I have sat at the feet of Harold Knight and David Hale, and listened as they uttered pure pearls of wisdom regarding the quest for old boss gobblers.
I've heard James "Dr. Deer" Kroll talk about the best ways to waylay a mossy-horned wall-hanger buck.
I've listened, jaw agape, as Bill Dance and Roland Martin shared techniques that have worked for them in fooling sway-bellied bass.
I, too, have spent a few days in a crappie boat with Bill Pettit, and have come away mesmerized at the wisdom he shared on fooling slab crappie.
Wait, you say. I've heard all about Knight and Hale and Kroll and Dance and Martin, but who the heck is Bill Pettit?
I'm glad you asked because I can tell you that the days I spent with Pettit chasing crappie showed me that this guy knows as much about catching "speckled perch" as any of the other pros were able to share about their favorite sports.
I met Pettit more than a decade ago on Ross Barnett Reservoir just out of Jackson, Miss., where I was fishing as a guest of the B'n'M Pole Company. Pettit, a retired postal employee in Jackson, was a veritable walking encyclopedia of crappie knowledge, and while we caught fish, he shared tidbits of lore that have helped me over the years to know a bit more about these popular and sought-after fish.
One thing that stood out in my mind was Pettit's comments about fishing for and catching crappie in the heat of summer.
"In spring, you can find crappie on most any lake in shallow water where spawning takes place," he said. "However, once hot weather gets here, you can forget about fishing for them in skinny water. They're going to be suspended in deep water, and it takes some searching to locate them. Once you do, you can catch one big-ol' slab after another, provided you can stand the heat.
"Lots of times, I'll get so hot sitting out there under the broiling sun that I'll quit fishing for awhile, crank my big motor and tear out across the lake at full speed with one purpose in mind, and that is to cool off. After I cool down a bit, I'll go back and start catching crappie again."
As Pettit and others attest, crappie fishing can be downright super in summer, provided you know where to locate the fish. In general, once the spawn is over and the weather begins heating up, crappie head for cooler water, which is usually deep water. Being school fish, once you catch a crappie this time of year, chances are excellent that plenty more are where that one came from.
In big, open water bodies, such as rivers and reservoirs like Toledo Bend and Ross Barnett, crappie congregate in or near channels. The moving water will attract some types of baitfish that the crappie will follow for easy feeding opportunities.
In most deeper lakes in Louisiana, crappie will gather around structure that is located next to deep water. Drop-offs that lead to deep water that has structure near its edge are prime target areas.
In the heat of summer, one of the most productive areas to find the crappie stacked up is around the deeper piers and bridge pilings that may dot the lake you're fishing.
When fishing bridge pilings, it helps to know where the bridge crosses the channel or the bayou or river. The pilings nearest the deep channels are where you're more likely to find the fish bunched up because likely as not, schools of shad will have taken a liking to the cooler depths as well. When you find shad, no matter the time of year, you're likely to find crappie as well.
Outdoor writer John Phillips shared some tips he has learned about catching crappie in summer.
"If you're fishing a stream with current, pay particular attention to any big trees that have become uprooted and are in the current," he said. "If the top end of the tree is pointed downstream and the root ball upstream, I have learned that this is one of the best crappie-holding areas you can find.
"The clay root facing the current breaks the current and creates a cool, well-oxygenated and bait-rich slack-water area when there is current. It's not nearly as effective when current is lacking."
Ken Keiser is another angler who enjoys catching crappie in summer. He likes to fish big trees in deep water.
"Strangely enough," said Keiser, "only certain trees seem to hold crappie in summer. Experienced crappie fishermen tend to concentrate on the underwater trees that have the most branches. Circle a tree and locate where the underwater branches are thickest; that's where you'll find the crappie."
Summer is the time of year when north Louisiana's crappie fishing guru, Bobby Phillips, catches lots of crappie. One of Phillips' favorite methods is spider-rigging.
"I'll have several poles out as I drift over areas where I suspect crappie might be suspended," he explained. "I'll have jigs of different colors and design set at different depths, and I may add a shiner to some of the rigs. I may tip some of my jigs with shiners.
"What I'm doing is trying to pick a crappie's brain. I want to know the depth he's located, and I want to know what type and color bait he wants today.
"Once I start catching fish on a particular lure at a certain depth, then I'll likely concentrate my fishing using that lure at that depth."
It seems that practically every crappie angler has his favorite method of catching suspended crappie in summer. Another top-notch angler is Bennett Kirkpatrick of Rock Hill, S.C. I was there for a meeting one summer several years ago, and was introduced to Kirkpatrick, who took me on a crappie fishing foray on Lake Wylie that I won't soon forget.
First off, Kirkpatrick waded out into the shallows holding one end of a seine, handing me the other end with instructions as to what to do. Momentarily, we had a bucket of shiners that cost us nothing and were just what the crappie wanted that day.
Our method of fishing differed from any other I'd ever tried on crappie. I have cast tiny jigs and small spinners for crappie, but what I learned from Kirkpatrick was something entirely new — we cast and retrieved minnows, not jigs.
Kirkpatrick knew the location of dozens of submerged brushpiles in the lake, and once we eased up to one and dropped a marker buoy, he handed me a rod and reel with one of our freshly caught shiners on the hook with instructions as to what to do.
"Cast it out, count to 20 and begin reeling," he said. "Counting down one number per second will get your bait down where it needs to be. The top of the brush is in 20-foot water, and when you start reeling, you'll be right on top of it."
He was right; using his countdown-and-reel method, the two of us filled a cooler with fat crappie on a day hot enough to fry eggs on the transom. Later, I came home and tried Kirkpatrick's technique over sunken brush in Lake D'Arbonne. The cast-a-minnow-and-retrieve method I used in South Carolina worked equally well in Louisiana.
Another fishing buddy and outdoor writer friend, Keith Sutton, has put together an excellent book on the subject of fishing for crappie. "The Crappie Book: Basics and Beyond" covers the art of crappie fishing from "a to izzard."
"The first rule of summer crappie fishing," Sutton writes, "is keying in on deeper water areas outside the normal realm of shallow-water anglers. Concentrate your search in the 10- to 25-foot range. The clearer the water, the deeper you should look.
"Crappie are usually near woody cover along the edges of inundated stream channels, points and turns on weed edges, man-made fish attractors and other structure-oriented cover.
"In waters with plentiful cover, the trick is finding the small percentage of it that holds fish. You may have to work hard to locate a concentration of crappie. Where cover is in short supply, a single sunken treetop may harbor dozens of slabs, but you must find that spot first.
"Some deep-water crappie are found using hit-and-miss tactics like drift-fishing and trolling. If you want to increase your hooking time and decrease your looking time, buy a good sonar fish finder. Electronic hardware is essential to find deep-water crappie consistently.
"For example, it's one thing to know that a river channel zigzags through a long narrow cove. It's quite another to find a bend, ledge or some other nuance on the channel that will attract a school of crappie. Without sonar, you might never find such an area."
Sutton noted another important point often overlooked by crappie anglers. He says that fishing in one spot too long is usually not a good plan.
"In summer, if crappie are present and feeding, they'll usually let you know right away," he writes. "Contrary to popular belief, the dog days are not a period of sluggishness. A high summer metabolic rate means crappie are frequently feeding, and heavy schooling creates competitive group activity. If you aren't catching fish within 15 minutes, try another spot."
If the thought of baking your brain under triple-digit heat doesn't appeal to you, the idea of sitting on a lake under the cover of darkness illuminated only by the glow of a lantern or sealed-beam floating light might be right up your alley. Sutton offers some advice on fishing for crappie at night in his book.
"Hanging lanterns attract insects, which attract baitfish, which attract crappie," he writes. "This isn't an instantaneous process, of course, so give it time to work. Use two lanterns on the same side of the boat, and hang them close to the water's surface.
"Sealed-beam crappie lights have a Styrofoam flotation ring. The light helps concentrate baitfish and crappie."
Reading Sutton's suggestions on fishing for crappie at night in summer triggered a memory I have of crappie fishing under the stars on Lake Claiborne when it was a relatively new lake. I remember the comfortable temperature, the swarm of bugs around the lights and watching the cork disappear as another slab crappie gobbled my minnow.
As the old television commercial once said, "It don't get no better'n that."
For ordering information on Keith Sutton's "The Crappie Book, Basics and Beyond," go to www.catfishsutton.com.