Mike Heard handed his dad a jig and cork rig attached to a crappie pole, and quickly began fishing for the succulent white perch. No sooner had the pair gotten their rigs into the water than the action began. Both father and son were soon hoisting some nice slab-sized "pan fries" into the boat and in the "supper well."

Their day had begun with a bang, and the action never subsided for very long during the fishing trip.

Though this trip occurred quite some time ago, the action has been the same year after year on Okatibbee Lake and at other similar flood-control reservoirs.

When the dogwoods bloom and the gobblers boom, the crappie begin their annual spawning ritual. During the month of April, crappie, or white perch, as they are more commonly called, head for the shallows by the thousands in search of prime spawning grounds.

Depending on the local weather conditions and water levels, the perch will usually be found in the same spots year after year. Anglers must be open-minded and act accordingly when searching for crappie in the spring, however, as these flood-control lakes will fluctuate drastically during rainy years.

A veteran Red Man and WBFL angler, Heard has won more than his fair share of bass tournaments over the years all around the country. While fishing those tournaments at various lakes under different conditions, he learned a thing or two about catching bass and crappie as well.

And while he was very successful at catching bass, he never neglected fun fishing for springtime crappie. In fact, the Meridian angler can be seen on the water catching crappie almost anytime that he's off this time of year.

During periods of low rainfall, most flood-control lakes will be several feet below normal pool. When this is the case, Heard searches areas that have at least 4 to 7 feet of water. The presence of wooden structure such as stumps and submerged brushtops will add even more enticement for crappie to hold on.

Most of the flood-control lakes have little natural structure left in the flats and around the deeper creek channels. However, there are still old stumps scattered here and there along with manmade brushpiles that will attract fish like magnets.

If the water is low enough to expose some of the sunken structure or brush, Heard will start his search in those locations. He'll vary the depth of the cork until he determines the correct depth that the crappie are staging. Once he gets a bite or two and starts catching fish, Heard will adjust all of his corks to that depth.

If the crappie are relating to visible wooden structure or water grass patches, Heard will really mop up.

Then it's simply a matter of keeping the jig-and-cork combo in the water. During one portion of our trip, we fished an area that was chock full of old stick-ups about the size of a fence post. Heard dropped a jig on one side of the stump and "wham," the fight was on as a lunker crappie nailed it. After a quick catch and release to the supper well, he dropped the jig on the other side of the log, and - bam! - another one was history. The veteran angler kept pretty busy during our trip catching fish and helping unhook crappie for his dad as well.

If Heard can't locate any visible cover, he falls back on his knowledge of the lakes gained from years of bass fishing. And this is the time that he really shines as he locates schools of crappie along shallow breaks in ditches and submerged humps and creek channels. Once he locates a school of crappie it usually doesn't take long to catch a limit.

 

High-water crappie

During years of high rainfall, the water may rise into the surrounding woods and fields in a matter of hours. As soon as the water rises into the bushes, knowledgeable anglers won't be far behind. It doesn't matter if the fish were biting like crazy in the deeper water a day or two before. Once the water rises and gets into the button bushes, willows and buck brush, the crappie will follow. As the water floods areas, there will be all manner of feed for shad and baitfish, and the perch follow suit to feed on their smaller prey.

"I don't care what time of year it is, if the water rises up and floods the bushes and shoreline structure, the crappie will move in as well," Heard said. Then it's simply a matter of finding the right depth and area that has a good concentration of crappie. Different areas of the lake will warm up first, and those areas typically are in sheltered coves or shallow areas that have hard clay bottoms.

Heard will also fish the same jig-and-cork rig in the flooded brush-filled areas as he does in the open water. When he goes into an area, he'll start by working the outside brush lines first, and then gradually work his way farther into the flooded brush. If the crappie are active and feeding, Heard likes to fish on the edge of the brush and in the openings.

During such times, it's simply a matter of keeping on the move and hitting as many bushes and potholes as possible. One or more perch may relate to a bush or top.

On other occasions when the crappie get a case of lockjaw after a cold front, they may bury up into the brush. When this happens, anglers must put the jig right into the brushtop. Heard will drop the jig right into the brush and let it sit motionless. If he drops it on top of a perch, they usually can't stand it and will suck the jig in.

Sometimes the only sign of a hit is a slight bobble of the cork. But when they hit the jig, you have to jerk them out pronto, or risk getting hung up.

 

Added enticement

If the crappie are lethargic and not striking jigs aggressively, anglers such as Zane Chapman will give them a little extra enticement in the form of a jig tipped with a minnow. Just the little extra action and smell is sometimes enough to make the difference. Chapman also likes to fish the flooded shoreline brush and willows during this time of year.

Though Chapman doesn't hesitate covering a lot of water while searching for slabs, he will slow down to a crawl once he finds them. On occasion he has caught a boatload in one small spot without ever moving the boat more than three boat lengths in any direction.

Many anglers prefer using live bait only, and will really mop up when the crappie are active and feeding in the shallows. However, if the fish are tight to the brush, or buried deep in the button bushes or buck brush, using minnows will be difficult at best. Most folks will stay hung up more often than catching a fish.

During times like this, more and more jig fishermen are using jigs tipped with Crappie Nibbles. Crappie Nibbles come in several colors and brands, and put out an aromatic scent that the perch just can't seem to resist. When the bite is tough, jigs tipped with Crappie Nibbles can be the difference between loading the boat and going home empty. And if you don't think there's a difference sometimes, you'd better hope your partner will "loan" you a few during those times.

On one occasion in particular, Max Hodgins was fishing in an area of standing timber that had about 20 boats in it. Most folks were not catching any fish and some only every now and then. Everybody else was having a tough time of it, except for one lone angler sitting in a boat right across from Hodgins. The other angler was a stranger, but he was quick to let out his new "secret." Every fish he caught came on a jig tipped with a Crappie Nibble.

"That fellow kept talking about the Crappie Nibbles, and he kept catching fish when nobody else was," Hodgins said, adding that once the man ran out of Nibbles, he quit catching fish.

The man then left the spot and went back to his truck for more. When he got back, he went to catching them like clockwork once again. Hodgins had never heard of such a thing before that day, but quickly put them in his arsenal and was rewarded for doing so on many occasions.

 

Grenada and Sardis

Phil Yarbrough of Bruce has been fishing the North Mississippi flood-control lakes all of his life with great success. In the process, he's honed his fishing skills on Grenada, Sardis and Enid. When the water floods the brush and eases into the backwater woods areas, Yarbrough and his brothers are in hog heaven.

No large yachts or fancy boats are needed for Yarbrough's style of fishing either. Though he doesn't have anything against people fishing out of the larger, more comfortable bass rigs, Yarbrough prefers the smaller jonboats and two-man boats that can be launched with ease almost anywhere you can back a truck down to the water.

Sometimes he and his brothers will fish out of these smaller boats and catch a bunch doing so. His preferred method of fishing during this time of year, however, is to don his crappie waders and get out in the flooded brush where bigger boats can't go. Yarbrough will grab a handful of jigs, take a jig pole and wade out amongst the flooded brush and timber.

By doing this, he will catch fish other anglers never get a chance at. If they come in there with their larger boats and trolling motors, they'll stir up the water and scare more fish than they catch. Once those areas settle down, the Yarbroughs will move in and pick up the ones that the others missed.

Yarbrough and his brothers will fish their way back into the brush deeper and deeper while catching fish as they go. Sometimes they'll stand in one spot and almost catch a limit without ever moving again. If the bite slows, they'll move on deeper and try other spots.

When it comes to locating crappie in the flooded brush, it's simply a matter of keeping that jig in the water until they find them. More often than not, they'll cover enough water until they find them stacked tight to the brush. When the big old sows move in to spawn, they'll really catch some huge crappie.

Last spring, the Yarbrough brothers really mopped up on Sardis, Enid and Grenada in a span of a few days. And they were on Grenada Lake at just the right time once again. During one particular outing, Yarbrough's biggest seven crappie weighed over 3 pounds each. Can you imagine catching seven crappie weighing more than 20 pounds in one day? These days, a seven-fish limit of bass averaging more than 3 pounds is pretty good.

On another outing, the accomplished springtime crappie expert caught two lunker perch that weighed in at an astounding 4 pounds, 2 ounces and 3 pounds, 10 ounces.

What's even more impressive is that almost everyone has the opportunity to catch a lunker crappie in the spring. Though the numbers are not always there on Grenada, the potential for catching a lunker crappie on any cast is.

Yarbrough prefers fishing with a crappie pole for its efficiency, ease of use and downright fun.

"I like to feel that 'thump' that comes when a big old crappie nails the jig," he said.

And it's about the only thing that can be utilized efficiently when the veteran angler probes the shallow brush-filled cover.

When it comes to enticing world class crappie into biting, Yarbrough prefers using the larger crappie jig-and-grub combinations. He feeds them a meal, not a snack.

His preferred lunker lures are made in the old Sassy Shad style, and are offered by Bass Pro Shops in their own brand name. Yarbrough's preferred bait is a 2-inch blue/pearl-colored grub with a touch of orange on the belly.

Yarbrough probes the shallow water bushes much like a skilled surgeon as he dissects the tangled mass of limbs with his jig pole and jig combo.

If you're looking for fantastic springtime crappie action, head to the nearest flood-control reservoir, and try your hand. Try Sardis and Grenada for lunker-sized crappie, and Enid or Okatibbee for numbers.