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By Hall of Fame Angler Stan Fagerstrom
I had the importance of fishing at the right depth brought home in a hurry one morning long ago on Columbia River backwaters called Coal Creek Sloughs west of Longview, Washington. These sloughs are home to both bass and a variety of panfish.
I had been bass fishing one beautiful early July morning. The bass weren't cooperating. I had always done well for crappie in the part of the slough I was on. I decided I'd fished bass long enough and would look for crappie instead. The problem was I hadn't brought my usual crappie gear along.
As I said, I didn't have any of these things along. I scrounged around in my tackle box and finally found a couple of little spinner-flies. I cut a piece of bass sized pork rind down to a couple of inches and hung it behind the fly. I took a little .-ounce Bead Chain sinker and hung it ahead of the spinner.
The combination just barely gave me a lure heavy enough to throw with the casting outfit I'd been using for bass. I fished that little spinner and rind in the spots where I usually caught fish when I had my crappie tackle along. I couldn't buy a bite.
Finally tired and disgusted, I tried to throw that lightweight rig farther than I should have. The result was a backlash that would have made a preacher practice profanity. I sat there picking at that miserable tangle of monofilament line for five minutes.
In the meantime my little spinner-fly sank to the bottom in water that was at least 25-feet deep. I finally got the twisted line untangled and started reeling in. I moved my spinner-fly about three feet out of that deep water when the line tightened.
Snag, I thought. Wrong! That snag turned out to be a dandy crappie.
That backlash turned out to be a blessing. Once I finally blundered onto fishing the right depth, I started catching fish.
I've had this same kind of experience time and again in crappie fishing.
I don't know how many times I've taken beautiful catches from around downed logs on Western crappie wters. Drop a jig or perhaps a little marabou-feathered fly on one side of such logs and nothing happens.
Let it down to exactly the right depth on the other side and it's a fish every cast.
You simply can't be too alert when you are after crappie. Try to remember what you were doing and the depth at which you were fishing when one comes along.
I repeat, in the spring crappie will be in tight clusters and feeding at exactly the same depth. They might come up to grab a ure, but they will have followed it up from the depth where they first saw it and where others are holding.
A word of caution: If you find crappie holed up in the branches of a downed tree, and that’s a common situation, try to avoid tugging and pulling on the branches if you hang up. Sure as you do you'll spook the fish. When that happens you may as well move to a new spot.