Crappie.... The next big fly rod fish?
When people think about fishing for crappie, fly rods and terms such as “matching the hatch” usually don’t come to mind, more so we relate crappie with spinning outfits, tube jigs, live minnows and floats, but for those who target them regularly will tell you that crappie are actually pretty complex creatures especially compared to other “panfish”. Crappie are a pretty adaptable fish, and and can withstand cooler waters than most other panfish, making them a viable target at any time of year. A very popular gamefish in the southern US, they’ve actually been progressively extending their range northward and have become a popular gamefish here in southern Ontario only recently.
Crappie can be considered as “perfect” a fly rod fish there is, possibly even akin to trout. Most fisherman know that the best time to target them is early spring, just after ice-out when they congregate in shallow bays that warm the fastest as they gorge on minnows. As spring progresses however and they get more into their spawning patterns, crappie will target insect larvae and nymphs among the emergent and submerged vegetation adjacent to their spawning beds, and like trout they will certainly not pass up a good mayfly or damselfly hatch. This is when the flyfisher can take advantage and use one’s skill to enjoy a plentiful situation. Working the shallows of a pond or lake, canal system, or marina, while most fishermen are tossing out minnows, a woolly bugger or dragon fly nymph presentation will be more to the crappie’s liking this time of year, and the feeding habits of crappie make for another advantage when it comes to fly fishing.
Crappie, more so than other panfish, are suspended feeders, taking prey in the middle column of the water and towards the surface. Presenting a lure in the “crappie” zone is tough with regular fishing gear without the aid of a float, but with fly fishing gear it’s the ideal situation. Using slowly sinking line, or woolly buggers, streamers or nymphs presenting a lure in this zone is much easier with the tools offered to the fly fishermen, and when crappie are ignoring everything but a fresh mayfly hatch, the fly fisher is purely in his or her element.
Another great situation that makes crappie the ideal “fly rod” target, is there penchant to lurk in suspended schools during the summer months. This is by far the most difficult time to locate crappie, but once you find the schools a perfectly place streamer or tinsel fly is hard for to resist. Covering water with a streamer makes for a fun outing, and is certainly more exciting and efficient than a float presentation in open water.
Also something that needs mentioning is that crappie are just at home in a stream or river environment than they are in a lake. Often fly fishermen are caught off guard when stripping streamers for brown trout or smallmouth bass only to suddenly hook into a school of crappie holding in a current break, behind a large rock, or an eddy. River crappie are also easier to find at any time of year as opposed to their lake inhabiting counterparts, and like any river fish also offer a stronger fight and cleaner tasting fish. Crappie are usually a very plentiful species, so keeping a few for table fare isn’t frowned upon, and they are easily one of the better tasting fish to swim in our waters!
I strongly consider any fly fisher who hasn’t targeted crappie yet to get out there and give them a try. They hit hard and often, and definitely offer a new fishing situation to add to your overall fishing experience. As if we need another excuse to get out and enjoy this great sport of ours.