Advanced Seasonal Structure: Shallow Wood & Brush
by Tim Huffman
Wood and Brush. Spawning time, and the catchin’ is easy. Or maybe not. But it’s a good bet that sometime when the water warms and the crappie come in to spawn there are places where you can slip on the waders and enjoy great crappie fishing.
Typical wading cover includes stumps, trees and logs. Ronnie Capps works these shallow water large wood covers.
Wood & Brush Combo
Wood and brush in shallow water is to crappie what a meat-lovers pizza is to a fan watching the Super Bowl on TV. They just go together. For crappie, there is no better time than when the waters warm and fish move into the shallow water.
Cover can be anything. However, wood has a special attraction. Whether it’s algae, shade, ambush spot, protection, heat absorption, or all of the above, it draws and holds fish.
Without a doubt, the biggest advantage to wading is a stealth approach. A fisherman can sneak up on a fish without the fish knowing he is there. It’s easy to move quietly, something not possible in a boat. There are no slapping sounds, lids slapping in the boat, trolling motor noise or the pressure in the water from the boat. The key is to move slowly, shuffling feet in small steps while detecting bottom depth changes and underwater cover.
“The water is still cool so it’s no time to fall,” says wading expert, Kent Driscoll. “A firm bottom is best. Mud can bog you down making falls more likely. Plus, harder bottoms are what crappie prefer.”
Driscoll says, “John Harrison and I found some old bream beds where crappie had moved into during high water. We waded in and could feel the depressions. The hard surface was important to the spawning crappie. We dropped jigs down on about four inches of line and the crappie smoked them. This is not uncommon when wade fishing.”
Eight times Classic Champ, Ronnie Capps has waded for many years. He agrees that it is seasonal and not a good tactic in many waters. But where it works, it’s great. He says the reason it works so well in the Mississippi lakes where it’s so popular is water clarity. Visibility is often one to four inches in the water. The muddy stain mixed with acres of shallow water with wood cover makes these lakes outstanding for wade fishing in the spring.
Both pros agree that water temperatures are very important. During and after the spawn are ideal times. Spawning starts around 60 degrees and continues until spawning is complete and the males leave the beds. The prime wade period is likely to be two to three weeks most years but it’s possible it could last much longer.
One of the best tips is to look for the warmest water in the spring. It’s likely that south coves will be colder than northern coves. A couple degrees difference is all it takes to make one side of the lake better than the other. Southern winds and warmer sun on the northern sides causes them to warm first so that’s where you need to start. Also, very shallow, muddy water warms faster than clearer, deeper water. Check water temperatures often.
Ronnie Capps has used canoes and kayaks long before they were thought of for chasing typical lake fish. He says spring shallow water or any time of year when the water is high are good times to wade.
“It’s all about getting where the crappie are and where a large boat isn’t the best choice or can’t get to,” says Capps. “It’s always been a way to catch fish but except in a few isolated spots, fishermen didn’t take advantage.”
Capps continues, “The good thing about wading is a fisherman doesn’t have to have a boat but if he does it helps get to more spots. Mississippi fishermen have been wading for many years. Wind doesn’t bother a wade fisherman, it’s easy to sneak in on the fish, and you can get into the thickest cover you want to tackle.”
Another advantage is the ability to fish in high wind. A boat is difficult to handle when it’s bouncing in the waves. Standing in the water provides a stable platform so presentations can be as steady and slow as you want.
Lakes aren’t the only place to wade. River back-outs, farm ponds and any spot where water is shallow, where there are no steep slopes or drops, and good wood/brush covers to fish.
The same equipment used for jigging from the boat can be used for wade fishing. In open water fishing of stumps, snags and trees a longer 12-foot pole helps keeps baits away to spook fewer fish. Tight quarters in brush, overhanging limbs, or otherwise restrictive areas stick to a 10-foot, or maybe even a 9-foot pole. A BnM Sam Heaton is a great pole for this technique especially in more open water. Or, a fisherman can opt for a stiffer pole in the thick brush.
Line is personal preference with 15-pound test braid being a popular choice. So is 10-pound test monofilament. Water is dingy so line size isn’t an issue for spooking fish.
It’s possible to use a minnow rig for brush to catch these fish. However, There are many advantages to using a jig with the first reason being easier manipulation. A jig can be placed in spots a minnow rig can’t. A jig stays in good shape for several bites and landed fish so a fisherman spends more time fishing. However, when fishing is tough a minnow can be used to tip a jig.
Colors that are typically good muddy water picks include orange, chartreuse glow and black. Larger jigs that give a big profile and water displacement work great. Scent and attractants are good, too.
Wading is done in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and other states. The key is dingy water and a bottom that’s flat and firm enough for wading. High water periods due to floods make many different lakes potential wading spots.
The last tip is to always wade with a partner because the unexpected can happen when wading. A life vest is recommended, too.