Story & photos by Tim Huffman
Many fishermen are comfortable dropping a bait into stained or dingy waters full of snags, stumps and logs. The same fisherman may be uncomfortable fishing clear water with lots of rocks and boulders. There are challenges but the hard cover can produce quality crappie if the right tactics are used.
Alex Johnson competes in tournaments with the Central Alabama Crappie Club and Crappie Masters. He calls home waters the Alabama River and Lake Jordan. The two places require different tactics with Jordan providing deeper, clearer water with big boulder opportunities. Similarities include current and structure providing current breaks.
“There are times when we spider rig and times when we long line,” says Johnson. “Like most fishermen, I prefer to feel the thump of the bite so I’ll be using one pole when possible. The one pole fishing is more conducive to Lake Jordan because much of the time the boat traffic is very heavy on the lake. Casting is one of our most productive methods.”
Johnson says casting is more efficient. Bottom, cover and bites can be felt when concentrating on one bait and having direct contact with it. Vertical jigging is great too, but he prefers to cast unless the cover is too dense, like a thick brushpile.
Casting has disadvantages too. He says it may take 15 casts to get oriented correctly to the cover. How the fish are facing, the depth, and other variables can cause exact location of a specific piece of cover to be difficult to find.
“Casting is so much different than spider rigging,” says Johnson. “Casting also changes with current and wind. Spider rigging might take more fish in a quick period of time but we can have several casts made in the time it takes to rig up, bait and get poles out for spider rigging. We can have it tested, a couple fish in the boat, or be gone in the amount of time it takes to get set up for spider rigging.”
Johnson says a key factor to any cover is shade. He tries to make the first presentations to the shady side. And, the presentations are from the direction that looks the most natural with the current.
“If fish are active casting is efficient and the crappie will hit immediately. If the fish are reluctant, the first thing to try is presenting the jig from different angles. We usually use a buoy to mark the non-visible cover. Experience helps a fisherman know which structures are most likely to produce but sometimes only by fishing can you know for sure if a spot does or doesn’t have crappie.
“A lot of our scouting, finding and elimination cover, like boulders, is with Side Scanning. A look at side imaging, down imaging and sonar from different angles is important to make sure we see crappie if they are there. Down imaging really help pinpoint things.”
Johnson says he and his partner, often his wife Jenni, like to pick spots with lots of fish when they are fishing for fun. He says tournaments are different because instead of looking for spots with a hundred fish they want covers with only three or four fish on them because they are likely to be better crappie. This is especially true on the river.
“It’s difficult passing spots with lots of fish in search of bigger fish like we do during tournaments. The exception to the rule is when the bite is tough and then we have better odds with larger schools.”
“We start by using our electronics, pinpointing a spot and then using a marker. We position the boat based upon the wind. I would rather have a 10 mph wind than a 5 mph that is shifting. A shifting wind makes maintaining boat setup difficult because we position and then circle the cover casting from different angles and covering all sides.
“Something we use a lot is the spotlock on our Ultrex. You can set it anywhere you need it and fish from there.”
Johnson has recently made a switch from monofilament to braided line. The 8-pound test braided line has small diameter and limpness needed. The huge advantage is better sensitivity. He says being able to feel the bottom, cover, distinguishing a bluegill bite and other advantages of better sensitivity has made the move worthwhile. Presentations are more productive because of the feel.
Another presentation ‘game changer’ has been a Quick-Set jighead in 1/16 and 1/8-ounce. He says cover can be fished with the weedless head in places a regular jig would hang-up immediately. A hang-up with a regular jig usually ends the catching at that spot.
Johnson prefers a pink or unpainted head with some type of Bobby Garland body. The colors vary with water clarity. His wife Jenni likes the Garland Baby Shad with lots of glitter. “I’m a woman. I like anything that sparkles so I like a sparkle body on a pink head.”
A big boulder or group of rocks can provide hiding spots for crappie. You can find spots on your electronics and position the boat. However, to be successful the presentation must be correct. Retrieving while feeling the rocks, bottom and other cover in the spot is the only way to close the deal. Johnson says to cast past the cover, let the jig drop to the desired depth (maybe bottom) and bring it back paying close attention to what the jig is doing.
When cover is found, repeat casts to the spot watching and feeling for bites. Also, when the jig hits a piece of cover be sure to bring the jig just far enough so it will fall after passing the limb, rock or whatever you hit. The falling action gets into the crappie’s home and triggers more bites.
Johnson says casting is a very simple form of fishing that can be more fun than having poles everywhere. It takes a little practice but it’s something almost anyone can do.
Final tip: “Crappie like a little current but not a lot. I believe they get behind big rocks or other cover so they can ambush bait when it floats by. So look for a current break and present your bait where it looks natural.
Equipment for Casting
Rods: Berkley Cherrywood; Browning Airstream; BnM Sam Heaton 7-foot Super Sensitive
Reels: Lew’s Lazer G; Pflueger President; Shimano Sienna or Sedona
Baits: Road Runner; Quick-Set head; Bobby Garland Baby Shad