Most people mark April 15 on their calendars as a reminder that their income tax forms are due.
Crappie fishermen on Barnett Reservoir have another reason to circle that date. Tournament angler Hugh Krutz of Brandon claims that, historically, the spawn is going to hit a peak either on April 15, or within a day or two of it.
“If you’re going to take a day off from work, that’s the day you want,” he Krutz said. .
Now you know when and why, it’s time to figure out how.
Krutz said three major tactics dominate how the lion’s share of anglers will attempt to catch crappie this month, the decision on which to use is a matter of personal preference. All will catch fish, and each has strengths and weaknesses.
Jigging the grass
A jig pole and a single 1/16-ounce jig is about as old school Mississippi crappie fishing as it gets. Krutz said the best method for catching spawning crappie is to dive in to the miles and miles of shoreline covered in what he terms “reed grass” and fish the deepest, darkest holes you can find in water depths of between 18 inches to 2 feet deep. Don’t be afraid to reach as far into the reeds as possible.
“This lake gets a lot of fishing pressure in the spring so you can bet the outside edge of the grass has been fished hard,” Krutz said. “Put the jig in the hardest spot to get to and you’re more likely to find fish.”
Krutz said there is no topographical equation to solve in figuring out where crappie will spawn when it comes to grass.
Since males are guarding the nest, males make up the majority of the catch rate when jigging. Contrary to popular belief, males do not hollow out nests in the bottom. Crappie eggs are sticky and adhere to the grass or any woody cover.
“Regardless, crappie aren’t fond of soft, mushy bottoms, so any area that has cover over a gravel or sand bottom is more likely to hold spawning fish at Barnett,” Krutz said.
Tightlining the ledges
Targeting bigger females before, between and after their multiple sprints in to the shallows to push out their eggs, means fishing deeper.
For trolling anglers, the first drop outside the edge of the grass beds are prime tight-line trolling areas where the target water depth is less than 4 feet. For this type of spider rigging, Krutz will often use a single jig on each line that weighs between 1/16 and 1/8 oounce. For bigger fish, he will even move down to a ¼-ounce jig, but admits he misses bites when targeting only bigger fish.
“If I’m targeting water deeper than 3 or 4 feet, I can go back to my double-hook minnow rigs weighted with a 3/8-ounce egg weight,” Krutz said. “You don’t need a lot of weight at that depth.”
Unlike single pole jigging in the grass itself, tight-line trolling targets fish moving to and from the grass areas. These fish are more likely to be bigger females that move in to lay eggs multiple times during the spawn and then move out to hold in deeper water.
“If we’ve had any rain, the water levels will rise and they’ll be some current in the lake,” Krutz said. “Crappie won’t fight the current and will more likely hold in the eddy behind some type of cover. A lot of times that cover will be the long stretch of riprap that forms the Highway 43 bridge.”
Long-lining the flats
Crappie guide Brad Chappell of Ridgeland decided to try long-line trolling for crappie after seeing the success of the technique.
“When the bite is on, just look for the concentration of boats in the area around the bridges,” Chappell said. “The majority will be spider-rigging live bait, which I love to see. I’ll be dodging in and out around those guys and catching a lot more fish because I’m covering so much ground.”
When crappie are spawning, long-lining targets the males that have yet to move up on the nest and the females that are moving in and out from the nest to deeper water. Targeting shallow flats with sporadic submerged cover and water depths less that 4 to 5 feet often produce the best results.
“I discovered that it takes a while to dial in on what works,” Chappell said. “The biggest element that I found was consistency. You have to use the same jig heads, same bodies, and same set up on all of your rods while you’re trolling.”
To set the boat up for long-line trolling, Chappell recommends using a variable speed trolling motor that will allow changes in the boat speed in increments as small as 1/10th of a mph. A rod-holder rack, each containing up to four holders, is attached to the rear of the boat. Chappell runs identical trolling rods from the rear of the boat.
While the amount of line out has a lesser effect on trolling depth than jig weight and boat speed, Chappell claims “a good long cast” to be the best judge of line distance.