Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fall Slab Crappie

It was the day after Thanksgiving.  The air temperatures hovered at just above freezing with the afternoon forecast to hit nearly sixty degrees, and the water temperatures were in the upper to mid forties.  My buddy Howard and I decided to launch my boat and head out for some mixed bag tidal river freshwater fishing in search of bass and crappie, and anything else that wanted to bite.

I could barely zip up my personal flotation device (PFD) because belly remained stuffed from my Thanksgiving turkey the night before.  In fact, I was wearing my backup PFD, because Howard was complaining about the same thing, and my PFD was the only one that would fit him.  He said it was because he had so many clothes on...Hmmmm.  Yeah, right...  Finally he admitted it was also due in part to massive eating syndrome the night before.

The moon was full, and a Southwest wind backed the tidal waters up to create an unusually high tide.  A wet dock greeted us at the launch, making it a little too slippery for my liking, so care had to be taken when boarding the boat. On our run to our fishing hole, logs, leaves and debris littered the river making navigation difficult, even clogging my jet drive outboard half way to our destination, leaving my hand soaked and freezing cold for the remainder of the trip.  But it was worth it.

We reached our destination, a spot along the river where the river depths chanced from about five feet to a deep hole that was about twenty feet deep.  When the tides change, currents can be strong, so we also had to find an area that was somewhat sheltered from the strong tidal currents, where predators could wait in ambush of baitfish.  I started out in search of largemouth bass using a four inch finesse plastic worm.  It didn't take long for that first bite.

I was stoked to get bit so early, and really looked forward to a nice battle with a tidal bass.  I set the hook and had a decent fight, but it wasn't a big bass.  As it turned out, it was a fat slab crappie.  This fish had shoulders too, a saying that anglers often say when they refer to a muscular healthy fish.
I was after largemouth bass, but when crappie like these inhale your bass baits in an area that could have them bunched up, you could have a heck of a fun fishing day.  We had a crappie day after all!
Meanwhile, my buddy Howard listened to the advice of a friend of ours, Gene Mueller, to try a lure that, quite frankly, doesn't look like much.  Please visit his outdoor blog for some fine articles on fishing, hunting and other outdoor news at Gene Mueller's World of Fishing and Hunting.  Howard tied on a three inch Mann's Stingray Grub in the avocado color rigged on a one eight ounce jighead, and, per Gene's advice, smothered it in Smelly Jelly.  I kept after the bass, but Howard started slaying the crappie, one after another.
Gene's Stingray Grub/Smelly Jelly combo recommendation paid off time and again, yielding slab crappie like these all day long.  You can't ask for a more fun fishing day catching good numbers of fish like this.
With this lure, you really don't know what you're going to catch next.  These deep tidal holes attract predatory fish of all kinds.  While thumping the slabs, Howard tied into a decent fat but not especially large bass.  But that bass was spunky, peeling drag off his spinning reel before finally being landed.  Not an hour into our trip, we knew we'd had fun, and found a spot that gave up one fish after another.  
Howard with a chunky two pounder, a bass that inhaled his Stingray Grub.
I hadn't tied the Stingray on yet, and was itching to do so, but the action was hot, so I went with what I had, a small two inch chartreuse grub tied onto my panfish rod.  While he was catching slab crappie and bass, I was catching smaller crappie and bluegills on that set up.
While Howard was catching big fish on his Stingray Grub, I was getting bluegills and smaller crappie on my panfish set up.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I needed to change tactics.
The truth is, while spending the hour drive down to the ramp from my house, I talked up the Stingray Grub and couldn't wait to tie one on.  Howard must have been plotting to beat me to the punch.  He knows my habits, my lazy habits, of starting out with the lures that I had tied on from my previous trip.

So, after falling behind in the bigger fish numbers, I made the change, tying on a Stingray Grub.  After a cast or two,  the crappie let me know how they wanted it.  I'd let it sink, and they'd either hit it on the fall, and if that didn't work, I'd slowly drag it across the bottom with an occasional slight jigging action.

Gene says that the Stingray Grub is a special bait in our tidal waters because it's a good imitation of local forage, a bull minnow.  Actually, these minnows live in many of the Mid-Atlantic tidal rivers, so this pattern should hold for just about any of those waters.
Howard shows off a fourteen inch slab crappie that fell victim to a Mann's Stingray Grub.
For several hours, the action seemed non-stop.  We caught one crappie after another, and then, when the tide became slack the bite slowed.  It didn't stop, but we had to work harder for them.  We still picked up the occasional fish.  I took some time to go back to my plastic worm, and proceeded to catch a mixed bag of smaller largemouth bass and crappie.  I was after the bass, but the bigger crappie seemed to like the bigger bait too.  I wasn't all that dissapointed!
I moved back into largemouth fishing, tossing a finesse plastic worm.  I managed to catch some small bass, but slabs like this didn't mind engulfing my offering.  Howard, meanwhile, stuck to Stingray fishing.
At the end of the day, we finished with so many crappie boated that we lost count.  We had many many doubles (both of us landing fish at the same time).  I managed to catch four species of fish, bluegill sunfish, black crappie, largemouth bass, and even a yellow perch.  Just about anything will bite that Stingray Grub, and when fishing tidal water wintering holes, you really never know what's on the end of your line when you set the hook.  But who cares, right?  Catching fish and having fun is what it's all about.
This yellow perch rounded out the mixed bag of fish, four different species boated.
So if you want to catch fish this winter, visit Gene's blog and read the many posts on this subject, take his advice, and you'll catch plenty of fish.  Better yet, if you can do it, take his advice and hire a guide to show you how to do it.  His buddy, Andy Andrzejewski, a licensed guide on the Upper Tidal Potomac River, would be a great choice.  You can reach him to book an outing at (301) 932-1509.

So, while others are out there hunting, it's a great time to get out on the water and catch lot's of fish.  Dress warmly in layers to stay comfortable and enjoy the late fall and winter bounty that your tidal waters offer, including big slab crappie like the ones that we caught yesterday.

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