John's Journal...

Catching the First Crappie Spawners

Day 1: I Learned on a Turkey Hunt How to Catch Early-Season Spawning Crappie

Editor’s Note: Looking into my binoculars, I couldn't believe my eyes. I watched two men catch and bring over the side of their boat slab crappie after slab crappie – bigger crappie then I’d ever seen caught in all my years of fishing. Every time their bobbers hit the water they’d sink. Their poles would curl like pretzels, and they would hoist 1-1/2- to 2-pound crappie into their boat. Watching this show made me want to crappie fish so badly I hardly could stand it, but I had a shotgun instead of a pole or rod, a turkey call instead of a bucket full of minnows or a box full of crappie jigs and a warm coat on instead of a light jacket and shorts. But I learned more about how to catch big, early-season spawning crappie on that turkey hunt than I ever did on a fishing trip.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewOn this cool morning, I’d bundled up in a big coat. The sun just had begun to make knife shafts of light through the leaves. I’d called to a reluctant gobbler on the rim that didn’t want to come in, and when I heard hens walk to his roost tree, I knew I had only a slim or nonexistent chance of taking a bird that morning. As I listened to the bronze baron and his harem of hens as they moved out of my area, I yelped and clucked to him a few more times, and he gobbled in response. Years of turkey hunting had taught me that many times I could take a nap in the woods for an hour or so, start calling again and after the gobbler left his hens, he’d often come back to me. I closed my eyes, relaxed and got comfortable against a large water oak tree sitting above a ridge that dropped off into a shallow backwater slough off the Tombigbee River in west/central Alabama.

This old slough, a cut-off creek on the river on my hunting club land, looked much like a horseshoe. You could enter the creek from the river and then in a small johnboat or canoe paddle around the horseshoe-shaped creek that ran about 3/4-mile, before coming back out in the main river. The creek held an abundance of standing timber, logs and trees that had fallen over into the water. Drifting off to sleep, I heard squirrels bouncing in the tree tops and a blue jay screaming. Then in the distance I heard, "There he is, thump, splash. I got one too."

In that half-sleep fog, I didn’t know whether I’d heard a part of a dream or sounds coming from the outside world. Not wanting to become totally awake, I only partially opened one eye and peaked out of the slit between my two eyelids. I saw an old aluminum boat coming up the slough below me, and slab crappie appearing to jump into that boat. As I closed my eyes, I thought to myself, “Crappie don't jump in a boat, I must be dreaming.” Then I heard again, "There he is; I got him. Look, you got one too."

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewThis time I opened both eyes. The boat had gotten closer, and the two men still were using their cane poles to pull in some of the biggest crappie I’d ever seen. They didn’t spot me in my camouflage, including head net and gloves. Taking my binoculars out of my vest, I focused them as I forgot about sleeping. Determined to learn how those fellows had caught big crappie in that shallow-water slough, I watched how they fished. They dropped their bobbers right beside logs, limbs and stumps in less than one foot of water. As soon as the bobber touched the water, it would vanish. I thought the water surely was too shallow to float a crappie, but the men continued to catch those big early spawners as often as shoppers would buy blue jeans on sale during a K-Mart blue-light special. They had the bobbers on their lines less than 2-inches from the line ties on their hooks. They baited with minnows and dropped their baits right beside logs, limbs and stumps up against the bank and partially out of the water. Watching those men catch those big, early spawning crappie made me so excited about crappie fishing that I forgot all about my turkey and went back to camp.

For more crappie fishing tips, get John E. Phillips’ Kindle eBooks “Crappie: How to Catch Them Fall & Winter,” “Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer,” and “Catch Cold Water Crappie Now.” Click here on each, or go to, type in the name of the book, and download it to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.


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About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: Why Crappie Are Shallow Early in the Season

Check back each day this week for more about Catching the First Crappie Spawners"

Day 1: I Learned on a Turkey Hunt How to Catch Early-Season Spawning Crappie
Day 2: Why Crappie Are Shallow Early in the Season
Day 3: Where to Find the First Early Crappie to Catch
Day 4: How to Catch Crappie Before They Get to the Bed and How to Catch Duck Pond Crappie
Day 5: How to Troll Early Season Crappie Up

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Entry 757, Day 1