Paddling up Mississippi crappie

High-water crappie fishing in the spring is a perfect time for a paddleboat

High-water crappie fishing in the spring is a perfect time for a paddleboat

Even with a veritable jungle of iron weeds, small brush and other shoreline structure to hide, there still are some areas on all of Mississippi’s flood-control and oxbow systems that go virtually untouched by both powerboat and wading crappie fishermen.

It’s these areas that give kayak anglers an edge over others.

Once the waters rise in the backwaters of Grenada, Sardis, Enid and Arkabutla — and numerous other bodies of water in the Magnolia State — these areas grant access to old sloughs and ditches that are scattered along the headwaters. Boaters need at least a couple of feet of water above the rim of an old slough to successfully get in. Most of these areas are too far back through dense undergrowth to allow access from the shoreline.

These sloughs are the bread and butter of kayaking crappie fishermen with their shallow-draft paddlecraft and simplicity to launch.

Another kayak-ready situation is a shallow shoal or submerged island. These areas are covered by enough water to hold crappie, yet surrounded by water that’s too deep to cross in waders.

Why a kayak works

Bubba Weeks of Grenada figured out long ago that a kayak was the best way to get to these areas.

“Using a kayak, it’s a lot easier to cross a ditch or creek channel than wading,” he said. “I can also get my kayak up the smallest stream and into a swampy area that big boats can’t reach.”

Some great access to sloughs and swamps can be gained by a kayak, reaching areas boats and waders can’t reach.
Some great access to sloughs and swamps can be gained by a kayak, reaching areas boats and waders can’t reach.

Just about every kayak manufacturer has caught on to the fact that these small boats make great fishing craft, and they offer amenities to fit the needs of fishermen. Weeks’ boat is a simple, 10-foot, cockpit-style boat that he sits inside of.

“I can put this boat in anywhere on this lake” Weeks said. “I strap it on the rear rack of my 4-wheeler and use a number of old logging roads to get down to wherever the water has come up to — the same way the guys who wade do.”

As far as range, Weeks said that with just moderate paddling, he can outrun a trolling motor without a whole lot of effort. That puts his fishing range at a mile or better in any direction from his put-in.

“I usually fish the old Highway 8 area on the south side of the Yalobusha at Grenada” he said. “There’s also an old slough we call the Pecan Orchard on the north side of the river about halfway between the Graysport and Choctaw ramps. Both of these are great kayak spots, because boats can’t get in there, and they’re too deep for waders.”

Your rod-holder setup will depend on how the boat is propelled. When using a paddle boat, leave enough room for the paddle stroke.
Your rod-holder setup will depend on how the boat is propelled. When using a paddle boat, leave enough room for the paddle stroke.

What you need

Tackle for kayaking is comparable to that used by fishermen who wade. Weeks uses a 10-foot jig pole paired with a simple, spool reel that’s used to store line. He favors 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs, and his go-to color for the dinghy water is anything with orange in it.

Some great access to sloughs and swamps can be gained by a kayak, reaching areas boats and waders can’t reach. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

A few other crappie-specific pieces of gear for your kayak include a good sonar unit with topographic map. Channel edges and drop-offs are hot areas this month, going from 7 to 4 feet as the month progresses. Graphing spawning crappie is an unlikely prospect, but look for them during the prespawn migration to be high in the water column and around baitfish.

A landing net with an extended handle is a good idea. A long-handled crabbing net makes a good, cheap way to land a flopping fish at the end of a long pole with limited mobility to maneuver.

Coincidentally, the rise in popularity of fishing kayaks has given rise to both single- and multiple-pole crappie fishing tactics used in a highly portable, plastic kayak. Ronnie McKee, aka “Stump Hunter” to his online friends on one of Mississippi’s most popular crappie fishing websites, crappie.com, is one angler who has successfully merged the two concepts.

Multiple rods

Multiple-rod tactics for crappie fishing break down into two schools of thought. While both are referred to by some as spider-rigging, owing to the water-bug appearance presented by a slender boat with multiple, spindly legs sticking out of each side, most crappie anglers refer to spider-rigging as a slow, vertical trolling tactic in which baits are pushed forward rather than trolled behind. This tactic is sometimes referred to as tight-lining. The other school of thought when using multiple rods is actually more like trolling, where rods are staggered to the sides and rear of the boat and trailed or trolled behind as the craft moves forward.

Kayaks can be equipped with the same electronics used on powerboats, giving the paddling angler real- time information on water depth and conditions. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

McKee reasoned that tight-lining would be more amenable by paddle and set about rigging his Wilderness Systems Ride 115 with two rod holders per side to accommodate 8- and 10- foot, lightweight crappie rods. In the middle of his setup is a self-contained sonar unit that, like any other spider-rigging boat, is the heart of the tactic.

“The appropriate speed for tight-lining is only about .5 to .7 miles per hour,” McKee said. “That’s easy enough with just a paddle; keep one eye on the GPS, ease the boat along over the edge of a creek channel or flat, and watch for a rod tip to go down.”

Faster trolling

For faster trolling, McKee uses a separate boat, a Perception kayak he’s outfitted with a small trolling motor. A similar rod holder setup lets him troll at the steady 1.0 to 1.5 mph required to keep the trailing jigs swimming properly.

“With long-lining, you have to keep moving. When you catch a fish, retie a line, or do anything but paddle, you lose momentum, and the baits go to the bottom and hang up. The trolling motor was a necessity to make it work,” he said.

Oddly enough, even during the spawn, when crappie tend to be spread out and holding tight to shoreline cover, McKee prefers either multiple-rod approach.

“The males will go shallow and guard the nests,” he said. “A few kayak guys will downsize to ultralight tackle and cast to the banks like they are bass fishing. I prefer to troll the edge of a creek channel where it opens up into a shallow flat. That’s where the bigger females will stage while the males are on the nest, and those females will be bigger fish.”

Small boats, big options

Anglers can choose their kayaks based on their physical needs and personal preferences. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Though kayaks are rapidly becoming popular as fishing vessels, all of them are not designed for fishing, so keep these features in mind as you search for a crappie kayak:

  • Stability. This is No. 1. You want a kayak that’s wide enough so you can concentrate on fishing and not on falling out.
  • Style. Kayaks come in two basic styles: sit-on-top and cockpit-style. The biggest difference is how they handle rough water. Sit-on-tops typically have self-bailing holes that allow water that comes into the boat to drain out. Cockpit-style boats allow the angler to sit lower in the water for more stability but must be pumped out or tipped over to drain out any water. Cockpit boats also offer a measure of protection from the elements in their hull design.
  • Space and Storage. Look for enough space to allow you to sit comfortably in the boat and still have enough area to store essential gear.
  • Speed. Most fishing yaks aren’t designed for speed. Generally, the longer the boat, the sleeker the design, which allows you to cut through the water faster with less paddling effort. The drawback is, the longer the boat, the less maneuverable it is
  • Portability. Give some consideration to how you’ll get your small boat to the water. Some boats tuck nicely into the bed of a pickup truck, while others may require a roof-mounted rack or other support. Weight becomes a factor when having to transport the boat from the vehicle to the water or when carrying the boat around any obstacles that the angler encounters.
  • Price. Just like anything else, you can pay a little or a lot, but you generally get what you pay for. Fortunately, a good angling kayak can be had from a number of manufacturers for less than $1,000.

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Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 374 Articles
Phillip Gentry is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer who says that if it swims, walks, hops, flies or crawls he’s usually not too far behind.

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