As I made the drive through the country roads back home, I thought about how a lot has changed since the first time I went fishing. It was summer time and we had just moved our young family into a new house. We decided to let the boxes that needed unpacking wait. We had more important things to do, like go check out the lake that was a 15-minute walk from home. Walking down the trail to the lake, we picked blackberries, talked, and stopped while my youngest needed to inspect a rock or bug along the way.
When we arrived at the lake, there was a dock extending from the bank into the lake and towards the middle of the lake was another dock where some kids were jumping off and swimming. We could hear their laughter and teasing as they splashed around. Off the dock near shore was a man with a pole. We walked down the dock and he waved at us. The boards swayed with the gentle waves under us and I smiled watching my kids try to keep their balance.
The man greeted us and I told him we had just moved to the area. He had known the previous owners and gave us some of the history of the house and the town. Then asked if we had ever fished. I told him I had not. He looked surprised, but seemed eager to share his knowledge with us. He said he was fishing for crappie, which liked to hang out near the brush that came from the shore and near the side of the dock. Then, he gave us directions to the market in town that sold fishing supplies. He said the owner would be there and get us started on our tackle boxes.
Presently, I came around the corner and passed the store that we had visited those many years ago. A lot has changed. My children are grown up with the youngest in college and the oldest was talking about proposing marriage. The market was still there, with the sign a little more worn. I smiled thinking about how maybe in the future I would walk in there with my future grandchildren and help prepare their little tackle boxes, like I had with their parents.
The day we went in and met the owner, we were quite overwhelmed with the selection. Fishing, it turned out, was more than a pole and line. First he told us that we would need a fishing license. He helped explain what the requirements were for our state and gave us a handout about differing requirements for the states in our region.
For the tackle box, he gave us a list of 10 essentials: extra line, extra hooks, bobbers, sinkers, plastic worms, a couple of lures, needle nose pliers, small first-aid kit, sunscreen, and a line cutter.
For the fishing line he said that we wanted to carry extra and durable line for when you’re fishing in rougher areas, or if we’re lucky enough to catch “the big one”. For clearer lakes, like the one near our house, a thinner line was preferred so it would be less visible. He said we could get the most versatility with a traditional J-hook and to have them in varying sizes.
The bobbers, we were told, would let us know when a fish bit because it would sink and then you know you’re ready to reel in the fish. And the sinkers, did exactly what their name implies, sink the line and hook that would otherwise be too light to sit below the water.
Having some plastic worms is a good back up if you don’t have live bait available; you can get them in a variety of colors for different fish and water conditions. The lures were to be used for different situations when more than a hook and bait were needed. Different lures mimicked different movements to attract certain fish.
The needle nose pliers are to take the hooks out of the fish. The first-aid kit is for when you take a hook out of you, or for any other small emergency. The sunscreen is self-explanatory when you’re spending so much time out in the sun, especially on water where it reflects with more intensity. And finally, the line cutter will help with any snags in the line. Of course, the more experienced I became, more additions were added to the tackle box. But for just starting out, we were well equipped.
Even though time had changed the appearance of the town and my own appearance, one thing that hadn’t changed was the lake. I could see it appear through the woods that were along the road. I pulled my truck into the driveway and grabbed my gear from the bed of the pick-up and started the walk down to the lake.
That trail had many memories. There were early dawn walks to take the boat out before the heat of the day sent the fish into deeper waters. Several times, as the kids got old enough to stay up late, we would have a fire in the back then go to the dock for night fishing.
I got to the dock and tied to it was my boat. Small and simple, but it got the job down. I put my gear in and untied it and pushed off from the dock and headed to a part of the lake that had some timber. The places for the best fishing hadn’t changed. I remember my first year fishing, I would have a good catch in one area for a couple of months and then suddenly I wouldn’t get a single bite. Finally, the man that met us our first day, told me that the fish would move to different areas depending on the season. He said he would have told me sooner, but it was too fun to watch my confusion when I retuned to a place after the fish had left. I had been wondering where he was getting all of his fish. Now, I was the experienced man at the lake, giving advice to the newcomers and young kids that showed up with their poles.
I cast my line and waited for a bite. I enjoyed the simplicity of fishing, the quietness and the patience of waiting. I heard my name called out and turned to the sound of the voice. There, on the dock was my oldest waving to me. Anyone else would have seen a grown man in jeans and a white t-shirt. He had grown up tall and his shoulders were broad. But to me, I saw a little boy in jeans and a t-shirt from 20 years ago, his clothes baggy on his slim frame and a missing tooth in the grin under his ball cap.
“Dad!” he called out again, “She said yes!”
Crappie are great to fish because they travel in larger schools and are common throughout the U.S. and Canada. During the fall and spring, crappie are easier to fish because of where they are at in spawning and then feeding before winter. Although crappie prefer warmer waters, this doesn’t mean you can’t have success fishing crappie in colder water temperatures, you just need to know where to look.
Crappie move out of deep water into the entrances of creek channels when pre-spawning begins between 48-51 degrees. In this stage, they’re aggressive feeders, gearing up for spawning. What I like about crappie, is that they have a varied diet of insects, worms, and small crayfish and minnows, making them easier to bait.
As temperatures increase to 52-60 degrees crappie use the channels to move into shallower creeks and bays. Try trolling minnows or casting a CULPRIT Tassel Tail or a Curl Tail grub along stump, brush, and small pocket, and then retrieve slowly.
During spawning, the females will still be feeding, but in deeper waters than the males. I’ve been able to catch some females with using a CULPRIT paddle tail grub and slow retrieve in the areas when the water gets deeper near drop offs. A minnow under cork in the shallow areas should attract the males that are in the brush by the spawning beds. When the temperature reaches its ideal range between 62-65 degrees, the crappie will be gathered in the shallow water. The females will be closer to the surface but tend to seek out bushy cover. My dad taught me the vertical jigging method the first time I was fishing in an area with cover and to this day it’s my go to.
Crappie favor any area that offers structures and cover. On one trip with my brother and nephew, my brother took us to one of his favorite spots. He pointed out where he had put a wooden palette in the water and brush to create a structure. As crazy as I thought he was, it actually worked. Turns out, the larger fish liked to hangout in the area and we were able to fry up some good-sized fish for dinner.
At 70-75 degrees, females leave the nest and the males stay to guard them. Use a cast and slow retrieve with the CULPRIT Paddle tail grub. Males and females will migrate the channels to deep, cool waters for the summer, before returning back in the cooler fall temperatures to feed for the winter months. When they stage in the tributaries for pre-spawning, try casting the CULPRIT Crappie Baits such as tassel tail, paddle tail, and curl tail jogs.
Crappie can be sensitive to temperature changes, but it’s still possible to catch them even after temperature drops following a cold front. Go to the places with deeper water and more cover, such as Northern shorelines that have longer periods of sun exposure.
Because crappie are easier to fish, have fun trying out different baits and lures. As long as you stay near shorelines with bushy cover and look for structures, you should be able to come home with dinner for the family.