STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM By: Keith "Catfish" Sutton How to Catch Spooky Crappie Since crappie are easily spooked, it's important to employ the best fishing tactics to not scare them away Slab crappie get spooky in spring, but they can be caught if you sneak up on them using tactics like wade fishing with a long jigging pole. (Keith Sutton photo) When water warms in spring and becomes ice-free, crappie start moving to shallow areas where they’ll spawn. Anglers quickly learn these fish are easily spooked and often hard to catch. Crappie in shallow water are more visible, so they’re more subject to predation. This makes them much warier and quick to dart away when sensing danger. Even the spookiest crappie can be caught, however, if anglers take into account the crappie’s cagey nature this season and employ some stealth tactics less likely to disturb their cautious quarry – stealth tactics like these. No Shadows Many anglers never think about it, but the quickest way to spook a crappie, especially in clear water, is to cast a shadow across it. Shadows represent danger to fish because they are usually made by predators such as herons or ospreys flying overhead. There are several things you can do to avoid casting shadows that frighten your quarry. On clear days, position your boat so the sun is in your face or to one side rather than at your back. Then stay well away from your fishing area and either cast to it or use an extra-long pole to swing your bait to the fishing area. It’s also helpful to fish under low-light conditions – near dawn or dusk, on rainy or overcast days, or when wind action reduces light penetration. Keep a low profile, too, especially when near cover or structure where fish are holding. Crappie are less likely to notice you and skedaddle if you sit or hunker down. Get Wet One of the best ways to slip up on crappie in extreme shallows is donning waders and carefully making your way to areas where you see swirls that reveal bedding fish. Use a long pole to place a jig or minnow near the fish, or cast to them using an ultralight spinning outfit. Carry a long stringer or floating fish basket for your catch. In many overflow cypress lakes, wade fishing may be the only way to reach crappie spawning in extreme shallows full of cypress knees where a boat simply won’t go. Carry a Big Stick In shallow reservoirs, oxbow lakes and river backwaters, close-knit stands of buckbrush (button willows) often grow, providing prime crappie-spawning spots that frequently harbor the biggest slabs. The best way to fish these areas is using a 12- to 18-foot jigging pole to drop a jig into small pockets away from the edge. Grab the line near your reel, pull your jig tight against the pole tip and work the pole through the tangles until your jig is over the hole you want to fish. Then let the jig down slowly so it slips into the hole and hold the lure stationary. Vibrations relayed through your pole to the lure will impart enough action to draw strikes. Bank Sneaking In deeper, upland impoundments with clear water, it’s rare to find stands of dense cover, but a long pole still comes in handy when you’re in stealth mode. In these waters, spawning crappie find security near the bank in shady water beneath overhanging vegetation. To nab them, sneak along shore and reach into shady recesses with a long jigging pole and jig. There’s no casting involved, fewer tangles and more fish. Huge crappie often are found this way. Mark and Return When you spot crappie on nests, drop a marker buoy nearby, then keep moving, marking other spots, and come back a half hour or so later. You’ll know where the beds are now and can cast to them from a distance with less chance of disturbing your quarry. Try a Dinger Dense stands of shallow black willows often draw large congregations of spawning crappie. One lure that works especially well here is a wacky-rigged, 3-inch Yum Dinger. This soft-plastic lure can be cast from a distance, lands quietly and falls slowly when rigged with the hook run through the center of the lure. Big crappie find it irresistible. Note: Autographed copies of Keith Sutton’s book, The Crappie Fishing Handbook, can be purchased by sending a check or money order for $19.45 (includes shipping) to C&C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002.