|Time for Lunker Panfish|
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire
While most anglers are still focused on spawning largemouth bass in late April across the South, a few savvy panfish anglers know that this is the time to home in on catching the largest bluegills, warmouth and crappie of the year as the “jumbos” cruise into the shallows to feed on bass fry around the beds.
Crappies spawn earlier than bass, bluegills and warmouth later, but both species love 1 to 2 inch long baby fish, and with the bass spawn beginning in late March and continuing into early May, there are millions of these fry in the shallows of many lakes at present.
While small bluegills and warmouth mostly eat grass shrimp and insect life, the hand-sized “jumbos” seem to prefer fish. Crappies, of course, feed heavily on minnows of all types throughout their adult lives.
Bream beds are not hard to find—or at least that’s usually the case. This year, high, muddy water in many lakes around the Southeast has made it more of a challenge to pick out the beds. They’re shallow bowls scooped out on firm sand or shell, typically in 1 to 4 feet of water on the edge of grass, or around boat docks, stumps or other cover.
They’re easiest to see on a calm day with high sun. This year, the challenge is just finding water that’s clear enough to see down any depth, but barring further downpours, the water should clear quickly.
Beds that hold panfish may or may not have adult bass still in them. While the male bass guards the nest for the first week to 10 days after the eggs hatch, they leave them on their own after that. Big panfish prowl around both guarded and unguarded nests.
Matching the hatch is the sensible way to catch these panfish, which often are far bigger than typical schooling bluegills or crappies found offshore. Tiny 2” floater-diver minnow imitations from Rapala and Rebel are particularly effective.
These fly-weight lures are best fished on ultra-light spinning gear and 6-pound-test mono—heavier line ruins the action. It’s also essential to tie them on with a loop knot like the turtle rather than a uniknot or improved clinch, because if the knot draws tight on the eye, the action of the little lure will be ruined by the resistance of the line.
A little reel like the Shimano Syncopate 1000 is all that’s needed to handle the lightweight minnow imitations from Rapala and Rebel that attract these jumbo panfish.
Fly rod poppers also work well when the panfish are around the beds—choose light-colored bugs with minimal dressing, because in this case you’re imitating a minnow rather than a bug or a frog.
Sometimes all it takes is casting the lure over the bed, letting it set for a 10-count and then twitching it once—bluegills in particular like this presentation. I’ve caught some close to a pound with this tactic this spring.
Crappies and warmouth, on the other hand, seem to like a moving target. Slow cranking the bait so that it comes wobbling across the bed and nearby shallows draws the strikes.
When you catch a panfish off a bed, the disturbance flushes most nearby panfish for a time, but sit quietly for 5 to 10 minutes and they’ll come cruising back to the free feast. You can probably catch another and then another with well-timed casts.
It’s also possible to catch these fish with tiny jigs of 1/32 ounce or there-abouts, again fished on UL tackle. The smallest Beetle Spins also work well, cranked just fast enough to make the spinner blade turn.
For fly-rodders, a silver/green streamer fly about 2 inches long on a size 8 long-shank hook does the job. Very short, jerky strips of an inch or so at a time draw the bites.
While panfish are the primary target, fishing the beds with this gear also occasionally turns up a surprise. This spring I’ve caught black drum, catfish and perch in these areas and also landed bass to a couple pounds, a real handful on the ultra-light gear.
It’s a change of gears for those of us who are confirmed bass-heads, but a pleasant diversion for a few weeks in spring—and when it comes to eating, you can’t beat fresh-fried fillets off these oversized panfish.
|Catching Ice-Out Crappies in Northern Lakes|
|From Northland Tackle Pro Joel Nelson|
from The Fishing Wire
It’s been an odd spring, and for that matter, and even more peculiar winter. Open water in the southern part of the northern states has been around for a few weeks, while in the north, there’s still ice, albeit a poor version of it, clinging to memories of a winter that wasn’t.
Early season panfish bites are a rite of spring, typically happening in mid-late April for most northern lakes. This year due to the unseasonably warm weather, I’m happy to say, we’ll probably have some bonus time in my state, Minnesota, with crappies already snapping in the shallows.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when tracking down a good spring crappie bite.
Water temperature is a key contributing factor to everything crappies in the spring. Cold nights below freezing, cool-water runoff from melting snow, and heavy cloud cover can all contribute to the death of a seemingly un-killable bite. As black-bottom bays and rock-laden shorelines store what solar energy they can, crappies flood to the shallows as water temps hit 45 degrees and above. In most of the lakes I fish, this seems to be as close to a “magic number” as I can find in helping to predict not only locations, but mood of the crappies I’m after.
Anything much off that value, and shallow water crappies become much more rare and hard to find. Even after locating them, you just don’t see the large congregations of fish that are willing to eat like you do in the 45-50 degree range and above. That said, spring is a roller coaster of conditions in northern states, full of false-starts, short intense feeding periods during warm weather, and then eventually spawn and post-spawn behavior. Your best bet is multiple trips that allow you to track changes in water temperatures, such that you don’t hit before the front end, or after the spawn.
Regarding location, when warm water is scarcer in the early season, those shorelines that are even a few degrees warmer can be full of fish. This is true even when they lack good cover, provided you’re fishing the warmest water in the lake and it’s still early. Black bays on the north side of a lake are a good start, and don’t hesitate to fish shallower than 5 feet, especially in systems with poor clarity. Even as water temps rise into the 50’s, fish remain shallow, feeding on baitfish drawn to the warm water and emerging life that’s brought on by warm afternoons and an even more aggressive sun angle.
Cover is king for pre-spawn crappies, and while any wood or timber is good for finding them, brush is better. An isolated log or stump may hold a few fish, but large concentrations of fish will be found where they can bury themselves within and along brush piles. Unfortunately, most anglers miss the bonanza by fishing only around the edges, rather than within the heavy cover. Occasional fish are to be had this way, but to do well in these situations, you’ll need to be prepared to fearlessly fish inside of the heavy stuff, not just around the edges. For that reason, especially in darker, more turbid water, I’ll fish 8lb test mono or heavier, as small jigs and small line are an exercise in brush-fishing frustration.
In northern natural lakes with broad and shallow shorelines, timber can be hard to find, so crappies focus on bulrush and pencil-reeds for cover. Whether wood or vegetation, getting in the middle of it seems to pay dividends.What to use is an important factor during this time of year, with water temps again dictating presentation and lure selection. Especially early, the temptation is to fish fast and cover water to find larger schools. Just coming out of winter, locations can be a mystery, and bobber-fishing shallows is simply too slow for most anglers.
That said, especially during the early season, crappies will rarely chase to eat moving baits presented on the edges. Fish with floats, and use meat. Crappies are carnivorous little beings, and you’ll be surprised how savagely they’ll strike a minnow offered on a jig with hair, tinsel, marabou, or flashabou. This larger profile requires some aggression, and hookups seem much more sure as crappies are required to fully inhale such a presentation.
Keep in mind however, that bluegills which can be found in the same areas this time of year, are less likely to be able to eat such baits. I have been pleasantly surprised by large perch, especially when fishing backwaters bites, that will be more than happy to eat a 1/32oz jig with a minnow.
Plastics bites are still to come, but typically require warmer conditions yet. It’s unfortunate that minnows are best fished when your freezing fingers would otherwise want you to use artificial bait-only, but it seems like warm weather and glove-less hands are about the best predictor on when to start looking to retrieved plastic presentations. For this reason, bring bait until moving presentations readily out-perform more stationary live-bait options.
It’s a great time of year to be on the water. Wait till a warm afternoon, and pick apart the shallows until you find some fish. Keep it simple, have fun with it, and save the ultra-serious stuff for later.For more fishing tips, visit www.northlandtackle.com.
LIVETARGET Tips for Run-and-Gun Crappies on the Ice
| Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON – Of the various species pursued by ice anglers, crappies may be tops. They’re a blast to catch and provide great eating. And while there are a bunch of ways to catch crappies – everything from tungsten jigs to spoons to set-lines with live bait – more and more anglers are discovering that the crankbait game isn’t limited to open water when it comes to catching more and bigger slabs. Progressive ice anglers are fishing rattlebaits alone and in tandem with other systems, and they’re turning out big fish all across the ice belt. Although rattlebaits will work the entire season, right now – early-to-mid-ice – is the perfect time to capitalize on these presentations.|
Location and Timing For North Dakota-based LIVETARGET ice pros Scott Brewer and Kyle Agre of Brewer-Agre Outdoors, the first part of the crappie equation is locating fish. And when it comes to crappies, early- and mid-ice season fish will remain close to the same depths and locations they were found during late fall.
“For me, it’s finding that deep basin, preferably adjacent to a weedy flat or a weedy bay,” says Agre. “That’s where they’re going to be after they move out of the weeds.”Brewer agrees that weeds are key. “And the edges of green weeds on the drop-offs,” he adds. “Ideally, you’ll find a drop-off with green weeds close to that deep-water basin. The crappies will hang out there for quite a while. Crappies are also headed toward holes. If you can find a hole on a flat somewhere – a 10- or 15- foot flat that’s got a 20- or 25-foot hole – those crappies are going to be there already during early ice and remain there a good portion of the winter.”
Agre says the adjacent basins really come into play once the weeds die. “Finding the right locations really comes down to knowing that these fish were relating to the weeds until the food moved on,” he says. “The weeds will die off to a point where they’re not sustaining the plankton, the minnows, baitfish, and everything else. At that point the crappies are going to slide out into the deeper water and they’re going to feed on the whole food chain that’s taking place out there with plankton, insect larvae, baitfish and so on.
”Once prime areas are located, it comes down to drilling a lot of holes and jumping from spot to spot to find active crappies. Electronics increase efficiency. Rather than hunkering down in one spot and waiting for prime times, this kind of fishing can produce fish when the majority of anglers would either stay on shore or simply wait out the hours until set-line bobber and minnow combinations start producing.Also, there are a lot of anglers who can only fish when they have time, which might be during the day or outside of those prime-time hours. Run and gun crappie fishing is the perfect solution.
The One-Two Punch Scott Brewer says that’s when loud baits like the LIVETARGET Golden Shiner and Perch rattlebaits really come in handy, because they allow you to search for fish fast. As an added benefit, these baits are magnets for the largest, most aggressive crappies in the school, so they can often act as a filter for better-quality fish.
“The smallest of the LIVETARGET Golden Shiner and Yellow Perch rattlebaits work great for searching out and catching large crappies,” says Brewer. “Even during the middle of the day, hole-hopping with a rattlebait can pay out dividends that you just don’t get when hunkered down with a set-line or smaller tungsten set up.
”For Brewer and Agre, they almost always utilize a one-two punch of a LIVETARGET Golden Shiner Rattlebait or Yellow Perch Rattlebait on one rod, and the smallest LIVETARGET Erratic Shiner spoon (1/4-oz.) with a minnow head on a second throwback rod. “I think that whether the angler is going to fish aggressively or sit tight and be a little more subtle, having that lipless crank on can play to both techniques.
When running and gunning you’re looking for those aggressive fish, just like we do when we’re trolling crankbaits for crappies in the open-water season,” says Agre. “And once you find them, the bite might only last so long and you have to continue the search. But when it’s time to slow down and offer a more subtle presentation, I will use still use a rattlebait in tandem with the ¼-oz. LIVETARGET Erratic Shiner. I’m going to use the lipless crank as an attractor, much like we do with the walleyes on Lake Winnipeg. And if the crappies don’t commit to the rattlebait, I’ll switch rods and drop that Erratic Shiner with a minnow head on it and that’s usually all it takes.”
Presentation Set-Up In terms of rod, reel, and line set-up, Agre recommends a light to medium-light power rod with a fast tip in the 28- to 32-inch range for both the smaller rattlebaits and spoons. Both he and Brewer prefer monofilament in the four-to-six-pound class.
As far as color is concerned, both pros like the standard silver/blue and glow patterns for the Golden Shiner rattlebaits and the Erratic Shiner, and switch to the perch patterns on lakes where perch are an important forage source.
Final Thoughts Don’t limit yourself to only fishing prime times or sitting and waiting for crappies to come to you this season. With lures like LIVETARGET’s Golden Shiner and Yellow Perch rattlebaits, run and gun tactics can produce fast – and big – crappie bites when other anglers are sitting around complaining about slow fishing. And when the fish become neutral to negative, it’s time to break out the LIVETARGET Erratic Shiner with a minnow head and slow down your movements.It’s a one-two punch that’s producing big crappies across the ice belt.
ABOUT LIVETARGET Since its launch in 2008, LIVETARGET has grown into a full family of life-like fishing lures that Match-the-Hatch® to specific game fish forage, with an expansive library of lure styles and colors for both fresh and saltwater fishing. The lures feature industry-leading designs in realism and workmanship that closely mimic nature’s different prey species. Headquartered in Ontario, Canada, LIVETARGET won ICAST Best of Show awards in the hard and soft lure categories in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Staying on Top of Wintertime Crappie
|By DAVID RAINER|
from The Fishing Wire
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Of all the outdoor experiences my mother, now 86, enjoyed the most, it was watching a cork disappear as a slab crappie grabbed the minnow at the end of the line.
As is normal procedure, I check in on her every few days, and she wanted to know what I’d been doing.
“Catching crappie,” I said.
“I didn’t think you could catch crappie this time of year,” she responded.
“Well,” I said, “You haven’t been crappie fishing with Tony Adams.
”Adams is the fish-catching wizard who can catch crappie any time of year on his home impoundment – Lake Eufaula.
Although Eufaula is known as the “Bass Capitol of the World,” Adams spends most of his time on the water catching crappie.
When most folks in the outdoors community are in the woods chasing whitetails or cottontails, Adams is locating the likely spots where crappie congregate this time of year. He uses his Humminbird Helix 12 bottom machine (manufactured in Eufaula) to locate the fish on the spots he has found over the years. He uses the side-scanning feature to locate the spot and then switches to down-scanning to pinpoint where the fish are located on the structure.
“I find structure in 15 to 20 feet of water,” said Adams, who manages the Eufaula Marvin’s building supply store when he’s not catching crappie.
“When I see the fish on the Humminbird, I’ll drop down a minnow anywhere from 8 to 10 to 12 feet, depending on where the fish are holding.
”Adams uses 10-foot B&M poles and spinning reels with 6-pound-test, high-viz line. When the fish are deeper in the winter, he uses a No. 2 gold hook and a split-shot pinched 12 to 18 inches above the hook. If it gets a little windy, he’ll use a second split-shot to keep the bow out of his line.
The reason he uses the high-viz line is because it’s a lot easier to watch during the sunny, clear days.
“Obviously, you watch your rod tip, but I also watch that line,” Adams said. “Sometimes crappie will bite and come up with it. You can tell by the slack in the line that you’ve got a fish.
”When Adams hits the lake, he always has a bait bucket or two with plenty of minnows.
“In the summer, I’ll tip a jig with a minnow and bounce it off the bottom,” he said. “In the winter, I just use a minnow.”
Adams prefers to hook his minnow through the bottom lip and through the hard cartilage on the front of the head to allow more action from the bait.
“In the wintertime I try to keep the bait right at about the depth the fish are holding,” he said. “Then we just wait to see that rod tip bounce or go down and then pull in a slab.
”Of course, the weather plays a significant role in his fishing success during the winter, especially the wind. The cold doesn’t bother him. He just adds more clothes. It’s the wind that dictates his strategy.
“During the winter, the less wind there is, the better the fishing I can do,” he said. “You have to keep the bait in front of the crappie most of the time. The fish are in big schools on the structure. The more time you can have that minnow in front of the crappie, the better your chances of catching them.”
Adams said the wintertime pattern kicks off on Lake Eufaula around the first of December, and crappie will remain on structure until the weather starts to warm in February.
“In the middle of February, they’ll start moving into the mouths of the creeks to do some pre-spawning,” he said. “We’ll start catching a lot more fish in the creeks. Then when they move up to spawn, we’ll catch a lot of fish in the creeks. That’s when I start throwing jigs around the grass, the rocks and bridge pilings. I’ll be shooting (casting underneath) docks because the fish are getting shallow. On Lake Eufaula, it seems the bigger fish come up first.
“In the spring, sometimes they’re in 12 inches of water all the way down to 5 feet of water. Some of them spawn in 5 feet of water. Sometimes they’ll spawn deeper than at other times.”
Adams will do two things while the crappie are in their transition period from spawn to summer. He catches plenty of catfish, but he also makes sure plenty of structure will be available to fish for the summertime and wintertime patterns.“While the fish are spawning, I’ll put structure out in deeper water,” said Adams, who uses mainly bamboo but will also sink crepe myrtles and small cedars. “I’ll take a 5-gallon bucket, fill it about halfway with water. I’ll pour in some concrete mix. I’ll have the bamboo already trimmed at the bottom and start sticking it into the concrete. I’ll make sure the bamboo is sticking in every direction. Then I’ll look for spots where the new structure will cover about half the water column. If I’m going to put it out in 20 feet of water, I’ll have the bamboo about 10 feet tall.
“Right about Memorial Day is when the crappie are back on that heavy structure in the middle of the lake,” he said.
On our trip last week, we hit the lake with a cold front approaching. It was the kind of day a bass fisherman dreams of – cloud cover with mild temperatures and the barometer falling. Those conditions usually put the bass species into a feeding frenzy.
We found out that doesn’t translate to crappie fishing. With a light fog and heavy cloud cover, the fish weren’t really in a biting mood. We’d catch two or three fish in one spot and then have to move to find a few more.
Then – cue the Hallelujah Choir – the sun broke through the clouds, and the bite began in earnest. Within six or seven minutes, we had put 10 nice keepers in the boat. That trend continued until the approaching front forced us back to the boat ramp.
“My favorite time to fish is when the sun is shining,” Adams said. “I think the fish get tighter to the structure. I also think maybe the sun shining may give that minnow a different kind of look in that deep water. That sunshine seems to kick off the bite. We definitely did a lot better when the sun was shining.
”Back to the wind, which will determine whether it’s worth launching the boat on certain days.
“On a real windy day, it’s hard to crappie fish,” he said. “Based on where you are in the lake, if you have 6- to 7-mile-per-hour winds, it could be white-capping. That will mean 15-inch to 2-foot waves. That minnow is moving up and down with the waves, which is not natural. With the crappie not as aggressive in the wintertime, they’re not going to bite something moving like that.
“I’m looking for 5 miles an hour or less. Calm is even better. Cold is not a problem. You can drop that minnow right in front of his face. It may take him a few minutes to hit it, but he will eventually hit it.
”Although we didn’t use any types of bobbers to catch the fish, I’m sure my mom won’t mind when I fry her up a batch of fillets from the 38 crappie we put in the ice chest.
Use Proper Equipment and Fish Correct Depth to Catch Crappie with Roger Gant
from The Fishing Wire
Editor’s Note: Roger Gant of Corinth, Mississippi, has fished Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River for more than 40 years. Some fishermen haven’t recognized Pickwick Lake, located on the Alabama/Tennessee/Mississippi border, as a crappie lake. However, Gant guides on Pickwick Lake more than 200 days a year and consistently catches good limits of slab crappie. Here’s how he does it, from noted outdoors writer John Phillips.
* Have the proper equipment for the time of the year you plan to fish. Many crappie fishermen don’t take the time they need to make sure they have the very-best equipment they can purchase for the time of year they plan to fish. If you use too large a line, your jig will float too high in the water for crappie to take it. If your line doesn’t have the strength you need, you’ll break the line when you set the hook. I’ve found that I can set the hook hard on 8-pound-test MagnaThin line (http://www.stren.com/stren-line-monofilament-stren-magnathin/stren-magnathin/1347942.html), yet the small line will cut through the water so that my jigs run at the proper depths. You need an extremely-soft rod with enough backbone to hold itself upright. When sight-fishing for crappie, I look for the bite on the tip of the rod. So, I must have a sensitive rod to show me even the lightest crappie bite. I like a B’n’M 6 1/2-foot crappie jig pole (https://www.bnmpoles.com/c-13-bucks-series-jig-poles.aspx).
I fish with Quantum’s casting reels (https://www.quantumfishing.com/reels) that have bearings in them and reel smoothly. I use casting reels on spinning rods because most casting rods have a trigger or a hump on the butt of the rod. But, a spinning rod has a straight handle. When the rod’s on the deck of the boat, the reel faces down. I place my rod and reel in this position when I use my style of trolling. I also use casting reels, so I can count the line down to the proper water depth to catch the fish. I put a white piece of tape on the rod 1 foot from where the line comes out of the reel. My fishermen can pull the line off the reel out to where the line crosses the white tape. Each time an angler pulls the line to the white tape, he or she knows his jig will go down one more foot in the water. By having the jigs troll at exactly the water depth where the crappie hold or slightly above the crappie, then we catch more crappie. I believe you can pull line off a bait-casting reel easier and more accurately than you can a spinning reel.
* Fish in the exact depths where the crappie hold to catch more crappie. By constantly watching your depth finder and searching for fish and structure, the depth finder will tell you at what depth you need to troll your jigs. Once I determine the depth of the structure I see on the depth finder, I know how deep to tell my fishermen to let their jigs down, so they’ll pass just above the structure. If I see crappie holding above the structure on my depth finder, I can tell my fishermen how much line to pull off, so that the jigs will pass at the depth where the crappie are holding or slightly above them. If I see crappie 15-feet deep, I can tell my fishermen to let their jigs touch the water and then pull off 14 feet of line. I know that when I slow troll, those jigs will pass about a foot above the crappie. If the fish don’t take the bait, I may tell my fishermen to pull off 1/2-foot of line. Because of the tape, the fishermen know how far to pull the line and can get the jigs down closer to the crappie.
To learn more about crappie fishing with Roger Gant, call him at 731-689-5666 or 662-287-2017, or go to http://visitmississippi.org/events-and-points-of-interest/super-pro-guide-service-26669.
To learn much more about crappie fishing, get John E. Phillips’ Kindle eBooks, and print and Audible books by going to http://johninthewild.com/books/#crappie or to www.barnesandnoble.com for Nook books. To receive and download for free “The Crappie Catchers’ Cookbook,” by John and Denis
Deep cover keys summer crappie success–why not make your own?
Editor’s Note: Here’s a nice little story on summer crappie fishing and building your own fish attractors from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission that could apply pretty much anywhere the fish are found.
from the Fishing Wire
Each spring, anglers comb the shallows at DeGray Lake in Hot Spring and Clark counties, probing tiny jigs and minnows at any likely looking spot in search of crappie. Rarely do anglers leave empty-handed when the dogwoods are blooming and the fish are spawning. But once summer’s heat sets in and the fish move out of the shallows, most anglers hang up the jigging poles or use the same tactics as spring, leaving the lake with hungry stomachs and a bare live well.
John Duncan, owner of www.yoyoguideservice.com, says catching crappie once the spawn has ended can be just as good as when they’re on the beds. Anglers just have to switch to deep-thinking mode. Once the water’s surface temperature begins to creep into the 80s, crappie seek the comfort of cooler water found a little deeper.
“If you just look across the surface, there doesn’t seem to be hardly anything to hold fish, but it’s a different world under the water,” Duncan said. “The Corps [of Engineers], the Game and Fish and some local anglers have sunk a bunch of brush piles throughout the lake, you just have to look for them.”
The latest electronics can be extremely helpful in finding brush piles made of branches and woody cover, but can be tricky to read when searching for brush made of bamboo or river cane, materials extremely popular with crappie anglers.
“If you’re using a side-imaging depth finder, wood will show up easily, but bamboo brush piles may only look like a shadow on the bottom,” Duncan said. “Sometimes you have to go right over it before you can really see what it looks like.”
Anglers who can’t afford high-dollar electronics still can find plenty of offshore options for crappie, it just takes a little more effort and elbow grease. A five-gallon bucket, some hand-cut bamboo and some fast-setting concrete is all it takes to create your own brush piles and place them wherever you want. Channel edges, points, drops and mid-lake humps are all good spots to set up as your personal crappie hole.
Glowing crappie may help Arkansas GFC evaluate stocking success
PINE BLUFF – Black lights and phosphorescent fish – throw in your standard mod Peter Max poster, some Hendrix on the turntable and maybe a lava lamp, and it would seem like someone’s living room circa 1970. However, more than four decades later, black lights are less a living room showpiece and more useful in the hands of biologists looking for “glowing” crappie to determine how effective a pond-stocking program can be.
As part of a grant administered by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Greyson Farris, a master’s student in the aquaculture program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, is studying the AGFC’s crappie stocking program using fingerlings from two hatcheries: the Joe Hogan hatchery at Lonoke and the William H. Donham hatchery in Corning. Late in the fall of the past two years, about 180,000 fingerlings – half of them white crappie from Lonoke and the other half black crappie from Corning – were treated with chemicals that allow researchers to track the fish after stocking in eight Arkansas lakes, according to JJ Gladden, a biologist at the Lonoke facility.
During the first year, the fish were marked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved oxytetracycline, or OTC, in which the fingerlings absorb in a six-hour bath. The chemical is absorbed in bony areas such as the ear bone. Last fall, the fish were also treated with OTC, but Farris then used another marking agent, calcein, a phosphorescent dye, in another, shorter treatment before the fingerlings were taken for stocking.
The key difference between using calcein over OTC is that fish tested for the presence of the marker do not have to be sacrificed in the process.
“As far as I know, nobody has ever done the calcein marking with crappie,” Farris said. “They’ve done it with largemouth bass, perch, walleye.”
Fish captured for testing that were marked with only OTC have to be cut open for their ear bone, or otolith, to be examined under special light. The nature of calcein, Farris says, is that it’s absorbed not only in the bones but in the fins, around the eyes and mouths, and it offers a vivid green appearance when seen under black light and with specific glasses. Using the calcein as a marker required the AGFC to request a special license from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the process for marking the fish was far easier, Farris said. Instead of a six-hour soak in OTC, the fingerlings were hit with a 30-second bath of salinized water (about 40 parts per 1,000, he said), a fresh water rinse, then a seven-minute soak in the calcein-water mixture. The salt water bath drew out most of the water from the fingerlings – making them “sponge-like,” Farris said – which then soaked up the calcein.
OTC is a proven method in marking fish, in use for more than 40 years, Farris said. The question is, how long will the calcein last in a crappie? Farris said calcein in fish has been shown to degrade over time in sunlight. However, crappie tend to stay deeper in lakes and the fish’s nature is to not turn on its side; the underbelly of the crappie should be least likely to see much if any photodegradation, Farris said. And in fish he’s tested both at UAPB and in pond nettings, he’s found calcein.
All this is to show how effective a stocking program can be for a lake such as Lake Saracen in Pine Bluff, one of the eight lakes in Farris’ study. Other lakes in the study are Lake Des Arc, Lake Charles, Lake Poinsett, Calion Lake, Irons Fork Reservoir, Sugarloaf Lake and Beaverfork Lake. So far, he has found growing crappie that were AGFC-stocked in six of the lakes. “It’s great to see how many fish are surviving on a month-to-month scale,” Farris said. “Most of the time when you stock ponds or lakes, you don’t know if you’re having a benefit to the Commission unless you have a creel survey or stocked fish come up into your nets. You have to kill the OTC fish, and that’s not beneficial in the long term. Also, every OTC-marked fish will take 15 minutes of lab time, at least, to check. You can tell immediately if you have a calcein-marked fish. Fisheries biologists are better off in the long run, getting it cheaper, faster and easier.”
Calcein marking costs more, about $5,000 to mark 90,000 fish compared to $1,000 for OTC. But the tested fish live. And, “any measure of a stocking program is a measure of success,” Farris notes.
Because of warmer autumns the past two years, the fingerlings weren’t ready for the treatment and stocking until November. Farris tested the lakes through the winter and said he will resume through the summer and fall, netting about 250 crappie per lake to find if they were part of the stockings.
“The objective was to find a way to look at these fish without having to kill them, stock them, see them in the nets with [black lights] and see if they were the fish we stocked,” Farris said.
Fishermen have a dilemma this time of year. Its hard to decide whether to go fishing for crappie or bass. Both bite good during March and you can usually catch a good many of either species. Its hard to decide which to try to catch.
Last week I got to go with experts at catching both. They don’t have to decide, each of them concentrates on one species only all year. I met Mark Collins at Weiss for crappie fishing and Mike Morris for at West Point for bass. Each of them will be featured in articles in both Georgia and Alabama Outdoor News April issues.
Mark Collins has been guiding full time for Lake Weiss crappie for 23 years. He knows how to catch crappie there year round and spring is one of his best times for catching large numbers of fish as well as big fish. This time of year he is trolling for them from his center console boat that will hold up to four fishermen and he runs three rods per fisherman, including himself, the legal limit on Weiss.
Driving into the area around Lake Weiss you will see signs proclaiming Weiss is the “Crappie Fishing Capital of the World.” It has long been known for producing a lot of very big crappie. The lake has perfect habitat for crappie and local businesses, Alabama Power and the state of Alabama all work to keep it good and make it better.
Statewide in Alabama there is a nine inch size limit on crappie to protect the smaller fish and let them grow. On two lakes, Weiss and Logan Martin, the next lake downstream on the Coosa River, both have ten inch limits to help produce quality fish.
Mark is a board member of the Weiss Lake Improvement Association, an organization that works to improve habitat for crappie and other fish on the lake and promotes fishing there. One of the things they have done is put out brush piles made of cane. The GPS co-ordinates for them can be found on his website: http://www.markcollinsguideservice.com/habitat-sites-locations.html. Not only do those brush piles give fishermen a good place to fish, they offer crappie and other species a place to live, feed and grow.
Mark scared me but impressed me at the same time. I was to meet him at noon Monday and ride along that afternoon with him and a guide client. About the time I go to Carrollton he called and said there was no reason to come, the fish were not biting and he had canceled his guide trips.
His website says “No fish, no pay,” one of the few guides that will do that. But he says he wants happy clients that will come back for repeat business so he will call them if the fish aren’t biting.
Fortunately for me, he was out fishing trying to figure out what to do to catch fish. I met him at Little River Landing and Resort, the only full service marina on the lake. They even have rooms to rent and a small restaurant. He had caught about eight crappie that morning, a couple of them over two pounds, so we had fish for pictures for the article.
Eight crappie over ten inches long sounds like a decent catch to me but Mark expects to have 30 fish per person limits each day for his clients. If you want to go out with one of the best guides on the lake you can contact him through his website or call him at 256-779-3387.
Walter F. George has long been known for its excellent crappie fishing. In September night fishing is very good for them. Tie up under any of the bridges on the lower lake like the one in White Oak Creek, hang a light over the side and fill up your cooler while crappie fishing at Lake Walter F. George in September.
Areas of standing timber are also good, like the mouth of Bustahatchee Creek. Anchor near the old creek channel over the timber and put your light over the side. It is a little more difficult to position your boat than it is under a bridge and you need two anchors to hold your boat steady.
With a depthfinder you can usually see the fish and know what depth to fish. Without one, drop a minnow or Hal Fly jig down to nine feet and work it at that depth for a few minutes, then drop down another foot. Keep slowly changing depth until you start catching them.
Light line is the key. Four pound test fluorocarbon is best but you may have to go to six pound to land bigger fish, especially in the timber. Try different color jigs and different size minnows until the fish pick their favorite and then offer it to them.
Get The Drop On Crappies – Dropshotting for crappieDrop shot rigging not just for bass anymore
Drop shot rigging is a staple presentation of serious bass fans from coast to coast. But it remains a largely overlooked option for anglers pursuing other species of gamefish, including crappies.
That’s unfortunate, because in the right situations, drop shotting can yield banner catches, and even outfish textbook strategies.
“Drop shotting is a great choice whenever the fish are relatively close to bottom and you want to cover water a little faster, or with more precision, than you can with slip bobbers or vertical jigging,” says veteran fishing guide and lifelong panfish fanatic Scott Glorvigen.
Case in point: the late summer to early fall crappie migration.
“When crappies abandon withering shoreline weedbeds and head toward the main basin where they’ll spend the winter, they often follow bars and points that serve as travel corridors on their way out to deeper water,” he explains.
Drop shot rigs excel at presenting a tantalizing softbait or minnow at or just above the level of fish, and allow anglers to customize the speed of retrieve and amount of animation, without fear of the rig falling to bottom or drifting out of the strike zone.
Glorvigen admits his fall panfish epiphany came while chasing bass on a north-central Minnesota lake.
“I was drop shotting bass with a 6-inch worm on a long finger bar leading from a shoreline saddle straight into the basin,” he recalls. “I was catching bass, but noticed on my sonar there were a lot of crappies and bluegills mixed in with them.”
Glorvigen credits the ultra-sensitive readings from his Lowrance Elite 9 CHIRP electronics for revealing the difference between bass and panfish.
“I was also catching the occasional crappie here and there, which told me that drop shotting might be a winning presentation in this scenario,” he adds.
To tempt more crappies into biting, he traded the bass-sized worm for a more panfish-appropriate, 3-inch Impulse Angleworm from Northland Fishing Tackle.Panfish-sized softbaits excel on drop shot rigs.
He also down-sized the business end of the setup to a size 4 VMC Spinshot Drop-Shot Hook. “The Spinshot hook is great for drop shotting because it spins around, allowing the bait to move freely, without causing line twist,” he says.
After threading on the worm so the tail remained free for maximum gyrations, he added a live crappie minnow for extra attraction.
“The plastic bait’s constant movement and water displacement makes it easy for crappies to find it, even in stained water, and the minnow is icing on the cake,” he explains. “Plus, if the minnow comes off halfway through the retrieve, I still have a chance to catch fish because the plastic is still in place.”
Glorvigen’s rigging also included a 7-foot, medium-light Lew’s spinning outfit spooled with 10-pound-test Northland Bionic Braid mainline and an 8-pound-test monofilament leader tethered to the hook’s lower line tie.
“The setup works great for crappies, and can still handle the occasional big bass that grabs the bait,” he says.
Leader length was tailored to how high crappies were above bottom. “On structure, the fish were close to bottom and an 18-inch leader worked the best,” he says. “But when they occasionally moved off to suspend over deeper water, leader lengths up to 36 inches produced fish.”
Glorvigen compulsively keeps sinker weight as light as possible when drop shotting panfish, and this was no exception. “It’s important to use the lightest weight you can get away with, so you can feel the fish but they can’t feel the sinker,” he explains.
Glorvigen says pencil-style weights ranging from 1/8- to 3/16-ounce were perfect in the 11- to 19-foot depths he was working.
Once rigged up, he’d cast out, let the sinker settle, and then tighten the line for a direct connection that allowed him to detect bottom as well as subtle bites.
“You can move the rig across by reeling, drifting or using your trolling motor to slowly cover key areas,” he notes.
No matter which means of propulsion you choose, Glorvigen recommends toning down the amount of action you give the bait.
“If the bait jumps around too fast, it’s hard for them to hit it,” he cautions. “I’ve had the best luck with a more subtle approach than what I’d use when bass fishing. Simply shaking and gently twitching the worm is enough. If you get too aggressive, the number of fish drops off dramatically.”
High-quality sonar and GPS can help you find and catch fall crappies.Glorvigen notes that a good GPS chartplotter is a big help in mapping out structural thoroughfares and waypointing key areas that hold the most fish.
“Custom mapping systems like Lowrance’s Insight Genesis, which allow you to map structure in fine detail, can really help you get the lay of the land and learn why the crappies are attracted to certain areas over others,” he adds.
While the fall crappie transition is a great time to throw drop shot rigs, Glorvigen says there are plenty of other times it pays to keep an open mind on the water.
“Anglers get stuck in our ways and pigeonholed into certain presentations,” he says. “But it’s always good to experiment, adjust, and pay attention to what the fish are trying to tell you, all the way from early spring to last ice.”
Check out this video for more of Scott’s drop shot tricks.
Glorvigen & Glorvigen LLC – 29 County Road 63, Grand Rapids, MN 55744
firstname.lastname@example.org – 218-301-9072