- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

— Isn’t it nice that the bass tournament crowd is gone and now a body can concentrate on doing some serious crappie fishing?” said a bystander at the Piscataway Creek’s Fort Washington marina a few days ago as Andy Andrzejewski and I launched my broad-beamed 18-foot aluminum johnboat. The stranger brought up the subject after we chatted about fishing for the silver-and-black speckled beauties.

Andrzejewski, who normally spends his days as a river guide, finding action for largemouth bass-hungry clients, understood the man’s remark.

“There are just too many bass tournaments on the tidal Potomac,” he said. “But now that it’s near Thanksgiving Day, we don’t see many competition fishermen out here. Hallelujah. It has been a long summer.”

The remarkable part about our day would be that the 90-horsepower outboard on my “barge” wouldn’t burn more than a cupful of gasoline - that’s how little traveling we planned to do. We ran around the corner of the Piscataway and into Swan Creek to check if the plentiful marina pilings and bulkheads there would hold a few well-fed crappies. They did, but the action was slow in coming.

“The tide isn’t right just yet,” Andrzejewski said. “It’ll be OK in another hour or so.”

We wanted a falling tide, water conditions that frequently trigger feeding sprees among any of the baitfish-hunting species that live in the river.

Our outfits consisted of lightweight spinning rods, nothing more than 8- or 10-pound monofilament line on the reels, and either a bright white-with-red 1/16-ounce shad dart on the line - a plastic bobber tied to the nylon about 3 feet above - or a drop-shot rig with a 3-inch slender, plastic shiner on the hook.

Drop-shot fishing with a fake rubbery minnow is not much different than the kind of bottom-fishing done by freshwater and saltwater anglers who use a weighted setup, the sinker resting on the floor of a river or bay and a snelled hook holding some kind of tasty bait a couple of feet above the ground-hugging lead.

The difference with our drop-shot rigs is that we need to fool crappies - also bass, perch, catfish, or carp - with a phony bait that looks like the real thing and even smells enticing. But you must gently shake the rod tip now and then or slowly do a bit of stop-and-go reeling, allowing plenty of time for a fish to have a hard look. We use a fish attractant called Smelly Jelly, although you might have a different brand and that’s OK with me.

When the Swan Creek crappies didn’t materialize as rapidly as we’d hoped, we quickly moved the boat back into the Piscataway and began to aim our casts at dock and bulkhead pilings in water that certainly wasn’t more than 3 feet deep. On the first cast, Andrzejewski set the hook to a feisty calico-patterned beauty.

“That rascal didn’t even wait for the bait to settle,” the guide laughed.

I tried a shad dart under a bobber and almost instantly had another crappie pull the “cork” under. This was more like it.

As we moved around from piling to piling in the back of the marina, the crappies cooperated splendidly. We let all of them go because our freezers already had fillets of other fish species waiting to be cooked.

What is so good about this kind of crappie fishing is that it can be productive in all the upper tidal river’s feeder creeks, inside small lagoons and bays, among marina docks, private piers, around sunken brush piles and alongside fallen shoreline trees.

Like the diminutive bluegill, the crappie is a most democratic fish species. It doesn’t care if you use live or fake minnows, shad darts or tiny plastic grubs - all of them can do the job. You can try for them from freshwater lake and pond shores or brackish water river fronts, from boats, piers, even sitting comfortably ensconced in a lawn chair.

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