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Finding (and Catching) Mid-Summer
and Early Fall Crappies

Fritz Fratz
By Randy Fratzke, Iowa

By mid to late summer and into the early fall a lot of crappies have moved into the deeper, cooler waters of natural lakes and reservoirs. Finding them and fishing for them with a fly rod is usually a combination of pure luck and a lot of time. However, there is an alternative to solving this problem but from a "purists" point of view, it's cheating.

During the spring and late fall a lot of crappies can be had in shallower waters which can easily be fished from either the shore line, by wading, or tubing. But, usually, by mid-July they've moved into the deeper, cooler waters, usually near the channels or other drop off points. The other problem is that they are usually suspended between 10 and 15 feet down in 20 to 25 feet of water. An exception to this is when the water is very stained or turbid. Sure you can still use a float tube (and take your chances with the boats out cruising the water) but unless you have a good, detailed, map of the lake or water way you'll wear your legs out trying to find those areas and can only hope to find the fish.

My solution is using a boat equipped with a sonar device or "fish locator," fast to medium sinking lines, sinking flies, and marker buoys. Using the electronics helps tremendously in cutting down on the time it takes to find channels, deep holes, bottom structure and the fish. If the fish are suspended midway between the top and the bottom the fish locator also shows you their depth. You'll need that information to determine your "count down" when you start casting, waiting for the fly to reach the correct depth, and start stripping the fly back towards you.

Here's the system I use: First, I already know the sink rate of the line I'm using, that way I know how many feet per second the line and fly will sink. Most sinking fly lines come with that information now days. If you're not sure you'll have to experiment a little to figure the sink rate. Next, using my boat and electronics I cruise around the lake area to find the channel (yes, I also use a GPS system) and mark the way points on the GPS or watch the depth and fish locator screen. When I find a group of fish I note their depth but I don't stop the boat. I drop in a fish marker buoy and continue on. A marker buoy is basically a dog-bone shaped wooden dowel or plastic device with string wrapped around it and a heavy sinker attached to the string. To use it, wrap a string (longer than the lake is deep) around the center of the spool and attach the weight to the end. When you pass over a group of fish drop it over the side of the boat. The weight will unwind the string from around the float. Once the weight hits the bottom the string stops unwinding and the float stays pretty well where you dropped it. Now proceed about 20 to 30 feet farther beyond the buoy before you stop and anchor the boat. Any closer and you'll probably scare the fish off.

Now, with the buoy marking where the fish are and the fish locator telling you how deep they are, you're ready to fish. Use the buoy for a target but try to over cast it by 10 to 15 feet because as the line sinks it will naturally arc back towards the boat. If you only cast as far as the buoy and the fish are 15 feet down by the time the fly gets to the depth it'll be at least that far away from the fish and they probably will never even notice it.

Make your over cast and count down the line sink time leaving the line slack. Then, slowly and erratically, start stripping the line back towards the boat. When you feel a hit, don't try to set the hook immediately or you'll either rip the fish's lips or pull the fly out of its mouth. Make sure the fish has the fly, then, slowly lift your rod tip to set the hook. You know what to do after that. Just try to keep the fish from getting tangled in the buoy line.

I don't limit my flies to just streamers either. I also use nymphs, wet flies, small crawdad patterns, and even terrestrials. Believe it or not, I've even caught crappies that were 12 feet deep on a bumble bee pattern!

The one thing I always try to point out: there are "fly-fishing purists" and fly anglers. Some of us like to fish, other like to catch (and even eat the fish we catch). You can be both in different situations, or any combination in between. I always think that catching is better than just fishing. Regardless of your point of view, get out and go fish! Randy Fratzke, Iowa

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