Gerald Almy: Strategies for catching speckled perch
The crappie goes by lots of different names among anglers. Some call them papermouths. Others dub them calico bass. One of the most common names throughout the South is speckled perch. Whatever you call them, these small white, black and silver fish are a ball to catch and delicious when fried to a golden brown crusty finish.
As the final segment of this three-part series, here are some more proven strategies for catching this intriguing gamefish that vies with bluegills for the status of No. 1 panfish in the state.
Try fan casting. While crappies often hold tight to cover, sometimes they are found just off of it a short way in slightly deeper water. In other lakes, cover may be fairly scarce and the fish often rove in open water. This is the perfect setup for fan casting.
Use a light spinning outfit and a standard jig in the 1/8-1/16 ounce size or a weedless design such as the Charlie Brewer Slider grub. Cast toward any cover you see near shore such as tree limbs, dock pilings, piers or brush. But keep reeling past the cover at a slow, steady pace. Often you’ll catch the heavier females halfway back to the boat where they are staging, ready to move in shallower water and deposit their eggs when conditions are just right.
Pause now and then to let the jig drop deeper, but other than that, no twitching or jigging of the rod is necessary. In fact, the smoother the retrieve, the better.
Fish with minnows in the shallows. When the majority of crappies move in tight to cover and begin the spawning ritual, it’s time to pull out your cane pole and use it to flip minnows into pockets of brush and drop them next to logs and dock pilings.
Use a cylindrical float adjusted 18-48 inches above a fine-wire gold hook with a split shot or two a foot above the bait. Use a length of line equal to the cane pole’s length or slightly shorter and simply reach out and place the minnow exactly where you want it next to a blowdown or sunken brush. If a fish is there, you should know within one or two minutes. If nothing strikes, lift it straight up and drop it down beside the next piece of cover.
Dap with jigs in the shallows. This is a variation of the technique above, and in some ways it’s an even more exciting method. Instead of seeing the float disappear, you feel each strike with this tactic. Rather than using a float, hook and split shot, simply tie on a tiny jig in the l/8-1/32 ounce range and lower it down next to brush, tree limbs, stumps, beaver huts, weed beds, dock pilings and other cover you find in the shallows.
At this point, you’ll probably be tempted to jiggle or twitch the lure. Don’t. Simply hold it steady next to the cover. Your hand is actually trembling and shaking enough to give the jig a very life-like, quivering motion, something like a minnow rotating its pectoral fins. That’s enough to draw slamming strikes from any nearby crappie protecting its nest.
After holding it steady next to the cover, slowly swim the jig around with a smooth motion to the other side of the tree or piling. Wait a few seconds longer, then lift the lure up and place it next to another likely-looking spot.
This method lets you probe the very best cover quickly and usually results in a heavy catch by day’s end if the fish are in the shallows. Whether it’s hunger or territorial instinct that makes them strike these jigs is hard to say, but strike them they do — often belligerently.
Create cover. The one thing that’s lacking in many crappie lakes is sufficient cover for these structure-loving fish. You can rectify that situation by creating your own. First make sure there are no restrictions on this from local, regional or state regulations or from the power company that owns the lake, then gather up some old tree tops, cedar trees, shipping crates or artificial structure that you build yourself, weight it down with wire and either large rocks or cinder blocks, then drop it off in prime areas just offshore from traditional spawning locations.
Mark the spot by triangulation so you can relocate it later and jot its location down in a notebook. It may take just a few days, or it may take a month or two, but soon minnows will begin hanging out around the new structure and crappies will follow them in hot pursuit.
Then you’ll have your own private spot to fish as crappies move up toward the shallows to spawn and back out to the cover after breeding is finished. Place structures at several different depths from about 10 to 20 feet and they’ll produce during a variety of weather and seasonal conditions.
Try night fishing. This technique is a good one to turn to as crappies complete their spawning and start to head back for deeper water in May. It can also produce good results right through the hot summer months.
Hang several lanterns over the side of the boat or use a plastic foam-mounted light that floats and runs on a 12-volt battery. Another option that can produce is to fish around docks that have lights.
In both cases, the illumination draws in insects and baitfish, which in turn lure in any nearby crappies. Fish jigs vertically near the lights, using a float to suspend them or bait fish with live shiners. If bites start slowing toward dawn, raise your floats to fish at a higher level, since the fish often move up in the water column as the daylight approaches.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.