Blog by: David Coulson 12/5/2016
Over the years Iíve enjoyed targeting crappie with the fly rod. Being a schooling fish, once you locate one, youíll typically experience fast action for a while. While not the strongest fighting fish around, on light tackle they are great sport.
Many favor spring to target crappie, as once they go into spawning mode, their shallow and aggressive, and like most sunfish easy to exploit. And unfortunately, in my opinion, thatís exactly what many anglers do, exploit them, as crappie are excellent table fare. Consequently, bucket loads of crappie get harvested during spawn. Iíve even seen cases where folks take a limit home, only to return that day to take another, sometimes several.
Actually, I donít think crappie are all that hard to catch any time of year, including winter. They seem to have a wide temperature range over which theyíre active, as Iíve caught good number through the ice, and in waters where the surface temperature exceeded eighty degrees. Catching isnít a problem. Locating them can be, at least for me.
Due to the love anglers give crappie, it seems to me that once they get around eight inches or so, theyíre candidates for harvest. In a state like Colorado, where conditions are rarely ideal for crappie, that means very few places produce ďslabsĒ, shall we say fish over 12 inches. In my case, its fish over 14 inches the current minimum size for Master Angler certification. It used to be 15 inches.
Over the last decade Iíve been chasing Master Angler fish, looking to catch one of each species on the fly, release category. Crappie has been one thatís eluded me for a number of reasons, primarily crappie fourteen inches or better are rare. Not so much that our waters arenít capable of producing them, more a matter, in my opinion, of most ending up at the dining table before theyíre able to reach that size.
As a result Iíve gotten rather closed mouth about areas/spots where Iíve encountered fish approaching MA size, say 11 or 12 inches. But even when Iíve located ďniceĒ fish, catching a MA sized fish has either eluded me or Iíve been alone and unable to get it witnessed. That changed yesterday, when I landed a 14 inch fish and a nearby angler was willing to witness it.
The thing about catching master angler fish it's typically a bit skill and lots of luck. Skill in that it pays to know something about catching your target species. Plus, an understanding of the species biology and knowledge of waters that have MA potential helps. As fall rolled around, I found myself fishing local waters from a tube and shore. To my surprise, crappie started showing in my catch on a regular basis, and some decent fish to twelve inches. So I started targeting them. The catch rate increased and I pushed the 14 inch mark several time, but always a bit short.
Yesterday, I started out targeting crappie with my favorite rig, floating line, three flies (nymph, bugger, clouser), and a slow retrieve tight to cover. Nary a strike, so after a bit, I switched to a sinking line with clousers and went after the deep fish I was graphing near the bottom in 12 to 15 feet of water. My thoughts were walleye, which proved to be partially true, but surprisingly I started catching good numbers of largemouth to 15 inches. As the day wore down I headed for the car and took a shot at good cover with the sinking line that hadnít produced earlier. The fish hit as the flies were falling, and to my delight a Master Angler sized crappie came to net.
As I said, luck plays a role in catching MA fish. I set out targeting crappie on a water I knew had MA potential. But they werenít cooperative. Then primarily targeting bass and walleye, I took a shot at some good looking cover and the fates smiled on me with my eighteenth master angler species.
Looking ahead, my next likely candidates during the winter months are cutthroat and rainbow trout. Then come spring, who knows what will come my way.