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Crazy For Crappie
John Harrison can’t recall the first crappie he ever caught. He was just a kid at the time and in the decades that have passed, the Calhoun City, Miss., resident has caught thousands. He can, however, remember exactly who he was with.
“My mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s bait shop in northern Mississippi every day when I was 5 or 6 years old,” he recalls. “The bait shop was open all the time, even at night, so my grandmother and I would spend a lot of days fishing together while my grandfather watched the shop. Those were some great times.”
His grandmother’s fish of choice was the ubiquitous crappie, a panfish found throughout nearly all of the contiguous United States and one that is not only easy to catch, but great on the table. Harrison eventually graduated to bass, but lost interest over the years and ultimately returned to his roots, dedicating his life to the fish he first caught. He even turned it into a full-time job, guiding on Granada Lake, widely regarded as the best crappie lake in the country. Some might call his hunt for crappie an obsession. Harrison fishes at least 250 days a year, either guiding clients on Granada or competing in a tournament somewhere in the southeast. Crappie tournaments are somewhat similar to professional bass competitions — anglers try to catch the heaviest five or ten-fish limit — but without the staggering prizes. His best paycheck of $1,500 came after a second-place finish in the Crappie Masters One Pole Ultimate Challenge on Arkansas’ Lake Conway.
Fortunately, he doesn’t do it for the money. Instead, he and other crappie fanatics love the competition and the camaraderie that goes hand in hand with the sport. Above all, Harrison just loves to crappie fish, so much in fact, little gets in his way.
“I’ve fished in 40-mile-an-hour winds and in temperatures well in the teens,” he says.
Like any sane crappie angler, however, Harrison prefers milder weather. That’s when crappie bite best.
“My two favorite times of year are spring and fall. The fish are shallow and very predictable, the weather is nice and finding a few crappie is pretty easy,” he says.
So is catching them. Harrison typically uses an 11-foot B n’ M pole rigged with a one-sixteenth ounce Southern Pro crappie jig. Like any hardcore crappie angler, he has a few favorite colors, but he admits crappie are often less choosy than crappie anglers.
“I prefer pink and lime and orange and chartreuse, but I know plenty of guys who use different colors and do just fine,” he notes. “The main thing is to use a color you have confidence in.”
In other words, what he uses is somewhat less important than how or where he uses it. During the spring spawning season, which is likely taking place on lakes all over the country right now, crappie migrate to shallow cover. Harrison often catches big fish in as little as 18 inches of water, but he says the right depth is usually determined by water clarity. Crappie will be shallower in muddy water and deeper in clear water. His home lake is murky, so he looks for fallen trees, stumps, boat docks and other woody cover in 1 to 3 feet of water. When he finds them, Harrison simply lowers his jig around the cover, lets it sink to the bottom and picks it up. If he doesn’t get a bite, he drops his lure in a different spot.
“I’m constantly moving. If I don’t get a bite right away, there’s no fish there. This time of year, he’s going to eat a lure if you put it in front of his face,” he insists.
That’s the great thing about crappie fishing. You don’t have to have a lifetime of experience and you don’t have to be a crappie fanatic.