By Tim Huffman
A trip to Oklahoma last October with several of the Gene Larew/Bobby Garland pro staffers provided good access to several of the country’s best fishermen. A few hours on the water with Jacob Wheeler, a 26 year old from Indianapolis, Indiana, provided insight into the heart of a young, aggressive bass fisherman. Wheeler has successfully fished several of the pro circuits reaching levels many of his competitors only dream of reaching. His biggest claim to fame, so far, is winning the 2012 Forest Wood Cup Championship and being the youngest pro fisherman to reach $1,000,000 in winnings.
So why feature a bass pro in CrappieNow Digital Magazine? Because Wheeler is an avid crappie fisherman. He says he has the opportunity to crappie fish about ten months a year but has to work trips in around a busy schedule.
Now through December is a good time to search the ledges following the crappie as they move into deeper water. In October they will still be relatively shallow in the 12 to 22 foot range. In December they’ll be 25 to 30 feet deep along the ledges. The good news is they will usually be schooled up so catching numbers of fish isn’t unusual. On a good day you can expect to catch 40 or 50 crappie. On a slow day here you can zero.
Both wood and rock formations are important. Find either one in the right depth zone and you’ll hook up with fish. Baitfish is also an important factor right now. Without them you will not find the crappie.
When going deep it’s best to stick with light 4- or 6-pound test line. A jig will drop faster, you’ll have better control and you’ll get more bites the lighter you go on pound test.
Natural colors or white works on Ft. Gibson, as do other colors. One trick locals like to do is glue the body to the jighead. When action is fast having a body that stays on the jig in the deep water is a big advantage. The Bobby Garland Baby Shad and Swim’R are both popular choices at Gibson.
“When I’m home I love getting out and catching crappie,” says Wheeler. “Our lakes in the Midwest do not get the notoriety of the Mississippi lakes but crappie fishing can be good. I’ll fish any season but really enjoy the spring.”
His favorite technique in the spring is casting jigs up on a flat. He enjoys the fun of basic fishing with a jig or jig-float combo. His summers are filled with bass tournament but he gets back to the crappie in the fall and winter.
“Fall and winter are great times to catch crappie. When the water gets below 60 degrees the fish start bunching up. Of course it doesn’t happen every time, but more times than not I’ll catch 200 fish a day. Any fisherman has to enjoy that. For a bass guy crossing over that’s a lot of fun.”
Jigs include usually mean 1/16 and 1/32-ounce, but a larger 1/8 when necessary. As the water gets cold getting the jig to the bottom is important. He believes a lot of crappie fishermen miss this important point. In this situation he uses a 1/16-ounce on calm days and 1/8-ounce when it’s windy.
“My retrieves vary. Last year they got on a pattern where a snap, snap, snap, pause would trigger a hit every time. But don’t get hung up on just one type of retrieve and figure that’s what they always want. Try different actions until you learn what the fish want on a particular day.”
He keeps everything as simple as possible starting with his line. Mr. Crappie 4-pound high-vis yellow line allows him to see the line while the small jig falls faster on light line and longer casts can be made. His favorite jig is a Bobby Garland Baby Shad in black-chartreuse or blue-chartreuse. Those colors work almost anywhere that water has some stain.
Crossing Over from Bass to Crappie
“There are a lot of similarities that people should realize. Both fish are opportunistic feeders and they will set up where they can eat. Some of my best crappie spots are also my bass holes.
“My biggest thing is using electronics to help find the fish. I don’t stop unless I see some fish. I will idle seven hours to fish one hour. I mean that. That’s the problem with some fishermen that when they see a brushpile they are going to stop and fish it. But you need to know that fish are there. I’m going to look until I find the fish and not guess that a brushpile might have fish on it. My electronics include a 12-inch Garmin and a Humminbird Down Imaging unit. The Down Imaging really separates the structure and fish. Learning how to map and find contours is very important to both bass and crappie fishing.”
When asked if other bass fishermen give him trouble about his crappie fishing, he said, “Oh my! In the fall the deer are moving and smallmouth are biting but I’ll take a day and go crappie fishing. My buddies are telling me I’m crazy. I just tell them I’m catching 150 crappie a day. You may or may not see a deer all day but I know for sure I’ll catch my 150 crappie. I love it.
More Wheeler Crappie Tips
“Pay attention to the time of day and the need to change colors. Bright blue skies might mean a Baby Shad in light or natural colors. It turns darker and they tear up black-chartreuse even in clear water. I’ve used six or eight colors before I figured it out.”
“A brushpile quits producing I’ll actually ease back over it with Down Imaging to make sure the fish are still there. If they are there, I’ll fish them and try to figure them out.”
“Rock pile. Back home there will be a school of crappie on the rock pile. I immediately catch six or eight crappie and slow down. When Fred gets caught three of his buddies follow him out toward the boat. Do that eight, ten or twenty times and there are a lot of fish pulled off and scattered. I graph and there are not many fish left on the pile so I leave knowing I can come back later and catch more.”
“Fronts and falling water bother crappie and bass. Crappie are really fickle. They can be patterned but difficult to figure out.”
“I’m very blessed to have the opportunity to go fishing and do what I love,” says Wheeler. “I’m in love with fishing in general whether it’s bass, white bass, walleye, crappie or whatever. Fishing is enjoyable. My drive is trying to figure the fish out and catch them.”
You can follow Jacob Wheeler on facebook and twitter.