THE SPRING RUN SOUTHERN STYLE: WHITE BASS

THE SPRING RUN SOUTHERN STYLE: WHITE BASS

Cold rain pelted our SUV as we turned onto the rock-studded road that led to the river below Taylor Bridge.  One last swig of coffee and we separated to fish in opposite directions in search of the season’s first white bass.  One prearranged hour later we huddled around the thermos to thaw frozen fingers and compare notes.  It was a good start: six early male white bass between us.

Hundreds of streams that feed mid-South reservoirs host the white bass spawning run.  The event is a welcome harbinger of spring as warming waters and longer periods of daylight beckon the whites to staging areas along the lake at the mouths of feeder streams.  As the water continues to warm the males enter the rivers and progress pool by pool upstream where they are eventually joined by the larger females to spawn over gravel and rubble bottoms in 58- to 64-degree water.  Despite their efforts and prolific potential (each female can deposit as many as a million eggs) the spawn is successful only once every 3 or 4 years.  This causes the schooling species to develop a dominant year class that grows to maturity and eventually declines in numbers through its relatively short life span, about 6 years, when another spawn succeeds.

The reputation of white bass as great fighters is well-deserved.   As a tight schooling fish they are competitive feeders so the strikes can be rod-wrenching and their sleek, muscular bodies and forked tails make for a strong fight.  In the mid-south white bass usually reach 12 inches at age 2 and weigh just under a pound. Although mortality rates remain high (20 to 40% for each year of adult life) a 4-year old female will weigh 2 pounds at 16 inches and those few 6-year olds can be in excess of 3 pounds at 18 inches.

The fly box can be quite simple.  White bass feed heavily on minnows so streamer patterns, particularly those with white and silver in sizes 4 through 8 are a good start.  Marabou streamers and Clousers dominate our fly box.  When the fish are active that’s all you need.  When the action slows a favorite crayfish pattern, a sculpin, a leech or a simple woolly bugger that may represent any of the above can trigger hits.

Armed with information gleaned from local fly shops, and conversations with guides and fellow anglers we can drive to the most productive streams and best locations.  If others are fishing there a quick quiz can determine recent encounters, whether there are females present or just male fish, and what types of structure have been holding whites.  If we learn that only males have been caught, move to a location closer to the lake in anticipation of finding the larger females. Again interview fishermen and take the water temperature.  If the water is below 50 degrees it’s likely that only males are present in the river and females remain at staging areas in the lake.  If females are being caught at the location of our initial stop and water temperatures are approaching the mid-50’s it’s a good idea to check upstream as the fish near spawning time.  On the most popular streams the best access points may be crowded with anglers, but a short walk or boat ride upstream or down will usually locate uncrowded water.

Once the general parameters of white bass location have been determined each prospective pool can be assessed and explored.  Three distinct areas of fish location are possible: the head of the pool, the mid-pool, and the tailout.  Weather, time of day, and stream conditions will determine not only the location but also the level of activity of the bass.  That, in turn, enables the angler to choose a presentation and type of fly likely to bring success.

Early or late in the day, particularly if cloudiness accentuates low light conditions and warming or stable water temperatures exist the white bass will be most active.  Conversely, midday with bright, sunlit skies and dropping water temperatures often cause the fish to be inactive.  Active whites may move to the head of the pool to feed, those in mid-pool may actively chase a potential meal in open water, and some will take up feeding near the tailout.  Bass holding tightly to mid-pool current breaks, such as larger rocks, flooded brush, deadfalls, undercut banks or deep troughs, are likely not aggressively feeding.  While fishing for these less active whites can be slower and more challenging, these fish can be caught with careful presentations.

Let’s take a look at each section of the pool and discuss how and with which flies we might fish it.  Assuming conditions indicate active bass; move to the head of the pool and evaluate the speed of the current.  If it’s slow enough to permit an upstream presentation it’s the best option because it’s likely to disturb the fewest fish.  Begin by casting floating line and a small, lightly-weighted streamer, such as a size-8 white or chartreuse over white Clouser, a white Marabou, or Woolly Bugger, into the lower section of the run where the water begins to slow.  Strip only enough line to cause the fly to move toward the rod independent from the current.  Each successive cast should probe another area across the width of the riffle before working progressively higher into the run.  If the action is poor move toward shore so that an up and across cast can be made and repeat the progression up the run with successive casts.  If the speed of the current precludes upstream presentations move near the top of the run and make down-and-across casts into progressively deeper, slower sections of the run until it has been thoroughly explored.

The pool tailout can be fished in the same manner.  If the current allows an upstream cast it should be the first presentation.  Unless the riffle is particularly wide and deep there will be few fish found at the tailout’s center as water is funneled toward the next pool.  Instead of casting straight upstream, an up-and-across cast is usually the most efficient way to cover this area.  Faster current may indicate a down-and-across presentation of the same flies in the deeper, slower areas before moving progressively shallower.  Again, smaller lightly-weighted streamers cast on floating line work best.

Mid-pool fishing can be slower but often the larger fish are caught there.  The key is determining the location of structural current breaks.  If the bass are active, a down-and-across cast on floating line with a larger, more heavily-weighted Clouser is a good choice.  Mend line as necessary to get the fly deeper into the water column and impart action by making short, 2- to 4-inch strips with the line hand.  If unsuccessful, try a long, sweeping strip that pulls line from close to the rod to the thigh while steadily increasing the speed of the strip. This causes the bass to believe it can attack an escaping minnow and may trigger hits from otherwise lethargic fish.

If the whites aren’t chasing they are likely hugging structure such as bigger rocks, deadfalls or brush.  If you suspect that to be the case, again evaluate the current speed and position yourself so that your heavily-weighted fly can reach the appropriate depth before it reaches the structure.  The current speed once again determines whether an upstream or down-and-across presentation is possible.  These tight-holding fish are not likely to chase a meal but they will grab something that comes directly into their fields of vision.  Sink-tip line is usually best for these deepwater presentations, and crayfish, leech, or sculpin patterns should get strong consideration.  Short leaders (4 to 6 feet) will prevent the flies from rising toward the surface.  Dead-drifting combined with subtle strips is necessary here, and line watching is important to strike detection.  One of the most overlooked bass hideouts in mid-pool is undercut banks.  They can be difficult to fish but well worth the effort as the oldest and largest specimens often occupy the safest lies.

If your trip predates the entry of white bass into the river, look for staging areas where the stream enters the lake.  Deep drop-offs like bluffs, deep humps, and standing timber can be good candidates for fishing with full-sinking lines.  A boat is usually necessary and an electronic locator is very helpful in finding structure capable of holding these staging bass.  Fish location depths are usually 6 to 15 feet deep, but fish can be concentrated in these areas.  After scouting with a locator, trolling is an excellent way of finding the fish.  Once located, anchoring and casting are usually most productive.

The spring white bass run can provide outstanding angling for hard fighting fish for 6 weeks or more.  If this is the type of action you crave grab an area map of the lower Midwest, locate some major impoundments fed by one or more streams, pack your gear, and enjoy the fun.

 

A Guide To Locating and Catching Winter Bluegills

A Guide To Locating and Catching Winter Bluegills

Bluegill fishing is synonymous with warm spring days and sultry summer evenings, not conditions that produce ice in the guides of your fly rod. But there are fish to be caught when the weather turns frosty. When woolen stocking caps, insulated coveralls, and a thermos of steaming coffee are necessary accessories, bluegills may well be warmwater’s best bet.

In late autumn when water temperatures begin to dip below 50 degrees, bluegills leave the shallows. The first stop in their transition to wintering locations is the first breakline, which is often the deepest edge of the weedline. As water temperatures plummet, aquatic weeds begin a state of decline, but they still serve the needs of the fish by providing protective cover for bluegills and their prey. This first breakline may be in water from 4 feet to 15 feet deep.  Bluegills may spend from several days to several weeks in this transitional location, and they are usually in a positive feeding mood as the need to build reserves for the cold times ahead remains strong. Heavily weighted flies and sink-tip or full-sink lines will be necessary to get and keep your offering in the fish zone.

Small streamers up to 1 ½ inches long that feature lots of silver and white are often the ticket to success. Allow the fly to sink to the desired depth, then retrieve it using either slow strips or a hand-twist retrieve. On larger bodies of water, trolling or controlled drifting can be the best method of locating pods of feeding fish. The bluegills can be located at any depth along a weed bank. Water temperature, sunlight penetration, and available food sources will help to determine the exact location.  In this situation a good fish finder will be valuable in staying on the weedline’s edge. Crustaceans and insects will still be active during this time, so small crayfish imitations and nymph patterns will be most successful.

As the water temperature continues to drop, nutrients and sediments that suspend in summer sink to the bottom and the water becomes clearer.  Light-colored flies become more visible, and patterns that contain reflective materials such as Flashabou, Krystal Flash, or tinsel chenille do a good job of getting the attention of the fish.

By the time the water temperatures reach 42 degrees, a bluegill’s metabolism will be noticeably reduced.  Lower temperatures prompt yet another move, this time to wintering areas.  Nearly always these fish will school tightly and suspend.  Often suspended fish will relate horizontally to a piece of structure and, although their location will constantly change, they won’t move very far from a favored area.

While schools of summer bluegills can be spread over a large area, this is not the case for winter bluegills which tend to be much more tightly grouped.  This behavior may make finding the fish more difficult because the area they occupy is smaller. On larger waters, a fish finder can shorten the search considerably.  But even with the aid of electronics it’s never a good idea to wander about aimlessly.  It’s a good bet that the bluegills haven’t gone far. The mouths of coves, the bases of steep bluffs, and the deepest edge of a dock would be good places to start.

If the lake has deadfalls that protrude into deeper water, wintering bluegills will often suspend over extended branches or in open water off the ends of dead trees. In reservoirs that have coves full of standing timber, it’s a sure bet that coldwater bluegills will suspend in the limbs, but the problem then becomes finding the few trees that bluegills have chosen as their winter addresses. Look for trees that appear to have a wide spread of submerged branches, and check out the ones that jut out from the rest to form a point.  Lake maps that show old creek channels can be helpful in determining which trees are the most logical candidates for harboring bluegills.  Remember that the fish are moving from shallow areas to these deeper locations and they will use the creek channels for travel.  Their progress will lead them from the shallow flats to the nearest “point tree,” then they’ll move progressively along that path toward deeper water.

Once bluegills are located, the battle is but half won.  Remember that these cold-blooded creatures have been slowed considerably by falling water temperatures, so few of these fish will be actively feeding.  In this condition of reduced movement, their appetites don’t approach the voracious levels of summer. This means that the angler’s window of opportunity is comparatively small but the good news is that, down to water temperatures of about 38 degrees, there will be a significant portion of the school interested in feeding at any given time. If we can hook and fight one of those fish amongst its brethren, others will likely become interested and shake off their lethargy to become active feeders. The hooked fish, swimming actively with food visible in its mouth, will serve to pique the interest of other nearby fish.

Retrieves should be extremely slow and interrupted by long pauses.  Even when trolling to locate a school, your motor should be used only intermittently. Even drifting with a mild breeze can be too fast for this kind of presentation. In standing timber or where other obstructions interfere with the retrieve, fishing becomes more of a vertical jigging operation.  Full-sinking lines and heavy flies are the order of the day.  Maintain contact with the fly as it is raised and lowered through the water column because hits in cold water are usually quite soft and strike detection can be difficult. Jig the fly slowly in one spot for up to a minute, then move only slightly along the same structure before repeating the process. These coldwater fish won’t move far to grab the fly, but they may well have become interested. When you feel a take, drop the rod tip slightly before gently raising the rod to set the hook.  In warm water bluegills can reject a fly quicker than a hiccup, but these lethargic bream aren’t nearly as fast.

Our experience has shown that bluegills tend to suspend in shallower water in small ponds.  On sunny winter days the fish will often be suspended over dark mud bottoms that absorb the most sunlight and in turn raise the water temperature a degree or two.

This year, extend your warmwater season well into winter.  Solitude is sure to be a side benefit of the outing.  The most satisfying fishing of the entire year awaits and catching a bunch of wintertime bluegills will warm your spirits.

Driftwood Outdoors, Columbia, Missouri, November/December 2012.

A Case of Disappearing Bluegills

A Case of Disappearing Bluegills

 

Did the last visit to your favorite pond leave you wondering why the big bluegills had disappeared? Despite your recent lack of success they’re still there and not on a hunger strike; they’ve just relocated in deeper water. Here’s how to find them and rekindle those beautiful vibrations you cherished when they were in the shallows.

Many anglers associate even large bluegills with shallow water.  Certainly, they locate there for an extended period during their initial spring spawn and again for brief feeding forays during twice daily migrations in the summer and autumn seasons, but that leaves a high percentage of their lives spent elsewhere.  To know more precisely where anglers need to fish they must first understand why the bluegills vacated the shallows. Depth provides comfort both in terms of body temperature and avoidance of direct sunlight.  Lacking eyelids their exposure to sunlight is the human equivalent of staring into the sun.

While able to withstand a wide range of water temperatures bluegills, as cold-blooded creatures, are most comfortable between 75 and 85 degrees.  This provides us with a clue concerning their deep-water hideouts, but even more importantly we need to assess the depth of sunlight penetration.  In weedy environments sunlight penetration is the depth from which the weedline grows.  That depth can vary greatly from one body of water to another depending upon the clarity of the water.  It may be but a couple of feet in turbid or stained water but 20 feet or more in a very clear environment.

Even with these parameters we still have a wide array of possible bluegill locations.  If the water contains a lot of structure such as brush piles, submerged stumps, rock piles or humps, and depressions the task of locating the large bluegills is simplified.  By checking water temperatures at various depths and understanding the depth of weed growth we can seek structure at those depths.  But most ponds aren’t rich in subsurface anomalies capable of holding fish.  Many have even had their bottom character erased by piles of silt that has covered the contours and structure over the years.  These ponds have, in effect, become “fish bowls” that are vacant of structure.  This complicates the process of locating deep-water bluegills, but fortunately most of these silted ponds are smaller than their well-structured counterparts.

Large bluegills often suspend over deep water even in structurally diverse lakes.  Sometimes this is simply a matter of convenience.  A lengthy migration to structure is rejected in deference to suspending over deep water near the shallow feeding flats.  In “fish bowl” waters suspension is the only available option. At times bluegills suspend surprisingly shallow over deep water. For example they may be located only 3 feet deep over a 28-foot bottom, but they might also suspend at 26 feet off that same bottom or anyplace in between. The difference is primarily related to sunlight penetration.  Exceptionally overcast skies will find fish locating higher in the water column but only if a comfortable water temperature can be found at that depth. Further inducement to locate there can be a feeding opportunity such as nymphs rising to the surface or a nearby pod of minnows.  Bright penetrating sunlight, on the other hand, will force the bluegills to locate much deeper.

The easiest method of determining the location of suspended bluegills is accomplished with a fish locator.  While some small crafts, including float tubes, are outfitted with locators, most are not.  The other anglers must rely on trolling, controlled-drifting or random-casting to present flies at various depths over the entire deep water section of the pond to locate the fish.  This leaves shorebound anglers at a bit of a disadvantage if they are unable to cast to the entire area of the pond.

Whether you are able to navigate the waterway or confined to the bank, two presentation options will aid the search. First, sinking lines, whether sink-tip, full-sinking or intermediate line with a slow, uniform sink rate can be counted down to various depths until the search is completed.  The other option involves exploring various set depths by utilizing either a strike indicator or a conventional slip bobber.  Since these suspended fish are not actively feeding they are not inclined to chase a meal but will feed opportunistically. This recommends the use of a strike detection method.

Presentation success, whether trolling, drifting or still-fishing, is largely dependent upon whether the bluegills are tightly or loosely schooled.  Again a locator makes this determination easy but trial and error is the lone method for most.  If the fish are loosely schooled they will be easier to locate because they will occupy a larger area.  Remember the comfort factor in their suspension.  All of the school will locate at the same or nearly the same depth to experience the same level of comfort.  Bluegills tend to school loosely in times of stable weather, as indicated by a rising or stable barometer, and when they are undisturbed by predators.  Tightly schooled bluegills band closer together during a rapidly falling barometer or when they have been frightened.  The tightly schooled fish are more difficult to locate because they occupy a smaller area, but once found the fly fisher may be able to induce them to feed competitively by enabling hooked fish to fight amongst their buddies.  Often in this situation, another bluegill or perhaps several can be seen following the hooked specimen.  They can also be seen pecking at the fly lodged in the fish’s mouth. They may regard that bluegill’s gyrations as an attempt to keep the tasty morsel from them.

As with most fishing situations there are many flies capable of producing catches of suspended bluegills.  If casting with sinking line, a small streamer is an excellent choice.  Any marabou-winged pattern is especially desirable due to the enhanced action.  Minnows are instinctively sought by bluegills.  These streamers should be tied on size-12 or -10 hooks.

For those using strike indicators or slip bobbers three fly types outperform all others: soft hackle patterns, small woolly buggers, and any fly with rubber hackle. All should be weighted. Again subtle action is the key to triggering strikes by suspended bluegills.  Since these presentations are normally beneath the depth of sunlight penetration, darker colors that present a stark silhouette are most easily seen by our quarry.  Soft hackle patterns with black, purple, claret, or olive bodies and dark hackle work best in size 12.  Dark-colored woolly buggers in size 14 or 12 featuring marabou tails shortened to no more than the length of the fly body in order to prevent short strikes offer good results.  Similarly sized rubber hackled flies that incorporate the same dark-colored materials are excellent as well.

Too often bluegill fishermen search the shallows to the exclusion of all other options.  They fail to consider the conditions facing their target species.  Taking seasonal needs and the adverse effect of sunlight penetration into consideration will enable fly fishers to adapt their presentations to match the prevailing conditions and experience the joy of catching more large bluegills more often.

The Flyfisher, Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc., Sandpoint, ID. Autumn 2015/Winter 2016

Fishing Bully’s Diving Frog

Fishing Bully’s Diving Frog

Our footsteps startled a young bullfrog that dove into the water from his perch in the pond-side muck.  Its leg kicks were visible in the clear water, but after only a couple of strokes it resurfaced. At that instant two huge largemouth bass lunged for the prey and the frog disappeared in a violent wave of white foam. It wasn’t clear which bass had devoured the much prized meal but our conclusion was inescapable: we had to be able to duplicate the looks and action of that frog.

Motivated by the size of those two bass and the ferocity of their aggression, we recognized that we needed a frog pattern that floated reliably, dove when retrieved with leg-kicking action, and returned to the surface when line tension is released. We also wanted a durable fly that could survive smashing strikes, and the fly had to be weedless without sacrificing its hooking ability. After settling on the design
our ideas took shape at the tying vice. We experimented, made modifications, and when we were finally satisfied we sent some to fly fishing friends in various parts of the country for field testing. The opinions of the testers were unanimously positive. Bully’s Diving Frog was taking largemouths, smallmouths, Kentucky Spotted, and Rock Bass nationwide.

Fishing this high-floating, leg-kicking pattern is easy, but a couple of refinements could increase your success. The small sized Bully’s Diving Frog can be cast on a 3-weight flyrod but you’ll be better served by a 5 to 8 weight to winch the big ones away from cover. The larger version is best presented on 7- to 9- weight rods.

When the frog lands near weeds, brush, docks, downed trees or similar structure, lower the rod tip and remove all slack line. A firm strip will cause the fly to submerge and as tension is relaxed it will return to the surface. Next, hang on to your rod because that’s when the “bass attack” occurs. Repeat the process until picking up to re-cast. Don’t worry about hanging up on structure because the special double monofilament weed guard works better than most. Note that the weedguard is crossed under the hook eye. This innovation is the creation of southern Louisiana-based master fly tier Marc Pinsel. The crossed mono forces the two strands apart which enables the fly to be weedless, yet when the fish strikes the pressure of its jaws spreads the two pieces of mono further apart exposing the hook point which allows a much surer hookset. We call this weedguard refinement the “Pinsel Twist”.

One retrieve that has produced great results is the “double pump.” Its explanation should be prefaced by acknowledging that virtually all experts advise against using rod tip manipulations to activate the fly. We respectfully disagree. Moving the rod tip creates slack line, but it is easily and quickly recovered by stripping, while the fly’s action is unquestionably enhanced. We use it consistently on both surface and submerged presentations. The double pump is accomplished by moving the rod tip slightly to the side, stripping the fly under the surface, quickly removing the slack line, then repeating the process before stripping again. This action makes Bully’s Diving Frog appear suddenly aware of its predator, which imitates a frog making every effort to execute a desperate escape. This triggers the attack instinct in ambush-predator species.

Another presentation involves subtle action imparted in or near tight structure like a pocket in a weedline. With very little room to execute a dive keeping the frog in the confines of the enclosed pocket is necessary. Wiggling the rod tip from side-to-side (another slack creating maneuver) causes the frog to send out small ripples without moving forward very far. The flexible legs move just enough to give the impression of life yet maintain the appearance of vulnerability.

Bully’s Diving Frog is tied on a wide-gap bass hook (TMC 8089). The size-10 version has a body length of 1¼ inches (not including its legs), while the size 2 model has a body length of 1¾ inches with larger legs and eyes. Tippets of 3x to 1x are best used on the size 10-fly but tippets of 12- to 16-pound test are most effective for size 2. Those tippets are not only capable of efficiently turning over the flies but also are able to withstand abrasive contact with structure. Leaders of 6 to 7½ feet are adequate for both sizes. We tie the frogs in 3 colors: olive, tan, and yellow. All have black spots and white bellies. The olive and
tan models replicate most freshwater frog species while the yellow version is most clearly visible to the fisherman even in heavily shaded areas or under low light conditions. Originally we used only olive and tan foam to tie the frogs but quickly recognized the advantage of maintaining visual contact with our imposters. We have done equally well with each of the colors. We’ve used yellow eyes on the olive and tan models but for contrast have chosen red eyes for the yellow versions of the frog.

The bulky bodies of Bully’s Diving Frogs enable them to land on the water with a “splat”. While normally this heavy splashdown is an ill-advised approach, it mimics the landing of a frog that has hopped into the water and thus enhances its ability to attract the attention of the bass population.

From late spring until mid-autumn bass populations in both still and moving water actively prey on frogs because they are easily captured and offer a satisfying meal. Target shaded areas of structure or fish them during periods of low light. In the heat of mid-summer early morning will be most productive because the water cools most substantially in the overnight hours without the sunlight’s warmth. The fly is also very effective during “magic time,” the brief period in the evening after sundown just before dark.

If catching surface feeding bass appeals to you Bully’s Diving Frog is tied with you in mind. An assortment of colors and sizes will enhance your opportunities to catch the largest bass of your life.When you win that epic battle sharing the picture of your conquest with us will be much appreciated.

frogfly

Crappie Fever

The crappie has more aliases than a room full of criminals. The U.S. Department of Interior lists 58 regionally accepted monikers for this popular gamefish. Calico, Slabs, Lamplighter, Millpond Bass, Papermouth, Sac-a-lait, Speck and Strawberry Perch are but a few. To add to the confusion there are actually two species of crappie: the Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) and White Crappie (Pomoxis annularus). Aside from the obvious differences in coloration (which can vary greatly according to water quality) there is little to choose between the two for early-bird anglers. Both are drawn to the shallows to spawn when water temperatures are in the sixties (65-68 degrees is considered ideal). The White Crappie will tend to accept more open water than the brush-hugging blacks and usually will be more tolerant of warmer and siltier waters. Both species have similar aquatic menus, feeding on insects, mollusks, crustaceans and small fish. In other words, to the angler, a crappie is a crappie.

“Ol’ Silversides” spawns earlier than any other panfish, including the basses. Since it’s this pre-spawn period which produces easy catches of limits, let’s first focus on the crappie’s habits in early spring. When water temperatures approach the mid-fifty degree range crappie will begin to migrate from their deep water winter sanctuaries toward the warmer shallows. The male fish will move first. Motivated by the urge to spawn, they will select firm mud or sand bottom in water from eight feet deep to shallow enough that it will barely cover their backs. This site must be relatively free of silt so the eggs won’t be smothered and usually there is some kind of cover close at hand. A brush pile is excellent but even a few reeds will be more attractive as a nesting location than a bare shoreline. The usually gregarious male crappie will vigorously defend his choice site yielding only to larger, more aggressive fish. Using his tail he will spend days fanning a saucer-shaped nest. During this time he is most vulnerable to angling pressure. Intent on his mission, he will be diligent about keeping his nest clean. Anything which comes
near or through his territory will be vigorously attacked.

Fishing action accelerates as water temperatures edge into the sixties. Now is the time for the larger females to approach the nesting area. She has a ravenous appetite as she prepares for the rigor of the spawning. With the aggressive males and hungry females occupying the same areas, there are locations which will be productive simply by hitting the water with a fly. Any cast becomes a good cast.

Eventually when water temperatures and weather conditions are favorable the male crappie will guide a ripe female to his nest. She will usually deposit from 20,000 to 50,000 eggs. A particularly prolific specie, one female crappie examined by fishery biologists contained over 158,000 eggs. Fertilized by the male, the adhesive eggs will attach to limbs, weeds, and rocks, and after a 7 to 15 day incubation period, will begin to hatch. The fry will remain clustered in the immediate area under the protective watch of the male fish. Eventually, when the tiny slices of silver are ready to fend for themselves, the male’s
protective instinct will be cast aside and the carnivorous slab will slash through his own offspring, scattering the numerous survivors.

Post-spawn females do not feed; they will wander into slightly deeper water to recover. Once that is accomplished, however, their vigorous appetite returns. The male, on the other hand, whose spawning duties had reduced his feeding and caused him to “hit” primarily to defend his territory is also due for a feeding binge. Since the spawning activities of the crappie population are not simultaneous, the process can take up to ten weeks, depending on the water temperature. Only a significantly warmer sub-aquatic environment will send crappie into a more leisurely lifestyle.

Another subject which needs to be understood by anglers affected by “crappie fever” is population dynamics. When spawning and food conditions are ideal, crappie, with their prolific reproduction potential, will produce a gigantic brood of young fish. They become the “dominant year class” Over the next several years this brood will consume most of their own young as well as those of competing species. Their growth rate will be excellent and each year the fisherman will find better fishing for larger
fish. Due to fishing and natural attrition, the size of the dominant year class will dwindle until they can no longer remove the yearly hatch. Then another large brood is produced and the cycle begins anew. Understanding this aspect of crappie behavior makes it easy to understand why lakes go through periods of good fishing and then experience relatively slow crappie seasons. Many erroneously believe the lake has been fished out. It should be obvious, too, that the larger lakes are somewhat less
susceptible than are the small ones. The crappie aficionados willing to locate several area lakes and invest the time and effort in understanding the “cycle” of each can keep fishing the most productive water.

It’s not difficult to understand how crappies’ aggressive behavior and prodigious springtime appetite has won it legions of loyal anglers. Armed with every conceivable fish-catching contrivance known to man, almost all will succeed in catching some fish…so why recommend the flyrod? It is simply that the long rod will be more consistently successful. Flyrodders can present a lure in a more delicate manner than their hardware-slinging counterparts. This spooks far fewer shallow fish.

Another element in its favor is that its cast can be measured, by false-casting, thereby allowing the lure to be dropped within critically important inches of fish holding cover. In addition, the fly can be picked up and re-cast the instant it reaches unproductive water. A spinning lure must be retrieved through such water and so spends less time in “the fish catching zone.” Then, too, flies are more buoyant than hardware and can, therefore, be retrieved in a slower manner. This can be a critical factor in effectively fishing shallow water. Finally, the willowy action of a flyrod enables the angler to cushion the hook-set
and fight which diminishes the danger of tearing the delicate, papery mouth of the crappie. The conclusion is simple: a skillful flyrodder is capable of catching more crappie than any other angler if all other factors are equal. That he will also enjoy the fishing to a greater extent is, in our belief, already understood.

Choosing the right outfit to pursue spring crappie is not difficult. The rod should be matched to the flies you intend to cast. Those intending to deliver small dries and expecting tall grass to interfere with the back cast would do well to choose a 9½ foot rod designed for 4-weight line. We tend, however to favor 8 to 8½ foot rods that carry 7-weight line. This outfit allows efficient casting with the bulkier streamers and weighted spider patterns we favor. In addition, this outfit allows the use of sinking-tip lines which necessary to fish the “breakline” drop-offs which hold the larger female pre-spawners.

A wide variety of fly types can be effective for taking early-season crappie. Marabou streamers are exceptionally hard to beat. The marabou provides a seductive action and the minnow-imitating streamer matches a dynamic food source for crappie. Several turns of lead wire incorporated into the fly’s body allow the fly to be fished slightly deeper while maintaining the desired amount of buoyancy. White is always a good color choice and is especially effective very early in the pre-spawn. As the season progresses, yellow become a more effective color. Crappies have fairly large mouths but seem to prefer small prey. Size #4 streamer hooks tend to be our upper limit and even then, the tail of the streamer shouldn’t be tied to extend much beyond the hook bend.

Another practical fly choice is a rubber-legged spider, tied with a weighted chenille body. We call this personal creation a “bully fly.” The colored rubber legs wiggle and twitch with the slightest movement and the bulky chenille body provides a juicy-looing silhouette. For reasons not well understood, two of our most effective colors are red and pink. Perhaps this relates to the fly being more visible to the crappie rather than being imitative of a food source. Our “Crappie Bully” is tied with silver tinsel chenille with a band of red chenille just behind the white rubber legs. Sizes 8 and 6 are good for tying the bully fly for crappie.

There are many other flies that will produce crappies and experimentation will quickly uncover your own personal favorites. By using a good water thermometer to indicated crappie activity and by casting to shoreline cover until locating a good nesting area, you may soon associate the signs of early spring with your own brand of that incurable illness known as “crappie fever.”