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Outdoors commentary: Spring crappie fishing tactics

Plump crappies are the basis for a great fish fry.
Plump crappies are the basis for a great fish fry. (Jim Gronaw photo, Carroll County Times)

Even though our April temperatures and weather is sporadic and up and down, we are fast approaching the crappie spawn in central Maryland and very soon fish will be shallow and accessible to even the most novice of anglers. This is one of my most favorite times to be fishing, with high numbers of decent sized fish that are one of the tastiest there is. Springtime crappie fishing is a highly anticipated event, great fun for family, kids and the pros alike.

Most of my early crappie fishing is done in local reservoirs such as Liberty, Loch Raven or Marburg. But there are some years when I venture several times down to the Eastern Shore of Delaware to cash in on some upper tidal river crappie as well as some mill pond fish. The ponds and tidal creeks and guts of the Upper Choptank, Wicomico, Blackwater in Maryland and the Broadkill and Marshyhope rivers in Delaware are prime locations. Somewhat overlooked, the tidal Potomac may be the best big-fish option for enthusiastic slab-hunters.

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One of the easiest and most simple tactics for early spring crappie success is casting small jigs, suspended below bobbers, to shoreline cover such as docks, beaver huts, fallen logs or riprap shorelines. Visible structure is easy to key on and the chances of catching a bass or bonus bluegill are always available. Water temperatures are the key, with 68 to 70 being the "magical" time that actually sees fish actively spawning. Fish should be on this type of cover even now, although the water I've checked lately has been from 58 to 62, depending when and where you fish.

Prefered jigs are 1/32 and 1/ 16th ounce white and pink heads with a variety of plastic tails and trailers. Some anglers prefer curly tail grubs from 1 to 2 inches long and others like the tube-style jigs that have been around for ages. I personally like throwing 1/64th ounce shad darts tipped with a wax worm or maggot in and around brush for my best crappie catches. And I have done real well with my grass shrimp pattern hair jigs over the past several years. Yet other anglers have done well with small 2-inch crankbaits like the smallest Countdown Rapalas or the Strike King Bitsy Minnow in blue or black back patterns.

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La Plata area guide Andy Andrejewski has been fishing the tidal Potomac for many years and swears by the Manns 3 inch Sting Ray grub on a 1/8th ounce head, with a preferred color of avocado. This may come across as a bit beefy for crappies, but the fish of the Potomac are quite a bit larger than most reservoir fish, with 12 to 14 inchers not uncommon. Hence, the bigger profile bait fished on 14-pound braid. Also, this bait will trigger strikes from quality Potomac largemouths as well.

Famed Kerr Lake crappie guide Bud Haynes likes his own original Buds Hellgrammite plastic grub which he rigs to run vertical on a 1/16th ounce round head jig. His simple but deadly tactic is to mark brush piles with a marker bouy, back off a bit, then simply cast and count down your jig on 4 or 6 pound test. Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island, is a huge 50,000 acre crappie factory on the Virginia-North Carolina border located at Clarksville, Virginia. With lots of 11-to-14-inch fish and a shot at a three-pounder, Kerr becomes a great destination for the traveling crappie angler. You can contact Bud Haynes at 434-374-0308.

Keep in mind that the Maryland daily limit on crappies is 15 per angler, although there are indeed some fisheries that could stand for more harvest and others that could not. The "one size fits all" mentality for panfish regulations usually does not work across the board. But for now, it 'is what it is' and managing panfish harvest and maintaining quality fisheries is indeed a balancing act. Keep some for the pan, keep a hard earned trophy, but I would strongly recommend releasing the majority of the big fish to ensure future quality angling. Crappie fishing in the spring ... it's a beautiful thing!

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