fly fishing for crappie

4 Tips for Catching Crappies on the Fly

Fly fishing tips for crappies(Editor’s note: Here’s a post from Noah, the youngest member of the crew and resident panfish guru, on a few tips to help you catch more crappies on the fly.)

Thoughts on flies, location, presentation, and gear that’ll help you start catching more crappies on the fly rod.

As lightning flashed in the distance I stood on a dock casting aggressively. “Just one more fish,” I said frantically to myself. Despite Conner’s warning I stayed on the dock and kept fishing. Stripping in my line, I felt a tug and set the hook. After a short but spirited fight I landed the fish – a crappie, my very first on the fly.

Crappies, a feisty panfish with a big mouth and a bigger appetite, eat flies voraciously and put a good bend in a light fly rod, making them a blast to target with fly gear. To catch fish consistently you’ll need a stocked box, a calculated location, a well thought-out presentation, and the right gear. Here are a few general tips and thoughts that’ll help you start catching crappies more consistently.

 #1. Your Box

When tying or choosing a fly for crappies, there are a few things you should consider: color, size, and sink rate. Bright colors are ideal for an aggressive bite, and natural colors are ideal for more timid fish. Size is another important factor. Sizes 14 through 6 are a good start for crappies, with bigger flies producing fewer but larger fish. Deeper water demands a bead or cone head, but an unweighted fly will suffice in water less than six feet. Also, match the weight of the fly to the water column were you will be fishing.

pink punch crappie streamer

The pink punch is one of my favorite flies for crappie.

 

Crappie fishing presents the angler with varying depths and water conditions, making a box that can change with the conditions a necessity. Flashy flies that can push water and get down fast are good for deep, murky, or low light conditions. Lightly-weighted flies in natural colors with some flash are more productive in shallow or clear water. Poppers are the obvious choice for top water situations.

 

In lakes and rivers crappies forage on a wide variety of food. Although crappies will feed on bugs, they strongly prefer minnows, making them an easy first choice for anglers. Bugs can produce just as well, particularly near weedlines. Always look in the water and match fly profiles to possible food sources.

 

the flashy veil and weight of the cone head make it perfect for murky or deep water

The flashy veil and weight of the cone head and the ability to push water make the Pink Punch productive for murky, low light, or deep water.

 noah's minnow with soft hackle

#8 Noah’s minnow with soft hackle (finesse)

 

#2. Location

Crappie location varies widely throughout the year, with fish frequenting habitats ranging from shallow, mud bays to offshore basins in response to seasonal conditions. When choosing a spot always keep in mind the four “C’s” for crappies: cover (brush, weeds, and rocks often attract fish),  contour (drop offs, depth, humps, holes, etc.), chow (the fish are where the food is), and comfort (comfortable water temp and current speed, with slower and slack water producing more fish).

 

Though crappies usually relate to log jams, rock piles,weed lines, and submerged brush, they’ll often abandon cover and suspend in open water, especially in the late summer months. One of the best opportunities to catch crappie on a fly comes in the spring when crappies move to the muddy shallows to spawn and feed. Crappies will often roam weed lines or drop offs in search for food. Bait skipping the surface is a tell tale sign of where they might be. Always analyze the situation and conditions before you randomly pick a spot.

 

#3. Presentation 

To catch fish consistently not only do you need a good fly but you also need to get down to fish and perform a convincing retrieve. Try to mimic one of the crappie’s three primary prey types: a bug, a bait fish, or top water. Mach the retrieve to what they’re feeding on and experiment to find what works, as what produces today won’t always produce tomorrow. The cast location is another important factor. Cast toward cover, drop-offs, weed lines, or bait skipping the surface. If you see a possible food source in the water match the size, color and swim pattern. Think about where you’re putting the cast as it will determine where your fly will swim.

 

Crappie from the north fork of the crow river.

Crappie from the north fork of the crow river.

#4. The Gear

 

The best setup for crappies depends on the presentation it will accomplish. A two to six weight rod and reel are excellent tools for the job (a glass rod is always a blast). The length of the rod depends on how far you’re casting, with longer rods preforming better for longer distances, but a seven and a half to nine footer are adequate options. Sink tips are ideal for deep water when you want a rapid sink rate, but floating lines will suffice the rest of the time. Where you are fishing will determine leader length. A shorter length is better in brush and situations requiring tight casting, but a longer leader is better in shallow water where fly line will spook fish. My favorite tippet size is 6-8lb test. Other necessities include: pliers, scissors, extra tippet, split shot, and a well-stocked fly box.

 

 

4wt rod, extra 8lb, hemostats, and a couple of mint tin fly boxes.

4wt rod, extra 8lb, hemostats, and a couple of mint tin fly boxes.

 

Crappie are definitely one of my favorite to catch. No matter where you target them, chasing crappies with a fly rod is a downright fun way to spend a day. Next time your on the water, keep these tips in mind to catch a few more crappies on the long rod. And remember to just have fun!

 

My first one.

My first one, small but a start.

Tight Lines,

Noah

Crappies On the Fly, Catfish, and Hot Dogs

 May 28

There’s an oddly satisfying charm to the simplicity of catfishing. It’s about as far as you can get from the clean elegance and complexity of fly fishing for trout, but for some reason it has captivated me since the moment I first encountered it, probably striking some young boyhood chord rooted deep inside that still likes to play with worms and run around barefoot in the mud. The anticipation of watching a freshly-baited pole is nearly unbearable, and you never quite know what’ll end up eating your bait, which is a large part of the intrigue. Rivers and catfish haunts have a habit of holding all sorts of crazy fish, and, at least when fishing casually, there’s no particular skill or reason involved in hooking big catfish, though landing them can be a different story. It takes a good bit of skill to entice a big brown trout, but it’s just as probable that a ten pound catfish will take your bait as a ten incher will when soaking worms. While fishing worms on the bottom might sound a bit like treason for a die-hard fly fisherman, it’s a good way to kick back and relax on the water, not to mention it’s just plain fun.

But none of us had any idea that we’d get into big cats this weekend.

Noah and I started the weekend at the lake by poking around a few flooded marshes looking for some carp. The fish were spawning and not interested in flies, though we did find one that was happily slurping bugs from the weeds but didn’t like my poor presentation. I’d bet we saw around fifty fish, with an occasional tank that made nearly any other freshwater fish pale in comparison.

I tried a few casts at the river mouth with the fly rod but couldn’t interest any bass. The water was quite a bit higher and dirtier this weekend, adding to the already unstable pattern we’ve had this spring. I’ve never seen the water so brown on the lake, and so far it hasn’t been great for the bass fishing. I’m sure there are a few less obvious variables that are affecting the fishing, but the brown water at the river mouth just hasn’t been producing like it should.

Partly out of curiosity and partly out of boredom, Noah and I set up with a “river rig” (simply a big chunk of worm with a sinker a foot or two up the line) at the mouth of the river just as the sun was dropping behind the trees. It’s a good way to relax after paddling all afternoon, and there’s a good chance you’ll tie into a bigger fish – maybe a bass or carp or the odd walleye that prowls the shallows after dark. The first few fish were potbellied yellow bullheads – a very normal occurrence for night fishing and not terribly exciting. After a half-dozen fish I got a strong thump and set into a good fish. I figured it was a carp, but a good, dirty fight revealed a respectable catfish of 22″!

While I never realistically expected to catch a catfish in the lake, it was never completely out of the picture. A few years ago, the DNR stocked a bunch of channel catfish in a connected lake system a ways downstream. Much to the delight of some anglers and the dismay of others, the cats flourished and moved into nearly all the connected waterways. The lake we’re on is separated by nearly a half-dozen lakes and a few dams upstream from the original stocking site, but somehow the catfish must’ve made their way through on the seasonal spurts of high water. I’m glad they did.noahs catfish

A few more bullheads (and a bit of disappointment at each quiver of the rod that produced one) broke the silence of the darkness before Noah stuck a good 24″ cat. It’s a blast to just hang out in the lantern light and goof around. We stuck it out till around midnight and lost one more big catfish before ending the madness and calling it a night.

May 29

The river mouth was dead again this morning. I tossed the jig fly from Opening weekend and the crankbait but didn’t get a single bite. There wasn’t much else happening, so I tied a few flies before Noah and I hopped in the rowboat to chase some panfish.

For some reason crappies just can't resist pink...

For some reason crappies just can’t resist pink…

The ‘gills and crappies were in the shallows and ravenous. It took a bit of sorting to get to the bigger fish, but we landed a few good ones on the Pink Punch and a Noah’s Minnow variation.

Ice dub veil on the Pink Punch did a nice job imitating the tiny minnows these guys were eating...

Ice dub veil on the Pink Punch did a nice job imitating the tiny minnows these guys were eating…

super noahs minnow crappie

Lots of fun on a four weight

 

I planned to chase some bass in the evening, but there was a league bass tournament and the little 300-acre lake was hopping. It was a good night at the river mouth, though. The odd chorus of skeeters and coons and frogs filled the night air, only broken occasionally by the thrashing of a catfish exploding through the shallows somewhere in the distant darkness.

26"

26″

We turned in sometime around midnight, weary yet satisfied with the evening’s fish count.

The bass bite never happened on the last morning, despite a decent effort of pitching and flipping and casting at docks in hopes of finding a “pattern” worthy of the fly rod. One feisty largemouth – the only one of the weekend – spit the tube after going airborne beside a dock. I’m sure there were still a few hungry fish hanging around in the morning sun, but we just couldn’t find them.

June 15

I’m afraid that catfish are becoming somewhat of an addiction. Most fly anglers might not understand the bait-fishing pursuit that has stolen our attention (and a good bit of sleep), but I guess you have to experience it to appreciate it. It’s hard to argue with the thrill of strong, beefy fish in the dead of night.

The weeds have really started to come in. A crankbait was worthless in the shallows of the river mouth. Besides a few casts with the jig fly and the “stupid tube,” there wasn’t much time to bass fish before darkness crept over the water – and the catfish moved into the shallows. I had foolishly left the worms in the garage the week before, so we were in a bit of a predicament for bait. A quick run through the pantry looked grim. A bread crust. Crackers. Butter. Marshmallows(!).

Yeah, we were desperate.

Ended up tossing hot dogs (all-natural, mind you) tipped with marshmallows, which the catfish apparently didn’t mind.Bradens catfish

I rolled out of bed a bit before five the next morning. The sting of the early alarm was eased a bit by coffee and a 17″ bucketmouth. early morning fishing

Got him on a white spinnerbait (with a hand-tied bucktail/feather hook) on the inside of the weedline. Poor fish had a nasty sore on his chest...

Got him on a white spinnerbait (with a hand-tied bucktail/feather hook) on the inside of the weedline. Poor fish had a nasty sore on his chest…

 

***Side note: While Noah was casting a tube for bass just before dark he hooked into a good catfish. Makes you wonder in they’re catchable on a fly rod. Maybe tie a big, heavy conehead with a rattle and plenty of silhouette to imitate a crayfish. Or a hot dog.

 

 

Crappie On the Long Rod

Jeff Samsel recently did a cool post for Crappie Now Online Magazine featuring a few of our flies. Head over there for a great read on fly fishing for crappie, including the best presentations, strategies, and flies for crappie on the long rod…

http://www.crappienow.com/home/cn/may2014/#p=14

 

Noah's Minnow (Get some here)

Noah’s Minnow (Get some here)

pink punch crappie streamer

Pink Punch – our top producer for crappies in rivers and muddy waters (Get some here)

Also, check out the panfish flies page for the fly recipes and more good bugs for panfish.

Tight lines,

Conner

 

 

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