Stan Fagerstrom

Stan Fagerstrom is a member of both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Stan is also known internationally for his casting skills. Stan welcomes your e-mail comments at [email protected]

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April 01, 2013

The Secrets To Catching Crappie

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 1

Few fish put more plain fun into the sport of fishing than those good eating panfish we call crappie.

If you're among the increasing number of anglers who've done some crappie fishing you're aware how much fun it is to catch these interesting panfish. If you're an experienced crappie angler you're probably also aware the spring period of the year provides some of the best opportunities you'll have all year to put some of these good eating little buggers in the frying pan.

There are three great keys to successful crappie fishing. You've got to find the fish. Once you do you must fish at exactly the right depth. And even at the right depth you won't do much unless you are fishing your lure at exactly the right speed.

Those three things----location, depth and lure speed---are the keys to putting more of these great eating panfish into your boat.

You've got to find crappies before you can hope to catch them. So let's talk first about where crappies are most likely to be. My own crappie fishing, and I've done a bunch of it, has been primarily in the Pacific Northwest. However, the tactics I'll be detailing in my next couple of columns will catch crappie wherever you hang your fishing hat.

I had opportunity to refine my crappie fishing tactics and techniques primarily while living right on the shore of popular Silver Lake in the southwest part of the Washington State. Having a boat in the water all the time about 60 feet from my front door for more than three decades provided a wonderful opportunity to look for and catch crappie. This was especially true when the cook wanted fish to prepare for dinner.

This is the best time of the gear to get a net full of crappies like that shown here

Springtime offers a great shot at crappie catching. Late fall can also be excellent, but it's that period from March through mid-June that consistently sees some of the peak action of the year. Crappies school in the spring. Where you find one, you'll eventually find others.

But where are you most likely to find that first one? In sloughs, ponds, or most lakes, always look for crappie around wood. This wood may be in the form of downed trees, submerged logs, pilings or abandoned docks. Crappies also like rocks. Some of the best fishing at Silver Lake, for example, always came around the lake's sunken rock piles.

If I'm fishing for crappies on water I've not fished before this time of year, here's what I'll look for. First off I'd look for cover like that I've described. Once I've found downed logs, dead trees or any other possible crappie holding spots, I'll fish them ever so carefully.

I wouldn't expect to catch a boat full of fish right off. As soon as I catch even one crappie I'll mark the exact spot so I can come back to it. In crappie fishing on new water I often carry a pocket full of short yellow ribbons. Whenever I catch one fish, I pinpoint the spot by attaching a ribbon to the cover.

That ribbon might not be where you can see it easily, but I'll know where it is. As soon as I get a half dozen spots marked in this fashion, I simply move from one to the other and forget about trying to find fish anyplace else.

You've probably heard that 10 per cent of fishermen catch 90 per cent of the fish. I guarantee that those who are in that 10 per cent of successful anglers are fishing where the fish are. What some never do realize is that only about 10 per cent of a given lake or river holds fish. You can fish the other 90 per cent all day with little hope for success.

I may find only one or two crappie in my first try at the spots I mark. But in the springtime I know more fish are there. Crappies don't hang around by themselves this time of year. Again, where you find one there is a cinch to be others.

And that's why I keep going back to the spots where I've caught at least one before. Sooner or later crappie will start biting in one of those marked spots. If I'm lucky enough to be there when one of those common feeding binges take place, I'll likely catch all the fish I want to take home right there without ever moving the boat again.

Chances are the anglers in this boat would do a lot better for crappies if they moved in and fished around those piling. Wood cover of one kind or another is always one of the best spots to find springtime crappies.

I remember once fishing at Lake Shastina in Northern California. I was in a guide's boat. It was in May and we were fishing for bass. The action was slow, but every now and then I felt something pecking at a small spinnerbait I was throwing. The guide pulled the troll motor out of the water and prepared to move.

"Please hold on for a minute," I asked, "Something keeps nipping at the trailer of my spinnerbait and I've hunch it's crappie. They can't get themselves caught because the lure's hook is too large. Just hang tight and let me try something."

The guide waited while I rigged up a two inch grub on a 1/32nd ounce leadhead. I hung it on the lightweight spinning outfit I always carry in the spring. We were near a rocky shoreline and I knew those rocks ran on out into the water. You'll recall I've mentioned crappies liking rocks. I made a quick cast with that little grub. Bingo! A crappie picked up before I moved it three feet.

The guide and I sat right there and caught 24 fat crappie that would do credit to any skillet. You can bet I marked that spot before we left. That way I knew I could go back to the same location and have a good chance of making the same kind of catch. I did exactly that the next morning.

Make trying the right spots your first priority in any kind of crappie fishing adventure. I've told you the best spots to look for. Put these suggestions to work in your own fishing. They really do get results. If you don't believe that now, you will after you've given them a fair try.

Crappies are fun to catch and a delight in the frying pan. That's a combination it's tough to beat.
Next month we'll take a look at the importance of fishing at the right depth, another key ingredient to successful crappie angling.
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