Now I'd be the first to admit that, at my age, my dancing days are over, but I sure do love to slip a bright colored, fluffy-tailed jig hook down into some prime crappie cover.

I don't know the history on who invented the fishing jig, but they sure did anglers a huge favor by crafting a good fishing hook with a headed eyeball and line loop underneath various covers made of bird feathers and much later synthetic materials to attract the attention of fish.

Of all the fishing lures I can think of, I believe that it is highly probable that the crappie jig-type fishing bait is the most universal and flexible there is. I mean, just think of the endless uses and options. There are many different sizes, head weights, hook sizes and a bounty of colored skirts for any possible fishing water conditions.

It's just a guess, but I suspect white perch or crappie fishermen are the primary users of jigs but, of course, they have been adapted to many other species of game, too. This includes really large-bodied jigs for saltwater use, and serious deep-sea fishing.


Putting the jig to good use

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to fish with a lot of anglers on a lot of different bodies of water, in a myriad of fishing watercraft rigs and under all types of conditions. However, bar none, the best crappie angler I have ever seen work over structure has got to be Harry Barkley of Jackson.

In his prime days as a fisheries biologist for the state wildlife and fish agency, Barkley was the go-to person to ask about where to crappie fish and what to use.

His favorite haunts included Chotard Lake, Lake Albermarle and Wolf Lake. He knew these waters like the back of his hand.

I think his all-time favorite was Chotard when the water backed up into the cypress trees on the west side of the lake across from Laney's Landing.

"I do like Chotard because it is big enough to maneuver around and the cover there is perfect for crappie slabs," Barkley said. "Ideal conditions for crappie exist when the Mississippi River backs the water up in Chotard Lake so that it is well into the timber on the western side of the lake. Three to 4 feet or maybe a little more in the cypress trees makes for some of the best white perch fishing there is."

Oh, yeah, and his favorite crappie-getter bait? Jigs of course.

With his old fashioned wide-brimmed pith helmet and his perennial lightweight cotton jumpsuit, Barkley really looked the part of the old-timer fisherman. In fact, there is a photograph of just such an angler at the Bass Pro Shop in Pearl that could very well have been Barkley. Maybe it was the standard fishing outfit back in the day.

"Don't laugh about this hat, it keeps the sun off my face and neck," he would say as he laced on another jig in some gaudy color to ply his trade up against the bark of the Chotard cypress and pin oak trees.

"First, you have to get close into the cover, but even more important is that you have to have a long crappie pole, but not so long that there is no leverage power left to lift a slab out of a distant piece of cover," Barkley explained his approach. "It's hard to pull out a good fish with a pole that has a wimpy end to it."

In watching him work a jig around a cypress tree, it was amazing to see exactly how he did it. Patience was his greatest virtue.

But he didn't just drop the bait next to the tree for a few seconds to wait for an immediate tug. No sir. This guy would raise and lower that jig a dozen times around the trunk of every tree he fished.

It was almost like he didn't expect the crappie to see the jig and move toward it like a bass might strike a lure, but instead it was like he wanted the bait to flash right in front of the fish.

He would work on a tree for 10 minutes. At times, he would drop a jig, bounce it up and down some, and then move it over another 4 to 6 inches until he had gone around the entire tree.

Without a bite, he might move to another tree for a few minutes, but he often backtracked to jig around that first tree once more.

More times than I could count, he would jerk out a slab on the second try. I don't know if a fish just moved into that position or if the jig depth was slightly different, or he finally enticed the crappie to swallow the bait, as it were. All I know is that his technique worked time and time again.

I would have long lost patience to fish a particular area about the time he was just getting started. Patience and being thorough was his main strategy.


Why crappie jigs work

"I don't really know what a crappie thinks a crappie jig is, but it must look like some kind of fine-tasting bait that naturally exists in that lake's fishery," Barkley said. "Once the feathery, fluff tail gets wet, it forms a more-or-less firm-looking body, and mated with the jighead and eye, I suppose it could look just like a minnow. After all, there is no denying that silver shiners are still a top crappie-fishing bait, but the jig gives fishermen more options and is more cost effective. Minnows are getting expensive these days.

"Once you drop that bait around a flooded tree, fishing structure like a downed tree limb or around a stump, add a little movement action to make the jig dance. The combination of movement and the color will attract fish."

Crappie jigs in all sorts of colors and configurations can offer white perch anglers endless options for successful fishing. When you shop for them, buy them in numbers and many different colors for different water clarity conditions.