Luke Clayton

outdoors

As I cast my little crappie jig into the back of a cove on a 400 acre lake that I duck hunted regularly this past season, the ‘tap tap’ telegraphed up my line by a receptive crappie reminded me just how big a player the weather is in the outdoors.

As recent as a couple weeks ago, the temperature was in the teens and even Wally Marshal would have been challenged to catch a crappie from the relatively shallow waters. Today the big slab sided crappie were on a feeding binge.

My buddy and I did a bit of ‘test’ fishing before we discovered the concentration of fish in a long, shallow cove that ran from the main body of water on the little lake.  My friend was using a 10-foot jig pole, dropping his tiny shad pattern Lil Fishy soft plastic on a light jig head directly into shoreline brush. I was using a light weight rod and spinning reel to toss one-quarter ounce red and chartreuse crappie jigs out into the center of the little channel, hopping them back along bottom. The baits didn’t seem to matter to the crappie.  Neither did the presentations.  Crappie respond quickly to warming water in the spring and they were definitely in the ‘feed’ mode.

Our quest for crappie began in a deeper feeder creek just above the lake. After 30 minutes of dunking and bottom bouncing jigs, we ascertained the prespawn crappie had not moved into the deeper channel or adjacent bank lines.  So, where would we find these early spawners? 

Shallow water exposed to sunlight obviously warms first. We remembered the long ‘cut’ or arm running off the lower end of the lake. Water depth was around 4 feet out in the middle here and, the water level was down a foot or so from normal elevation. There was lots of shoreline brush visible, prime waters for spawning crappie.

Regardless whether you’re crappie fishing on smaller lakes or, the larger reservoirs, locating the warmest water is key to catching crappie right now. A thermometer is one of the most useful tools for catching crappie this time of year. On our little lake, a test of the main lake water temperature versus the shallow cove where we found the concentration of fish was a full 10 degrees difference. The main lake temperature was 53 degrees. Back in the sheltered, shallower cove, we found water as warm as 63 degrees during mid afternoon. Crappie have the ability to decipher minute changes in water temperature. Crappie pro Billy Kilpatrick says often as little as one degree change is all it takes to attract crappie this time of year.

“I start looking for crappie in very shallow water relatively close to a creek channel or drop off this time of year,” says Kilpatrick. “Crappie move from shallow to deep with the passing of each late winter cold front. Granted, there are still plenty of fish on deep structure this time of year, water 25-30 feet deep, that won’t move shallow for another few weeks. It’s those fish staging at the intermediate depths of 12-15 feet that are close to the shallows now that we’re catching.”

  When fishing the larger reservoirs with rock rip rap,  Kilpatrick suggests fishing close to the rocks. “Water close to the rocks will be slightly warmer than adjacent waters. Rock absorbs the sun’s warmth during mid day and crappie often move into these areas first, especially if the rip rap is situated relatively close to deeper water, but not too deep.” The trick is to locate rip rap with adjacent water 2-4 feet deep close to ledges or drop offs. It’s a good idea to study a good contour map of your targeted lake and locate ledges close to shallow flats near rip rap.

 In a couple of months, boats will make accessing crappie hot spots in deeper water much easier but for now, during the early part of the spawn, bank fishermen often catch as many, or more crappie than those fishing from boats. As the old adage pertaining to spring fishing goes, “this is the time of year when 90 percent of the fish are in 10 percent of the water.”

Turkey season

The opener of spring turkey season is a little over a month away and now is time to make ready. In the next few days, I will be breaking out my slate and box calls, chalking them and testing to make sure they accurately mimic the sounds of a love sick turkey hen. I’ll also check out my decoys, making sure the stakes that anchor them to the ground are in order and ready to pack for that first hunt. I do a great deal of my turkey hunting with a bow so I will locate the mechanical broadheads that open to 2.75 inches and do a lot of practice shooting to ensure I’ll be able to close the deal when that big old gobbler struts within bow range. If you do your spring turkey hunting with a shotgun, it’s a good idea to pattern the gun with the load you will use in the turkey woods. A heavy charge of No. 4 shot works great for turkeys. Make sure and change your shotgun’s choke to full or extra full. It’s easy to make a silhouette of a turkeys head and neck using your hand and arm. Push your fingers together and place your thumb under your fingertips. Trace the outline of your hand and lower arm on a piece of cardboard. The outline is roughly the side of a turkey’s head and neck. Back off 30 yards, take a bead on your target and see where the center of your shotgun’s pattern hits. Adjust your hold until your shotgun’s pattern centers the birds head/neck.

Cablea’s King Kat Tournament will be held on Lake Tawakoni on March 5.  Trophy blue catfish season is still underway and this awesome catfish fishery should produce some monster catfish at the weigh in. For more information, visit www.kingkatusa.com or call 270-395-6774

Listen to Outdoors with Luke Clayton Radio at www.catfishradio.com. Email Luke with fishing and hunting news from your area through the website.