Stubborn Crappie & Trophy Redears
Written by Doug Wynn - Published on September 28, 2022
Hey Y’all from the Excel Storm Cat 230. As Uncle Si Robertson would say, “It’s on like Donkey Kong!”. What’s on, you ask? It’s been 42 degrees in the morning, the maple trees in our back yard are red, and all you have to do is drive on many back roads in our area to smell the ageless smoky smell of dark fired tobacco being cured. Fall is what’s on!
The only problem is the crappie had not gotten the memo as of Sunday.
The surface temperature at 8 am when we left Sportsman’s Marina was 76 degrees. We were filming an episode of “On The Hook” with Jeremy Mattingly of Crappie Monster bait company. Jeremy had asked if we could film this episode out of my boat. He wanted to show what a guide like me goes through to put on a trip for clients.
I thought a good place to start was a creek on the LBL side of the lake that has been good to me in the fall in past years. It was dead! Sure, there were lots of crappie there as well as clouds of shad. The problem was they were all glued to the bottom thanks to a northwest wind that soon changed to east to south to west and picked up to well over 10 mph for most of the rest of our trip.
We were pulling Pico INT cranks along with some of my custom painted baits. Our tactics were longline trolling the cranks as well as running a couple of baits behind Off Shore Tackle Tadpole diving weights.
Jeremy wasn’t familiar with this tactic that has caught some of our largest crappie of the year.
After an hour or so of filming us not catching anything with the backdrop of the beautiful LBL early fall scenery, we packed up and left, heading back to the west side. With Jeremy watching the rods and me watching both side-scan and down-image on my Helix 12, we started trolling from waypoint to waypoint, hoping to find some fish not stuck in the mud.
The few that weren’t, were not interested in anything we did for quite some time. I had started out in 15 to 20 feet of water. Every stake bed had at least one fish that was right at the bottom but wouldn’t come out to play. I started working shallower with every couple of passes thru the area we had found crappie on Saturday.
Finally, I worked up to 10 to 12 feet of water, and we picked up some crappie and some surprises. You’ll have to wait for the show to air to find out about those. Persistence paid off and we got the shots we needed for the show.
We didn’t catch any big crappie, just good eating-sized fish. What we did get was lots of footage of us changing baits, tying on new baits after we had lost well over 10 cranks, and the well documented struggles that inevitably happen to a weekend fisherman as well as a guide at times.
Jeremy and his camera man had driven in from Grenada, Mississippi the night before after fishing and filming the Crappie Master’s National Championship. We had hoped for a short trip to get the footage, but it turned into a several hour grind. Such is the life of a fisherman.
As I did last year, I had a great time filming the footage. It will be shown in a few months on The Pursuit Channel. I’ll keep you posted when it will air. If you don’t get Pursuit Channel, you can see all of the “On The Hook” episodes on YouTube a few days after it airs.
As the water temps continue to fall, the shad, then the crappie, will move toward shallower water structure. I had a visitor to my taxidermy studio a couple of weeks ago. He is a lifetime friend who retired recently and has become a great Redear fisherman. I heard story after story of Redears he has caught on both Barkley and Kentucky Lakes.
Many of the fish he talked about are bigger than anything I have ever seen. I know my buddy and know him to be truthful and honest. I also know a lot of other fishermen. Sometimes their memories of fish size can be embellished.
I told my buddy I was not interested in WHERE he was catching these huge Redears, but HOW??? He took the time to tell me in detail. Much of his tactic is the same as my late friend, Jack Devor, one of the best pan fishermen I’ve known.
I’m going to be spending a lot of time this fall and winter seeking out as many locations that might hold these hard-fighting fish as I can.
As luck would have it, the morning after my friend was at my shop, I was on Kentucky Lake looking for live sonar crappie. I was sitting in 18 feet of water, being annoyed by fish that would follow my bait out of cover and almost to the surface, before turning and going back into the submerged protection of wood.
I went through several different tactics and changed baits several times, but the results were the same. In disgust, I picked up an ultralight outfit spooled with sewing thread thin braid line and rigged with a small spinner jig.
I threw it past the cover, let it hit bottom, and started reeling very slow. My offering was met by a strike that felt like I had hooked a jet ski. The drag-screaming fight was on. I had zero idea what was below me, unseen.
As I started gaining some line back, I was fully expecting a big smallmouth or maybe a lowly, oversized drum. When I finally got a glimpse of what I had hooked, the scramble to get the net was on!
The largest female Redear I have ever seen personally was laying on the surface, spent (I thought). The sight of the boat and a hard run later and POW!! - broken line, no jig, and trophy gone!
I caught a female Redear a few years ago, fishing with a friend in his sworn-to-secrecy spot from the bank, that we both guestimated weighed 2.5 pounds. She was quickly released before others saw it (we thought). Some secret spot it turned out to be.
As soon as I dropped her back in, we both realized no photos had been taken. I did have several unknown witnesses who all thought I was nuts to release a trophy fish like that. I told them that I will not keep a female Redear that is not injured and bleeding. I encourage my clients to do the same.
The fish I had just hooked, then lost but got a very good look at, was well over the size of the one I had released. That loss did one thing for me. It showed me my buddy had no reason to embellish the size of the trophy fish he seeks. He told me later, after I told him my story, that one big Redear catch will make his whole day.
I now understand what he means. They do exist, not in big numbers and not in numbers that can be sustained if one chooses to hammer on them until the whole bed is wiped out. I’ve said for years, we have a chance to have a panfish fishery that can be the envy of any lake in the south, if we protect it.
I’ve got scouting to do.
Be careful out there. A friend told me that a buddy of his lost his entire lower unit to some underwater gremlin on Barkley recently, in a spot he has ran through for years. Seems something has floated into that spot and sank or has been pushed underwater into it.
Wear your PFDs when running and watch out for those who need help. Get out there and enjoy the colors of fall that aren’t likely to last long this year.
Welcome to our slice of Heaven.