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rey light began filtering through the hardwood forest that lined both sides of the ribbon of asphalt meandering across East Texas. As the sun rose, the penetrating sunlight eliminated the need for the Tahoe’s headlights and the dark, sullen trees erupted into a riot of spring color with the dawn. Black hickory, sweetgum, and red oak tress flaunted cheerful new leaves. The sight of the first redbud tree, resplendent in full ceremonial dress, demanded full attention as we rolled by. The War Pony quickened her pace and we sped toward the lake, full of hope and anticipation. It was spring and it was crappie time! Crappie move into the extreme shallows to spawn every spring, bringing them within cane pole-distance of just about every angler; well, every angler with legal access to a lake’s shoreline. Most lakes and reservoirs are girdled by private property, thereby restricting bank access to many miles of prime spawning shoreline. Tackle loaded, and all snaps and straps secure, I pushed off into the lake and paddled under the highway bridge where I launched. A small cove, barely 20 acres, juxtaposed the main lake and drew scant attention from weekend crowds. Barbed wire and purple fence posts stood as sentinels, guarding against intrusion from land. A mix of loblolly pines and hardwoods framed the neglected inlet. Tangles of vines and woody plants grew down to the waterline. Fallen limbs from the canopy overhead, victims of a hard norther, littered the edge of the lake; many of the casualties were half submerged in the shallows. Classic rigging adorned my light spinning outfit. A seven-foot rod was the longest

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Private property restricts bank access to prime spawning shoreline.

Crappie Time!

in my quiver and, although the light graphite rod wasn’t as long as a cane pole, the rod’s extra length was helpful when lifting and dropping wiggling shiners into shoreline tangles. The small spinning reel was spooled with fresh 8-pound test line and a gold Aberdeen hook was knotted on. A small splitshot was pinched on about a foot above the hook.

Tackle requirements for crappie fishing are minimal. A hard plastic box that once held dry flies secured a day’s rations of gold hooks, and split shot. Two classic balsa wood crappie floats, trimmed in bright red and white, completed my compliment of tackle. I probed different patches of submerged brush, dabbling minnows on a vertical line for 30 minutes or so, my index finger on high alert for strikes and subtle ticks. But none came. I pulled out the balsa wood float and eyed it keenly, deciding that a two-foot depth was just about right. The float plopped down tight against the shoreline and settled flat against on the surface of the stained water. As the splitshot achieved its full depth, the ice pick-like top of the float sprang to life, standing tall and proud. Several minutes passed before the subtle strike was noticed. The float’s top was white and featured red lines every inch or so. A red-tailed hawk glided overhead, distracting me. My wandering eye finally noticed that the top of the cork now sat at F i s h


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a 45-dgree angle instead of straight up and down. It was a classic crappie bite, so subtle you couldn’t detect it by feel alone. An even but determined rise of the rod tip met with sudden resistance as the hook found purchase. A large black crappie swirled, making erratic circles amid the submerged brush before yielding to the power of arched graphite. The fish taped an honest 12-inches and lay finning next to the hull; the gold hook had winnowed a large hole in the side of the paper-thin membrane just behind the fishes jaw. With thumb and index finger clamping down firmly on the fish’s lower jaw, I hoisted the prize and admired the green and silver mottled flanks glistening in the morning sun. Black crappie and white crappie both spawn in the spring with the former beginning spawning activity when water temperatures reach 60 degrees. White crappie, on the other hand, wait until the water temperature hits 65 degrees. Calendars can only suggest when fish will spawn; water temperature is a much more reliable predictor. Few kayak anglers I know, with the exception of those who have equipped their hulls with depth finders, monitor water temperature. A quick check online revealed an array of inexpensive digital thermometers that would serve yeoman’s duty enunciating water temperatures. Kitchen and aquarium thermometers were both available in the $15 – 20 range, most were waterproof and featured alarms you could set for a specific temperature – very handy in the spring if you are trying to find the warmest water in a cove or coastal flat. Driven by photoperiods and water temperature, crappie push into the shallows every spring to complete the circle of life. When redbuds and dogwoods are in full bloom, it’s a good bet is crappie time! Greg Berlocher can be reached for question or comment at


March 2012  

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