By Tim Huffman
BRUSH. Early spring fishing, brush and the spawn go together; always have and always will. Crappie are big and active. What’s great for the crappie fisherman is the aggressiveness of fish to hit a bait during this phase. After the spawn a percentage of the crappie will stay shallow and offer opportunities for catching. Others may be found in deeper brush piles.
Our minds often picture springtime fishing as visible, shallow shoreline brush with a minnow under a big float. There are still lakes where this brush tactic exist, but the reality is that most lakes and reservoirs are so old that shoreline brush is gone except during high water. Laydown treetops are good brush covers when you find them. Therefore, mid-depth brush is usually the spot where fishermen find early crappie, especially during the prespawn period. As the spawn arrives the fish go shallower. During post-spawn a few stay shallow but the majority go back to mid-depth waters.
Mid-depth brush can be visible or submerged. Fish depth is determined by water clarity, water temperature and other factors. Prespawn crappie are simply fish located in a little deeper water until the temperatures and conditions are right to move shallower to spawn. These are the fish you’ll be targeting first. These same locations should be good for post-spawn, too.
Find cover. Any cover will hold fish but natural and manmade brushpiles are ideal. Use your locator to pinpoint covers at the right depth. Again, fish will be mid-depth to somewhat shallow early, then move into shallower water as the spawn begins. Step 2 is finding the exact depth of the crappie.
Use the right tactic…vertical jigging. Jigging is the best method when crappie are in brushy areas. A 12-foot pole is good for keeping baits out away from the boat and dipping the bait in and out of the cover. A shorter 9- or 10-foot pole is easier to handle. It’s also better when fishing exposed brush where overhanging limbs are present.
Minnows are the go-to bait to ensure more bites. They are best when fishing is very slow. However, when crappie will hit a jig, a jig is much easier and quicker to fish. A jig can be worked in and out of cover with fewer hang-ups.
A 1/16-ounce is the standard, or average, jig size. Many fishermen, including myself, believe a heavier head has more advantages. It’s true that a super-slow fall is sometimes best, but a heavy jig can be dropped slowly to create a similar effect. The best thing is the heavier jig provides better “feel” because it keeps a tighter line than a lighter jig. It’s also easier to work in and out of cover. And when fishing mid-depths, it gets down quicker.
Sometimes a minnow is necessary. A 1/0 Aberdeen hook, a few split-shot and an active minnow is the standard rig. This set-up allows a minnow to swim around but it causes more hang-ups. An alternative it so lip-hook a minnow on a jighead. This gives a combination of good handling with a natural bait attached. A Road Runner style head can give a rig added flash.
Sometimes shallow brush can be very scattered. For example, a flat or long point can be a good crappie spot. When scattered cover is present, a fisherman can cast. Casting allows more water to be fished and to keep a distance from the fish without spooking them. A freefall jig can be used, but depths are usually appropriate to fish a jig, or minnow, under a float. The float is a bait indicator but also keeps it in the strike zone at all times. It can also keep the bait right above submerged cover.
A bonus of casting is the added area that can be covered in a quicker period of time. When crappie are found and caught, a follow-up of vertical jigging on specific cover in the area can be used to catch fish tight to cover.
Find New Places
Most fishermen search for new places to fish only when fishing a new area of water or when fishing is tough. When a fisherman can’t catch fish, it forces changes and searching. Instead of this strategy all the time, learn new areas when fishing catching is good. You’ll immediately have a larger list of spots to fish and by catching fish, you’ll have confidence in these spots. When catching fish it can be difficult to leave it to find new spots, but the rewards are worth it in the long run.