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Operation Crappie

By Tim Lunceford (MOturkE)

This fall, after missing some of the better days of the fishing season, I thought I'd finally knuckle down and target crappies. It would be a different style of fishing for me since I've taken to fly-fishing. I usually just fish by luck, without regard for type and size. However, I've begun to realize that, even though fishing this way is fun for me, it really requires little finesse. Now I planned to go out to one of my new "favorite spots" and attempt to just catch crappies. I read up on feeding habits and behaviors of crappies so I wouldn't go out blind as I usually do when trying to fish on luck.

It was about 8:00 am when I pulled down to the boat ramp at the lake in Watkins Mill State Park near Kearney, Mo. A man who had been fishing with his two young sons waved me over. "If you're going fishing, there's something going on straight across in that cove over there in those sunken trees. Crappies, I think. The fish-finder was going crazy. We have to leave now or we would've stayed to see what was around there." He said he was on stand-by this particular Saturday and was called into work. They loaded their boat and left. As I unloaded the gear another truck pulled up and the driver, an elderly man asked if I'd caught anything. I told him I'd only just gotten there and had a report of some fish across the lake and I was going to start there as soon as I got the kayak unloaded. He saw the fly rod and that created a bit more conversation, then he saw my "Gibson guitars" sweatshirt and I thought I would never get on the water. He was a very nice fellow who knew almost every fiddle player in the State, but was there to spend time with the fishes. I bid him farewell and put the kayak to the waves. It was almost 11:30 am.

I paddled across the lake to the cove directly east from the ramp and settled in near the submerged trees. I learned from the articles I'd found in some books and magazines that crappies feed up and usually hold in the deeper channels when the water begins to cool down. Well, this was October and the temps were much warmer than usual. The high was supposed to be near 58 degrees and the sun was out in full force. Would the crappies be deep or shallow? I realized I needed a thermometer. How could I target a temperature sensitive species without one?

Shrugging off the feeling that I was still fishing on luck, I began casting around the trees at the outer edge of the cove where the man had said the fish-finder went off. The trees were sparse, several feet apart and about ten to thirty inches in diameter. There were bits of vegetation about 3 feet down here and there, and the water was very clear. I had always heard from the amateur professionals (folks who think they know everything about everything) that crappies won't bite when the sun is out, they're too careful and they have to seek cover to protect themselves from harmful UV rays. It always makes me laugh, imagining a fish with a sunburn.

I chose to use a gold ribbed hare's ear nymph with lead weight added to get down deep. I knew a GRHEN would work after "dpenrod," another FAOL angler hauled a large slab out of here with one. I was sitting about 15 feet out from the trees so I wouldn't scare off any of the fish with my kayak and was able to bounce the nymph off the trunk of the larger tree so it would drop right down the trunk and look more natural. I let the line alone for a few minutes while the nymph slowly sunk lower. Another bit of information from one of the articles came to my mind; "Crappies like a slow descending bait and will likely take a lure on the rise." So, I would pull a bit of line in, trying to get the rise a crappie would find irresistible, but most of the time it came back with no sign of a fish.

Another tip I read, "Crappies sometimes take a lure with no noticeable movement to the line." Hmmm...Maybe I'm just not aware the fish has taken the nymph. So, I would jerk the line once in a while during the retrieve just in case it was in a mouth. Still no sign of any fish. "Maybe the nymph isn't showing up at that depth (whatever the depth my nymph is reaching)." Then the old adage about chartreuse popped into my head, you know the one, "If it ain't got chartreuse..." Humbug! I don't buy that one, I know crappies will take this nymph - I've seen it. So I tried pitching it in where I thought a bluegill would likely take it, near some weeds along the shoreline. Bang! The big hungry gill nearly cleared the water to take the nymph. Well, it wasn't at the same depth, but I now know it looks appetizing to the fish.

I decided my best bet would be to move into the trees a bit more and use the anchors to find the deepest part of the channel. I moved along the outer edge of the cove until the anchors were at the deepest point, then turned into the cove and stopped in a spot where there was an open space with trees ahead of me about 20 yards away and a couple of trees to the right about 10 feet away. The channel appeared to continue straight toward the trees in front of me. I dropped my anchors fore and aft to hold my position and checked for room to cast, drew out my line, cast the nymph and let it sink about 30 feet out. I began drawing the line back in with short jerking strips about 3-4 inches. Then I remembered to stop and wait for the nymph to sink again before I stripped in again. Then I felt a quick tap or thump on the line. A good sign that there are fish in that spot.

I continued stripping the line in and when it was 3 feet from the kayak the line took a sudden side-winding motion and there was slight weight on the line. I pulled in a small white crappie and had little doubt that it had been on ever since I felt the tap, but didn't realize it. I began to experiment with different stripping speeds and would increase and decrease the stop times to see if I could establish a pattern. I caught a few more crappies and found most of the crappies liked it when the nymph had been moving about 6 inches, then stopped for a five count, then began to rise on the next pull. They would hit with a quick tap and I'd raise the rod tip to set the hook gently.

I caught over fifteen crappies, four bluegills, and one red-ear sunfish. All but four of the crappies were too small to keep and I put all the gills back so I can continue to pester them this Spring. I was able to accomplish what I set out to do. I targeted one specific species and succeeded. In order to be sure this trip was no fluke, I went back the next week and that'll be my next story. ~ Tim

About Tim Lunceford:

Tim lives and fishes near Kansas City, Missouri. He's been married 23 years, is the father of four kids and is awaiting the arrival of his first grandchild - due any day now. (just arrived: Caleb Thomas, 6 lb -5 oz., 21" long, and dark wavy hair...Tall and skinny - like his grandpa.) He works as a Heat and Frost Insulator for Local Union #27 in K.C.

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