer of ice across them and locked up a few ramps. Not saying we wont get another cool snap but it looks as if this ice won't last long, much to the dismay of some of the ice fisherman,