Double Down

If you’re out for a day of fun and fillets, there are effective ways to fish for bass and crappie at the same time.

If you like to catch all kinds of fish, you can have more fun than if you specialize in taking one species.In most Louisiana lakes, rivers, bayous and mud holes, you’ll find plenty of good-catching and delicious-eating crappie and bass. Instead of only fishing for crappie or using tactics that only catch bass, why not fish for both species during February?

A few years ago, I re-learned the value of double-downing on crappie and bass that my dad and I always practiced when we first fished together 50 years ago in a wooden johnboat. We fished with minnows down the bank and caught bass, crappie, catfish and almost anything else that swam, or we trolled with deep-diving crankbaits with about 2 feet of leader on the last set of treble hooks and put a Johnson spoon on the end of the leader. Trolling like this helped us catch a wide variety of fish.

These fishing methods rarely, if ever, failed to produce fillets for the skillet.

Spinnerbaiting

“You have to see these bass that were just brought in for me to mount,” my brother Archie, who’s a nationally-known fish taxidermist, told me.

I knew my brother wouldn’t disturb me at work unless he truly had some eye-popping bass. Still, I hadn’t prepared myself for the catch I saw in my brother’s taxidermy shop.

Phillip Criss had six bass that he’d caught on a Saturday that weighed between 5 3/4 and 8 pounds each. He wanted Archie to make him a stringer mount.

After examining each bass in the ice chest, I spotted five large crappie in the bottom, weighing 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds each.

I asked Criss where he caught such monstrous crappie.

“I caught them in the same place I caught the bass,” he responded.

I followed with the next obvious question: What did you catch them on?

“I caught them on the same spinnerbait I used to catch the bass,” he said with a smile. “I figured I didn’t want to catch any crappie not big enough to eat a spinnerbait.”

Sure, I considered the bass fine, but I also knew I didn’t see 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-pound crappie every day, and especially five crappie that size in the same cooler.

Criss asked me to come with him when he crappie fished the upcoming weekend. That weekend, we caught one of the largest limits of crappie I’d ever taken in my life.

“Big bass often live in the same places as big crappie,” Criss said. “At different times in my life, I’ve gone to visit large freshwater aquariums where you can see bass and crappie swimming around in a large tank together.

“Usually these tanks will have some kind of structure in them — logs, limbs or stumps. I’ve noticed that wherever you see big bass in those aquariums, you’ll often spot crappie holding in the same area.

“I began to notice on the lake or river that when I started to catch bass in a treetop or a brushpile and got bites I didn’t hook, then when I fished that same region with big jigs, oftentimes I’d hook some really large crappie with larger-sized crappie jigs.”

Spooning

When the weather gets cold, you can’t beat spooning for deep-water bass and crappie to take numbers of fish. I told Charlie Ingram, a guide on Lake Eufaula in Alabama, that I wanted to catch big bass and big crappie.

“We can release the big bass after I’ve taken pictures of them,” I said, “but I want to eat the crappie.”

“No problem,” Ingram said. “Come on down this winter, and we’ll catch them.”

I traveled to Lake Eufaula several times during January and February that year, and used Ingram’s technique to catch big crappie and bass every time. You also can use this highly effective spooning-for-bass tactic to catch Louisiana crappie and bass.

When we pulled up to the spot where we planned to fish, Ingram handed me a 3/4-ounce Hopkins jigging spoon and a file.

“Use the file to knock the point off the end of each one of the treble hooks on the jigging spoon,” he instructed.

I passed the file over the points of the hooks and knocked the points off to make the hooks blunt, knowing I’d never fished before when I’d had someone tell me to deliberately dull my hooks.

“Look, we’re going to be fishing 20 to 30 feet deep,” Ingram said. “The jigging spoon weighs 3/4-ounce, and if you catch a fish in water that deep with a sharp hook, that hook will slice a gash in the fish’s mouth. As the bass fights its way to the surface, there’s a good chance you’ll get a bit of slack in your line. Then the hook will fall out of that gash that you’ve cut in the fish’s mouth, especially if you catch a big crappie because crappie have such tender mouths.

“But if you’ve knocked the point off the hook, then when you set the hook, the hook makes a hole rather than a gash. As the fish fights its way to the surface, if any slack gets in the line, and the hook starts to fall out, the barb on the hook will catch on the side of the hole. Then you won’t lose your fish.

“I’ve learned that you can catch both bass and crappie when you’re fishing with heavy baits such as the jigging spoon, particularly if you dull the point on each hook.

“Also, since we’re dropping the jigging spoon into structure, a dull hook usually won’t go into the wood past the barb, if you do get hung-up.

“Generally, if your spoon gets hung, all you have to do is jiggle that heavy spoon to free it. The weight of the spoon will back the hook out of the wood.”

Although I understood everything Ingram said, I still couldn’t imagine fishing with dull hooks. I’d based my entire fishing career on the idea that the sharper my hooks, the better my chances for hooking and landing any kind of fish.

However, I’d gone on this trip to learn how Ingram caught bass and crappie with spoons in January.

Next Ingram instructed me to lower my jigging spoon slowly to the bottom.

“Try to feel the spoon fall through the limbs, the stumps and the roots until it reaches the bottom,” he said. “Once it’s on the bottom, lift your rod tip slowly about 6 inches, and then lower it slowly 6 inches. Then you can feel the limbs and work the jigging spoon through the limbs. You’ll be able to tell when you get a bite.”

Before I’d always fished a jigging spoon by casting it out, ripping it off the bottom and staying in contact with it as it fell back to the bottom with most of the strikes coming on the fall. I couldn’t imagine simply raising and lowering my rod tip with a jigging spoon on a tight line and catching any fish.

However, once I put Ingram’s fishing technique into practice, I had tight lines most of the day. We not only caught bass that weighed up to 6 pounds each but also numbers of 2- to 3-pound crappie, one or two nice-sized catfish, some large bluegills, several white bass and a 6-pound hybrid bass.

Although we had a varied catch, we primarily caught largemouth bass and wide-sided crappie.

Ingram explained that this system of fishing allowed an angler to fish a bright, big, heavy, shiny bait the bass and crappie never had seen before in deep, thick cover.

Because the bait gave off a flash and stayed in that thick cover, the jigging spoon resembled a slow-moving shad sneaking through thick cover, where numbers of predator fish waited to eat. The slow-moving jigging spoon offered an easy meal that both bass and crappie could see, catch and eat.

We fished the spoons on medium-heavy casting rods and reels spooled with 20-pound-test line. I learned that once I got on a fish, either bass or crappie, the fish generally would work itself through the cover and up into the higher stories of water away from the cover, which let me land it.

After that first fishing trip with Ingram, I’ve used this tactic in the cold-weather months in many states, and have caught bass and crappie on every trip. I’ve also fished this jigging-spoon method in the winter and early spring when bass and crappie hold in offshore cover.

Trolling

Not just a technique for taking bass, today anglers troll for crappie too. Years ago, my dad and I fished out of homemade johnboats and used his Wizard 1.5-horsepower motor to troll, and caught just about any fish that swam.

Trolling allows you to cover more water than casting does. Fishermen have found trolling such a deadly tactic that professional bass-fishing tournaments have banned this method of fishing, but crappie fishermen regularly employ the trolling tactic when they fish tournaments. Recent years have seen a new twist put on trolling.

Today, crappie fishermen have learned that trolling crankbaits, especially in open water, helps them locate and catch more and bigger fish than the crappie anglers who fish along the bank or on deep-water structure.

Wherever you discover bait, you’ll also find both crappie and bass there. Shad primarily feed in open water. Once you spot those large schools of shad in open water with your depth finder, often you’ll see crappie and bass swimming below, above and off to the sides of these schools of shad. These open-water crappie and bass receive far less fishing pressure than the crappie and bass that hold on cover or structure. When you find these fish, you can troll crankbaits through them and catch both crappie and bass.

When you troll, you’re covering a deeper segment of the bank than most fishermen do with crankbaits. You’re also keeping the crankbait in the fish’s strike zone longer than when you cast and retrieve.

Casting a crankbait toward the shore and reeling it down, the crankbait will run close to the bottom and then start back up toward the boat. Your retrieve will look like the letter U. There are sections of the bottom at the first of the cast and at the end of the cast that your lure doesn’t cover.

However, when you troll crankbaits, the lure goes down toward the bottom and swims at the depth it normally will come up from because you usually troll in the area along the bank in points where your boat normally sits if you’re casting and retrieving.

Kent Driscoll of Cordova, Tenn., is an avid crappie tournament fisherman.

“I fish for crappie all over the South, and I’ve found that most of the time I can catch more and bigger crappie trolling crankbaits than I can fishing either with minnows or jigs,” he said. “The bigger crappie like the bigger baits.

“When you swim crankbaits in open water, you’re presenting a bigger bait to the crappie than either minnows or jigs will be.

“When I’m fishing in a crappie tournament, I prefer to troll with crankbaits more than using any other tactic. Trolling with crankbaits helps me catch bigger crappie, although I won’t catch as many crappie as jig and minnow fishermen.”

Driscoll says this method works almost anywhere.

“I’m sure Louisianians will have great success with this technique,” he said. “But trolling crankbaits for crappie does have a major drawback — I often spend time landing and releasing bass as well as catfish, stripers and other fish when I troll crankbaits for crappie.

“Once you locate shad with fish holding around them, and you troll crankbaits through that area, you’ll catch a wide variety of fish.”

I enjoy fishing for bass because they fight hard, jump out of the water, present a challenge to catch and make great pictures for my scrapbook.

However, I still hold onto my fishing heritage when I go fishing. I like to take meat home for the skillet, and as everyone knows, there’s no sweeter meat than sac-a-lait.

The tactics I’ve described will catch numbers of Louisiana bass and crappie in a day of fishing. I can release the bass and prove to everyone I’m a good sportsman, and I can take home a box full of crappie to feed my family.

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