CrappieNow 2019 How To

Catching Western Crappie on the Fly

by Gary Lewis Wind-drifting for papermouths with fur and feather “Lay the fly on the water. Strip line out. That’s right. Now shake the rod … Continue reading Catching Western Crappie on the Fly

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by Gary Lewis

Wind-drifting for papermouths with fur and feather

Even youngsters like Little Smokey can master fly fishing for crappie with the right technique. (Photo: Gary Lewis)

“Lay the fly on the water. Strip line out. That’s right. Now shake the rod tip.”

That’s fly-fishing. These kids – the 4-year-old grandson and the 6-year-old granddaughter – can cast a fly as well as any kid, but they don’t need to. Not in a canoe, not in a boat. When our craft catches a bit of wind and we began to drift, they can work out the line, get the fly to where the fish are and keep it there.

And when they’re not casting, they’re not hooking their grandpa.

In our quest to turn two small children into ardent anglers, our tenth trip of the year was to Prineville Reservoir, a reservoir where a person can catch rainbows, bass and catfish, but the crappie stack like cordwood across the flats.

Crappie are not easy to find in our high desert home. Only a few reservoirs hold these fish and most anglers chase the trout or bass, but one of my favorite targets are black crappie, and it was time to expose the kids to this most sporting of the spiny-rays.

When we put the boat in the water, there was a chop at the surface and fish on the depthfinder at 40 feet. But when fish are schooled like that, the feeders are higher in the water column.

A red and white jig tied of marabou and chenille produced several crappie for Little Smokey. (Photo: Gary Lewis)

We set our strike indicators at eight feet. The local intel said the fish wanted red and white or pink and white. We found the patterns in our boxes and knotted them on. With the wind out of the northwest we would drift at a pretty good clip until the breeze died at sunset.

One thing we figured out pretty early – if we were going to turn these kids into lifelong fishermen, we need to make sure they succeed almost every time we fish. And we tell them we don’t get fish every trip. But we make sure they catch fish at least 19 times out of 20 tries. Crappie are good for our numbers.

One thing we figured out pretty early is, if we were going to turn these kids into lifelong fishermen, we need to make sure they succeed almost every time we fish.

My wife, Merrilee was in charge of Little Smokey armed with her 2-weight custom rod and the boy, Johnny, elected to stay at the back of the boat where he could help run the outboard with my dad.

Over the years, I’ve noticed Prineville Reservoir fish are less oriented to structure than crappie in other lakes. Where we find them in summer, they are spread across a large flat, bounded by cliffs on the south shore.

We let the breeze blow us past a rocky point and as soon as we were in open water, Johnny’s indicator jabbed underwater.

When the crappie began to put its saucer-sized flanks into the battle, the boy arched the rod and grabbed the reel handle. His grandma netted the fish for him and the first crappie went into the box.

Anytime crappie are on the menu, look for flies that are heavy and imitate small baitfish. Crappie eat all sorts of things from copepods to chironimidae, but they are programmed to chase small fish.

Don Lewis and little Johnny watch the floats, wind-drifting jig-type flies and leadhead Woolly Buggers. (Photo: Gary Lewis)

Small silvery minnow imitations, chartreuse Woolly Buggers, little gold chubs with thin black fins and white leeches and red and white and pink and white. But most important, crappie flies should be heavy, with tungsten bead heads. If they are tied in the balance style or on jig hooks, so much the better. Because we are targeting crappie at a specific depth, a heavy fly gets down where the feeders are, as fast as it can get there.

For a strike indicator, I opt for a plastic Thingamabobber which loops on the line and can slide up and down. A nine-foot leader (when paired with a nine-foot rod) is a good choice because the float can be set at the top of the leader’s butt section.

10 Great Crappie Patterns
• Blood-Spot Bugger – Black
• Rainy’s Deep South Popper
• Rainy’s Carp-Tease – Brown
• Carter’s RL Dragon – Olive
• J’s Frogman – Pumpkin
• J’s Little Devil – Chartreuse
• Mihulka’s Crappie Special – Yellow
• Mihulka’s Bluegill Bee
• Riendeau’s Wee Willy Wiggler – Blue
• Hutchins’ Flashabou Damsel – Green

Casting is a consideration, but in a wind-drift situation, the float can be put out upwind and the line stays taut.

When anchored up, flip the float downwind and let the rig drift on the riffled water. With the up and down motion of the wavelets – that little bounce – the marabou tail on the fly dances, giving life to the fly.


Riendeau’s Wee Willy Wiggler
Mihulka’s Crappie Special – Yellow
Blood-Spot Bugger – Black

Intergenerational Rivalry

My dad and granddaughter battled to see who could land the most fish. When the float twitched, the six-year-old learned to set the hook fast.

Of course, I had my own numbers to put up. When the indicator went under, I set the hook and pulled the fly away.

A gust of wind caught the line and I snagged my granddaughter in the arm of her new sweater. She didn’t tell me I needed to be more careful until the second time I hooked her.

Gary Lewis is an outdoor writer and Hunting and Fishing show host, speaker and photographer who makes his home in Central Oregon. Throughout the year, he can be found hunting and fishing around the world and across the American West. Learn more at

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