Crappie on the Fly
Spring in the Kawartha’s Northumberland region is a magical time of year for anglers. After packing away the ice fishing gear, multispecies anglers like myself are constantly watching conditions to anticipate their next bite. As the ice disappears and the water starts to warm it is as though the entire lake comes back to life within those first few warm days of spring. At the same time the nearby
great lakes tributaries begin to rumble as the spring steelhead migration begins. It truly is an exciting time to be a fisherman!
With the abundance of long awaited angling opportunities, I find myself facing decisions about how I will make the most of my time on the water. Do I throw the boat in and invade the shallows in search of slab crappies? Maybe the pike are on a hot jerkbait bite?! And I hear the steelhead are smashing nymphs… the choices!!!
It was one of those warm sunny days of spring that I decided to go out in pursuit of crappie. My partner and I slowly and quietly drifted my boat into the shallow bay where I suspected to find our targeted species. We were not disappointed as we could see their ghostly silhouettes sitting among the mats of thick weeds and dead leaves from last fall. We had a typical panfish float style setup.
Nothing too fancy, just a little tube rigged under a light bobber. We cast amongst the vegetation and watched as our floats sat still. We tried changing colours, depths, weights and anything we could to think of to dial in the bite. But we did not catch fish, in fact we were watching the big slabs swim up to our bait and blatantly refuse! It was frustrating to say the least.
Our success changed drastically when we abandoned the float, and began casting light plastic baits into the weeds. The fish were interested in the horizontal presentation, and were much happier to chase and smash the fast moving bait, than they were to eat the spoon fed option under the float. Continuing to notice the subtleties of the technique we were employing we took notice of the fact that the fish hit the bait while it was falling. A quick rip and pause was the deal and we took full advantage, filling the livewell with eaters and releasing a few big slabs.
The fish turned out to be more active than I had anticipated, and it was nice to dial in the bite, however I couldn’t help but feel like if I had an even lighter jig, it would hold the bait there that much longer…Perhaps it may have even led to a few more bites that day. Who knows? It turned out to be a great day, filled with hooksets and good times.
The next day I woke up feeling satisfied with my crappie haul from the previous day. I was in the mood to feel some weight on the end my fly rod and headed to the river in search of fresh chrome steelhead. The river was high and dirty with all the spring runoff, and although I’m sure the river was loaded with fish, I didn’t catch any.
But something happened that day while I was on the river. I was drifting my woolly bugger through a pool that had more current than usual. I noticed my fly was suspending in the water, but not getting down into the depths of the pool. As I stood there staring into the mesmerizing flow, my imagination wandered and I couldn’t help but daydream about the crappie I had caught the day before. Staring at the slow moving fly, gently falling through the water, all I could do was picture a big crappies mouth opening up to devour that fly.
My fly rod was still in the truck from the steelhead adventure and was the first thing I grabbed while launching the boat the next day. I slowly crept back into the bay, and with the grace of a ballerina gently landed my big green bug into the big school of crappies. They were still hanging out in the same clump of weeds, in the same bay, just waiting for me to return! The excitement got real as I
watched a huge crappie dart out from a clump of weeds and snatch up the big bug. Fish on!
I am not a professional fly fisherman by any means. I am just an angler that likes to have fun and catch as many fish as I can. I get a kick out of switching things up and thinking outside the box. But as the day went on, I was growing more and more in love with catching these big crappie on the fly. It was an absolute blast. The fly was the perfect bait to balance the crappies preference for a horizontal moving bait with a dead slow fall. I got bit on almost every cast for several hours that day. By the end of it, my big green bug had been pulverized and was nothing more than some loose string and a couple feathers.
The setup I used was simple, and could be done by anybody with simple fly gear. A 6 weight fly rod worked for me that day, but I’m sure you could get away with a lighter rod. It was nice to have a little extra stiffness in the rod to pull fish from heavy cover. On the business end I ran floating line with a 5` lead of 8lbs test, followed by 12” of 5lbs fluorocarbon. A handful of simple flies is all you need, I would suggest a few natural colours like black and olive, and also a few bright bugs like chartreuse or pink. Be sure to bring your fly rod along for your next Crappie outing. Give it a try! you won’t be disappointed!