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Slaying Postspawn Slab Crappie
Several techniques work in May as slabs leave the shallows.
 
By Greg McCain
Originally published in the May 2018 issue of AON
 
A simple cork-and-minnow rig is one of the basic techniques that will catch plenty of postspawn crappie this month.
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Gone are the days when crappie fishermen stowed their gear after the fish left shallow water in the spring.

More and more anglers each year learn techniques that extend the crappie catching window into the postspawn and even beyond. Yet at least a few fair-weather fishermen who only target crappie for a short period in the spring remain, and they are missing out.

Some of the best and perhaps most consistent action of the season occurs immediately after the fish leave shallow spawning areas and begin their migration toward their summer homes. In many areas around the Southeast, that transition occurs in May.

I’ve spent time with many crappie experts from both Alabama and Georgia over the past few years. Most would suggest that the fish are more predictable in the stable water and weather conditions of late spring than they are earlier in the year, when a passing cold front or a change in water level may disrupt the bite for days.

These same experts also suggest that they find consistently bigger fish later in the year. Most shallow fish are smaller males, as the trophy females only stay in spawning areas for short periods.

“It’s definitely one of those times of the year when I can anticipate where the fish are going to be,” said northwest Alabama crappie guide Brad Whitehead, (256) 483-0834.

For Tony Adams (Gone Fishing with Tony on Facebook), a crappie fishing guru on Lake Eufaula in southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia, the bite only continues to improve as the weather heats up.

“To me, they bite better (after the spawn),” Tony said. “I also feel like I catch better fish later in the year. If I catch a limit on Eufaula, usually most of those fish are going to weigh 1 1/2 pounds or more. That’s usually not the case in the spring when you have to cull through the smaller ones to get to the big ones.”

The techniques required to entice these fish range from the simplest cork-and-minnow rig to much more specialized approaches. None, however, are so difficult that the average angler can’t master them fairly quickly, and the tackle needed is usually relatively inexpensive.

Finding the fish can also be fairly easy if fishermen anticipate crappie traveling predictable routes toward deeper water. Modern electronics makes that task even easier.

Following are three approaches to postspawn crappie fishing, starting with the easiest and moving to more complex techniques. All can be highly effective for crappie this month.



Keeping It Simple

While anglers occasionally still cast for crappie, another old-school technique puts plenty of fish in the boat during the postspawn. Crappie like few things better than a lively minnow, either a shiner or a tuffy, dancing on a hook suspended under a cork.

Count successful Georgia pro Scott Williams among the believers. Scott, who teams with his father, Billy, to fish crappie tournaments (Team Williams Fishing on Facebook), still occasionally uses the cork-and-minnow approach for competition but regularly goes to the technique when he takes his family to the lakes near his home in Cochran, Ga.

“It’s one of those simple ways of fishing but remains highly effective,” Scott said. “It’s really something that we probably should be doing more often in our tournament fishing. I’ve had a couple of occasions where a simple cork and minnow allowed me to do well in tournaments, but I use it all the time when I have the family in the boat with me.”

Scott follows the fish from their spawning areas and targets them as they stage back out to deeper water. He first looks for brush, stumps, ledges and channel swings in 6 to 10 feet of water. Careful placement of a minnow, either with a longer pole or by casting to structure or spots likely to hold crappie, often results in a disappearing cork.

“Especially when I am fishing one of the lakes around home, I know where to expect them to be in the postspawn,” Scott said. “They will set up to rest and feed in these mid-depth ranges, ideally around some type of wood structure.”

At some point in May, the crappie, especially those that spawned early, will have made their way to even deeper water, seeking refuge around submerged brushpiles in depths from 10 to about 18 feet.

Scott uses not only his local knowledge but also his expertise with electronics to pinpoint the brush, finds an ideal anchoring location nearby, and instructs his children, all pre-teens, to put their cork-and-minnow rigs on top of the brush.

Anglers can use either a long fiberglass pole for this approach, setting their corks for water depths up to about 12 feet, they can thread on a slip cork with a stop set at the desired depth when using spinning or spincasting gear. The use of the slip cork is generally required for fish holding beyond 12 feet.

Tony uses much the same approach in his many ventures on Eufaula. Tony places hundreds of small brushpiles along what he calls “fingers,” which are ditches and channels that crappie use as highways when they transition from shallow to deep.

He marks with his Humminbird electronics the structure that he has placed but also regularly identifies other spots, as well: stumps, logs or any irregularity along a finger that will hold crappie. Some are surprisingly shallow, especially late in the spring, and Tony said he frequently starts catching fish early in the morning in as little as 6 feet.

As the day progresses and sunlight penetrates the water, the fish drop slightly deeper and hug the structure. Most of Tony’s fishing at this time of year, however, is rarely over 10 or 12 feet deep.

“I probably catch about as many fish on minnows as I do on anything else,” said Tony, who also casts jigs or bounces a spoon around the wood structure, as well.



Spring Shooting For Crappie

While cork-and-minnow fishing is among the oldest means of catching crappie, dock shooting is a relatively new experience for many anglers. Successful crappie fishermen have used the technique or some variation of it for years. Less-experienced anglers hesitate to try dock shooting because it does require some practice and a certain level of expertise.

Here’s a warning: don’t start unless you wish to continue. Dock shooting is addictive. It’s also an exciting, efficient approach in a window that lasts from about two weeks up to a month after the spawn.

While crappie will eventually move to deeper, offshore spots, they will ease to the first available structure after leaving the spawning grounds. Often that structure is a nearby dock. In areas where most of the spawning takes place in April, May is prime dock-shooting time.

“You get those fish that are stressed from spawning,” Weiss Lake guide Darrell Baker said. “On Weiss, they move to docks, relax for a few days and start to feed up. It’s one of the first places I look for crappie in the post-spawn and one of my absolute favorite ways to catch crappie.”

The process involves using a flexible rod and light mono or fluorocarbon line. Taking the jig between the index finger and thumb with the hook pointed away from the hand, pull out enough line so that the jig is even with the reel with the rod fully bowed. Point the rod toward the intended target and release the jig, allowing the action of the rod to “shoot” the lure. Good dock shooters can skip a jig up to about 50 feet under a dock, although that length of cast is not always necessary to catch fish.

Darrell (www.weiss lakecrappieguides.com) uses light jigs, rarely anything over 1/24-oz. and simple Southern Pro plastics like the Stinger Shad. While the plastics are important, Darrell also said his B’n’M Poles SharpShooter rods—he uses a 5 1/2-foot model—and 6-lb. Gamma Panfish optic yellow line also make dock shooting easier.

Darrell suggested finding the docks with the most shade available. Generally wood docks are preferable to metal ones, although that is not always the case. The fish may be scattered around a dock early in the day or on cloudy days but congregate in the shade when the sun shines bright. Finding an undisturbed school under a dock late in the day is one of the great prizes in crappie fishing.

“I look for docks just off of the spawning flats in a little deeper water,” Scott said about the lakes around his Georgia home, “docks with channels swings, ledges, anything that can be a pit stop for fish leaving their spawning flats staging to transition to their summer patterns.”

While many anglers already own spinning tackle serviceable for dock shooting, Scott also uses the B’n’M rod designed for dock shooting, the SharpShooter SIX. His go-to lure is a 1/48-oz. jig paired with a Big Bite Baits 2-inch Fat Grub in black/blue/chartreuse.

While Darrell and Scott count down their jigs awaiting a bite, crappie expert and TV personality Russ Bailey (www.brushpilefishing.com) adds a twist to his dock shooting, either pegging a tiny cork used for ice fishing at a pre-determined depth or using a similar-sized slip cork.

Admittedly, the cork complicates the shooting process a bit but also serves as a great help in bite detection. The cork also keeps the lure in the strike zone longer for slow-biting crappie.

Where do you find docks suitable for shooting? Some lakes boast plenty, while others simply do not. Darrell and Russ enjoy a multitude of suitable docks on Weiss Lake. For Scott, Lake Guntersville is a lake with plenty of choice docks and piers and a growing contingent of shooters.



A Different Trolling Technique

Trolling options abound for the postspawn. Some fish may be shallow enough for longlining, although more trollers use spider rig vertical presentations as the crappie move deeper.

On northwest Alabama lakes, Brad Whitehead cultivates a trolling technique, side-pulling, that is popular in the region. Legendary guide Roger Gant first made side-pulling popular on Pickwick Lake, and the process soon gained followers throughout northwest Alabama, north Mississippi and beyond.

Brad learned the finer points of the process from Roger and uses it for most of his guide trips, especially when his clients are after crappie filets. Side-pulling efficiently stocks the livewell.

“Obviously you have to be set up correctly to side pull,” Brad said. “You can’t do it from just any boat. But I’ve found that side-pulling is the most efficient way for me to cover water and present lures to fish.”

Brad fishes from the War Eagle 754VS, a boat specifically designed for side-pulling. It features a row of rod holders on the left side of the boat with the seats swiveling to face the rods. The trolling motor is mounted midway of the boat on the right side. While the War Eagle model is a specially designed rig for side-pulling, other flat bottom boats work as long as the trolling motor can be mounted in the proper position.

Brad likes several characteristics of side-pulling that allow him and his clients to target fish. It is especially effective for deep-water scenarios, and Brad frequently fishes from 15 out to about 25 feet. Postspawn fish on Pickwick Lake and the Bear Creek Development Authority Lake, lakes close to Brad’s home in Muscle Shoals, regularly return to those depths soon after the spawn. Brad also finds that deeper-holding crappie run consistently bigger than shallower fish.

Side-pulling also allows Brad to fish water that has been undisturbed or lightly pressured by other trollers.

“It’s a different type of trolling,” Brad said, “and presents the bait to fish in a different way.”

For side-pulling, Brad uses 9-foot B’n’M The Difference by Roger Gant rods. His choice lure is a Charlie Brewer Double-Action Minnow—the best color this year has been stardust—paired with a 1/4-oz. Fin Commander Fin Spin head.

 Cork-and-minnow, dock shooting and side-pulling are just three of several approaches to exciting postspawn crappie action. Certainly fish can be caught with other techniques—one-pole jigging is a simple approach growing in popularity—but gaining expertise in any postspawn technique will fill a stringer quickly.

Crappie are on the move this month. Now is the time to put a new technique to work and extend the crappie season.
 
 
 
 
 
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