Last week my good friend Bill came by the store to tell me the crappie were “bitin’ like crazy and they’re big!” at the local FWA (fish & wildlife area) lakes.
Now if you ever want to make sure you have less fishing time in the future than you may have had in the past just open a fishing tackle store. I can assure you that will guarantee you less time on the water than you would like.
Anyway, I had to tell Bill I just couldn’t get away last week. Dixie and I had taken a few days off to visit our grandtwins in Texas and were in full “catch up mode” at the time. Of course the weather was great, fish were biting (according to Bill), and life was easy. Kinda’ figures, doesn’t it?
But, just the invite got me to thinking about crappie fishing. One advantage of being my age is that even if you can’t get on the water at that exact time you can sure as heck pull up lots of stories of when you did fish for that type of fish. And so I did….
One Spring many years ago we were up on Lake of the Woods just as walleye season opened. That was a bit unusual since we typically waited until school was out so we could take the kids up with us. But that year it wasn’t Dixie and the family, but three of my fishing buddies and my pal Keith who lived by the lake. It was our “Manly Man” trip to the great North!
We arrived in my old E250 Ford van, filled to capacity with fishermen and more gear than most small town tackle shops would have on their best day. We had crossed the border, bought groceries, licenses, bait, and were ready for some serious walleye fishing.
Early season walleye can, depending on the weather and past winter, be more than a little problematic early in the season. This was one of those times. We fished shallow, at the edge of soon-to-be-grown weed beds, off sand points, along rocky shorelines, in shallow bays, you name it. Fishing was tough. Very tough.
We hooked up with a few nice fish, but where we found one or two we didn’t find any more, at least that were hungry. They were still scattered and just hadn’t concentrated (or schooled up) where we could count on bringing a half dozen or so in the boat. We varied our presentation, tried different baits and techniques, but after two hard days we had barely brought in enough fish for our long awaited fried walleye suppers.
About this time my buddy Keith suggest maybe we take a day off since there was a front coming through. Perhaps that would change our luck and the walleye would turn on. Although that made sense, I responded that we only had 5 days on the water this trip, so I hated to burn one not fishing.
“I’m not suggesting ‘not’ fishing,” Keith said. “I’m just suggesting we try something different. Maybe go after some crappie.”
Crappie? In the great North? Never crossed my mind.
As Keith explained it the weather was about perfect for crappie fishing if we could find them. And he knew enough people who guided on the lake that he didn’t think that would be much of a challenge. If we were game we could all go out in the morning and give it a try. He volunteered to pick up some small minnows and jigs that we would need. And so crappie fishing tomorrow it was.
The next day we were on the lake early as Keith’s information indicated the crappie were schooling up in distant (from our cabin) Stony Bay. We were told they were very shallow and if we found one we would find hundreds. And lo and behold Keith had a couple of spots already marked on the map.
Well, long story short, we hit crappie on the first spot, a nondescript shoreline that, without a marked map, you would never have fished for crappie or any other species. The shoreline was muddy with some flotsam timber and weeds. Our first casts produced instant action. These fish were starved! Both boats just sat there throwing itsy bitsy jigs baited with small minnows at a spot less than 6 ft from the shoreline. And the crappie hit. And they hit. And they hit!
Within the hour we were almost out of bait and our live well was close to full. We started cutting minnows in half. And they still bit. We salvaged partly eaten minnows from fish in the live well. And they still hit. Finally we ran completely out. We had no less than 50 nice crappie in the live well. But we weren’t done. We put cheese, hot dog, you name it on the jigs.
And this was about the time I discovered that perhaps fish are indeed smarter than people. They wouldn’t touch any additive laden “people food.” They were actually more likely to bite a bare jig as one that had our food on it. Like I said, smart.
By about 11 AM we had a nice mess of crappie and our morning fishing was effectively finished. We headed back to camp to clean our catch and then store it in the cooler, ready for a fabulous dinner that evening.
I know fish cleaning can be drudgery at times, but even though we had a big mess of fish to clean, no one complained. We had found these wonderful cold water crappie and they would make tonight’s meal really special. Which, I might add, it was.
The next day we were back on the walleye trail. It was as if walleye fishing had done a complete turnaround in that 24 hours. We found nice walleye in various structures. And best of all, we didn’t just find one or two. We found great action wherever we found them biting.
By the end of the week we all agreed this had been a very successful trip. Each fisherman had a limit of frozen walleye in the cooler and some great fishing stories to share with the folks back home. Me? I had my best crappie fishing story ever. All while on a manly man Spring walleye fishing trip.
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