Every fisherman has his favorite pattern to be on the water fishing. Bass anglers love to pick big sows off their bedding grounds. Crappie fishermen keep their eyes peeled for the dogwoods to bloom when the tasty panfish invade the shallows. Catfish anglers yearn for summer nights when big cats go on the prowl.

Now think of the worst time to be on the water.

You may have picked any Saturday during the month of July on Ross Barnett Reservoir. The weather is hot, and pleasure boaters and jet skis are out in force, turning the water to a frothy chop. The summer sun cooks the water into the high 80s. This scenario is probably not going to make it very high on anyone's "favorites" list. Then there's Hugh Krutz.

"I love it," said the tournament director for the Magnolia Crappie Club. "Crappie move out into the trees over deep water out in the main lake. It's one of the most dependable patterns to catch crappie during the year, and the weather is pretty consistent - it's always hot and miserable."

 

Pre-Rez

To understand why Krutz favors mid day summertime crappie fishing on Barnett when most people would rather be inside in the air conditioning sipping a cold beverage, you have to understand the lay of the lake. Before Barnett was impounded, the area was low-lying river valley on adjacent sides of the Pearl River. Interspersed along this winding waterway was a number of old oxbows and sloughs, each surrounded by hardwood trees.

"When the lake was backed up, it flooded all those small ponds and lakes, and what you see now is the tops of those trees. We call them stumps, but they're in 18 to 20 feet of water," said Krutz. "During the summer, crappie will move into those stumps because they provide shade, cover and access to deeper water near the old river channel.

"In addition, surface temperatures reach into the upper 80s on the main lake, and that dictates what depths the crappie will hold at."

When Barnett's waters stratify in the summer, cooler oxygenated water sinks to the lower levels, leaving the upper water column too hot for the crappie's preference. At the lowest levels, decomposition of organic material on the lake floor consumes the usable amounts of oxygen and renders much of this cold water layer to be unusable for crappie.

What's left is a narrow band of cooler, well oxygenated water that is referred to as the thermocline. According to Krutz's regular Saturday fishing partner, Shelton Culpepper, the vice president of the MCC, Barnett's July thermocline typically sets up between 12 and 14 feet.

"You can actually see the thermocline if you turn up the sensitivity on your sonar unit," he said. "It will show up as a thick horizontal line at the same level all the fish are holding at. It's also pretty easy to understand if you do a lot of minnow fishing, because a minnow that's sent down to 11 feet will survive for a good while and one at 13 feet will only live a couple of minutes."

 

Stump fishing

Krutz and Culpepper may start their Saturday ventures out at first light, but neither really expects things to heat up until the sun gets high overhead.

"First thing in the morning, we'll still head out to the stumps, but we expect the fish to be scattered. We may catch a few here and there, but the action doesn't really get started until the sun gets up," said Krutz. "The sun concentrates fish. It pushes them together on the shady side of the trees and under the horizontal limbs that stick out away from the trunk."

But not all trees are created equal.

"Some stumps hold more crappie than others," said Culpepper. "It really helps to know which ones have a lot of limbs on them, because those hold a lot more fish."

Both Krutz and Culpepper point to two things - finding the right stumps and being able to see the bite - as reasons they catch fish when so many other uninitiated anglers give up in frustration.

"I'm always standing up in the boat," said Culpepper. "It gives me a better vantage point to be able to see down in the water. Wearing a good pair of sunglasses is also very important. Those stumps that are a foot or so beneath the surface get skipped over by most of the other anglers. Those are the ones that I want to try to target."

"I'll fish a jig straight down, the length of the rod," said Krutz, "and I'm watching the line the whole time. If the jig drops by a fish, it won't move; it'll just suck that jig in and sit there, and the only thing you see up top is the line start to pile up. That's when you have to set the hook."

 

Pucker up

"All the crappie that we catch out here in the trees will have bloody lips," said Krutz. "The reason for this is that we have these huge mayfly hatches during the summer, and the mayfly larvae will attach to the tops of the trees. Early in the morning, you'll see crappie kissing on the stumps. What they are doing is dislodging and eating these larvae. They do so much kissing that it tears up their lips."

Some crappie anglers who are wise to what the crappie are eating may try to "match the hatch" by using any number of small, soft plastic creature baits. Krutz claims he's tried this, but still favors the basic tube jig.

The majority of the fish these two anglers catch are white crappie, though on occasion they will put a speck or two in the livewell. Despite targeting white crappie, which more often prefer a larger bait, both Krutz and Culpepper opt for a slightly smaller bait when working the stumps.

"I use a 2-inch Southern Pro crappie tube on either a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jig head," said Krutz. "I like the bright colors or even a glow color because the water at the reservoir stays pretty dingy through the summer. I think crappie can see a bright color better, and I think they really see a glow color even better since they're hanging out in the shade anyway."

 

Single-pole jigging

"I spent most of my life fishing with a 10-foot jig pole," said Culpepper, who is well known in the MCC for his skill as a jig fisherman. "But when I started fishing this pattern and discovered that just about every fish will be at 12 feet, I had to switch to the longer rod to catch them."

"I spool up two jig poles with 8-pound high vis line," said Krutz. "It's all a matter of being able to detect bites. I'll always have on a good quality pair of polarized sunglasses because they let you see stumps that other people miss. Then it's a matter of pitching a small jig to the stump and letting it swing back to you.

"Most of the time you never feel the bite; the line either stops moving or twitches, and you have to be able to read that to know a fish has picked up the jig.

"Another secret is that we load our jigs up with fish attractant before we pitch them at the stumps. We use a Bait Pump to force fish attractant into the tube. That causes crappie to hold onto the jig because it tastes like food. That's a huge advantage when the bite is so soft."