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.
The crappie jig fisherman in my hot-weather fishing competition, like most other crappie anglers who caught crappie during the middle of the day during hot weather, fished deep. But when I met Dr. Omar Smith of Memphis, Tennessee, and he mentioned he was taking crappie in the middle of the hottest days in less than three feet of water, I realized I had met another renegade crappie angler.
“One of the most productive places to find crappie during the hot summer months is along major river systems that have oxbow lakes or dead sloughs that are cut off from the main river,” Smith said. “In those areas, the bottom is usually at about the same depth throughout the lake. You’ll usually find some type of live, standing timber. In the South, the trees generally are cypress. I never fish for crappie until about 10:00 a.m. during the hottest part of the summer. I’ve discovered the middle of the day is the best time to catch hot-weather crappie in oxbow lakes.”
Since the bottom is about the same depth throughout the lake, the coolest and shadiest place the crappie can be in the middle of the day will be in the shade of the trees standing out in the water. Isolated trees in the middle of a lake seem to hold more and bigger crappie than the trees close to the bank. I use a 1/24 ounce jig and a B’n’M graphite jig pole to catch the crappie. I usually find the fish either holding in the shade right under the tree or 6 to 8 feet away from the trunk of the tree on the edge of the tree’s root system. Cypress trees usually form a doughnut-shaped root system that extends six to eight feet away from the base of the tree. If the crappie aren’t holding near the trunk of the tree in the shade, they’ll usually be on the edges of that root system. These isolated trees in the middle of the lake provide the closest cover and shade for the crappie that have been feeding out in the lake all night long and during the early morning. “I generally take a limit of big crappie from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. middle of the day fishing a jig on a pole around this standing timber in these oxbow lakes and cut-off sloughs along the Mississippi River.”
Another renegade crappie fisherman is Bobby Martin of Georgia, who uses innovative tactics to catch crappie. Once when I fished with Martin, he lay down on the deck of his boat and held a 1/32 ounce crappie jig between his index finger and his thumb with the point of the hook away from his hand. He pulled the jig back and bowed his rod. With the index finger on his right hand, he held the line on his spinning reel. In front of him was a dock with a board across the front of it, leaving only an 8 inch gap between the board and the water. I could see no way to cast a jig under the dock or to swing a pole with the bait on it under the dock. But as I watched, Martin released the jig. As the jig passed the end of the rod, he released the line with his right finger which caused the jig to be shot 10 feet under the dock as though he’d shot the jig with a slingshot.
When the jig finally hit the water, Martin began a slow, steady retrieve. After three turns on his reel, his ultralight rod pretzeled. A pound-plus crappie fought its way to the boat. Martin uses either a 1/24 or a 1/32 ounce jig, four-to-six-pound-test line and an open-face spinning reel. When he shoots his jig, he’s deadly accurate – often shooting his jig 20 to 30 yards under a dock with only four to six inches of clearance from the surface of the water to the first board of the dock.
Trolling from the Banks:
During the early spring, crappie generally will move into small, warm-water creeks and springs that feed a cooler main lake or river. If there’s a creek or stream where a factory discharges warm water into the creek these areas will be where the crappie will go to spawn first.
I learned this tactic many years ago when I fished Weiss Lake on the Alabama/Georgia border. I found a small stream not more than 20 yards wide that fed Weiss Lake. The stream had warm water being discharged into it by several nearby factories. During February and March, the crappie from the lake moved into the stream to begin to spawn. I found a little point of land that jutted out into the current, broke the current and formed an eddy hole on the back side of the point. Fishing a cork and a jig, I cast upstream and let the current troll the jig suspended by my cork downstream and into the eddy area where the cork consistently sank on every drift to help me catch a limit of crappie.
A few years later, I went to the tailrace of Lewis Smith Dam in north Alabama where the hydroelectric plant released warm water from the lake above to a small stream below. Casting upstream, I allowed the current coming from the dam to wash my jig downstream and behind the rocks into eddy pools where the crappie attacked. Trolling from the bank pays crappie dividends in the early spring under these conditions. Often you don’t catch more crappie throughout the year because you’re not willing to change strategies and test new methods. Don’t be afraid to break with tradition and use renegade techniques to take more papermouths under all wind and water conditions.
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.
- Photo2 by John Phillips/Night Hawk Publications