Try these fun and productive methods for shallow specks.
By Larry Kinder
Long sticks catch crappie! Cane poles, jigging rods and crappie poles, often more than 12 feet long, are highly effective for catching tasty crappie when these fish are in shallow water. But Florida anglers may find that a fly rod is the most versatile and best crappie stick of them all.
When water temps rise to the low 60s, crappie move into shallow water to spawn. In river systems like the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and the St. Johns River in Central Florida, this typically occurs in mid-January. Okeechobee will be a few weeks earlier and Panhandle lakes will be a few weeks later. Lily pads, dollar pads, branches of fallen trees, cypress knees and boat docks are favorite haunts of crappie looking to deposit their eggs. And fly fishermen will want to get their flies as close to these objects as possible.
Fly or Jig? And Does It Really Matter?
After live minnows, tiny jigs are probably the most frequently fished baits for crappie. It’s possible—indeed common, in some areas—to use many of these same jigs on a fly rod, whether equipped with a traditional flyline or simply a basic reel holding monofilament line. I prefer to use purpose-tied streamers with a chenille body and marabou tail, however. The soft marabou feathers behave more naturally in water than molded soft-plastic or yarn.
Jigheads are molded in specific weights, typically 1/16- or 1/32-ounce for crappie lures. Flies can be tied in this range, or lighter as needed, using lead dumbbell eyes. So long as the fly imitates the size and profile of a minnow, it will probably catch a crappie.
An 8- or 9-foot, 4- or 5-weight fly rod and a fly reel spooled with weight-forward floating line will work well in most situations. Because crappie are found in fresh water, you will not need an anodized, aircraft aluminum reel that will withstand the effects of salt spray. A 2-pound, slab-sided crappie will put up a respectable fight on a light fly rod but the rod’s inherent flex is quite forgiving. An entry-level or chain-store fly rod and reel combo will work well to bring most paper-mouthed crappie to the gunnels of your boat.
Presenting the Fly
Fly fishing for crappie can be done many ways.
One method is trolling—simply pulling flies through areas where crappie are staging. This is especially effective in open water, days before crappie move to their shoreline cover for spawning.
Another proven method is to quietly move a boat along the shoreline or through lily pads and lower the fly alongside the pads, matted grass, cypress knees, fallen trees and dock pilings. Start by lowering the fly about a foot into the water and very gently bounce the rod tip to animate the fibers. If you don’t have a bite in about five seconds, lower the fly another foot and let it suspend while you jiggle the rod tip. If you still don’t have a bite, lower it yet another foot. After a couple of twitches, slowly raise the fly like a minnow swimming toward the surface. Lift it out of the water and lower it alongside the next likely object.
Lastly, you might find success casting for crappie in open water. When the fish are suspended around dollar pads in two to four feet, or holding over a channel, they can be readily caught by traditional cast-and-strip fly methods.
The subtle bite of a crappie isn’t a mere tap as would be felt on a jigging rod. Instead, you’ll feel a tug on the fly line. All you have to do is pull back as if you’re stripping line through the guides. Fly fishing for crappie isn’t just a novelty; it’s a very effective and enjoyable technique for taking these fish. FS
Where to Go for Crappie?
The following sample of Florida waters comprises the most recent Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
Lake Monroe, Lake Talquin, Locholoosa Lake/Orange Lake, Lake Weohyakapka (Walk-in-Water), Lake Weir, Lake Arbuckle, Lake Marian, Lake Marion, West Lake Tohopekaliga, Lake Kissimmee, Mosaic Fish Management Area, Lake Istokpoga, Lake Trafford.
For more details and access, see myfwc.com/fishing/freshwater.
First Published Florida Sportsman February 2014