Categorized | Opinion

Smoke on the Water

By Josh McGowan

A fisherman at Sportsman's Resort on Reelfoot Lake with a mess of slab crappie.

A fisherman at Sportsman’s Resort on Reelfoot Lake with a mess of slab crappie.

Alright, there wasn’t any actual smoke, but it was awfully close for a few anglers! The BassProShop’s CrappieMaster’s tourney was in town last Saturday, and the action was electrifying! The bite on every body of water is turning on, including the catfish on the Mississippi River, so let’s get to it.
My personal fishing report could easily fill up the pages of a small book, and possibly be converted into a “made for TV” movie, but sad endings are not really my thing, so I’ll condense it a bit! Chippy and I were amped up about fishing the tournament on our home lake, especially since our 11th place finish in March was a couple missed opportunities away from a big check. I pre-fished Thursday, and spent the entire day fruitlessly on the North End of the lake. Friday Chippy fished some other areas, and found some big fish that we planned on targeting Saturday morning. There was no doubt by Friday night that we were going to experience some weather on Saturday, but it’s just kind of expected on tournament day.
Friday while some of the guys were pre-fishing, their poles began to arch, crackle, and pop with electric current. There was nothing above them, and not even thunder in the distance, but the static electricity in the air was enough to run everyone to the house. The pro team of Tim Blackley and Jackie VanCleave videoed trying to put their poles up while Jackie got shocked repeatedly by the 16 foot graphite rods. I don’t have a link to the video yet, but if you have a facebook account or know someone who does, “like” their page, Blackley-VanCleave fishing, and watch it, I laughed until I cried!
Saturday we awoke to pouring rain, and it stayed pretty consistent until around 8:30 when the thunder started. We cautiously continued fishing, until we saw the first lightning strike, and then we quickly put our poles up and headed for the bank. Unfortunately the bottom fell out, and visibility was around 10 feet, so the 20 minute ride to the bank was not feasible. We pulled into a clump of cypress trees and I retrieved a tarp from one of my storage boxes that Chippy’s dad had suggested I buy years ago for just such an occasion. I told Chippy it had been years since we’d built a fort!
After the storm we went back out to our spot, and continued spider-rigging in shallow water with very aggressive fish, and just couldn’t get enough big fish in the boat. Our seven fish weighed 7.77 pounds, a lucky number but a disappointing finish, especially since we found big fish. But, we learned a lot and are going to make some changes to our shallow water tactics to hopefully fix some of our issues.
I talked to Slabber Dave Maddox today, and congratulated him on his and his partner Jeff Riddle’s 3rd place finish at Reelfoot, and asked about the fishing over at Wapappello Lake. He said the lake is high, and the fish are up in the bushes and structure spawning. The casting to the gravel banks that generally dominates the spring fishing is not really applicable since the water is high. Most of the crappie spawn in shallow water, and new, hard bottom with brush is an ideal spot. Some fishermen looking for bigger females have been spider-rigging in 10 feet of water off from the spawning banks using jigs and minnows.
Kentucky Lake is approximately one foot over pool and the fishing has been great. The guys over at Kick’n Bass are on the fish and told me the crappie fishing has turned on full blast with the black crappie in 2-5 feet of water and the white crappie not far behind. With rising water, the full moon and warmer temps, the female bass are staging on the spawning flats where they can be caught with lipless crank baits and Steel Shad blade baits. The Steel Shad has just the right profile to mimic a shad which is what the bass are feeding on. The yellow flowers are holding some bass and a Zman Chatter Bait has caught some nice fish. They’re catching both largemouth and smallmouth on curly tail grubs working gravel bars and chunk rock banks. If you like numbers, there are tons of 12-15 inch male bass prowling the flats as the big females are moving in to spawn. Expect the first major spawn of the year to kick into high gear within days.
The backwaters on the Mississippi River are quickly filling up, and that means the catfish are becoming abundant in new areas. We’ve been selling a ton of skipjack at the shop, and fishermen are catching fish using every tactic possible. A guy came in today with a picture of a 75 pound blue catfish he caught on a trotline, it was a monster! This is a great time to take kids fishing from the bank behind the levee. You can buy everything you need to catch big catfish for around $60, and prepared properly, a great fried fish dinner softens the financial blow!
Josh M. Gowan, Outdoors Writer, Crappie Angler Magazine, 573-579-0212, www.joshgowanoutdoors.com

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