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Ode to America's Favorite Panfish - Fishing for Crappie in Springtime

Ode to America's Favorite Panfish - Fishing for Crappie in Springtime

By Hall of Fame Angler Stan Fagerstrom

I’m wondering if you’re having some of the same kind of fishin’ itch I’ve got. It’s one I usually come down with when the calendar indicates spring isn’t all that far off.

I realize there’s still ice on the lakes in many parts of the country. Be that as it may, I find the points of my own piscatorial compass pointing to springtime crappie fishing. I’ve heard from enough fishermen around the country over the past half century of fishing and writing about it to know I’ve got lots of company.

If you aren't among the building number of fishermen who know how much fun it is to catch crappie, you're missing a bet. And that doesn't even take into consideration the delights these fish provide when you've got them in the frying pan.

Crappie is among the most popular of American panfish.

Once you've managed to catch a few it won't be difficult to understand why. There are three great keys to successful crappie fishing. They are as follows: you've got to find the fish. Once you do you must fish at exactly the right depth. And even at the right depth you won't do much unless you are fishing your lure at exactly the right speed.

These are the three things that will help you catch more crappie.

Location, depth and lure speed are the keys to putting more of these great-eating panfish into your boat.

You've got to find crappies before you can hope to catch them.

So let's talk first about where crappies are most likely to be. I’m going to devote this and my next two columns to crappie fishing. I’ll be talking primarily about crappie fishing in the Pacific Northwest because that’s where I’ve done most of my crappie catching. Even so, the techniques I’ll detail apply wherever you are.

That's not how we fish for crappie in Kansas.

I don't need somebody calling to tell me this isn't the way they do it in Kansas or Nebraska. Mainly I'll be talking about catching crappie in the lakes, ponds and big river waters of western Oregon, Washington and northern California. I’ve caught sufficient numbers of crappie in all three regions to know what I’m talking about.

Much of what I know about crappie fishing I learned as a kid fishing at every opportunity in the Columbia River backwaters of Southwest Washington State. Later I refined my tactics while I lived right on the shore of popular Silver Lake in the southwest part of the Evergreen State. Having a boat in the water all the time about 60-feet from my front door for more than three decades provided a wonderful opportunity to look for and catch crappie, especially when the cook wanted fish for dinner.

Springtime offers the best shot at crappies.

Fall can also be excellent, but it’s that period from March through early July that most consistently sees the peak action of the year. Crappies school in the spring. Where you find one, you'll eventually find others.

But where are you most likely to find that first one?

In sloughs, ponds, or most lakes, look for crappie around wood. This wood may be in the form of downed trees, submerged logs, pilings or abandoned docks. Crappies also like rocks. Some of the best fishing at Silver Lake for example, often came around the lake's sunken rock piles.

I haven't fished any of the Columbia River sloughs in several years, but I can tell you how I’d approach such a trip if I were to make one tomorrow. First I'd look for cover like that I've described. Once I found downed logs, dead trees or anyother possible crappie holding spots, I'd fish them ever so carefully.

I wouldn't expect to catch a boat-full of fish right off.

As soon as I caught even one crappie I’d mark the exact spot so I could come back to it. In crappie fishing on new water I often carry a pocket full of short yellow ribbons. Whenever I catch one fish, I pinpoint the spot by attaching a ribbon to the cover. That ribbon might not be where you can see it easily, but I'll know where it is.

A ribbon marks the spot.

As soon as I get a half dozen spots marked in this fashion, I simply move from one to the other and forget about trying to find fish anyplace else. Why? Again because I know in the spring where there’s one crappie in a certain spot, sooner or later there will be others. I’ve made this procedure pay off time after time.

Be sure to check out our Catch 'em and Cook 'em blog for tasty recipes. 

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