---- — “I think I may need the net for this one,” my friend Jeff Fager said as his rod doubled over from the strain of a hefty fish. That’s always a good sign when enjoying springtime crappie action.
Fager, my 14-year-old nephew Cole Stephenson and I recently returned from four days fishing expansive Kentucky Lake.
During the month of April, legions of anglers have one particular species of fish on their mind — crappies! Most people target them for their characteristic as great table fare. But others, while not denying the popular panfish’s value as great food, note that crappies are one of the best all-around game fish available to spring-time anglers.
By the way, you can call them papermouths, specs, calico bass or crappies (pronounced croppy). But please don’t call them what you might do in an outhouse. They deserve a little more respect!
Sure, other sought-after sport fish like walleyes may grow larger. There is no doubt smallmouth bass fight harder. But for non-stop action, especially during this time of year, you would be hard pressed to find anything that would beat a spring crappie outing.
The months of April and May are tops. It is not uncommon to catch dozens of fish, some which may exceed 12 inches, in just a few short hours. Then there is always the possibility of hauling in a true trophy weighing in excess of several pounds.
Although any crappie stretching over 1 foot in length is considered more than respectable, they occasionally eclipse average weights. Indiana’s state record, taken by Willis Halcomb in 1994 from a private pond, measured in excess of 20 inches, straining the scales at 4 pounds, 11 ounces.
Fortunately for us living in the Hoosier state, finding a place to hook a limit of tasty slabs is not that difficult. Crappies can be found almost anywhere. Although some of our state’s hugest crappies were taken from private ponds, the most consistent stringers of these succulent fish come from massive schools in some of our state’s major lakes. Patoka and Monroe lakes are tops. But other reservoirs like Salamonie, Geist and Mississinewa give up their fair share of fish as well. Other crappie hotspots include lakes Freeman, Maxinkuckee and Wawasee, not to mention the hundreds of glacial lakes that dot the northeast quarter of Indiana.
Crappies are actually a member of the sunfish family and are classified into two categories. The black crappie is usually darker, has seven or eight dorsal spines and is normally found in larger, deeper impoundments.
The white crappie, which is obviously lighter in color, has six dorsal spines. They also sport vertical bars on their sides. These fish prefer quiet backwaters. Both species can grow to upwards of 3 or even 4 pounds, but fish in the three-quarters of a pound to 1 pound are more typical.
Crappies are a schooling fish and if you catch one, chances are there are more close by. They can be caught by still fishing with a bobber, casting, trolling or drifting. There is no doubt spring is the best time to catch these tasty fish as they are involved in their spawning runs.
Crappies love cover. So locate stumps, brush or artificial attractors at the appropriate depth and you will find plenty of action. The neat thing about chasing crappies is expensive gear or bottomless tackle boxes are not necessary. A 6- to 7-foot long light action spinning rod pretty much takes care of the equipment side. They can be taken on many types of live bait and artificial lures, a plain minnow or small artificial jig reigns supreme and accounts for the majority of all crappie taken. Crappies can be real finicky when it comes to color selection, so don’t be afraid to switch lures until you connect on the right combination.
At dawn you’re likely to find them close to the surface or in water four feet deep or less but as the sun hits the surface they will often times drop 5 to 10 feet deep.
Another advantage to this particular springtime fishing opportunity is that you can be reasonably assured of some great early season action. And what better way to spend a beautiful spring day especially after our recent long, cold winter!
John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.