By DAVID A. BROWN
Published February 3, 2007
"Slabs." That's what you call plump crappie. Not everything you catch will merit that title, but the crappie's cool season prespawn aggregations present prime opportunities for bending rods with the big ones.
Anyone who has fished or even driven by a Florida lake from December to March has probably seen boats bristling with multiple rods. This tactic is known as "spider rigging" because the boat resembles an arachnid ready to pounce on the fish.
Actually, the angler is most likely soaking live Missouri minnows at various depths in an effort to locate a crappie convention. Hanging minnows under corks is the norm, as this controls bait depth/location and provides visual strike indications.
With a decent live well or a flow-through bucket hung overboard, minnows usually hold up well during winter weather. But when warmer water makes it tougher to maintain live bait, a little maintenance will keep your baits ready for action.
Fill plastic beverage bottles halfway with water, freeze them and then place the self-contained ice cubes in your bait tank. For an extra boost, some anglers use oxygen infusers. Just don't overdo it or you'll be scooping up supercharged baitfish that jump out of the well when you open the lid.
Artificials also catch crappie, and a tiny jig tipped with a lip-hooked minnow makes an ideal bait for slow trolling a.k.a. "long lining" or "pulling" as well as a static presentation called "pushing."
The latter involves hanging a series of baits on weighted lines to create a constant presence in front of a spot where you think crappie are holding. This could be a dock, a line of vegetation or submerged structure.
Small crankbaits will nab slabs, too, as does the Blakemore Roadrunner. Designed for trolling, casting and vertical jigging, the latter comprises a lead head with a plastic body and a spinner blade. The combination of flash and vibration gets crappie looking in the right direction.
The good thing about winter crappie is that you'll have an active audience for testing various tactics. Stick with the tried-and-true if you're just looking to fill a dinner plate. But when your time and patience allows, experimentation often delivers rewarding results.
Diversity helps here, as many different size, color and design combinations may entice crappie under various circumstances. Weather patterns, water clarity, and fishing pressure can affect what the fish like, so a broad selection is the way to go.
This is definitely a game where detailed log books can help you define productive patterns. Note the time, location and conditions under which each lure attracts a strike.
Consider these strategies and adjust according to fish response:
Floats: Vertical jigging for crappie can produce intense strikes among schooling fish, but if crappie shy away from the boat, you may have to keep your distance. This, however, limits the time your jig is actually in front of the fish. As you cast and retrieve, the jig makes a diagonal path through the strike zone.
The key is to keep the jig on target with a float. Run your line through a slip cork before tying on the jig and fasten a line stopper above the cork. Set the stopper to allow enough line to slip through the cork for the jig to reach the target depth.
As you cast, the cork slides down to the jig for optimal castability. Once the rig hits the water, raise and lower the jig to cover the water column, while keeping the lure in the same general spot. You may need to add small split shots to help the sink rate of small jigs.
Open up: Anglers catch a lot of crappie on 1/32- to 1/16-ounce jigs, but tiny is not the only option. Sometimes you need a beefier presentation to tempt the bigger crappie. Rig a 1/8-ounce jig head with a paddle tail body, or dress a No. 2 gold Aberdeen hook with a tube body. Tip either rig with a live minnow and you have a substantial meal.
It takes a big crappie to gobble such an offering, but the generous mouthful makes it hard for a fish to spit the hook.
High and low: Never assume that nothing will happen until a jig hits bottom and starts upward. When crappie suspend above structure, they will hit potential meals that fall in front of them.
The problem with opening your bail and sending your jig on a straight drop is that it could end up snagging the structure. If you avoid snags, a jig sneaking up on the fish from behind is likely to spook them.
Prevent such miscues by checking your sonar to find the depth where the fish are suspending and deploying jigs accordingly. For accuracy, use your rod length - indicated just above the fore grip - as a measurement reference to pull out the appropriate amount of line.
David A. Brown can be reached at email@example.com.
[Last modified February 3, 2007, 07:38:01]
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