This angler leaves the crappie corks at home this time of year.
Like every crappie angler, Jeff Bruhl loves to flip a cork next to cover and watch it turn from a floater into a sinker, but he reserves that tactic for later in the season.
Right now, Bruhl is a tight-line fool.
That’s because in the Northshore rivers he most frequently fishes, the sac-a-lait, which Bruhl calls white perch, haven’t yet crowded the shallows to propagate. They’re on their way there, but the bulk are still crowding drop-offs along the banks of canals and bayous.
So Bruhl meets them there with tight-lined 1/16-ounce jigs. It’s a technique that requires a bit of practice because sac-a-lait are notoriously light biters.
“Every now and then, you get that ‘tick’ like when you’re speckled trout fishing, but most of the time, the fish is just there,” Bruhl said.
It also requires good vision and constant attentiveness.
“The most-important thing is you need to be a line-watcher because you’re going to flip it out, and your line’s going to go down, and if it stops, you’re either on cover or bottom or you’ve got a fish,” Bruhl said. “When you flip it out, it should end up straight underneath the end of your rod, if you’re fishing in deep enough water. And that’s where you should be doing this tactic. It’s good when they’re coming up to spawn, but they’re still in 6 to 8 feet of water.
“So when you flip it out, it should pendulum back underneath you. If it falls a second or so and all of a sudden stops, chances are that’s a fish.”
If nothing stops the bait as it’s moving toward the boat, Bruhl will give the rod an occasional shimmy.
“I like to shake the rod to give the jig some action,” he said. “You want it to be erratic so it looks like a dying minnow.”
That action is increased with the type of knot Bruhl ties.
“I use a king’s sling, which leaves a loop so the jig is free to move around,” he said. “With a loop knot, if you throw next to a piling or into a brush pile, it’s going to fall right next to where you flip it. With the jig tied directly to the line, it’s going to helicopter down.
“That straight fall will pick up more bites.”
When Bruhl suspects he’s drawn a strike, he sets the hook surprisingly hard, considering he’s usually geared up with 6- to 8-pound monofilament. That’s because the 9-foot Berkley Crappie Series rod he uses absorbs a fair amount of the shock.
Many of the fish Bruhl catches using the technique are legitimate slabs, because he gets first crack at them — before they move up to be mowed down by the cork flippers.
On the rivers he fishes in February, 2-pounders are certainly the prizes of the day, but they’re not uncommon.
His favorite colors are pink/white and yellow/white when conditions have been dry and the waters is clear. When the region has had more rain, he pushes back into dead-ends to find the best water he can, and he throws black/chartreuse.
As February turns to March and more fish move shallow, Bruhl will alternate between his tight-line rod and his cork rod.
“I like corks for white perch when they get shallow, because when you flip it up next to a tree, it stays next to the tree,” he said. “When you tight-line, the bait is always moving and coming back to you. But when they’re spawning, they’re sitting in one stationary spot.”
Until then, though, Bruhl could leave the dock without even a cork on his boat.