By Terry Madewell
Professional crappie tournament anglers must learn the secrets of patterning crappie year-round on lakes all over the country. But over the next few months, catching slab crappie is easier than at any other time of year. The keys to success are understanding where to find fish and using the best techniques.
A large gathering of professional crappie anglers fishing out of Black Camp on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper lakes provided the opportunity to glean information from several veteran crappie pros. Their strategies will work on any lake with a healthy crappie population.
Matt Morgan and Kent Watson make up a successful tournament team, and they have a game plan in place before pre-fishing any lake for the first time.
“First, I research the Internet to see what information is available on a lake in terms of crappie,” Morgan said. “Next, I use Google Earth to literally look at the lake from above, and I can even go back in time and see what the lake looked like during a drawdown or drought. This can provide views of underwater cover that’s exposed at low water but may be covered by fishable water when I fish it. Plus, I can see creeks and ditches that may not be marked on maps.”
Watson said that after off-lake research is complete, it’s time to get on the lake and narrow the focus.
“We can eliminate over 50 percent of the water before we launch the boat,” Watson said. “The next step is to use electronics, along with lake maps, to actually look at channels, ledges, drops and brushpiles to actually find fish we believe to be crappie. We use our Hummingbird graph with side and down scan to pinpoint areas we feel can be productive.
“We’re often looking in or near deep water, and it may be in any part of the lake,” he continued. “During spring, we often take a hard look at the mid-to-upper portion of a lake since that water warms first.”
Dave Hilton, a veteran crappie guide at Santee Cooper, said that in addition to finding crappie it’s important to find forage.
“If I’m in doubt about where to fish, I’ll spend time on the water finding forage,” Hilton said. “If not guiding, I’ll be looking at various targets such as brushpiles, submerged stumps and other woody cover using electronics before I actually fish a specific target.”
Morgan uses jigs, minnows or a combination of a jig and minnow to give the fish what they want.
“We typically fish an 8-rod spider rig with quality rods. Quality makes a difference in detecting light bites typical of crappies,” he said. “When pre-fishing for a tournament, we only catch a couple crappies from a place then move and look for larger crappie.”
If they’re not pre-fishing, they might stay with a hot spot until it slows.
“Even being totally prepared, it may take several attempts before we find fish of good quantity and quality, so patience can be crucial,” Morgan added. “We know we have a proven process that works year-round, and if we stick with it we’ll find fish.”