Wade fishing is not necessarily limited to prowling coastal flats in quest of trout or redfish. Sometime within the next few weeks, the urge to procreate will cause crappie to move out of deep water where they spend the winter to the shallows to spawn. Rather than one massive wave of spawners, the crappie spawn often builds to a peak with many “mini” waves of fish moving shallow. During this period, 90 percent of the fish truly are in 10 percent of the water and catching them is often as simple as dropping a brightly colored crappie jig into the heavy cover where they spawn.
Lake Lavon guide Billy Kilpatrick can be seen most afternoons this month in waders, fishing water 18 inches to 3-feet deep, usually with plenty of good-eating crappie attached to his stringer.
“I am amazed at just how many crappie fishermen miss out on the very best fishing of the year, simply because they have not learned how productive wade fishing can be. All that’s required to get in on this annual spring action is a pair of waders, a crappie jig pole and a handful of jigs and a floating stringer,” tips Billy.
I can attest to just how much fun “wading” for crappie can be. For many springs, I have joined Billy on the shores of his home lake and on most occasions, I returned home with plenty of tasty crappie fillets for the fryer. Billy prefers a 12-foot B&M jig pole. His favorite is the two-piece BGJP with a West Point Crappie reel, made by the same company.
The one mistake many folks make when wade fishing for crappie is trying to cover too much water too quickly. When using a 12-foot jig pole, it’s possible to fish water in a 12- to 15-foot radius. This equates to a 30-foot circle. If you’re in the right kind of cover with lots of heavy brush or weeds, it’s sometime possible to limit out without changing positions. Crappie usually aren’t extremely spooky during the spawn. On many occasions I’ve pulled five or six fish out of the same patch of standing brush or weeds. The trick is to begin fishing cover close to where you’re standing, then use the long jig pole to your advantage and begin reaching out to more distant cover. This technique lessens the chance of spooking crappie that are really close. There’s no casting in this type fishing. The little reels are designed to hold and retrieve line, not make long casts. Jigs are eased, vertically into the heaviest of cover. Ten- to 12-pound test line works best in this heavy cover. Once a fish is hooked, heaver lines have the strength to drag the fish through the brush. Billy is a strong proponent of “once you hook the fish, get his head coming your way quickly and don’t stop pulling until you have him out of the cover.”
Spawning crappie are notoriously aggressive. They will often strike a jig the instant it is lowered into their strike zone. Rather than work the tiny jigs vertically through the water column, it’s best to simply lower the bait to within 6 inches of bottom and hold it there for 30 seconds or longer. If a crappie doesn’t strike, move it up a few inches, keeping it as close to thickest cover in the area. Billy likes to fish weed beds this time of year but shallow water brush and cattails will also hold plenty of spawning crappie.
“Male crappie move into the shallows first to stake out spawning areas. These fish are extremely aggressive and, early in the month, you might catch several undersized males for every 'keeper.' I like to begin fishing the back of coves on the north and west side of the lake, they’re often 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the water closer to the main lake," explains Billy.
The best time to go fishing is when you have the time, but Billy says his most memorial trips for catching lots of “barndoor” crappie have been around mid April after two or three days of warming sunshine with a light south wind.
Billy says he’s caught crappie on just about every color combination of jigs made but he has his favorites.
“I usually use one-sixteenth ounce jig heads this time of year," he recommends. "My favorite bait is the Bobby Garland 2” baby shad in blue thunder color or double silver rainbow pattern but black and chartreuse jig bodies has long been a favorite this time of year."
Billy uses Luck E Strike (green with red eyes) jig heads for most of his fishing during the spawn and says the red eyes on the little jig defiantly help put more fish on the stringer.
“I’m not sure exactly why the red eyes on the jigs entice strikes, but they definitely do," states Billy. "I’ve tested the 'red eyed' jigs against solid color patterns and, without exception, found the jigs with red eyes to produce better.”
Since water temperature is key to locating areas holding spawning crappie, it’s a good idea to carry a thermometer along and make periodical tests to determine the warmest water. Billy favors fishing water around in mid-sixties but says he often catches male crappie early in the month when the water begins to approach 60 degrees.
“Crappie have an uncanny ability to seek out the warmest water available and finding these 'hot spots' can be a big plus to catching fish, especially early in the month when, the majority of water in a cove might be 60 degrees," Billy remarks. "Find an area exposed to more sunshine where the water is warmed to 62 degrees in an cove with 58-degree water and you will often find heavy concentrations of fish.
The majority of crappie fishermen use minnows, regardless what the season and Billy says that small minnows often work best this time of year. There are times when minnows will outfish jigs. Crappie can become very sensitive to light, especially when in shallow water during the spawn, and fishing in very early morning or after sunset with live minnows under floaters can be the most productive method of catching fish. Rock rip rap retains heat after the sun sets and many spring crappie fishermen wait until early evening, put out lanterns along the shore, and limit out on crappie that are attracted by the warmer water and baitfish in the glow of the lantern light.
Just as crappie do not move into the shallow at one time, their departure from the spawning waters back to the main lake also takes place over the course of several weeks. By late April, it’s often possible to catch late spawners by wading the shallows in the back of the coves and catch fish from the boat in water 6-feet deep around the mouth on the same day. Patterns do develop though and the only way to determine where the fish are on a day to day basis is through trial and error.
On trips later in the month with clients, Billy often launches his boat and begins prospecting for crappie around standing brush in water 6- to 8-feet deep. He gives his clients the option of doing some wade fishing, just in case the majority of the fish are still shallow. When fishing from shallow draft boats, it’s possible to fish for spawning crappie in water 18 inches to 2-feet deep but it’s tough for anglers in the back of the boat.
“The trick to this type fishing is to ease the boat quietly up to likely bits of cover and drop jigs into the brush from eight to ten feet away with the long jig poles," added Billy. "It’s possible for a couple of guys to fish from the bow of most boats but when there’s more than two fishing, it’s a good idea to rig light spinning rigs with jigs under floaters and fan cast from the boat.”
Fan casting from the bank can be a good alternative for folks that prefer not to get INTO the water. Lots of crappie are caught each spring by folks casting live minnows or small jigs under floaters from the bank. The trick to this type fishing is locating a bit of bank, often a small point jutting a few feet out from shore, which affords casting to distant cover such as standing weeds or brush. Hang ups can be expected so it’s a good idea to bring a good supply of your favorite jigs or, hooks and live minnows. Most bank fishermen opt for leaders of 6- to 8-pound test that will break free when their bait gets hung up on brush. When fishing openings in weed beds for spawning crappie, I like to cast several yards past where I think the fish will be holding and crank the jig or minnow back to the edge of the cover. Crappie will often nail a slow moving jig under a floater as it’s being pulled through the water.
Regardless if you prefer to break out the waders and get into the shallows with the crappie during the spring spawn, fish from a shallow draft boat or bank fish, there truly is no better time than right now to catch a big stringer of crappie. And we all know how tasty those snow white fillets are when dusted with corn meal and dropped into hot oil!
Guide Billy Kilpatrick can be contacted at: 214-232-7847.
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