Crappie bite funny sometimes. My focus this month is the actual crappie bite itself. I want to focus on what the fish are telling us with the way they bite. Now pay attention, you may learn something.
As my big-headed buddy, Jim McKay of Brandon, would say, “I’m about to get a lesson, and I’m about to give a lesson.” Actually, I’m about to pass on some lessons crappie have taught me about their bite.
And, speaking of Big Jim, one cool, fall day over at Chotard, he and I were fishing with drift poles hung from the bow of my boat. My Bass Cat is set up with one of those side-by-side seats up front with two separate pole racks.
Jim was fishing with one pole in his right-side pole-holder, and I had three poles going on the left side. We had three hook-sets on each pole baited with lively minnows, and we were catching fish (at least one of us was) approximately 18 to 20 feet deep.
I was catching fish. But, Jim? To say Jim was “relaxed” would be understating it greatly. With arms folded, Jim dutifully watched the tip of his long pole.
“There’s a bite,” Jim said.
Mind you, he never unfolded his arms — just kept staring at the business end of the pole.
A minute later: “There’s two bites.”
Still no movement from Big Jim.
Then just a few moments later: “And, there’s No. 3.”
Now Jim slowly reached forward to take his pole out of the rack — not to land a fish, but just to re-bait the three hooks.
After he repeated this process a couple of times, I asked, in my finest sarcastic tone, “Jim, why don’t you at least try catching one of those perch every now and then?”
“Naw, I’d have to take ’em off the hook then,” Jim drawled as he continued to mesmerize himself. “Just knowing they’re down there is good enough for me.”
What’s the lesson here? I’m not sure. I thought there was one in there somewhere, but now, after re-writing this several times, I’m not so sure.
Get, give a lesson
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years. When I’m jig fishing, and, bite after bite, the hook is stuck exactly in the middle of the top part of the fish’s mouth, the lesson is that I’m using the right color at the right depth in the right location. The thump is the same every time on the end of my 8-foot jig pole, and nothing could be finer.
By the way, if you haven’t down-sized that 11- or 12-footer to an 8-foot jig pole, you’re missing out. Switching to a shorter graphite jig pole is like turning up the volume on your stereo. The first time you try it and get bit like I’m talking about here, it’ll scare you to death. If you want even greater amplification, switch that mono out for either braided line or the new fluorocarbon stuff.
So, what’s the difference between short strikes and light bites? Well first of all, there is a difference between when the fish are hitting but you’re not getting the hook in them versus when the fish are just lightly, ever so slightly, biting.
Actually, short strikes are coming from aggressive, feeding fish, I believe. You know what I’m talking about here. Hit after hit you keep coming up short. They keep jerking your skirt down. You think you’re quick enough, but you keep missing them.
What’s the lesson? Do something to change your jig slightly. Subtle color changes or cutting off part of the skirt to shorten your offering may help. Add a scent attractant to your jig. The fish may hold onto the bait just a fraction of a second longer.
Light bites are those almost undetectable sensations you feel in the butt-end of your jig pole (and by the butt-end, I’m not talking about you, friend). You think that was a bite, but you’re just not sure. Or, in some cases, you feel nothing at all, but you check your bait, and, lo and behold, there’s a crappie on the end of your string or, worse, your minnow is missing.
Light bites are usually environmental or weather related. Either the water is too cold or too muddy or the full moon phase is upon us or the barometric pressure is changing rapidly.
The lesson is to try live bait instead of artificials. If that doesn’t work, come back in a couple of days after the full moon begins to wane.
Aggressive, hard hits that result in no fish come from small crappie I think. This is different from short-striking perch. Here, I’m talking about those pole-jarring hits that almost jerk the pole right out of your hand. I believe the smaller fish know they have to hit the bait extremely hard to kill it. And they know they are not far from the bottom of the food chain themselves. So they literally eat “on the run.”
The lesson is to move, change locations, fish somewhere else.
Lift bites are a slab fisherman’s dream. Directly opposite from the little-fish bite, the big mamas get in absolutely no hurry to feed. They just ease up to that minnow and slowly, deliberately suck the bait in. The result you see 15 feet up in your pole rack is that drift pole’s skinny end go slack or lift.
Lesson? Get the net, get the net! The largest crappie I’ve ever caught, a 3.41-pound Grenada monster, came on a subtle but sure lift bite.
And what about those fish you catch with the hook right smack-dab in the middle of the bottom lip instead of in the top lip or the side of the mouth? I have no idea. Others have said that happens when they are coming up real fast to feed. I have no personal theory. It’s a mystery to me. But I know that I’ve caught some “as big as they grow” that must have been swimming upside-down when they came by my lure.