Outdoors - Early-season fishing can lead to lots of crappies

February 04, 2007|by BILL ANDERSON

I realize that the predicted average temperature is well below freezing for the next week or so, but early-season fishing really is almost here.

In our local waters, there are a number of possibilities to choose from. Most of the early effort will be directed toward the various trout-fishing venues, but crappie fishing provides another great early-season opportunity.

Most anglers consider crappies to be a lake fish, but it's also worth noting that we have some very good crappie fishing in the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The exact locations of the crappie "holes" in the rivers tend to be a carefully guarded secret.

The really good crappie fishermen tend to be specialists, and they know that the fish can usually be counted on to show up in certain spots as spring approaches. It is also true that some of the biggest fish of the season can be caught in late winter and early spring as the fish move into what are sometimes called pre-spawn staging areas.


Over many years of experience, I've come to associate crappie fishing with using really small minnows as bait. The tiny minnows still work great, but I think you can do just about as good using tiny crappie jigs fished under slip bobbers.

Depth control is often very important when fishing over underwater cover such as brush piles, and the slip bobber is perfect for this approach. A slip bobber rig consists of a bobber that slides freely on the fishing line and a bobber stop that stops the bobber at the depth you have chosen. This is the ultimate in controlled-depth fishing.

Using the slip bobber rig, you can experiment with different depths until the fish are located, and then keep the jig at the right depth from that point on. You can, of course, also use the slip bobber rig when fishing live minnows.

One advantage of fishing a tiny jig under a bobber is that any wave, line or rod movements will cause the bobber to move, and also impart fish-attracting movements to the jig. Crappie jigs often feature marabou tails that will move nicely with the slightest movement of the bobber. The amount of movement that will draw the strikes seems to vary from day to day, so you will probably have to experiment with depth and movement to find what the fish are looking for.

My best day of crappie fishing on the Potomac was during a little warm spell in mid-February more than 10 years ago. We caught eight or 10 crappies that were more than 12 inches in length. The area we were fishing was probably no more than 20 feet in diameter. We were using tiny tube lures and ultralight tackle. It was shocking to me to see that many big crappies in one place.

My partner that day is no longer with us, and I'm thinking I may hit his secret spot a time or two when things warm up a bit to see if the crappies are still there. I'm pretty sure he would approve.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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