Despite his great love for hunting, my dad would often forego a deer hunt in the last days of the season to get an early start on fishing. As he would constantly remind me, if you want big sac-a-lait, you need to fish cold water.
The Louisiana State Fish Records illustrate this. Of the top 19 crappie caught since 1994, 13 were taken in the first three months of the year.
But it’s not just size that the season offers, but numbers, too.
I recall one late-winter trip when we took Floyd Cormier, a distant relative, and host of a popular Lafayette-based outdoors TV show, to one of our favorite spots on Henderson Lake.
Mr. Floyd told my dad, “To save film, I only shoot when the fish are biting.”
To which my dad replied, “You’re going to run out of film.”
Sure enough, the action was fast and furious, and Mr. Floyd ran out of film. A lot of sac-a-lait gave up the ghost that day. At least no shiners were harmed in the making of that episode.
In fact, the only “baits” my dad ever used for white perch were tube jigs and marabou jigs.
Early in my fly fishing days, I used a small collection of weighted trout flies for sac-a-lait. The results were not even close to what jigs on commie tackle could do. I was pretty convinced that fly rods were not made for this species.
That all changed when we formed a fly fishing club in Baton Rouge.
One of the members — Mark Hester — showed me a box of fly-sized marabou jigs. He referred to them as “fluff butts.” They were tied on jigheads in hook size 10 with weights of either 1/100 or 1/80 ounce.
Some 25 years later, the butts remain my go-to flies for fooling slabs.
Fluff butts are very easy to tie. Wrap a thread base on the jighead, tie in a marabou tail, tie in chenille above the barb and wrap the chenille toward the eye. Tie off and finish just behind the lead eye.
Over the years, I’ve had great success with these color combinations (body/tail): black/chartreuse, red/white, blue/white, olive/olive.
However, whenever my dad fished crappie in clear water, such as at Millers Lake near Ville Platte or Indian Creek near Woodworth, he opted for “ghost jigs” — the Gray Ghost and the Pink Ghost.
Ghost jigs are just like other marabou jigs — the body is chenille (gray or pink), and the tail is marabou (always gray). So why are they called ghost jigs? My guess is because they’re tied in really ghoul colors.
When I tie ghost fluff butts, I usually use a slightly heavier jighead, like 1/64 ounce, than I do for the other butts.
How I fish them is also different. For example, my usual way of fishing fluff butts is under a small strike indicator, with the fly suspended 2 to 4 feet beneath. I’ll cast the setup near shallow structure like docks or weed lines.
With ghost butts, I’m using a leader 8 to 9 feet long with no indicator. I drop the leader down into structure until the fly line touches the water; then I slowly bring the rod tip up, pausing and dropping a bit every so often.
In other words, I’m using my fly rod as a jigging pole. Or as we call it, the “vertical drop method.”
The purists reading this are probably gnashing their teeth. Let them — they’re gnashing on words while I’m gnashing on tasty fried filets.
A consideration with most weighted crappie flies — such as fluff butts, crappie candies and small clousers — is tackle. Casting these with ultralight 2- and 3-weight rods and light leaders is not advisable. Unless you like lumps on your head.
Another advantage of using mid-weight rods (5- and 6-weight) is that you have some backbone for pulling crappie out of tight structure. These fish love brush piles and sunken trees. If you hook a slab, you have to pull him out hard and fast or risk losing your fly and perhaps part of your leader.
If you’re looking to place a crappie on the state’s fly rod record Top 10 list — and there’s quite a few open slots — be aware that flies tied on jigheads do not qualify.
An alternative — one Hester originated — is to tie butts using standard hooks and brass or tungsten beads. The beads take the place of the lead eye, and add weight.
Once prime crappie season is over, don’t give up the ghost butts, though They work equally well for bull bream.