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 Mississippi River Crappie


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Crappie fishing in the still waters of our lakes and reservoirs has become an American icon of sorts. Through the years, most of our tackle and tactics have been tailored toward catching these tasty pan fish in calm water situations.

But those who have not experienced crappie fishing in moving waters are missing a highly enjoyable and productive sport with a species that isn't known for being sporty.

Catching crappie in flowing water is a completely different game from the lake or reservoir situations that these pan fish are most often associated with. As a result, our rivers and streams are largely untapped resources for crappie enthusiasts.

"There's nothing quite like catching crappie in rivers," claims Gary Lick, a diehard crappie angler and renowned  fisherman who regularly fishes the Mississippi River near his Vicksburg, MS., home. "There is nothing static about it."

When searching for crappie in a river, it is important to remember that each river has its own course, contour and configuration, But there are many features that are common to the majority of the rivers you will fish. For example, great holding areas for crappie are naturally slack-water spots or any type of area or object that slows the current. That is true regardless of whether the river is located in Mississippi or LA..

One such hot spot is the mouth of a feeder ditch or creek that enters the main current (especially if there is a very slow current present or no current at all). Other places where crappie are traditionally found on a river include the down-current side of objects like stumps, logs, drifts, rock piles, or even a point. A point will break the force of the current and turn it outwards. Crappie will lie in the comfort of the quiet water behind the point and occasionally dart out and grab passing baitfish or wait until a minnow works its way into the calmer water.
 


River Crappie
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"Any time the current strikes something, it does two things: it changes direction and it changes speed," Gary says. "And crappie know that. Remember that crappie will seek shelter from faster water, but will maintain a position where they can feed easily."

One key holding area to look for when searching for crappie in moving water is the down-current inside of a shoal. Here the water will form a slow transitional zone that ranges from a lazy flow to almost dead water.

Another place would be any eddy. Eddies are a prime feeding station in a river situation. In fast current, fish will also use an eddy as a resting location. Eddies are likely to be formed where water swirls around the point extending into the river. Or where a ditch or creek enters the main current. And you can find eddies where the river makes a bend. Gary emphasizes that it is easy to locate eddies by looking for foam, leaves or other floating debris that collects in a small area. Be alert to the formations of this debris and then capitalize on it by fishing these eddies carefully.

"Lake fishing is fairly predictable, once you understand its structural makeup and seasonal patterns," Gary  adds. "But moving water is a different story. Not only is moving water more structurally complex, its mood varies moving calmly along one day and raging almost out of control the next. Lure presentation and location on a lake is usually simple, except in heavy, dense cover or in very deep water. However, on a river all elements can be present, with the added complication of current."

Gary  and other river fishermen stress that crappie are usually found shallow less than 10 feet in most cases and even shallower in muddy water. Despite the lack of depth, vertical fishing is usually the most effective way to present a lure or minnow to river crappie because it enables you to keep your lure in front of the fish for a longer period of time.

In fact, in many fishing spots in a river, vertical fishing is the only sensible approach because of the always-present current.

"For river crappie, my choice of equipment is a medium-heavy jigger pole with a small light-weight underspin reel loaded with 6 to 8 pound test line," Gary details. "On the line I use a slip cork that will allow my bait to be fished at a certain depth. One of the most productive lures for river crappie is a 16th-ounce Strike King Mini-King jig."
 


River Crappie
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"You would normally think that this type of set-up would be best suited for live bait, but believe me just a plain old jig of the right color and the correct size will do a fantastic job. I can create action to the jig by lifting my rod tip and gently jigging the bait without moving the float or I can drag the float a few inches and the jig will follow the float swinging or swimming back under it, creating enough action for a strike. This technique has been highly productive for me especially when crappie have not been that active."

The slip cork enables Gary to work the lure at a precise depth level, which can be critical in moving-water situations where the fish are non-aggressive. Generally, crappie are not going to be overly active unless the conditions are stable. If the barometric pressure has been steady for several days and there has been no significant fluctuation in water temperature, they will usually be active.

But the opposite is true when crappie have just experienced a shift in the water temperature or a pressure change. As a result of their inactivity, the strike zone is greatly reduced in water clarity that is off-colored. This is when vertical fishing really pays off. But Gary and others emphasize the need to work the jig slowly (to avoid spooking the fish) and maintain a tight line in this situation.

One of the most reliable places to find crappie in moving water are boat docks. Like bass, crappie will stack up around the pilings and beneath the overhead platform of the dock.

 Gary, "crappie expert" consistently catches these river inhabitants with a tactic he calls shooting the docks.

"In most river situations, the fish will be well back under the docks for a couple of reasons," Gary explains. "Low-light penetration and because they're eating algae off of the brush and pier pilings. And shooting a jig is the only way to reach them."

Shooting the docks involves using a light spinning or spin-cast outfit (with 6-pound test line) to propel a jig into the darkest parts of the dock without casting. Instead, Gary uses the strength of the rod to sling-shot the lure toward its target. After opening the bail of the reel, he creates a deep bend in the rod by using his free hand to pull the lure backward and then releases it in rhythm with the momentum of the rod. The jig reaches spots that no type of conventional casting could match.
 


River Crappie
"Balloons"?
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Mississippi's Gary Lick is best known for Bass fishing, but he spends considerable time in the spring and summer chasing crappie on the Mississippi River. It was while growing up on the river that he learned a trick from the old-timers that still enables him to stay in the middle of a school of river crappie for hours at a time.

The slip cork enables Gary to work the lure at a precise depth level, which can be critical in moving-water situations where the fish are non-aggressive. Generally, crappie are not going to be overly active unless the conditions are stable. If the barometric pressure has been steady for several days and there has been no significant fluctuation in water temperature, they will usually be active.

"Crappie typically run in schools, but staying with them is sometimes a problem," Gary says. "You will sometimes catch eight or 10 crappie real quick and then they just quit. But they really don't quit biting. They just move."

"What I do to follow the school is take the first or second crappie I catch, partially inflate a balloon and tie it to the crappie using 5 or 10 feet of line. Turn it loose and the fish will get back in the school and go down the river."

Gary ties light monofilament line to the hole in the crappie's mouth created by the hook penetration.

"It's funny what happens," he continues. "The fish will go back to the original school right then and stay with them. You'll be catching crappie for 10 or 15 minutes when they will suddenly quit biting. You look for the balloon and it's 300 yards down the river. All you have to do is catch up to the balloon and you will usually keep catching fish." 
 
 


Cranking for Crappie


The term "crankbait" is automatically associated with bass
fishing. But knowledgeable crappie anglers have come to realize
that these fast-moving diving plugs are extremely effective under
certain conditions.

The small diving lures generally get deeper more quickly than a
jig or spinnerbait and will cover more water critical qualities
when trying to locate crappie.

Many crappie fishermen have discovered what may be the best
all-around best fish-catchingest lure on the market Rebel's
Teeny Wee Crawfish. The little lure is extremely lifelike and has
a natural swimming motion. And it runs surprisingly deep. Other
favorite crappie crankbaits include Cordell's 2-inch Jointed Spot,
the Bagley Honey B and the 2-inch Countdown Rapala.

"These little crankbaits are especially effective in the early spring
 and through the spawn," "The crappie are very protective of
 the stump or other structure where they are going to spawn and
 they'll hit a crankbait for that reason. And there are other times of
 year when they'll hit a small crankbait out of pure hunger. But the
 biggest problem with fishing crankbaits for crappie is that the
 hooks are exposed, so you will get hung up a lot."

 The small crankbaits are good tools for catching wary crappie in
 both shallow and deep clear water. Since the crankbait is a little
 heavier than some other crappie baits, it can be cast from
 considerable distances on ultralight tackle, allowing the
 fisherman to put some space between himself and his prey.
 


A Tightline to Success


Gary once believed that crappie mysteriously
disappeared after the spring spawn and would re-emerge in the
fall. From June through late September, Gary simply stowed
away his light tackle and concentrated on other pursuits.

 But then the Vicksburg, Ms  angler made a discovery that
 changed his life as a crappie fisherman.

"One thing that people still don't understand is that you can
 catch crappie all year long," says Gary, who has fished for
 crappie on The Mississippi river and surrounding lakes for the
 past 30 years. "Those fish don't leave the lake once the spring spawn is over.

 "You can follow crappie throughout the other months of the year
  by concentrating on any drop-offs and ledges in a lake that offer
  a change of depth. These places are migratory routes as the fish
  go through their seasonal changes. It's actually quite easy to
  follow them."

  Gary made another discovery more than 18 years ago that
  enables him to consistently take advantage of the crappie he
  locates. Gary  is a devotee of the double-hook tight-line
  technique.

  The tight-line rig has been described as a poor man's depthfinder
  because it allows the angler to maintain contact with the
  structure below. The rig consists of a 3-foot leader connected by
  a barrel swivel to the main line and a pair of 2-0 hooks set 18
  inches apart on separate 6-inch leaders. A 1-ounce bell-shaped
  sinker is tied about 18 inches below the bottom hook.


"The tight-line rig is the most productive way I've found to catch
fish," Gary  explains. "It is so effective for two reasons."


"First, that big sinker actually feels for you on the bottom, so you
 stay in the ballpark the entire time. Despite the sophisticated
 depthfinders we have today, it's still a game of feeling the cover.
 And, secondly, the tight-line rig allows you to fish two different
 depths at the same time. By using two hooks at different levels
 at the same time, you're going to pinpoint the depth that the
 crappie are holding at different times of the day."

 Gary  uses both a small minnow and tiny plastic tubejig on the
 double-hook rig. An added advantage of the tight-line rig is that
 the weight of the large sinker will usually free the hooks from
 brush or stumps.

                      "A Pair of Crappie Tricks"

   Gary  has a pair of
   tricks for catching crappie that are inactive and uncooperative.

  "One sneaky way to catch fish is to shoot the docks," he says.
  "The fish will be back under the docks for a couple of reasons
    low-light penetration and because they're eating algae off of the
    brush and pier pilings. And shooting is the only way to reach
    them.

  Shooting the docks involves using a light spinning or spin-cast
  outfit (with 6-pound test line) to propel a jig to the darkest parts
  of the dock without casting. Instead, Gary  uses the strength of
  the rod to sling-shot the lure toward its target. After opening the
  bail of the reel, he creates a deep bend in the rod by using his
  free hand to pull the lure backward and then releases it in rhythm
  with the momentum of the rod.

 Gary's other sly crappie trick is completely different from the
  fast-action sling-shot approach to dock fishing.

 His "dead-pole" technique is a laid-back method of fishing for the
 times when crappie are sluggish. "I use 10-foot Slater  poles and
 I lay them across the bow of my boat," he explains. "I never
 hold them in my hand. I want the jig or minnow to be perfectly
 still as I watch my depthfinder and use my trolling motor to
 slowly work right over top of brushpiles or stumps that may be
  out in the river channel in 10 to 12 feet of water. "With the
  dead-pole technique you stay in the productive zone the
  maximum amount of time. With casting and retrieving, you're
  going to fish through the strike zone. But with this method you
  never get out of the strike zone. And when the crappie are
  dormant or suspended, you have to keep the bait right in front of
  them for as long as possible."

  That's just a few of the tricks of the trade for America's diehard
   crappie anglers. Any of these tricks could be the difference
   between striking out and limiting out.

Lets Go Fishing!
"Good Luck"