Crappie How to for Kayakers!

The Crappie or as we call them here in Florida, Specks, are one of the most popular freshwater fish that swims. One reason for their popularity is their wide distribution which makes them available to many anglers. Also, the equipment needed to fish for Specks is relatively simple and inexpensive, It is a fish for all anglers. There is one more real good reason for pursuing Specks, if you like a fish fry, the Speck tops the list of fresh water fish for table fare.

The Speck or Crappie is probably not a fish that first comes to mind for a kayak fisherman to pursue but there is no reason that a kayak angler cannot do just as well as any fisherman from a conventional boat. You may have to modify the normal techniques employed to catch Specks that are used by our motor boat brothers but once you locate an area that is holding fish you can load the yak.

Specks can be found in all kinds of water, from rivers to lakes of all sizes, canals, retention ponds, etc. When fishing smaller lakes, if you are looking for big Specks I would recommend you fish lakes that are at least 5 acres or larger. Specks are prolific breeders and will over populate in small water bodies and become stunted in size.

Methods for catching Crappie or Speckled Perch include:

  • Drift fishing or trolling
  • Tree top fishing
  • Jigging or live bait along vegetation line, banks and flooded timber
  • Stationary fishing over submerged structure

Specks can be caught throughout the year but the best action here in Florida is late winter into spring, building up to and during the spawn. During the rest of the year Specks can be difficult to locate as they typically move to deeper waters and hold at certain depths in the water column. If you are not fishing near that depth you may be out of luck. Also remember that Specks will rise to take a bait but will seldom drop down for one. The Primary forage for Specks consists of crustaceans, aquatic insects and small fish fry.

What Factors Affect Where The Fish Will Be Located?

  • Water Clarity
  • Water Temperature
  • Water Oxygen Content
  • Pressure Changes
  • Weather Fronts
  • Available Forage
  • Time of Year
  • Available Cover
  • Water Depth
  • Springtime Spawn

As the water temperatures start to rise and the days lengthen, Specks will move into shallow water to spawn. This typically occurs from February to April. This is the time of year when the best catches can be had. Specks looking to spawn can be found in many shallow water conditions at this time. Some of these will include, along cattail edges, around flooded cypress tree and downed tree tops along banks.

As spawning time approaches the males will be the first to move into the shallow water. They will prepare beds and await the arrival of the females. Specks typically bed in 3-8 feet of water and larger fish may even bed in deeper water when available. These males can become pretty aggressive during these times and will readily strike anything invading their bedding area. Typically, catches of males will far out number the females.

One of my favorite techniques is to work slowly along a line of cattails with a fiberglass cane pole, fishing with live minnows about a foot and a half to two foot deep. I will ease the minnow into any small hole or break in the reeds that are lying on the water surface. Many times the bait will get smashed before the cork can even settle out.

I grew up fishing the St. Johns river here in central Florida and I would have to say that tree top fishing is my first love when it comes to Speck fishing. Actually, this involves a mixed bag of fish that includes Catfish, Warmouth and an occasional Bream or Bass. During the winter when not hunting and spring, my Dad and I would spend every weekend tied up in a fallen tree top fishing for Specks. We would look for a big tree that was washed into the river in a deep bend with a pile of grass and hyacinth hung up in it. We would run the boat up on the mat of vegetation, then we’d dig some holes through the grass to drop a rod & reel down to the bottom and reel it up a couple cranks. The cane poles would go out around the deep edges of the grass. You couldn’t haul the fish away with a semi truck that we caught fishing like that!

Summer into Winter

After spawning in the Spring, Specks will move back to deeper water during the summer and into the winter. At this time of year fishing for Specks is mostly associated with deep water trolling or drifting.

It can be difficult to determine what depth in the water column the fish are holding so one way you can do that is to vary your speed which will raise and lower the depth of your bait. The faster you go the shallower you are fishing. You can also very the depth of your poles and see which depth produces the most fish.

The “Double Rig” for Prospecting for Specks!

Another good technique to employ when trying to locate specks is to use a double rig with an upper and lower bait separated by 12 to 24”. This will allow you to cover a greater range of water and locate fish faster. Also, it is still a good idea to vary your bait depths a little among rods until you catch a few fish and get some intel on where they are holding.

Starting & Stopping to Draw Strikes!

Another good tactic to almost force a Speck to strike is to start and stop periodically, this will raise and lower your bait and often trigger a strike, especially when the bait starts to move again.

Another tip you should know about is that if you miss a strike, if you will just hold your bait at that spot for a moment, more often than not the fish will hit it again. I watched my Dad catch a number of fish that way on a recent trip.

Besides that, Specks can be pretty picky eaters at times. It seems like there is always a preferred color if you are fishing artificial jigs. However, a live Missouri minnow is hard to beat and will usually out fish artificials.

Among top artificial choices are a variety of small jigs such as the “HalFly” which has a rubber body with a feather tail.

Clear vs. Stained Water!

Light penetration plays a big role in what depth the fish will be located on clear lakes or bright, sunny days. On bright days the crappie tend to move deeper where they will better be able to ambush prey. On cloudy days, crappie in clear lakes often move up in the water column.

Structure that provides shade for ambush spots can be a key to success on clear lakes. Look for fish to be located under docks, on the shade side of brush piles, shady banks, etc.

Stained water is typically more productive and easier to fish than either clear or muddy water. In stained water a wider variety of colors will catch fish. Chartreuse is often a top choice as are green or silver and combination colors like Chartreuse/White, Yellow/White, Blue/White, etc. As the water clears, colors simulating live baitfish work well such as Smoke with silver flake, clear sparkle, light green flake, etc.

Marabou Style Jigs

Tube Style Bodies

Personally, I prefer the more life like action of the Marabou style jig.

The darker the water the better lighter colors seem to work such as, whites, pearls and silvers silver. On overcast days a dash of a hot color such as Chartreuse can really help the bite. It is always a good idea to fish a few different colors as the same time and let the fish tell you what they prefer that particular day.

Studies have shown that fish see colors differently in varying water clarities. Some colors may be readibly visible at one time of day  and in one water clarity, but they might become practically invisible at another  time of day or in a different water clarity. If the bite turn off  on your hot est colored jig it may be nothing more than than a change in the lighting conditions that has made that color more difficult for the fish to see.

The Number of Rods Can be a Key to Success!

If you are drift fishing, the number of rods you are fishing is very important to how many fish will be on your stringer at the end of the day! Most motor boat guys will be using 10-12 rods! That is not really practical in a kayak but you can fish 3-4 with out to much trouble and maybe a couple more if you fabricate a simple rod holding system that can span across the top of the deck of your yak.

To give you a good example of just how much of a difference this can make, I recently fished a lake with my Dad. He was in his 14’ flat bottom boat and was fishing 10 rods, trolling and drifting. I was in my 12’ Tarpon 120 and was fishing 3 rods. I fished all around him, same bait, approx. the same depth, etc. He out fished me 48 to 8!

One of the great things about Speckled Perch is that they are basically everywhere! With a little research at your local bait shop or Game & Fish Dept. you will have no trouble locating some water that you can do some Speck fishing in.

If you’re looking to load your yak with some awesome frying fish, plan yourself a Speck fishing trip.

Till the next tide,
Larry Stephens

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