The slip cork had just hit the surface. With a popping sound and a rush of fishing line through the water, it was gone. There wasn’t even time for the bobber to stand up straight before it disappeared into the tea-colored lake, stained by warm spring rains.
I didn’t have to tell the 10-year-old holding the rod to set the hook. The fish had done that work when it hungrily inhaled the minnow. With a bent rod and squeals of delight, another 1-pound crappie was on its way to the ice chest.
Nothing is more exciting for me than to see a young person catch fish. After many years of taking kids fishing—and many lessons in trial and error—springtime crappie fishing is my first choice for almost guaranteed fun and fishing success. Two or three consecutive warm days in the early spring draw crappie from the deeper river and creek channels to the shallow flats. These prespawn crappie are hungry. A slip-cork with a live minnow will produce easy hook-ups.
When crappie fishing with kids, I prefer the slip cork rig over a clip-on bobber because the slip cork is easier to cast, especially if crappie are holding in water five feet deep or more. A slip cork has a hole through it that the line runs through. When casting, the cork—or float or bobber—is against the sinker near the hook. It’s a nice, tight package that is much easier to cast than a bobber clipped five feet above your hook.
A knot tied above the cork controls the depth you dangle your minnow or jig. Dental floss works well for the knot, or you can use a strand of fishing line. The bead goes below the knot, and the bead protects the knot from wear by the cork after repeated casts. The knot is big enough to stop the bead but not too large, so it easily passes through the rod guides. Below the bead, the cork is slid onto the line. Finally, a small split shot a few inches above a No. 6 long-shank, thin-wire hook completes your rig. When the slip cork rig hits the water, the line passes through the cork until it reaches the bead and knot, which control the depth. The knot can be quickly adjusted up or down if the fish are not at the depth you expected.
The Kid Kit
The goal for a trip to the lake with a child should be to instill a love of crappie fishing, so make sure the day is fun and comfortable. I will never forget my grandfather taking me on one of my first fishing trips. The preparation began weeks before with casting practice in the yard, and then he gave me my own little tackle box. I didn’t even notice there were no lures with hooks in the box—the plastic worms, stringer and a pair of pliers might as well have been made of gold. I felt so proud carrying my own tackle box.
When taking children fishing, take plenty of snacks, particularly snacks you might not let them eat at home. Make their trip to the lake a special treat.
You’ll also need sunscreen, hats, a light jacket for the morning boat ride, wipes to clean their hands before they dive into the snacks, and water. Try to leave the video games and smart phones in the car.
Refrain from too much instruction during those first fishing trips with a child. An 8-year-old doesn’t want a lesson on how to tie a palomar knot. There will be plenty of time for instruction later, once a love of fishing has taken root.
Consider a Guide for the Kids
One of the most important keys to a successful fishing trip with kids is to make sure they catch fish, and the quickest, most consistent way to ensure success is to hire a guide. Most guides are on the water almost every day. They know where the crappie are holding, and they have boats, depth finders, rods and reels, bait and ice chests. All you have to do is climb in the boat and enjoy catching crappie, while your guide helps teach your child or grandchild how to catch fish.
Tony Adams is a full-time guide on Lake Eufaula, a fantastic fishing reservoir located along the Alabama-Georgia border on the Chattahoochee River.
“Before every trip, I go out the day before on the lake, locate the crappie and identify the best place for my customers to catch the most and biggest crappie in the shortest time,” Adams said.
Adams, like most full-time guides, is confident he can put clients on crappie any time of the year, but springtime is special.
“The temperature of the water dictates where the crappie will be,” Adams said. “If the water temperature is 50 to 56 degrees, the crappie probably will be holding in six to 10 feet of water, indicating they are in the prespawn mode. If the water temp is 57 to 69 degrees, the crappie will be in spawning mode and holding close to the bank. To fish for crappie, you need to know the water temperature, the water depth, where the crappie are, and the site where you’ll have the best chance to catch crappie.”
A good crappie fishing guide should have all that information before you arrive at the lake. If crappie are spawning in the spring, then you’ll fish from three inches to three feet deep. Regardless of the stage of spawn the crappie are in, a guide can put you and your youngster in the right place with the right equipment to catch fish.
“When the crappie come into the banks to spawn, they’ll usually be around some type of structure like grass, stumps or rocks,” Adams said.
Over the years, Adams has learned that for mom and dad to have a good time crappie fishing and for the youngster to catch lots of crappie quickly, the guide generally keeps the child close by to teach and coach.
Hire The Right Fishing Guide
There are some standards by which to judge a fishing guide. A guide should have good equipment, a clean and well-kept boat with the trolling motor and outboard in good repair. The guide should know the lake and the most productive crappie locations and be able to put you where you can catch fish.
The Internet is a great resource for information on fishing guides. A guide with poor equipment or a bad attitude—or inability to put clients on fish—will leave a trail of comments on fishing message boards. Don’t base your decision on one bad comment, but if you see quite a few, know that anglers spent their hard-earned money and didn’t like the results.
Steve McCadams, a guide on Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, said a lot of work and preparation goes into giving his clients the best chance to catch fish. He has built and placed more than 100 fishing reefs where his clients can catch fish.
“I don’t fish my spots every day. I do let them rest,” McCadams said. “When people hire a guide, they expect to catch fish. My job is to do all in my power to ensure they do.”
A guide should have a pleasant attitude and make the trip fun and enjoyable for his clients. A guide also should be willing to patiently teach youngsters and novices how to catch fish.
Questions to Ask Before a Guided Trip
Problems arise when you don’t know what to expect from your guide. Ask these questions before you book:
* How much will the trip cost?
* What is a reasonable tip if we have a good day?
* What equipment is furnished on the trip, and what do clients need to bring?
* What time does the day of fishing begin and end?
* Who cleans the fish, and is there an extra charge for fish-cleaning?
* How many people are allowed to fish from your boat, and how does that affect the price?
* Do you fish with children, and are you willing to help teach children to fish?
* What are the chances of catching a limit of crappie or of catching big crappie?
Crappie Fishing Tips
When the crappie are biting really well in the spring, you don’t need to bother with minnows. A 1/16- to 1/32-oz. crappie jig like a Hal-Fly can be very effective. To make the jig easier to cast for a youngster, clip on a very small bobber about 18 inches above the jig. Cast the jig and bobber into the shallow spawning area, and reel it very slowly, pausing often.
“To increase our odds of catching crappie, I usually put a scent attractant like a Magic Bait Crappie Bite or Berkley’s PowerBait Crappie Nibble on the bend of the hook,” Adams said. “These not only cause the crappie to bite better, but they also tend to make the fish hold onto the jig longer, allowing more time for my fisherman to set the hook.”
“If the youngster can’t cast a spinning rod, I pull the line off the reel on a jig pole, add a cork to the line two to three feet above the hook, and teach the youngster how to swing the line with the jig and the cork on it. Before long, most kids will be able to drop it in next to the structure,” Adams added.
Crappie are a great tasting fish, and the meal your kids helped provide will be a life lesson about the bounty available through the wise use of our outdoor resources. A crappie fishing trip with a good guide can provide limits of crappie for everyone in the boat. After a fun day of crappie fishing, the work begins when the fish are prepared for the skillet or the freezer.
Although Adams schedules his trips for four hours, generally two children with two adults can catch their limits of crappie in two to three hours. No time is wasted looking for crappie when you fish with a good guide, since the guide will already have them pinpointed.
During March and April when crappie are moving into the shallows to spawn across much of the U.S., head to your local river or lake with your favorite young angler. A little Internet research will point you toward the best waters for crappie fishing, or you can hire a guide to help ensure the kids catch plenty of fish and have a great time.
Don’t forget to read our article on getting kids interested in hunting HERE.
Written by John E. Phillips