Deep, shallow or somewhere in between, crappie (sac-a-lait in Cajun country) are moving and getting hooked in southern waters.
And depending exactly where you are fishing, these prized slab-fish may be staging in various depths during the prespawn, or females may be clustered in significant numbers on shallow flats already delivering their eggs.
Yesterday, two Louisiana masters at the crappie game, Capt. Bill Lake of Houma and Glynn Lavergne of Savoy, tangled with more than just a few slabs.
Lake is most well-known for his speckled trout catches and guide service out of Dularge (Bayou Guide Service: www.captlake.com). Beginning Feb. 1 of each year and into March however, the captain will chiefly target his favorite freshwater species, slab sac-a-lait, in marsh and swamp waters in southern Louisiana
On Monday, Feb. 9, Lake had what he called a phenomenal day with some 175 crappie taken yet keeping only the limit of 50 quality fish for the angler – with another 50 taken by his fishing partner.
“We caught that many fish in just three hours in the marsh out of Bayou Black,” Lake said. “All those fish were in the prespawn mode.”
Lake found his fish on the shady sides of the marsh banks where willow trees abound.
“They were holding tight 10 to 15 feet off the bank along the edges of the marsh,” he said. “We would throw our lures set 18 inches under a cork against the banks in very shallow water, then retrieve them until the cork would stand up right on the drop-off.
“That’s when the cork would go under.”
Lavergne was in an entirely different system on the same day however, a cypress-tupelo studded reservoir of 1,642 acres called Chicot Lake nestled within Chicot State Park in Evangeline Parish near Ville Platte, Louisiana.
Lavergne found his fish under clusters of pennyworth, duckweed and early hydrilla growth.
“They were staging in the thick stuff and the wind was pushing current through it,” Lavergne said. Unlike Lake, Lavergne was tightlining tube jigs after making holes with a rake in the heart of the foliage cluster.
Lavergne didn’t catch the high numbers of fish as Lake found, but the angler steadily follows crappie here every week leading to some quality catches on many occasions.
Despite what both anglers experienced yesterday, they insist crappie are in the prespawn stage in each of these locations.
Prespawn and spawn
Biologist manager Jody David with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries described the spawning rituals of crappie to happen usually only once a year.
“When the water temperatures range between 58 and 60 degrees, that’s prime for the sac-a-lait spawn,” he said.
Many anglers admit to confusion as to the exact period when finding crappie in their catches with and without eggs or with underdeveloped egg sacks in various locations at this time.
It is now during the prespawn period when anglers will find crappie staging toward shallower waters before males begin actively fanning out nests. During this time, crappies of both sexes seek routes with adjacent structure that occur on the way to shallower spawning flats.
“The actual spawn will vary depending on location,” David said. “It occurs sooner in shallow ponds, small lakes and small reservoirs especially in the south.
“In larger reservoirs such as Toledo Bend, it may occur at different times in many locations due to water temperature variations in such a large system.”
In other words, there is no exact time or date the prespawn or spawn will occur since it is associated chiefly with water temperatures according to the biologist.
Another misunderstanding is that female and male crappie will all go to the shallow flats at the same time in a specific lake, bayou, pond or reservoir.
“It is not a one-day affair,” David said. “Usually it will take no more than a month in any given location, but in larger reservoirs (e.g., Toledo Bend) it may extend for a longer period.”
As for now, the best time to usually catch crappie during the prespawn is after a few days have passed once warming begins after a frontal passage.
Once a cold front again arrives at this time of the year, crappie may return to deeper waters and hold near structure especially during days with extreme highs.
Once temperatures warm again and cloudy days appear, it’s time again for anglers to find them staging shallower – and then eventually on the flats for the spawn during a longstanding warming spell.
Tactics, tackle and lures for transitioning crappie
For staging prespawners in the marsh, Lake will cast Egret Baits’ Wedgetail Crappie Minnows in pink/swirl, pearl/white, pearl/chartreuse-tail and black/chartreuse-tail.
Other lures he chose for Monday’s trip included blue/white and black/pink/yellow tail tube jigs. These will be situated 18 inches under a small cork attached to 1/16-ounce jigheads during the prespawn and spawn.
Lake casts this setup on a 6 ½-foot Daiwa rod with 8- to 10-pound test mono spooled to a Daiwa Underspin reel.
“When I’m in the swamp, I’ll fish with a favorite, 20-year-old, 9-foot flyrod of mine with an attached automatic fly reel,” he said. “I’ll do that when I’m vertically jigging tubes and Wedgetail Minnows at the base of cypress trees.”
Once marsh crappie reach the flats in numbers during the spawn, Lake locates these fish in extremely shallow water depths of 12 inches.
“Marsh banks here are not just solid,” the angler said. “You’ll find sac-a-lait spawning under the banks themselves as they protrude out over the waters and provide shade.
“I’ll cast for these spawning fish, and use a small weighted cork,” Lake said.
On Monday, Lavergne found his Chicot Lake crappie biting only blue/white and solid chartreuse tube jigs under the patches of pennyworth. He will also use Egret Baits’ Wedgetail Crappie Minnows of the same colors during both the prespawn and spawn at both Chicot Lake and nearby Miller’s Lake when water clarity and crappie preferences dictate.
Lavergne’s tackle includes the use of Apache Tomahawk flyrods from Bimini Bay Outfitters equipped with Pfleuger Underspin reels. When vertically jigging through foliage, Lavergne uses an 8-foot, 6-inch Apache Tomahawk and attaches his plastics by a loop to 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jigheads.
“During the spawn, sac-a-lait move to the tupelo flats and I will cast for them with plastics under small Comal peg floats,” he said. “I’ll use the shorter 8-foot, Apache Tomahawk rod for casting.”
“What I think accounts for differences in success amongst sac-a-lait anglers has to do with tackle light enough to feel even the most subtle bites these fish can give. Sensitive rods are very important and light rods of high modulus graphite construction are my favorite tools.”
Although cold fronts are scheduled to come in the future, their intensity will diminish and the waters will warm even more with increased daylight time.
So now is the time to get your tackle up to speed to catch some of the most savory slabs that ever lay on the skeleton of any piscatorial species anywhere.