by Keith Sutton
On many waters, Mother Nature throws a monkey wrench into our plans for a worry-free April crappie-catching junket. Crappie aren’t spawning or feeding in open waters we can easily fish. Instead, they’re buried in gnarly tangles of dense cover that seem impossible to tackle. To catch these jungle fish, we must find ways to present our lures in everything from willow thickets and weed beds to stump fields and even beaver lodges.
Fishing these hideaways can be daunting, even for experienced anglers. But as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Heavyweight crappie often seek sanctuary in thickets of dense cover such as button willow (buckbrush) stands. The biggest, wariest fish usually hide in the thicket’s interior, away from edges pounded by most anglers. To nab them, look for pockets within the cover and then pull your boat into the thicket to evaluate each locale and determine the best way to fish it.
Not all pockets are created equal. The best usually encompass cover/ structure features likely to attract crappie. This may be a log or stump created when a tree toppled into the water within the thicket, the edge of a creek channel meandering through or perhaps a cluster of standing snags. Any structure different from the norm is likely to hold crappie.
Reaching such pockets can be tough for anglers in large, heavy boats. I usually fish from a light, narrow, 12-foot aluminum johnboat outfitted with a small outboard, no trolling motor and a minimum of fishing tackle. You don’t want heavy gear holding you back. The only way to get away from the edge and back to such pockets is to grab limbs and pull your way through until you can reach the spot you want to fish.
Now, let the jig down slowly so it drops into the pocket. Some anglers work their jigs with a jigging action—up, down, up, down. This really isn’t necessary, and such action could cause unnecessary hang-ups. Simply lower the jig to the desired depth and hold it stationary. Vibrations relayed through your pole to the lure will impart enough action to attract crappie.
When a fish hits, reverse the action. Keep the line in your hand, set the hook, pull the fish up to the rod tip as fast as you can, then back your rod up to get the fish in the boat.
There still will be occasions you’ll get tangled or lose fish, but using this technique will keep hang-ups and escapes to a minimum.
Look at it this way, though. When fishing is slow, you can take the easy way out and go home empty-handed, or you can work a little harder and catch some real nice crappie. What’s it gonna be?
To read more about specific spots to pick in vegetation, flooded willows and beaver lodges, or the gear you need, and more presentation tips go to April 2013 issue.