“Mr. Crappie” is the perfect nickname for Wally Marshall.
Yes, he has his own line of top-selling crappie fishing videos, a television show and dozens of crappie-related fishing products to his name. The man lives, eats and breathes crappie fishing.
“It’s what I do,” he said.
A couple of years back at Lake Fork Lodge, I spoke with Marshall. I had known him for a number of years, but we had never fished together so he invited me out to remedy that and allow me to tap into his knowledge of crappie.
As we idled into a cove loaded with timber, Marshall said that anglers could spend hours trying to find fish without electronics. “You really won’t have an impact on fishing unless you know how to use electronics,” he said. “It is important for any kind of fishing, but to consistently locate crappies, it is crucial.
“Side-imaging sonar has changed the way we fish,” he said. “You can set it to read out to 200 feet, but I keep mine around 90 feet so the image is clear. In addition there is a split screen option to see what is below the boat. With a fish like crappie that holds tight to cover and structure, that is so important.”
Marshall said the spot we were fishing was a brush pile that stretched between two trees.
“What we’re going to be fishing with is a jig I have out through Strike King called The Joker,” he said. “It has incredible action and really lures in the crappie.” We fished these lures with six-pound test line on long fly-style poles Marshall has out through Lew’s.
“Throw right there,” he said pointing to the corner of a tree.
A keeper black crappie hit my line. Then a few seconds later Marshall had one on. “Yesterday it was all whites,” he said.
“Interesting that some blacks moved in.”
Black and white crappie are both structure-loving fish, but will sometimes be found in different areas. “These crappie will move to different spots from day to day,” he said. “Not all of them, of course, but they move more than people think.”
The day was overcast and Marshall said he hoped the sun would come out. “When it is overcast the fish are scattered, but when the sun is bright they hold tighter to the cover.”
And he was right.
As soon as the sun came out the bite turned on, I caught a two-pound white crappie. A few minutes later, Marshall did the same thing.
“I told you there are some big fish here,” he said.
Marshall said Lake Lavon is “bar none” the best crappie fishery in the state right now, but that he just returned from a 100-fish day on Rayburn and that Lake Fork is real sleeper for slabs. “This lake not only produces big bass but also big crappie and lots of them,” he said.
My time with Marshall reminded me how underappreciated the “intelligence” of crappie is among anglers, and my own experience showed me just how tuned-in Mr. Crappie is to these great fish.
Back in 2005, I had the amazing opportunity to dive with and hand-feed “Splash,” the 121-pound blue catfish caught by angler Cody Mullenix on Lake Texoma.
The fish was brought in alive and housed at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. My goal for the dive was to establish the perspective of a diver encountering a catfish of record proportions for an article I was doing about the legends of giant catfish below dams.
Before the dive, the dive master handed me a mesh bag with a few koi and a rainbow trout to feed “Splash” and another full of shiners and crickets to feed the bass and perch. After achieving the goal of hand-feeding the giant catfish and having someone photograph to show the scale of such a huge catfish and a grown man, I took a few minutes to feed the other fish.
My eyes were immediately drawn to a massive crappie in the tank. The fish had to be every bit of three pounds, and as soon as I broke out the food, it started my direction. I held out a shiner toward it and was amazed as the fish slowly swam up to it, stopped and then blew a hard jet of water over my shiner (and my fingers) a second or two before lunging forward and inhaling it.
The fish repeated this process every time as I observed with astonishment. It was extremely cautious on the approach. Then came the blast of water, followed by the attack.”
After catching a few of these super-sized slabs on Sam Rayburn, it did not take long to connect the dots between my diving experience and the bites of these big fish. These trophy crappies, in my opinion, were either testing or shocking the bait before the strike.
My fishing guide friend Roger Bacon often feeds the crappie a little line by peeling it off the spool of his Falcon spinning reel. He then sets the hook when he thinks it is a big one.
“We catch a lot of the bigger fish like that,” he said.
Now I know why.
Crappie fishing is gaining in popularity in Texas and Marshall said that is because of access. “Most lakes have a good crappie population,” he said. “There is nothing more fun than catching a mess of slabs for the frying pan with your family. If you have not been in awhile go. The fishing is great in Texas right now.”
“If you haven’t started, get after it. You will have loads of fun and at the end of the day that is what fishing is all about.”
Story by Chester Moore