My better half enjoys a wide array of presents that comes with having a birthday on the same holiday celebrating romance. She gets gifts, flowers, cards and candy.
Often, Em will glance over the flowers and gifts and head straight to the candy.
Sac-a-lait are like my wife. Sometimes they, too, will pass on other offerings and head straight for the candy. Crappie Candy, that is.
One of my presents to Em is a fishing trip with me. I get off cheap that way. Besides, she loves fried sac-a-lait, and I'm more than happy to provide for the family table.
Early in our marriage, we'd head out to some of the borrow pits near Morganza with light spinning tackle and a bucket of minnows. We always managed a few fish regardless of conditions.
But once I turned from the Dark Side of the Fishing Force (bait) and became a Jedi Flycaster, the challenge to catch a half-dozen crappie for dinner got difficult, indeed.
Fluff butts to the rescue!
Mark Hester's fly version of the popular marabou jig is to white perch what chocolate is to women — irresistible!
There are many other flies in my arsenal for crappie, such as Gummy Minnows, beadhead Woolybuggers, small Charlies, Crappie Bullies, Panfish Specials and Coma Minnows. But the two best have been fluff butts and Clouser Minnows.
The one problem with fluff butts is that they seldom catch big fish because the fly is generally small — hook size 12 up to size 8. The one problem with clousers is that they're not easy to cast using panfish tackle (3-, 4- and 5-weight rods). Especially if you're using a large strike indicator to suspend the clouser.
These dilemnas were solved when Terry and Roxanne Wilson introduced me to the sweetest fly ever: the Crappie Candy.
When it comes to sac-a-lait, nobody knows how to catch them better on the fly than the Wilsons. Residents of Southwest Missouri, they are hardcore warm-water anglers who spend 200 days or more fishing streams, ponds and lakes. They've written several books, and give presentations across the country on fly fishing for largemouth, smallmouth, bluegill, carp and other fresh species.
Their latest book, "Crappie Fly Fishing: A Seasonal Approach," became available in bookstores Jan. 1.
At an event in Arkansas, Terry told me about the Crappie Candy. Created by Al Campbell, he described it as "a Clouser and a Fluff Butt got married, and had a child." Sounds like a Valentine's Day that went well for both those flies!
Here's how to tie a Crappie Candy:
-Using a streamer hook, size 4 to 10, tie in beadchain or small dumbell eyes (like a Clouser).
-Add a marabou tail the length of the hook shank.
-For the body, wrap regular or ice chenille (like a fluff butt). Tie off back of the eyes.
-Add a small wing of bucktail on top the fly, with a few strands of crystal flash underneath the fly.
-Finish the head.
If you'd like to see a step-by-step for tying this pattern, go online and google "Crappie Candy Campbell." A few Web sites where Al Campbell has instructions or tips on how to fish this fly will pop up.
For me, the Candy sinks fast enough so I can use it as a searching lure, but it's light enough so I can easily add a strike indicator 2 to 3 feet above the fly and slowly work brush piles, stumps and docks.
As for colors, the most popular seems to be white tail, white wing, pink body. But I've tied in various color combinations. My advice is always to "match the commie hatch." That is, whatever color lures have been working, I'll tie to match those.
Recently, I had occasion where the Crappie Candy saved the day.
In my hometown, Baton Rouge Parks & Recreation (BREC) has over a dozen ponds stocked with fish. Eleven-acre Greenwood Pond is one of the few that has sac-a-lait, and in good numbers.
Sac-a-lait love "crappie weather"— overcast, foggy, low barometer. Unfortunately, this day was cold, sunny, high pressure. To make matters worse, I'd slept late and was hitting the pond around midday.
Two hours using the usual "killer" black/chartreuse fluff butt, and no bites.
The usual contingent of minnow-dunkers didn't have a fish to show, either. Even Ms. Betty, queen of the pond's sac-a-lait anglers, was having tough go — although she did manage to put two nice slabs in her bucket.
Betty showed me her lure — a pearl, plastic, swirl-tail minnow on a pink jighead. I opened my waist pack, pulled out a box, and when I looked inside there was a pink/white Crappie Candy. I tied it on.
Three casts later the strike indicator went under, and a sac-a-lait — albeit a small one — came to hand. A few casts later, another small crappie was hooked and landed.
So now I know what to give my wife this Valentine's Day/birthday: a box of Crappie Candies. Catches her favorite fish and —unlike real candy — zero calories!