Day 1: How to Catch Crappie in March and April with Billy Blakely
Editor’s Note: Reelfoot Lake in the northwestern corner of Tennessee, near Hornbeak, Tennessee, about 2-miles from the Mississippi River, is one of the most-productive crappie-fishing lakes in the nation. Anglers catch crappie there year-round in large numbers. At one time not too-many years ago, so many crappie were in the lake that they were caught and sold commercially. However, today there’s no commercial crappie fishing at Reelfoot, but anglers come from all over the country to fish its waters. Some of the best crappie-tournament fishermen anywhere also live on the banks of Reelfoot. This past week I fished with Billy Blakely, the chief guide for Blue Bank Resort on Reelfoot Lake. The weather was terrible. The wind was blowing, the waves were slapping the boat, but we still caught fish. This week we’ll learn how to catch crappie throughout the spring and into summer with Blakely. Be sure to see the video interviews we did with Blakely at the end of each day’s information.
During March and April, Reelfoot Lake is loaded with crappie fishermen, and not without good reason. The lake’s bottom is covered with fallen trees, stumps and logs. Reelfoot is a relatively-shallow lake with some water less than 12-inches deep and rarely over 20-foot deep, with most of the water 6- to 8-foot deep. Because of the abundance of structure and brush in the lake, a first-timer needs to go slow in his boat and get a map to try and avoid the stumps and learn where the channels are. The number-one method of fishing at Reelfoot this time of year is a technique known as spider-rigging, which gets its name because the front end of each crappie boat is rigged with pole holders with eight poles out the front of the boat with lines down in the water, making the boat resemble a spider’s web. Spider-rigging is basically slow-trolling for crappie. Anglers often use slip corks to spin their minnows just above the stumps and logs they’re trolling over. The rate of speed is critically important. “We’ll often troll from 1/2-mile per hour up to as much as 2-miles per hour when the crappie are feeding aggressively,” Blakely says.
Because speedometers on boats are rarely sensitive enough to report speeds of less than 5-miles an hour, Blakely and the other spider-riggers on Reelfoot use hand-held GPS receivers or use the GPS receivers in their depth finders. Blakely grew up on Reelfoot Lake, so he knows where all the stump beds are. “In the early part of the spring, like right now, we’ll use live minnows about 1-1/2-inches long. I like the smaller minnows, since that’s the size of the bait in the lake, and I’ve found that I can catch big crappie using little minnows at this time of the year. We use a double-hook minnow rig on the end of fiberglass poles that are out in front of the boat. When the cork goes down I’ll give it a quick jerk, set the hook and bring the crappie on-board.”
Because March and the first of April are always windy months, Blakely and the other guides out of Blue Bank Resort use chains, windsocks and anchors to control the speed of their boats. Windsocks are not very common in the South, but they’re often used in the big waters of the Great Lakes to control the speed of the boats. The chain that the guides use to control their boats is a very-interesting idea. “We use big chains that are about 4- to 5-feet long,” Blakely says. “We replace the anchor on an electric anchor with a chain. Depending on how strong the wind is, we can let the chain down to the bottom. The faster the boat is being pushed by the wind, the more links of chain we have dragging the bottom. If the wind is light, we only let down a few links of the chain. This way we can control the speed of the boat in a heavy wind.”
On the days when there is little or no wind, Blakely uses a trolling motor to increase or decrease the speed at which he trolls. When he finds a school of crappie, he can let out more chain to stop the boat or pull on the anchor rope to back the boat up and hold it at the spot where he’s finding the crappie. Most of the guides at Reelfoot have been fishing the lake all their lives. They know what baits a crappie will take probably before the crappie knows. They know where to find the crappie, how they’re positioned on the structure, and what tactic is required to catch the crappie every day of the year. One of the reasons I like to fish with Blakely and the other guides on this lake is to continue my education in crappie fishing. You can learn more about how to find and catch crappie in a day of fishing with these guides than you can in 3 or 4 years of trying to learn how to catch crappie on your own.
For more information on crappie fishing at Blue Bank Resort, call 1-877-258-3226 (1-877-Blue Bank) or visit www.bluebankresort.com. To learn the techniques that Blakely uses during March and April, click on the video below, and watch our interview with Billy Blakely.
To learn more about crappie fishing, go to http://amzn.to/yTEEOX or, go to www.amazon.com/kindle-eBooks and type in “Crappie – How to Catch Them Spring and Summer.” You can purchase this book for only $2.99 to read on your Kindle or smart phone.