Crappie Connection

Looking for an out-of-the-way white perch hotspot? Try the 2,100-acre Sibley Lake on the outskirts of Natchitoches.

Fishing is in Mike Megee’s blood, courtesy of a transfusion received years ago while spending time with his father-in-law on the water in his home state of Arkansas.“When you went fishing with (Allen Weaver), there were only two reasons you left: You caught a limit or it got dark,” Megee said.

The elderly angler was so serious about his fishing that few would venture out with him.

“I was about the only one who would fish with him,” Megee said. “You were there for the day.”

The two men would spend their days searching for what they deemed the glory fish of fresh water.

No, not bass.

“My father-in-law said anybody could catch a bass,” Megee chuckled while puffing on a stubby cigar.

Crappie was the focus of the partners’ hours and hours of fishing.

So when Megee moved to Louisiana about 15 years ago, finally settling in Natchitoches eight years ago, the first thing he did was find all the crappie hotspots in the area.

He still spends long days on Saline/Larto, Saline and Clear lakes, near Natchitoches, and the Red River in search of peace and quiet, and succulent crappie flesh.

But one of the jewels he discovered doesn’t require much of a drive — it’s located right on the outskirts of Natchitoches.

Sibley Lake is only about 2,100 acres in size, but it is also one of the most picturesque reservoirs in the state.

Its shores are lined with beautiful homes tucked among stately pine trees, and the lights of Northwestern Louisiana University’s Prather Coliseum can be seen over the dam.

Megee doesn’t take in many of those sights, however.

What he wants to see are crappie flopping in his boat.

And this is the time of year when catching Sibley Lake limits is easiest.

The spawn begins by the end of February, and that means crappie are right up on the banks.

“I’ve caught fish so shallow that I’m surprised I couldn’t see their backs,” the elder Megee said.

These fish aren’t guppies, either.

“That’s the great thing about this lake: When you catch one, it’s generally going to be a good one,” he said.

His favored tool for snatching slabs from behind the reeds and from around the cypress trees in the lake’s shallows are live minnows.

The little fish is impaled through the back, and Megee adjusts his rig so the now-injured baitfish swims a mere inches below the water’s surface.

Megee always uses a slip cork, since that allows him to easily and quickly adjust the depth at which he fishes.

“Just slide that rubber band down about 6 inches from the hook,” he said.

Also, using a telescopic, 20-foot-long crappie pole allows the angler to keep his boat well off the bank while accurately placing the minnow right where it needs to be.

“When the cork stands on its side, that’s when you know you’ve got a bite,” Megee said. “It’s too shallow for them to take the cork under, so you have to look for it to turn on its side.”

Limits of juicy slab crappie begin showing up on the banks when the temperature moderates.

“When you start getting those days in the 60s and the nights in the mid 40s, that’s when they start showing up,” Megee explained. “When you have to wear a jacket in the morning, and then have to take it off in the afternoon — that’s when they’ll be moving up.”

But there is another way local anglers determine the proper time to begin their spawn fishing.

These local anglers line the banks with yo-yos dangling from bamboo poles.

“That’s how (local anglers) figure out when the fish are shallow,” Megee explained. “When they start catching fish on the yo-yos, the spawn is beginning.”

The action, once the spawn finally begins, lasts for several weeks, depending upon the weather.

“What’ll usually happen is they’ll move in, and you’ll get a little cold snap,” Megee said. “Then they’ll move out.”

The lake is relatively shallow, with the deepest holes being 25 to 30 feet, so water temperatures can change pretty quickly.

“That’s the thing with this lake: It doesn’t take much to warm it up, but it doesn’t take much to cool it down,” Megee’s son Chris said. “It’s so shallow.”

But even when cool weather rolls in and drops the water temperatures, the fish don’t move far, he said.

“They use the channels of the sloughs to run up in there and spawn,” the younger Megee said.

Don’t look for channels to be major drop-offs, however.

“This is a shallow lake,” Chris Megee said. “The deepest spot is only 25 to 30 feet deep.”

So if the fish are on the banks one day and not the next, Megee knows to simply move out to the deeper water, readjust his cork-stopper and watch for his cork to disappear.

The father/son team most frequently focuses on natural creeks running into the lake, and on the northern ends of the lake’s two forks.

Chris Megee pointed out that the most-southern fork, past the bridge where Highway 504 crosses the lake, is a big, shallow flat.

“The fish really get in here and spawn,” he said. “You can catch a lot of fish — bass and crappie.”

At the tip of the northern fork where the gas plant is located, the lake peters out into feeder creeks, which the younger Megee said provides great spawning conditions.

The number of active feeder creeks, however, is fairly small.

“There’s only about three creeks on the (the south) fork, and not many more on the other one,” Chris Megee said.

The shallow nature of the lake, however, still provides ample spawning room away from those creeks.

The Megees look for small, sheltered coves that are near the relatively deeper water of the main lake when they are forced to look somewhere other than their favored creeks.

And once the fronts stop rolling cold weather across the region, the fish lock up in the shallows for up to two weeks.

“When they really get serious, you can catch them shallow for 10 to 15 days,” Mike Megee explained.

That’s when the fishing becomes frenetic.

“I caught 78 on that bank right there one day,” the elder Megee said, pointing to a 50-yard stretch.

If weather conditions prevent the movement of crappie to the banks, the fish remain in the same pattern as during most of the summer.

That means looking for fish in the deeper water of the main canal and around the docks.

Locating fish in the deeper water can be challenging, since the lake is characterized by a fairly barren bottom.

“It’s almost like a bowl. You won’t find hardly anything on the bottom,” Mike Megee said.

There are two options for catching fish in the deep water — build a brushpile or find those placed by other anglers.

“They’ll stay (on those structures) during the winter and the best part of the summer,” he said.

And there are plenty of brushpiles hidden beneath the waters.

“It looks like a parade out here after Christmas,” Chris Megee said. “Everybody is bringing out trees to put out.”

Chris Megee joins the procession, but he also builds artificial reefs using old tires.

The structures he builds are easy, requiring only three tires, some steel cable and a 40-pound bag of Quikrete.

“You take one tire and lay it down flat, and drill a hole on each side for the cables,” Chris Megee said.

Cables are run through each hole, and the Quikrete is poured into the donut of the tire, forming a solid mass of concrete.

Once the concrete is dry, two more tires are drilled and cabled together on top of the first tire.

“It makes a pyramid, just like a Christmas tree,” the younger Megee said.

The structure is then simply loaded onto his boat and dropped into the water at his desired location.

“It’s permanent. It doesn’t rot like a Christmas tree,” he said.

But the Megees don’t just depend upon their own tops.

They also have become adept in reading their fish finder to locate brushpiles.

The tops can be found anywhere on the lake, but searching the main lake can be time-consuming and frustrating.

An easier way to find tops is to look near the docks and piers constructed by the surrounding landowners, but Megee said these die-hard anglers have become wily in their placement of brush.

“They’ll put a little bit around the dock, and then they’ll come 15 to 20 feet out and put more,” he said.

The scrapes of brush dropped off right at the piers are meant to throw off anglers approaching by boat.

“When you see people fishing the docks, they’ll be right on the docks,” Chris Megee said. “If you back off 15 or 20 feet, you’ll find the dock-owners’ brushpiles.

“Landowners are smart.”

Once a pile is found, they either anchor or drift over the structure.

This is where the slip-corks shine.

Stoppers are set to allow the minnows to swim tantalizingly above the structure.

Of course, jigs can be effective, as well.

Color preferences are white/chartreuse and blue/white.

“I really like those Mister Twister curly tails,” Chris Megee said.

He fishes jigs three different ways, depending upon the conditions and the time of year.

During the winter, when fish are scattered, Megee prefers tight-lining.

“You can cover more water like that,” he explained. “The fish move a lot more. They change from day to day.”

When the weather warms a bit, and fish begin to congregate, Megee allows the weather conditions to dictate how he fishes his jigs.

“I use the (slip-cork) on days when there’s no wind,” he said.

This allows him to snatch the jig, moving the cork around and making some noise.

“It’s almost like a popping cork for trout because you can make surface noise and make the fish look up,” he said.

If the wind has the water’s surface chopped up, however, the cork goes back in the box.

“It’s harder to keep control of the cork when the wind’s blowing. You can’t see it as well,” he said.

The last technique is a spin-off of the drop-shot rig that is becoming more and more popular with bass anglers.

Basically, it’s a lure that is tied above a 1/8-ounce weight.

“I use the weight just to feel the bottom,” Chris Megee said.

A weightless hook is tied via a palomar knot as far up the mono as the fish are holding, and then the jig is threaded on.

“You know how with drop-shot rigs, they lip-hook the lure? Well, you want to run the hook all the way back,” he explained.

That way, if a crappie nips at the bait, the hook is grabbed and the fight is on.

The younger Megee said this is a very effective method of catching suspended fish, since the lure is placed and held right in front of the fish.

“You just jig it like you regularly do, but the bait is held off the bottom,” he explained.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.