Some of the largest crappie of the year are annually taken at Lake of the Ozarks by anglers jerking suspending stickbaits for bass.
About 10 years ago I went crappie fishing on Lake of the Ozarks with Roger Fitzpatrick, a local bass tournament competitor, who had refined a suspending jerkbait tactic to catch slab crappie. During a couple of hours of fishing, we caught 28 fish in the 11- to 13-inch range and on a couple of occasions we scored doubles. I also caught the largest crappie Iíve ever taken on my home lake --a 15-inch fish that weighted 1 pound, 14 ounces.
Since then, I have jerked a LuckyCraft Bevy Shad 60 in a ghost minnow hue to catch crappie throughout the winter. The key is to find brush piles in the 12- to 15-foot range and slowly work the stickbait over the top of the brush. I throw past the brush pile, reel the lure down to its maximum depth and then employ a twitch-twitch-twitch-pause cadence with the pauses lasting about five to 10 seconds. I throw the stickbait on 8-pound monofilament line with a 6 1/2-foot medium-action spinning rod. Scaling down to 6-pound line will make the lure dive deeper, but I prefer the 8-pound line for added strength in case a hefty largemouth or hybrid white bass-striper nabs the stickbait.
The stickbait technique produces quality fish, but when I want to catch numbers of crappie I resort to horizontal and vertical presentations with jigs. My favorite jighead size for casting is a 1/16-ounce model which is heavy enough to cast and control on a windy day, yet is light enough to slowly fall through a school of suspended crappie. On calm, cloudy days, I will occasionally throw a 1/24-ounce jighead to make the lure fall even slower for suspended fish. I can also vary the fall rate of my jigs by tying the lures on 4- or 6-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line.
Two of my favorite soft plastics for casting in the wintertime are the Bobby Garland Baby Shad and the 3-inch Bobby Garland Slab Slayer in blue ice, chartreuse-and-white, butter belly, pearl glow and chartreuse glow hues. The glow colors produce best for me when I shoot the lures into the dark areas of a dock or cast to the shadowy side of a dock.
The same brush piles that yield crappie on stickbaits also produce when I am casting a jig. I always cast past the brush and count down my jig (usually an 8- or 10-count). I keep my line semi-taut so the lure will pendulum towards the brush and hopefully tick the tips of the limbs when I start reeling. While slowly turning the reel handle I occasionally twitch my rod to make the jig hop slightly. Strikes frequently occur while the jig is falling towards the brush or after it has ticked off of a limb.
If I notice on my depth finder that baitfish are suspended high in the water column and crappie are ignoring the Baby Shad and Slab Slayer, I will switch to a technique similar to the shaky head finesse tactic for bass. I attached either an Eagle Claw Nitro Trailer worm or a Berkley Gulp Alive Fish Fry in chartreuse or white to a 1/16-ounce jighead and cast it to the deep ends of boat docks over depths of 20 to 30 feet. As the jig slowly falls through the suspended fish, I occasionally shake the jig-and-worm combo. I let the jig pendulum all the way back to the boat on a semi-taut line and watch for indications of a strike, such as a twitch in the line or if I feel my line getting heavier. When my the shaky head is directly below the boat I let it sit there for a short while before reeling it in to make another presentation to the dock.
Vertical jigging is usually my last resort. Whenever I approach a brush pile, I will cast to it first to catch the most aggressive fish. Once the action stops, I will position my boat over the brush and drop my jig until I feel it hit the cover and then I will make one turn of the reel to keep my jig slightly above the snag. I drift back and forth over the brush pile occasionally letting the jig bang into the branches, which usually triggers a strike.
A 1/8-ounce jighead works best for me when I am vertical fishing in deeper brush because I can feel the heavier jig better. I vertical jig with either a fuzzy-grub style jig or the Slab Slayer. The marabou of the fuzzy grub and the limber soft plastic tail of the Slab Slayer generate plenty of tantalizing movement even when I am holding my rod still, so these lures are ideal for holding in front of an inactive crappie and teasing it into biting.
Catching a trophy bass on a suspending stickbait in the winter is an once-in-a-lifetime thrill, but when I want some hot action on a cold winter day I get my fix by chasing after those calico panfish.
For information on lodging at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.
Copies of John Neporadny's book, "THE Lake of the
Ozarks Fishing Guide" are
available by calling 573/365-4296 or visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.