Hang time. Michael Jordan had it in spades. Shaquille O'Neal-not so much. Leaves hang, flutter and fall on a warm autumn breeze. Acorns don't hang or flutter much at all, in fact, they pretty much drop like rocks. Ever try to catch an acorn midflight? How about a hailstone; ever catch one, say, square in the noggin?
In the wonderful world of crappie baits, it's almost always better to be a leaf than an acorn. Big googly eyes perpetually scanning the nether regions above, crappie radars are forever tuned in to pennies from heaven-food that hovers and flutters seductively down to their jaws. Still, they can be awfully selective about the baits they bite. Often, it's all about drop-speed. Getting down fast to schools of deep competitive fish is one thing. But that's more of a summer-fall deal.
Fluttering bait, not dropping it like a rock, is the secret for catching cold-water crappie.
We're talking early spring here. And when I'm searching out crappies in chilly water-perhaps months before they spawn-I'll take a "flutterbait" every time. A flutterbait can be anything from a light spoon or gliding softbait to a freelined live minnow. Early on-might be mere days after ice-out-crappies are often doing what they do best, hovering. Whether they're stationed above a bed of elodea in 18-feet of water, suspended twenty feet down over deeper water just outside a shallow bay, or roaming the edge of a rocky point carpeted with fresh green pondweed, crappies will be hovering somewhere above bottom, and looking "up" for food. This can be a tricky time to find fish, but it's also my favorite period to catch crappie-kong. Really, though, it's only tricky if you use stuff that's too heavy. I've seen lots of anglers who were on fish, but continually failed to connect because their lures simply flew right past sets of deep lippy mandibles-crappies frowning at baits as they shot on by. It's the acorn versus the leaf. And it makes a huge difference in terms of bait choice.About Flutterbaits
Not coincidentally, two of my all time favorite flutterbaits are found on the pages of the Northland Fishing Tackle catalog. Northland knows crappies, and their new Live-Forage Flutter Spoon is absolutely slab-happy. They also savor softbaits, and a Slurpies Small-Fry tail rigged on a 1/32-ounce jighead does the fluttering thing to perfection. It's the only tube-style bait I've seen that has two broad 'glide-fins' that make it, well, glide. And when it glides, the fine little tail tentacles kick and waver. Oh my, do crappies find this tantalizing. Using gentle rodtip sweeps, swim this bait high over deep vegetation. Kill it and let the lure coast and flutter. Both the Flutter Spoon and the Small-Fry can be made to move erratically, and they sink so nice and slow that they almost hover in a crappie's strike zone. Slurping it up is an easy choice.Hovering Livebait
Ditto for crappies eating livebait. But you already knew that, right? I'm a huge fan of live minnows for crappies, although in early season, I'll often fish them a little different than everyone else. I'll dunk minnows under floats if I have to, but for fish wandering higher in the water column-especially over deep vegetation-freelinin' the thing. Using a 7- to 8-foot light action spinning rod and 3-pound test mono, I can lob-cast a single small minnow plenty well, no weight necessary. Just add a #12 InvisaSwivel (a new type of transparent fishing swivel made of fluorocarbon) two feet ahead of a single snelled #10 lightwire hook. Unlike metal swivels that sink like rocks, the InvisaSwivel won't drag the rig down, but rather hovers along with the line, for a totally natural presentation. It's also the best swivel I've ever seen for eliminating line twist-the special fluorocarbon swivel material actually self-lubricates in water. Pretty cool.
Of course, the minnow's the thing. Open a crappie's jaws once-yeah, these wide-mouthed critters aren't exactly afraid of eating big baitfish. And neither should you be of fishing them. If I can put up a stock of healthy 2 to 3-inch golden or spottail shiners early in spring, I'll be solid for weeks.
Freelining means no weight-just the power of livebait working its magic, tail kicking and calling slabs from afar. Slide the hook gently through each of the minnow's nares (nasal openings), into one and out the other. Done right, this is the least damaging way to fish a lively baitfish, and it'll reward you with a nice lively (and long) swim. Make a soft pitch, raise your rodtip, and let the wind or a trolling motor carry you along, releasing up to 50-feet of line as you drift. Hold your rod tip at 11-o'clock, keeping tabs on the bait's activity and position with a finger feathering your line. In water under 20-feet deep, it's not unusual to attract crappies right to the surface with a lively, high-riding shiner. On calm days, I've even been treated to surface bites-watching crappies pop my minnows right on top.
Flapping and fluttering big crappies is a Roach trick from way back. My uncle Gary doesn't know I'm telling you about it. So if you see him out there, just sidle up nice and close beside his boat. Tell him all about this new technique you just read about that's been cleaning up on big crappies-right from this very lake, in fact! Ever seen a famous fisherman cry?