He knew it would come, in spite of the monsoon weather this fall. And he would be there, on the languid lake waters, waiting to soak it all in.
But for now, a more pragmatic task lay at hand -- finding the telltale twigs protruding from the shrouded lake surface that marked a tangle of sunken trees below. He knew the logjam well. Through some quirk of fate it remained to this day, nearly two decades after he had caught some of the earliest fish of his angling life from it.
He cut the kicker and drifted slowly towards the brushpile.
It was a homecoming. There were the sea-run brown trout in Iceland, bluefin tuna far off in the Atlantic, cutthroats in the Rockies, but somehow the pleasure stil ran deep when he knotted a marabou jig to the line with trembling fingers and cast towards the protruding log tip.
Memories, of the grizzled oldtimer who first took him to these close-in lake waters and tutored him in the ways of threading crappie from the brush, skipped through his mind as he began slowly retrieving the jug. Halfway back there was a thump, then solid bucking that arched the thin black rod into a sharp bend. The sun broke through thinning morning mist and a broad patch of deep blue opened up overhead. The silver crappie thrashed at boatside then came flopping aboard in a flash of brillance. c
You can go home again in angling. That's a large part of the allure of crappie fishing. We can race halfway around the globe in quest of exotic sport, become infatuated with fly fishing for trout, big-lake bass fishing or saltwater challenges, but for most of us, we can always come home to that simple joy of taking a small boat out on the local lake and catching a mess of crappie.
While October and November seems late, for the crappie this is a time of renewed feeding and quickened movement. The fall turnover that mixes the thermocline with the top layers of the lake brings crappie closer to the shoreline, just as it does bass. Fanatics who have private brushpiles planted in deep, mid-lake hideouts have been catching the speckled fish all summer long, but for those of us who angle for crappie on a more casual basis, now is the time to hit the water again.
The sport won't be as fast in spring, when every mature crappie in area lakes and rivers was hanging around brushpiles near shore for spawning, but it's definitely an improvement over searching for summer's deep, elusive perch. Don't lok for the crappie right up on shore, as they were in April, but rather back in moderate depths of 5 to 15 feet. As always, sunken brushpiles, tree limbs, dock pilings and other wood cover will hold most of those structure-loving fish. Sometimes you have to get your lure or bait right up in the midst of the snags to entice them to bite. But as the oldtimer says, "If you're not getting hung up, you're not fishing where the crappie are."
Where submerged brush and trees are scarce, such as on crappie-rich Lake Anna, bridges can be good fishing spots. The Route 208 span on this impoundment holds thousands of crappie near the pilings close to shore on a virtual year-round basis.
When the oldtimer showed the tyro how to catch crappie, he used the traditional cane pole and minnow rig. This outfit accounts for most of the crappie caught each year. Unfortunately, good single-piece cane poles aren't easy to come by in these parts. The three-piece versions never have been satisfactory.
One solution is to use a long fly rod as a cane pole, dapping minnows or jugs into brush and along bridge pilings. More anglers choose ultralight spinning gear and four-pound test line, even though it lacks the dexterity of the cane pole.
Crappie fans will debate forever the relative merits of jigs and live minnows. There really is no answer to the question of superiority. Both work well if you have confidence in them.
Minnows should be short and frisky. Impale them on light-wire No. 2 or No. 4 hooks with a split shot a foot above the bait and a small cork three to 10 feet above that. Float the minnows back into dense crappie lairs and watch for the bobber to sink. If it doesn't do so quickly, pick up the minnow and drop it in another spot or jiggle it up and down a bit. The crappie will let you know shortly whether they're there or not.
Jigs in the 1/8- to 1/32-ounce sizes are very effective for crappie, with white, yellow and black the best colors and marabou the best material. Retrieve them slowly and steadily in most cases. If strikes don't come, try jigging the rod lightly as you retrieve the lure.
Crappie spots are plentiful in the Washington area. Just about every lake and most rivers have good-to-excellent populations of the speckled perch, with both black and white varieties abundant.