Wading for Slabs
by Ron Wong
In many parts of the south, we have incurred quite a bit of rain over the winter months. The rains have many of the lakes with higher than normal lake levels. For example, the I-55 lakes (Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid and Grenada) are still trying to get to winter pool levels and most likely will not make it. However, this may make it a good year for super shallow fishing as the lakes will be rising with spring rain. As the lakes rise, more flats and fields with bushes, grass and other objects get covered in water. With the onslaught of warmer weather and water temperatures, the crappie will be moving up with the water levels.
One of the best and most effective ways to catch some big crappie during this time of the year is to go wading for them. We have a couple of excellent shallow water fishermen that would like to share some of their techniques and tips. John Harrison of Calhoun, Mississippi and Matt Outlaw of St. Matthews, South Carolina are well known shallow crappie fishermen willing to help you catch more fish while wading in flooded areas of a lake.
John Harrison of JH Guide Service spends a lot of time wading the backwaters of the big four crappie lakes along I-55 in Mississippi. Most of the time, he will be using a B’n’M 9-foot Capps and Coleman all purpose rod with 8- or 10-pound test Gamma line on his reel. “The shorter rod is easier to use when fishing thick cover such as vines and bushes”. This rod also has the backbone to muscle out the fish in the heavy cover. Best baits are the 1/16th ounce Pro Built Gamechanger jig rigged with a 2-inch Bobby Garland Slab Slay’R or Minnow Mind’R. If the fish are just moving the bait, then add a crappie nibble to enhance the bite.
He likes to drop his jig into a likely area, hold it still and let the fish come to the bait. Soon after a cold front, just a minnow rigged on the jig head will work best. John’s tip for carrying minnows when wading: punch some holes in a one-liter plastic bottle, put a dozen minnows in it and drag it around with a string tied around the neck of the bottle. One of his better tips is to feel the water with his hands while wading looking for a little warmer water early in the year. “Just a degree or two will make the difference in where the crappies are”. Another tip is to listen for carp jumping in the shallows. Where there are carp jumping, there will be warmer water and the crappie will be there.
Matt Outlaw of South Carolina looks forward to late winter, early spring wade fishing. He spends much of his time wading the backwaters of Santee Cooper. He likes to use a B’n’M Uncle Buck’s 10- or 11-foot jig pole rigged with a Bucks Best Ultra Lite crappie reel spooled with 10-pound test Slime Line. The reason he likes this setup is that it will float when he must use both hands for to stringer fish or tying on another bait. Matt’s bait of choice is a Pro Built 1/6th ounce jig with either a crappie magnet or Mid-South tube. During late winter, early spring much of the rising water is usually stained to muddy due to rain, so he recommends black/chartreuse color. As the water starts to clear, pink/chartreuse is preferred and in clear water white/chartreuse is the choice. He likes to drop his jig into some type of cover and lightly jig it, pause and repeat. He does like to leave his jig in a place for no longer than 30 seconds and then jig in another spot.
Several more tips for catching crappie while wading that John and Matt offer are:
- Be quiet, no splashing around; slide your feet in the water to lessen splashing
- Move slowly while wading to prevent spooking the fish
- If using a boat, enter area and park away from the area you will be fishing
- Fish the heaviest cover you can find by first dropping your bait on the outside edge of cover then moving towards the middle part of it
- When fishing cypress trees, start nearest to the tree and move out to cover, possible cypress knees, that will hold fish
- Start with upper end of lakes during late winter as this is typically where warmer water will be and move towards lake as the weather starts to warm
- Be aware of snakes not only in the water but in the trees. After the weather gets around 60 degrees, they like to get in trees to sun while it is still a little cool
A couple of tips we offer are: 1) if unsure of water depth where you are wading, carefully use your rod tip to determine depth and 2) if going out to wade fish, let someone know where you will be. In today’s world, everyone carries a cell phone, put it into a zip lock bag. Be safe, have fun and you are subject to catch some of the biggest crappie of the year as they move shallow to spawn.