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Operation Crappie, Part 2

By By Tim Lunceford

As I wrote in the first half of this story, I specifically targeted crappies last fall and to prepare, I read some articles about their feeding habits and dietary preferences. Most of the articles I read were written more for the spin-fisher than the fly angler but I knew I could adapt their techniques fairly easily. I believe the most prominent feature of spin fishing for crappies is the variety of lures and jigs available. What I wanted to do was apply some of the characteristics of the crappie jigs to my own concoctions of fuzz and feathers. And so, the Pan-Handler was born. It was a FOTW in December 2006.

The first trip out I had good success using the gold-ribbed hare's ear nymph, this time I was using the weighted Pan-Handler. When I first tied the Pan-Handler my intention was to give the crappies a large dark silhouette, lively action, and some of their favorite colors. I felt the bulk and greenish-bronze color of peacock herl would be perfect for that. The pearl Krystal Flash would give the glint of chartreuse they love so much, either shallow or deep.

I put the kayak in by the ramp at Watkin's Mill near Kearney, Missouri and the wind was blowing out of the south pretty strong. I was going to fish the same cove I'd fished the first time, straight across from the ramp to the east side of the lake. The waves were breaking over the bow as I paddled east across the wind and I was getting just a little damp. I decided to paddle south directly into the wind to minimize the effects of the waves. After paddling well south of the cove and about halfway across the lake I turned sharply northeast and aimed for the cove. I paddled hard to surf the wave tops, just for fun.

Before entering the cove I decided to try the outer edge of the sunken tree line. I let the Pan-Handler sink near some of the tree trunks. There was no reaction from any fish along the edge, so I moved a little south and pointed into the channel. I knew where the channel entered the cove from my earlier trip and I set the anchors so the wind blew against my starboard side. The wind had died down a bit now and I cast through a couple of old stumps sticking about a foot above the water. The first fish was a crappie, smallish and thin at about 6 inches, but exactly the kind of company I wanted to enjoy today.

I continued to fish into the cove moving the kayak along about 2-3 feet at a time being sure to fan my casts to every bit of fishable water ahead of and beside me. On each cast I would let the Pan-Handler fall slowly for a several seconds and then I'd raise the rod tip to create a rising motion by the fly. After the rod tip was above the height of my head I'd drop it back down and pull the slack line in and allow the fly to drop again. About every third time I pulled slack line in I'd give the line a couple of quick jerks, just to make certain there was no fish on. I know most of the crappies were pretty easy to feel when they hit the fly, but I was then and still am curious if I was missing fish that might have been quicker and subtler.

I continued fishing with the Pan-Handler and was thrilled with how much the crappies liked it. I was able to bring about twenty fish to hand including three bluegills, I lost several crappies during the retrieve and I'm sure a couple of the ones I lost would have filled a spot at the dinner table. I put four good crappies in my basket that I keep hanging just behind my right elbow.

The wind continued to die down to only a couple of miles per hour as the day wore on. While sitting there fishing I enjoyed the occasional mud hen and heron. Every so often a fish would splash along the shore or maybe it was frogs. Farther into the cove a bird was perched at the top of one of the sunken trees, it would dive into the water after fish and fly up to an adjacent stump. After his meal he'd return to the treetop and dive again. There's a paved trail winding through the woods along the shore of the entire lake for bicycles, jogging, and walking. The people using the trail seldom realize I'm in the water fishing, but one or two will wave as they go by.

I consider the Pan-Handler to be a very successful fly and the tactics I've used have served well for fall crappies. Now it's winter and the water can't be fished. The temperature today was only 19 for the high. I'm not certain when I'll get to go out for more crappies, but when I do they'll no longer be fall crappies. That means the tactics will have to change and the crappies will most likely prefer a minnow imitation, but I think I'll be ready. I'm already holding in my hand a fly that looks an awful lot like a tube jig I know has worked wonders on spring crappies. It'll be a FOTW candidate one of these days. ~ 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 celebrating the arrival of his first grandchild Caleb Thomas. He works as a Heat and Frost Insulator for Local Union #27 in K.C.

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