Few Mississippi game fish are as predictable as crappie. In the spring they spawn about the time the dogwoods bloom. It’s sufficient to say the greatest number of crappie caught each year are hooked during the progressive spawning season. This is not to say this is the only time to boat a box of slabs; it’s just a time when the fish are shallow and bite eagerly.
Anglers find the delicious fish abundant in naturally occurring cover such as that found in Bee Lake, an oxbow of the Yazoo River in Holmes County. However, stumps, fallen trees and shallow obstacles sometimes prevent fishermen from reaching some good fishing spots by boat. That’s when it becomes time to think outside the box.
Understand the spawn
Crappie begin to spawn when surface water temperatures rise into the 60s. This can vary as black crappie may start to spawn as the water reaches 56 degrees, while the white crappie may wait to 63 degrees. Males are the first to come shallow, seeking a preferred spawning site. Females enter shallow areas around structure and lay their eggs. Males then fertilize the eggs and guard them until they hatch, staying and guarding the fry for some time after the hatch.
The spawn is not an en masse event. Every female does not enter the shallows on the same day or even in the same week. This allows anglers a wider window of opportunity. Once the spawn begins, it could cover a four- to six-week period. Black and white crappie can, and do, cross to produce a hybrid.
Crappie spawn in shallow water near vegetation or other structure, such as stumps, fallen logs or brushpiles. It has been a common practice for anglers to place brushpiles, discarded Christmas trees or wooden pallets in shallow waters to attract the spawning crappie.
Black crappie, according to biologists, prefer a sandy or gravel bottom on which to spawn. White crappie prefer grass, wooden structure or rocks for their spawning areas.
Keep it simple
The basic equipment for wade fishing consists of a pole rigged for catching fish, and a place to put them once they are caught. These items are inexpensive and in the simplest form can be just a rigged cane pole and a length of stout cord with a washer attached to one end. Graphite crappie poles and reels and mesh bags kept afloat by Styrofoam rings represent the upper end of the simple tackle.
Nice-to-haves will include neoprene chest waders and a floating tackle box of some sort on a short tether or in a fishing vest. A line clipper attached to the end of a lanyard or a spring-loaded clip-on reel will come in handy. When putting an outfit together try to avoid anything that is handheld and will sink if dropped.
Ricky Flynt of Clinton likes to wade Bee Lake when the crappie are shallow.
"Move slowly, for several reasons," he advised. "The bottom is irregular, and fallen trees and other obstacles litter the floor of the lake. Good for the fish, but hazardous for the angler. Also, prolonged exposure to cool water (in the 60-degree range) can present the risk of hyperthermia."
Flynt goes on to say it is a good idea to fish with a buddy. He began wade fishing for spawning crappie when he noticed so many places unreachable by boat.
Flynt also wade fishes in Grenada Lake and others along the I-55 corridor, but does not wade fish in Ross Barnett Reservoir because towing a sack full of crappie may be just too great a temptation to some of the resident reservoir alligators.
Billy Joe Cross, a crappie angling master and one of the finest cooks in Mississippi, offered a bit of advice once that has proven to be a prized kernel of knowledge.
"Tie the jig to the line in such a manner that it rests horizontally in the water," said Cross. "Then work the jig from shallow to deep along fallen trees and tops.
"A slight quiver of the hand will give the jig the action it needs to be a fish attractant. A minnow lip-hooked to the jig might just make the bait irresistible."
Both Cross and Flynt say patience in presentation is a key to success. Once around a stump or stick-up is just not enough. Work each structure well, allowing the bait to swim from top to bottom. Bumping the bait into the structure will mimic a critter trying to eat the eggs and may prompt a quick bite.
The color of the lake can run from stained to clean, depending on recent rains and runoff. Jig colors are as varied as the fishermen who choose them. Yellow and chartreuse with a dab of red or green seem to be popular choices at the local bait shops. The adage of dark water/bright bait and clear water/dark bait seems to hold true. In talking with a dozen or so anglers who fish Bee Lake on a regular basis, anything with chartreuse is good. Tube baits get praises as well, with red/chartreuse and black/chartreuse getting the most nods.
Every angler has a favorite crappie bait, and around Bee Lake several were jigging a tiny jig with a spinner blade. The blade is underneath the jig and, according to those I talked with, the males hit it three to one over the females. Could it be the menacing little noise maker prompts a protective response from males guarding the nest and eggs? What does it matter as long as it works?
Curl-tail plastics also got a mention as perfect for working in and out of cypress knees and trunks. Only a little movement is needed to make the curly tail flutter, and that seems to be a deadly combination on spawning slabs. Already mentioned is the minnow-tipped jig. The Berkley Gulp Floating Minnow (3-inch) has been a good producer for this writer at Eagle and Chotard lakes, lip-hooked on a jig just as a live minnow would be hooked. The down side of a live minnow, and the only disadvantage I can find in using the live minnow, is the need for a floating minnow bucket. Too many attachments just make for clumsy movement.
Jim Robbins, a fisheries biologist and author of the book Crappie, lauds the use of yellow line in 12- to 15-pound-test because the bright line allows an angler fishing stained water to detect subtle bites. If the line moves just a little to one side or the other, the strike is easier to see.
Bee Lake is located about 12 miles north of Yazoo City on Highway 49E. The lake is open to the public but is surrounded by private land. A private boat launch is located at Thornton, behind a now closed Bell’s Store. Some sources say an honor box is located near the ramp, but during a trip there in late February, no such box could be located. The ramp is being used openly. Just be aware there could be an ownership change and the launch fee reinstituted.
Entering the lake to wade fish can only be done with the permission of a property owner or from a boat. The ramp is not the best in the state but is manageable. A spokesman for the MDWFP said the agency is looking for property to construct an improved ramp, as was done at Moon Lake.
According to MDWFP biologist Tom Holman, Bee was one of the lakes contaminated with Asian carp during the 2011 flood. These obnoxious, invasive fish have a nasty reputation and compete with native game fish for food. In a measure to control the carp population, MDWFP released 41 alligator gar fingerlings into Bee Lake. The fingerlings, raised at the Enid Fish Hatchery, are 2-feet long. Any caught by anglers are to be released immediately.
The creel limit for crappie is 30 per person. No slot limit exists on Bee Lake.