If you are a fisherman, any kind of fisherman, you know what this month means. April ushers in the spring spawn for just about every freshwater fish that swims in Mississippi waters.

No. 1 on a lot of anglers' lists is the crappie - America's favorite game fish. April is a time when even the casual perch jerker can be a pro by setting out some baited lines around the dock and hauling them in.

Two of Mississippi's hotspots when it comes to catching crappie during the spawn are Grenada and Arkabutla lakes. These two Corps lakes draw both seasonal anglers and year-round pros to get in on the action.

That begs the question: What do the pros do when crappie spawn? While many year-round crappie anglers continue to fish from boats and do quite well, a few have adapted tactics that target crappie in prime fishing spots that most conventional boating anglers can't get to.

Since crappie may be found tucked away in the farthest reaches of these lakes, seasoned crappie anglers forego big aluminum and fiberglass boats and employ sneaky tactics to catch spawning crappie at Arkabutla and Grenada.

 

Crappie on foot

In the words of seven-time National Crappie Champion Ronnie Capps, there's nothing like getting out of the boat to target these fish.

"Wading for crappie is more addictive than golf, turkey hunting, bow hunting or any other sport I have ever tried," he said.

Wading season typically begins the first to second week of April when the dogwoods are just beginning to bloom. The bite often lasts well through May and into June. The best conditions for wading are when lake levels are abnormally high and water filters into the thickest of brush. Look for stands of ironwood, button bush and even young-growth hardwoods.

"On bushy structure, fish as close as possible to the trunk of the bush," Capps advised. "The best ones will have four or five stems coming up from the trunk. Crappie love to spawn in the middle of these upshoots. Any hardwoods that have massive wild grape vines hanging into the water can also be super spots."

Capps' crappie fishing partner, Steve Coleman, is equally at home fishing waist-deep for crappie among the flooded willow and cypress trees and green undergrowth as spring waters rise.

"At the onset of the rising water, smartweed patches and sespania will be the first hotspots to try," Coleman said. "These types of undergrowth are most productive in the very back of a bay or creek arm in conjunction with a creek channel or even a tiny run-off ditch."

It's important to remember that any type of break in the terrain will act as a pathway for crappie to follow - both into the shallow jungles and back out into the safety of deeper water. Also, any type of influx of water flow, such as run-off from spring rains or a naturally occurring creek, will concentrate crappie as well. Typically when water has pushed into these areas and surface water temps reach into the 70s, anglers can expect to see a lot of activity from carp, gar and, most of all, male crappie.

"Many times I have found a hot area and caught a limit of fish in a location as small as your living room," said Capps. "A good rule of thumb is to not fish deeper than waist-deep. Typically most of my fish are caught with the water depth being about mid-thigh deep when fishing in areas with good tree cover that causes an entire area to be shaded even on a sunny day."

Given all this information on how tight to cover the fish will be, it's easy to see why a short, stiff rod is needed for sticking a single jig through vine limbs and bushes, and still have the backbone to horse a fish out of the cover quickly and firmly to keep from tangling in the structure. In fact, the Capps-and-Coleman duo has even designed such a rod for BnM Poles.

The two crappie pros offered that their favorite areas to wade fish for crappie at Grenada are the North Graysport, Butputter and Red Grass areas. At Arkabutla, the backs of Hurricane Creek and Mussacuna Creek are local favorites. In any of these locations, the pair suggests that aspiring waders look for areas that others overlook.

"Find that little ditch that you've got to pick your way back through the briars to reach, and you're likely to find a whole school to yourself," Capps said.

 

Crappie kayaking

Even with a veritable jungle of iron weeds, small brush, and other shoreline structure to hide in, all things considered, there still are some specific areas that go virtually untouched by fishermen - everyone that is, except Bubba Weeks.

If you map it all out at first glance, it looks like crappie have no place to hide. Slabs that hang out in water that's regularly deeper than 3 to 4 feet deep are fair game to boating anglers, especially small, flat-bottomed boats that can motor up into knee-deep water.

On the other hand, wading anglers catch all the skinny water that an angler in a fishing rig can't reach.

Weeks spent a few years guiding on Grenada, and like everyone else, spent his share of time picking through the shallows so his clients could catch crappie.

Ideally, as the waters rise in the spring on Grenada and Arkabutla, creek arms in the backwaters begin to swell and grant access to old sloughs that are scattered along these creeks. Boaters need at least a couple of feet of water above the rim of an old slough to successfully get in. Most of these areas are too far back through dense undergrowth to allow shore access. These sloughs are the bread and butter of kayaking crappie anglers with their shallow draft and easy launchability.

Another kayak-ready situation is a shallow shoal or submerged island. Both of these areas are covered with enough water to hold crappie yet surrounded by water that's too deep to cross by wading.

"Using a kayak, it's a lot easier to cross a ditch or creek channel than wading," said Weeks. "I can also get my kayak up the smallest stream and into a swampy area that big boats can't reach."

Just about every kayak manufacturer has caught on to the fact that these small boats make great fishing craft, and offers amenities on its boats to fit the needs of fishermen.

Weeks' boat is a simple 10-foot cockpit-style boat that he sits inside. Cockpit-style boats are typically better suited for freshwater fishing, especially in cooler water, than the sit-on-top models popular with saltwater anglers.

"I can put this boat in anywhere on this lake," Weeks said. "I strap it on the rear rack of my four-wheeler, and use a number of old logging roads to get down to wherever the water has come up to - the same way the guys who wade fish do."

As far as range on the little boat, Weeks indicated that with just moderate paddling, he can outrun a trolling motor without exerting a whole lot of effort. That puts his fishing range at a mile or better in any direction from where he puts in.

"I usually fish the old Highway 8 area on the south side of the Yalobusha at Grenada," he said. "There's also an old slough that we call the Pecan Orchard on the north side of the river about halfway between the Graysport and Choctaw ramps. Both of these are great kayak spots because boats can't get in there to them and it's too deep for waders."

Tackle for kayaking is comparable to that used by wade fishermen. Weeks uses a 10-foot jig pole paired with a simple spool reel that's used to store line. He favors 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs, and his go-to color for the dingy water is anything with orange in it.

"Space is limited on the kayak, which means no room for a bait tank or depthfinder," he said. "My fishing is done all with artificials, and I rely on my rod tip or paddle when I want to know how deep the water is where I'm fishing. I keep a cooler strapped to the back of the kayak to put fish in, which on a good day doesn't take long to fill."