My late Uncle Bud, the consummate crappie fishermen, used to say that when the dogwoods bloomed the crappie were biting.
He called them “croppy,” not “crap-ee” as pronounced by some of our Northern friends.
Uncle Bud scheduled his vacation around the spring crappie season, and had paths worn to his favorite spots along the banks of Watts Bar Lake. I grew up tagging along at his heels, and his crappie addiction rubbed off on me.
I’ve been fortunate to fish all around the world. I’ve caught mahi-mahi in Hawaii, “walking catfish” from paddy ponds in Vietnam, snook in the Everglades, trout in the Smokies, snappers in Panama City, redfish in Louisiana bayous and giant Northern Pike and walleye on wilderness Canadian Lakes. But my heart belongs to crappie.
Give me a mild spring morning, a bucket-full of minnows, a bobber and a brush pile, and I’m perfectly content.
Chuck Campbell of Mt. Juliet and I recently fished Percy Priest and I learned some new tricks about how to fish plastic jigs for crappie. Chuck’s a master, and I shamelessly copied his techniques to boat some good fish.
However, my preferred method of crappie fishing is to use a fly rod or crappie pole to drop a minnow around structure in which crappie lurk. When fishing from the bank, I rely on light-weight spinning tackle to cast minnows and jigs.
The key to catching crappie this time of year is to fish structure, either natural or man-made. Some of the best structure is the stake beds around TWRA fish attractors. The submerged stakes are marked by white plastic poles that jut a few feet out of the water.
Ease up within casting distance of the pipe, drop anchor, and fish around the marked area. If you get snagged on one of the wooden stakes, break the line and re-rig; if you putter over to get un-hooked you’ll spook the fish. Hooks are cheap.
Most area lakes contain numerous TWRA fish attractors. Some hold fish, some don’t. Keep fishing until you find fish. When the bites slows, try another stake bed.
The drawback to marked TWRA fish attractors is that during the peak spring season there is competition from other boats. That’s when submerged structure that is not marked on the surface comes in handy. Famed crappie guide Steve McCadams builds his own stake beds and marks them on a GPS gadget. Steve’s customers always catch fish.
Depth finders can locate underwater structure, both natural and man-made. Natural structure consists of limbs, brush, rocks and stumps. Man-made structure can be anything from old tires to concrete blocks and Christmas trees.
It doesn’t require much to attract crappie; I once caught a dozen big slabs by fishing around a single pencil-sized limb I noticed sticking up in the middle of a cove.
When a crappie bites in heavy cover it has to hoisted out quickly before it gets tangled. That means not much of a fight. Even in open water crappie don’t match most other species in fighting ability. But they’re delicious to eat – arguably the tastiest fresh-water fish there is – and there’s just something about catching them:
Drop a bobber beside a stickup. It twitches slightly, then slowly sinks from sight. Raise the rod-tip – carefully, so as not to tear the hook out of the paper-thin mouth – and a thick slab crappie splashes on the other end.
Crappie fishermen may grow old, but crappie fishing never does.