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Catching crappies a waiting game

Crappies can be maddeningly selective. This is particularly true from early through late winter when water temperatures are at their lowest.

I recall a trip made a bit over a month ago. As you may recall, late December’s weather featured an arctic blast that quickly covered our lakes (as well as most river sections) with a coating of ice. Then, in the Jekyll-and-Hyde weather patterns of late, early January featured highs in the 60s. Lakes opened back up.

This New Year’s warmup found me on Lake Arthur, visiting a scattering of submerged cribs and brushpiles that typically hold cold-water crappies. Happily, as the sonar unit confirmed, the fish were there. Frustratingly, I could not catch them.

For over an hour I worked 1.5- to 2-inch soft-bodied jigs in and around the cover. I slathered the jigs with fish attractant. I tipped the jig with Berkley Crappie Nibbles. The fish weren’t impressed.

Next, I switched to a quarter-ounce blade bait, a favorite with a splash of both pink and chartreuse powder coat paint. It’s a combination that rarely fails, especially at this spot. But other than a small bluegill, the fish ignored the blade.

Finally, in an act of desperation, I rigged a light wire 1/16-ounce jighead with a 1-inch Berkley Gulp Alive minnow. If you’ve never used the one-inch version of this productive bait, let me tell you there’s not much to it, size-wise. It’s not only short, but thin as well. When added to the minuscule jighead, one sporting a size 8 or 10 hook, it was about as good a finesse combination as I could come up with.

I dropped the tiny offering over the side of the boat and allowed it the necessary time to sink to 20-plus foot depths. Then, closing the reel’s bail I took in the slack to see if I could feel bottom contact. Rather, I felt the spongy bite of a cold-water crappie, one that was soon in the net.

During the next hour and a half, by slowly working the boat back and forth over the deep cribs, I boated over a dozen more Lake Arthur crappies, all on the super-downsized presentation.

When it comes to fishing finesse-sized baits for crappies — be it the ultra-tiny jig that worked that unseasonably warm January day, or any of the classic 2- inch profiles common to the market — a few refinements help out.

For one, this ultra-thin braided line is a plus. I use Sufix Nanobraid in 10-pound test. The thin diameter of the line allows a light jig to sink to the bottom with the least amount of resistance. To this I add around 3 feet of six- or eight-pound test fluorocarbon line as a leader, terminating things with a tiny VMC crankbait snap. The snap gives the jig some freedom, like a loop knot, and allows for convenient bait/lure changes.

Tiny profiles like the 1-inch Gulp Minnow tend to split easily when threaded onto a jighead. For this reason, it’s best to use jigs with the lightest of hooks, ones lacking barbed colors designed to hold the bait in place. When using offerings with such a small diameter, the barbs simply split the head of the bait.

For finesse crappie fishing, when using finesse baits, I prefer a 6.5- to 7-foot light power, fast action spinning rod. Such rods have a bit of give in the upper section, enough to allow a crappie to take in a bait while feeling little resistance. For small blade baits, I like a 6-foot medium power, extra fast action rod. The stiffer action is necessary to impart action to blade baits. For both finesse jigs and blade baits, I like a 1,000-sized spinning reel.

Jeff Knapp is an outdoors columnist for the Butler Eagle

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