Earlier this year, Tim Bye was working a turnaround while the Internet was abuzz about big catches of spawning crappie.
Hearing so many of his favorite species was being caught made him want to go fishing, but he wasn’t too brokenhearted.
You see, Bye doesn’t even like fishing the spawn.
Yeah, that’s right: This South Louisiana angler would rather wait until after crappie finish their spawning rituals and move out to deeper water.
So once winter had turned to spring and other anglers’ minds turned to bream or bass, Bye was back on the water and fishing as much as possible.
Oh, and he was catching consistent stringers of crappie.
Without live bait.
That’s because he knows fish still feed in the post-spawn —if you know how to target them.
Here are his tips to putting together enough fish for dinner:
• Just go fishing — “Fish are always eating,” Bye said. “That’s what they do.”
So, instead of sitting at home complaining about the conditions, get out and figure out how to make crappie bite.
• Get there early — “Usually my day is done by 9:30, 10 o’clock,” Bye explained.
He said warming water temperatures will slow the bite, but that’s OK because he usually has plenty of fish in his livewell at that point.
• Fish moving water — “It sets fish up,” Bye said.
At that point, all you need to do is figure out where the fish prefer to hang out given the conditions.
“If they’re on one side of the tree, they’ll be on every tree on that side,” Bye said.
On Bye’s home waters along coastal Louisiana, tides create that water movement. But when the tide is slack or he’s fishing reservoirs like Toledo Bend or Texas’ Lake Livingston where tidal flow is non-existent, he said water movement remains a must.
In that case, look for where wind is moving water.
“You just want water movement, however it is created,” Bye said.
The only caveat is that too much wind can shut down the bite because it batters the trees and laydowns on which fish orient.
When the wind kicks up, he “fishes under the wind,” which basically means moving around points to work the water protected from the big blow. There’s still enough water moving, but the water is calmer.
• Don’t camp out — “A lot of people sit in one spot, but if you want to catch the numbers you have to move,” Bye said.
Indeed, on a recent trip to Lac Des Allemands west of New Orleans, Bye fished much like he was targeting bass: He kept the boat moving through the flooded cypress trees and laydowns, stopping only when he got a bite.
• Use your trolling motor sparingly — Bye lets the breeze or tide push him along so he can be as stealthy as possible. In fact, he as often as not reaches out and pushes his boat away from likely crappie-holding timber instead of using his trolling motor.
“You don’t want to wash where you’re fishing,” he said. “If you do that, you ruin that spot.”
• Fish deeper water — Once the spawn is over, fish pull out of the shallows. The exact depth depends on the water body, but even on the relatively shallow Lac Des Allemands Bye never fished shallower than 3 feet — and that was pushing it.
The key is to keep the jig just above the bottom, which means Bye often moves his cork up and down to accommodate the changing water depths.
• Don’t just fish what you see — “You don’t fish what you see,” Bye said. “You fish what you visualize.”
In other words, when you see a treetop sticking out of the water, you should determine where the main trunk of the fallen tree is — that’s where you want to fish.
“I fish the main base of the tree,” Bye said. “Go to Cabela’s and look at where those fish are sitting: They’re under the main base of those trees.”
In fact, even when he sticks a jig amongst the visible limbs of a treetop, he’s not really fishing those limbs.
“You want to fish the main (trunk) of the tree,” he said. “That’s where the fish will be.”
• Fish the shadows — While there are exceptions to this rule, it’s generally a good bet that crappie will be keeping out of the sun. And that actually helps narrow down the amount of water to fish as shadows become more distinct when the sun moves above the horizon.
• Use the right equipment — Bye exclusively uses 9-foot crappie poles of the Berkley and B’n’M persuasion, matched with spin-cast reels.
“You can jig it. You can pitch it. You can fish deep,” he explained. “A lot of people use those short poles with sliding corks, but I don’t think you can get the action on that jig like you can with the 9-foot poles.”
At the same time, rods longer than 9 feet just get in the way.
“You have too much rod,” Bye said.
His setup is especially handy when working flooded cypress knees and laydowns, where it’s important not to pull a jig across.
“You have to learn to move (the jig) up and down,” Bye said. “You can’t pull it across; you’ll get hung up.”
• Use enough weight , but not too much— Bye ties a crappie jig to the terminal end of his line, but he also adds a small split shot weight about 6 inches up the line.
“I want that bobber to stand up,” he said. “If you take the (extra) weight off, the bobber won’t stand up.”
Of course, you can add too much weight.
“Too much weight and it pulls the bobber under,” he said.
• Color doesn’t matter — Bye rarely uses live bait, confident instead that he can catch fish with his Panfish Assassin plastics. He favors salt-and-pepper silver phantom, but he’s convinced color doesn’t really make a difference.
“It’s just preference,” he said. “When they’re biting, you can catch them on a bare jig.”