Crepuscular Crappie

No, It’s not a strange disease, but if you want to load a stringer with sac-a-lait, you should definitely become familiar with the word.

Maybe now, I thought, he’ll believe me. He never believed me. Even when we were teenagers, he always thought I was trying to put one over on him. And now that I think about it, a lot of times that’s exactly what I was doing. Sure, when it had to do with a certain girl, a football play or a recent fistfight, I might have stretched the truth a little. But never, ever would I tell a lie, even a little white lie, about anything to do with our fishing and hunting. That was far too serious and precious stuff to distort in any manner.

But now, years later, at precisely 5 p.m. on a spring evening, as he hauled in his first of what was to be many huge sac-a-lait that night, he finally believed me.

My old friend was being introduced first hand to my “crepuscular crappie” theory. Don’t feel bad, my friend didn’t have a clue what “crepuscular” meant either. He thought it had to do with a disease or something, and at first didn’t want anything to do with the fish I told him I’d been catching regularly.

Crepuscular is a scientific term used to describe fish and other members of the animal kingdom that are most active at low light levels. Besides mosquitoes, foxes, coyotes and rattlesnakes, there is a large group of critters that are included in this classification. They all share a common denominator — there are advantages to their avoiding light.

In the case of the crappie, or sac-a-lait, it’s pretty obvious why they fit the mold. Those huge eyes that seem way too large in proportion to their bodies and other organs make them efficient low-light predators.

The small, privately-owned freshwater lake located on Lake Pontchartrain’s north shore where I took my buddy is the quintessential example of a crepuscular crappie fishing hole.

It’s landlocked, gets very little runoff, is not affected by tidal flow and is thick with underwater vegetation and floating mats of water hyacinths.

For those reasons, the water is rarely anything except extremely clear. This means light penetrates its depths very easily, and during all daylight hours and most of the nighttime too, the sac-a-lait position themselves under the floating mats.

But at twilight, they come out from under the mats to feed voraciously. The disadvantage of this is while you can catch a stray or two anytime, fishing at any other time except for twilight on into an hour or two after dark is a waste of time and effort. This holds true 365 days a year.

Some evenings are much more productive than others. We’ve caught over a hundred one night and as few as four another night. But no matter how good or bad the bite, its peak is always at the same time of day — twilight through the second hour of darkness.

Now, think of the advantages. You know what time to be there. Isn’t that a wonderful thing in this age of ultimate time management?

Bass, bream and catfish are also in this lake and are likely to be caught at any time of the day or night. Not true when it comes to the crappie.

I have to believe there are many other ponds, rivers and small lakes where this same situation exists. Maybe to a larger or lesser degree, but very similar to the one I fish.

Are there others where this theory doesn’t apply? Of course there are. Good sac-a-lait catches come from a wide variety of waterbodies at any time of the day or night. But the moral of this phenomenon is that spots you may have written off are actually crappie “hotspots.”

Get ready for this next profound statement, as it might just change your sac-a-lait fishing life: It could be it’s not that you’re fishing in the WRONG place but at the WRONG time.

Unlike my fishing buddy, I learned this lesson the hard way. Just like him, I, too, didn’t believe advice given by old-timers who had fished this particular lake for years. Trusting more in my own fishing skills, the first time I fished the lake alone on a Mardi Gras Day was futile. I began at daybreak and tried every trick I knew, and came up empty until twilight when all crappie-hell broke loose.

Live or artificial, under a cork or on the bottom, it didn’t matter. The bite went on for about two and a half hours. That was all I needed to become a convert to crepuscular crappie fishing.

Back to the advantages and disadvantages of twilight fishing. It’s usually cooler fishing at this time, but depending on whether it’s winter or summer, that can be a good or bad thing. Crepuscular mosquitoes and gnats are something to contend with, but there’s not much chance of sunburn, no matter how bright the rising moon may be.

Except for that narrow window from when the sun has set up until dark, most of the action is in darkness, and that calls for some special preparation.

The key to successful in-the-dark fishing is getting everything organized. You want to avoid digging around trying to find, weights, corks, hooks, minnow net or other gear after the sun goes down.

One important thing is to get any useless gear out of the boat or packed out of the way. Flashlights with extra batteries and fully charged batteries are critical. A dead battery during daylight is bad enough; it’s much worse in the dark.

Know your spots in daylight and in the dark. Check it out in full daylight, and get set up before that “magical time” kicks in at or just at sunset. Ideally your spot — and you really want to do all your fishing in one spot — should be close to the launch. You don’t want to make a 10-mile run in the dark. Before magic time, position the boat precisely where you want to be.

Tying knots in the dark means not only having to maybe find your reading glasses but a flashlight too. Remember you’re on a limited bite schedule, and you don’t want to waste precious fishing time getting gear ready.

You want to keep your gear simple. I use closed-face spinning reels because you don’t need high-tech, high-speed reels for this kind of fishing. These reels are pretty much backlash-free, and picking out “professional overruns” is much worse in darkness than in daylight, so it’s best to eliminate the possibility. Depending on how fast the action is, I might use one, two or even three rods each rigged a different way. Sometimes the action gets so quick it’s hard to keep up with just one line. Inexpensive rod holders are a big help.

When it comes to line, I like 4- to 6-pound mono tied to a swivel followed by a 20-pound braided line leader tied to a 1/32-ounce jighead if I’m using plastics or a small live-bait hook if I’m using shiners. Depending on the particular day, one or the other may be more effective.

Blue/white, blue/silver and green tube jigs are my favorite plastics, but sometimes I’ll use tiny spinnerbaits. When fishing live shiners I usually use a cork and a small split shot to keep the bait down. Lighted corks work well and eliminate having to shine lights onto the casting area after dark.

The reason for the 20-pound leader is to horse fish in should they get tangled in submerged grass or floating hyacinths.

Everyone knows a spot that just screams “Fish here — it’s loaded with sac-a-lait,” but is always disappointing. Try fishing that spot at twilight; it could make all the difference, believe me.

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