by Kenneth L. Kieser
Sometimes experience on the water and a little common sense will work better than high-tech electronics
A recent report claimed high-tech fishing electronics could eventually hurt fish populations. The writer suggested fish no longer have a chance. Too many larger crappie are being removed from lakes, eventually eliminating good fishing possibilities.
Every angler knows we didn’t always have fancy electronics and the early versions were not impressive compared to today’s technology.
I met Darrell J. Lowrance, former President and CEO of Lowrance Electronics, at a Las Vegas American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association meeting in the late 1970’s. He showed me the latest device called a “Fish Finder” with a gray screen and blips that were said to be brush, fish, etc.
I walked away unconvinced. I should have tried to buy stock in this amazing company, but old school thinking set me back because I had been taught how to catch crappie by some of the best in my area. I couldn’t imagine how electronics could make crappie fishing any better. Obviously, they have.
But not everyone has the money, or spends enough time on the water to justify the expense of electronics that, these days, can cost thousands of dollars. But they can, and do, still catch fish.
An old man told me many years before I met Mr. Lowrance, “Give crappie a place to go and they will go there,” the exact mentality of most early crappie anglers. He built beds and provided crappie many places to try and hide or gather, some kept secret. I doubt anyone caught more in those days; knowing exactly when and where to go meant catching a limit.
Before electronics, post-spawn crappie fishing relied on common sense. Targeted areas were submerged brush, trees and certain boat docks. Granted many fish were missed while finding schools, but many were caught.
The Countdown Approach
The late J.A. Robinson taught me a post-spawn lesson one hot summer day. We anchored over known crappie beds and used a count-down approach. This meant dropping our jigs or minnows to the bottom and slowly retrieving one reel turn per minute or two.
Each reel turn was counted. A bite at a certain number of reel turns signaled returning our bait to the bottom, then reeling up that many turns to hopefully find a suspended school. More reel turns were tried until the bites stopped, then we moved to a different bed.
Paper topographical maps were available back then and the best showed structure, especially submerged creek beds. Many of these maps showed various visible objects on the shore like roads, bridges or anything to identify lake locations.
In the old days the better anglers knew how to “triangulate.” They would find a sweet spot on a road bed, and underwater bridge crossing or a brush pile. They didn’t have a fancy depth finder with mapping to mark an electronic waypoint. Instead they looked for tall trees, buildings or some other landmarks on the shoreline. They would line up two tall trees and then at a 90-degree angle, line up two other landmarks and they could return to the exact spot time after time with no electronics involved.
In some cases, rather than fishing specific spots, anglers routinely used a controlled drift was used to find crappie. This meant finding current or setting up your boat based on wind direction and then letting the boat go with the flow or wind.
Jigs, some tipped with minnows or various types of worms or euro larvae were used to entice bites. When a bite came, buoys were dropped and the area fished to locate the school. The aforementioned countdown method was often used to determine depth of fish.
Fish the Bridges
Bridges and known underwater structures were fished in post spawn, often with excellent good success. Larger lakes with any current tend to have submerged brush caught on bridge pillars. For example, high water from spring flooding tends to move brush—and crappie love brush.
Early fishermen learned that post-spawn crappies suspended around bridge pillars for several reasons such as plankton, baitfish, insect larvae, crawfish, fish eggs and even tiny bits of dead animal matter. Brush or any debris caught on a bridge pillar creates an eco-system of food for various creatures including fish while allowing adequate cover and depth for hiding. Find a productive pillar and you will catch crappie and almost anything imaginable. (See this month’s CrappieNOW! “How to” Video: Bridge Overpasses)
Deep Water Docks
Docks over deep water are another source for finding post-spawn crappie. Many dock owners drop big bundles of Christmas trees to the bottom, generally weighted down by concrete blocks and catch crappie throughout the year.
Dock owners would occasionally become angry at us anchoring besides their docks and catching “their fish.” One kept a bucket of rocks to throw and frighten fish before we caught them. So, being kids, we snuck back in after dark when the dock owner was asleep and caught “his” crappie.
Finally, lakes with standing timber are always key spots, if you determine which trees. Finding trees crappie frequented took hours, sometimes days. Anglers took notes of productive trees, mostly located in deeper water. Some trees were marked with metal tabs.
The point is, we caught limits of crappie long before electronics existed. While we were excited with the modern improvements, we didn’t forget out old school techniques. I believe that anglers have an advantage now with electronics pointing the way. But remembering, and using, the old school ways will still help you put more crappie in the livewell.
(Kenneth L. Kieser has been the Outdoor columnist for the Independence/Blue Springs (Missouri) Examiner since 1987. He has been a freelance writer for more than a dozen hunting and fishing magazines; hundreds of credits in various outdoor magazines with a laundry list of awards to his credit.)