What I learned at Crappie Camp
By Darl Black
I’ve been going crappie fishing each spring for 60 years. But I’ve learned more about crappie fishing in the past 15 years than I did in the first 45 years.
My earliest days of crappie fishing were always in the company of my father. Back in the mid-1950s we fished Pymatuning Lake regularly in the spring, sometimes bringing home a mess of crappies – sometimes not.
Dad only knew two approaches to catching crappies. The primary method was a fathead minnow on a #6 hook suspended below a bobber presented near shallow cover. If I was persistent with my request that I wanted to do more than sit and look at a bobber, Dad allowed me to cast a 1/8-ounce white chenille/marabou jig. That was the extent of what Dad did to catch crappies.
When I was old enough to fish on my own, I continued to use the same two presentations – although I replaced the marabou jig with a small white Mister Twister Curly-Tail when soft plastic was introduced to the angling market. However, by then I had become more interested in bass fishing than crappie fishing. With panfish as a sideline, there was little change to my crappie tactics over the next several decades.
By the 1990s, angling writing and photography assignments were forcing me to expand my horizons beyond bass. Personal fishing junkets through the South and Mid-West made me aware of different crappie tactics, but it was the specific crappie fishing media events conducted by tackle manufacturers that really helped me drill down on tactics. Along with widening my horizons on lure and live bait applications, I also learned about single pole jig dipping, pulling, pushing, and crankbait trolling for crappies. I conveyed information on these skills to a national audience through various magazine articles.
Yet in the northern tier of states, especially in my home region of Northwest PA, there was reluctance by anglers to try presentations that were successful in other parts of the country. Every season anglers did the same old thing – bobber and minnow or casting a Mister Twister.
Dan Dannenmueller gives a seminar during a Crappie Camp event in Pennsylvania.
Then about four years ago, I decided it was time to introduce local outdoor writers who did not travel out of the area to crappie-catching techniques from different regions, as well as introducing southern and mid-western writers to the crappie fishing here in Pennsylvania. Modeled after similar events I had attended in other states, the PA Crappie Camp was born.
With Pennsylvania’s best crappie lake – Pymatuning Lake – plus several other top ten crappies lakes located in NW PA, the decision where to host a national writer’s event was easy. The Pymatuning State Park cabins at Jamestown would be home base. A 20-minute drive would put us on Shenango River Lake downstream of Pymatuning, or a 10 minute drive would put us on Conneaut – the state’s largest inland natural lake. Each of these three lakes has unique characteristics thereby allowing different techniques to shine.For three days, media representatives were given the opportunity to fish with and interview pro-staff anglers from several sponsoring tackle companies. Hands on experience with new tackle, sharing useful techniques, shooting photos and promoting Pennsylvania crappie fishing were all part of the program. Attendees included regional writers as well as a handful of outdoor communicators from other crappie-rich states, plus pro-staff from several sponsoring tackle companies – all in pursuit of America’s #1 favorite fish.
Over several years of PA Crappie Camp, a wealth of information exchanged hands. Here’s a sampling: Alabaman Dan Dannenmueller (professional crappie tournament angler) provided instruction to John Hayes (outdoor columnist for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) on spider rigging. Russ Bailey (host of Brushpile Crappie TV show) showed Dale Black (president of Gamma Line) how to catch tight-lipped crappies from emerging lily pad beds by dipping a jig on a long rod. Larry Claypoole (editor of Ohio Valley Outdoors) acquired hands-on experience pushing jigs with the electric motor while fishing with TJ Stallings (PR manager for Road Runner Lures).
Information flowed both ways, with several expert local anglers providing Pennsylvania presentations to writers from other states. Bryan Stuyvesant of Meadville schooled Southern attendees about natural lake crappies during spring cold fronts, demonstrating a presentation to catch fish suspended in open water off deep weedlines. Ken Smith (Mr. Shenango) wowed everyone with his unique application of side-pulling jigs in a figure eight pattern on submerged brushpiles.
After witnessing the sometimes strange multi-rod presentations on the water, local fishermen were posed with questions at the ramp as our crews were taking out. That’s when another idea sprouted. With so much talent from different states in one place, why not offer a public seminar for local anglers?
So for PA Crappie Camp the following year, we incorporated an evening seminar where anglers had the opportunity to listen to experts on techniques and equipment, and then ask follow-up questions.
The packed room listened intently to a half dozen presentations, including explanation of the Driftmaster Rod Holder System for the various multi-rod techniques, as well as an explanation of Garmin’s Down Vu and Side Vu sonar impact on crappie fishing.
PA Crappie Camp is in hiatus for spring of 2015, but will return in 2016 with more information for outdoor media plus a public seminar for anglers to glean a lot of valuable information in a short time.