by Allan Tarvid
During the spring spawn when crappie are back in the shallow tangles, serious fishermen often tie up their boats and wade into areas that can’t be reached any other way.
DFW area crappie guide and Crappiethon tournament angler Wally Marshall is one of these fishermen. Marshall catches more slab-sided black and white crappie each season than I’ve caught in almost 40 years of fishing. And, he catches a lot of them wading.Marshall estimates that the prime wading season runs from about the first of March through the middle of May. He likes to start early in the season and heads first for the northeast part of a lake. The sun shines on that side longer each day and it’s usually the first area where the water warms up to that magic 60 degrees.
“The males start showing up early,” said Marshall, “Then later when the water warms up to 64-65 degrees the females start moving in. The females only stay two or three days, then move back out to the first or second drop off, leaving the males to guard the nest. They guard the fry until they’re old enough to make it and that’s why they’re staying in the shallows until May.”
Marshall looks for a place where a creek channel comes in pretty close to the bank, then searches for lay-downs, brush piles,cattails, coon-tail moss or any type of vegetation or cover that crappie might spawn in.
“Just anything that they can spray those eggs on that they’ll stick to,” said Marshall, “that’s where they’ll do their spawning. I’ve even caught spawning crappie in flooded cockleburrs.”
While Marshall hasn’t found crappie to be very particular about spawning cover, he has found them sensitive to the composition of the bottom. He looks for a firm bottom like sand or gravel. They won’t be in stagnated water or over a mucky or silted bottom, and that’s a good thing because those areas aren’t safe to wade.
“You might have cattails and coon-tail moss in there,” said Marshall, “but the crappie won’t be in there because they can’t fan out enough of the silt or goo to make a clean nesting area.”Over a firm bottom he’s seen them spawn on or under old logs, in stump beds and up in cattails so far back that their fins stick up out of the water.
A favorite type of cover is a tree that overhangs the bank with exposed roots coming out into the water. He also looks for undercut banks with roots coming out of them.
Marshall’s favorite lures are the 1/16 ounce Branson Bug and TurboTail series of Road Runners. He prefers these plastic-bodied lures to marabou in thick cover because they don’t collect as much grass,stringy moss and algae while they’re fished. He’ll use marabou jigs around the outside edges of brush or in more open water, often in conjunction with a float. His favorite colors are blue and white, yellow and white, black and chartreuse and red and chartreuse, depending upon the clarity of the water. He uses a special eight-foot, stiff action fishing rod that he helped design for the B & M Pole Company coupled with either a Martin Model 59 automatic fly reel or a Quantum Micro spinning reel.
Marshall puts 30-pound test on the fly reel as backing but fishes with considerably lighter line. He moves up to “heavy” eight-pound test when fishing around hard wood and uses six-pound test in grass or soft weeds. He feels that the lighter the line, the more strikes you’ll get.
His line of choice has been Silver Thread AN40, but this year he’s started using Silver Braid when wading in the tough stuff. He’s trying out the 20-pound test Silver Braid that is the diameter of six-pound test monofilament.
He prefers neoprene as a wader material because it allows you greater freedom of movement. It doesn’t flatten against your legs and pinch you like thin, rubberized materials tend to.When you’re wading, Marshall said that barbed wire and old trotlines are your worst enemy. And, if you poke a tiny hole in neoprene waders they don’t leak as badly as rubber models do.
Marshall likes a stocking-foot style rather than a boot-foot wader and for Texas wading conditions he prefers wading shoes with rubber lug soles over the kind that have felt soles.
If you’re unfamiliar with an area, Marshall suggests wearing a life jacket or fishing from a float tube. At the very least, wear a belt around the waders to trap air in them. Then, if you take a surprise dunking they will help float you rather than fill with water and try to sink you.
Marshall says that you can’t be timid about going after crappie in thick brush. He holds his rod in his right hand and enough free line in his left hand to drop the jig to the bottom. He pulls his jig right up to his rod tip and surgically probes the rod back into likely spots in the heavy brush. When he reaches a likely hole with the tip, there’s usually barely enough room to move the rod. He drops the jig to the bottom and then raises it four to six inches. Then, he moves the rod gently from side to side to swim the lure around. He tries not to bounce it up and down much because he’s found the slow swimming action to be more effective. Sometimes the best technique is holding the jig completely still.”You’ll know if he’s in there right away,” said Marshall, “There’s no waiting around; it’s just instant attack. That hard thump,that’s what I live for!”
When he gets a strike he pulls the line with his left hand to bring the fish to the rod tip and then backs up to bring the rod and fish out together. He can’t swing the rod up to strike because he’d break it on the brush.
“People talk about how bass fight,” said Marshall, “you hook a two-pound crappie on a wading pole in two feet of water back in the brush and you’ve got all the fight you can stand.”
When the rod and fish are clear of the brush, he gives the hooked fish enough line so he can raise the rod tip and swing the fish in toward him.
“Always carry a small dip net,” suggested Marshall, “When you get that fish out of the brush and pull him to you, dip him. If you can’t raise the rod because of overhead brush, you can push it back behind you under your arm until you can reach the tip end of it to net your fish. You’ve got him then, you don’t lose supper if he makes a sudden flop.”
Marshall has found that a plain nylon stringer tied to his waders works better than metal stringers or baskets for wading. He says that metal stringers sink the fish and you end up stepping on them,and a basket gets caught on everything. A nylon stringer lets the fish float along behind you.
“Always stand out in the water and fish back toward the bank,”Marshall instructed, “A lot of people think that spooks the fish,but it doesn’t bother them at all. I’ve actually walked through coon-tail moss and turned around and dropped a jig in where I’d just walked and caught a fish.”
If you catch a fish while wading forward, Marshall suggests turning around and fishing the same spot after you wade past it. Or, fish around a few minutes and come back to that spot and try it again. He commonly catches more than one fish from the same place.
“I like the cloudy, overcast days,” Marshall said, “because the fish move away from the brush a little bit. On really bright sunny days they get so far back up in cover you nearly have to fall into the back end of it to reach them.”
On sunny days Marshall suggests wearing a pair of high-quality polarized sunglasses to help spot the fish, see holes in the submerged weeds or brush.
Marshall says wading anglers should tread lightly and disturb the crappie habitat as little as possible. Most of his fish are caught in six inches to three feet of water, often in fragile weed growth. He strives to stay on the outside edge of nesting areas and reaches back into them with his long pole instead of trudging through the middle of them..
The way Marshall does it, wading for crappie is low-impact, except for the fun and excitement.