- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

Don’t put away your fishing rods just yet. Even if November days call for hot coffee from a thermos while you’re outside, now is the time to hunt a finned character that is oblivious to cold weather. It’s Public Panfish No.1, the crappie.

Whether you call it by its proper name, crappie, or use the colloquial croppy, calico bass, papermouth and some names not suited for a family newspaper, when one jumps from the hook, crappie fishing can be a wonderfully rewarding experience. Not only that, it can be a culinary experience. Fried, battered crappie fillets with a hint of Old Bay seasoning in the flour are wonderful.

Washington and suburban anglers have a broad assortment of waters that deliver these prolific fish. Crappies can be caught in the upper Potomac as far north as Knoxville. They’re available also in the tidal Potomac from Georgetown clear down to Virginia’s Aquia Creek, the upper tidal Rappahannock and the Patuxent River from Hall’s Creek to Wayson’s Corner.

Add also local man-made lakes, headed by the Occoquan Reservoir south of the District, as well as suburban Maryland’s Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs and all the upper reaches of Eastern Shore rivers. Unfortunately, some area reservoirs are closed to boaters during the cold months, but the rivers are waiting for you.

Don’t forget that hundreds of private farm ponds and small municipal impoundments have them, and if you want to fish in one of America’s finest crappie lakes, head to south-central Virginia’s Kerr Reservoir, where a 3-pound crappie doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.

Just a week ago, my frequent fishing partner, Andy Andrzejewski, and I climbed into my boat with only one thought on our minds: crappies. We launched from the public ramp at Marshall Hall on the Charles County portion of the Potomac, then quickly ran upstream toward the Piscataway and Swan creeks in Prince George’s County, easily finding boat docks and marina pilings that had at least 4 feet of water around them and enough action to keep us there.

Our gear consisted of light spinning rods and reels. Andy’s line generally is monofilament in the 6- to 8-pound test range; mine is 20-pound-test FireLine that has a diameter of 8-pound test mono line. I prefer the stronger, fused “super” lines because they allow me to make mistakes, get hung up on a bottom obstacle (everybody will eventually), then let me forcefully pull it free, re-bend a straightened hook and continue fishing. Monofilament isn’t that forgiving.

Rarely is our bait a live minnow, admittedly best for catching crappies. Instead, we use any type of 2-inch-long, curly-tailed grub on a 1/8-ounce ball-head jig hook. Colors of the plastic grubs include white, gray, yellow, green, chartreuse and brown. We feed a grub onto the jig hook, cast it toward a dock or piling, a sunken tree or brush pile, close the reel and gently hop it back to the boat.

Another productive way to catch crappies is to tie on a 1/32-ounce or 1/16-ounce shad dart in bright yellow or chartreuse with a red head, pinch a thumb tip-sized plastic float to the line some 3 or 4 feet above the lure and cast it into the middle of submerged tree branches or under boat docks where crappies often hide. Once the tiny dart settles, gently shake the rod tip to give the shad dart a little up-and-down motion. If a crappie is in the vicinity, it will bite.

Our group of fishing pals uses Smelly Jelly’s Crawdaddy or Shad fish attractant, dabbing a little onto the plastic grubs or onto the head of the shad dart. We find that the creamy Smelly Jelly stays on longer than spray attractants, but if you prefer a spray like Fish Formula, use it. That will work, too.

Crappies can see colors, but what they view is influenced by the water depth, the presence of sunlight or the lack of it, the color of the water and water temperature.

Yellow or chartreuse works well at medium depths, with green, blue and black lures best in the deepest layers of a lake or river. So why then do I like white? Because it’s visible at any depth and reflects whatever available light there is.

Yet there are days when nothing works. That’s why we call our sport fishing, not catching.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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