Spring is almost here, and most crappie fishermen are catching limits on area lakes.
The popularity of this pan fish does not come from its ability to jump and tug when hooked; in fact, it doesn't pull nearly as hard as a feisty white perch. But when battered and fried, it tastes finer than a sizzling filet mignon.
Crappies, also known as speckled perch in some parts of the N.C. Piedmont, are fun and relatively easy to catch. Now is the time to catch them spawning in shallow water. Most are taken on small jigs or live crappie minnows.
When they're done spawning, crappies move off the banks to bridge pilings, boathouses and submerged brush piles. Most are taken during the day, but they also are known to feed actively after dark.
Night fishermen use lanterns and fluorescent lights to attract bait fish, which in turn draw crappies and other predator fish. Green glow lights, floated on the surface or suspended below, work well.
The battery-operated lights are available in lengths from 12 to 48 inches. Not only do they attract fish but they also illuminate the fishing area and make it easier to tie and bait hooks on an otherwise dark lake.
During the day, brush piles, docks, piers and boathouses afford shade, cover and protection that crappie require. Anglers pitch their jigs around entrances to boathouses and under docks. If they are lucky enough to cast inside a boathouse, that's better yet.
Knowing that crappies are attracted to brush piles, serious fishermen sink Christmas trees and other woody debris under cover of darkness. Then they will fish these so-called "secret holes" only when the area is void of other crappie fishermen. Christmas trees are popular, but they deteriorate more quickly than limbs of hardwood tress and must be replenished yearly.
Small reels on long fiberglass fishing rods have all but replaced the once-popular cane pole. Either will catch crappies when used with light line, an adjustable float and a tiny jig or minnow. A lightweight, closed-faced spinning outfit is also effective when fishing under boat docks and near submerged brush.
The key to catching crappies is to fish "gently." Move the bait ever so slowly, give the fish plenty of time to nibble, and play it carefully to the boat. The larger the crappie, the more likely its body weight will cause the small hook to pull from its soft mouth.
The creel limit for crappies on Lake Norman is 20 per angler per day, with an 8-inch minimum size limit. Crappies can grow to 8 inches within the first year. After that, the gain in length slows to about one inch per year. Large crappie (12 inches or longer) are known as "slabs." Slabs are prized by fishermen who enjoy eating their fillets.
Crappie fishing is a great family sport and a culinary delight. Give it a try!
A free safe boating class, "How to Navigate Lake Norman, Day or Night," will be offered 6:30-8 p.m. March 16 at North Point Watersports, off Interstate 77 Exit 36 in Mooresville. Topics for discussion will include "Understanding LKN's Channel Marker and Buoy System"; "Identifying and Learning How to Avoid the 10 Most Dangerous Spots"; and "Interpreting Lake Maps." For more information, call me at 704-617-6812 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A free fishing seminar, "Bass Fishing for the Occasional Angler," will be presented 6:30-8 p.m. march 24 at Gander Mountain, off I-77 Exit 36 in Mooresville. Bring the family. I will discuss how to catch limits of largemouth and spotted bass by trolling, drifting and still-fishing with live baits and artificial lures, from the shoreline or from any type of boat. A free detailed list of Lake Norman's top 10 bass spots will be given to participants. Details: 704-658-0822.
The Lake Norman Sail & Power Squadron's next Boater Safety Class will be at 8 a.m. March 26 at Huntersville United Methodist Church, 14005 Stumptown Road, Huntersville. The fee is $45. To register, visit www.usps.org/lakenorman; for more information call Bob Yannacci at 704 660 5568.
Bass fishing is excellent, particularly for those targeting spotted bass. Warming water has drawn bass to the shallows; most are being caught in less than five feet of water. Crappies and perch are plentiful around brush and deep docks and are being taken on minnows and jigs.
The surface water temperature varies by location but is mainly in the 50s in open waters not affected by the power plants. The water level is about 3.7 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 2.7 feet below full pond on Mountain Island Lake.