Clint and Dwayne Bailey show off a pair of slabs taken trolling jigs in March. (Photo: Richard Simms)
The Search for Big Slabs
March is primetime to catch big pre-spawn crappie
by Mike Gnatkowski
Call them papermouths, strawberry bass, speckled perch, or specks, crappie are crappie anywhere you find them. There may be local or regional names, but everyone knows that springtime is crappie time.
Springtime is a transitional time for crappies. It may happen at different times in different places, but at some point in the spring crappies move from their winter haunts into the shallows to spawn.
“There are two things that will initiate the pre-spawn movements,” said crappie guide Chuck Rollins who fishes Cedar Creek Lake in Texas. “Timing and water temperature. One day you’re in 30 feet of water and the next 10 to 15 feet. I honestly believe that length of day is the most important factor.”
Where they are headed is to creek arms, shallow bays and coves that warm first in the spring. In between, Rollins said you can set up ambush points along migration routes.
“The crappie will use main lake creek channels to migrate. Find structure in 20 feet of water along these migration routes where pre-spawn crappies are staging and you can put a hurting on them,” he said. Regardless of where you fish for crappies, April is prime time.
“In April things are on fire,” said Rollins. “If the crappie are not spawning, they are very close to it. Look for back bays, creek arms and weed lines to concentrate crappies then. That time of year I’ll spend the majority of my time in 3 to 6 feet of water. Structure is a big attractant for crappies then,” said Rollins.
Rollins most consistent crappies spots in the spring are boat docks. Rollins calls it “shooting boat docks,” but instead of a heavy flippin’ sticks Rollins uses 6-foot spinning outfits, 6-pound test line and tiny 1/16-oz. jigs. Rollins said to be most successful dock fishing, side-scanning sonar. “I use to have to fish every one of them to find a school of fish. Now I just look,” he said.
When the docks aren’t producing Rollins said he will troll using the trolling motor to keep the jigs at about a 15-degree angle. “I’m not really moving all of the time with the motor,” he said. “I’m just inching along.”
When trolling Rollins said he prefers a 9-foot rod. Guides use longer rods, but Rollins said they could be fatiguing. Rollins said he’s tried spider rigging, but found that he could be more precise with his presentation around structure and catch more crappies with fewer rods. Many guides swear by live minnows, Rollins relies on plastic.
“I think you can catch them on most anything if it’s presented right,” said Rollins. “My favorite is a Panfish Assassin. If I had to pick one it would be chartreuse, but black/chartreuse, silver/speckled can be good in stained water.” “There are always fish between 12 and 24 feet of water – always,” he said. Randy Martin guides crappie anglers in Western Kentucky from his home base in Benton, KY. Rollins and Martin use similar techniques.
“The spawn generally takes place between mid-March and mid-April around here,” said Martin. “Not all the crappies spawn at the same time. During the pre-spawn we’re fishing deep water over ledges, brush piles and structure. Once the fish move shallow, we’ll move shallow with them. Then we’ll cast jigs and corks in 2 to 7 feet of water. The crappies spawn in the same areas year after year. The fish in the shallows get plenty of pressure. I’m not afraid to stay out in deeper water.”
In deeper water Martin casts or vertically jigs. He tells customers to cast out, let the jig fall until the line goes slack and then reel up until they are two feet above the structure. He then relies on electronics to spot fish and determine the most productive depth.
Like Rollins, Martin relies more on artificial lure rather than minnows. “We use a lot of hair jigs, tubes, twisters, but I always have minnows on the boat,” he said. Like Rollins, Martin is not a fan of spider rigging. “Customers have hard enough time keeping track of one rod,” he said. He will often have 8 rods with three customers adding a rod for each angler rigged simply with a heavy split shot, a number 6 gold hook and a minnow.
Martin said that spring is by far the best time to catch numbers of crappies and big fish too. “Some of the biggest crappies are females that haven’t spawned,” said Martin. Martin said that 15-inch, 2-pound specks are not uncommon and his personal best is a 3-pounder. In bodies of water that have both white and black crappies the blacks will spawn before the whites. Once the spring spawning urge sets in, they can all be caught together.
Contact Chuck Rollins at (903) 288-5798 or online at http://www.bigcrappie.com.
For information on booking a crappie trip with Randy Martin call (270) 354-8935 or online at www.crappieattitude.com.
Captions for: The Search For Big Slabs Images by gnatoutdoors.com