THERE AREN’T MANY hard and fast rules in crappie fishing, but here’s a meaningful verse that papermouth junkies can bet the farm on—crappie are only where you find them. Also, just because you locate a springtime sweet spot one day is no guarantee it won’t go sour overnight.
If this April is like most, there will probably be quite a few fish crowding traditional spawning areas such as flats, shorelines and secondary points in the backs of creeks, coves and pockets.
This is where the bottom composition and cover are suitable for the tasty panfish to build beds and make babies.
Covering water and fan-casting with Roadrunners or small jigs (fished alone or beneath a cork) with light spinning gear or dabbling live shiners or jigs on a long pole rule are good ways to connect with these fish. This is particularly true for wading where crappie are ganged up and doing their thing around weedbeds, stumps, flooded bushes, brush and other attractive cover.
Speaking of wading, it’s never a bad idea get your feet wet when the right conditions are present. In fact, there may be times when wade fishing is one of the best gigs going.
My good friend Lendell Martin, Jr., of Nacogdoches has enjoyed some outstanding days wade fishing for crappie during early April on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
He says the conditions are always best when the water level is several feet above normal and the thick woods and brush adjacent to the big lake are flooded by several feet of water.
“The places I like to fish are way too thick to get a boat into,” he said. “I’ll take my metal boat and go up in there as far as I can, then I’ll grab my long pole and a few jigs and just take off. They get around the buck brush and cypress knees, but they’ll spawn around the pines if the water gets high enough.”
Enjoyable as dabbling for spawning crappie can be, it won’t be long until things to begin change. Depending on the lake up for discussion, change may already be underway.
As a rule, April is a month of transition for crappie on a lot of Texas reservoirs. It’s the time when the spawn starts to wind down. The fish will make the move toward deeper water where they will spend the heat of the summer in a suspended state around brush piles, standing timber and structure far from shore.
Papermouth junkies know it isn’t a move that occurs overnight, though. Instead, it is a gradual shift that occurs in stages, usually in accordance with warming temperatures.
If you are unsuccessful at finding fish in skinny water this month, it would be a good idea to check areas nearby that offer the “cover nuts” some sort of available shelter at mid-range depths. This is usually along a creek, drainage or some other sort of pathway that connects shallow water to deep. Some of the same areas that held pre-spawn crappie in February and March might hold post spawners from late April through part of June.
Brush piles, bridge pilings, grass beds and stump fields in the mouths of spawning coves can be a big draw for groups of post spawn crappie. Try lakes such as Cedar Creek, Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend, Tawakoni, Richland Chambers, Fork and Granger.
Deep boat docks in the mouths of feeder creeks on the main lake also hold plenty of potential, especially those that have been doctored with willows, Christmas trees or other types of brush. When you explore docks, keep an eye peeled for rod holders, minnow buckets dangling off the side and night-lights. These could be good signs a dock may be “doctored” with brush to attract crappie.
As earlier mentioned, crappie are only where you find them. You might hit a dozen such spots without a bite, then stumble across the mother lode in a different location that closely resembles all the rest.
There aren’t many secrets to the most effective baits for fishing around docks, wood or bridges. Jigs and minnows rule in crappie fishing arenas. It’s how you present the bait that can make all the difference about whether you get bit or not.
Although shiners soaked around brush and bridge pilings have caught a ton of crappie, it can be about as fun as watching grass grow when the bite is slow. Casting lightweight jigs on ultra-light gear is a lot more fun, and super effective in certain situations. The same is true for “shooting.” It’s a popular jig fishing technique used around boat docks— sort of like skipping a rock.
Texas crappie pro Wally Marshall has had great success with the technique on lakes all over the country. Fishing guide Jason Barber uses the tactic a lot during late spring and early summer on Cedar Creek.
Done correctly, Barber says the jig will sail just above the surface and reach isolated places beneath a dock that you can’t reach with conventional casting.
Barber says boat docks are a huge deal on Cedar Creek. There are hundreds of docks to choose from, but some are historically better than others during the post spawn.
He’s seen times when the bigger, deeper docks will hold fish through much of June until warmer water temperatures push them to brush piles in deeper water farther from shore.
“They love the shade,” Barber said. “It also helps if there’s some sort of drop off under the dock or near by.”
Jigs can be equally effective around bridge pilings and the cross members that connect them, usually 10 to 15 feet beneath the surface. The key here is to fish parallel with the structure and allow the bait to sink to the depth the fish are holding. Then begin a slow retrieve. Anglers at lakes Fork, Toledo, Cedar Creek and Palestine use this tactic with considerable success around various road crossings.
Jigs also can be deadly medicine on post-spawn crappie in May and June when fished in relation to deeper, outside grass edges formed by hydrilla beds on known “grass lakes” such as Nacogdoches, Sam Rayburn, Kurth, Pinkston and Naconiche in eastern Texas.
Grass lines in 8 to12 feet are fairly common in years when the hydrilla is in good shape on the aforementioned lakes. However, availability can vary from one year to the next and lake-to-lake. Toledo Bend usually offers some of the best hydrilla around, but the grass has been really sparse there over the last couple of years.
One of the best jig techniques for targeting grass lines is “strolling. To do it, use a depth finder to pinpoint the outermost edge of underwater vegetation. Rather than casting a jig to the grass and retrieving it to the boat, cast the bait 30 to 40 feet behind the boat and rely on the trolling motor to move the boat and keep the jig crawling along at a slow pace. It is important to watch the depth finder and keep the boat positioned right on the edge of the grass. This keeps the bait in the strike zone.
Once June gives way to July, crappie get into a full-blown summer mode. On most lakes, that means targeting man-made brush piles, standing timber and bridge structure found at depths beyond 20 to 25 feet using jigs as well as shiners.
Another good option is plastic fish structures that have been strategically placed on more than 50 public lakes by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Find a full list of all the lakes and structures along with the GPS coordinates at tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/fish_attractorsphtml.
Lake Fork guide Gary Paris says summertime crappie tend to suspend around brush piles and standing timber. He says the depth at which they will suspend can vary depending the time of day, cloud cover and water temperature.
The guide says having good electronics will go a long way toward helping you pinpoint exact depth and how the fish are positioned around the cover.
Paris is a Garmin guy and he’s become a firm believer in their Live Scope technology, which shows fish in real time using a transducer that mounts to the trolling motor.
“Not only does it show you the fish, but it also shows you how they are reacting to your bait,” he said. “It’s the most awesome technology I’ve ever seen.”
—story by MATT WILLIAMS