Landing a huge crappie takes special preparation, from your fishing hole to the weather to your equipment. So make sure everything is in order when that big girl grabs your offering.
Of all the places to catch crappie, Mississippi might be the best bet for catching a slab that will top the 3-pound mark. Like catching a 10-pound bass or killing a record-book deer, you have to go where the big ones live, but don’t expect one to jump in your livewell. You have to figure out you quarry’s pattern, and when you find the right spot, have the right tackle and right baits.
Kent Driscoll, pro staff manager for B’n’M Poles in West Point, has been catching crappie all over Mississippi since he was a kid. He is well-known in both local and national crappie tournaments, and he has caught dozens of crappie that topped 3 pounds, and he has even put together a pattern of when, where and how to catch them.
“First, you gotta fish where the 3-pounders live, and that’s real simple in this state; you start in late February in the southern part of the state and move north as the weather and the water warms,” he said.
While his tactics and baits are going to be virtually the same through his entire trek, Driscoll said he would start in mid- February at Eagle Lake in Warren County on the Mississippi- Louisiana border. By the first of March, he’s going to move to Washington Lake in southern Washington County or Lake Whittington in Bolivar County.
“You’ve got to hit Whittington at the right stage in the spring when it’s got stable water, because it’s tied to the Mississippi River,” said Driscoll. “Washington is not, so it’s going to be good to go regardless of whether the river is flooding or not.”
The middle of March will find Driscoll at Grenada Lake, the self-touted home of the 3-pound crappie, and with good reason — the lake produces a number of large white crappie every spring. Driscoll said he would spend the entire month of April at Lake Arkabutla in DeSoto and Tate counties.
His final pick would be any private waters that don’t get fished much and hold big crappie.
“Look at this recent world-record crappie caught last year in Tennessee,” said Driscoll. “There are tons of small to medium waters out of the limelight, and if you have access to them, you need to be fishing them during March.”
Regardless of the lake he’s fishing, Driscoll recommended slow-trolling or spider-rigging. He’ll use as many poles as are allowed and push baits off the front of the boat.
“Unless I’m on Grenada, which limits you to three poles, I’m going to have eight 16-foot B’n’M BGJP rods sitting in my Driftmaster rodholders,” he said. “You want to use big jigs. I’ll run two ¼-ounce Pro-Built jigheads on each rod. The jigheads are gonna be either orange, pink or green, and I’m going to have either a big Muddy Water or Southern Pro umbrella on the jighead.”
Driscoll favors glow baits, plastics with additives that help fish see them in muddy water, because that’s where he’s headed — to the upper ends of the lake, looking for water in the low 60s. He’s also going to tip the artificial bait with a shiner in the 3-inch range.
“You’re looking for big, female white crappie that haven’t gone to the bank yet,” he said. “These fish are at their heaviest of the year, and they’re just sitting out there, suspending in water from 6 to 10 feet deep.”
Driscoll said the prespawn females he is targeting tend to be aggressive when they strike, but they won’t aggressively chase a bait. On his tandem rig, he will tie a 3-way swivel between the two jigs so they hang about 2 feet apart in the water column. Unless conditions tell him otherwise, he’ll set the upper jig to run in about 3 feet of water and the other at 5 feet. Using a variable speed trolling motor, he’ll move the boat along at a snail’s pace from .2 to .3 miles per hour.
“Here’s the thing; those fish are pumped up on hormones, and they’re worried about the weather and water temperature and water levels and finding the right place to drop those eggs, they’re just sitting in the water,” he said. “When that big bait comes by and almost hits her in the nose, she might just inhale it, or she might try to rip the rod out of the rod holder.”
Driscoll’s final advice was that these fish run in age classes. A crappie that weighs 3 pounds will be 16½ to 17 inches long. They may not school tightly, but they’ll be in the same general area, so if you catch a 2¾-pound fish, you need to dig in and work that area within 50 to 100 yards hard.
A 30-pound bag
Veteran angler Kent Driscoll had his best day on the water 16 years ago on Grenada Lake. Unfortunately, he was not fishing in a tournament for money or out with a television crew or outdoor writer taking photographs. He was just fun fishing and hit what he describes as the mother lode of big crappie.
“I was in the back of a creek on Grenada, and I had my poles out working a big, muddy flat that has loaded with stumps, not another boat in sight,” he said.
Driscoll said the water was rising and about 3 to 5 feet deep on the flat when his rods starting going down with big fish.
“I’d catch a big one and turn around and work back through the area and catch another one; it was insane,” he said. “Back in those days, you weighed 10 fish in a tournament, and my top 10 that day was 30.03 pounds. I had a 3-pound average with the five biggest crappie all weighing over 3 pounds. It was the same day I caught my personal best: a 3.6 pound slab.”
Driscoll said he learned a lot that day about the habits of big crappie. He said it takes a certain amount of skill to land a 3-pound, hormone-charged fish on the end of a 14-foot pole. It also showed him that the farther away from the boat he could fish, the more likely he was to get bites from big spooky crappie.
“We didn’t have 16-foot poles back then, so we were using 14- footers,” he said. “It wasn’t long before B’n’M started working on making longer poles.”
B’n’M Poles is offering a crappie-measuring device that will accommodate bigger fish and also provide detailed instructions on where and how to vent and deflate a fish’s air bladder. The measuring device is named the Slab Master Crappie Saver, and it’s the last crappie measuring device you’ll need.
“We wanted to provide a tool that is specifically designed to help to protect our crappie fisheries,” said Jack Wells, B’nM’s president. “First, it will accommodate bigger fish — those that exceed 2 pounds and are pretty frequent here in Mississippi. We’ve also incorporated a scale that will not only indicate the length of the fish but also help anglers determine the fish’s age and weight based on statistical modeling. The third aspect is that the crappie saver will also indicate specifically where to vent the fish in order to deflate the swim bladder.”
Swim bladder deflation, a practice commonly referred to as venting or fizzing, is a coming-of-age technique that relieves the pressure of the fish’s distended swim bladder and allows the fish to return to the deeper water after release by re-balancing the pressure of its swim bladder.
The practice has seen widespread practice in national bass events and has been heralded by biologists with helping to save the lives of thousands of tournament caught and released fish.
A key player in the product’s design is crappie pro Ronnie Capps, who is a wildlife officer for the state of Tennesee and has a degree in fisheries management.
“When you put a crappie in this thing, it’s not going to flop back out like some other measurers,” Capps said. “That lets you handle the fish without damaging it so it can be weighed and released unharmed. The Saver was also designed with an air-bladder deflation guide that shows you exactly where to deflate the fish without having to guess. Naturally, it’s tells you how long the fish is, and it will also come pretty close to giving you its weight and age.”
Tips to land your personal best
Veteran tournament angler Jeremy Aldridge of Batesville has some tips for anglers on closing the deal once they get a 3-pound crappie on the line.
Aldridge caught a 3½-pound crappie from Grenada Lake a couple of years ago during the spring when the water was low. He and partner Daniel Porter kept pushing up the Yalabusha River, not really expecting to find anything due to the water levels.
Just after crossing a shallow sandbar, one of Aldridge’s poles took a deep plunge, and he wrestled the giant fish to the surface. Luck was on their side, and the pair got the fish in the net and to the boat but lost two or three other really good fish.
Looking back at experiences with large crappie, Aldridge said there are several things you can do to be prepared.
“Probably, the first instinct is to panic,” he said. “Remain calm and play the fish out. Don’t try too force it, because it’s easy to tear the hook out. Try to get the fish turned around, and then work it to the net.”
Aldridge said the long pole will take much of the shock, but big females are so aggressive, it’s best to loosen up on the reel’s drag to release some line on the initial run. If he’s by himself, he uses an extendable net with a 8- to 9-foot handle.
“Our tournament net is a one-piece, 14-footer,” he said. “We keep it laid between us, so it’s easy to reach when we get a big fish on out at the end of a 16-foot pole.”
Aldridge advises that a big, single jig is much easier to hook and land a big crappie on because there’s no counter weight swinging on the line to help dislodge the hook from the fish’s mouth.
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