Kelly Bostian:
Crappie fishing with pro an exciting, busy trip

Crappie trolling with pro a busy, messy affair

    Tulsa World, March 2014

    By KELLY BOSTIAN Outdoors | Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2014

Simple truth is, I hooked a good-sized crappie and I got excited.

My first contribution to the live well on Barry Morrow's boat early Tuesday morning was just a smidge over a foot long. It had considerable girth and age, and it hit the water in that back-of-the-boat compartment with a very heavy splash. It was an ugly, smelly specimen, though. It was gray and black with gold highlights, inside it had five hairy toes and on the outside it had the letters "Hi-Tec."

Morrow and I had talked about fishing this deep, crappie-holding south-Kerr Reservoir creek since January, but starting out with a wet foot in the live well and my Backside on the deck was not planned.

Never have I claimed to be graceful or skilled on a bass boat, but if explaining how I hit the deck provides a little entertainment value while describing an effective fishing technique, then so be it.

Morrow, a pro crappie angler and Eufaula guide, first talked to me about this spot for a story on winter crappie fishing and getting a youngster down there to get hooked on fishing. The weather this winter didn't cooperate, however. So Tuesday I joined Morrow for a scouting expedition as he suspected fishing at the creek might be improving.

Apparently a lot of local people who know the creek had the same idea. We saw only two boats when we started fishing just before 8 a.m. By the time we left at 2 p.m., the boat count was up to 16. "It's because it's deep," Morrow said of the creek's tendency to hold crappie.

Excuse No. 1 for falling in the live well: I was focused on the fish finder. Morrow left the rear screen on so I could watch the water temperature, see the baitfish, crappie, brush and see the depth of the creek.

With the sun shining, the surface water was near 50 degrees, but I quickly noted Morrow's transducer at the front of the boat read 49 degrees, while mine at the back, which sits lower in the water, read 47. The crappie we caught felt good and cold and the bite was soft. That water was much colder 12 feet down. We found crappie from 12 to 18 feet, even when we fished over water 25-30 feet deep.

It's kind of a late-winter, early pre-spawn bite," Morrow said. "These fish are suspended, but they'll be moving up soon."

This was slow trolling, vertical jigging, with baits suspended at 12 and 14 feet.

We each used two rods, one in each hand, with a 1/4-ounce Lindy jig at the bottom and 1/8-ounce jig about 14 inches up. The GPS on the fish finder typically showed us trolling — barely moving — .1 to .3 mph.

Excuse No. 2 for falling in the live well: I had both hands full.

We used 12-pound-test line and every bait and color we used caught fish on both top and bottom jigs: 2-inch Yum Wooly Bees and Wooly Beavertails and Lindy Fuzz-E Grubs and Whatsit Grubs in black-and-chartreuse, orange-and-chartreuse, black-and-pink and purple-and-chartreuse — they all worked.

"Raise it about six inches or so every so often," Morrow instructed. "You might feel one on there." Off the bat I raised the rod in my left hand and realized, too late, it did have some weight on it. While my southpaw failed me, Morrow caught two and I had to put my rods down to open the live well so he could toss his fish into it. Then came the key decision-making moment.

"You can just go ahead a leave that door open if you want," he said, adding, "just be careful not to step in it."

Right.

Excuse No. 3 for falling in the live well: The guy at the front of the boat was outfishing me.

Granted, Morrow is a pro competitor and guide but, as he said, "this is a great technique and great way to get kids hooked on fishing." Kids. I was not about to miss another strike.

The 11-foot rods are a key feature in Morrow's technique. Hold the rod vertically, pull line out to set the top jig about a foot or so below the handle and the bait will be about 12 feet deep when you hold the rod tip just over the water. That's all the reeling you have to do to set depth and catch fish. With a fish on the line you simply lift it up and into the boat.

The heavier jig on the bottom keeps the line tight so every soft bite and bit of brush that touches the line is felt through the handle. Winter crappie fishing often means ultra-light gear and ultra small baits, but these fish — even ones not much larger than the baits — sucked in every bit of those 2-inch grubs. Most were either hooked in the top of the mouth or in the cheek. "Paper lip" hook losses were not a worry.

"With this method you are keeping your bait in the strike zone at all times," Morrow said. "Casting and reeling, you pull your bait through that zone, but then you have to cast again."

We had steady fishing action all day, although it was best 8 a.m. to about 10 a.m. We worked in time to produce three how-to videos and caught exactly 50 fish on the day, including that first 12-incher that smacked the jig on my right-hand rod.

Fishing two-handed was a new thing for me. And I was distracted, with one eye on the fish finder, one on Morrow and half my brain thinking about photo and video opportunities, when that fish hit and my left foot dove out from under me and into the live well.

I kept a bend in that rod, however, and — with an assist from Morrow — I did manage to stand up, remove my size-11 foot from the live well and replace it with a nice 12-inch slab.

So, see, I had a lot of excuses for stepping in that live well but, put simply, I caught a crappie and got excited.

Read Kelly Bostian's blog at tulsaworld.com/outdoors