Scott Vance dropped a few jigs into the water, but before he could get all his poles out, the action began.
A crappie slammed a jig and almost jerked the pole out of the rod holder. Vance set the hook and quickly landed his first crappie.
The bite was on, despite frigid temperatures and cold water that greeted him last February on a trip to Okatibbee Lake. Although the spawn was still a way off, crappie were getting ready. staging in their traditional, prespawn areas, where Vance, who is from Collinsville, was ready for them with his jigs, minnows and spider-rig setup.
“The males go shallow first and prepare the spawning sites, and a lot of the fishermen will be there with them catching the smaller males,” Vance said. “But the bigger females are staging at the nearest deep water, and that could be along a creek channel or ditch running through a shallow spawning flat. I prefer fishing deeper water; that’s where I’ll be because it’s easier for me to catch them with my setup and GPS system.”
While most folks are waiting for warmer weather, Vance will enjoy some of the hottest action of the year on flood-control lakes like Okatibbee, Grenada and Enid.
“The big females will come in and lay their eggs and move out pretty fast,” Vance said. “They’ll leave their eggs in there for the males to guard and move back out to their staging area. While most of the people are catching the smaller males — and an occasional female — I’ll be catching the big sows before, during and after the spawn in the 8-foot range.”
Although Vance has learned the traditional staging areas through years of experience and trial and error, he also utilizes his Hummingbird Helix 7 to stay on the hot spots and troll through the prime spots of each area.
“I like to stay on the edge of the ditches and troll from stump to stump, just hitting the hot spots,” Vance said. “I usually catch them around the stumps ,and it doesn’t take long to catch a limit when the weather is right and they’re biting. Plus, I usually have them all to myself.”
Don’t forget the minnows
While many people like to use jigs to keep their hands dry during the prespawn action, Vance said minnows have their advantages, mainly, they catch crappie year-round.
“Most of us diehard crappie anglers don’t care what we catch the fish on, just as long as we get some action and catch a few,” Vance said. “When the fish are hitting light or they’re finicky because of the weather or fluctuating water levels, they’ll usually hit a minnow dangled in front of them.
“At Grenada, Enid, Sardis and Lake Washington I’ll use a minnow because the fish are larger, and we want a bigger profile to entice those big slabs into biting. They’ll power-troll on those lakes with the larger minnows on double-minnow rigs with 2- or 3-ounce weights to keep the minnows down there while they’re constantly moving. If you put that minnow right on them, it’s hard for them to turn down.”
While 2-pound crappie are rare in most places, it’s not uncommon for anglers to catch 3-pound crappie from one of the Big 4 lakes. When you’re after big fish, big minnows are the order of the day.
Whether you prefer jigs, spinners, double-minnow rigs or minnows fished under corks, there’s sure to be a few prespawn crappie just ready to sample your special offering. Just make sure you bring along plenty of stout line, sharp hooks and jigs, or you just might run out of lures or bait before filling your limit.
Mitch Glenn, a lure designer and former tournament competitor, has been designing and building crappie and bass lures since his teen years in Arkansas. Suffice it to say, he knows a few things about catching prespawn crappie in mid to late February.
“The cycle for prespawn crappie usually begins in mid February,” Glenn said. “The first time the sun shines and the wind is not blowing, we’ll find a good laydown or wood structure because the crappie are going to move up to it.
“If you get out there at the right time of day, the fish will come to the structure, and they may move from deep to shallow over the course of the day, depending upon how the temperature and weather is.”
Glenn works the trees and structure back and forth with his jigs, and it usually doesn’t take long to catch a limit. When he locates lay-down trees that hold fish, they may be caught at the deepest part of the tree early in the day and caught near the surface later in the day if the water warms significantly.
And remember, if you wait until you hear the fish are biting before you go, you’ve probably missed out on the best crappie angling of the year.
Scented nibbles, slab sauce
There will be days when fish need a little extra tempting, especially on a jig.
“Sometimes the fish need a little added enticement during the prespawn; I’ll tip my jigs with Crappie Nibbles or Ed Moes’ Slab Sauce,” Vance said. “Moes is the founder of Crappie.com, which has 100,000 members, and his nickname is Slab.
“He’s an avid crappie fisherman who came up with a better product to catch more fish. And you’ll catch more fish in cold weather by spraying some Slab Sauce on your crappie jigs. Slab Sauce smells just like a fish because it actually is made from fish.”
Slab Sauce is thicker than some of the traditional sprays used in bass fishing, and that oily thickness keeps it on the lure longer and the crappie really latch on to it, he said.
“I’ve used the Crappie Nibbles for a long time, and they really work well, but they’re usually done after one bite,” Vance said. “With the new Slab Sauce, the scent stays on there longer, and you just have to freshen it up every once in a while and it keeps on working.”
It was Glenn’s love for crappie fishing and introduction to Slab Sauce that led him to design a couple of baits for Pico Lures, specifically to use with the scent.
While fish may bite in cold water, they often spit the lure out before an angler can react; the Slab Sauce makes them hold on just long enough for a fisherman to feel them and set the hook.
“We came up with a couple of solid-body tube and pointer tail, shad-type baits lined with little rings designed to hold the slab sauce,” Glenn said. “The more surface area that’s on a lure, the longer the sauce is going to stay on them and the more fish you may catch as a result.”
Glenn has been working on the new lures for about six months, and they’re going on the market in time for the spring crappie season after extensive field-testing. The jigs catch crappie, and when sprayed with the Slab Sauce they’re tough in cold water too.
“Our top Mississippi colors are orange and chartreuse, or black and chartreuse,” Glenn said. “On sunny days or in clear water, they like the lighter colors like clear pinks and pearl colors.”