Tag team crappie

The Maxwells in official fishing clothing along with “Team Overalls” boat logo and all.
The Maxwells in official fishing clothing along with “Team Overalls” boat logo and all.

This slab-slaying family’s team approach means the overalls are on, the livewell is full — and the fish fryer is busy.

Behind every successful crappie fishermen is a … good set of overalls?

Blue jean bib overalls, to be exact. Apparently, fashion does play a part in crappie fishing success, especially if you are on ‘Team Overalls’ like brothers Joshua and Justin Maxwell and their dad, Pastor Warren Maxwell.

This trio of anglers take on crappie almost every week, putting their heads together to help them reel in stacks of tasty crappie fillets.

They fish wherever the crappie call them up in North Louisiana, from the Red River to Grand Bayou to Lake D’Arbonne and all points in between.

Like most families, their day-to-day paths are pretty diverse. Brother Warren is pastor at Columbia Heights Baptist Church, Josh is a paramedic for Advanced EMS in Winfield and Justin is a chief electronic technician working on an offshore drilling rig halfway around the world for Ensco.

And while their everyday lives are extremely different, when they get in a boat together to go fishing, they all key on the same thing — catching crappie. There are common threads in their crappie fishing techniques — beyond their overalls — that can help others catch fish.

“I’d say there are about four things that are the same no matter where you are crappie fishing in North Louisiana,” Josh said. “They are the keys to success.”

Keys to success

This is an example of what wads of baitfish and crappie look like on the edge of a drop-off on today’s electronics.
This is an example of what wads of baitfish and crappie look like on the edge of a drop-off on today’s electronics.

First, find the right depth. Usually that means finding balls of shad on your electronics. Then look around on your graph. Sometimes you may see crappie; other times, they may be hard to find. But regardless, they are close by. Fish a couple of different depths until you find them, then put all your rigs at that depth. It’s important to keep your bait above the fish, not below them. Crappie always feed up. A foot too low and you aren’t going to get bit unless one hits it on the way down.

Second, be patient but not stubborn. When you find fish, stay on them. Sooner or later, they should bite. But at some point, don’t bet your whole trip on them. Try something different, or somewhere else different. On a recent trip, they were fishing on Lake D’Arbonne and were on fish, but the wind was blowing so hard they wouldn’t bite. So they loaded up and moved below the spillway to Bayou D’Arbonne, and ultimately found fish and caught a mess.

Third, pick the right bait. Find a couple of your favorites and fish them. Confidence is about as good as color, so have some options. Blue thunder, electric chicken, baby shad, popsicle, Cajun cricket, glitter critter and lights out are some of the best. And this time of year, tip that jig with a shiner. Plain shiners work well, too. It doesn’t hurt to talk to other crappie fishermen, either. Believe it or not, they are usually willing to share information, which can give you a good head start.

And fourth, when all else fails, watch other crappie fishermen. If they are mostly on the edge of the channel, the middle of the channel or along the trees, there’s a good bet that’s where the crappie are. If they are trolling or sitting still, try what they are doing. And while all the crappie aren’t in one spot, it’s a good way to start. Then, find some other areas that offer the same type of structure and depth. You’ll find in most of the North Louisiana lakes that there are very popular areas where somebody is always fishing. Just know crappie can be caught from one end of the lake to the other.

And, there’s a fifth tip, not about how to catch them, but what to do with them when you do (see below for the Fish Fry sidebar.)

Now, for the rest of the story. While the previous points are all agreed on 100 percent by these three anglers, each of them has some favorite tactics as well.  Here’s a quick look at their top North Louisiana lakes, baits and fishing tips:

Justin picks Grand Bayou

Justin Maxwell shows his favorite plastic tail bait, Southern Pro Popsicle, and one of the day’s catch.
Justin Maxwell shows his favorite plastic tail bait, Southern Pro Popsicle, and one of the day’s catch.

There’s a reason this spot near Coushatta is his favorite — Justin lives there. But the fact it’s chocked full of big, thick-sided crappie helps, too.

“This is my favorite time of the year, when it’s cold and the fish are staging to spawn. I like to spider rig and find the fish on the flats next to the channel,” he said. “Unlike most reservoirs, the fish hang on the flats at the channel, not in it. There is basically no structure in the lake, unless it’s brush piles that somebody put there.

“The wind can be a big problem, so it’s important to keep up with the weather this time of year. And one other thing, the fish here are mostly black crappie. There just aren’t many white crappie.”

Southern Pro Stinger Shad in popsicle
Southern Pro Stinger Shad in popsicle

It’s critical here to use your electronics to find the shad, as well as the flats. When you find wads of baitfish, the crappie are usually close. But you most likely will find them a foot or so off the bottom under the schools of bait.

Justin fishes with a lot of lures, but if he could only have one for the rest of his life it would be Southern Pro’s 1/8-ounce popsicle with a pink head.

“It’s just the best performing jig I’ve ever fished with,” he said.

Bro. warren goes with Black Lake

A Black Lake hair jig is Warren Maxwell’s go-to bait. As you can see, he has a whole box of hair jigs for big crappie like this one.
A Black Lake hair jig is Warren Maxwell’s go-to bait. As you can see, he has a whole box of hair jigs for big crappie like this one.

Bro. Warren has been after crappie since he used to go with his Aunt Cora fishing with a cane pole and shiners. They never fished more than 9 feet deep — because that was as deep as the line would go.

Today, he uses all the modern electronics and the latest tackle. If he had to name a favorite place to fish this time of year it would be Black Lake near Campti.

“It has so many cypress trees lining the channels and it’s just such a pretty place to fish,” he said. “It’s got curves in it, so you can go around the curve and get out of the wind and still be in the channel. I fish a lot up on an area called ‘The Stretch.’ It’s a long straight area, like a runway for crappie fishermen. You can troll about 14 feet deep and wear them out.”

Black Lake hair jig in black chartreuse
Black Lake hair jig in black chartreuse

He does spider rig, but he also loves it when the fish move up to the cypress where he can single-pole and “feel the thump.” His favorite baits are Black Lake hair jigs, or gray ghost hair jigs with a plain head. He also fishes an orange head with Garland’s lights out and black/chartreuse.

His best tip: Use a heavy weight up to a pegged 1-ounce bell weight to make sure your bait stays down where the fish are. When you troll, even at slow speeds, your bait will rise more than you think it will.

Lake Bistineau is best for Josh

A big weight helps keep your bait in the crappie strike zone in deep water.
A big weight helps keep your bait in the crappie strike zone in deep water.

There are a lot of good looking places to fish on Lake Bistineau near Sibley. But before Josh Maxwell wets a line, he spends some time making even more good places.

“One of the keys to our success is that we put out tops in the deeper water,” he said. “We get sweet gum or willow tree branches and tie them up good. We put a big weight in the bottom of the top, tie a sealed empty plastic soda bottle in the middle to hold the top up and drop it in. Fish will get on the tops faster than you think.”

If you don’t have tops, that’s OK, too.

The fish congregate in the channel, and you can find them near the baitfish, just like most other reservoirs in late-January and February. The difference is the channel isn’t very wide and the fish really stack up.

Bobby Garland Baby Shad Cajun cricket
Bobby Garland Baby Shad Cajun cricket

“I fish a lot of crappie jigs, but my favorite is the cajun cricket with a pink head. I’m a big fan of pink heads. And I never ever put a hook in the water without a chartreuse Crappie Nibble.”

Unlike most places they fish, Josh doesn’t stick with the fish on Bistineuau to the end of March when they move shallow. There are just too many cypress flats that you can’t get a boat up into — and that’s where the fish go to spawn.

When you start seeing fewer and fewer fish on your electronics out deep, you know that’s where they are headed.

‘Team Overalls’ gets its start

Team Overalls, from left, Justin, Josh and Warren Maxwell with three good crappie.
Team Overalls, from left, Justin, Josh and Warren Maxwell with three good crappie.

Wearing overalls has been a Maxwell family tradition way back to Josh and Justin’s grandpa. But combining it with fishing really came from a matter of convenience.

“I just got tired of having to pull up my pants all the time,” Josh said. “When you are fishing you are getting up and down, up and down, moving around all the time. It’s just a matter of comfort and convenience.

“I wear them everywhere now, except for at work.”

Team Overalls got its official fishing related-start on social media. A friend, fellow crappie fisherman and another overalls wearer, Jimmy Watt, did it.

“We had posted a photo on Facebook with us holding up some big crappie and wearing our overalls,” Josh recalled. “Jimmy Watt just simply posted a reply: #teamoveralls.”

The nickname stuck, and the Maxwells liked it, so they started using it everywhere. Now they have lots of followers: At the recent crappie.com gathering on Lake D’Arbonne, there were even crappie visitors from Michigan who call themselves #teamoveralls#north.”

Online crappie group pushes learning, fun

A nice mess of crappie taken at a recent crappie.com gathering by, from left, Justin, Warren and Josh Maxwell with Bud Wilson and David Bartlett.
A nice mess of crappie taken at a recent crappie.com gathering by, from left, Justin, Warren and Josh Maxwell with Bud Wilson and David Bartlett.

Josh Maxwell and his family spend a lot of time crappie fishing, but they also give back to the sport, promoting crappie fishing learning, fun and family time through the annual Crappie.com gathering at Lake D’Arbonne every fall.

This past year, more than 60 people gathered at the state park for a three-day fishing adventure — where catching fish is only part of the fun.

“Crappie.com is a free, online group that shares information, gives tips and just gives people a great forum to keep in touch,” Josh said. “Ed Moes created the website and has thousands of followers. Each state even has their own group, so you don’t have to weed through a lot of information you may not be looking for.”

Perhaps the highlight of the annual gathering is the eating, where a potluck supper is held on Friday night, with a fish fry on Saturday. The group will be having it’s 2019 gathering Nov. 7 – 9, and you can sign up online or get in contact with Josh through Facebook for more information.

“If I could only tell someone who wanted to learn to crappie fish one thing, it would be to find somebody that knows what they are doing and ask them a million questions,” he said. “I tell you, crappie fishermen are the most giving and sharing cordial fishermen in the world. That’s how I learned, by chatting with others on Crappie.com and by meeting and going with other crappie fishermen.

“Tag along in the backseat of their boat, or ask if you can trail them on the lake. Watch what they are doing — that’s the best way to learn.”

Three helpful tips for more crappie

  1. A simple sink stopper is a great crappie nibble holder.
    A simple sink stopper is a great crappie nibble holder.

    Managing those pesky little Crappie Nibbles without dropping them everywhere is always a chore, but Warren Maxwell found an easy solution. He mounted a simple sink stopper on top of his rod holder. The holes are just small enough to keep the nibbles contained, but big enough to drain any moisture that might gum them up. He also keeps a couple of spare crappie tails in his favorite color in the stopper for easy change outs.

  2. Keeping your bait down where the crappie are is of utmost importance. A lot of times, fishermen are moving slowly and think their bait is at one level — when it is really drifting a foot or 2 above the target zone. Team Overalls uses pegged 1-ounce sinkers to make sure that doesn’t happen, especially when fishing 10 feet deep or deeper. It holds the bait down, but doesn’t affect the fish hitting the lure, or your ability to feel the strike.
  3. When you are spider-rigging, keeping poles rigged and baited takes a lot of time. To make sure they are ready, these fishermen always keep some extra rigs ready to go. If they are fishing four poles, they keep at least seven ready and baited up, sometimes more.

Fish fry!

Fried crappie, french fries and hushpuppies... the real treat of a successful day on the water for Team Overalls.
Fried crappie, french fries and hushpuppies… the real treat of a successful day on the water for Team Overalls.

“I fillet my fish with an electric knife. I use vegetable oil because its cheaper and as long as you don’t burn it at higher temps, it will last multiple fries. I rinse the fillets off and then shake any excess water off. I shake the fillet in seasoned Louisiana Fish Fry (the blue bag). I use a two-basket, 4-gallon RV Works fryer and drop fillets in the basket (usually 10 per basket) and fry them for four minutes. Drain and place them in a paper towel-lined pan, add some fries and hushpuppies — and they are ready to eat.”

 — Josh Maxwell

About Kinny Haddox 529 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.