Despite the torrid temperatures delivered by a rare June heat wave, fishermen were quick to hit the water last week after having to deal with the nearly week-long and statewide frustration of winds and pressure changes related to tropical storm Debby that slowly churned in the Gulf of Mexico.
The arrival of the heat told me it was time to fish for crappie, and to see if all the talk about a blossoming crappie population at Calling Panther Lake near Crystal Spring were true.
Huh, crappie in 100-degree heat? On unknown waters?
Yes, and I had confidence, based on many 100-degree days on Barnett Reservoir with Rabbit Rogers, who excels on jerking out slabs in triple-digit heat.
“Seems like every crappie in the lake will relate to cover at a certain depth, usually around 11 feet, or somewhere between 10 and 12 feet,” said Rogers. “Fish like to go deep in the heat and they like to put something between their eyes and the sun. If you can find the precise depth, and you can find enough horizontal cover, like a limb off an old tree, then you will find fish under it at that depth.”
Having read about a surprise and rapidly-developing crappie population on Calling Panther, I realized it was a perfect place to put Rogers’ philosophy to the test. Panther has a well-defined creek channel lined with standing timber, most of which has the kind of cover Rogers likes.
The hard part would be establishing the preferred depth of the fish. Without the experience of Barnett, where the thermocline is usually well-defined, I would have to find it on my own.
Fish hang close to that depth where the oxygen-rich but warm top water meets the cooler but oxygen-poor deeper layer of water. In that layer, fish find comfort.
Arriving at the lake at 9 a.m. with a temperature already showing 92, my partner and I started at 10 feet and picked up a 13-inch fish immediately. But we didn’t get another bite for 30 minutes. I reeled in a foot of line, and started fishing 9 feet deep and that was the right move.
My partner and I pulled 15 fish, including 10 nice keepers, out from the trees over the next hour, on a 1/16-ounce red (head) and white tube jig, tipped with a medium minnow.
That got us through to 11 a.m. and the true onslaught of the day’s heat. I moved out to some old favorite bass holes — one rock pile in particular — which produced one 4-pound fish on a crankbait and three 12-inch fish on a Senko-type worm fished without a weight on a No. 2 Gamakatsu Finesse Hook.
At noon and 99 degrees, I headed back to the creek channel to see if the heat would change the crappie depth. I started at 9 feet again, and got a single bite in 15 minutes in the same area that had produced so much action earlier. Then I went a foot deeper, and bam, the action at 10 feet was better. I quickly caught two, so I went another foot deep, just to see.
I caught my biggest crappie of the day, 2 pounds, at 11 feet, and added two more within 15 minutes. Satisfied and desiring air conditioning, we pulled in with 13 keeper crappie and four 12-inch bass to provide fish tacos over the weekend.
We had more empty bottles of water and sports drinks — 18 — on the floor of the boat. We pushed it to 24 empties in the parking lot.
Whew! It was that hot.