John's Journal...

Catching March and April Crappie with Guide Jackie Wayne Van Cleave

Day 1: Black Crappie Are on the Banks in March – Mid-April with Jackie Wayne Van Cleave

Editor’s Note: Jackie Wayne Van Cleave (731-431-9700) of Samburg, Tennessee, has every fisherman’s dream job. He’s a touring pro on the Crappie Master’s National Crappie Tournament Circuit, and he’s a crappie guide on Reelfoot Lake. When he’s not fishing tournaments or guiding crappie fishermen, he catches crappie for his table. Van Cleave gives us weekly reports on where the crappie are and how to catch them at almost any time of the year at Too, because he’s a tournament crappie fisherman, he can report on the newest and best techniques that are being developed to catch crappie at the highest level of crappie fishing.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewOn Reelfoot Lake and other lakes I’ve fished around the nation, the black crappie are usually the first spawners. Right now in March, with water temperatures in the 40-degree range at Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee, the black crappie have moved into 1- 3 feet of water to spawn. We’re catching black crappie that will weigh up to 1-1/4-pounds each using 6- to 8-pound-test Vicious line (, a small float and a 1/16-ounce Strike King jig head ( by attaching a tube jig through the jig head and casting the jig into shallow water. When the cork pops upright, we let the jig sit still for about a 5 count. Then we twitch it and let it sit still again. We fish the jig and cork out to about 4 or 5 feet of water, reel it in and make another cast. Our favorite most-effective colors for the tube jig are black-and-chartreuse, red-and-chartreuse and white-and-chartreuse.

Right now, we’re casting our jigs around the mule foot bonnet roots (lily pad roots and lily pad stems). Currently, some of the lily pads are starting to form under the water. Part of the roots of these lily pads will be above water, and part of the roots will be under the water. The black crappie will be holding next to the root balls and the lily pads just under the water. We use 6- and 8-pound-test line, because if the jigs get hung in the roots, we want our line to be strong enough to straighten the jig out and pull it out of the roots. Also we want to be able to set the hook hard and get the crappie on top of the water, before it gets hung-up in the roots or the lily pads on the bottom. Finally, at this time of year and all during the spawn from now to June, largemouth bass, catfish, grinnels, and just about every fish that swims in Reelfoot Lake will eat those small crappie jigs. We’ve landed largemouth bass that weigh as much as 8 pounds on those 1/16-ounce jigs, with 6- to 8-pound-test line and a 7-foot B‘n’M crappie pole ( In other sections of the county, especially in clear-water lakes and when ice fishing, I’ve known crappie fishermen who will use line that’s as small as 2 - 4 pound test. But if we use line that small at Reelfoot, and our fisherman loses that big crappie, bass or catfish on the underwater cover, he’ll be crying instead of smiling. That’s why we use the heavier line. The big female black crappie will pull hard against the line, bend the pole and produce a great fight for our fishermen. So, we want to do all we can to help our anglers put the fish in the boat that bite their jigs.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewAs a matter of fact, I use two War Eagle boats ( to fish for crappie. I have the 2072 Guide Package War Eagle that I use most of the year that’s 20-foot long and has a 72-inch bottom. In the 2072, I can carry as many as six fisherman crappie fishing in extremely-shallow water; and all six of my fishermen still have plenty of room to fish and catch crappie and other species. But when Reelfoot Lake goes down, as it does from time to time during the spring, summer and winter, I have an 18-foot War Eagle boat that still allows me to get fishermen back into those shallow-water areas where the crappie spawn and hold. Reelfoot Lake is full of stumps and logs, and I hit them every day. So, I have to have a tough boat that I can depend on, because I make a living in my boat every day.

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,” “Catch Cold Water Crappie Now,” and “Reelfoot Lake: How to Fish for Crappie, Bass, Bluegills and Catfish & Hunt for Ducks” Click 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: When Black Crappie Go to Deep Water the White Crappie Move to Shallow Water with Jackie Wayne Van Cleave

Check back each day this week for more about Catching March and April Crappie with Guide Jackie Wayne Van Cleave"

Day 1: Black Crappie Are on the Banks in March – Mid-April with Jackie Wayne Van Cleave
Day 2: When Black Crappie Go to Deep Water the White Crappie Move to Shallow Water with Jackie Wayne Van Cleave
Day 3: Fishing for Spring Crappie with Three Tactics and Guide Jackie Wayne Van Cleave
Day 4: Listen to Crappie Every Day to Catch Them with Guide Jackie Wayne Van Cleave
Day 5: Jig Pole Fishing for Springtime Crappie with Guide Jackie Wayne Van Cleave

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Entry 762, Day 1