Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni
Since the ice left in February, I’ve seen enough nice crappies being caught to make me think we could have another banner year. Of course, when I say banner year, I usually intend it to mean that a few good fishermen will catch most of the fish, and those who follow them will be left with what remains, assuming they aren’t a day late. I might brag about the good crappie fishermen around here, and there are some excellent ones. On the other hand, I wonder if they could be better. For the most part, they catch a lot of fish when the ice leaves through late May or early June, then do nothing until the weather cools again in the fall. It seems to me, that the master crappie fisherman should be able to catch fish all year long around here. Maybe some do, but other good fishermen give up the ghost during the summer months, especially on the shallow canal lakes.
It’s a general consensus in areas where crappies are king that the fish can be caught year round. It’s true that structure, depth, and topography play a large role in finding fish, and shallow soup-bowl lakes like ours make it difficult for fish and fishermen alike. If the fish can’t concentrate, there obviously isn’t a target for the fisherman. Or is there? For some reason, I think that some decent summer crappie fishing is possible if good fishermen wanted to work at it. I also think there might be one or two local crappie fishermen who already have the answers. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what kind of weigh-in a late July crappie tournament would produce? It might be surprising. One thing for sure, fishermen wouldn’t be using the usual tactics we see during the prime crappie season.
When I was about 10 years old, I used to fish with an old man who did roofing and other jobs for my dad. We fished from a rowboat and drifted the main lake dragging cane poles rigged with bobbers, sinkers, hooks, and lively minnows. We always produced a mixed bag, and big crappies were always part of it. I concluded that although the crappies might not be bunched up, we made up for that by covering a lot of area. Consequently, any summer tactics I used would be designed for that purpose. Drifting would be an option, but having control of the area covered would be preferred. Spider trolling with rods extended from the front of the boat is popular, while long-lining from the back is also possible.
40 years ago, give or take, I was killing some time on Lake St. Marys and decided to cast a white marabou jig along the edge of a dredged area. I was surprised when I caught a decent crappie and decided to tie a line and bobber to his mouth and turn him loose. I followed the bobber and threw the jig in the same area. I didn’t catch a lot of fish but enough to know that something was controlling their movement. Even in a soup dish, there is enough subtle relief to hold fish. Also, I wonder why crappies wouldn’t concentrate in some of the stumpy areas during the summer months. Modern technology makes it easy to mark these spots.
When the perch fishing was in its prime in the 1990s at St. Marys, I managed to take advantage of the situation by following the boats, using light gear, and fishing with live bait. More often than not, I would catch one or two big crappies while fishing just off the bottom with a small minnow or part of one. On occasion, a big crappie would go so far as to hit a red-worm or small piece of night-crawler. This didn’t surprise me since I remember catching Kansas slabs using a jig tipped with a whole night-crawler. If my memory is decent, the crappie limit at the time was 30 pounds and the locals always figured they were safe at 17 fish. I don’t think I ever came close to catching a limit, but I caught enough fish to make it interesting. Summertime fishing would definitely make me think live bait or, at least, scented bait.
Taking everything into consideration, if I were going to summer fish for crappies at St. Marys, I’d be along dredged areas, over stump fields, preferably with a hard bottom, using live bait and covering as much area as possible. If it wasn’t too windy, I might try chumming a bit with corn meal, egg shells, fish scales, or anything else that would attract bait fish. As I drifted, spider trolled, or long lined, I’d probably also be casting a jig or maybe a small crankbait or in-line spinner. If none of that worked, I’d go home and watch the History Channel. Above all, I would know what didn’t work. I would also be confident that better fishermen than me, and there are many, could figure out how to catch summertime crappie if they wanted to. Hopefully, if they became good at it, they would share the information. The point is that, right or wrong, you have to put on your thinking cap and use it if you want to catch fish.