OZAWKIE — For those who love chasing panfish, spring is a special time of the year.
The spawn marks some of the best fishing for bank anglers, as male crappie will move into shallower waters to nest and will bite at anything that comes into their territory while the females sit in deeper water and wait to lay their eggs.
However, some excellent fishing can currently be had by boaters and bank fishermen alike — if they know where to look.
As fish begin to awaken from the chilly doldrums of winter into the more temperate, active part of spring, crappie still can be found huddled together in good numbers near structure, especially under docks that collect heat throughout the day.
The worst-kept secret in the northeast Kansas is that Perry Reservoir has been a terrific spot for crappie all winter long thanks to last year’s historic flooding. In fact, it may be difficult to find a major Kansas reservoir that doesn’t experience better-than-average crappie fishing this year, especially in hard-hit lakes such as Tuttle Creek, Milford, El Dorado, Council Grove, Cheney and Melvern where lake access was prevented for much of the season because of the flooding.
One of the best ways to find these fish right now is to target docks or brushpiles, where crappie stack up in big numbers and are quick to bite as the waters warm and bring them out of their winter sluggishness.
I recently took a trip to Perry’s Rock Creek Marina to find some crappie and was not disappointed with the offerings. Despite going in the middle of the day, rather than targeting the morning or evening bite, I was still able to get in on some good action in short bursts throughout the morning and into the afternoon.
I arrived at 11 a.m. and began fishing a boat slip near an older gentleman who had already been there for a while and kept me good company. The marina, located on the east side of the lake at 6049 West Lake Road, Ozawkie, charges $5 to fish the docks per day, and considering I fished for about 5 1/2 hours, that’s well worth the money. Lake Perry Marina, located on the southwest side of the lake at 10770 Perry Park Drive, Perry, also allows fishing for $4 per day, and if you save your fishing receipts then your sixth trip is free.
Every marina is different in their rules regarding fishing from the boat docks, so just be sure to ask someone at the marina of whichever lake you’re fishing if it’s OK to fish. Clinton Marina in Lawrence and Wildcat Marina on Tuttle Creek in Manhattan both require you to be a slip holder to fish the docks there, while Council Grove Marina and O’Brien’s Marina at Cheney don’t allow fishing from the docks at all.
It took me about 30 minutes to figure the spot out, but once I did, the bite kicked on in a hurry. I dropped my Aqua-Vu underwater camera in and was surprised at how shallow the water was under the docks, only going down about 6 feet. Most of the fish were sitting about 4 feet deep, so I adjusted my lure depth and soon had a big bite. The fish ran to the right side of the slip before quickly turning left at the surface, spitting out my Top Secret Jigs Toad Tamer tube jig in silver and chartreuse and diving back down. In the brief glimpse, it looked like a nice white bass, and I was kicking myself for not getting him up onto the dock in time to get a better look.
I tipped my jig with a wax worm and not long after felt another nice thump on my rod tip. I set the hook and pulled up a 10-inch white crappie at 12:05 p.m. I put my jig back in the water and maybe 30 seconds passed before I pulled in another crappie, though this one was smaller. I tossed the fish back in the stained water and put on another wax worm.
At 12:09, another big thump and I had a beautiful, 12-inch white crappie on my line, an absolute chunker. I kept dropping my lure in and getting quick bites, to the point where I’d caught six crappie within a 30-minute span and felt like the Crappie Whisperer himself.
Then the bite shut off for a while, and my whispering was silenced.
In my eagerness, I began to move around. I went to another dock at the marina and started trying other lures. I checked my Aqua-Vu again and found that, despite being in deeper water at about 10 feet, the crappie had actually moved up in the water column to about 2 feet deep after the rising sun heated the lake up. Again, I made the adjustment and it paid off.
I had a few bites that didn’t produce much on my bigger lures, so I tried downsizing in hopes of getting a better hookset on a smaller hook. When that didn’t help, I decided to use a pink Jigging Rap-style lure I purchased at Walmart that featured a hanging treble hook at the bottom. I finally hooked into a crappie, but all of the hook points made it difficult to get the hook out, even with pliers. I decided it would be more sporting to use a simpler jig to minimize any damage to the fish. Jigging Raps work well if you plan to keep the fish, but I was throwing mine back except for a few I gave away.
I switched to an unpainted jig head with a ProTuff Baits plastic that had a white body and orange tail, paired with a Berkley PowerBait Crappie Nibble on the top of the hook. I knew from what feels like hundreds of past fishing trips to Perry that orange was a great color on this lake, and it didn’t disappoint, as I caught three more keeper-sized crappie in the span of 11 minutes. After that, I had another one come off at the surface again — this one looked like a big white crappie, at least 12 inches — and I decided I would end the day the way I started it, with a missed fish to keep me wanting more.
What I learned from this trip is that the crappie definitely were in feeding mode already and preferred the larger jigs that more closely mimicked baitfish than the smaller jigs that are staples of winter crappie fishing. The warming water likely played a role in making them more aggressive. I don’t think that having a specific color mattered as much as having a big profile that the fish could see from a few feet away, as the visibility wasn’t terrible but wasn’t too great, either. I also fished the jigs more actively than I do during the winter, which I think helped attract more bites as the fish could feel the movement from a distance.
My advice would be to use a big lure that contrasts well color-wise to draw them in and use some sort of bait flavoring to help. Crappie Nibbles, Fle-Fly’s Smelly Smax and wax worms are my go-to hook-tippers. Fish shallow and shake your rod every few seconds to get the best results.
And most importantly, have some dang fun catching these entertaining fish.