Memphis outdoor journalist Larry Rea well remembers the days before fancy mapping and electronics,
when anglers had to use old school techniques to find and catch crappie. (Photo: Richard Hines)
Old Technology – Tried and True
by Richard Hines
Some tips for those without expensive electronics on board
These days anglers seem to be overcome with modern technology. Like most electronics, the advancements in mapping and fish finding equipment are almost mind-boggling.
But there are lots of folks who (A) don’t want to, or can’t, pay the thousands of dollars new high-end electronics cost. Or (B) they just don’t want to, preferring to remain “old school.” If they are bowhunters, these are the folks still shooting recurves or even longbows.
For those folks, finding and keeping up with numerous fishing spots on large reservoirs can be a daunting task, but they know it is not impossible. Long before we had even heard of GPS, anglers were finding their favorite fishing spots.
To find out how they did it back in the good ole days, I asked the oldest fisherman I know, 95-year-old Willard Parnell from Edmonton, Kentucky.
“Back in the 1950s, I used all kinds of tricks, and everyone watched me because I caught a lot of fish,” Parnell said.
Willard, a WWII veteran, not only caught the Kentucky state record muskie in 1968, he then broke his own record two years later. He still fishes for muskie but the bulk of this fishing time throughout the year is pursuing crappie on either Green River or Dale Hollow reservoirs.
Willard said, “One way I used to do it was taking a ribbon and mark the brush pile well up on the bank so no one would notice. Heck, I have even used a chalk mark on a nearby rock bluff”.
He also kept a compass in his boat to precisely triangulate into the very spot he wanted.
Decades ago, triangulation used to be the technique every advanced angler used. For instance, to the East they would line up on extra tall tree with a water tower in the distance. Then to the South, they would line up a dock with another unique tree or maybe a telephone pole. If they lined up those reference points to the South and to the East perfectly, they would be in the exact same spot on the lake every time.
Professional crappie angler Tyler Beckmann said he often used to triangulate to locate brushpiles. But he went a step farther. He said they would mark the brush pile with a small bobber.
“We painted the red and white bobber black, and we knew where it was,” he said. But because it was so small and black no one else ever noticed it.”
On a recent fishing trip, I was discussing this with Jim Garrett and Greg Kisser of Champaign Illinois. Garrett pointed to a water tower on one shore and said, “We would always line up with that water tower and for instance that tall tree to our south. If we didn’t find the brush pile immediately, we would cast until we snagged brush. It seemed everyone fished this way.”
After triangulation came handheld GPS units. Initially they were marketed primarily for hunters but they worked great for fishermen as well.
I still use my handheld Garmin GPS. It helps me take time to “inventory” potential crappie spots during the winter months. If you have never done this, the first thing you do is plan a winter fishing trip. It doesn’t have to be blistering cold but pick a nice sunny day, load up the gear including a handheld GPS and head to your local reservoir. In some cases, the fishing might be a hit and miss but that’s OK, remember the mission is to locate that hot spot for next spring.
Many large reservoirs have major winter drawdowns for flood control. When lake levels are lowered you can see numerous structures exposed that will be impossible to see in the Spring or Summer. Some might be totally out of the water. Even if you don’t have an expensive mapping unit on your boat to create waypoints, your old-style handheld GPS allows you to mark those locations for future fishing trips after the water comes up.
When you are scouting for that new crappie spot, don’t rule out other structures. All the professional crappie anglers agree that rock bluffs are sometimes an overlooked go-to spot, especially later in the summer when fish are in post spawn patterns.
During your January scouting you will also find where other anglers may have dropped Christmas trees. Generally, the thicker the foliage the smaller the fish. Cover like this is important for survivability of young fry but it may not hold as many big fish so don’t spend as much time there.
You should also look for groups of stumps, rocks, bluffs, and sharp drop-offs. All of these can hold crappie at various times. It may not be possible to pinpoint every small stump but casting in the vicinity with lures can produce fish.
If new electronics aren’t in your budget, or you just prefer to go old school, no problem – you might just be surprised how well the old ways still work.
(Richard Hines is a Wildlife Biologist, book author and award winning freelance outdoor writer and photographer. Since 1985, Hines has published hundreds of articles on hunting, fishing, conservation, and natural history. Hines is currently President of the Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association.)