What they lack in fight, they definitely make up in edibility. If you get on a good bite, it does not take long to catch your limit. Sometimes they are the epitome of finicky, while sometimes they will hit anything. I am talking about crappie, both white and black. Whether you call them speckled perch, white perch, or crappie, when there is a chill in the air, the time to fish for them is at hand.
To me, the fun thing about crappie is that you can catch them on a variety of baits and lures and with a plethora of presentations. During the coldest part of winter, crappie usually suspend in open water, and I believe there is no better way to catch them than spider rigging. They may be dormant, but if you drag a live minnow by their face, they just cannot resist. Spider rigging, so named because the dozen or more poles sticking out of rod holders resembles the legs of a spider, is a great way to present a bait in their face and hold it there.
Put out a spread of Shakespeare Wonderpoles rigged with live minnows, Bass Assassin Tiny Shads, or small tube jigs and drift with the wind or barely move with the trolling motor across points, ledges, and creek channels. An effective rig is to string tough Vicious fluorocarbon line the same length as the pole. I usually use 6-pound test in clear water and 8-pound test if the water is stained. Then, slide a 2 ½ or 3-inch adjustable float up your line. Tie on a No. 2 aberdeen hook (most folks use gold hooks, but some use black nickel) and crimp a split-shot about a foot above the hook, and you are ready to bait up. Use a big enough split-shot to keep the minnow at the chosen depth. If you use too small of a split-shot, the minnow will sweep upward each time you bump the trolling motor.
Most crappie specialists I have fished with rig live minnows through the top of the eye socket from one side to the other. Adjust the length between your float and hook until you learn at what depth the fish are feeding, then move several of your poles to the effective depth.
During warm spells, rig a Bass Assassin Tiny Shad or small tube jig below the float on a couple poles to offer variety in your spread. Some days they will hit artificials better than live minnows. My favorite Tiny Shad colors are baby bass, chartreuse pepper shad, and Texas avocado. In tubes, I primarily use black-chartreuse, chartreuse silver glitter, and pumpkinseed-chartreuse tail. Bass Assassin 1/16-oz. heads are usually heavy enough to keep the lure down. Both Tiny Shads and tubes imitate a small minnow or shad, the favorite food of big ol’ slab crappies.
In order to fish multiple poles without getting constantly tangled, you need to have some type of pole holder system. Commercial systems holding a half-dozen or more poles are available, or if you are mechanically inclined, you can make your own out of PVC pipe. At first sight, it appears the lines would stay constantly snarled, but it is surprising how infrequently they jumble up. The key is to not make quick turns and to quickly recognize when a pole hangs the bottom before the all the poles get hung up. The most versatile sizes of Wonderpoles are the 12- and 13-foot lengths. These sizes give you the flexibility to move your float up or down quite a range of depths based upon the depth the crappie are holding.
Make sure to check your local regulations as to the legality of fishing multiple poles. Some states limit the number of poles an angler can fish. When it is time to break out the snowsuit and stocking cap, it is time to chase crappie. With these techniques and some practice you will catch enough crappie to invite your whole neighborhood over for fish sandwiches.
Capt. Bert’s Crappie Sandwiches
2 or 3 crappie filets per sandwich (depending upon taste and filet size)
2 tablespoons butter; Garlic Salt; Season All; Old Bay
Fresh light bread or favorite roll
Slice of Provolone cheese (or your other favorite) for each sandwich
In a skillet, melt butter on medium-high heat. Once butter is melted, add filets. Sprinkle Garlic salt, Season All, and Old Bay over filets to taste. Sautee 4-5 minutes and turn. Sprinkle spices on opposite side to taste. Sautee another 4 or 5 minutes (depending upon the thickness of the filet) until fish is white and flaky. Put slice of cheese on bottom piece of bread and place hot filets on cheese. Serve with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, tartar sauce, or whatever else you like on a fish sandwich. Enjoy!