Jump Start

John Harrison believes the key to catching crappie like this one is to work cover from the outside to the inside to keep from spooking crappie in the heart of the cover.

Hop over the side of your boat if you want to increase your crappie haul this spring.

In the same vein as wondering why somebody would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, I asked John Harrison why anybody would want to jump out of a perfectly good boat.

“To catch crappie,” he answered.

Harrison, a crappie guide and tournament angler who lives near Grenada Lake, remembered the time when he realized just how productive wade fishing for crappie could be.

“The last really high-water year we had at Grenada, the water was 231 and going over the emergency spillway during the spring of that year,” he recalled. “The water was backed up way into the woods, so far the fish were virtually impossible to get to.”

About the closest he could get to where crappie were holding was about 10 feet. However, rather than tucking his tail and running, Harrison jumped out of his boat and started walking.

Before he jumped out, he put on his LaCrosse waders and grabbed a 10-foot jig pole.

“It was so thick in there I had to break down that pole just so I could get to the bank,” he said. “Now, I’m short, but I wound up having to crawl through brush until I found a little stump, vines — anything that was in 2 feet of water.

“I just sat at each spot and caught six, seven, eight fish. Then I broke my pole down again and walked — make that crawled — around until I found something else unusual. Cypress trees were magnets back there. Rotten stumps were good, too.”

Now I see why he answered my question the way he did.

When the water gets so high that it pushes already shallow springtime crappie even farther out of reach, Harrison knows the only way to get to them is to park the boat and jump in.

“When they get in those thickets, even the smallest boat in the world can’t get to them,” Harrison said. “But you can bet crappie are going to go shallow this time of year. Thickets, ironwoods, willows, grass, brush — it doesn’t matter. The males are going to move in and the females are soon to follow.”

The simple train of thought is that if crappie are in places where jig poles can’t reach and pitching corks can’t help, you’ve got to go in after them. However, there is another reason to jump out of your boat and start wade fishing for crappie.

Stealth is important when targeting shallow-water crappie, and being stealthy is easier when you’re on your feet rather than on your seat. Think about how much less noise you make in the water versus in your boat.

“You just don’t make all that racket that can spook crappie off a spot,” Harrison said. “When you catch one out of your boat, the wind blows you off your spot. You try to adjust your boat while landing the fish you wind up hitting the top with your trolling motor. All that racket and stirring up the water — you catch so many more fish wading than you can in a boat when they’re shallow.”

Even if you think you can burst through all this heavy cover with your boat, Harrison’s tournament partner Kent Driscoll said all those shallow crappie would be long gone by the time you shut down your motor and grabbed your pole.

“To have to push your way through all those bushes, all those tree limbs, all that grass,” he said, “you’re going to make so much noise just trying to get to the fish in your boat that you’re going to disturb them badly and you’ll never catch one.”

But with all this talk about boats, it makes it seem as if you have to have one to be able to wade fish. Well, that’s not the case. In fact, Driscoll recalled a time when he caught his limit of 20 12-inch crappie by wade fishing from a boat ramp rather than a boat.

Three years ago when Sardis was so low, Driscoll wanted to get in a little fishing after work, but he didn’t have time to hook up his boat and ready all his gear. Rather, he drove to Hurricane Landing during the second week of April, got out and put on his waders, and walked into the water.

“There were a lot of coffee weeds growing around the ramp,” he remembered. “And the ground was muddy where I was standing.

“Crappie like a firm bottom, and I remembered a little high spot just out from Hurricane Landing that had some gravel on it.”

After negotiating some water up to his chest, the water finally started moving down his waders as he approached the little knoll. Some black vines were matted on the top of his target spot, and some small minnows were flipping around the dark vegetation.“I stuck my pole over that mat and dropped in a jig,” Driscoll continued. “A crappie just about took the rod from my hand.

“I netted that fish and took two steps closer to the hole, and without taking another step, I had my limit of crappie within 15 minutes. No boat, no motor — just waders, a pole, a few jigs and a landing net.”

Since Harrison and Driscoll frequently fish together, they have devised a plan where one angler fishes around their parked boat, while the other walks on down the bank. When the one walking away from the boat gets in a pile of fish, he hollers back to the one still near the boat to bring the boat on down.

“You can cover a lot of ground that way,” Harrison said. “Half the lake in an afternoon is doable when you wade fish like this with a partner.

“After you learn three our four good spots where the crappie like to get, then you can eliminate a lot of water and just go back to those productive spots over and over again.”

If that sounds like too much work or too much wading, Harrison suggested looking for an outstanding feature along the bank that you know crappie would find attractive. Narrow down your search by getting as close as you can to a creek channel and follow it back as far as you can go in your boat.

“When you get to where you can get out and wade to the bank, just get out and start fishing,” he added. “Just time it so you’re in that shallow water when it creeps up to about 56 to 63 degrees, and you can catch a bunch of crappie.”

While wade fishing, Harrison and Driscoll emphasized the importance of not getting in too big of a hurry. A slow stroll will produce more crappie than a sprint, and as Driscoll’s example proved, standing still can be even better than a slow stroll.
What typically happens is that wade fishermen walk up and fish a piece of cover by dropping their jigs directly into the heart of whatever they’re fishing. They pick up a quick two or three fish before the bite dries up. Since the fish
stopped biting, they race off to find another
piece of cover.

“After jerking out two or three fish, the rest of those crappie ease off into the open water around that cover,” Harrison said. “The way to remedy that is don’t start fishing the middle of whatever you’re fishing. Instead, start fishing the outside and work your way to the middle.”

This systematic approach to fishing shallow cover while wade fishing puts the odds more in your favor, because picking off the fish in open water around a piece of cover doesn’t upset the fish in the middle of it nearly as much.

According to Harrison, nine out of 10 times you hook your first fish in the middle of the cover, he’s going to bang around in it and shake that top. That makes the other fish, whether they’re in the middle or on the outside, move out for a while, thus making it appear as if the bite has shut down completely.

And to make sure they catch the most number of fish they can catch during a trip down a bank, Driscoll says he and Harrison walk into the wind rather than with it.

“That does a couple things for you,” Driscoll said. “First, when you walk into the wind, any silt you kick up with your wader boots tends to drift behind you rather than in front of you.

“Also, a lot of the sound and vibration you make doesn’t carry straight to the fish in front of you. Like the silt, the wind kind of carries that behind you to where you’ve already fished, rather than into where you’re about to fish.”

Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane might not make sense to me, but to those that seek the exhilaration of skydiving, it’s the only way they can achieve their goals.

So if your goal is to catch shallow crappie this spring, jumping out of your perfectly good boat just might be the only way to do it. And you just might start catching more crappie than you ever have before.

Contact John Harrison at 662-983-5999.


JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month

Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Mississippi Sportsman Magazine and MS-Sportsman.com.