Expert Articles by John
Neporadny Jr. - March
Prespawn/Spawn Tricks for
Lake of the Ozarks Crappie
by John Neporadny Jr.
Find a shallow brush pile and drop an anchor.
Cast out a couple of minnows with bobbers and start hauling in crappie.
Springtime crappie fishing used to be that
easy, but heavy fishing pressure has caused many anglers to change tactics.
Prime spawning spots get worked over daily. If you're the first angler to dunk
some minnows at one of these spots, you have a chance to catch some fish. But if
you arrive after the area's been visited by four or five other boats, your
chances diminish drastically.
This trend has led some anglers to adopt bass
fishing's run-and-gun philosophy of moving around to several spots and firing
off a couple of casts in each area. Aggressive fish can be taken this way, but
complicating the situation are detractions such as high pressure weather fronts
and falling water levels. During these conditions crappie tend to leave the
shallows or cling to cover and develop a case of lockjaw.
Former Lake of the Ozarks guide Mark Dahl has
developed some techniques to overcome tough conditions anglers face during the
crappie spawning cycle. The Gravois Mills, Mo., angler tracks down fish in three
different stages of the crappie's procreation cycle. He lists the stages as
pre-pre-spawn, pre-spawn and spawn. In the pre-pre-spawn, the fish suspend in
schools along the mouths of creeks and coves. The fish will suspend at various
depths depending on the weather. "On warm, sunny days, they're up
higher," Dahl says.
Crappie in the first stage are least affected
by weather conditions and falling water levels since they reside in deep water
(20 to 30 feet). But they can still be hard to find and even more difficult to
Electronic fish finders make the search much
easier. Dahl watches his paper graph recorder and keeps a marker buoy in hand
while cruising along potential staging areas.
When he finds a school, he drops a buoy and
starts fishing over it. He will either fish vertically over the school or use
his trolling motor and the wind to drift his lure through the mass of crappie.
The local angler keeps track of the school and determines the depth of the fish
of fish by constantly watching an LCD mounted on the bow of his boat. After
determining the depth of the greatest concentration of fish, Dahl sets his lure
at that depth to keep it in striking range.
After he catches a fish, Dahl works the area
thoroughly because he knows he has a chance to catch some more. "When you
have that many fish together, some of them are going to hit," he says.
"If you're lucky enough to be out there when they're feeding, you can catch
one about every time you drop your line in." To increase his odds, Dahl
uses a dual jig setup, which sometimes results in catching two fish at one time.
He ties on a plastic-skirted jig with a 1/32-ounce head first, then adds a
1/16th or 1/8th-ounce plastic-skirted jig of a different color 18 inches to 2
feet below the first lure. Dahl prefers plastic skirted jigs over feather
versions because he can change colors by merely replacing the skirt rather than
havingto retie the jig. Sometimes he'll hook minnows through the lips ontothe
jigs to entice finicky crappie.
The selection of jig colors depends on water
clarity. In clear water, Dahl selects bright colors such as yellow or
fluorescents. The best hues for murky water include red or purple.
The first phase of the spawning migration
usually lasts one to two weeks. During stage two (pre-spawn), the crappie move
back into the coves and closer to the bank. "They're not actually in the
spawning beds yet, they just relate close to them," Dahl says. The fish
will be staging 12 to 16 feet deep. Some will be suspended and others will be
moving in and out of the shallows checking on spawning conditions.
Crappie in the second stage tend to be more
moody. "It sounds funny to says, 'Let the fish tell you how to fish for
them,' but sometimes they want the jig held perfectly still and other times
they'll want a horsehead-type jig with a blade on it reeled right along,"
Dahl says. "You should try different colors and different retrieve speeds
until you find what triggers the fish."
High barometric pressure or cold fronts push
the fish into deeper water. "You have to slow your presentation down and
stick it right in front of their nose," Dahl says. During these periods,
Dahl resorts to the vertical jigging and drifting methods or a "dead
fall" technique. "When you cast and retrieve, the jig moves a lot
faster than it does on a dead fall," Dahl says.
The "dead fall" method resembles a
light-tackle version of bass fishing's flipping technique. The Lake of the
Ozarks guide trades in his dual jigs for a single 1/16th-ounce jig. Before
flipping, Dahl measures out about 10 to 12 feet of line. He flips the jig which
propels to the shallows pulling along the unspooled line. The longer rod helps
Dahl keep slack out of his line and gives him a better feel of the lure as it
falls back towards the boat. Most of the time, he imparts little or no action to
the lure as it drops. The slow-falling jig tempts crappie into investigating the
intruder that has moved into their domain. "Since fish don't have hands,
the only way a fish can tell what something is, is to swim up and grab hold of
it with their mouth," Dahl says. "If they ever come up with a fish
that has hands, all fishermen are in trouble."
When Dahl feels the fish need coaxing, he
usually twitches the lure. "Sometimes twitching a jig going down will
trigger a fish into hitting," he says. "They think it's trying to get
away or is injured. Other times they hit it out of curiosity more than out of a
desire for food."
Using the "dead fall" method, Dahl
can catch fish that are suspended when the lure sinks and also take fish on the
bottom as the jig drags along after it has fallen back toward the boat.
Sometimes Dahl will let the jig drag along the bottom while he flips out another
line. By keeping track of both lines he can catch fish cruising in the shallows
and the crappie staging in the deeper water next to the spawning bank.
Catching crappie gets easier when the fish move
into the spawn stage because the fish hit at anything that moves into their
bedding area. "When the fish are spawning, they're not really feeding,
they're protecting their territory," Dahl says. "They grab hold of
your bait and try to get it out of there."
The spawning period offers the best opportunity
to catch fish shallow, but the fishing can be spotty at times. One day you'll
work along the bank and load up the livewell, but the next day its as if the
fish disappeared. Dahl reminds anglers that not all the fish move to the bank at
one time, and there will be crappie in the 10- to 12-foot range near by.
"If you work the shore and don't catch any fish on the beds, back up a
little bit," Dahl says. "There will be fish out a little bit deeper
from where you caught them the day before spawning." Probing the deeper
water can also result in catching larger crappie. If he continually catches
small fish along the bank, Dahl will turn his boat around and start working the
same area in a little deeper water. "Bigger fish usually spawn first and
they usually spawn deeper," he says.
When the fish establish themselves in the
shallows, they usually stay put. "Once it gets to where conditions are
right, it's hard to keep them from spawning," Dahl says.
Rather than abandon the shallows during high
pressure or cold fronts, the crappie will burrow into the thickest cover they
can find. Since casting to these areas usually results in your lure becoming a
brush pile decoration, flipping becomes the most effective way to haul the
reluctant fish out of the cover. Dahl usually looks for the best looking cover
available along the spawning bank. "The bigger fish always get the choicest
spawning and feeding spots," he says. If he fails to catch a fish or takes
only small fish along the outer edges of the cover, Dahl will flip his jig into
the middle of the brush where he usually catches slab-size crappie.
If your favorite spawning bank fails to produce
this spring, rememberthat the fish are still there and can be caught by slowing
down your presentation and maybe fishing a little deeper. For information on
lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free
152-page vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors
Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors
Bureau web site at funlake.com.
Copies of John Neporadny's book, "THE Lake
of the Ozarks Fishing Guide" are available by calling 573/365-4296 or
visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.