Some good tips in here!
Crappie fishing is a total blast. Add to the mix the fact that they are absolutely delicious and you have a pretty cool target species!
While you can catch them off docks, the best way for consistent success is to fish from a boat. If you are not familiar with a lake, there are a few things you can look for.
Where to Look
First off, in the spring, crappie will move out of their deep water winter haunts and head for old creek channels in the river arms of lakes. A good graph with built in contour mapping is essential for finding these creek beds.
This time of year, I’ll look in 15-40 feet of water. Crappie will usually be using the channels like highways to migrate to and from spawning areas. Watch your meter closely for marks near or slightly suspended off the bottom — also be on the lookout for schools of shad.
Often crappie schools — at least the ones that are dense enough to fish on — will show up as many blobs or arches that make a Christmas tree type of shape. You can catch the odd fish on scattered schools but the best action comes from the bunched up ones.
While looking around in the creek channels, watch for submerged trees or brush piles. There will be a lot of good cover that’s been growing above water during the drought that’s now well below the surface. Crappie love structure and if you locate some cover in a channel, chances are you’ll find the fish.
If no brush or trees are present, pay close attention to the edges of the channel — where the bottom starts shallowing up. Crappie love those transitions as well.
When you discover a good spot that’s full of holding fish, be sure to first mark it with your GPS. Old school marker buoys work well too.
How to Catch ‘Em
Now, it’s time to fish! I like 1/32 to 1/16 ounce jig heads outfitted with 1- to 2-inch plastic grub tails, tubes or jerk shad. Crappie seem to like white, chartreuse, hot pink and red/white lures best.
There are times when they like a vertical presentation — get directly over the fish and drop your jigs down to them. Other days the fish want a more horizontal presentation. To get that, cast out just beyond where the fish are holding, let your lure sink down to the right depth and then slowly retrieve it through them.
If you pay attention, the crappie will tell you what they want on a given day.
Crappie are truly one of the best eating fish in freshwater! They have slightly sweet, delicate white fillets that are absolutely delicious!
If you are keeping fish for a fry, be sure to bleed each one immediately and put it directly onto ice. My favorite way to cook them is panfried with brown butter. Here’s how to do it: I do this with halibut but it works great on all white-fleshed fish! Brown Butter Recipe YUM!
Give crappie fishing a try this spring…you’ll love it!
When the stripers start heating up this spring, will you be ready for them? Here’s some where, what and how-to info to get you all dialed in!
The first trick to being successful is obviously finding the fish. Luckily, bay, Delta and river bass all seek out very similar types of water. While they are known for being heavily armored, apex killing machines, stripers are actually very skittish and spooky. To that end, they prefer deep water for hiding. Unfortunately for them, however, most of their food lives up in the shallows.
So, shallow flats are key ares to begin your search for stripers…especially ones that have easy access to deep water. As you can see in the diagram below (which is an excerpt from my eBook Light Tackle Delta Striper Secrets) the fish will often hang off the channel edges and then make quick raids into the shallows for food…
To target stripers in the shallows, I go about it a few different ways. If I’m fishing a low light period…dawn, dusk or on a cloudy or foggy day, I’ll work topwater baits over the flats. I’ve caught fish on surface lures in water as deep as 12 feet but I think 2-8 feet is a better range.
There’s a wide array of plugs that will work…I like the 5-inch Cotton Cordell Pencil Poppers in Bone and Chrome/Black and the Luckycraft Gunfish 135 in the Chartreuse Shad pattern. In wooden baits, I love the Katch Fishing Pencil Popper and the 5″ Striper Squirrel from AJ Lures.
When working these baits, vary your cadence until the fish show you what they want. Usually, you’ll see a big push of water behind the bait and then maybe a splash. Most of the time, the fish miss the lure a few times before they actually get it in their mouth, so its important to wait until you actually feel the fish before you set the hook!
Sometimes, stripers will follow your topwater bait all the way in but won’t commit to it. When that happens, try tossing a follow-up bait right back into where the fish just was. These can be just about any minnow-shaped bait that sinks, but I think the best ones are jerk baits like the MegaBass Kantata in Western Clown or a soft bait like the Zoom Super Fluke (pearl/chartreuse tail). Throw one of these guys in and give it a couple twitches and hang on…a lot of times the fish is still there and ready to eat!
Glide baits have really taken off in recent years and are excellent choices when the fish don’t want to hit topwater. They can be fished several ways — all with the reel not the rod: You can slowly crank them in and they will have an “S” type of action. To change things up, do a couple quick cranks followed by a pause and the bait will speed up and then glide off to one side. You can even make gliders turn completely around once you get the hang of it.
As a basic rule of thumb, go slower when the water is colder and pick up the speed as temperatures increase. Mess around with your retrieve…the fish will tell you want they want (or don’t want) on a given day.
You can find a zillion of these guys on the market. I have had good success with the River2Sea S-Wavers in Bone or Light Trout colors; the Original TroutGlider (pictured above) and the Savage Gear Glide Swimmer in Bone.
You can find gliders for $100 and up, but I don’t think stripers can tell the difference…plus I’d never have the courage to throw one anywhere a fish might actually live!
Living on the Edge
As the sun gets brighter or the clouds burn off, the fish will often abandon the flats and head back out to the transition zones. They don’t usually move too far from their preferred feeding areas but will head for a little deeper water, where they feel safer.
Now, referring back to the above diagram, you can see a school of stripers in the bottom right. Those are fish that bailed out of the shallow water and are now patrolling the channel edges and breaks. These guys won’t be as susceptible to topwater and glide baits…Instead, try a lure that can get down better like a swimbait. Try a 1/4- to 3/4-ounce lead head jig and a 4″-5″ paddle tail swimbait body in white or white/chartreuse patterns.
Cast out towards the shallows and slowly work the bait just off the bottom, following the contour of the bottom as it starts to deepen up. When you get bit, keep cranking until the rod loads up. Set prematurely, and the fish will bolt.
Other lures for the edge zone include lipless cranks like the good ol’ 1/2- to 3/4-oz Rat-L-Trap or the Lunkerhunt Fillet Lipless Crankbait. Rip baits like the Megabass Kanata are also great choices here.
Now, just to help you visualize this flats near deepwater concept, here’s a bird’s eye view of a nice weedy flat with deep channels on both sides: A prime spot for bass!
More Striper Hot Spots and Techniques
To get to really dialed in on more places to catch stripers and what to use, check out my ebook, Light Tackle Delta Striper Secrets. It’s under $3 on Amazon and iBooks — or you can download the PDF version.
Thanks to everyone who participated in my live Ask JD webinar on Thursday. We had some really good questions come in from folks regarding leader length, bobber styles, treble hook vs singles on plugs, bait cures and a lot more. We even helped fix a guy’s “stinky” problem!
Here’s the webinar in case you missed it…
Sadly, we can’t always have perfect “steelie green” water conditions on the river. There are times when the water is still way up high and a few days away from ideal…but you just have to fish anyway. What to do?
Go Plunking, that’s what!
Plunking is a lot like glorified catfishing: You toss your gear out and put your rod in a holder or against a forked stick and wait for a bite. Not exactly what you imagine when you think about steelhead fishing, but it can actually be pretty fun…and productive!
Each river has its own schedule for dropping and clearing, but the best time to plunk is usually 1 to 5 days after the high water has peaked. You definitely want to fish when the water is on the drop (steelies don’t usually bite very well on a rising river) and you need the river to have more green than brown color to it. It will still probably be up in the trees and you’ll often be dealing with only a foot of visibility or so, but that’s ok.
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Most plunking is done on the lower sections of rivers, where the chance at fresh migrating steelhead is best. In high water, steelhead will avoid the main channel and instead migrate up the soft edges on the shallow side of the river. Inside bends are best and you usually don’t have to cast more than about 20 feet out. In some cases, the fish will be right at your feet, so avoid the urge to cast long distances. High water looks intimidating, but in reality, you can eliminate 99 percent of the river and just concentrate your efforts on the near-shore areas that feature less current.
Tackle & Technique
The idea here is to find a nice travel lane and anchor your gear right in the middle of it so migrating fish have no choice but to see your offering. Unlike traditional steelhead fishing, in which we normally want our gear drifting along the bottom, plunking calls for keeping your bait in one spot. In high water, that means using big sinkers — sometimes up to 10 ounces, depending on the spot. You’ll need much heavier gear than you are used to for this technique, so using a standard 8- to 17-pound rated outfit for plunking is like taking a butter knife to a sword fight.
Straight Spin-N-Glos or Spinning/Flashing Cheaters are good offerings for this technique, but I love to put some bait on the hook to sweeten the deal — either roe or sand shrimp work well. Once you are rigged and have found a nice soft water edge, toss the rig out and make sure it stays anchored to the bottom. If not, add more weight or cast closer to shore. Then, use a stick or sand spike style holder for the rod. Some people like to put a bell on the rod to alert them when a fish bites. Plunking is a pretty social scene in a lot of places, so folks often get busy shooting the bull, listening to ball games and barbecuing — and forget to watch their rod tips!
Since by design, you will be fishing shortly after a high water event, be sure to check your rig frequently. There will still be a lot of junk coming down the river that can foul your gear.
By the way, if you’d like to see how all this is done in detail, along with everything you could ever want to know about catching steelies from shore, stay tuned as my new 6+ hour long video course, The Ultimate Guide to Steelhead Bank Fishing will be available later this month!