March 2007

Crappie For Beginners

By Margie Anderson

Right now is the best time of the year to go crappie fishing on the central Arizona lakes and the Colorado River lakes.  Crappie fishing is perfect for families, because you can have four or five people in the boat fishing together and they don’t get in each other’s way, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a nice big boat.

An ultra-light spinning combo is your best bet for crappie fishing.  You should be able to get a nice ultra-light spinning rod and reel for about 20 dollars. 

Line is extremely important.  Get some very limp mono in about 6-pound-test.  Curt Rambo and Art Chamberlin have both started using braided line for crappie.  They say that when you get snagged, you can pull your lure free without losing it. 

If you decide to go with braid, use adhesive tape or a little bit of mono for a backing before you put the braid on the reel.  If you wind braid directly onto a metal reel, it will slip around the spool constantly, and you won’t be able to set the hook. 

Terminal Tackle Inexpensive

Your terminal tackle is relatively cheap, too.  All you really need is a handful of little jigs in sizes from 1/16-ounce to 1/4-ounce and a variety of grubs and tubes. 

You can add some small crankbaits and spoons if you like casting, or even get some very small swimbaits.  Those kinds of lures work well when the crappie are up spawning and are shallow. 

Berkley Power Grubs, Gitzits, Crème Lit’l Fishies, and Crappie Pro jigs and plastics are some of the best lures I’ve ever used for crappie.  In fact, I got a nice box of jigs and baits online from  Rambo uses a lot of the Power Grubs in a sort of root beer/chartreuse color, as well as pearl and blue Lit’l Fishies. 

If you’re more of a live bait fisherman, you’ll be buying minnow every time you go out.  Most people fish them under bobbers.  The best bobbers are the long, skinny kind. 

Crappie have a habit of taking the lure from below and swimming up with it.  A regular round bobber won’t let you know when that has happened, but the skinny ones will keel over so you’ll know to set the hook. 

Crappie Feed Up

When you’re trying to figure out where to put the bobber, remember the rule Curt Rambo taught me: crappie feed UP, so it’s better to be too shallow than too deep.

Crappie spawn near cover in the shallow backs of coves, and they require areas free of silt and mud that could smother the eggs before they hatch.  Once they are done spawning, they begin to filter back out to the main body of the lake. 

The spawn takes place in March and April in Arizona, Rambo says, and he finds that the north side of the lake warms first.  He looks in the backs of coves in 3 to 10 feet of water.  If he doesn’t find brush at that depth, he’ll move out away from the bank and look a little deeper.  They may be on drop-offs or rocks on flats, he says.        

During the summer, most of the crappie will be in the main lake, although some will stay near creek arms.  Prime areas have dense cover.

 Steep points, drop-offs to the main channel, and steep shorelines like those you find near dams are good areas to check.  These summer fish, says Rambo, are usually schooled tight at depths of 17 to 25 feet, even if the water is a 100 feet deep where they are. 

This is prime time for vertical jigging, Rambo adds, and his idea of heaven this time of year is a ridge of brush with 15 to 20 feet of water over it.

Most Important Tools

Curt Rambo says that a crappie fisherman’s most important tools are his jigs, his buoys, and his depthfinder.  When he approaches a likely area for crappie, he turns off the big motor and moves in quietly with his trolling motor.  Once he locates a school of fish, he marks it by dropping a buoy off to one side. 

Don’t drop the buoy right on top of them or you’ll scare them off, Rambo emphasizes.  He positions the boat directly over the fish and begins jigging by dropping the lure down to the bottom until the line goes slack. 

Holding the rod tip near the water’s surface, he reels in line until it is taut, cranks the reel handle once or twice, then lifts the rod to about chest level before slowly lowering it.  He keeps the line taut at all times. 

A lot of times, he says, the crappie will take the jig on the fall, and you won’t feel a thing.  The only clue you will get is slack line. 

Keeping the line taut as you lower the lure will allow you to note slack line instantly so that you can set the hook.  If the crappie are aggressive, you will feel the bump when they eat your jig, but they are not always so accommodating. 

Pay Close Attention

It’s important to pay close attention to your line at all times if you don’t want to miss fish.  Rambo can judge how far off the bottom the fish are by looking at his graph, so if he doesn’t get hooked up right away, he’ll start taking up line by cranking the reel handle once or twice before continuing to jig. 

One of the advantages of trolling for crappie is that you are fishing while you are searching.  Art Chamberlin, who guides for both bass and crappie,  motors to a likely area then sets out four rods — two light-action 7.5 footers in the front, sticking straight out to the sides, and two light-action 6-footers in the back, pointing backwards but a little sideways.
This set-up keeps lines from tangling together, even on turns.  Chamberlin uses Berkley Fire Line on his trolling rods.  The braided line enables him to make marks directly on the line, which lets him get the lure to precise depths with ease.

Like Rambo, Chamberlin uses a lot of chartreuse Power Grubs.  He rigs two jigs on each line, spaced about 2 feet apart.  He’ll often start out trolling with two rods at one depth and two at another, which lets him cover a lot of territory until he discovers what the perfect depth is that day. 

Since the jigs are up off the bottom, any bump on the line will be a fish.  As a rule of thumb, Chamberlin starts out in deeper water in December (35 to 40 feet) and gradually moves in to 18 to 25 foot depths by March.  But, regardless of the depth of the water he is fishing, he generally keeps the jigs running between 12 and 15 feet deep.

Crappie stick around for a while, so once you find them, you can catch them in that area for quite a few days.  If you find some one weekend, make sure you bring the kids back next time.  They’ll have a blast.